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Photo contest winners capture the essence of Alabama

By Allison Law

For Alabama Living’s first photo contest in 2017, we asked our readers to capture life in rural Alabama. That contest garnered more than 100 photos from all parts of Alabama, from the picturesque mountains of the northeast to the sugar white sands of the Gulf coast.

The contest was, from our viewpoint, a great success. We knew that there were many talented amateur photographers all around Alabama, and we weren’t disappointed. We were able to share them with you in our July 2017 issue.

For our second photo contest this year, we expanded our call for photos with four separate categories: Rural landscapes, Alabama landmarks, emotions and cute critters. The idea was to broaden the subject matter of the photos, and to get our readers to use some creativity in submitting their entries.

Entries were limited to two photos per category, per photographer, and the contest was limited to amateur photographers only. We printed the call for entries in the March and April issues of the magazine.

This year, our judge was Phil Scarsbrook, a professional photographer in central Alabama with nearly 40 years of experience. He also takes the group photos for our annual Montgomery Youth Tour. Scarsbrook did not know the identities of the photographers during the judging.

Each first-place winner will receive $50. Enjoy this year’s winners, and keep an eye out for next year’s contest.

Cute critters (photo on the cover) First place winner: Dorie Parsons, Baldwin EMC. Judge’s remarks: “Whether this is a pet rabbit or wild rabbit, the photograph gives the illusion of wild. Nice use of a shallow depth of focus to pull attention to the subject. Also having the rabbit look into the open space to the right makes for a more interesting composition.”

Honorable Mention. Beach Chorus: Dorie Parsons, Baldwin EMC. “I took this shot of some very opinionated gulls at Orange Beach.”

Honorable Mention. Boll Weevil monument: Kathryn Tipton, South Alabama EC. “I think this photo is special because it’s the only monument in the world dedicated to a pest.”

Alabama Landmarks. First place winner: Rebekah Calhoun, Coosa Valley EC. Judge’s remarks: “I have seen variations of this shot (of the staircase in the Alabama Capitol building) before, however, this one is particularly well executed. The leading lines of the handrail pull your eyes into the composition and keep them there.”

Honorable Mention. Cranes at Wheeler: Susanlynn Allen, North Alabama EC. “Photographed at Wheeler Wildlife Refuge during the annual migration of the Sandhill Cranes. It is an amazing adventure to watch the cranes fly into the refuge and land and to think about their migration habits of returning each year.”

Honorable Mention. Cross on lake: Kathryn Taipton, South Alabama EC “This photo, taken at the Vineyard Christian Retreat) is a constant reminder of the one who died for our sins.”

Emotions. First place winner: Jennifer McCuiston, Cullman EC. Judge’s remarks: “Very cute photo catching the spontaneity of the moment and the child’s natural reaction.” “We have backyard chickens and wanted a few more, so we bought six new chicks this year. Coleman (McCuiston’s son) liked to bring them in the house when they were little to play with them. He set the chick on his shoulder to be like a pirate, but was laughing because the chick kept pecking at the freckle on his face.”

Honorable Mention. Fishing on Wheeler Lake: William Porter, North Alabama EC. “I was taking photos of the pelican migration (at Joe Wheeler Dam), perhaps on their way back to Canada. The sun was setting low on the horizon, giving a warm glow on the birds. When I looked over my shoulder I saw a peaceful scene of Alabamians enjoying their leisure time.”

Honorable Mention. Fox squirrel: Donna Marcella, Cullman EC. “I took this photo in our back yard beside our pecan tree. With three pecan trees in our yard this fox squirrel is a frequent visitor. We recognize this particular squirrel by the white on its face and look forward to each visit.”

Rural Landscapes. First place winner: Caroline Mann, Double Springs. Judge’s remarks: “Beautiful image. Could easily been in the emotions category. Makes me want to travel up the road to see what’s beyond the rise.”

Honorable Mention. Raccoons ready to fight: Dorie Parsons, Baldwin EMC. “These young raccoons on Catman Trail in Orange Beach seem to be having a disagreement over breakfast.”

Honorable Mention. Shrimp boats: Jeff Hosterman, Baldwin EMC. “The tremendous historical legacy of this small, diverse Alabama town (Bayou La Batre), with its shrimping and shipbuilding industries on a local, state and national level.”

Corn Fed: Fill up on the South’s favorite grain this summer while it’s fresh.

BY JENNIFER KORNEGAY / Food/Photography BY BROOKE ECHOLS

Southern summers are synonymous with an abundance of fresh fruits and veggies, and while its arrival may not be as celebrated as that of popular produce like tomatoes or peaches, corn is an undeniable staple down here. This reliable standard is at its peak right now, and summer is when we enjoy it in its purest state, sometimes only hours or days off the stalk and mere minutes after shucking frees it from its husk and slippery silk. It may be basic, but hot corn on the cob, slick with melted butter and a sprinkling of salt is an essential element of a backyard, lakefront or beachside cookout.

But you can do so much more with fresh corn. Cut off the kernels and cook over high heat with some bacon grease in cast iron to create fried corn. Stir some cream in with the little niblets of sunshine, and you’ve got creamed corn, a rich addition to a veggie plate. Toss them raw with a little mayo (and/or sour cream), sliced scallions, salt and pepper, plus herbs and seasonings of your choice for a cold corn salad. You can even add it to your dessert menu. Sweet corn makes a deliciously light and natural-tasting ice cream.

