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Three reasons why Social Security is important for women

More women work, pay Social Security taxes, and earn credit toward monthly retirement income than at any other time in our nation’s history. Yet, on average, women face greater economic challenges than men in retirement. 

Nearly 55 percent of the people receiving Social Security benefits are women. Women generally live longer than men while often having lower lifetime earnings. And women usually reach retirement with smaller pensions and other assets compared to men. Social Security is vitally important to women for these three key reasons. 

You could be eligible for your own benefits if you:

  • worked and paid taxes into the Social Security system for at least 10 years and 
  • have earned a minimum of 40 work credits.

Once you reach age 62, you could be eligible for your own Social Security benefit. Whether you’re married or not and whether your spouse collects Social Security or not, you could be eligible. If you’re eligible and apply for benefits on more than one work record, you generally receive the higher benefit amount.

The sooner you start planning for retirement, the better off you’ll be. We have specific information for women at www.socialsecurity.gov/people/women.Email or post this link to friends and family you love.

Alabama 4-H launches capital campaign

The Alabama 4-H Foundation recently announced its new capital campaign, “The Center of It All,” which focuses on expanding the infrastructure at the 4-H Center south of Birmingham. At the center, Alabama 4-H fulfills its mission of providing hands-on learning experiences, including science and camping programs, for the state’s young people.

Members of 4-H are put on a wait list to attend signature overnight programs and events at the 4-H center due to lack of facility space. Recently, Alabama 4-H received a gift of 108 acres where the 4-H center is located; new dining facilities and dormitories will be built there to provide more opportunities for young people, and to help build sustainable revenue to support programs. 

For more information on the campaign or to make a donation, visit thecenterofitall.org or call 334-844-5536.

Family recipes bring a taste of Italy to Athens

By Lenore Vickrey

For nearly 13 years, Dan Oliver had enjoyed success owning and operating a popular Italian restaurant in Huntsville. So when property became available in downtown Athens, a town about 35 miles away, he decided it was time to branch out and open a second location of Terranova’s. 

“Athens is a wonderful, growing, caring community,” he says, “and they did not have an Italian restaurant, so when the situation presented itself, we were all in!” Terranova’s, located right on the city square, has been a hit with locals and visitors since it opened in June 2018. 

The most popular entrees are Italian specialties Chicken Marsala, Pasta Portofino (bowtie pasta sautéed in creamy sauce with smoked bacon, mushrooms and scallions), and Terranova’s Trio (chicken parmesan, lasagna and fettuccine alfredo), but the ribeye bistecca (a 12-ounce ribeye steak seasoned with Italian marinade) and grilled salmon have their fans as well. 

“All of the recipes, except for one, are my recipes,” says Oliver, who describes himself as the “chief cook and bottle washer.” “Believe me, I had a lot of ones that didn’t pan out, but the good ones stuck and are still kicking.” 

Not hungry enough for a full entrée? Terranova’s appetizers, soups or salads could fill you up. The corn-crab soup, full of sweet, sautéed corn, onions, peppers and blue crab claw meat is a house original. Fried green tomatoes are given an Italian twist with a bechamel sauce, mozzarella, and baked with a sweet red pepper and basil topping.  

Got room for dessert? There’s Italian cream pie, tiramisu, crème brulee and of course, cannoli.

Terranova’s building was built in the early 1900s to store cotton, Oliver was told, and was later used as a bowling alley after its cotton days were over. Oliver has decorated the exposed brick walls with a variety of architectural elements, from 1840s antique doors originally from Alexandria, Egypt, to an old wooden church register board and Italian directional road signs. 

Walk through the front side door into U.G. White Mercantile, an eclectic general store that’s been in business since 1917, when Athens was a hub for the cotton and railroad industries in Limestone County. Check out the homemade chocolate candy counter, get a U.G. White soft T-shirt, and take home a bar of homemade soap, a funky kitchen towel or jar of homemade pickles or fruit preserves. 

