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Aim for quality when managing a renovation contractor

By Pat Keegan and Brad Thiessen

Q: We followed your advice last month and hired a contractor we think will give us an energy efficient renovation. How do we manage the job to make sure the project turns out right?

A: Last month, I offered tips on how to hire a good contractor, but it’s smart to realize that after the hiring is complete, contractors need to be managed.

First, you should decide who will be the main contact with your contractor. Clear communication is critical because a renovation that includes energy efficiency improvements comes with extra challenges. A single point of contact will help avoid confusion, conflicts and cost overruns.

Before the work starts, have a discussion with your contractor about quality. You want the contractor to know you’ll be carefully overseeing the work and that there may be others involved in this oversight, such as building inspectors, your electric cooperative or an independent energy auditor. You can discuss the standards of a professional, high-quality job. And you can agree on the points at which the contractor will pause so you or someone you designate can review the work. At a minimum, an inspection should take place before you make an interim payment.

Here are a few examples of interim review points:

  • The building envelope should be properly sealed before insulation is installed because air leaks increase energy use and reduce comfort.
  • Replacement windows should be properly flashed and sealed before siding and trim are installed, which prevents moisture problems and air leaks.
  • Some insulation measures can be inspected before they are sealed up behind walls or ceilings.
  • Almost all efficiency measures require some kind of final inspection. For example, infrared thermometers can show voids in blown insulation, and fiberglass batts can be visually inspected to ensure there are no air gaps and the batts are not compressed.

HVAC measures require special attention. Nearly half of all HVAC systems are not installed correctly, which often causes uneven temperature distribution throughout the home, along with higher energy bills. ENERGYSTAR® has a special program to ensure quality HVAC installation. Forced air systems typically have poorly balanced supply and return air delivery that can often be improved. Air flow can be measured at each register, and a duct blaster test can identify and quantify duct leakage.

When you review the work, it may be helpful to take photos or to bring in an energy auditor. Be sure to have these inspections outlined in the contract and discussed beforehand so the contractor is comfortable.

It will be tempting to add “just one more thing” along the way, and the contractor may agree a change is simple and possible within the timeframes. Contractors and customers often miscommunicate about change orders and end up disagreeing about a additional costs when the project is completed. Before you make any changes, be sure to get a written cost quote. If it’s significant, you can then weigh the cost against the benefit of the change.

It’s a good idea to maintain good records as the project progresses. These records could be helpful for building inspectors or to qualify for rebates or tax credits. 

HVAC technicians or energy auditors can use diagnostic equipment to measure air leakage and air flow.

When the renovation is complete, it may be tempting to sign the check, shake hands and breathe a sigh of relief that it’s all over. Depending on the size and complexity of the project, it may be worth the extra step of having a final audit by a licensed energy auditor.

My neighbors were saved from a home renovation disaster when an energy audit discovered the energy efficiency contractor had failed to produce the promised efficiencies. The contractor had to perform thousands of dollars’ worth of improvements to fulfill the contract before my neighbors made the final payment.

Once you confirm that the work is 100 percent complete, you can write a check for the final payment, then sit back and enjoy your revitalized, more energy-efficient home!ν

This column was co-written by Pat Keegan and Brad Thiessen of Collaborative Efficiency. For more information on managing a home renovation contractor, please visit: www.collaborativeefficiency.com/energytips.

Patrick Keegan writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington, Va.-based service arm of the nation’s 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives. Write to energytips@collaborativeefficiency.com for more information.

Bears on the move

As bear and human populations increase, so do contacts

By John N. Felsher

As weather improves, more Alabamians venture outdoors to enjoy hiking, picnicking, turkey hunting, fishing and other activities, but they are not alone! Another very large, toothy Alabama resident could watch their every move.

“Historically, black bears lived throughout the entire state,” says Thomas Harms, the top large carnivore biologist for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. “The population in Alabama is expanding.”

Harms estimates that 400 or so black bears live in the state. Probably about 300 bears live in Baldwin, Mobile, Washington and Monroe counties. Another 50 to 100 live in the Little River Canyon area of northeastern Alabama. Others may wander through just about any county at times.

Most Alabama male bears weigh about 300 to 350 pounds and females about 100 pounds less. Compare that to grizzlies, which could exceed 1,500 pounds and stand more than nine feet tall. While not as big as their giant cousins, black bears still pose a serious danger to anyone who crosses their paths.

Incredibly powerful predators with big claws and teeth, black bears can kill people and cause extensive property damage if they wish. Fortunately, attacks rarely happen. Actually quite shy, the official Alabama state mammal characteristically tries to avoid people. A bear could live near a residential area and no one will see it.

“The last thing a bear wants to see is a human,” Harms says. “We haven’t had any bear attacks in Alabama in modern times. Like most animals, bears have a natural fear of people. It’s surprising how well such a large animal can remain hidden. People can go in the woods every day and not see a bear, but the bear probably sees the person every time. They know when a person is in the woods and they want to get away as quickly as they can.”

Some hikers carry whistles or horns with them to frighten off any bears they might see. Others carry pepper spray as a last resort. Anyone who does spot a bear in the forests should just leave it alone and go somewhere else.

“A bear is not out to eat a human,” Harms says. “If you stumble upon a bear in the woods, let it know you are there so it can get away. Give the bear space. Back away from it. Don’t turn and run away from it because that could trigger a predatory instinct in the bear.”

