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Outdoors: Gearing up for cold weather

Better protective gear can help anglers catch more fish

By John N. Felsher

Some anglers love fishing during the winter. Here Jimmy Mason, a bass pro from Rogersville, Ala., bundled up to catch smallmouth bass at Pickwick Lake near Florence, Ala.

Faced with stinging temperatures – intensified by swirling winds driving snow flurries – most anglers would probably wait for a better day, or month, to go fishing. But  proper protective gear can allow anglers to fish in relative comfort on days when most people would rather sit next to a roaring fire.

“I fished some really bad days, but one in particular stands out,” remembers Denny Brauer, a former Bassmaster Classic champion. “During one tournament, the ramp got so slick that people were almost launching their trucks along with their boats. All my rod compartments froze shut. I had to borrow my wife’s hair dryer to thaw the locks. We made a run to the lower end of the lake and pulled into a creek. I told my partner, ‘We’re going to be here all day. I’m not making another run.’ I actually caught a really good bag that day because I kept my bait in the water and didn’t want to run anywhere else in the cold.”

In the old days, many anglers wore army-surplus field jackets, bulky “long johns” under jeans, jumpsuits or maybe sweatpants and anything else they could find to ward off the chill. They topped that ensemble with heavy woolen shirts and jackets. In extreme cold, some put on down parkas. Not designed for fishing, these heavy outfits offered protection, but didn’t allow much mobility or relief from rain. Fortunately, manufacturers have made significant progress in protective gear technology.

“Back then, we wore so much that we couldn’t move or fish,” recalls Bernie Schultz, a professional angler. “It was so heavy that it wore us out. Today, an angler can buy stuff right off the shelf that is so much better than what we had years ago. Now, we layer ourselves in garments made of high-tech materials designed specifically for fishing. The cut is better, giving anglers more mobility.”

As it progresses, hypothermia, or a lowering of the core body temperature, can cause disorientation, slurring of speech and hamper one’s ability to make decisions. Wetness or wind rapidly exacerbates the effects of hypothermia. A person immersed in 40-degree F waters can lose consciousness in 15 minutes and die in 90.

Today, anglers can buy lightweight, waterproof products designed specifically to keep them warm, dry and comfortable in weather extremes. For starters, protect the head. Many anglers wear insulated or knit wool coverings to protect their heads, faces and necks on extremely cold days. Some wear beanie-type caps and might add wide coverings similar to sweatbands over the ears. Put a sweatshirt hood over this covering, followed by the hood on the outer coat to keep warm and dry.

The old adage, “dress in layers” still applies, but with modern garments, layers don’t need to make a person resemble a tire company logo. Most people start with ultralight Gore-Tex thermal undergarments and add a thick shirt or sweatshirt over them. Some wear thin, insulated waterproof pants over jeans or trousers. Others prefer bibs, which resemble overalls on steroids. On the outside, many anglers don waterproof all-weather coats or parkas to fight biting cold, block the wind and repel rain or spray.

Nothing makes a person more miserable in cold weather than wet socks and icy feet. Some people wear waterproof thermal socks to keep their feet dry. Some people wear battery-operated electric socks. Over those, add waterproof shoes or boots.

“It’s miserable all day if you step into a puddle or walk down to the boat and barely slip into the water at the ramp, getting the socks wet in the morning,” says John Cox, a professional angler. “Wearing waterproof shoes makes a huge difference for the rest of the day as long as I don’t step in water over my ankle. I like a waterproof shoe that feels like a sneaker, but keeps my feet dry. If it’s really cold, I’ll wear insulated waterproof boots, but I can’t move around in boots that well.”

Thick gauntlet-style gloves protect hands while running the boat, but anglers can’t easily turn reel handles with them. Many companies now make thinner insulated gloves that keep hands warm, but still allow anglers to better use their fingers. Some gloves come with small pockets to insert chemical air-activated hand warmers for additional comfort.

Before heading out to face the elements, start with a good, hot breakfast. Anglers who don’t want to stop fishing to eat lunch can nibble high-energy bars throughout the day. Also drink sufficient warm, non-alcoholic liquids. Alcohol can lower a person’s core body temperature and cause dehydration.