     And corn is not relegated to a single season. It’s important in the Southern kitchen year-round in the forms of cornmeal and grits, and advances in both freezing and canning mean that you can get pretty decent raw corn anytime you want. All this use of and access to corn is a good thing because it contains some valuable nutrients. Corn is high in fiber and rich in vitamins A, B and C and also adds to your iron intake.

     You likely already have some tasty uses for corn, but check out this month’s reader-submitted recipes for a few new ways to incorporate even more of it into your eating itinerary.


Cook of the Month: Laura Hardy, Wiregrass EC

Laura Hardy has been making this colorful, flavorful fresh corn dish for years but finally gave it a name when she decided to submit it to the magazine. “Every time I make it, it just looks like a party,” she says. And, the first time she made it, she was searching for a side to go with homemade chimichangas. “I had all these vegetables from my garden and had family coming over for dinner and needed a side dish, so I just cut everything up, roasted it, and it smelled so amazing,” she says. Now, she pairs it with all kinds of entrees like barbecue, grilled meats and fish. And she keeps making it because it’s tasty, but also because it usually yields leftovers than can be easily transformed into a whole new dish. “You can use it as a filling to stuff anything or spoon it into wonton wrappers to make eggrolls,” she says. Laura also sometimes embellishes it with a ranch drizzle made from one cup sour cream, a half cup of bottled ranch dressing with a pinch or two of cumin and cayenne pepper. She also loves how well it highlights corn. “This dish lets it stand out while complementing the other ingredients,” she says.

Corn Fiesta

  • 3 ears sweet corn (bi-color works great)
  • 1 chayote squash, peeled
  • 2 large zucchini squash, do not peel
  • 1/2 pint grape tomatoes
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 10 mini sweet peppers, cored to remove seeds
  • 1 small green bell pepper, cored
  • 1 small eggplant, peeled
  • 2 large carrots, peeled
  • 1 medium sweet onion, peeled
  • Olive oil
  • Fine sea salt and black pepper

Slice all vegetables except corn, tomatoes and garlic into one-inch pieces. Toss all with oil, salt and pepper and place in sheet pan. Rub corn and tomatoes with oil and scatter tomatoes, placing corn in center of tray. Chop garlic into ¼-inch pieces and place under veggies. Roast at 375 degrees for 45 minutes until veggie edges are browning and they are tender crisp. Butter corn when cooked. Cool slightly and scrape corn off cob. Chop veggies into ¼-inch pieces and toss with corn.

Laura Hardy, Wiregrass EC


Easy Corn Fritters

  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 1 2/3 cups fresh corn kernels (about 3 ears of corn)
  • ¼ cup flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil

Beat egg whites in a glass or metal bowl until stiff peaks form. Stir together corn, egg yolks, flour, salt and cayenne pepper in a large bowl, then fold in egg whites. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Working in batches of 4, drop 2 tablespoons corn mixture per fritter into oil without crowding skillet. Cook until golden brown on underside, about 2 minutes. Gently flip fritters over and cook until golden brown and cooked through, 2-3 minutes more.

Eva Wright

North Alabama EC


Mama’s Creamed Corn

  • 10 cobs of corn (we like Silver King)
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon white (or black) pepper
  • 2 tablespoons sugar

Scrape corn cobs down and put in a large pot with heavy cream, butter, salt, white pepper and sugar. In a small bowl, blend the milk and flour. Stir the two mixtures together and cook over medium heat until thickened, stirring often. Remove from heat and stir in Parmesan cheese.

Glenda Weigel

Baldwin EMC


Mexican Corn

  • 6 ears of corn
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1/4 cup crumbled queso fresco cheese
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • Vegetable oil
  • 3 tablespoon mayonnaise
  • 3 tablespoon sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon chili power
  • Dash of cayenne pepper
  • Salt and pepper

Preheat grill to direct high heat. Brush corn with vegetable oil. Put corn and bell pepper on the grill, turning every 3 minutes until slightly charred on all sides. Cool and chop bell pepper and cut corn off the cob. In a medium bowl, combine corn kernels, bell pepper, mayo, sour cream, lime juice, chili powder and cayenne pepper. Garnish with queso fresco and chopped cilantro. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Kirk Vantrease

Cullman EC


Corn on the Cob with Basil & Butter

  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 4 ears corn

Heat oven to 350-400 degrees. Place ears on individual pieces of tin foil large enough to wrap around the ear. Stir together ingredients and pour over corncobs. Bake for about 20 minutes.

Memory Bush

South Alabama EC


Corn Pudding

  • 4 large eggs, beaten
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 1/3 cups milk
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cups white or yellow corn (fresh or frozen)

Mix flour, salt and sugar with corn; add beaten eggs. Stir in milk and butter. Be sure eggs are mixed well with other ingredients. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until you have a good, firm custard-look to your dish.