Why the name Terranova’s? Oliver borrowed it from one of his favorite TV shows. “It came from a TV series in the late 1980s called “Wiseguy,” says Oliver. “It was a show that every episode built on the previous show. The lead actor was named Vinny Terranova, and he worked undercover for the OCB, the Organized Crime Bureau, and he would filter into organized crime families, gather info on the people and then finally at the end of the season, he would bring them all down and arrest them all. It was a truly awesome with famous actors who are still acting (today).” 

Terranova’s is open every day but Mondays, for lunch on Sundays, and on weekend evenings, diners get a special treat. Local self-taught accordion player Brody Wilhelm, 15, entertains patrons with folk music and American classics. Brody, who’s been entertaining patrons since June, also plays xylophone in the James Clemens High School Marching Band in nearby Madison.

“Brody is a pleasant, gifted and kind young man and his talents in music complement those characteristics,” says Oliver. “I believe it is a reflection of his wonderful, loving family.” Just one of the many reasons Terranova’s is worth the drive. 

Terranova’s Italian Restaurant

105 Jefferson St., Athens, AL 35611

(256) 800-8016 or (256) 800-8061

HOURS

11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; CLOSED Monday; 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Visit at terranovasrestaurant.com.

Christmas in Dixie: not quite what it used to be

Today Christmas down South looks pretty much like Christmas in other parts of the country — without the snow.  

But it wasn’t always that way. At one time, Christmas in Dixie was marked with customs and practices unique to the region. What happened?   

Let’s look back a bit.

By the time Christmas came here, it was already established in the English countryside as a mid-winter festival for farm folk. The harvest was in. There was food in the pantry.  So, they cut what greenery remained, decked the halls, laid out the feast, and had one last merry time before winter descended with a vengeance.

In Dixie, as in England, Christmas was celebrated most enthusiastically among the lower classes, who used the opportunity to engage in activities frowned upon by their “betters.”For example, on December 25, 1796, Indian Agent Benjamin Hawkins, down close to the forks of the Coosa and Tallapoosa, wrote disapprovingly of how he was visited by a party of slaves who had been released from their work to have “a proper frolic of rum drinking and dancing.” What bothered Hawkins most was that “white people and Indians met generally at the same place with them and had the same amusement.”

Southern yeomen farmers often celebrated Christmas in the open. With the weather still warm enough for outdoor activity, it was common “for a crowd of young men to band together, with guns and every sort instrument of music, or of noise, [and] go ‘Christmasing’ among their neighbors,” from whom they demanded “a treat.”

Southern towns and cities witnessed a variation on the same theme, as bands of people — usually men, usually young, and usually from “the lower orders” — wandered about the streets, making merry and making mischief.            Well into the late 19thcentury, these boisterous celebrations continued, but slowly they changed as the region changed.

The Post-Civil War “New South” imposed a commercial culture on Dixie and the region’s rising middle class abhorred all kinds of rowdyism.   The approach these community leaders took to civil conduct was to restrict activities that threatened peace and tranquility. Also contributing to the calming of Christmas was the growing influence of evangelical religious groups that encouraged worship instead of revelry.             

Meanwhile, other forces were beginning to have an impact on the way Southerners celebrated Christmas. Although the commercialization of the holiday was nothing new, during the late 19thcentury increasingly sophisticated advertising campaigns elevated gift-giving to a national passion and made Santa Claus a national icon. In short, Christmas became a national holiday.

Today Southerners still add a few distinctive twists to the season. We buy and shoot more fireworks and hold more parades (remember the weather). But for the most , the modern South is solidly within the national mainstream when it comes to celebrating Christmas. So, if you are looking for evidence of the Americanization of Dixie, there is no better time or place to start than Christmas.             

Now excuse me, I’ve got to go buy my firecrackers.