However, as the bear and human populations continue to grow, the two species might bump into each other more frequently, particularly in places like Mobile County with large human and bear populations. Most bear-human encounters typically involve food. An omnivore, a bear will eat practically anything. 

Wildlife researchers weigh a black bear they captured in Washington County and check its health before releasing it. About 400 to 500 black bears live in Alabama, mostly in the southwestern and northeastern parts of the state. Photo by Karin Harms

Don’t give bears any reason to come around a house. Never intentionally feed a bear or put out food to attract one. In bear country, put refuse in bear-proof trashcans. At night, bring in pets and pet food. Never leave any food or food residue where a bear can find it. A bear could smell an old sandwich wrapper and tear anything apart looking for food.

“Bears can be dangerous, but they don’t have to be,” Harms says. “If bears begin to associate humans with food, that causes problems. Some people put out corn feeders, whether to hunt deer or just draw animals to the property. Bears find that corn. Bears are also looking for fruit or mast-producing trees.”

Young male bears probably cause the most problems. When young bears reach a certain age, their mother pushes them away as she prepares to breed again. On their own for the first time, these strong youngsters wander long distances looking for food, a mate and territory to call home, one not already occupied by larger bears.

“Young male bears start moving about in May,” Harms says. “They are young and dumb. Up until that time, momma has been telling them what to do. They don’t show any fear of humans and sometimes walk through the middle of big towns. That’s when we get a lot of calls about people seeing bears.”

When a female black bear reaches about two years old, she starts to breed. In Alabama, bears normally breed in July or August. About every two to three years, a female will deliver one to four cubs in January or February. She will likely live about 10 to 20 years and might produce 10 to 15 offspring in her lifetime.

In the spring, hikers, hunters or other outdoor enthusiasts might spot a mother with one or more cubs or possibly just a cub by itself. Never attempt to catch or approach a bear cub. Cubs may look like cute and cuddly fuzzballs, but they are not pets and probably not alone or lost. Momma is likely not far away. Get away from the cub and stay out of that area.

If you see a bear in Alabama, please report it to the ALDCNR at game.dcnr.alabama.gov/BlackBear or call the nearest ALDCNR office.

For more information, call Harms in Spanish Fort at 251-626-5153.

John N. Felsher lives in Semmes, Ala. Contact him through Facebook.

Knead some dough?

It’s Alive! Thanks to its short list of fairly accessible ingredients, bread, in its many forms, is the world’s most-eaten food. Most leavened bread gets its rise from yeast, and the way this little organism works is pretty interesting. Yeast is alive, and each individual yeast cell must eat to continue living. Yeasts’ favorite food is sugar, and when they’re added to bread dough, the yeasts feast on the sugars, breaking them down and emitting carbon dioxide and alcohol. As a gas, the carbon dioxide forms bubbles, which grow and expand, “plumping up” the dough. This process intensifies in the heat of the oven, as does the evaporation of the alcohol.

By Jennifer Kornegay / Food Photography by Brooke Echols

A warm-from-the-oven slice of freshly baked homemade bread is worth its weight in gold and definitely worth the effort required to make and bake it.

Bread has long been associated with money. The person bringing home the majority of a family or household’s income is the breadwinner. We often say someone doing well financially is “raking in the dough.” The link has its origins in the important role bread has played in the welfare of cultures around the world since man first started farming. As one of the oldest “prepared foods,” daily bread was essential for life, and thus, it attained high value. In places like ancient Egypt and middle-ages France, bread was used as credit and currency.

     Today, most of us no longer live by bread alone, and as some of us try to watch our waistlines, bread — with its high calorie and carb count — has been given a lesser place of prominence in many modern diets. But this just puts it on a pedestal again, giving it a new kind of value as something some deem a splurge or a luxury.

     Our access to all kinds of bread makes it even more special. We can easily get our hands on bread types from all over the globe: flat but pillowy Indian naan; a skinny, crusty French baguette; or a round of chewy Italian ciabatta. If you prefer to go all-American, you’ve still got lots of options: a soft loaf of tangy sourdough, a slice studded with raisins and swirled with cinnamon, a beer-boosted bread or just a plain piece of basic white.

     And if you want to stay true to our region, cornbread is certainly the South’s favorite bread. Or is it the biscuit? (It’s definitely risen beyond the realm of bread but is still bread nonetheless.) That’s a debate with no wrong answer.

     Wherever your bread cravings take your taste buds, set aside some time to try out a few of this month’s reader submitted recipes.


Cook of the Month: Robin O’Sullivan, Wiregrass EC

Robin O’Sullivan loves fresh, local strawberries, and when they’re in season each spring, she’s always looking for ways to incorporate them into her cooking. She’d made chocolate-banana bread for years, and then one day, decided to branch out and try chocolate-strawberry bread instead. “It was really just an experiment,” she said. “I love the flavor combo of chocolate and strawberry, so I figured it would work.” It did. It’s become a regular in her baking rotation, and while it is technically bread, she admits it’s flirting with being a dessert. “It’s sweet and a bit rich, but like a banana bread, you can still eat it for breakfast,” she said.

 

 

 

 

Chocolate-Strawberry Bread

  • 1 pound whole strawberries
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
  • 4 eggs
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease bottoms of two 9×5-inch or 8×4-inch loaf pans. Lightly flour. Slightly mash strawberries; set aside. In a large bowl, mix sugar and oil. Stir in eggs until well blended. Stir in strawberries until well mixed. Stir in remaining ingredients, except chocolate chips, just until moistened. Stir in chocolate chips. Pour into pans. Bake 1 hour or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes. Remove from pans to wire rack. Cool completely before slicing.