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

Cooking contest winner continues tradition

From left, Alabama Living editor Lenore Vickrey; first-place winner Mary Lyons; second-place winner Tif Smith; third place winner Jamie Davis; and Creative Living Center director Ann Ball.

Story and photos by Allison Law

Many folks say that cooking ability is in the genes, passed down from one generation to the next. For this year’s winner of the Alabama Living “Crockin’ It” contest at the Alabama National Fair, not only is cooking in the genes – so is winning.

Mary Lyons of Tallassee won first place in the October contest for her dessert creation, Alabama-made Praline Crock-Pot Bread Pudding. Lyons has entered the contest for the last four years, and two years ago she won third place with her Crockpot Tropics Sipper.

Her adult son, Levi, followed in his mom’s footsteps. That same year, 2016, Levi Lyons won second place in the contest with his Crock-Pot Spinach Sausage and Ricotta Shells.

Levi Lyons didn’t enter this year, but his mom continued to make the family proud.

The inspiration for her sweet dish came from Pinterest, the free online platform that allows users to discover and save ideas – everything from recipes to renovation projects to clothing.

The recipe she found on Pinterest was for regular baking, not for a Crock-Pot. It also didn’t feature an Alabama-made ingredient, which is one of the requirements for the Alabama Living contest. She decided to use Luverne-made Sister Schubert’s rolls, baking them first in the oven and slicing and soaking them in the egg mixture. She also used Alaga syrup and found vanilla flavoring that’s made in Birmingham.

The third place winner, Jamie Davis, is Mary Lyons’ friend, and she’s the one who suggested that Lyons enter the praline dish. Obviously, it was good advice!

Alabama-made Praline Crock-Pot Bread Pudding

First place
Mary Lyons, Tallassee
  • 1 package Sister Schubert’s rolls
  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 cups half and half
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup chopped pecans

Praline sauce:

  • ½ cup butter
  • ¼ cup Alaga cane flavor syrup
  • ¾ cup brown sugar, packed
  • ¼ cup chopped pecans
  • ¾ cup heavy cream

Whipped cream:

  • 1 small carton Borden’s whipping cream
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Bake rolls as directed on package. While warm, cut into pieces. Arrange pieces in single layer on a flat surface; cool completely. In a large bowl, beat eggs; add half and half and sugar and mix well until blended. Add cut up rolls and mix well; let stand 15 minutes. Spread mixture evenly in slow cooker and press down slightly. Cook on high for two hours. Watch the sides for browning; take top off and allow top to brown for the last 30 minutes of cooking. Turn down to warm. Check center with a knife to make sure center is done; knife will come out clean. Sprinkle pecans over the bread pudding.

Sauce: melt butter in saucepan on medium heat. Add Alaga syrup and mix well. Add brown sugar and pecans and cook 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently. Reduce heat and slowly stir in heavy cream and simmer 2-3 minutes more, stirring constantly until it begins to thicken. Let stand 10 minutes. Pour over warm bread pudding.

Whipped cream: With a mixer on medium, beat whipping cream and gradually add sugar and vanilla. Mix until it forms a peak. Serve this cream on top of the pudding and sauce.

Pineapple and Pulled Pork Crock-Pot Baked Bean Camp Stew

Second place
Tif Smith, Montgomery
  • 1 pound bacon
  • 1 pound Conecuh sausage
  • 1l arge white onion, chopped
  • 128-ounce can baked beans in tomato sauce
  • 116-ounce can baked beans
  • 115-ounce can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 115-ounce can yellow corn
  • 120-ounce can pineapple tidbits, drained
  • ½cup Alaga maple syrup
  • 115-ounce can chopped tomatoes
  • 2 cups pulled pork
  • 2 large bell peppers, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ cup ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon
  • mustard
  • 5 shakes Alaga hot sauce
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • ½ cup barbecue sauce

Chop raw bacon and Conecuh sausage and fry over medium heat until crispy and done. Drain on paper towels. Drain grease, leaving about 2 tablespoons in the pan. Cook onion in grease until soft. Combine all ingredients in a large slow cooker and cook on high for four hours or on low for eight hours.