Electronic gift guide for tech-savvy friends and family

By Abby Berry

This holiday season, give the gift of tech! If you’re searching for the latest gadgets and electronics to gift but don’t know where to start, we’ve got you covered. Here’s a list of ideas for your tech-savvy friends and family members, and with a range of prices and interests, there’s sure to be something for everyone.

Gifts for those on the go: We all have that one friend who never stays in one place, so they’ll appreciate gifts that keep them charged and entertained while on the go. 

A portable charger (or power bank) can keep their smart phones and tablets juiced, and the good news is this gift won’t drain your wallet. You can purchase portable chargers online or at local retailers for as low as $20. Typically, these compact devices can fully charge an iPhone three times before running out of steam.

A Bluetooth speaker is another great gift to keep those on the go entertained. Whether they’re listening to their favorite tunes or watching the latest flick, Bluetooth speakers can clarify and amplify volume to satisfy any media enthusiast. Prices range depending on features, but you can purchase a quality Bluetooth speaker online or at local retailers for as low as $30.  

A Bluetooth speaker is great gift to keep those on the go entertained. Whether they’re listening to their favorite tunes or watching the latest flick, Bluetooth speakers can clarify and amplify volume to satisfy any media enthusiast.
Image Source: Abby Berry, NRECA

Gifts for the chef: Every foodie knows that temperature matters when mastering the perfect cut of meat. A Bluetooth-connected thermometer can help your chef ensure a delicious (and safe-to-eat) meal. Just download the associated app and keep an eye on the grill right from your smart phone or tablet. Prices vary from $30 to $200, but you can purchase these handy gadgets online or at any big box store, like Wal-Mart or Target. 

A digital kitchen scale is a must for any culinary pro. No more guessing––the easy-to-read digital screen ensures the exact weight or amount required for that perfect dish. Prices vary depending on the weight the scale can handle, but you can find a 13-pound max weight scale for about $20 on Amazon.com.

Gifts for the pet owner: Let’s face it––pet owners would be lost without their fur babies. Luckily, pet tracking products continue to advance, so pet owners can always keep a watchful eye on their furry friends. Most trackers simply attach to your pet’s collar. Prices vary depending on the tracker’s capabilities, but some features include water resistance, health monitoring and exceptional battery life. You can purchase pet trackers online or at your local pet store. 

Pet cameras, like the PetChatz model shown here, allow pet owners to monitor their furry friends in real time. Check in on your pet from your smart phone, tablet or laptop.
Image Credit: PetChatz

Speaking of keeping an eye on pets, you can also purchase surveillance cameras for real-time monitoring––some cameras even allow you to toss treats to your furry friend while you’re away. Additional features include a microphone (so you can talk to your pets), a built-in laser toy (for our feline friends) and the ability to snap a photo or take video from your smart phone. Prices vary depending on the bells and whistles, but you can purchase a pet camera for as low as $40 on Amazon.com. 

With so many electronics available today, you’re sure to find the perfect gift for your tech-savvy loved ones. Happy shopping! 

Start prepping for college early in the high school years

Preparing for college can be stressful on high school students and parents. Kathleen Stallings, director of the University of Alabama at Birmingham Undergraduate Admissions, provides a timeline to help future college students prepare for college at an early age and guide them through the application process with a realistic timeline.

“Start early,” Stallings says. “Many students wait until their junior or senior year to even think about college applications. We encourage potential students to start thinking about their future college career during their freshman year of high school.”

Freshman and sophomore year: Buckle down and explore

It is never too early to start thinking about how experiences in high school will impact the future. From grades to extracurricular activities, each year of high school is a steppingstone to the next, and eventually a student’s college career. 

Lay out a success plan and set goals for each year with a school counselor. Stallings suggests discussing the following with a counselor at the beginning of each year:

  • Class schedule
  • Current GPA and class rank
  • Potential colleges 
  • Career options and various testing options

Start thinking about grades in terms of what scholarships to pursue. Most colleges will look at a student’s cumulative GPA for the first three years of high school to determine scholarship eligibility.

