Childhood Memories and Zillow

I recently found an interesting Web tool called “Zillow.” It’s billed as a Real Estate tool that both agents and home buyers can use to sell and compare houses in a given market. It’s pretty neat in that it lets you, as a homeowner, see what your neighbor’s houses are assessed for, along with square footage, etc. So, if you think your house is bigger than your neighbors, but you weren’t sure enough to go crowing about it…well, now you can.

Another interesting feature is that it uses other freely available aerial photographs to show the houses. Granted most of the pictures aren’t detailed enough to see what color paint is on the house, but you can see the top of the house and the surrounding land.

I thought it’d be fun to look up some of my old stomping grounds from my childhood and sure enough, I was able to find them. For instance, our first house in Mobile, AL is now selling for about 95K, which in Atlanta prices, would get you a hovel in an undesirable part of town. So, I then looked up our second house, the one my family built with our bare hands, and while there was no value listed, I was able to see the general layout:

My house

When I lived there, we owned five acres on the NW side of a huge tract of wooded land owned by a great uncle-in-law. It appears that it now has been junked up a little bit and more trees cleared off, but it’s still clearly my old house. And boy does that bring up some memories…some bad, some good, some just plain old indifferent. It’s funny though how nostalgic seeing the place makes me.

For instance, that bare spot to the SE of the house…I cleared that out myself over the course of a couple of summers. Mind you, this was in the heat of Alabama summer. I remember working out there during the day (because my dad made me) and being completely soaked in sweat; then going inside the a/c and drinking gallons of sweet tea. I remember our Dobermans running around in the woods as I worked, chasing after who knows what. I remember the girls who used to drop by…well….never mind about that. Suffice it to say that there is apparently something to be said for a sweaty, slightly overweight teen-age boy holding an axe and a pair of lopping shears in the middle of a sweltering Alabama summer. Ah…the memories.

And oh the fishing. Fly fishing, bass fishing or just sitting on the banks with a cane pole in one hand and my faithful dog lying next to me hoping I’ll throw her a piece of my PB&J. It’s almost enough to make a guy get all choked up.

I never really had any desire to go back and visit my old home, until now. Now, I just need a good excuse. Hey, only four more years till my 20th high school reunion.

Man…now that’s depressing.

That Heathen Family Down the Road (part 1 of 2)

Sistine Chapel As with so many things pre-kids, I’ve mentioned before that my wife and I don’t attend church as often as we used to before we had children. Did I also mention that I feel really bad about this? Or, at least I try to feel bad, but most of the time I just feel guilty. There is a difference.

I feel guilty because I know that if I don’t make an effort to introduce my children to God, when they get older, they’ll inevitably fall victim to whatever view of God society has most successfully been able to foist on them rather than coming to their own view of God after having been given as much data as possible from a variety of sources.

So, I want to take my children to church, but taking children to church on the weekend is work! After getting up at 5:30 am for five days during the week, on Saturdays and Sundays I just want to get up, enjoy some coffee, maybe sit outside on the porch for a while, and just generally not be rushed to do anything. And taking kids to church is anything but relaxing. It’s basically like taking them to another daycare at this age (my oldest is 3 and my youngest is 7 months), which we don’t like doing since they’re in daycare the rest of the week anyway. We’ve also tried reading Bible stories to our oldest son but right now, unless the story involves danger (“Daddy, did the lions eat Daniel?“) or I can read the story using some heavily accented speech, he’s just not interested. And I’m sorry, but three years old is a little too young be dropping the whole, “Jesus died so you could be saved” thing on him. So right now, I just don’t see that it’s a big deal.

Looking back though, I’ve realized that this drift from church started before the kids were born; they just make a good excuse for behavior that we were already leaning towards anyway.

When my wife and I first met, we were both going to church heavily. I had fairly recently come off of a bad break-up (involving a wedding ring) and had turned to the church for stability since I had no family local. My wife had recently moved to town after finishing her B.A. degree at the U. of Texas and was living with her family while she worked on her MBA. Her family was strict Catholic, but has since embraced the lighter side of church–the Pentecostals.

After we got married, we continued to attend church, but with less frequency. A large part of that I believe is because of the difference in Catholic churches that my wife was used to attending, versus what I was used to growing up under the Pentecostal label.

See, Catholic church rarely lasts more than an hour. Catholics long ago realized, “Hey, we’re all sinners. Let’s get together for an hour on the weekend, break some bread, drink some wine, and then go and sin no more. E- Pluribus Unum…I missed the bus, you missed the bus…”

Pentecostals (Baptists, Church of God, Assembly of God, etc.), on the other hand, still labor under the belief that most of us are perfect and that to remain in a state of perfection, we should meet on Wednesday night and also on Sundays, and attend a church service lasting a minimum of an hour and a half and involving several uncomfortable situations for both the body and the mind.

So while my wife and I both began to drift away from regular church attendance before we had children, I believe it was for different reasons.

In my case, I got a heavy dose of God as a child. Then, as I grew up, studied texts outside of the strict Biblical tombs the Catholic church deemed acceptable several hundred years ago, and was able to decide for myself what I believed in given all that I had seen and heard, I came up with my own beliefs, which still include the basics of what I learned as a child…only more tempered with what I consider a healthy dose of skepticism.

Growing up also opened my eyes to the world of the church. The church today, while certainly offering those who need it, a sanctuary and a place of refuge, is also a business. It’s a business with a CEO (the Pastor) a board of directors (the deacons and elders) and worker-bees (the flock) without whom the church could not and would not exist. And while I believe many (possibly most) churches start out with the best of intentions, I also believe that a great many of them become self-perpetuating businesses with the same desire to succeed as cam be found in any corporate boardroom.