Crock-Pot Low Country Boil

Third place
Jamie Davis, Tallassee
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 bottle of Truck Stop Honey beer
  • ¼ cup Alaga hot sauce
  • 3 tablespoons Old Bay
  • seasoning
  • 1½ teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1½ pounds red potatoes (about 10-15 small)
  • 10 small ears sweet corn (frozen or from the garden)
  • 1 pound Conecuh sausage, cut into two- to three-inch links
  • 2 lemons, cut into wedges
  • 2 pounds large shrimp, deveined
  • Optional condiments: cocktail sauce, additional lemon wedges, melted butter

In a six- to seven-quart slow cooker, combine water, beer, hot sauce, seafood seasoning, salt and cayenne pepper. Add potatoes, corn, sausage and lemon wedges. Cover and cook for 3 ½ hours on high. Add shrimp and stir until incorporated. Cover and cook an additional 30 minutes or until shrimp are pink. Spoon mixture into a large rimmed dish and serve with optional condiments.

Protein Packed

It’s an essential nutrient, so putting protein high on your priority list is a resolution you should make (and keep) this year.

Sausage, Egg and Cheese Bake


Food/Photography BY BROOKE ECHOLS

Makers of many foods (and those in charge of promoting certain agriculture products) like to slap the title “good source of protein” on their items as a way to entice an increasingly health-conscious public to buy and ingest whatever it is they’re selling. But is “getting enough protein” really that important or is the popularity of protein a fad? Yes to the first question; kind of to the second.

Protein is a macronutrient that is essential to our bodies’ daily functions. It forms the building blocks of our cells and is used to make and repair muscles, bones, blood and other tissues. It plays many other crucial roles too, making it a key component of a balanced diet. It is found in meats but also in dairy, eggs, nuts, seeds and beans.

Protein is also the focus of several “trendy” diets (like Paleo, Keto and Whole 30), but just because they’re “trendy” doesn’t mean they don’t work. These protein-rich eating regimens  deliver impressive results for weight loss. Pounds are shed quickly, and thanks to protein’s ability to satisfy appetites, people on these diets usually don’t feel overly hungry or deprived. According to the Mayo Clinic, for most people, high-protein, low-carb diets are safe, at least when they’re practiced short term.

But if you’re loading up your plate with bacon and fatty beef, you could exchange unwanted fat for high cholesterol and other issues. Better protein-heavy choices are fish, lean meats, low-fat dairy and beans. In fact, this advice applies to everyone: Experts agree that many of us could be making better choices about the kinds of protein we’re eating.

If you’re considering one of the protein-packed diets or just need to add some additional protein to your menu (now that you know how vital to good health it is), you’re in luck. Check out these tasty and (mostly) healthy reader-submitted recipes.

Cook of the Month

Mike Rich, Sand Mountain EC


No-Bake Puffed Quinoa Peanut Butter Crunch Cups

1 1/2 cups puffed quinoa*

1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons peanut butter

1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons coconut butter

2 tablespoons coconut oil

1 1/2 tablespoons pure maple syrup

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Add the puffed quinoa to a medium-sized mixing bowl. Add the peanut butter, coconut butter, coconut oil, maple syrup and vanilla extract to a medium saucepan. Heat over low and whisk continuously for 4-5 minutes or until completely melted and smooth. Pour the peanut butter mixture over the puffed quinoa and stir to coat. Place 16-18 muffin liners on a baking pan. Drop heaping tablespoons of the quinoa mixture into the muffin liners and gently smooth out with a spoon. Pop the pan into the freezer for one hour to set. Once the cups have set, you can transfer them to the refrigerator to store.

Cook’s note: You can purchase puffed quinoa, but if you prefer to make your own, this is what I typically do: Heat a large stockpot over medium heat. Once the pot is hot, pour a small amount of pre-rinsed and dried quinoa over the bottom of the pan. Gently move the pan so that the quinoa swirls around as it pops (this helps prevent burning). Once all the quinoa has popped (a minute or two), pour it into a bowl and repeat until you have 1 1/2 cups. You’ll notice that the quinoa has a very quiet crackle rather than a popcorn-like “pop,” and its popped state is only the tiniest bit larger than its un-popped state.

