End-of-Year Teacher Gifts on a Budget

Are you like me and want to give an end-of year gift to your child’s teacher?

Do you also like to give a small gift to the other teachers – like art, music and gym?

What about the staff in the media center, the front desk and even the school counselor?

For my children’s home-room teacher, I went in on a class gift with other parents. But I really wanted to recognize the other teachers and staff that have made the school such a great experience for my children.

I came up with a simple idea. I bought a six-pack of Hershey’s candy bars and printed out a quick note on leftover paper I had from a previous year’s birthday party. I taped the candy bar to the paper and had my child sign it. I delivered them all to their mailboxes at school.

One of my children had over 10 people that  she wanted to thank. There’s no way we have bought gifts costing $10 or more, let alone the time and energy to go shopping. This idea may be small, but it at least showed the staff that we appreciate them.


Providence Canyon State Park in Lumpkin, Georgia

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Providence Canyon State Park

We took a trip to Providence Canyon State Park, near Lumpkin, Georgia a few weeks ago.  I had read about it in a GA state park brochure and was impressed by the pictures. Calling it the Little Grand Canyon I thought we needed to investigate this treasure in Georgia. According to MapQuest, the park is a good 2.5 hours away so we hadn’t made it down there. When we were at Callaway Gardens, it was only 1.5 hours away so we decided to go there.

Hiking down the quarter-mile descent, verdant shrubs bordered the path until we were greeted by rivers of red clay at the base of the canyon floor. We tiptoed around the rivulets toward Fingers 4 & 5, which according to the park ranger, were the most impressive.

“After you’ve seen the canyons, you won’t care how muddy your feet get,” a hiker announced. “Just dip your shoes in the water every few minutes to wash the mud off and you’ll be fine.”

Our shoes were pretty muddy after our hike.

Our shoes were pretty muddy after our hike.

She was right. Instead of focusing on where I stepped, I looked out – and up. Oatmeal, buff and terra-cotta colored boulders dotted with pine saplings surrounded us. We were in a canyon – a picturesque, marvelous canyon. On closer inspection, the canyon walls weren’t created from rocks – but sand. Looking up, the cerulean sky with one, wispy cloud made it a Chamber of Commerce day.

Continuing along the three-mile hike, the red clay turned into sand. Shady trees and fragrant honeysuckle lined the slow ascent through a wooded area. The only sounds heard were “Caw. Caw” from birds. Without warning, a dilapidated, rusted out 1950’s shell of a station wagon eerily peered out at a clearing delineating an old homestead. A historical marker indicated that several cars were abandoned when the park service purchased the land, but it was cost prohibitive to remove them. It was a reminder that time marches. Time created the canyons and time destroyed the cars. What will time do to the canyon in the future?

At the rim of the canyon, numerous overlooks allowed magnificent views allowing a completely different perspective. Children on the playground equipment and families picnicking at the shelter reminded us we were close our journey’s end. For more information, visit the website at http://gastateparks.org/ProvidenceCanyon.

The rusted cars were unexpected on the trail.

The rusted cars were unexpected on the trail.


Hills and Dales Estate

The mansion at Hills and Dales was built in 1916 by Hentz, Reid and Adler - the same firm that built the Swan House in Atlanta.

The mansion at Hills and Dales was built in 1916 by Hentz, Reid and Adler – the same firm that built the Swan House in Atlanta.

On our way to  Callaway Gardens last weekend, we visited the Hills and Dales Estate. This hidden gem in LaGrange, Georgia was well worth the visit!

Watching a 15 minute film at the visitor’s center, we learned the history of the property – beginning with Sarah Jewell Ferrell in the 1850’s. With her husband Blount, Sarah Ferrell developed the gardens for roughly 70 years until her death in 1904. Fuller Earle Callaway, a prosperous businessman who founded several mills and banks in the LaGrange area had fond memories of Easter Egg hunts at Ferrell Gardens as a young boy and over the years, he and Sarah became friends. After Blount Ferrell’s death in 1909, the property was untended and sat until Fuller purchased it in 1914. Alongside his wife, Ida Cason Callaway, he restored the gardens and infamous boxwood parterres to their former glory and hired renowned Atlanta architect, Neel Reid, to build the mansion at the crest of the hill.