“Some high school students think they can get their grades up during their junior or senior year in order to get into college,” Stallings says. “If you are looking to get a scholarship to pay for college, you need to consider this early on. Your senior year might be too late.”

Get involved in extracurricular activities. State schools may not value extracurriculars as much as Ivy League schools, but these activities could lead to additional scholarships and opportunities once accepted into college.

As sophomores, students should start preparing for the SAT or ACT by taking prep courses and practice exams.

“Prepare and practice early on for the best results,” Stallings says. “There may be minimum scores required to get into the college or university of your choice. If you are looking to obtain scholarships, these scores will matter even more.”Other recommendations from Stallings for freshman and sophomore high school students include:

  • Begin college research by talking to others in the community and looking online
  • Keep track of extracurricular activities, volunteer experiences and any other positions help in a resume

Junior year: Get serious

Start looking at colleges more seriously, suggests Stallings. Attend college fairs at school and in the community. Visit college campuses to get a feel for the campus, its culture and the overall experience. Many high schools allow excused absences for juniors and seniors to make college visits, so students should talk with their counselors to see what is allowed and take advantage of these opportunities to visit campuses, suggests Stallings.

“We encourage potential students to visit the college campuses they are interested in attending,” Stallings says. “It is important to get a feel for what everyday life on campus is and how that makes you feel about attending school there. You can also explore opportunities available to you and your interests while you are on campus.”

Think about standardized testing early. Take the PSAT during the fall. This will help students qualify early for scholarships, such as the National Merit Scholarship Program.

Get organized early on, suggests Stallings. Lay out key dates for standardized testing, application deadlines and scholarship deadlines. Set deadlines early to ensure the needed items are pulled together in a timely fashion to make college deadlines. Talk to the people who will provide recommendation letters or transcripts from early in the process so they have time to meet deadlines.

Determine how to pay for college. Stallings suggests starting the conversation early between caregivers and students to map out a plan. Set a yearly budget to know what will be needed when and for what. What scholarship applications are needed? What are the deadlines? What financial aid can be utilized? Will a job during the summer or during the school year be needed to help offset costs?

Senior year: The home stretch

As students who intend to attend college move into their final year of high school, they should consider every move they make as a move to get into the college of their choice. Stallings suggests taking advantage of the summer months to do an internship in the field of study one is pursuing or volunteering at local organizations. These resume-type items may not factor into state school applications, but fare well on college scholarship applications and provide opportunities to learn about various career fields.

During the fall, make a final list of colleges to apply for, and apply early. Many colleges and universities award scholarships to the early applicants based on grades and standardized testing scores.

Do not sit back and wait. Watch for decision letters in the mail.

“If you haven’t heard from your top colleges, contact the office of admissions to make sure they received your application,” Stallings says.

Submit financial aid and scholarship applications before the deadlines.

“Make sure you are taking full advantage of financial aid that is available,” Stallings says. “Many times there are federal funds, like the Pell Grant and Federal Work Study, that go unused simply because students don’t apply for them.”

Princess Theatre’s visual splendor continues to charm audiences

By Aaron Tanner

The Princess Theatre, which turns 100 this year, is the crown jewel of downtown Decatur. The premier multi-function community arts center showcases films, concerts, and performances from local and national acts in its 677-seat auditorium, hosts private events and features a listening room for live music.

Initially a location for a livery where horses were parked while patrons shopped downtown, the Princess opened in 1919 showcasing vaudeville acts and silent films. As movies with sound became popular, a decision was made by the owner to remodel the Princess in 1941 into a theater that showed those types of films. 

“When ‘talkies’ came in, the Princess came into her own as the premier movie house in North Alabama and beyond,” communications director Melissa Ford Thornton says.

The Princess’ sleek, elegant Art Deco style, which swept across Europe and the U.S. during the 1920s and ’30s, made the theater an attractive place for people to imitate the glamor of movie stars by dressing up for a night on the town. 