Meathead Chili

2 ribeye steaks

1 package pork sausage

1 pound ground beef

1 onion, chopped

1 16-ounce can red kidney beans

1 16-ounce can black beans

1 16-ounce can pinto beans

1 16-ounce can petite-diced tomatoes

1 16-ounces tomato paste

1 tablespoon chili powder

1 tablespoon cumin

1 tablespoon oregano

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 14-ounce can beef broth

Splash of sriracha sauce

Sear the steaks in a skillet 10 minutes a side. Brown the ground beef and pork together in a large pot. Cut the steak and add to a pot along with the chopped onion. After the onions cook down, add spices, tomatoes, brown sugar, sriracha sauce and beans. Pour in the beef stock and cook at a simmer for 30 minutes. Let chili rest for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

Kirk Vantrease, Cullman EC

Healthy Peanut Butter Cup Puppy Chow

(Single serving)

3/4cup toasted wheat (or rice) cereal

2tablespoon PB2

(or any brand of peanut butter


1/4teaspoon Hershey Special Dark

Cocoa powder (or chocolate protein powder)

2packets Splenda or Stevia

Coconut oil cooking spray

Mix peanut butter powder, dark cocoa powder and Splenda or Stevia in a bowl. Place cereal in a quart sized Ziploc bag. Spray cereal with coconut oil cooking spray, tossing well. Use just enough to coat. Add the dry ingredients to the bag with the cereal and toss until they stick to all sides.

Kaci Cheeseman, Baldwin EMC

Sausage, Egg and Cheese Bake

2 pounds bulk sausage (I like to use one hot, one mild)

1 small onion, chopped

1 package diced red, yellow and green bell peppers

2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

1 cup half and half or milk

8 eggs

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pepper

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

Brown the sausage with onion. Drain well on paper towels. Add the chopped bell peppers to the pan and sauté until tender. (You may or may not want to add a little oil or butter to the pan.) Add back in the sausage and onion mixture and stir until all ingredients are incorporated. Spread the meat/pepper mixture in a greased 9×13-inch baking dish or two smaller dishes. Sprinkle cheese on top. Whisk eggs, half and half or milk, garlic powder, salt and pepper together, and pour over the whole pan. I like to chill it overnight, but that’s optional. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Allison Law, Alabama Living managing editor

Send us your recipes for a chance to win!

Themes and Deadlines

March: Instant Pot | Jan. 3

April: Strawberries | Feb. 4

May: Tex-Mex | March 4

3 ways to submit:


Mail:  Recipes, P.O. Box 244014 Montgomery, AL 36124

Please send us your original recipes (developed  or adapted by you or family members.) Cook of the Month winners will receive $50, and may win “Cook of the Month” only once per calendar year.

To be eligible, submissions must include a name, phone number, mailing address and co-op name. Alabama Living reserves the right to reprint recipes in our other publications.

Alabama People: Jay Lamar

Directing Alabama’s Bicentennial

Jay Lamar is the executive director of the Alabama Bicentennial Commission, which was set up in 2013 to plan and coordinate events and activities celebrating the 200th anniversary of Alabama’s statehood. Appointed in early 2014, she previously worked at Auburn University in a variety of capacities. A native of Alabama, Lamar is also co-editor (with Jeanie Thompson) of The Remembered Gate: Memoirs by Alabama Writers. Of special interest to our readers is that Jay is the sister of Katie Lamar Jackson, our garden columnist. She is a very busy lady, but she managed to take some time to answer a few questions about this three-year long celebration of our state. — Lenore Vickrey 

How did you get involved with the Alabama 200 project?

By sheer luck and good fortune!

Why is Alabama’s bicentennial spread over three years?

The Alabama Bicentennial Commission leadership took its cue from Dr. Ed Bridges, director emeritus of the Alabama Department of Archives and History. He pointed out that the state’s territorial period was relatively brief, beginning in 1817 and concluding with statehood in 1819. A three-year window for creating and making significant projects happen was just irresistible. One example of why this was a genius idea: Almost a thousand teachers and administrators in Alabama’s public, private, and home schools have been able to benefit from new curriculum, primary source materials, and high-level professional development to prepare them for making the most of a once-in-a-lifetime “teaching moment.”

It must take a lot of people to pull off a three-year celebration. How many folks are involved and how did it all come together?