Garlic Rosemary Bread

  • 2 cups lukewarm water (105 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • 1 package active dry yeast (21/4 teaspoons)
  • 1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 4 1/3 cups all-purpose flour, divided
  • 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • Sea salt

In a large mixing bowl, combine water and yeast. Add 1 cup of flour and salt; stir with a wooden spoon until combined. Stir in rosemary leaves and minced garlic. Add remaining flour, one cup at a time, stirring until thoroughly combined. Cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm spot to rise for 1 hour. Add one tablespoon of olive oil in an 8 or 10-inch cast iron skillet; using a napkin or your fingers, coat bottom and sides of skillet with the olive oil. Flour your hands; remove plastic wrap and using your hands, transfer dough to prepared skillet and shape into a disk. Cover with a kitchen towel and let stand for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Drizzle remaining olive oil over the top and sprinkle with sea salt. Score the top of the loaf with some shallow knife cuts. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until top is nicely browned. Remove from oven and turn the bread out onto a wire cooling rack. Leave to cool for a few minutes and serve. (If you do not have an iron skillet, you can use a stoneware baking dish).

NOTE: Remove bread from pan as soon as  it comes out of the oven because bread left in the pan will become moist and soggy.

Mary Rich

North Alabama EC


Mayonnaise Biscuits

  • 1 cup self-rising flour
  • 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 2/3 cup milk

Combine all ingredients and spoon into greased muffin tins. Bake at 425 degrees until golden brown, about 20-25 minutes. Yield: 6 biscuits. Easily doubled or tripled for more biscuits.

Sherry Phillips

Central Alabama EC


No Corn Jalapeno “Cornbread”

  • 1 cup almond flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2-3/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup pickled (not hot) jalapenos dried on a paper towel
  • 3/4 cup grated cheddar or Fontina cheese
  • 1 tablespoon cooking oil

Place an 8-inch cast iron skillet into the oven and preheat to 400 degrees. Combine flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda in a bowl. Add in egg and milk; mix lightly until smooth and fluid. (Add more milk if necessary so that batter is loose enough to spread evenly into bottom of skillet). Remove hot skillet from the oven and add 1 tablespoon oil. Spread oil over bottom. Place back in oven and heat for 5 minutes.

Remove skillet again and pour in half the batter. Spread into a layer over the bottom. Place the dry jalapenos over the batter and then add the cheese over the top. Pour the rest of the batter over the jalapenos and cheese. Spread with spoon to cover evenly. Bake 20 to 25 minutes until top is golden. Serves 2 to 4. Delicious, Paleo and gluten free.

Gay Cotton

Baldwin EMC


Spoon Bread Muffins (Rolls)

  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 ½ sticks margarine, melted
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 4 cups self-rising flour
  • 1 package yeast
  • 2 cups warm water

Dissolve yeast in warm water. Stir in flour, beaten egg, sugar and melted margarine. Stir until mixed well. Can use immediately or will keep well in a covered bowl that is refrigerated for one week. To bake: spoon mix into greased muffin tins and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until golden brown.

LaCretia Bevel

North Alabama EC


Easy Popovers

  • 1 1/4 cups milk
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 large eggs

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Grease a 6-cup popover pan. Pour milk into mixing bowl, add flour and salt and use a hand mixer to blend well, making sure not to over-mix the batter. Add eggs one at a time, beating each until completely blended. Pour batter evenly into popover cups, filling will be about 3/4 full. Bake at 425 degrees for 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees and continue baking 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. Serve immediately.

Shari Lowery

Pioneer EC


Easy Beer Bread

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 bottle of beer
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup optional ingredients: shredded cheese, olives, jalapenos and 1 teaspoon (or more if you like) Italian seasoning blend

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9x5x3-inch bread loaf pan. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt until combined. Slowly pour the beer and honey into the flour mixture, add optional ingredients if you desire and stir until combined. Pour half of the melted butter into the bottom of the loaf pan and spread it around evenly. Then add the batter to the pan in an even layer and brush the rest of the butter around evenly on top of the batter. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until the top of the bread is golden brown and a toothpick or knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Shari Lowery

Pioneer EC


Coming up in May… Junior Cooks!

It’s time to spice up our recipe selection and you could be a winner! We are looking for fresh, creative recipes from readers just like you. In addition to our monthly Cook of the Month prize, beginning in January, all cooks who submit a recipe will automatically be entered into a drawing to win a gift basket full of Alabama Living merchandise. Take a look at our upcoming themes and send in your favorite recipes today!

Themes and Deadlines

June: Heirloom Recipes | April 8

July: Frozen Treats | May. 8

August: Corn | June 8

Submit your recipe here.

Editor’s Note: Alabama Living’s recipes are submitted by our readers. They are not kitchen-tested by a professional cook or registered dietician. If you have special dietary needs, please check with your doctor or nutritionist before preparing any recipe.

Social Security: Connect with Social Security via automated services

Every day thousands use it to do business with Social Security. We strive to offer the kind of services that meet people’s needs.  And sometimes you want fast and direct answers over the phone. We have that option.