The bright neon marquee, now an icon of the region, preserved façade and historic lobby, featuring tiles made of the same type of Italian stone used on the Hollywood walk of fame, are stunning visual reminders of the theatre’s early years. “The aura that art deco displayed was sophisticated,” Thornton says.

As indoor shopping malls and multi-screen cinemas with surround sound became popular across America during the 1970s, along with movie channels on TV, many cities saw the bulk of their business shift from downtown to the suburbs. In 1978, the Princess fell victim to this trend and closed. “The rise of malls as the new shopping standard hit theatres and performing arts centers hard nationwide,” Thornton says.

Fortunately, the Princess avoided demolition as city officials and the community raised funds to restore the theatre. In 1983, the Princess reopened as a multi-use performing arts center, allowing a new generation of residents to experience excellent entertainment. 

“There is a love for this place,” Thornton exclaims.

The energy of downtown

Today, the Princess and downtown Decatur are thriving thanks to the creation of an arts and entertainment district. Merchants are experiencing increased foot traffic thanks to cooperation between businesses and the theatre. “Downtown Decatur has had a breath of fresh air blown into its lungs,” says technical director Penny Linville, who has been with the Princess since 1990.

The Princess and downtown Decatur have become a hub for entertainment, due in part to younger generations looking for authentic, rather than cookie-cutter, manufactured experiences. An example is the theatre’s monthly singer-songwriter series. During the event, the audience is up-close and personal with the artist where music is the focus while the musician tells their story. “The veil between the singer and the audience is torn,” Thornton says.

The Princess is an economic boom for downtown Decatur thanks to the singer-songwriter series and other live shows held at the theatre. Those from out of town often stay at nearby hotels when attending concerts featuring nationally touring acts, such as when recording artists Drive-by Truckers and Larkin Poe performed earlier this year.

Sometimes the performers mingle with guests after a show at downtown restaurants. “There is a huge spirit of conviviality between cast, crew, and patrons,” says Carol Puckett of the Bank Street Players, who regularly perform at the Princess. “Getting the Princess returned to the central heartbeat of the Second Avenue commercial district has had a ripple effect in all the nearby businesses.”

Thanks to the help of local college students, Decatur will be getting additional exposure with a live-recorded podcast from the Princess promoting artists performing that week at the theatre, the Alabama Center for the Arts and elsewhere in the area – along with news from the Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We want to talk about collaboration and cooperation, not competition,” Thornton says.

Another way the Princess is involved in the community is through various arts education workshops for different age groups. Thornton is especially delighted when younger students create and showcase a performance before an audience through teamwork. 

“Having the children step into the spotlight for the first time and having people clap for them is an amazing experience,” Thornton says.

Throughout its long history, the Princess has brought the community together through the power of performing arts. Many who grew up in Decatur have fond memories of the theatre, from a first kiss to riding bikes down to the theatre as a kid to catch a film. “The Princess captures the essence of the old and new,” Thornton says. “It’s a testament to history, a catalyst for change and a meeting space in between.”

The Princess has several special fundraising events upcoming to commemorate its 100th anniversary. For more information about the Princess Theatre, or to get tickets for events, visit their website at www.princesstheatre.org.

Christmas Eve Traditions

Twas the night before Christmas…for ‘Alabama Living’ readers

Besides being Santa’s busiest day of the year, Christmas Eve for many families holds a special religious or cultural significance. While children are more interested in leaving notes and treats (ones not otherwise consumed by hungry grown-ups) for St. Nick, those old enough to have an appreciation for family and tradition look forward to a candlelight service or a midnight mass, a reading of the Christmas story, a small gift exchange or perhaps a special meal. 

We asked readers to share their Christmas Eve traditions. Consider creating a new one this year for your friends and/or families. – Allison Law

Some of the submissions were edited for length or clarity.