The sheer number of agencies and organizations involved is astounding! The Alabama Department of Archives & History, the Alabama Tourism Department, Alabama Historical Commission, Alabama Public Television, Alabama Humanities Foundation…these are agencies that are deeply involved and have been from the beginning. The bicentennial really happens because of the staff and resources committed from them and other partners.

Why is celebrating the state’s bicentennial important to the average Alabamian?

Celebrating this anniversary is important for our state because it is a chance to learn about our history and the places and people and events that shaped it. We have so much to be proud of and so much to build on and I believe that at the end of the day the bicentennial is really about our future. The bicentennial will be enriching and inspiring—and FUN!

What are some of the big events planned for 2019?

All of our events are on our website at They include events all over the state, from the State Camellia Show in Mobile Feb. 15-19, to the opening of the restored Alabama Constitution Village in Huntsville March 2, the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing July 15-20 in Huntsville, and the Poarch Creek Annual Thanksgiving Pow Wow Nov. 28-Dec. 1. There are events literally every week of this year!

WTD: Main Street Cafe

Main Street Cafe offers a glimpse into Madison’s past

Main Street Café is known for its homemade desserts including peanut butter pie, lemon icebox pie and strawberry pretzel salad.

Story and photos by Aaron Tanner

It’s not every day you get to dine inside a jail cell.

Main Street Café is a favorite gathering place for lunch on Main Street in historic downtown Madison

But that’s exactly what you can do at the Main Street Café, which occupies the space that once housed the town’s city hall and jail in historic downtown Madison. First-time visitors are often surprised about the opportunity to have a meal inside a jail cell that is now a private dining room. “They walk in and say ‘we hear you have jail cells; can we see them?’” says Cindy Sensenberger, who co-owns the restaurant with her husband, Tony.

On the flip side, Sensenberger has had customers tell them about spending time in the same jail cells that are now the café’s centerpiece. “I’ve had some come in and say they have been in the jail before, and after hearing they were coming I decided to paint over their initials,” Sensenberger says.

Although Madison’s population has grown significantly over the past few decades, Main Street Cafe retains its small-town atmosphere where customers dine on Southern comfort food in a more relaxed atmosphere. “It’s not stuffy,” Sensenberger says. “It’s like your neighborhood restaurant.”

Main Street Café co-owner Cindy Sensenberger.

Many of the entrees are from old recipes, including Poulet de Normandie (chicken and dressing topped with melted cheese and mushroom sauce); Cheesy Meatloaf with

Marinara Sauce; and a chicken salad plate complemented by an English pea salad and a slice of pumpkin bread.

There are also daily specials that change based on the seasonal recipes hand-selected by the chef.

Even though Sensenberger’s goal is to rotate the specials, she loves her customers enough to make exceptions. If a prior special is not on the menu, the restaurant will personally make the special order. “Sometimes we have to have the same special for the whole week because someone will not be able to come the day we make it,” Sensenberger says with a smile.

Desserts are another staple of Main Street Cafe. Although the delights include Peanut Butter Pie, Coca-Cola Cake and Hummingbird Cake (spice cake mixed with bananas, pecans, and pineapple with a pecan and cream cheese frosting), it is their Strawberry Pretzel Salad made with a pretzel base and topped with cream cheese, Cool Whip and strawberry gelatin that customers often choose for their after-dinner course. “It is the most popular dessert we have,” Sensenberger says. “It has a sweet and salty taste.”

Preserving a piece of Madison history

Sensenberger was born and raised in nearby Huntsville. In 1981, she was vacationing in Canada where she met her husband. After a long-distance relationship that lasted a year and a half, the two got married and she moved to Canada and opened her first restaurant. When her mother fell ill in 1991, the couple moved back to Alabama, and Sensenberger opened her second restaurant in an old renovated Victorian home in Decatur.

After her mother died, she decided to move closer to Huntsville. The couple landed in Madison, which was experiencing tremendous growth during the late 1990s and early 2000s.

The old jail cells inside Main Street Café now function as decorated private dining rooms.

