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Hardy Jackson’s Alabama: July 4 – Not a dog’s best date

Picture this.

Two dogs sitting like dogs.

One turns to the other and says “My plans for the Fourth aren’t finalized yet, but I’m either cowering under the bed or digging a hole through the tub.  And you?”

Fourth of July to a dog.

I can see their point.

Every year, as June winds down, people from other states trot across the line to buy fireworks in Alabama.

Some of these establishments have long been the mecca for folks who want explosions to light up the sky to celebrate our independence from Great Britain.

So, in the days leading up to the Fourth, the fireworks outlets do a land office business.

A friend who worked in one tells of how when fireworks were illegal in Georgia, entrepreneurs would drive over and buy in bulk to sell in Atlanta neighborhoods.

Sometimes celebrities showed up. Travis Tritt made regular visits and occasionally dropped as much as $1,500 on pyrotechnic pleasures – you can buy a lot of bang for that.

Southerners have long loved fireworks.

Especially young Southerners.

Young Southerners always expect to be warned by parents, mothers mostly, to be careful or you’ll get a finger blown off. Every Southern mama knows of someone who was maimed by a firecracker.

Naturally children discounted these admonitions as old-Mama-tales, and continued to set ‘em off to terrify and delight whomever they chose.

Dogs, unfortunately, come under the “terrified” category.  For them, those firework emporiums are a house of horrors.

Firecrackers, bottle rockets, sky rockets, Roman candles, fountains, ground spinners, flying spinners, and of course, cherry bombs.

Cherry bombs are the things from which Southern legends are made.

Find any southern man of a certain age and he can come up with a story of a cherry bomb blasting a mailbox off its post or demolishing a toilet in the boy’s bathroom.  That few of these tales ever proved true only made the telling more popular. If it didn’t happen, it could have.

I wonder if these stories resonate with the youth of today, for over the years, adults have systematically taken over what was once a joy of childhood.

Recently fireworks have been less about how to scare the bejeebers out of friends and neighbors, and more about creating a spectacle.  Fireworks have been put on display.  The emphasis now is less on the boom and more on the flash, less on loud and more on lights.

Cities and towns sponsor fireworks shows. They hire pyrotechnic engineers to put on programs that are synchronized and sanitized, free from the spontaneity and watched from a safe distance.

Not that it makes any difference to a dog.

Though the boom may be distant, as soon as the sky lights up you can hear the howling. All around the neighborhood and across the town dogs that cannot find refuge from the extravaganza lift their voices in anguished protest.

Although I like to ascribe human emotions to our furry friends, and even go so far as to suggest that they are capable of reasoning much like our own, I do not think dogs can read a calendar.  The Fourth of July will catch them by surprise.

So, when you light that fuse, remember the dogs.


Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University. He can be reached at hjackson@cableone.net.

Alabama Recipes: Berry tasty

Don’t let summer go by without eating your fill of the season’s greatest gifts.

By Jennifer Kornegay | Food prepared and photographed by Brooke Echols

Alabama summers give us some intense, stifling heat, but balance the discomfort by also providing a few of Mother Nature’s sweetest treats: berries. Strawberries come first, actually in spring, when temps are usually still pleasant. June brings us bushes hanging heavy with frosted indigo blueberries. And by July, when the humidity hits close to 100 percent, the mercury rises to the tippy-top of weather thermometers, and we’re all cursing the swelter and begging for fall, summer makes a powerful peace offering. Its unrelenting warmth and strong sunlight ripen clusters of small red bumps into blackberries, the deeply hued yet delicately flavored fruits that always earn the season forgiveness in my book. While all berries make a delicious snack straight off the stem, bush or vine, they’re equally enjoyable when they lend their tastes to both sweet and savory dishes. Try some of this month’s reader-submitted recipes and see for yourself.


Cook of the Month

Angela Bradley,
Clarke-Washington EMC

Angela Bradley’s grandmother was an efficient woman. She figured out how to have her cake and her cobbler and still have plenty of energy left to eat them too! After whipping up different desserts for years, she decided to save some time and combine some of her family’s favorite flavors. The result was Red Velvet Berry Cobbler. “She always made red velvet cake, that was kind of her signature dish, but my daddy and I loved her berry cobblers,” Angela said. “One day, she decided to put them together.” She played around with her recipe until she got it just right, and that final variation is the one that Angela has used ever since. “It is really delicious and so convenient since it marries the richness of red velvet with the tartness of berries. Add some ice cream, and you’re set!”