Annie Fossett

North Alabama EC


Scalloped Corn

  • 2 cups fresh corn kernels
  • Dash of pepper
  • 3 tablespoons melted butter
  • ½ teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons diced pimento
  • ½ cup milk
  • ½ cup cracker crumbs
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup buttered cracker crumbs

Combine corn, pimento, butter, dry mustard, salt and pepper. Beat egg slightly and add in milk and cracker crumbs. Combine egg mixture to corn mixture. Mix well and put in buttered shallow baking dish. Top with buttered cracker crumbs. Bake at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes. Serves 6.

LaCretia Bevel

North Alabama EC


Easy Corn and Tomato Relish

  • 3 ears corn
  • 1 large tomato, peeled and chopped
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 jalapeño
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Cut the kernels off the fresh corn. Peel and chop tomato. Finely chop jalapeño (seeds removed) to measure 1 tablespoon. Add olive oil to a pan over medium heat, and add corn kernels. Cook until lightly browned. Lower heat and add tomato, salt and jalapeño. Cook for about 3 minutes. Turn off heat. Serve at room temperature. Will store in the fridge for two days.

Shari Lowery

Pioneer EC


Pro Tip

Removing corn from the cob can be a mess. Have a bundt pan? Put it to work to contain the mess. No pan, no problem. Place a small bowl with a good flat bottom upside down in a larger bowl. Place your shucked ear of corn, flat side down, on top of the small bowl’s bottom. Carefully run a sharp knife down two to three rows of the corn, getting close to the cob, and cut the corn kernels off. They’ll just fall down the sides of the small bowl and be collected in the larger bowl. Repeat until you’ve cut the corn off of all sides.


Coming up in September… BBQ!

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

October: Pumpkin | Aug. 8

November: Nuts | Sept. 8

December: Party Foods | Oct 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 when you’re self-employed

Most people who pay into Social Security work for an employer. Their employer deducts Social Security taxes from their paycheck, matches that contribution, sends taxes to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and reports wages to Social Security. However, self-employed people must report their earnings and pay their Social Security taxes directly to the IRS. These taxes will help determine your eligibility for benefits later.

You’re self-employed if you operate a trade, business, or profession, either by yourself or as a partner. You report your earnings for Social Security purposes when you file your federal income tax return. If your net earnings are $400 or more in a year, you must report your earnings on Schedule SE, in addition to the other tax forms you must file.

Net earnings for Social Security are your gross earnings from your trade or business, minus your allowable business deductions and depreciation. Some income doesn’t count for Social Security and shouldn’t be included in figuring your net earnings.

You can read more about self-employment, paying your Social Security taxes and figuring and reporting your net earnings at socialsecurity.gov/pubs/EN-05-10022.pdf.

Social Security has been a cornerstone of American security for more than 80 years. Your small business is another cornerstone in the foundation of our economy. Working together, we make this nation stronger.

We’re here for you, securing today and tomorrow. Remember, the most convenient way to contact us anytime, anywhere is to visit socialsecurity.gov.

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

Education Center program seeks to improve rural health

High school students attending MediCamp 2018, a program of the East Central Alabama AHEC, at Gadsden State Community College participate in a simulated emergency rescue as part of their experience.

Ron Sparks was well aware of the vital importance of having local health care available in recruiting and keeping economic development and healthy growth when he was named director of the former Alabama Rural Development Office. One of his first actions was to meet with 20 prominent Alabama rural health stakeholders to identify what this new office could do to improve rural health care.

There was unanimous agreement that the single greatest rural health need was to establish an Area Health Education Center (AHEC) program. Alabama was one of only a few states that did not have this valuable program that seeks to improve the supply, distribution, retention and quality of primary care and other health practitioners in medically underserved (especially rural) areas.

With great assistance from officials at the University of Alabama in Birmingham, Alabama was awarded a federal AHEC grant and has established a statewide AHEC program. The central office is in Birmingham with regional offices in Brewton, Demopolis, Gadsden, Huntsville and Montgomery.

According to the National AHECF Organization, most state AHECs provide the following services:

Health Careers Recruitment and Preparation: AHECs attempt to expand the health care workforce, including maximizing diversity and facilitating distribution, especially in underserved communities. AHECs offer health career camps, science enrichment programs, healthy lifestyle education programs, health careers curricula and programs for elementary, middle school, and high school students. These programs introduce students to a wide assortment of health career possibilities, guide them in goal setting and educational planning, and offer science courses to strengthen critical thinking skills.

Health Professions Training: AHECs provide community placements, service learning opportunities and clinical experiences for medical, dental, physician assistant, nursing, pharmacy and allied health students and residents in rural and urban underserved communities. Through interaction with patients in federally qualified health centers, county health departments, free health care clinics, and local practitioner’s offices, students and residents can observe the economic and cultural barriers to care and the needs of underserved and ethnically diverse populations in a primary care environment.

Health Professionals Support: AHECs provide accredited continuing education offerings and professional support for health care professionals, especially those practicing in underserved areas.

Health and Community Development: AHECs evaluate the health needs of their regions and provide responses to those needs. AHECs develop community health education and health provider training programs in areas with diverse and underserved populations.

Alabama’s young AHEC program has not matured to the point of being able to offer all of these valuable services yet. Funding also poses a challenge because the federal grant for establishing and maintaining an AHEC program must be matched with local funds. Encourage your local school counselors to fully utilize AHEC services. Encourage church, civic, and other groups to contact their regional AHEC about hosting a presentation on this valuable rural health program.