You can call us toll free at 1-800-772-1213. Our automated services are available 24 hours a day and include some of the most popular services that people need. With automated services, you can request a benefit verification (proof of income) letter, replace a lost SSA-1099 (tax summary needed for taxes), request a replacement Medicare card, ask for form SSA-1020 to apply for help with Medicare prescription drug costs, or request an SS-5 application for a Social Security card.

When our automated services ask such things as, “How can I help you?” Just say, “Get a proof of income letter” or “Replace Medicare card.” Next, you will be asked for some personal information to identify yourself, then we will respond to your request. We will mail you the document or form you requested. It takes less time to use automated services than to reach a representative by phone on a busy day. 

Sometimes, you just need Social Security information such as, “What date will my check arrive?” or “What is the SSI program?” Automated services feature messages about these popular topics. If payment delivery date is the type of info you need, when asked “How can I help you?” just reply “Payment delivery date.” You will hear a recorded message stating the current month and the future month’s payment dates. Other topics include direct deposit, SSI messages, the cost-of-living adjustment, Medicare prescription drug program, tax information, representative payee, and fraud. Dial, and listen — what a simple way to stay informed.

To connect with us through our automated services, visit socialsecurity.gov/agency/contact/phone.html.

Kylle’ McKinney, SSA Public Affairs Specialist, can be reached by email at kylle.mckinney@ssa.gov.

Rural Health: Stigma is an unnecessary barrier to mental health care

Several years back, I was conducting a community health assessment of a small, rural community in South Alabama to identify its greatest health issues and needs. My first job after finishing college was with the Alabama Department of Mental Health. Because of this experience, mental health care and needs have always been of special concern to me.

As a part of this health assessment, I visited the local outpatient mental health center to meet with the clinical director to discuss mental health-related issues, trends, and needs in the community. I was surprised when he refused to discuss such general topics until I received permission from his supervisor. This experience started me thinking about the stigma attached to certain mental health and other sensitive health conditions as a very real barrier to health care.

Keeping health conditions and issues in the closet is greatly contributing to establishing and increasing stigmas that are actually creating barriers to health care. The question must be asked:  Could this unnecessary stigma be a contributing factor in the horrible school violence in this country?  This director should have been required to get out and speak with civic organizations, churches, etc. to inform the community about local mental health.

A large portion of our population does not understand mental health. What is depression? What are the symptoms of depression? What is schizophrenia? What treatments and other options are available for persons with mental health needs? Bringing such conditions out of the closet and openly discussing them may help identify many of the undiagnosed who need assistance. It may also increase local awareness and concern to the point of producing more local buy-in and support for mental health care.

Such open and public conversation can also remove much of the stigma associated with sensitive health conditions, like mental health, HIV/AIDS, and drug abuse or dependency. Open discussion can enable many sensitive health conditions to become recognized as normal conditions that involve normal people and for which successful treatments are available.

Attempts are being made to care for patients with more sensitive conditions together with other general health care, rather than having such care provided in separate facilities. Seeing someone walking into a mental health clinic or a facility dedicated to the treatment of other sensitive conditions would virtually be an announcement that they have that condition. This integrative care model holds promise in decreasing the stigma attached to certain health conditions.

If you are a member of a civic organization, church, or other source that provides programs, I encourage you to have programs on topics that can diminish the stigmas attached to sensitive health conditions to enhance access to such health care.

Dale Quinney is executive director of the Alabama Rural Health Association, 1414 Elba Highway, Troy, 36081.

Alabama Snapshots: Country Roads

Country road on our cattle ranch. SUBMITTED BY Caroline Mann, Double Springs.

Pinewood Road, Andalusia, AL. SUBMITTED BY Tina Boles, Andalusia.

North Baldwin County, January 2018. SUBMITTED BY Deborah Walters, Fairhope.

Horton Covered Bridge located off Highway 75 between Oneonta and the town of Susan Moore. SUBMITTED BY Sheila Edwards, Cullman.

Country road in Elberta. SUBMITTED BY Patti Pursley, Robertsdale.

Doug and Becky Martin, taken on County Road 832 in Wadley. SUBMITTED BY Becky Martin, Wadley.

Submit Your Images! June Theme: “Gone Fishing” Deadline for June: April 30. Submit photos online: www.alabamaliving.coop/submit-photo/ or send color photos with a self-addressed stamped envelope to: Photos, Alabama Living, P.O. Box 244014 Montgomery, AL 36124. Rules: Alabama Living will pay $10 for photos that best match our theme of the month. Photos may also be published on our website at www.alabamaliving.coop and on our Facebook page. Alabama Living is not responsible for lost or damaged photos.

Tying the knot in the country

Rural wedding venues growing in appeal

Stone Bridge Farms in Cullman hosts more than 80 weddings a year. Photo by Smith Squared Photography

By Lori M. Quiller

Could the days of black-tie weddings be numbered? Probably not, but the number of weddings hosted in more casual, rustic settings are certainly on the rise in Alabama.

According to TheKnot.com, an online wedding resource, ranch or farm-style weddings have been on the rise since 2012. Nuptials in the country can provide a rustic and memorable event for the bridal party and their family and friends, and Alabama has plenty of spaces to host your special day with a country flair.

Lisa Woodham, owner of Woodham Farms in Dothan, Ala., agreed that rural weddings have become much more popular in recent years and is a trend that’s here to stay.

“Oh, absolutely! It’s more than just country chic, I think. These types of wedding have a certain type of unmistakable charm and sweetness about them. We want people who come here to feel special.”