Red Velvet Berry Cobbler

  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1¼ cup sugar, divided
  • 6 cups assorted berries
  • ½ cup butter, softened
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons red food coloring
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1½ tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • 1½ teaspoons white vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1¼ cups all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Stir cornstarch and ½ cup sugar together. Add assorted berries in this mixture and place in a lightly greased 11×7-inch baking dish. Beat butter with a mixer until fluffy, add ¾ cup sugar, beating well. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each until well blended. Stir in food coloring and vanilla. Combine flour, cocoa powder and salt. Mix buttermilk, vinegar and baking soda in a cup; mixture will bubble. Add flour mixture to butter mixture alternately with buttermilk mixture. Begin and end with flour mixture. Beat on low speed until blended. Spoon batter over berries. Bake for 45-50 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.


Homemade Blackberry Lemonade

  • 1½ cups sugar (I used half sugar, half stevia)
  • 7 cups water, divided
  • 1 cup blackberries
  • 1½ cups lemon juice, plus 2 tablespoons

In a medium sauce pan, combine 2 cups water and sugar and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Remove from stove and allow to cool down. Using a blender or food processor, puree 1 cup blackberries and 2 tablespoons lemon juice. In a large pitcher, combine water and sugar mixture and remaining 1 1/2 cups lemon juice. Using a fine mesh strainer, pour blackberry puree into strainer and stir contents into pitcher. Add remaining 5 cups water and stir. Serve with ice and fresh lemons and berries if desired.

Laura Tucker, South Alabama EC


Blue-Cassis Cake

  • ½ cup butter
  • 1 cup Crisco shortening
  • 2½ cups sugar
  • 3½ cups cake flour
  • 10 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups blueberries, local or in store

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray, grease and flour a bundt cake pan. Lightly dust berries with flour. Cream together butter, shortening, sugar and eggs. Gradually add dry ingredients and vanilla. Pour about 1-inch batter first in the pan, then alternate berries and batter. Bake approximately one hour. Test with long toothpick. Cool in pan.

Cassis Glaze:

  • ½ cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon water
  • ½ cup crème de Cassis liqueur (found in state liquor stores)

Mix all ingredients and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat, simmer for 10 minutes. Cool 3 minutes, pour 1/3 over cake in the pan and let stand for 1 hour. Remove from pan and cover. The next day, reheat glaze and brush or pour over top.

Terri Conwell, Baldwin EMC


Scrumptious Blueberry Shortcake

  • 4 cups blueberries
  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into pieces
  • 3/4 cup 2% milk
  • 1 large egg white
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 2 tablespoons powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine first 3 ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook 3 minutes, until berries begin to pop, stirring frequently. Set aside. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups. Place flour, baking powder, and salt in a food processor; pulse 3 times to combine. Add butter to processor; pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Place mixture in a large bowl; add milk, stirring until moist. Turn mixture out onto a lightly floured surface. Press mixture into a circle; cut into 8 wedges. Place wedges 1-inch apart on a baking sheet. Combine egg white and 1 tablespoon water in a small bowl. Lightly brush tops of wedges with egg white mixture; sprinkle evenly with sugar. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack. Pour whipping cream in a medium bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until soft peaks form. Add powdered sugar, beating until stiff peaks form. Split shortcakes horizontally; spoon 1/3 cup berry mixture over each bottom half. Top each with 1 1/2 tablespoons whipped cream; cover with shortcake tops.