More information: uab.edu/medicine/ahec.

Dale Quinney is the founder of Operation Save Rural Alabama, www.osral.net, and a past director of the Alabama Rural Health Association.

Two football dilemmas: Bama’s quarterbacks and Auburn’s schedule

By Brad Bradford

Quotations from Paul William “Bear” Bryant adorn the walls of the only restaurant in Leighton, Alabama. Same with man-caves in Scratch Ankle and corporate board rooms in Hoover.

His most famous quote is: “I ain’t never been nothing but a winner.” While poor mouthing his team’s chances against VPI or Mississippi Southern, he often referred to “injury luck” and “schedule luck.”

In 2017, Auburn and Alabama experienced both kinds of luck.

Auburn’s Gus Malzahn did an exceptional job of recovering from earlier losses against Clemson and LSU to defeat both playoff teams in Georgia and Alabama in a two-week stretch to win the SEC West. Unfortunately, a rested Georgia team beat a five-win Georgia Tech team (that just lost to Duke by 23 points) on the same day that the Tigers had to come from behind to beat Bama (schedule luck). Running back Kerryon Johnson was injured (injury luck) and Auburn was never in the SEC championship game.

They then played a good undefeated and motivated Central Florida team in the same Atlanta stadium in the Peach Bowl to give them their fourth loss of the season.

The Tide’s lead man, Nick Saban, did the BEST coaching job of his career. Injuries to the linebacking crew were almost a joke. Any other team that did not have Bama’s depth and five-star athletes would have lost at least three games.

The Crimson Tide had some late “schedule luck” when Ohio State lost to Iowa by 31 points; No. 5 Wisconsin lost to Ohio State; then Auburn was dominated by Georgia in the SEC championship.

The committee had no choice but to put one-loss Bama in the playoff at No. 4, facing Clemson in New Orleans. Schedule luck put them closer to campus in the Sugar Bowl. The rest is history.

Best jobs in the SEC

After last year, athletic directors made head coach changes in six of the 14 schools: Arkansas, Florida, LSU (kept interim for now), Mississippi State (moved to Florida), Ole Miss (kept interim), Tennessee, and Texas A&M. There are only three head coaches in the SEC (Saban, Malzahn and Stoops) who have been at their school for at least five years.

In Power 5 schools, only 35 percent have the same coach after five years. Changes now happen quickly. Loyalty has gone out the window.

Five factors determine the appeal for a particular job opening:

1. Recruiting base

2. Facilities

3. Tradition/fan/administration support

4. Quality of local high school football

5. Scheduling

Using these factors, the top jobs, in order: 1. Alabama. 2. Georgia. 3. LSU. 4. Texas A&M. 5. Florida. 6. Auburn. 7. Tennessee. 8. South Carolina. 9. Ole Miss. 10. Mississippi State. 11. Missouri. 12. Arkansas. 13. Kentucky. 14. Vanderbilt.

Dumb NCAA rule change

If a college hires a high school coach in any capacity, that college is prohibited from recruiting that high school for two years. Twenty-one percent of college head coaches coached at the high school level. Urban Meyer, Tommy Tuberville, Gus Malzahn, David Cutcliffe, Chad Morris, Chip Kelly, Jeremy Pruitt and Bill Clark were all high school coaches at one time.

The rule was meant to prevent “package deals,” such as hiring a top quarterback’s high school coach to get him to come to your school. In Alabama, Josh Niblett at Hoover, Steve Mask at St. Paul’s and Terry Curtis at UMS Wright would make excellent college coaches, but no program is going to quit recruiting those schools for two years.

Smart NCAA rule change

Starting this fall, a player can play in four games and still keep his redshirt for that year. If a player is going to quit or transfer, it is usually in the first year while he is being redshirted.

He can now play because of injuries, blowouts or needed depth in four games and still have four years of eligibility. For once, the NCAA got it right. (Don’t forget: Jalen Hurts still has a redshirt year. If he loses the starting QB job, this rule could help him and the Crimson Tide.)

Alabama prediction

Every school in the country would love to have the Tide’s quarterback problem: Jalen Hurts, who has a 26-2 record and two national championship appearances, or Tua Tagovailoa who led Bama in a second half comeback against Georgia to win the National Championship.

This year’s offense will be the most complete in years (four offensive linemen return, four deep at running back, three freshmen wide receivers who can fly). The defense will be led by Mack Wilson’s four interceptions, Raekwon Davis at defensive line and five-star athlete and linebacker Dylan Moses.

Regular season record: 12-0. Possible losses: Mississippi State and Auburn, but both are at home.

Auburn prediction

Jarrett Stidham at quarterback lived up to his expectations last year. He will only get better. The problem is rebuilding an offensive line. The idea that Auburn is a pass-happy, gadget offense is a misconception. They are a power running team.

Malzahn does a super job finding mismatches and putting the defense on their heels. As long as Kevin Steele is running the defense, the Tigers will be in all the games. Their two-deep front seven is as good as anyone in the conference.