Newlywed Christina Clark Okarmus said she and her husband chose a Lee County farm for their outdoor wedding in September 2017 for several reasons, but it was the laid back atmosphere that sealed the deal.

“It was a perfect fit for us,” Okarmus says. “We visited a couple of other places in the city, but they just didn’t seem to be the right fit. The farm was far more laid back, and that’s more our style. The farm had housing for our family to stay all week and have plenty of space, and there was a playground for the kids, too. All these things fit into our budget nicely, and it just felt like the right spot for us.”

Christina and Matt Okarmus were married last fall at a farm in Lee County. Christina says the relaxed setting was a perfect fit for them.
Photo by Rob Smith, FlipFlopFoto

All kinds of venues

Alabama has a variety of locations for couples looking for the perfect rural wedding spot.

The Hitching Post Farms is 30 acres of land in Eclectic, Ala., owned by Diane and Robert Crosby. While it may not have started off as the couple’s dream to host weddings on the property, now it’s truly a labor of love.

“A lot of our clients want that outside, rustic look for their wedding,” Diane Crosby says. “They want their wedding to be different and special. We work very hard to make that happen for them. Every wedding is always something special, not just for the couple, but for us, too. I feel like it’s my responsibility to fulfill these dreams of these brides who come here and have been planning their weddings their entire lives. It’s an honor to help fulfill those dreams for them.”

However, The Hitching Post Farms was almost lost before it began. The Crosbys had rented the property for a time before eventually purchasing it for themselves. Their dream was to build their perfect home, but they decided to build a barn instead to use for family camping events. Then tragedy struck.

“When the tornadoes came through in 2011, it took out our home. So we started building on to the property to what we have now. It took 18 months to rebuild. Out of that destruction we were able to make something very special and beautiful that we can share with others,” she says.

For couples looking for an all-inclusive, but still farm-style location, Stone Bridge Farms in Cullman, Ala., has been hosting weddings since 2010 and does more than 80 each year. It’s an old family tradition that owner Ron Foust has been working to bring back to life.

As a young boy, Foust remembers his grandfather, a minister for more than 50 years in Cullman County, performing marriages, baptisms and other ceremonies on the family property. Slowly over the years, parcels of the family land were sold. Foust began buying it back until he could restore the family’s 75-acre estate so he could carry on his family’s tradition of hosting weddings on the property.

According to event coordinator Janet Fortner, Stone Bridge Farms handles catering and flowers, as well as photography, for their clients. There’s even a baker on staff, although it’s not mandatory to use the staff baker.

“Sometimes it’s just easier to do everything at one place. We would like the event to be a one-stop-shop so it’s less stressful for our clients,” Fortner says. “We have a design team meeting with our brides on day one, [so they can] get to know them from three to four months out from the wedding. Then we’re there with them to help get them down the aisle as stress-free as possible. Our goal is to make each event as stress-less as possible.”

Stone Bridge Farms, a customer of Cullman EC, offers lodging with five cabins and three homes on property for rent to out-of-town guests. The location doesn’t host only weddings, but also corporate retreats, meetings, birthday parties, showers and other events.

Beyond the farm

Wills Creek Vineyards at the Windmill in Attalla.
Photo by Janie Coppey.

If the rustic charm of a barn or farmland isn’t quite what you’re looking for, did you know there’s a vineyard in North Alabama at the foothills of the Appalachian mountains?

Wills Creek Vineyards and Winery in Attalla, Ala., is a working vineyard — and not what you might expect from an outdoor wedding venue.

“When I think of Napa Valley and I see pictures of weddings in Napa, I’m reminded of our wedding space next to our vineyards where it’s lush and green — it’s just such a different setting than a rural barn setting,” says owner Janie Coppey. “Our location is special because you can see the Appalachian foothills that run on the other side of the road, and depending on the focal point of the photographer, some of those mountains will be in your photos. In the spring, summer and fall, everything is so colorful and makes a beautiful setting for a wedding.”

Wills Creek Vineyards and Winery and the event space is two miles away from the six-acre vineyard. The vineyard is a popular destination for bridal showers, brunches, proms, class reunions and other events, thanks to the location’s covered event space. With an on-site coordinator to help pull details together, Coppey says the goal is always to take as much stress off the client as possible.

“Brides, grooms and their families have enough stress, so we want to take as much of that off them to help make their day as special and memorable as possible. We want them to enjoy their day, have beautiful memories, and enjoy the vineyard while they’re here,” Coppey says.


Tips for finding a rural wedding space

Ask questions. If you’re on a budget and using an outdoor space, you should know up front if there are set-up and cleaning fees, what decorations are provided, and whether it’s mandatory to use the venue’s caterer and florist. Have an idea of how many guests plan to attend. Your quote will be based on this number. Do your research. It’s fine if you haven’t settled on your wedding style when you meet with your venue representative, but your meeting will go much better if you have some ideas. The venue will most likely have an event planner on staff to help you along in the process.

 

 

Hitching Post Farms offers a rural setting for weddings and receptions in Eclectic. Photo by Alex & Dylan Photo and Video.

Songs about Alabama and the stories behind them

By Emmett Burnett

Songs of Alabama have enriched lives since the state was a state of mind. But our songs in the heart, notes in the head, and lyrics in memory are more than meets the ear. How many tunes about the Heart of Dixie can you name? (And by the way, “Heart of Dixie” is the title of the 2013 debut single of country singer Danielle Bradbery – though it isn’t actually about Alabama.)