Robin O’Sullivan, Wiregrass EC


Strawberry Cheesecake Lush

  • 1 package Golden Double Stuff Oreo Cookies
  • 6 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1, 8-ounce block cream cheese, softened
  • 1, 16-ounce container whipped topping
  • 1, 8-ounce container whipped topping
  • 2, 3.4-ounce packages instant cheesecake pudding mix
  • 3 cups cold milk
  • 4 cups fresh sliced strawberries (I use two 16-ounce containers)

Crush cookies, add melted butter and press in 9×13-inch pan. Refrigerate while preparing remaining layers. Beat powdered sugar, cream cheese and 1 cup of whipped topping with a mixer and spread over cookie layer. Mix pudding and 3 cups of milk, add 1 cup of whipped topping to pudding mixture and spread over previous layer. Slice strawberries and spread on top of layers. Cover with remaining whipped topping. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Carol England, Joe Wheeler EMC


Blackberry and Peach Cobbler

  • 8 ounces melted butter, plus 4 tablespoons
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour             
  • 2 cups sugar                              
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder                       
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt                                     
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 3 cups sliced peaches
  • 1 cup blackberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a 9-inch cast iron skillet, melt four tablespoons butter. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt and whisk together. Add the eggs, vanilla extract and remaining 8 ounces melted butter. Mix with rubber spatula until all ingredients are combined. Pour the batter into the skillet and top with the fruit. The fruit will be heaping and that is fine. Bake for 45 minutes to one hour, until the batter is completely cooked and has a cake-like consistency. The cobbler can be served warm or at room temperature with whipped cream or ice cream, if desired.

Bonnie Daugherty McGee, Clarke-Washington EMC


Blueberry Pizza

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 cup pecans, chopped
  • 3/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1, 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
  • 2 cups sifted powdered sugar
  • 1, 8-ounce container whipped cream
  • 4 cups blueberries
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar
  • 4 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 4 tablespoons water

Combine first three ingredients, add butter and stir until well blended to make crust. Press crust mixture into a 12-inch pizza pan. Bake at 375 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool crust in pan on a wire rack before beginning the rest of the recipe. Beat cream cheese at medium speed until creamy. Gradually add powdered sugar, beating until smooth; fold in whipped cream. Spread over cooled crust. Whisk together cornstarch and water in a small bowl and set aside. Mash clean blueberries in a medium sauce pan; stir in 1 1/3 cup sugar. Bring to a boil over medium heat; boil two minutes. Stir cornstarch mixture into hot blueberry mixture. Return to a boil, stirring constantly; boil one minute. Cool. Spread over cream cheese mixture. Refrigerate.

Rená Smith, Tallapoosa River EC


Coming up in July… Tomatoes!

Recipe Themes and Deadlines:

August: Summer Salads, June 8

September: Cheese, please!, July 8

October: Pies, August 8

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

Outdoors: Bugging bream

Nothing attracts fish more than a mayfly hatch

One hot summer afternoon, we struggled to find fish — until we noticed some activity up ahead.

It was a sight any fly fisherman longs to see: Millions of mayflies covered bushes growing along a stretch of shoreline about 10 yards long. As if a million piranhas attacked a bleeding capybara, water boiled with fish of every description, annihilating anything that touched the water.

My fishing partner and I immediately whipped out our fly rods and dropped cork poppers into the ruckus. Unfortunately, a roaring wind made stopping to fish the honey hole impossible without an anchor or trolling motor. In addition, the ancient 12-foot aluminum boat leaked so badly that we had to bail it with a gallon milk jug about every 30 minutes just to stay afloat.

Fortunately, the wind blew parallel to the bank where we wanted to fish. We formulated a plan. I cranked up the also ancient 6-horsepower outboard and headed upwind while my buddy bailed the boat. We stopped far enough upwind so that we could get our gear ready for a quick drift.

The brutal wind hurtled us past the bushes nearly as fast as the old motor could push us. As we shot past the strike zone, we each quickly made a cast or two, hoping we didn’t snag on anything. If the bug hit the honey hole, a big bluegill or other fish instantly blasted it. If the bug missed the sweet spot, nothing happened. After the wind pushed us beyond casting range, we bailed the boat again and ran upwind for another drift. We kept repeating that process until we grew tired of catching panfish – and bailing.

Also called willow flies in Alabama, mayflies spend most of their lives underwater as nymphs. As water warms, they sprout wings and emerge from the water to mate and die. Mayflies belong to the insect order Ephemeroptera, which means “lasting only a day.”

