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Balancing the dark and light sides of outdoor lighting

By Katie Jackson

On the bright side, outdoor lighting makes nighttime yards and gardens safer and more beautiful. On the dark side, outdoor lighting contributes to light pollution and can cause all kinds of problems for all kinds of creatures. Luckily, we can balance the dark and light sides of outdoor illumination by using conscientious, judicious lighting strategies.

Light pollution is a modern-day problem caused by the overuse and misuse of artificial lights, particularly those that produce bright white or blue light. Yes, good outdoor lighting is often necessary for our safety and security, but if used excessively or inappropriately, it can eclipse the natural luminosity of the moon and stars, which in turn affects the circadian rhythms of the natural world.

For example, light pollution not only limits our ability to really see a night sky, it can also disrupt plant growth and flowering, cause migrating birds to fly into buildings, lure newly hatched sea turtles away from the safety of the sea and disturb the sleep cycles of us humans.

The good news is, we humans can mitigate the damage (and save energy) by following a few basic principles suggested by the International Dark-Sky Association, a nonprofit on a mission to “preserve and protect nighttime environments and the heritage dark skies through environmentally responsible outdoor lighting.”

According to IDA, light pollution worldwide can be drastically reduced simply by using artificial lights judiciously — only when and where they are truly needed — and using light pollution-limiting bulbs that reduce brightness and disruptive blue light emissions.

Sure, the greatest impact would be made if these steps are adopted in major metropolitan areas, but you can make a small

dent in your own backyard, and it all starts with a garden stroll. Take a walk around your landscape in both daytime and nighttime conditions to determine the effects created by both the sun and moon on your home and yard. While you’re out there for the night stroll, cut on your current outdoor lights as well as any indoor lights that shine into the yard and see how they affect the nighttime landscape.

Once you know your current lighting situation and future lighting needs, you can focus better on where lights are truly necessary and what changes are needed to maximize their use.

During your stroll, take time to identify focal points or main elements in your landscape where lighting would be most beneficial. You may want to focus light on specific elements of the landscape, such as large trees, the main entrance, a front walk or a garden sculpture or fountain. Also identify areas that need extra light for safety and security, such as dark corners and potential hazards such as steps and curbs. With this information in hand, you can design your own nature-friendly lighting plan or take your nature-friendly ideas to a professional landscape designer.

And as you create and implement a plan, or simply make small changes to your current lighting, keep these IDA tips in mind:

• Whenever possible, use only fully shielded, downward-pointing light fixtures.

• Replace bulbs with “warm-white” or filtered LED (light-emitting diode) lights.

• Install dimmers, timers and motion sensors to reduce light use.

• Dim or turn off all lights overnight.

To learn more about light pollution and strategies to dim that pollution, visit IDA’s website at And make sure you take time to enjoy your nighttime landscape. Whether you wander in the garden or simply sit on the porch or patio in the dark, you’ll see and hear a whole new world.

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

Worth The Drive: Coach’s Steakhouse

Scoring touchdowns with a winning menu.

By Todd Thompson

When patrons first step inside Coach’s Steakhouse in historic downtown Tuscumbia, they are immediately taken back to days past – classic exposed brick walls, beautiful wood staircases and a historic feel.

But they won’t find walls filled with tributes to athletes and teams from the area.

“I like history and I don’t want the restaurant cluttered,” says owner Rickey Johnson, who spent 36 years in coaching with stops at Mount Hope, Hazlewood, Hatton and Muscle Shoals. “I wanted it to look good. I don’t want anything to take away from the history of this building.”

The only sports memorabilia in the restaurant currently is a large photo of Detroit Tigers’ legend Heinie Manush, a native of Tuscumbia who became the first Alabamian to be inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

“This is a very historic building. The architect that did the remodel said it was built around 1805,” Johnson says. “There aren’t many restaurants in the state of Alabama that can say their building is that old. Helen Keller’s parents had a place here at one time, so she walked through those doors – doors that are original to the building. It has a lot of big-time plusses for people that like history. It has a little bit of everything.”