Missing home

Nashville recording artist Allison Moorer explains the popularity of Alabama namesake songs: “The word sings well. It flows,” she instructs and offers proof. “Try it. Say ‘Alaaaa Bamaaaa.’ See? It flows. You can’t do that with Rhode Island.”

Raised in Washington County, the younger sister of country star Shelby Lynne is well qualified to speak of flowing words. Allison has written over 200 songs, released 7 albums and 11 singles, including “Alabama Song.”

From her debut album of the same name, the lyrics speak of home “where the trees grow tall and green…where the skies shine bright and blue…if you’re going, I’m going with you.”

“I wrote it 20 years ago, a time when I was away from home,” she recalls. “I felt a little marooned and was thinking how special it is returning to the Deep South.”

It came from outer space

We all love “Stars Fell on Alabama,” but beware. It has a dark side. The tale of starry-eyed sweethearts was inspired by a night of terror.

On Nov. 12, 1833, the greatest meteor sighting in recorded history ignited southern skies like a nuclear bomb. There were estimates of 200,000 shooting stars per hour. And on a clear moonless night, Alabama was Ground Zero.

“In 1833 there was no news and no warnings,” notes Bill Cooke of the Meteoroid Environment Office at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville. “Terrified, many thought it was the End Times.”

Frightened masses shivered under wagons and in shelters – impromptu shields from heaven’s wrath. A horrified cotton planter noted, “My God, the world is on fire.”

In 1934, Carl Carmer wrote a book of essays titled “Stars Fell on Alabama,” acknowledging 1833’s spectacle. Inspired by the book, music composer Frank Perkins and lyricist Mitchell Parish realized the potential for a song of the same name.

But how does one create music based on a stellar holocaust?  Easy: Love conquers all, even flying space rocks. Hence the lyrics:

“We lived our little drama

We kissed in a field of white

And Stars Fell On

Alabama Last night…”

“Little drama,” perhaps the biggest understatement in music history, alludes to the fear-frozen night, when stars fell on Alabama.

Turn it up

The words “Sweet Home Alabama” have been embossed on automobile tags, served as an unofficial motto, and been licensed by the State Department of Tourism. And the Lynyrd Skynyrd song that made it popular? Wow.

“It has been used in various facets, from political campaigns to countless movies,” says Rachel Morris, archivist and coordinator at the Center for Popular Music at Middle Tennessee State University. “It is perhaps the most recognized song about Alabama.”

Ironically, “Sweet Home Alabama” was written by two Floridians and a Californian, and recorded in Georgia. It is basically a protest song of a protest song.

“Lynyrd Skynyrd responded to Neil Young’s ‘Southern Man’ and ‘Alabama,’ which dealt with racism and slavery in the American South,” notes Alabama Tourism Department publications director Rick Harmon. But there was never a feud between the band and the artist.

The lyrics cover a broad range of mid-1970s issues, including Watergate, Gov. George Wallace, and prevailing music trends.

Many ponder the song’s famous first words, “turn it up.” Hidden message? Secret code? Buried treasure map? After years of research, the true meaning of “turn it up” is revealed: Turn it up means turn it up.

During recording, lead vocalist Ronnie Van Zant asked someone to increase the volume in his headphones. Unaware the microphone was live, Van Zant’s request was immortalized.

That old college try 

Visitors enjoy a tour of the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in Tuscumbia.
Photo by Marilyn Jones

You don’t know Ethelred Lundy Sykes. But if you’ve ever watched an Alabama football game, you know his work.

In the early 1920s, the Birmingham native competed for a University of Alabama scholarship and lost. But Ethelred enrolled anyway, becoming active in student life and continuing his unwavering passion for contests.

In 1926 he submitted an entry in the school’s Rammer-Jammer humor magazine’s quest for best new battle march. Sykes’ musical offering was a little ditty he called, “Yea Alabama!”

Perhaps you’ve heard it: “Yea Alabama! Drown ‘em Tide! Every Bama Man’s Behind You, Hit your stride.” Yep, Ethelred wrote that, and won $50.

“Yea Alabama!” became the University of Alabama fight song, typically sung by a choir of 150,000 at the top of their collective lungs at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

The late Ethelred Lundy Sykes never wrote another song, opting instead to join the military, where he served in the U.S. Air Force Strategic Air Command, and retired as a brigadier general.

The ghost who sang “Your Cheating Heart”

Music is often described as hauntingly beautiful, but “Midnight in Montgomery” is beautifully haunted.

With close to 3 million YouTube hits, the video rivals the song in popularity. Lyrics unfold a story at Hank Williams’ Oakwood Annex Cemetery gravesite. Singer Alan Jackson, en route to a gig, steps off a Montgomery bus to pay respects to country music’s king.

But the late Hank Williams is no longer late. Jackson sees a ghost.

“I don’t know if the video and song increased visits to Williams’ burial site,” says Oakwood’s spokesman, Phillip Taunton. “People have visited the grave almost daily since Williams died (Jan. 1, 1953).” They often leave mementos like flowers, guitar picks, and bottles of beer. Which perhaps Hank Williams appreciates, because as Alan Jackson croons, “Oh Hank’s always singing there.”

Alabama, our official song

In the mid-1860s, Tuscaloosa’s Julia S. Tutwiler, educator, humanitarian, and women’s rights advocate, completed her European studies and returned to Alabama. The state of the state left her heartbroken.