While she and her husband were renovating several old homes and buildings in downtown Madison, Sensenberger heard that the old city hall and jail were to be torn down. “(The building) was an eyesore for the city,” Sensenberger says. She was eager to open another restaurant, and a contractor suggested using the old building as a cafe. “I had a gentleman come in and do a layout for me and said it would be perfect for a small, homestyle restaurant,” she says.

The chicken salad plate is one of the many favorite entrees on the menu

The Sensenbergers leased the property from the city of Madison and went to work to give the facility a second life. Extensive renovations were done on the inside of the building, including adding a walk-in cooler and freezer, kitchen, dining space and a bar while keeping the layout simple and convenient for future customers and staff. “There is not a lot of wasted space,” Sensenberger says.

After a year of renovations, Main Street Cafe opened to the public in December 2000.

Since opening, the community’s support for Main Street Cafe has grown, thanks to the revitalization of downtown Madison. During the Madison Street Festival, held the first Saturday in October, the restaurant serves as many as 400 to 500 customers. People can also rent out the entire building for private parties while the adjacent patio is perfect for watching trains pass behind the cafe.

Sensenberger enjoys talking with her customers, and those who visit for the first time eventually become regular patrons. Her goal is for those who walk into the door of her restaurant to feel at home no matter their status in life. “I treat everyone like one big happy family,” Sensenberger says.

Main Street Café

101 Main St.

Madison, AL 35758


Hours: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Saturday

Growing history:

Celebrating 200-plus years of gardening

This photo, circa 1900-1909 and used with permission from the Alabama Department of Archives and History, shows students working in the garden behind the Fifth District Agricultural School in Wetumpka, which later became Wetumpka High School.

For thousands of years, gardens have been essential parts of our state’s life and culture. As Alabama commemorates its 200th anniversary of statehood this year, here’s a quick snapshot of our gardening history and the plants that have become part of our landscapes and lives through the centuries.

According to the Encyclopedia of Alabama, southeastern Native Americans — Alabama’s first gardeners — began growing crops of local plants (lambsquarters, sunflowers, other seedbearing plants and possibly squash) some 3,500 or more years ago to supplement their wild food sources.

During the Mississippian Era (1000 to 1500 AD), indigenous Alabama tribes started gardening and farming in earnest, a practice that may well explain our state’s name. Though historians debate the exact origin of the name “Alabama,” many credit it to the Choctaw words alba amo, which translate into “those who clear the land.” Clear the land these early Alabamians did, replacing forests with fields where they grew a variety of crops including monocultures and companion plantings of the “Three Sisters” — beans, squash and corn.

When the first European settlers arrived in Alabama in the 1500 and 1600s, they seized Native American cropland, and seized upon their cropping practices and plants. But they also brought with them an array of plants from the Old World. According to the late Montgomery County Cooperative Extension agent and Alabama garden historian George R. Stritikus, those introduced plants included oranges, oleanders, figs, peaches and possibly wisteria and canna lilies.

During the early 1700s, gardens became status symbols of wealthy Alabama plantation owners and businessmen who created the state’s first “fine” or “pleasure” gardens. These plantings typically contained both food and ornamental plants, many of which mirrored those of their homelands.

By the early 1800s — one of our state’s most tragic historical eras — the importation of slaves from Africa was under way. Along with the slaves came plants of their homelands including okra, kidney and lima beans, black-eyed peas, yams and watermelon.

About this time, those affluent landowners were also importing huge numbers of ornamental plants primarily from France and England, but they soon realized that many of these plants could not survive in the South’s climate. According to Stritikus, the need for new varieties suited for southeastern growing conditions kick-started Alabama’s still-thriving nursery industry.

The science of gardening and farming took a leap forward in the mid 1800s as Alabama developed its land-grant education and research system (Cooperative Extension and Agricultural Experiment Station systems), which helped identify the best plants and planting practices for home gardeners and horticultural professionals alike.

During this era, horticultural and garden societies were also forming. Among the first of these in the South and in the nation was the Chunnenuggee Ridge Horticultural Society, founded in 1847 near Union Springs in Bullock County. By the early 1930s, the Federated Garden Clubs of Alabama was also organized to conserve and expand the state’s woodland environment and increase awareness of landscape beauty.

