Garden Lights, Holiday Nights at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens

Christmas lights are a BIG deal in Louisiana and Texas. It was part of our holiday routine to go drive around neighborhoods and look at the lights. And it was free! One year in the early 1990s, Al Copeland, founder of Popeye’s Chicken, donated his trillions of lights to the city of Baton Rouge. They decided to light up the state capitol – all 34 floors of it! The town of Natchitoches, Louisiana’s annual holiday lights were featured on the movie, “Steel Magnolias.”

When I first moved to Atlanta, I was surprised that more people didn’t put up Christmas lights. Even though both Lake Lanier and Callaway Gardens offered light shows, they each entailed planning a long drive and paying admission. However, about six years ago, the Atlanta Botanical Gardens began Garden Lights – Holiday Nights. After hearing positive reviews, I wanted to go but was resistant to paying the steep fees.

So I held off. But I had heard good things and always wanted to go. Finally we did this year – the night before Thanksgiving. It didn’t disappoint.


Walking on the garden path, bright stars hung high in the trees focusing our gaze upward. When the path crests to the Chihuly fountain, a plethora of lights awaits with the Atlanta skyline serving as the backdrop. At the far end, a large lighted Christmas tree beckons. Along the brick path, the smell of roasting marshmallows attracts our attention. A bar is set up offering hot chocolate and s’mores kits. At the two fire pits, parents are helping kids hold their rods with marshmallows over the flames.


Now at the lighted green Christmas tree, families pose for pictures, people don 3-D glasses (which come with the premium ticket at $10 more). It seemingly can’t get any better than this.


But it does.

Looking towards the rainforest building (what my daughters affectionately called “The Jungle” when they were little), are huge (people sized) old-fashioned Christmas lights gracing the wide open lawn. All of a sudden, Christmas music plays and the lights change colors to the beat of the music. Even though I can’t stand the song playing (Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime”), the lights intrigue and draw me in. When Aaron Neville’s “Louisiana Christmas Day” blasts from the speakers, the lights really perk up and the crowd gets a swing in their step.


In the rainforest, everything is completely dark – except for the holiday lights placed along the paths. Without the sound of music, our ears awaken to the croaks of frogs and hum of crickets. Soon, white lights dangling from the ceiling usher us into the Fuqua Orchid Center where a large poinsettia tree greets visitors. Another hot spot for photo taking.img_3204

Inside the orchid exhibit lies a large topiary. Back outside, we take the Bug Path where lit up dragonflies and other bugs take us through the edible garden. Lit up rows of corn planted among the real corn take us to the Mistletoe Tree where couples kiss before continuing through the display. Looping back by the Chihuly fountain, we head towards the newer section of the garden – the tree canopy walk.


From the heights, we see trees lit in different lights passing the gold stairstep fountain. A group of carolers sing to us as we get closer to the bottom of the canopy walk. Purple lighted trees (my favorite) dot the landscape and upon closer examination, they have tiny floral shaped lights on the ends. Soon we get to the main water fountain where blue toned lights flow among the hair of the statue. Lastly, we walk through a red tunnel of lights and we’re back to the entrance.




The admission price is $26 on peak nights/$23 on non-peak nights for adults – which with teenage children means we spent around $100. Pretty steep if you ask me but I can honestly say it was worth it. Why? Because you’re out walking around among other people. Sure you have to dodge strollers and hear a few meltdowns by overtired kids, but you also glimpse smiles of wonder and feel part of a bigger connection to those around you. For more information see Atlanta Botanical Gardens.

Live Nativity – Sardis UMC – Atlanta, GA

Last weekend, Sardis United Methodist Church held its live nativity on both Saturday and Sunday nights. It had been a few years since we’d been, so we made it a priority this year. Located on Powers Ferry Road near the intersection of Roswell Road, many don’t see this tiny church tucked in a residential neighborhood near Chastain Park.

Sardis UMC is one of the oldest church congregations in Atlanta.

Sardis UMC is one of the oldest church congregations in Atlanta.

The church itself was built in 1927, but the congregation has been around since the early 1800’s. Historians seem to think that Sardis UMC is the oldest church in Atlanta with a congregation forming as early as 1812. Unfortunately, an 1842 fire at the DeKalb County courthouse destroyed all records to substantiate that claim. Note that the location was part of DeKalb, before Fulton County was formed in 1853!

Arriving about 7 pm, church bells signaled that the performance was about to begin. Sitting on bales of hay, kids waited anxiously in front of an empty wood shelter. Parents and grandparents stood behind them waiting for the show to begin. Every once in a while, a small child dressed in an angel outfit would peer at the audience.

The angels start the live nativity program.

The angels start the live nativity program.


The shepherds arrive.

A voice on the loudspeaker boomed and the nativity story came to life. The angels, Mary, Joseph, the shepherds – complete with live animals filled the stable. Finally the three wise men dressed in elaborate costumes presented their gifts to the baby Jesus. At the end, the minister of Sardis welcomed us and invited us to get cookies and hot beverages near the sanctuary.

The wise men bring their gifts.

The wise men bring their gifts.

Chocolate chip cookies, sugar cookies, thumbprint cookies, etc. You name it, they had it. As a church member gave me a cup of hot chocolate, kids petted the live animals. Stepping inside the sanctuary, a woman was playing Christmas hymns on an autoharp.

For a small, live nativity with friendly folks, make this part of your Christmas tradition. It is usually held the second weekend in December. For more information, visit Sardis United Methodist Church.