Derrick Brown at defensive tackle will be a first-round pick. Leading tackler Deshaun Davis returns at linebacker and senior Dontavius Russell will command double teams at nose guard.

Regular season record: 9-3. Possible losses: Washington, Mississippi State, LSU, Georgia and Alabama.

Iron Bowl, playoff predictions

Last year was the first time in Nick Saban’s Bama career that Auburn dominated and won 26-14. That was in Jordan-Hare Stadium. This year, the Tigers must visit Bryant-Denny in Tuscaloosa after playing in Athens against Georgia. Alabama 31-Auburn 7.

SEC West: 1. Alabama. 2. Mississippi State. 3. Auburn. 4. Texas A&M. 5. LSU. 6. Arkansas. 7. Ole Miss. (Sleeper: Mississippi State)

SEC East: 1. Georgia. 2. South Carolina. 3. Florida. 4. Missouri. 5. Tennessee 6. Kentucky 7. Vanderbilt (Sleeper: Missouri)

Playoff possibilities: Alabama, Georgia; Clemson, Miami; Ohio State, Wisconsin; Oklahoma and Washington. Auburn is a long shot due to their schedule. (They play three of these eight teams listed, all on the road.)

Orange Bowl playoff game: Clemson beats Ohio State.

Cotton Bowl playoff game: Alabama beats Miami.

National Championship Game

For the fourth time in four years, Alabama will face Clemson in a playoff game. Bama leads this series 2-1. This is what college football is all about.

In 1972, Jim Croce released a song: “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim.” The lyrics just changed: You don’t tug on Superman’s cape … You don’t spit in the wind … You don’t pull the mask off that ole Lone Ranger … and you don’t bet against the Tide. Alabama 28-Clemson 14.

Brad Bradford is a former football staff member at Alabama and Louisville. He is married to former Auburn cheerleader Susan Moseley Swink. Brad can be reached at Brad@coachbradfinancial.com.

Dream job

Billy Pope has been creating images for 25 years. He has photographed governors, generals, entertainers, natural disasters, and for international mission organizations. During the past 15 years, his role as art director and staff photographer for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has been a dream job that brings together his talents as an artist and his love for the outdoors. His work has been awarded regional and national awards. Some of his photos have been published in Alabama Living. Pope lives in Pike Road, Alabama, with his wife and two daughters. – Lenore Vickrey

How did you become interested in photography?

I never really set out to be a photographer. I have always studied art and design and enjoyed creating images, be it with a brush, pencil or camera. My first job was as an illustrator for the Department of the Air Force. In that role, I was given the opportunity to fill in for our staff photographer on occasion. Those experiences really intrigued me—telling stories one frame at a time. Having to be aware of what was going on around me and anticipating the important moments pushed me to continue to hone a craft I never really knew I would love.

Were you trained professionally, or are you self-taught?

I was never trained professionally in photography. I studied graphic design which I feel translates into my photography. I guess I was self-taught. The biggest influences were editors and photographers sharing their knowledge and being honest with me, as well as giving me the opportunity to grow as a storyteller.

What is your favorite place in Alabama to shoot photos and why?

Alabama has a very diverse landscape and with this diversity the opportunities are endless for photography. I enjoy capturing the fall color in Little River Canyon, the spring bloom of the Cahaba Lilies on the Cahaba River, and there is something special about the sun setting on the bayou in Bayou la Batre. It’s not just the beauty of the locations, it’s the uniqueness of the people in the these “out of the way” places. The deep love the people I meet have for the natural history of our state is part of the fabric that makes up our culture. I have been blessed to be able to capture those places, people and stories and share them with everyone to enjoy.

What’s better – a 35mm DSLR or a smartphone camera?

I read somewhere, “The best camera is the one you have with you.” I find that to be very true. The world we live in is the most photographed in history. Smartphone camera technology has advanced to a point that, in some cases, it is hard to tell the difference in a smartphone photo versus a photo shot with a DSLR camera. They all have their role in today’s story. Cameras and lenses are like different brushes an artist uses on their canvas. Each camera or combination of camera and lens produces a desired result to convey a story. For wildlife and most nature photography I would say a DSLR would give you a better chance of achieving the desired result. Smartphones have produced some great scenic images; but, using a DSLR camera with the right lens, the same scene has more depth to the image. Ultimately, the goal is to capture an image that both pleases yourself and preserves the memory for future generations.

What’s one piece of advice for folks who want to shoot photos of nature and/or animals?

The one piece of advice I would give people who want to photograph wildlife and nature is, “You must be present to win!” Things in nature never happen the same way twice. No two sunsets or sunrises are the same. You can’t tell that Eastern Wild Turkey to go back and gobble again. Along with being present, you also need to learn your subject and its habits, much like a hunter who spends months learning the habits of that trophy buck. Where does the sun rise over the mountain? What’s the best bird seed to attract a certain species to my feeder? It’s a never-ending learning process that will provide you with a greater appreciation for wildlife and the outdoors.ν

Follow Billy at:

www.billypope.com

billypopephoto on Instagram

WTD: Find sweet treats and much more at SweetCreek Farms

By Lori M. Quiller

If you’ve traveled U.S. Highway 231 a few miles south of Montgomery in Pike Road, you’re probably familiar with SweetCreek Farms.