In freshwater systems across Alabama, mayflies “hatch” periodically from late April to about October. During a mayfly hatch, really just changing from a water nymph into a winged adult, these harmless insects swarm in the millions. After bursting from the water, adult mayflies somewhat resemble giant mosquitoes. They cling to branches to dry their new wings before mating. During a hatch, swarming flies might completely cover some low bushes. Inevitably, some flies fall into the water, kicking off a fish feeding frenzy.

Artificial flies or poppers offer more fun

Lucky anglers who stumble upon a bug hatch could find incredible action. When flies hit the water, everything comes quickly to grab its share of the bounty. Bluegills and other bream feed upon the insects floating on the surface. Bass also eat the bugs, but larger bass would more likely grab an overstuffed bluegill distracted by the swarming insects.

Near a good hatch, anglers can catch fish after fish with anything they throw into the water. However, for the most fun, use artificial flies or poppers. During a feeding frenzy, lure color doesn’t matter as much as placement. If it lands in the right spot, something will probably hit it, but flies that resemble the floating insects might work best. With poppers, keep changing colors and the fish should keep striking them. If the frenzy dies down, shake the bushes to make more flies fall into the water and reignite the activity.

I prefer floating cork poppers. Some foam or plastic temptations resembling crickets, grasshoppers or other creatures also work. Toss a popper as close to the fly-laden bushes as possible without snagging. If nothing hits it immediately, let the popper sit a moment and then give it a little twitch or pop to get a fish’s attention. Then, pause for several seconds to let the bug float on the water.

During a bug hatch, bluegills turn very aggressive and might smash anything floating on the surface before their cousins can grab it. This produces some incredibly exciting strikes. Pound for pound, or more appropriately ounce for ounce, nothing on a line can outfight an enraged bull bluegill.

One never knows exactly when or where a mayfly hatch might erupt, but news travels fast when it does happen. Look for bug hatches to occur in areas with slack water out of the current near high reeds, bushes or small trees growing next to or over the water.

Almost every freshwater lake or stream in Alabama holds abundant bream populations. On any of these waters, anglers might find a mayfly hatch during any warm month. Some better places to catch bluegills include the Tombigbee-Alabama-Mobile river system and associated waters, particularly around Demopolis, the Tennessee River lakes like Wheeler and Guntersville, Lake Eufaula on the Chattahoochee River, the Coosa River system, the Little River and the Tallapoosa River.

No matter how or where you catch them, a pan of golden fried bluegills makes a delicious meal for any fish lover.


John N. Felsher is a freelance writer and photographer who writes from Semmes, Ala. Contact him through his website at www.JohnNFelsher.com

The substation of the future

New patterns of power mean a new job for a utility workhorse

Solar panels, electric cars, computer hackers, vandals and thieves might not seem to have much in common, but they’re all making big changes in your electric service. Those changes have electric utilities talking about “The Substation of the Future.”

If everything goes according to plan, you might never even know about those changes, says Tom Lovas, a technical liaison and consultant with the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA).

“The traditional model of generation, transmission and distribution is kind of being turned on its head,” says Lovas. “In the past, power flowed to a substation and then flowed out to the consumer … the substation has now become a point of information and interconnection, and it’s coordinated in a different way.”

Before making sense of what Lovas means by a substation becoming a point of information, it helps to understand what a substation does.

How substations work

That mass of wires and equipment you see behind chain link fences as you drive along freeways or side roads basically turns high voltage electricity into lower voltage electricity that can be used in your home. Electricity generated at a power plant gets “stepped up” to a high voltage at a substation because that’s a more efficient way for power to make the long-distance journey through transmission lines. When the current gets close to where it will be used, another substation steps the voltage down, for distribution to you and your neighbors.

But that straight-line path for electricity is changing, says an international industry group planning for how the substation of the future will fit in with the power lines and power plants that make up the electric grid.

“Rather than continually getting bigger, the grid is now increasing in intelligence,” says a 2016 strategic plan of the Centre for Energy Advancement through Technological Innovation (CEATI International.) “Customers are increasingly looking for ways to manage their own energy, customizing how they use it and serving as suppliers of energy.”