Krog Street Market – Atlanta, GA

Krog Street Market

Krog Street Market recently opened in the ultra hip Old Fourth Ward/Inman Park area. It’s Atlanta’s version of Vancouver’s Granville Island, albeit on a smaller scale.

Visitors can dine at the many eclectic restaurants in this upscale food court located in a new (but made to look old) warehouse. Offerings include ice cream from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream to Chinese fare at Gu’s Dumplings. Water – sparkling, chilled and un-chilled – is self-serve near the community tables. Other restaurants including The Luminary and Superica offer a full-scale restaurant. Along the way, you can shop retails establishments such as XOCOLATL Small Batch Chocolate and French Market Flowers.

Once you get your food, find a table and people watch. It’s fun to see people of all ages come together. From families with strollers to singles grabbing a cup of coffee before a jog, you’ll see a bit of everything here.


Yalla and Fred’s are owned by chef Todd Ginsberg.

I’d heard that lines for the restaurants could be long with limited seating. This past weekend, we got there at 11:30 – about the time most dining establishments opened. Although I still had a bit of a line, I tried Yalla, the Middle Eastern place owned by chef Todd Ginsberg. He also owns Fred’s Meat and Bread next door. Although I haven’t tried Fred’s, they offer a bar to sit at (reminiscent of airport dining). I spotted a large pimento cheese sandwich from there that looked worthy of trying for my next visit.


Retail shops at Krog Street Market

Back to Yalla, you order at the counter, but don’t pay until your name is called when your food is ready. It seemed to create an unnecessary queue, but the wait was only about 5 minutes so it wasn’t a big deal. I ordered the Shawarma Pita for $8. It’s a pita stuffed with chicken shawarma, hummus, baba ganoush, fried eggplant, Israeli salad and pickles and a few other things. It was delicious!

I was expecting a pita with just the shawarma and the other stuff on the side. Instead, it’s all stuffed into the pita (think Chipotle burritos), but the flavors worked together. The pickles are spicy, but are cooled by the tahini and hummus. The portion was big and plenty for me. However, you could get all their entrees in a pita, laffa (flatbread wrap) or a bowl depending on your appetite.

DH went to Grand Champions BBQ. He didn’t have a line and got the brisket sandwich which was surrounded by thick slices of white bread. The potato salad he ordered was as close to my favorite (Hickory Stick BBQ in Shreveport, La) as I’ve ever had. Afterwards we were in the mood for something sweet. At the Little Tart Bakeshop, people in front of us were ordering brunch items. We looked in the glass cases at the large pastry selection and decided on a mocha butter cookie. It was delectable and packed a lot of richness in just a few bites. The perfect ending to the meal.


For more information, visit the website atĀ Krog Street Market. Here, you will find links to all the establishments mentioned with menus and news. Check back often as a few more places will be opening soon over the next few months.

Georgia Governor’s Mansion

“Are you sure we can do this?” my daughter asked. “I mean, doesn’t somebody live here?”



We had just turned into the Governor’s Mansion in Atlanta. I presented my driver’s license and the guards at the gate told us where to park.Walking up to the orange brick building flanked with 30 white columns, we rang the front door bell where a white-haired, petite docentĀ greeted us on this rainy day and gave us the history of the mansion.

Built in 1965 during Lester Maddox’s tenure, it had formerly been property of a Robert Maddox. After his place burned, he donated the land to the state so that it wouldn’t be turned into a subdivision. Previous governor’s mansions were in Ansley park and Peachtree street in Midtown.



A docent stationed at each room on the first floor gave a description of the function and history of the furnishings. My favorite was the library with its wood walls and fireplace made in England of Italian Carrera marble.”I could sit here by a warm fire and read a book with a cup of tea, ” I told my children.


My favorite room

My least favorite room was the guest bedroom which is located to the left of the front door. It has a tiny alcove bed reminiscent of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. It’s only used on rare occasions as there are 7 guest bedrooms on the 2nd floor.”One time an aide to President Clinton was staying here. He was very tall and said he was so uncomfortable, he got his pillow and slept on the floor.” Seeing the marble floor with only an oriental rug to cushion it didn’t look that appealing to me, but at least he could stretch out.

“If Ms. Deal was here today, she’d be greeting you right here,” a docent proudly informed us. She’s so down to earth and once a year invites us upstairs to see their suites. “Education is her big thing so she’s signed up to read at one of the schools, ” the docent continued.

Wouldn't it be fun to be invited to dinner here?

Wouldn’t it be fun to be invited to dinner here?

The main living room is large and supposedly so decorated during Christmas, you can hardly even see the furniture. Several different docents encouraged us to come back during the holidays when they have it decorated and serve cookies.


The living room with a view of the informal sitting room through the opening.


The fireplace in the family sitting room

The fireplace in the family sitting room

The informal dining room has a mahogany table and red chairs purchased by Sonny S (from Midnight in the Garden of good and evil to pay for one of his trials). To the right, we could peer into the kitchen where staff were preparing lunch. Christmas ornaments of the mansion and the state seal are for sale for $20 while a cookbook is for sale for $10.

I loved peering in the kitchen to see a meal being prepared.

I loved peering in the kitchen to see a meal being prepared.

Outside, we wandered the gardens. Surprisingly there’s a swimming pool. Somehow I just don’t picture any governor and his wife swimming, but there it was. I loved the rocking chairs outside with the large columns. Despite the fact that the mansion resembles a Georgia state rest area, it is beautiful. A large fountain is at the front door, as well as two rockers – one says governor and the other first lady.DSC_0109