The sight and smell of the wood smokers in front of the market beckon passing motorists who can stop and stretch and enjoy some tasty barbecue dishes, including pulled pork sliders and pecan-smoked barbecue sandwiches.

But the café offers other fresh sandwiches, including a Cuban (pulled pork, ham, Wickles pickles and provolone cheese), chicken salad and grilled pimento cheese. There’s a selection of salads and a soup of the day, plus camp stew and such specials as smoked chicken and St. Louis-style ribs.

And it wouldn’t be “sweet” without dessert. Enjoy some homemade cookies, ice cream or a big serving of peach cobbler at one of the special craftsman tables made from reclaimed wood, or on the porch in one of the rocking chairs.

But SweetCreek, which is served by Dixie Electric Cooperative, is more than a restaurant. The barn-style market offers a bounty of fresh picked, Alabama-grown fruits and vegetables as well as a host of handmade crafts and other goodies from local artisans, such as woodworkings, soaps, lotions and ironworks. And it has both entertainment and education for the little ones.

“We consider SweetCreek an agritourism destination,” says owner Reed Ingram. “When families stop here, they can come into the restaurant for a homemade ice cream cone, then go outside and see the goats, chickens, rabbits and peacocks in the petting zoo. Certain times of the year kids can go out into the field, and we’ll have a hayride set up to tour our crops.

“We want people to know we grow these products here in Alabama, and the closer they are to you, the better they are for you. This is a fun place, and we want them to enjoy themselves while they’re here. They can relax and watch the windmill turn, smell what’s on the smoker and take a minute to slow down.”

Ingram and his wife Karen opened SweetCreek Farms in March 2016 in part to address the need for fresh, healthy food in the area, but to also show support for Alabama’s food growers.

“I wanted to make the farm and the table come together in the produce we sell and also by bringing the farm to the table in our restaurant as well. I think we have been compromising our products in Alabama because we have great farmers but just not enough farmers. Our farmers are getting older and the industry is changing. Our younger generation isn’t growing up and saying ‘When I grow up, I want to be a farmer,’” Ingram added.

Ingram also sells plants and, even if you don’t have a green thumb yourself, he and his staff can help you start your own backyard garden.

“Just one acre can create a lot of produce. We sell plants and encourage them how to grow their own produce. We don’t have classes, but when someone buys something from us, we offer advice by telling them how to keep it healthy for the best yield,” Ingram says.

SweetCreek Farms has grown in the past couple of years from 10 employees to 70, and Ingram insists that teamwork is the fabric that holds everything together. Most of the employees who work at the farm are experiencing their first job, so Ingram celebrates that with them by taking their photo when he hands them their first paycheck.

“Everyone here works together really well,” Ingram says. “All of the kids learn how to grow produce, they get on a lawn mower and mow grass, pull weeds, help plant crops, and help harvest. I feel like God has put us here for a reason, to not only be a mentor to these kids but also teach them a work ethic and about one of Alabama’s greatest industries.”

Worth the Drive: Sweet Creek Farm Market from AREA on Vimeo.

Sweet Creek Farm Market
85 Meriwether Rd
Pike Road, Alabama 36064

(334) 280-3276

 

 

 

 

 

Skunks can ‘reek’ havoc, but there are ways to avoid them

Skunks in Alabama don’t look for animals or humans to spray, and usually use an elaborate warning ritual before releasing a potent blast of mercaptan. Photo by Geoffrey Kuchera/Dreamstime.com

By Richard Bauman

Skunks aren’t ferocious, but they can be dangerous, and it’s the rare person who wants to meet up with one.

They are notorious, of course, for the overpowering, stomach-turning odorous mercaptan they produce, which you definitely want to avoid. And it’s reasonably easy to avoid being sprayed if you encounter a skunk.

Skunks are nocturnal, and you’re most likely to encounter one at dusk or at night. They don’t go around looking for animals or humans to spray, and often use an elaborate warning ritual before letting go with a blast of mercaptan. They will:

  • stand still
  • stamp their front feet
  • hiss and shake their head from side to side
  • raise their tail straight up

By the time the skunk raises its tail, if you haven’t backed off, you probably won’t escape unscathed.

North America is home to two types of skunks — the striped skunk, and the spotted skunk. And both call Alabama home.

Striped skunks are the larger of the two (about the size of a house cat), with black fur and one or more white stripes running from head to tail. Spotted skunks are smaller, but no less potent, are reddish colored with random “body bands” of white fur that give them their spotted appearance.

Spotted and striped skunks spray mercaptan from musk glands at the base of their tails. After going through its warning ritual, the striped skunk quickly turns around, arches its back and blasts some mercaptan at its target.

Spotted skunks use a “handstand” method of spraying. They stand on their front paws, hold their hind legs in the air, and with tail arched shoots a stream at their target. The spotted skunk can hold its handstand for five seconds, which is plenty of time to aim and spray.

Whether mercaptan is from a spotted or striped skunk matters little. Both are yellowish in color, and need to be washed off promptly, or the stench will last for days on skin, hair and clothes of humans, and on the fur and skin of animals.