Through history, our gardening practices and trends have changed — and continue to change — with each new generation of gardeners. As we begin our third century as a state, consider recording your own gardening history with a journal to chronicle your gardening successes and failures, and perhaps someday help add your own story to Alabama’s gardening history.

Garden history resources:

To learn more about the history of gardening, spend some time researching it on your own, or look to the list provided below.

  • The Southern Garden History Society ( is an exceptional resource for information on historic gardens, cultural landscapes and horticultural history.
  • The Alabama Department of Archives and History ( and other state archival resources offer gardening history records and also educational programs and exhibits on gardening history.
  • Many public gardens (a list can be found at offer educational programs and resources on gardening history and practices.
  • A number of historical societies offer gardening histories and also tend historic gardens that are open to the public.  Check with your local historical society to find out what’s available in your area.


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


Keeping the home fires affordable:

Home heating options

By Pat Keegan and Brad Thiessen

Mini-split heat pumps are efficient options for heating and cooling. They are typically installed to heat and cool the largest, most used area of a home. Photo courtesy Bonneville Power Administration

Q: I have high energy bills, especially during the winter. My home is heated with a 20-year-old propane furnace. To make matters worse, I’ve also been paying the expenses on my mother’s home, which is heated with electric baseboards and wall heaters. Should I upgrade to a different kind of system? 

A: You’re really getting the double whammy, especially if you live in a cold climate. Fortunately, you have a few potential solutions.

A good first step, before making major changes to the heating system, is to look at the area you are heating. The amount of heated space and the efficiency of that space determine how large of a heating system you’ll need. Air leaks and inadequate insulation might be a major cause of higher bills, and correcting these problems might enable you to install a smaller heating system. An energy audit will provide the answers you need and give you an idea of how much you can save from weatherization measures and a more efficient heating system. Contact your local electric cooperative first to see if they offer energy audits or if they can recommend an auditor.

Let’s talk about heating systems. Propane furnaces are expected to last 15 to 25 years, but if yours has been well-maintained, you may get more mileage out of it. Even if your furnace is still running well and has some life left in it, it may not be efficient. Propane, gas and oil furnace efficiency is measured by the Average Fuel Utilization Efficiency, or AFUE. This is indicated on a label which may still be attached to the furnace. Your 20-year-old unit might have an AFUE in the 70 to 80 percent range. A new high-efficiency furnace can have an AFUE rating of over 95 percent, which can reduce the portion of your propane bill that goes toward heating by 15 to 20 percent. The AFUE doesn’t account for any heat escaping through poorly-insulated or improperly-sealed pipes or furnace ducts, so you definitely want those issues taken care of first.

Energy Guide Labels can be found on any major appliance and include information on energy efficiency. The heat pump described here is ENERGY STAR approved.
Photo courtesy Pat Keegan

Instead of replacing your old propane furnace with a new one, you have two additional options. You could install an air source heat pump, which would use your existing duct work, or a mini-split heat pump, which can heat up to four rooms. In the past decade, the efficiency of heat pumps has greatly improved, even to the point where they are solid options even in colder climates.

It’s not surprising that your mother’s electric bill is high. This is common for inefficient homes that rely on resistance heat using wall heaters, portable heaters or baseboard heaters.

Your mother’s home probably doesn’t have ductwork, which makes the installation of a central heat pump very expensive. Instead, I suggest getting a quote on a ductless mini-split heat pump. They are efficient for heating and cooling, so if your mother uses a window A/C unit (or two), she can save even more money. Mini-splits are usually installed to heat and cool the largest, most used area of a home. Your mother can continue to use baseboard heaters in the rooms she doesn’t use as often. As efficient as the mini-splits are, they might not provide enough heat in a prolonged, extreme cold snap, so leaving a few baseboard heaters connected is a good idea.

Heating system upgrades have a big effect on comfort and the pocketbook for many years. Scheduling an energy audit and considering all your options gives you the best chance at making the right decisions. Good luck, and stay warm!

This column was co-written by Pat Keegan and Brad Thiessen of Collaborative Efficiency. For more information on heating options, please visit:

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

Protect pets from winter’s chilly grip

It is the beginning of a new year, and the two coldest months of the season are ahead of us. As we are bundling up, pampered indoor pets are also donning their new sweaters and rain jackets they got for Christmas. Happy times!