Johnson, who opened his first Coach’s restaurant in the Hatton community in Lawrence County, saw an opportunity when a previous restaurant at the location closed. He wanted to be a part of the town’s downtown thriving historic district.

Coach’s is dedicated to grilling “one steak at a time” and offers a wide selection of hand-cut meats, including filet mignon, top sirloin and ribeyes. Diners can also take Johnson’s recommendations for the Championship (New York) Strip or a Coach’s Choice sirloin.

Steak may be the top choice, but the full menu offers chicken, seafood, burgers and appetizers, including barbecue nachos and bacon cheese fries. It is one of the few restaurants in the area to offer a full salad bar stocked daily with fresh items.

A coach’s tradition

For Johnson, the menu is all about giving guests the best dining experience possible. And he knows plenty about being the best. A member of the Alabama High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame, Johnson won state football championships in 1990, 1991, 1992 and in 2000. He wrapped up his coaching career as a middle school coach in Muscle Shoals, where he coached the children of several of his former Hazlewood players.

The idea to name the restaurant came from students in Barry Rinks’ class at Muscle Shoals High School. But it took Johnson a few weeks to grow comfortable with the name.

“I always felt like it took me about 20 years of being a coach before I felt I earned the right to be addressed as ‘Coach,’” Johnson says.

Johnson didn’t just step into the food service industry after retirement without any experience. He operated a convenience store in Hatton for 25 years while teaching and coaching. He made the move to the restaurant business several years ago and never looked back.

“My goal is to meet every customer one on one,” Johnson says. “We do it one steak at a time and one customer at a time. I’ll come to the table and introduce myself. They come for eating, though. They appreciate a personal handshake. If I stay too long, it’s just a part of being young and dumb in the business.”

Johnson brings the same type of focus, dedication and preparation that he taught his football teams to the restaurant business. And the longtime football coach stresses teamwork every day when the doors open.

“Every night, I talked to the staff about doing our best, giving our best effort,” Johnson says. “It was kind of like a pep talk. I got energy off of them and I think they got energy off me. The restaurant business is real fast and I was used to the fast pace in coaching. It was kind of tailor-made for me.”

And when it’s game time, Coach Johnson is ready to serve up one delicious steak at a time.

“When you have a crowd in here, you’ve got to be pumped up,” Johnson said. “It’s just like it is a football game. It’s time to step up and show out. When it’s time to go, you have to be ready to go. That’s our job, to make sure people can trust us to give them a great meal in a great atmosphere.”

Coach’s Steakhouse

200 S. Main St., Tuscumbia, AL 35674


Search Coach’s Steakhouse-Tuscumbia on Facebook

Hours: Closed Monday; 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday; 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday

Helping youth coaches prevent sports injuries

By Kevin Scarbinsky

Joe Ackerson wasn’t your typical Pop Warner defensive coordinator. Sure, like so many youth coaches, he was a dad with a son on the team, but he also was a pediatric neuropsychologist and member of the Alabama Statewide Head Injury Task Force.

Long before the movie “Concussion,” he was acutely aware of the potential dangers of head injuries. He asked some of his fellow coaches about the team’s concussion protocol.

“They said young kids don’t get concussions,” Ackerson says. “At that point, I knew we had a problem on our hands.”

Ackerson’s concern and his position helped spur the state of Alabama to deal with that problem. The state formed a Sports Concussion Task Force, which consulted with the Alabama High School Athletic Association as it adopted the strict guidelines for the recognition and management of sports-related concussions. That effort was followed by 2011 legislation that requires coaches at all levels in Alabama to receive concussion training.

Ackerson, who chairs that Sports Concussion Task Force, saw a larger issue beyond concussions.

“We had well-intentioned dads out there like you and me not really knowing what we were doing,” he says. “We needed to get in prevention mode with youth coaches.”