De-skunking products are available or make your own

Pet stores, sporting goods stores and even Walmart sell de-skunking products. The go-to home remedy for de-skunking humans and animals was discovered by chemist Paul Krebaum. It chemically neutralizes the skunk odor, but it must be made up fresh.

It’s a mixture of:

  • one quart 3 percent hydrogen peroxide
  • ¼ cup of baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon liquid dishwashing detergent

If your pet gets skunked, the Humane Society of the United States recommends:

  • Keep the pet outdoors
  • Mix up the hydrogen peroxide solution, or use a commercially available product
  • Clean vigorously and rinse thoroughly
  • Shampoo your pet
  • Use the solution to get rid of any mercaptan you might have accidentally gotten on you or your clothes.

Keep skunks from moving in

According to experts at the University of California Integrated Pest Management Program, and the Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s Wildlife Damage Management Program, skunks are attracted to places where they can readily find food, water, and shelter. They will live in burrows, but they are also like:

  • old buildings
  • hollow trees
  • spaces under porches, decks, and crawl spaces under houses
  • wood piles

To prevent skunks from moving in on your property, make it unattractive to them:

  • remove piles of wood or junk from the area
  • stack firewood tightly, and at least 18 inches above the ground
  • seal garbage cans and secure pet food bins
  • use insecticides to control grubs and lawn pests
  • reduce potential food sources such as fallen fruit and spilled seed from bird feeders
  • remove food placed outdoors for pets by nightfall
  • install fencing that extends below ground at least twelve inches around buildings and seal your foundation.

If a skunk has already made a home under your house or elsewhere, proceed with caution. It is probably best to hire a wildlife removal specialist. These experts can remove resident critters, and “skunk proof” areas favored by skunks.

According to the Professional Wildlife Removal website, skunk repellent products you spray or sprinkle about your property aren’t effective. “Wildlife experts insist that habitat modification and removal are the only effective ways of preventing skunks. Several repellent substances are available … (but) Most do not keep away skunks.”

Skunks are usually considered unwelcome, but skunks do their part to control other pests. They eat grasshoppers, crickets, mice, salamanders, tobacco and tomato worms, snakes, small birds and even small rabbits.

There’s no other animal quite like a skunk. The potent odor it produces is unique. Once you’ve had a nose full of it, you never forget it.

On the other hand, there’s no reason to ever become the target of a skunk’s spray. If you encounter a skunk, give it a lot of room. Don’t make threatening moves toward it, and you probably will never need a peroxide and baking soda bath.

Teens and distracted driving: Adults must be role models for young drivers

By Donna Bayless and Sharon Winter

Have you ever followed a car that was weaving all over the road and thought, “I bet that person has been drinking?” Maybe you pulled up next to them at a red light and realized, instead, they were on their phone.

We know we shouldn’t drive when drinking. Why do we think it’s OK to drive when we’re on our phone?

Maybe because our phones are our lifeline to the outside world. Think of them this way: Our phones are a movie theater, mailbox, library, sports arena, newspaper, GPS, weather guy, calendar and a huge party with all our friends and acquaintances rolled into one tiny little box.

Now, it’s one thing if you miss some dialogue from tonight’s episode of “This is Us” because you’re texting your best friend your plans for the weekend. You can always rewind the DVR, right?

But what if you take that need to look at your phone every five minutes into the car with you and you miss a stop sign? Or the car in front of you that stopped suddenly to avoid hitting the black lab that darted into the road? You can’t hit rewind on a car crash.

Driving = freedom

For most teens, getting their driver licenses equates to freedom.  Jackson, a junior at Hewitt Trussville High School, says he loves having a car and a license because it means he can drive to visit his girlfriend, friends, and even to see his grandparents across town. 

We met Jackson because we teach safe driving to both corporate audiences and at a defensive driving school we operate in Franklin, Tennessee.

Most teenagers that we talk to never want to be responsible for hurting someone, either physically or emotionally. When we’ve talked about the aftermath of a potential crash, where they would be at fault, teenagers consistently go back to the emotion of the event. How would that make my grandmother feel if I was responsible for a crash that hurt someone else? Or my parents?  Or my friends? What would my life be like if I killed my best friend? What would I say to his parents? How could I live with that?

By helping teenagers get in touch with those emotions, we can help them make better decisions when they drive.

We fear that we, as adults, have unknowingly taught our children that you start the ignition, buckle the seatbelt, put the car in gear, and pick up the phone, in that order. Because it’s not just teens on their phones. We adults are addicted to our phones. Is this the behavior we want our young teen drivers to imitate?

Parents must set the example

So, what can parents do? Parents must set the precedent for safe driving. If a dad thinks nothing of going 90 mph down the interstate, then his daughter will think that’s OK, too. If a mom decides to send a quick text from the car, then the son will never see a problem with using his phone when he drives.

Parents must be the first ones to draw the line on distracted driving and put their phones on Do Not Disturb. Only then, will they be able to encourage their kids to hang up and drive.

Secondly, and critically important, parents must not expect their teenagers to answer their phone when they’re driving. This is the number one complaint we hear from teens about their parents: “My mom gets mad at me if I don’t pick up the phone or if I don’t immediately respond to a text. Even when I’m driving.” We suggest you develop a family agreement that there is never an expectation that teens answer a phone call or text when they’re driving.