However, in this article, we will talk about the brave outdoor soldiers who are patrolling our property, warning us about intruders and in general keeping the neighborhood alive with their serenading barks.

Like people, cats and dogs are susceptible to hypothermia, and should be kept inside during cold weather. Thick-coated dog breeds, such as huskies and Pyrenees, indeed do better than shorthair breeds, but even they get cold!

The signs of hypothermia could be whining, shivering, anxiety, slow movements, weakness, or dogs burrowing for a warm place. An easy way to tell if your pet is cold is to notice how they are resting. Curled up in a tight ball means they are cold and conserving body heat while being sprawled out shows they are warm and comfortable.

Feed them a little extra with a high-quality food. This helps them better maintain their body temperature. Having access to warm water will be great plus for many outdoor pets. Several manufacturers, like K&H, make heated pet bowls.

The next big issue is shelter. A thermometer reading alone does not give us the whole picture of how a pet feels. Wind and rain can also affect how a pet feels. Just like us, they tend to lose body heat much faster if they are wet and subjected to even a slight breeze on a cold winter day.

Build a shelter or buy a shelter. There are many online videos to guide you. Foam board insulation is a better choice compared to fiberglass insulation. T1-11 can be used for the exterior and the interior. Make the inside chew and scratch proof.

Be careful when heating the doghouse. I personally heard of two cases where the doghouse caught fire from the heat lamp. Consider something like CL Safe Chicken Coop Heater. There are also thermostatically controlled outlets to make sure heating apparatuses turn on when the temperature drops below a certain point. Please discuss the details with an electrician.

Now, about cats. Cats tend to find shelters, but they will cherish a nice cozy house. I guarantee that they will kill more mice if they can rest easy in their heated hunting cabin. K&H Pet Products and Kitty Tube make many kinds of heated cat houses.

Above all, consider safety. Think of and plan for all the possible ways things can go wrong. You will sleep happy.

Goutam Mukherjee, DVM, MS, Ph.D. (Dr. G) has been a veterinarian for more than 30 years. He works at his home as a holistic veterinarian and is a member of North Alabama Electric Cooperative. Send pet-related questions to

Snapshots: Snow Day

Adalyn Bellomy sledding at Aunt Patti’s house. SUBMITTED BY Patti Tidwell.

Clint Feemster enjoying a snow day with Ruff and Doc. SUBMITTED BY Anna Feemster, Fyffe.

Montana Kirkwood’s graduation December 2017. SUBMITTED BY Bettie Giles, Millry.

Our grandson, Beckham’s first snowman. SUBMITTED BY Jesse Pace, Wagarville.

Cleburne County December 2017. SUBMITTED BY Randy Stamps, Heflin.

Frank Mann on the tractor feeding Cherokee the horse. SUBMITTED BY Caroline Mann, Double Springs.

Submit Your Images! March Theme: “Safari Park Photos” Deadline for March: Jan. 31

Submit photos online: or send color photos with a self-addressed stamped envelope to: Photos, Alabama Living, P.O. Box 244014 Montgomery, AL 36124

Rules: Alabama Living will pay $10 for photos that best match our theme of the month. Photos may also be published on our website at and on our Facebook page. Alabama Living is not responsible for lost or damaged photos.

Alabama Living writer will be missed

Ben Norman, a freelance writer for Alabama Living and other outdoor publications, passed away Nov. 15, 2018, after a long battle with cancer. Norman, a resident of Highland Home, was a longtime member of the South Alabama Electric Cooperative Board of Trustees. 

Norman wrote several articles over the years for Alabama Living, says editor Lenore Vickrey. “It was always a pleasure to hear from Ben, who never failed to come up with interesting ideas for stories about the fascinating people and places of south Alabama,” she says. His most recent article, published in June 2018, was about a Brantley resident who made traps to catch catfish. Although his specialty was writing about the outdoors, he also wrote about local personalities, took many of his own photos, and in 2017, penned a feature on the popular Sister’s Restaurant in Troy, which helped draw many new patrons to the business.

Donations in Norman’s memory can be made to:

Sardis Cemetery Fund

c/o Donald White

15403 Montgomery Highway

Highland Home, AL 36041