One example of customers “serving as suppliers of energy” is the fast-growing number of homeowners installing rooftop solar panels. Now, electricity doesn’t just flow from a power plant through a substation to a house. Instead, electricity also flows in the opposite direction, from the house, then back onto the grid as homeowners sell excess solar power back to their utility.

When power flows in both directions, running a utility gets a lot more complicated. First, there’s safety. Lineworkers need to be sure they know which wires are energized and which are not. Electricity traveling in a different direction could put new stresses on old equipment. And utilities need new ways to monitor electric current so they can keep track of new patterns of electricity use and generation.

Lovas cites an increase in electric cars as another new addition that could change electricity use as people charge their vehicles at a variety of times and places.

Predicting power outages

Information about where the electricity is coming from and where it’s going can be used to improve operations in the utility network, and can make the substation of the future an important part of what the utility industry has been calling “the smart grid.”

Information collected at a substation could keep track of how transformers are performing so they could be replaced before they fail, or even recognize power use patterns that could predict an outage.

“We collect zillions of data points of information. What we’re trying to do is make sense of what that information is telling us,” says Lovas. Figuring out how to analyze and use all that data, he says, could “improve safety, reduce outages, reduce outage duration and reduce maintenance costs.”

These days, we know that information can also be stolen or misused by cyber criminals, so the substation of the future needs stronger security. And not just cyber security. Lovas notes that substation planning needs protection against more old-fashioned attackers like vandals and copper wire thieves. As CEATI International wrote in its strategic plan on the substation of the future, “In the new environment, station facilities have to be protected from physical tampering, sabotage or theft and also from malicious threats to data and/or control systems connected to cyber networks.”

Lovas also expects the substation of the future will respond to concerns about what substations look like, by looking for more remote locations or planting trees around them. Underground substations could offer better security, as well as avoid complaints about the appearance of the collection of wires and equipment.

When will we see the substation of the future? Maybe never, if it’s hidden behind a grove of trees. Or, since improvements and advancements are already being installed, maybe it’s already here.

“I don’t think there’s any defined date when the substation of the future takes over,” says Lovas. “It’s just a natural progression of things.”


Paul Wesslund writes on cooperative issues 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.

Safe@Home: Take time for trailer hitch safety to prevent towing trouble

With summer approaching, you may be getting ready to tow a boat up to the lake, or a trailer across the country for vacation. Or maybe you just need to haul some brush off your property on a small flatbed trailer.

No matter the distance or the size of the haul, towing a trailer, automobile or boat can be dangerous, and requires skill beyond operating a normal vehicle.

Some trailer accidents may be unavoidable, such as when road debris blows a tire. Accidents can happen to even the most seasoned and safety-conscious drivers.

But many trailer accidents are preventable. Human error can be involved when drivers don’t understand how to safely attach a trailer to a truck. Using trailers safely isn’t just a matter of safety for you – it matters to every other driver you’ll encounter on the road when you get behind the wheel.

A father and his 3-year-old daughter in Minnesota were killed on Memorial Day weekend in 2013 when an empty flatbed trailer unhitched from the pickup truck that was pulling it. The trailer crossed the center of the road and plowed hitch-first through the windshield of an SUV driven by Jeremy Cox, according to a story from KARE, a TV station in Minneapolis. Cox and one of his children in the SUV were killed in the accident.

A state patrol investigation revealed that a clip was missing from the bottom of a hitch pin, allowing the trailer to break free before it slammed into the SUV. Further evidence showed one of the trailer’s two safety chains was also missing.

Alabama State Troopers caution drivers towing any attachment to make sure that attachment is secure and loaded properly to prevent a crash. “All attachments need to be properly lit, and users should follow manufacturer’s towing specifications,” says Cpl. Jess Thornton of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA). Federal law requires trailers to have working taillights, brake lights, side marker lights, turn signals and side and rear reflectors.

The three crucial components in most tow packages are the hitch (the device that attaches directly to a tow vehicle, providing the connection between the tow vehicle and the trailer); the hitch ball (the ball-shaped attachment to a hitch where the trailer coupler is attached); and the coupler (used to secure the trailer to the towing vehicle). The hitch and the coupler must be the same size.