And lastly, when we learned to drive in the 1980s, our biggest obstacle was learning how to use the clutch when starting from a stop — especially on a hill. We never had to worry about missing a phone call from parents or boyfriends because we were driving our cool cars. Oh, the freedom!

Which brings us to a lost skill set and maybe a great opportunity for parents. Get your teens a standard transmission vehicle. Both hands are busy driving and perhaps there will be more focus on the road.

Research shows it takes around 21 days to make a habit. Your family could make a conscious decision to put the phone out of reach for three weeks when driving. The pull of the ping of a notification or the ring of a phone is powerful, and it takes strong willpower not to give in. So, turn on the Do Not Disturb. Use it only for GPS, letting the verbal directions guide you.

And then when you get to where you’re going, call back those people who love you and want you home tonight. Or even the client or boss who counts on you to be there for them every day. In other words, call back when you can focus on them and not when you are focused on driving.

Be focused.  Be safe.

Sharon Winter and Donna Bayless are founders of RightLane, a training company based in Brentwood, Tenn., that offers seminars on safe driving nationwide. RightLane also operates a defensive driving school in Franklin, Tenn.


Alabama law restricts the youngest drivers from using any handheld communication device. The state law also restricts all drivers from texting and driving.

The Hands-Free Georgia Act took effect July 1. The law requires drivers to use hands-free technology when using cell phones and other electronic devices while driving.

Beautiful, hardy, adaptable and local: Ten native plants that feel like home

Passionflower vines can provide stunning blooms and a sense of place to our home landscapes. The purple passionflower (Passiflora incarnata), commonly known as the maypop, suggested by Kaul Wildflower Garden curator John Manion, is native to Alabama. It is among a number of passionflower species readily available in a variety of colors, such as this red one, at garden centers in the state. Passionflowers are magnets for butterflies and can be grown on trellises or other structures, but also look fabulous climbing up a tree or scrambling across rocks and stones.

Native plants, those denizens of Alabama’s natural terrain, are increasingly popular choices for Alabama’s cultivated landscapes. And well they should be, because they are as necessary to our wellbeing as they are beautiful to our eyes.

Alabama is home to some 4,000 different species of native plants, 28 of which grow only in our state, and we are ranked fifth in the nation for plant biodiversity. While some of these plants are endangered and protected, many are readily available for use in our gardens. So many, in fact, that it may be hard to choose which ones to plant.

To get some advice on making those selections, I turned to John Manion, curator of the Birmingham Botanical Gardens’ Kaul Wildflower Garden. As curator, Manion tends the largest collection of native plants in the state — about 900 at last count — but he also tends to the education of others by sharing his knowledge as often as possible, and sharing it with delightful and compelling enthusiasm.

Manion’s enthusiasm stems from several factors, chief among them the roles native plants play in our ecosystem. “Until a few decades ago, the image of native plants was sort of kumbaya and peasant shirts,” Manion says. “But they have really come to the fore now as people have begun to understand that native plants are essential to our survival.”

According to Manion, the book Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants by Doug Tallamy, which eloquently explains humankind’s interconnectedness with native plants and the other animals they support, was a major catalyst for this growing appreciation of native plants.

It doesn’t hurt their popularity, though, that native plants can also make the hard work of gardening easier. Manion noted that this doesn’t mean natives are easier to establish than other plants, but once they are established, natives requires less attention because they tend to be drought and pest tolerant and longer lived, among many other fine attributes.

“They have evolved here over thousands of years, so they are well adapted to Alabama’s growing conditions,” Manion explained. “Natives just know what to do.”

But natives have another huge plus for Manion — they feel like home. “These plants are part of where we are,” he says. “I have nothing against other plants, but I personally want plants that feel and look like I am in Alabama.”

So how can you begin to surround yourself with plants that feel like home? Start with a few native plants that are as adaptable as they are beautiful, for which Manion offered suggestions. He actually offered lots of suggestions, and sang the praises of each, but in this limited space here are simply the names (common and scientific) of 10 plants he adores, all of which tolerate a variety of growing conditions, are easy to find in retail outlets and, best of all, are gorgeous.

In the groundcover category, Manion recommended green-and-gold (Chrysogonum virginianum), pussytoes (Antennaria plantaginifolia) and yellowroot (Xanthorhiza simplicissima). If you’re interested in flowering perennials, try an herbaceous native such as lance-leafed coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolate), Stokes aster (Stokesia laevis) and ironweed (Vernonia fasciculata).

Looking for a native vine? Manion suggested coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirus), passion flower (Passiflora incarnata) and climbing hydrangea (Decumaria barbara). Ferns, such as the Christmas (Polystichum acrostichoides) and southern shield (Thelypteris kunthii) ferns, and grasses, such as woodoats (Chasmanthium sessiliflorum), are also great choices for a variety of uses and environments.

The Kaul Wildflower Garden, which has more than six acres of native plants to wander among. Or if you’re interested in growing your knowledge of native plants, consider signing up for Manion’s Certificate in Native Plant Studies program. You can learn more at bbgardens.org.

Katie Jackson is a freelance writer and editor based in Opelika, Alabama. Contact her at katielamarjackson@gmail.com.