What about recognizing other medical concerns for athletes age 14 and under, such as overuse injuries and heat-related illnesses? What about preventing injuries as much as possible by implementing best practices in terms of training? Who was educating the approximately 60,000 youth coaches in Alabama so they could make sports as safe and healthy as possible for the state’s youth?

The answer was no one, until 2018 when the Alabama Legislature passed the Coach Safely Act, which was developed and championed by the non-profit CoachSafely Foundation. The first bill of its kind in the nation, whose advocates include such thought leaders as renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews and Alabama football coach Nick Saban, the Coach Safely Act was designed to provide youth coaches the fundamental knowledge to prevent injuries if possible and recognize them when necessary.

The law requires all government or sub-government agencies in Alabama with property used for high-risk sports to train their coaches in an online or classroom course focusing on the prevention and recognition of injuries for athletes age 14 and under. High-risk sports include, but are not limited to, football, soccer, basketball, baseball, softball and lacrosse.

“We’re the first state in the country to pass such a law,” says Drew Ferguson, a CoachSafely Foundation Board Member and the Director of Sports Medicine at Children’s of Alabama. “This training course will help us educate coaches to improve safety and reduce risk for all children in terms of their sports participation.”

Creating a safe environment

The CoachSafely Foundation has created a standard with its training course, which all youth coaches in Alabama must complete online or in person. The course was introduced in Trussville to more than 500 coaches before becoming the model for the Coach Safely Act.

Drew Peterson, superintendent of the Trussville Parks and Recreation Department, called that pilot program “instrumental in creating a safe but competitive environment for the children of Trussville. Parents will feel comfortable sending their child to practice or games when they know their coach has been through this program.”

To help distribute the training course to coaches across the state, the CoachSafely Foundation has partnered in a joint venture with the Alabama Recreation and Parks Foundation.

The Alabama Recreation and Parks Association, representing the Alabama Recreation and Parks Foundation, has 900 members in 92 of the state’s largest cities, representing the majority of the state’s population. Under the terms of the joint venture, the CoachSafely Foundation delivers its training course to state agencies at no direct cost exclusively through the network of the ARPA membership. Original funding for the program has been provided through major charitable gifts.

“Sports safety for the youth in our communities is of the utmost importance, and the Coach Safely Act becoming law in 2018 is evidence of just how important coaches’ education really is,” said Natalie Norman, executive director of the Alabama Recreation and Parks Foundation.

“Through the Alabama Recreation and Parks Association, we are here to deliver that education to coaches of athletes age 14 and under as we strive to make the recreational sports environments, in which our youth are participating, as safe and injury-free as possible.”

Gone should be the days when youth coaches use outdated training methods like the Oklahoma drill in football, where a running back, offensive lineman and defensive lineman compete in a confined space. Ackerson, in his quest more than a decade ago to do a good job for his son’s Pop Warner football team, tried to run that drill.

The team’s head coach asked, “What are you doing?”

Ackerson replied, “You’ve got to teach the kids to hit.”

The head coach said, “That’s silly.”

That head coach was Bobby Humphrey. It’s rare to find a youth coach who’s been a former NFL running back and also has coached a professional team as Humphrey did with the Birmingham Steeldogs of the AF2, an affiliate of the Arena Football League.

“If you want to change the injury risk factor, you have to change how coaches are coaching,” Ackerson says. “We want kids to be physically active and out there playing. We just want them doing it in a smart way. Bobby showed me the smart way to do it.”

The Coach Safely initiative will show youth coaches throughout Alabama the smart way to coach our kids.ν

For more information, visit

Simple and Smart

Armed with some easy recipes and a weekly meal plan, you can make every evening’s dinner a breeze.



Between school, work, soccer practice, piano lessons, house work, yard work and our never-ending lists of obligations and responsibilities, finding time to put a tasty meal on the table (and do it with a smile) each weeknight can prove a difficult task. It’s so much easier to swing through a drive-thru, or better yet, have a pizza delivered. While there’s nothing wrong with the occasional foray into fast food, rely on it too often and your family’s waistlines — and your household budget’s bottom line — will reap some unpleasant consequences.