Tutwiler felt we could do better. Documents provided by Courtney Pinkard, reference archivist at the Alabama Department of Archives and History, noted Tutwiler’s thoughts: “Never for a moment doubt the outcome of struggle if maintained with courage and devotion to principle.”

Around 1868, she wrote a poem, which later became “Alabama,” a rallying cry set to music by Birmingham composer and organist Edna Cockel-Gussen in 1917. It became our official song by a vote of the Legislature on March 9, 1931.

Several attempts have been made to replace it. “It has an elementary school auditorium assembly feel to it, but you aren’t going to please everyone,” says Kevin Nutt, folk life archivist at the Archives. “’Sweet Home Alabama’ was floated as a replacement. Who can sing that?”

For now, Tutwiler’s classic rules. Each stanza ends with “Alabama, Alabama, We will aye be true to thee!” May it be said by us all, in music, lyrics, and song.

Famous art is right at home in Alabama

Edward Hopper (American, 1882–1967), New York Office, 1962, oil on canvas, Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Montgomery, Alabama, The Blount Collection

By Marilyn Jones

Alabama may not be synonymous with fine art, but our museums are home to some truly world-class collections and pieces. You can appreciate their  beauty or perhaps their emotional power; some offer glimpses into our history, telling us about our culture and where we came from. Whatever the purpose, you can make new discoveries with a short drive to one of Alabama’s fine art museums.

Birmingham Museum of Art 

Richard B. Coe, American 1904–1978, Down Town Birmingham, about 1935, etching on paper. Photo courtesy Birmingham Museum of Art

The museum has an impressive collection of more than 27,000 objects representing cultures from around the world including Asian, European, American, African, Pre-Columbian and Native American art. The museum also houses the largest collection of Wedgwood ceramics in North America, and its holdings of Asian art are the most extensive in the Southeast.

Katelyn Crawford, The William Cary Hulsey Curator of American Art, says one of her favorite exhibits in the American galleries is Magic City Realism: Richard Coe’s Birmingham, an exhibition featuring detailed etchings of Birmingham during The Great Depression.

“In celebrating industrial Birmingham, Coe joined fellow Alabama artists in creating a body of American scene images of the South,” says Crawford.

Admission is free; artsbma.org, (205) 254-2565.

Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art, Auburn University

“Grey Fox,” 1843, Hand-colored lithograph, The Louise Hauss and David Brent Miller Audubon Collection. Photo courtesy Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art, Auburn University

“We value all artwork in our collection, not because of their individual monetary value, but the value in what the piece can teach us about the time and culture in which it was made,” says Museum Director Marilyn Laufer.

“Our Advancing American Art collection … (was) acquired by the university in 1948. Looking at those pieces, we get a real sense of the issues and ideas that concerned Americans during that World War II period,” says Laufer. “It is amazing to see how many of those concerns are still prevalent today.”

The university often hosts special exhibitions. Audubon’s Last Wilderness Journey: The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America is currently on view with a comparison exhibition on the seldom reproduced four-footed mammals.

 “We’ve exhibited Rubens and Rembrandt, prints by Edvard Munch and sculptures by August Rodin. In our own collection, we have works by such renowned artists as Georgia O’Keeffe, Rufino Tamayo and Jacob Lawrence,” says Laufer, reminding everyone that each “visit to the museum will provide a new discovery.”

Admission is free; jcsm.auburn.edu.

Mobile Museum of Fine Art

“Like most art museums, we view our collection less in terms of monetary value and more in terms of its place in the history of

With a collection of nearly 11,000 objects, guests can spend hours enjoying the many galleries of the Mobile Museum of Art. Photo courtesy Mobile Museum of Art

art,” says Museum Director Deborah Velders. “We are most proud of our community’s support … the vast majority of our collection of nearly 11,000 objects were gifts from this community, as is the financial support for the majority of our exhibitions and programs.

“We own artworks and crafts by many of the ‘canonical’ names in the history of art, such as Pierre-August Renoir, Thomas Moran, Louis Comfort Tiffany glass, Frederick Remington, Salvator Rosa, Robert Rauschenberg and many others,” Velders says.

“While our collection is not comprehensive nor represents fully ‘the history of art,’ it includes significant works that help students and adults alike learn more of our world’s cultures through its art,” says Velders.

Admission is charged; mobilemuseumofart.com

Huntsville Museum of Art

Buccellati: A Silver Menagerie features a four-foot tall flamingo and a reclining giraffe.
Photo courtesy Huntsville Museum of Art

According to Samantha Nielsen, director of communications, the museum is extremely proud of its exhibit Buccellati: A Silver Menagerie.

The silver creations were designed and fabricated in Milan, Italy, by the luxury jewelry firm of Buccellati. Betty Grisham of Huntsville donated the works of art to the museum.

“We have the world’s largest (Buccellati) public collection,” Nielsen says. The artists combined Renaissance period techniques, luxury materials and the extensive use of texture engraving to create objects of great beauty.

Buccellati clientele included the Vatican as well as the Royal Houses of Italy, Spain, Belgium, England and Egypt. Highlights of the museum’s collection include a four-foot tall flamingo, a reclining giraffe and a marine centerpiece consisting of Mediterranean Sea creatures arranged around a natural amethyst geode. “The latest addition is a family of deer commissioned by the museum to honor Betty Grisham.”