Christmas beach tree

In 1982, we were expecting our first and only child. We were able to take a vacation and some three-day weekends every year. Wherever we were, our tradition was to buy a unique, sometimes custom-made, Christmas tree ornament. As the years went by our tree became a personal tree.

As my son was growing up, he would gently take one ornament at a time off the tree, ask about it and look at the date on the bottom. As he got older, he would remember with the excitement of buying an ornament to go on the tree.

We passed the special ornaments on to him and his family. In 2014 my son moved to Elberta, Ala., and my wife and I retired to Gulf Shores. We started what we call the Christmas Beach Tree. We are truly beach people and spend many waking hours playing along our Gulf Coast.

Our tree is collecting unique ornament from our travels across our southern states. On Christmas eve, our new step grandson takes each ornament off the tree and asks about the date and where it came from. This is a true case of history repeating itself and we enjoy every minute of it. 

Mike and Cecilia Luna    

Gulf Shores, Ala.


The Feast of Seven (or more) Fishes

For over 40 years we have celebrated our version of the Italian Seven Fishes dinner. Depending on where we lived, availability of fresh fish and seafood sometimes meant less than seven choices.  Since our arrival in LA (lower Alabama) we have exceeded seven. We have enjoyed anywhere from eight to 20 guests who anticipate the event yearly. Midnight Mass concludes our event. A great way to make family and friends a priority. 

Donna MartrayBaldwin EMC


Christmas at the cabin

Our Christmas Eve tradition started approximately 28 years ago, when our oldest sister invited all of us to her house for breakfast. We now meet in an old log cabin in Lawrence County, where we have a meal every first Saturday of the month. We begin decorating our cabin about a week after Thanksgiving; we use traditional decorations using stringed popcorn and handmade ornaments.

On Christmas Eve, we get started very early in the morning to cook the breakfast, which we cook on an old wood-burning stove. Our menu consists of about 200 biscuits, ham, sausage, bacon, eggs by the dozens, sausage gravy, tomato gravy and homemade jams and jellies and coffee by the gallons.

We invite all our friends as well as family, and at times we have around 100 to attend. The sisters always greet our guests on the front porch, wearing their red and white gingham aprons and Santa hats and repeating the old phrase “Christmas Eve Gift,” which we learned from our Daddy.

Millie Waldrop


The pickle in the tree

My children and grandchildren come to my house on Christmas Eve. For years I have had a ceramic dill pickle that I hide on my tree. It was told that whoever found the pickle would get an extra gift. Everyone gets one minute to look, but you cannot touch the tree. They keep taking turns until it is found. Sometimes it is easy to find and sometimes not so easy.

Whoever finds it gets money. When it gets found before everyone gets a turn, sometimes I have to hide it again. The kids all love it, but the grownups do, too. Even before Christmas when they come to the house they start looking and want to know if I have hidden the pickle yet. So I have to wait until the last minute before they come for Christmas. 

Linda DycusNorth Alabama EC


Celebrating Czech heritage

My mother had Czechoslovakian heritage and each Christmas Eve, she made Sauerkraut and Mushroom soup. I still make it each Christmas Eve as well. Before you cringe, it is quite good and to me, seems similar to Chinese sweet and sour soup. She called it simply:

Slovak Christmas Soup

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon flour

Dash paprika

1 cup cold water 

4 cups boiling water

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pepper 

1 cup cooked or dry mushrooms 

¾ cup sauerkraut and juice

Optional: You can also add noodles cut in squares. (I leave them out) 

Brown the flour and butter in small frying pan until brown. Add paprika and cold water, boil until dissolved. Add that mixture to the boiling water, salt and pepper. Add mushrooms, sauerkraut and juice. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Add noodles if you like. 

Rose Rush

Talladega, Ala.


Lasagna, cookies and gifts

Several years ago, I broke Christmas tradition and began cooking lasagna for my family’s Christmas dinner. The key is home-grown tomatoes instead of canned. We have a salad and cheese garlic bread with the meal.