An essential ingredient in the formula for fixing supper (and still getting the laundry done) is stocking your recipe repertoire with simple yet delicious dishes that you can whip up fast, and afterwards, clean up quick. This issue’s reader-submitted recipes will help with that.

The next item on the menu is making a meal plan and working smarter, not harder, when it comes to meal preparation. A weekly meal plan helps you create a grocery list that results in fewer trips to the grocery store and more efficiency — with a lower chance of over-buying or forgetting things — when you’re there.

If the meal plan is your appetizer, the meal prep is the entree. Before you start actually cooking, read through the entire recipe first so you can figure out things like “Can you use one measuring cup instead of many?” These little time-savers add up when it’s time to clean up. Then, get all of your needed ingredients chopped, measured, etc. and ready to go so you can move through the recipe instructions without stopping.

Prepping each dinner is important, but don’t stop there. Look ahead at what you’ll need for other nights that week, and if you’ll be using any ingredients more than once, get those items prepped (chopped, shredded, etc.) at the same time. And when you’re making a meal you know your family likes, if it freezes well, double or even triple it. There is no dinner that will ever be easier to get done than one that only requires a reheat.

Start making your meals more enjoyable by removing some of the stress that can accompany their creation and try it with these recipes from your fellow readers.

Cook of the Month

Misty Allbright, Cullman EC

Misty Allbright cooks a lot of chicken and is always on the lookout for a recipe that adds some pizzazz to her dinner lineup. This Parmesan Chicken dish fits that bill perfectly with zesty lemon, salty Parm and sharp but earthy garlic. “It’s my interpretation of a meal I had at a friend’s house, and it’s just something a little different,” she says. Plus, it’s easy. “It’s quick and simple to put together, so when you combine that with the great taste, it’s just one meal my family never gets tired of.”

Parmesan Chicken

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

4 boneless chicken breasts

Salt and pepper, to taste

½ cup Parmesan cheese

¼ cup bread crumbs

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 lemon, juice and zest

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Drizzle 2 tablespoons oil on a large baking sheet. Season chicken with salt and pepper. On a large plate, combine Parmesan, bread crumbs, garlic and lemon zest. Season with salt and pepper. Dredge chicken in bread crumb mixture, pressing to coat. Place chicken on prepared baking sheet and drizzle with remaining 2 tablespoons oil and lemon juice. Bake until golden, approximately 20 minutes.

Quinoa Buddha Bowl

1 cup quinoa

1½ cups chickpeas

1 tablespoon olive oil

½ teaspoon each: salt, smoked paprika, chili powder, turmeric and oregano

1 red bell pepper, sliced (ribs and seeds removed)

2 tablespoons olive oil

½ teaspoon each: pepper, salt and paprika

¼ cup cilantro

1 cup mixed greens

1 avocado, sliced

1 tablespoon sesame seeds

Bring 2 cups water to a boil. Add quinoa. Simmer for 15 minutes (until water is absorbed). Remove from heat and keep covered for 10 minutes. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Toss chickpeas, oil, and spices in a bowl until chickpeas are coated. Bake chickpeas on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool. Pour 2 tablespoons olive oil, cilantro, pepper, salt and paprika in a blender mix on high until smooth. In two bowls, arrange quinoa, greens, avocado, bell pepper and chickpeas. Drizzle red pepper sauce over everything. Sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Robin O’Sullivan, Wiregrass EC

Weekend Supper Beef Roast

½ teaspoon salt and pepper

½ cup flour

6 tablespoons oil

4-5 pounds chuck roast

1 package brown gravy mix

1 package dry onion soup mix

1 can cream of mushroom soup

1½ soup cans water

2 cans small potatoes, pre-cooked

3-4 carrots, peeled, chopped and cooked

Mix salt, black pepper and flour together. Preheat skillet, add oil. Heat to very hot, then turn down to medium. Flour roast on both sides; put in skillet for 5 minutes each side or until golden brown. Mix brown gravy mix, cream of mushroom soup, onion soup mix and water. Put roast in crock pot and add gravy mixture. Cook roast on high for 4 hours. Add carrots and potatoes to roast; continue cooking for 30 minutes. Cook’s note: Roast can be prepared in the oven. Cook roast and gravy mixture, covered, in 250-degree preheated oven for 4 hours. Add vegetables and continue cooking for 30 minutes.