One of the museum’s most famous pieces is Luigi Lucioni’s Ethel Waters. “The official unveiling of the painting was held at the museum on Feb. 1 during the opening celebration of African American History Month,” Nielsen says. “This historical painting was thought to be lost and hadn’t been seen by the public since 1942.”

Admission is charged; hsvmuseum.org.

Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts

The museum collections “feature primarily American art, and particularly that of the Southeast and Alabama,” says Senior

John Singer Sargent (American, 1856–1925), Mrs. Louis E. Raphael, ca. 1906, oil on canvas, Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Montgomery, Alabama, The Blount Collection

Curator Margaret Lynne Ausfeld. It has grown to represent 200 years of our country’s history.

“One of the earliest works … in the American paintings collection was made by an anonymous artist around the 1870s right here in Alabama and most likely in Montgomery,” she says. It depicts Montgomery in “an earlier frontier era, most likely during the very early 19th century when Alabama was a territory or during early statehood.”

The museum also features William Merritt Chase and Frank Duveneck. “Chase’s Woman in a Chinese Robe is an excellent example of this artist’s skill as a portraitist and still-life painter,” Ausfeld says. Other outstanding works include Georgia O’Keeffe’s Hills Before Taos and John Singer Sargent’s Mrs. Louis Raphael.

Other notable pieces include Mary Cassatt’s Francois in Green, Sewing and an example of 19th century marble sculpture by Edmonia Lewis, Hiawatha’s Marriage.

“The museum’s best-known painting is by the American 20th century painter Edward Hopper, New York Office,” but Ausfeld stresses there are many collections in the museum as well as programs designed to educate the public about art and this museum’s collection.

Admission is free; mmfa.org.

2017. Park and Building photos. Jonathan Long photography.

Avoiding the ‘grandparent scam’

By Richard Bauman

I answered the phone one morning and heard someone who sounded like our grandson, Edward, say, “Hi grandpa, it’s your favorite grandson.” And that’s how the “grandparent scam” usually starts.

That jovial greeting is usually followed by a tale of woe. In this instance, Edward was supposedly in New York for a buddy’s bachelor party. He had wrecked a rental car and been arrested for DUI.

Then comes the plea for money. He needed $8,000 to pay his fine and to fix the car. “Please help me out, grandpa,” that’s followed by another plea: “Please don’t tell my parents. I’ll explain it to them when I get home.”

My response to the fake Edward: “You’re a fraud,” and I hung up on him.

I knew that Ed wasn’t at a bachelor party in New York. He lives in California, and is a 14-year old high school freshman.

What should you do if you get a phone call supposedly from one of your grandchildren claiming to be in another state, or even a foreign country, and desperately needs several thousand dollars to get out of a jam?

First, be careful. Our natural inclination is to jump in and help but that could be the worst thing to do. Instead of reacting quickly:

Take a deep breath or two, relax and be noncommittal

Ask for a phone number where you can later reach him/her

Contact the supposed grandchild’s parents, siblings and others who would know if he or she is away from home as claimed.

If you know your grandchild’s cell phone, call him/her and leave a voicemail if need be, or text asking him/her to call you.

Be wary if the caller doesn’t sound like your grandchild; ask about it. Scammers usually will say it’s a bad connection or he/she has a cold or make some other vague explanation for their odd sounding voice.

Typically, grandparents are asked to wire the money to some out of state or out of the country location. Sometimes grandparents are told to buy several thousand dollars in prepaid debit cards and then phone the “grandchild” with the scratch-off numbers on the back of the cards. They can then use those numbers to get the money.

According to the National Council on Aging, the grandparent scam is successful because it is so simple, and devious, and it uses one of older adults’ most reliable assets – their hearts.

Older people are often easy targets for such cons, according to the AARP, because:

They’re more likely to be home during the day

They expect people to be honest

They are less likely to act when defrauded.

Further, the National Council on Aging estimated that senior citizens are robbed of about $3 billion annually via various financial scams.

Scamming grandparents can be lucrative for well-practiced criminals. Especially since the odds of being caught and prosecuted are slim.

One incarcerated scammer told journalist Carter Evans: “You can make $10,000 … in a day if you do it properly. Once you get them emotionally involved, then they’ll do anything for you, basically.”

“The effect (of the scam) on the victims is so great. It’s not simply the loss of the money. They feel stupid, they feel gullible, and they have nightmares about it and anxiety and depression,” says former Assistant U.S. Attorney Ellyn Lindsey, who successfully prosecuted the scammer that Carter Evans interviewed.

There are also email versions of this swindle. You receive an email supposedly from a friend who is in a foreign country, and has been robbed and needs money to pay for a new passport, his/her hotel and airfare home. I received such an email from my friend Connie, who said she was stuck in London. I knew it was a scam since Connie had died six months before the email arrived.

Recently, my wife received an email plea for help from a nun she knows who was ostensibly stranded in the Philippines. She called the nun’s cell phone and learned she was not stranded in the Philippines or anywhere else. She told Donna she had received numerous calls from people concerned about her well-being.

If a supposed grandchild, relative or friend either calls or emails and claims to be in dire need of money, after having had some devastating experience in either another state or a foreign country, fight the urge to react quickly to the request. Take the time to verify his or her story. It might truly be someone in need of help, but the call or email is more likely just an attempt to separate you from your money.

Lastly, when you receive a call from a number you don’t recognize, let your voicemail answer the call. Scammers don’t usually leave messages.