One of our traditions is to allow the grandchildren to open one small gift before we eat our food. They are so excited. We also donate clothing or shoes to a child in need. Teaching children to give and share is so important.

In addition to these traditions, we also sing Christmas carols. They have enjoyed singing, “O Christmas Tree.” I cut out pieces of large cardboard to make Christmas trees out of. I decorate them with candy canes and paint snow on each one. Then, a hole is cut where they place their faces while singing “O Christmas Tree.” I top the tree with a star, moon and sometimes a snowman hat. We build memories. Then they return to their homes to await the arrival of Santa Claus. 

Nita WalkerVinemont, Ala.

Granna’s Lasagna recipe (courtesy of Nita Walker)

Lasagna:

3 pounds ground hamburger meat

2 teaspoons minced garlic

2 tablespoons dried basil

3 tablespoons salt

2 quarts homemade tomatoes with juice

24 ounces tomato paste

1 small can tomato sauce

Cook the hamburger meat and drain well. Add other ingredients and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Filling:

6 eggs

6 cups cream-style cottage cheese

1 ½ cups Parmesan cheese

4 tablespoons parsley flakes

1 teaspoon pepper

2 teaspoons salt

Other ingredients:

1 box lasagna noodles

2 pounds mozzarella cheese

Mix ingredients and place in refrigerator until ready to use. In a four-quart pot, bring 3 quarts water to a boil. Add 1 teaspoon salt and 1 tablespoon oil. Add one box lasagna noodles and cook according to directions.Layer the strips of noodles in a greased 13 by 9 baking dish. Top noodles with half of the cheese filling. Add 1 pound shredded mozzarella cheese. Spread ½ of the meat sauce over the cheese. Repeat layers. Bake at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes. Lasagna can be made the day before and refrigerated; in this case, bake about 1 hour.


Family sleepover

Every Christmas Eve, my family gathers to spend the night at the home of my grandparents, Hershel and Sarah Scott (Granny and Papaw). This includes grandparents, siblings and spouses, aunts, uncles, cousins and spouses, and great-grandchildren. A total of 22 spend the night.

I remember as a child writing Santa a letter on Christmas Eve, reminding him to drop our presents off at Granny and Papaw’s house. 

Today, we enjoy eating Christmas goodies and watching the kids play together. Every year before bedtime, a family member reads the Christmas story from the Bible. We gather around the fireplace, sing carols and thank God for another Christmas together.

Everyone prepares their beds, sleeping bags and air mattresses for the night. Everyone sleeps upstairs because Santa delivers presents downstairs. 

This tradition has been around since my parents married 40 years ago. As a child, I always wondered how Santa delivered all those gifts to 22 people. Now, it’s a tradition I share with my husband and boys.

Nicole BoltonThorsby, Ala. 


Christmas Gift

I was raised playing “Christmas Eve Gift!” and “Christmas Gift!” My paternal grandfather’s family passed on this fun tradition, which is believed to have originated from a nanny and was part of her culture. We are told that in olden days people would fill their pockets with candy or nuts on Christmas Eve. The first to greet the other with “Christmas Eve Gift!” would a receive a candy or nut. 

Now, after many decades, the fun is in the “getting.” Long ago we dispensed with the candy, nuts or even a gift – but there’s no less joy. Earning “I got you!” bragging rights brings forth joyous squeals and laughter. 

Diane Taylor Aman

Dothan, Ala.

This day in history: December 17, 1939

The classic line-up of the Tempations in the 1960s consisted of (from left) David Ruffin, Otis Williams, Paul Williams, Melvin Franklin, and Alabamian Eddie Kendricks.

Singer Eddie Kendricks, the first lead tenor for the Temptations, was born in Union Springs. Formed in Detroit, Michigan, under Motown Records, the group’s original lineup featured three Alabama natives—Kendricks, Paul Williams, and Melvin Franklin—and became one of the most successful musical acts in history. Throughout their career, the group released fourteen Billboard R&B number-one singles, such as classics “Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)” and “My Girl,” and won three Grammy Awards. Kendricks also released two number-one R&B singles as a solo artist—“Boogie Down” and “Keep On Truckin’.” Kendricks and the Temptations were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989.