Marilyn Jackson, Clarke-Washington EMC

Shortcut Chicken Cacciatore

1 rotisserie chicken cut into 8 pieces: 2 breasts, 2 thighs, 2 legs and 2 wings

2 14.5-ounce cans stewed tomatoes

1 6-ounce can tomato paste

1 cup mushrooms

1 zucchini, thinly sliced

1 teaspoon dried basil

Salt, pepper and garlic, to taste

Put chicken pieces into a large cooktop pan with stewed tomatoes, tomato paste, mushrooms, zucchini and dried basil. Add salt, pepper and garlic, to taste. Cook on medium for about 15 minutes and serve over your favorite cooked pasta. You can use more or less basil, garlic, mushrooms or zucchini depending upon your taste.

Glenda Weigel, Baldwin EMC

Leopold’s Famous Honey Garlic Turkey Breast

1 turkey-size oven roasting bag (up to 14 pounds)

1 tablespoon self-rising flour

1 turkey-size roasting pan

1 large yellow onion

1 medium golden or red apple

1 medium orange

3 medium yams

4l arge carrots

1 whole turkey breast, 5-8 pounds

3 tablespoons minced garlic (or 1 tablespoon garlic powder)

1 tablespoon onion powder

1 tablespoon dry Italian seasoning herbs

¼ cup honey

1/8 cup olive oil

½ cup dry white wine or dry sherry

Put 1 tablespoon white flour in oven roasting bag and place bag in roasting pan. Peel onion, wash, thinly slice one half of the onion and put remainder aside. Wash apple, orange, carrots and yams. Peel carrots and yams. Slice apple in half and core; slice orange in half; slice carrots and yams in thirds and put aside. Remove gravy packet (if available) from turkey, skin and rinse the turkey breast and rub with olive oil. Sprinkle garlic, Italian seasoning and salt substitute (or salt and pepper) seasoning on outside and inside of turkey. Stuff the turkey cavity with apple, orange and ½ onion. Put the thinly sliced onions on top of turkey breast and drizzle honey on all sides of turkey breast. Place turkey inside of oven bag. Put the wine or sherry inside of the bag. Place the yams and carrots inside of the bag and tie it. Place roasting bag with turkey in roasting pan. Slice six 1-inch holes in the top of the bag. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 2-2.5 hours (or per roasting bag instructions) until the turkey and vegetables are tender. Remove bag after cooking. Drain off any fat. Let turkey cool on serving platter for 10 minutes before slicing. Per gravy packet, reduce gravy in shallow saucepan (or add water and a pinch of flour to drippings and reduce liquid by simmering) and put in serving bowl. If desired, slice turkey and serve with cranberry sauce on platter.

Leopold Babin, Central Alabama EC

Hamburger Potato Casserole

1 ½ pounds ground beef

4 medium potatoes, sliced or 2 cans sliced potatoes

½ cup onion, sliced

1 can cream of mushroom soup

1 cup shredded cheese or 6 American cheese singles

Brown ground beef with salt and pepper; drain. Par-boil potatoes. Add salt with onions or use canned potatoes to make it easier. Mix beef and potatoes with cream of mushroom soup. Add cheese on top and bake at 350 degrees until bubbly.