The front entrance is the east portico with the four large columns.

The front entrance is the east portico with the four large columns.

We took an open air tram to the mansion, passing lush, rolling hills and magnolia trees – a somewhat smaller version of travelling to Hurst Castle in San Simeon, California. Our docent led us on a 45 minute tour of the house, but we were not allowed to take pictures. My favorite room on the first floor was the main living area – a wood-panelled room (including the ceilings and columns as well) that was anchored by a curved couch and a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the garden. Behind us were two staircases that flanked the “back” entrance of the house, leading to the porte-cochere. At the landing, the two staircases merged into one. We toured the eight bedrooms and bathrooms on the second level and then went on to the third floor. Although I liked all the bedrooms, I could picture myself in the guest bedroom on the third floor which had massive amounts of sunlight, white furniture and floral fabrics. In the game room next door, the original 1916 pool table, complete with ivory balls and mesh pockets was the focal point.

Such a tranquil setting!

Such a tranquil setting!

It was getting late so our docent gave us a quick tour of the gardens. The Central Fountain greeted us at top of the first terrace. As we descended to the Sunken Garden, we paused to see the boxwood bordered alley called Lovers’ Lane. We walked through Florida Lane, showcasing plants from Florida where Blount and Sarah Ferrell were originally from, to the Greenhouse and Herb Garden. The area was so tranquil I wanted to sit and read a book at one of the many garden nooks.

Sadly, it was time to take the shuttle back to the Visitor’s Center and to our next destination. However, I plan to return and explore the gardens at leisure. For more information, visit the Hills and Dales Estate website at http://www.hillsanddales.org/.

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Inman Park Festival

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Inman Park was Atlanta’s first suburb

“There’s a parking spot. Hurry! No – there’s a fire hydrant.”

“There’s one – ugh – it’s a driveway.”

“Let’s try this street. No. Turn left here and try this one …”

My husband was about to throw me out of the car by the time we found a parking spot for the annual Inman Park Festival, but it was well worth it.

The distinctive smell of gyros and funnel cakes greeted us at the entrance of this neighborhood festival which has gone on since the early 1970’s. We decided to hold off on eating so we could visit the artist booths first.  As we strolled the shady, tree-lined streets, we couldn’t help noticing the Victorian houses with their gingerbread details and large verandas. Many people were having parties and I felt a pang of envy that we hadn’t been invited too.

One of the many Victorian mansions

One of the many Victorian mansions

While my husband was drawn to vendors selling photographs and paintings, I gravitated towards the soap makers. Rosemary – Lemongrass – Lavender were just a few of their offerings. However, our favorite booth was a company called Brandles which sells liquor candles – yes, made from a recycled bottle or can of your favorite liquor. Scents are as diverse: jasmine, kiwi, cotton candy,whiskey, leather, bacon and beer.

As hunger descended on us, we approached the merchants offering free tastings of dips, salad dressings and pickled carrots.

“Buy 3, get the 4th Free!”

“Great Gifts for Mother’s Day!”

“Try Our Award Winning Hot Sauce!”

Although I agreed these would make excellent gifts, I didn’t want to carry them around the festival and I couldn’t think of people on my Christmas list at least 7 months away.

Plus I wasn’t in shopping mode. I was in people watching mode. The neighborhood’s residents are known for being free-spirited. Slowly, the street began filling with more people – young and old – hippies and traditional, yet baby strollers and tattoos seemed to be the prevalent theme. Festival goers sporting sequined dresses, costumes, crazy hats and painted faces started arriving to take part in the parade later that day.

Inman Park Festival

Visiting the street market

As hunger descended on us, we passed more booths selling jewelry, pottery, antiques and wood crafts. A Joan Baez type singer strummed her guitar at the nearby stage while we ate our gyros at the picnic tables. We discussed purchasing tickets for the Tour of Homes, but decided we had walked enough and would save that for another year. As we headed back to the car, we both commented on how neat this neighborhood is and how fun it felt to be “hip for the day!”

For more information about the Inman Park Festival, visit http://inmanparkfestival.org.