Red more at http://www.encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/h-2535.

Make soil the first crop to grow in 2020

This can be a tough month for gardeners who want to be outside digging in the dirt but know it’s too early in the season to grow much of anything. Luckily, there is something that can — and should — be grown right now and for months and years to come: soil.

Can soil be grown? Definitely, because soil is a living entity that can be generated and regenerated. Should we grow soil? Absolutely, because we need soil, and it needs us. But why should we care so much about dirty old dirt? Because we’re not talking about dirt — we’re talking about a complex, interconnected natural resource that is critical to our existence. 

Soil, which forms the crust of our planet, exists in layers (or horizons), each of which provides its own unique ecosystem functions. The uppermost layer (topsoil) is the soil we want to grow because it is teeming with life. In that layer is an amalgamation of minerals, gasses, liquids, organic matter and living creatures (micro-organisms, worms, insects and small mammals) that work together to create and sustain one another and other life on Earth. 

Dirt, on the other hand (or foot), is the residue of mineral components in soil, which are not teeming with life. In other words, by itself, dirt is dead. Add the other ingredients, though, and you have soil, which is very much alive.

Topsoil keeps us very much alive by providing essential life-supporting services. For example, soil sustains plant growth, from which we, directly or indirectly, get our food. Soil also provides habitat for other creatures that play their own parts in the food chain and in ecological balance. In addition, soil has engineering functions that clean, capture and store water and clean our air and atmosphere.

Though humankind has long appreciated the importance of soil and tried to protect it from erosion and degradation, more than half of the world’s topsoil has been lost during the past 150 years, and we continue to lose it at a rate of 36 billion tons per year globally. Just as we lose it, we need it even more to feed growing world populations but also to mitigate climate change. That’s because well-managed, healthy soils can capture (sequester) carbon and decrease greenhouse gas emissions, which are driving the rapid advance of climate change. 

Conversely, poorly managed and depleted soils release carbon into the atmosphere (as carbon dioxide, or CO2), which contributes to climate change.

So, yes, we should grow soil, and we can do that in our very own yards and gardens. Here are a few simple ways to get started. 

  • Keep soil covered, either with plants or mulches, to stop erosion and start building soil quality.
  • Disturb the least amount of soil possible by using minimum- or no-till practices and by planting perennials, including fruits and vegetables, rather than annuals, whenever possible. 
  • Increase biodiversity by planting native species, rotating annual species and breaking up large areas of monocultured crops (including lawns).
  • Minimize soil compaction by reducing foot and vehicular traffic wherever possible and avoiding working soil when it’s wet.
  • Build soil and improve soil quality by amending soil with organic matter (compost, for example) and planting legumes and other soil-building plants. 
  • Test soil to determine its nutritional profile and needs, especially before adding fertilizers.

These are just a few ideas on growing soil, an undertaking supported by a diverse array of organizations ranging from the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Environmental Protection Agency to the Union of Concerned Scientists, Green America and Kiss the Ground. 

To learn more, contact any (or all) of the organizations above, or search the Web using keywords such as “garden soil restoration,” “regenerative farming” and “green gardening.” Before long, you’ll be well on your way to growing soil, the most important crop for you and for the planet.


December tips

Prune small limbs and suckers from trees and shrubs but avoid heavy pruning until winter.

Clean fallen limbs, dead fruit and emerging weeds from garden beds, orchards and landscape areas.

Add mulch (1-2 inches deep) around tender plants and newly planted shrubs, trees and vines. 

Plant shrubs, trees, spring-flowering bulbs and flowers.

Get a soil test and apply recommended soil amendments.

Clean and store garden tools and equipment.Review garden notes and new seed and plant catalogues.