Donna Gilliam, Tombigbee EC

Chicken and Veggie Stir Fry

1 package boneless chicken thighs or chicken breasts

1 bag of frozen vegetable medley or stir fry veggies

1 onion, chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 cup soy sauce

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 tablespoon sesame seeds

Pepper to taste

Cut chicken into bite-sized chunks. Chop onion. Pour olive oil into a non-stick skillet, add chicken and onions. Saute chicken and onions for 12 minutes. Add vegetables, minced garlic, soy sauce and pepper. Continue cooking until chicken is fully cooked. Top with sesame seeds.

Sharlene Parker, Baldwin EMC

Hamburger Stroganoff

¼ cup butter

½ cup onion, minced

1 clove garlic, minced

1 pound ground beef

2 tablespoons flour

14-ounce can sliced mushrooms, drained

2 teaspoons salt

Pepper, to taste

1 can cream of chicken soup

8 ounces sour cream

2 tablespoons parsley, optional for garnish

Sauté onions and garlic in butter over medium heat. Add meat and brown; drain. Add flour, salt, pepper and mushrooms. Cook for 5 minutes. Add soup and simmer, uncovered, 10 minutes. Stir in sour cream and heat through. Sprinkle with parsley. Serve over noodles.

Trudy Nelson, Central Alabama EC

Upcoming Themes and Deadlines:

November.: Apples | August 9

December.: Nontraditional Holiday Food | Sept 13

January: Soups and Stews | Oct. 11

Hardy Jackson’s Alabama: Eating ‘eatin’ dirt’

Illustration by Dennis Auth

Some years ago The New York Times published a story on how the “Southern Practice of Eating Dirt Shows Signs of Waning.”

Maybe so, among people who read The New York Times, but some of the folks at “The Bitter Southerner” thought otherwise.  Instead, the online publication suggested that the practice wasn’t waning at all and that the time had come for “Making Peace with the Age-Old Practice of Eating White Dirt.”

Growing up in Lower Alabama and bagging groceries in a small store that catered to a racially and socially mixed clientele, I recall the day a guy came in with news that a highway cut had exposed a seam of  “eatin’ dirt.”  He went on to tell anyone who would listen of how “dirt eaters” — whom he clearly counted among the lowest of the low — scooped it out by the buckets full until the bank was near collapse.  Then the seam ran out and the road was saved.

Little did I know then, but thanks to “The Bitter Southerner” I know now, that I am a dirt eater myself.

And so are you, probably.

You see, “eatin’ dirt” is mostly kaolin, a white clay that you can find in everything from toothpaste to Kaopectate.  You can also find chunks of it in a purer form for sale in plastic bags in the snack section of your local bait and beer shop.

Not only that, consuming “eatin’ dirt” is nothing new.  Folks have been doing it for over 2,000 years – long before there were Southerners to look down on for doing it.

And now comes the kicker.

Eating “eatin’ dirt” is not something practiced solely by poor whites and blacks. Nor can it be cited as one more piece of evidence of degeneracy in Dixie.

Nossir, eating “eatin’ dirt” has gone uptown.

Shortly after “The Bitter Southerner” article, another piece on the subject appeared in The New York Times. This one told readers that “Eating Clay is Touted by Celebrities.”

The fact that I had never heard of the celebrities doing this touting should in no way diminish the importance of the touting they are doing.

While pushing her new movie, one actress praised “the breath-freshening and body-detoxifying properties of clay.”

Meanwhile, that very month a “juicing chain,” owned in part by another actress, was “introducing a one-ounce bentonite clay shot,” which some folks say will clean you out like a Roto-Rooter.

Plans were in the works to turn it into a drink and bottle it.

Still, there was a downside.

Although clay is high in minerals such as calcium, iron and copper, physicians warn that it might also be full of bacteria, viruses and parasites.  I don’t know if the bugs in clay are some of the same ones that plagued Southerners for years, but if that is the case, my buddy John’s efforts to organize a “save the hookworm” movement might finally take off.

What has already taken off is “Earthpaste,” a clay-based toothpaste sold in health food stores.   It is ugly – think of a slug on your toothbrush – but folks are buying it.

If they swallow it, they are eating “eatin’ dirt.”

Just like the rest of us.ν