Am I jaded? A bit. Skeptical of “the church” as a whole-absolutely. Do I want my children to endure what I went through as a child only to watch my own parent’s marriage fall apart despite all of the holiness and platitudes they espoused throughout the week in their everyday life-a resounding NO!

Whoa! Where’d that come from? We went from talking about the church, to delving into my personal past. Hmm, maybe we should explore this some more.

(After this commercial break…like tomorrow maybe).
Part 2 on it’s way.

The Family Tree

Family TreePrior to having children of my own, I scoffed at the idea of “It takes a village” to raise a child. My abhorrence might partly stem from the fact that the so-named book was released by Hillary Clinton (I say “released” because you know she had a ghostwriter), a person I have a particular dislike for.

Now that I have two children of my own, I find myself drawn to this idea of a village approach to child-rearing, especially when I talk to other parents who have willing grandparents that frequently offer to help watch the children while the parents take some free time. So my idea of a village you see, differs quite significantly from one Democratic hopeful in that I don’t want the “state” raising my children; I’d quite rather prefer it be people I know and love rather than some underpaid, sullen worker-bee who is only there because the public school system wasn’t hiring anymore lunch-room workers.

The only problem is, we don’t have a village support structure within arm’s reach. Oh, we have neighbors and we have co-workers, but in my mind, a village is full of people you grew up with-your family-and that’s what we don’t have. But not for a lack of sheer numbers mind you…we have that a’plenty. We have what you might call a “geographically challenged support system.” Let me explain.

On my side of the family, I have one dad, one maternal mother, one legal mother who adopted me along with my dad and who has been divorced from said dad for nigh on 28 years now. I also have an additional mother to whom I am very close. But guess what? None of the aforementioend tree branches live in even the same state. So even if they wanted to help out with the kids (which is questionable as far as at least half of them are concerned) they cannot.

On my wife’s side of the family, we have a traditional mother and father, along with six other siblings. Her mom and dad both work. After being a SAHM to seven kids, and immediately after my wife got pregnant with our first child, her mom announced she wanted to be a teacher. Additionally, between the seven kids, they now have 14 grandchildren. So, by the time the evening or weekend rolls around, they are in the same boat we working parents are in; they want their own free time and the very thought of taking care of two rambunctious children is about as savory an idea as taking a long road trip with the kids strapped into car seats for hours on end (see blog entry titled: “You gotta know when ta hold em…Know when ta fold ’em“).

So yeah, I’m a little bitter when my wife and I want to go out and have a date and it costs us an extra $40 on top of the date just to get someone to watch our kids…and that’s usually my wife’s little sister. I’m envious when friends tell me their kids are no longer allowed to go visit the in-laws for various, hygenic reasons. And yes, it’s annoying to have to take a vacation day off of work just so I can have the free time to catch up on yard work and maintenance chores that need doing around the house (ok, I occasionally work a round of golf into my vacation day too).

I don’t know…I’m just burned out I guess, and while I have a very promising, but short vacation coming up–sans family–I know that it will only be a matter of a a few days upon returning that I’ll be back in the doldrums again wishing for some time away.

So Mrs. Bill, I find myself swayed by your logic, but still sternly against your choice of execution. While I’d love to have the village, hell, right now I’d settle for a supportive telephone call from a few of its residents.

The Hills are aliiiive with the sound of…bad jazz music

Nothing says fall like an arts and crafts (craps) festival, and this weekend marked the something-something anniversary of the Roswell, GA Arts and Crafts Festival here where I live.

Despite there being copious amounts of college football on the tele (ROLL TIDE!), I, knowing that my wife, who also enjoys football, wouldn’t be able to sit and watch it like I can (for which I would also feel enormously guilty), I knuckled down and suggested we all head over to the festival to “get out of the house.”

Personally, I didn’t really need to get out of the house…having enjoyed the cooler air in the a.m and again in the early afternoon doing some outside work, but it was the weekend and I do have a family, so…I offered to do the family thing.

As expected, it was far too many booths crammed into far too little space. People walking on top of people. People holding their little dogs because apparently they couldn’t bear to leave them home for a couple of hours. And also as expected, it was the same old amateurish crap you see from one year to the next and quite frankly, if you’ve seen one arts and crap festival, you’ve seen them all.

But wait! This one had a little something extra….my Boss!

It’s always a joy to be walking around all carefree like, and to come upon someone you generally try to avoid. Now, don’t get me wrong, my boss does try to be a nice person (to your face), but let’s not forget how she shoehorned me into this go-nowhere job and dictates against general company policy that I can’t work from home unless I have a “reason.” So as far as I’m concerned, she’s the spawn of satan.

The only problem is, she’s not bad looking. Not that this gets her any points with me, but based on the general picture I’ve painted of her to my wife, she (my wife) was quite surprised upon meeting her and all she said as we walked away from the awkwardly exchanged pleasantries was, “She’s not what I expected.”

So now I wonder…does my wife think that perhaps I overexaggerate things and that really my boss is a fine person? I mean, anyone fairly attractive MUST be nice right? Is there some “hot career woman” club that I don’t know about whose only requirements are that you be A) a woman B) good looking and C) career oriented? Does inclusion in the club automatically grant a woman clemency from scorn and derision? I wonder.

When I asked my wife what she DID expect, she said, “Someone frumpier.” Yeah, I can see how that might have come across, but I promise you, her looks have absolutely no bearing on her desire to prove her superiority to the men subordinate to her. Looks are a poor barometer for measuring how a person treats others. Even the evil queen in Snow White was a hottie…the handpainted mirror with the woven wicker frame made by a lady in Kwa Zulu Natal South Africa said so.