Before towing, consider how much weight the truck can carry and tow at the same time. The tag located in the truck’s doorjamb or behind its seat provides its gross combination weight rating (GCWR) — the GCWR is also provided in the truck manual.

A truck’s GCWR is the maximum weight it can haul and pull. GCWR includes the weight of the truck, the trailer it’s towing, and the total cargo carried in the truck and on the trailer. Exceeding a truck’s GCWR can have consequences similar to towing more than what the truck is designed to pull.

Never exceed the recommended maximum towing capacity of the tow vehicle or the trailer. In general, the trailer you are carrying should never outweigh the tow vehicle you’re driving.

Follow the manufacturers’ towing specifications for the tow vehicle, trailer and all of the tow package components.

Make sure any kind of hitch you use has provisions for the connection of safety chains, which keep the trailer connected to the tow vehicle should the coupler or hitch ball detach from the tow vehicle. The chains should cross under the trailer tongue to prevent the tongue from dropping to the road if the trailer were to separate from the tow vehicle.

The chains should have some slack to permit sharp turns, but not drag the road. Don’t wrap the safety chains around the hitch ball. Fasten them to a solid area of the framework or to the area of the auto hitch designed for that purpose.

Also remember to exercise care when loading the trailer. It’s best to center loads over the trailer’s axle and slightly forward to get some tongue weight on the hitch. A general recommendation is to get about 65 percent of the trailer’s gross weight forward of the midpoint.

Sources: “Towing Safety,” prepared by Auburn University Risk Management and Safety; and “Keep the Trailer Connected to the Truck,” prepared by Purdue Extension Service.


Michael Kelley is director of Safety, Loss Control and regulatory compliance for the Alabama Rural Electric Association.

Alabama to honor workers on the front lines

Alabama Rep. April Weaver, left, and Public Service Commission President Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh, center, stand with some of the state’s linemen who were honored during the 2016 Lineman Appreciation Day ceremony in Montgomery.

On June 5, Alabama will recognize the state’s linemen, who work in often brutal conditions to ensure we all have safe and reliable power. But actually, most linemen shun the spotlight.

For them, the sense of accomplishment they get from serving the people in their communities is what makes all the physically demanding and dangerous work worthwhile.

“The linemen, deep down, they take so much pride when they get your lights back on,” says Michael Kelley, director of safety for the Alabama Rural Electric Association (AREA), who worked for several years as a lineman for Central Alabama Electric Cooperative. “When he gets your lights back on, I can promise you, he gets back in his truck, and he’s glad, because he did something to help you.”

Alabama Living is pleased to promote Lineman Appreciation Day, giving us the chance to highlight the men who keep our power on and who leave their families in the middle of the night to restore it when storms or catastrophic events take a destructive turn. Four linemen from rural electric distribution cooperatives around the state share their thoughts about their jobs, how the jobs have changed over the years and how they’ve created fulfilling careers.

Dixie EC lineman Caleb Duncan says of his job, “It’s the kind of job that gets in your blood, and you can’t really imagine yourself doing anything else.”

Safety

Linemen out in the field work with thousands of volts of electricity, high atop power poles, along roadways where motorists fly by and in physically challenging environments. The hazards will always remain, but more than ever, Alabama’s cooperatives are making safety a top priority.

Roger Thrower, now a crew foreman at Pioneer Electric Cooperative with almost 30 years of full-time service, remembers when a pack of pocket T-shirts for $10 was a lineman’s uniform. Now, all the clothing he and other linemen wear is fire-retardant, but the clothing is only a small part of a lineman’s safety gear.

They wear the familiar hard hat and safety glasses, as well as rubber gloves and sleeves, a climbing belt to carry all the tools they might need, a fall restraint device, hooks (which strap onto boots to enable them to climb poles), and when they’re in the bucket truck, a harness and fall protection lanyard.

Johnny Kirby, a lineman at Joe Wheeler EMC, says, “For 30 years, I’ve enjoyed every day I’ve been there.”

Johnny Kirby, who’s been with Joe Wheeler EMC for 30 years, says the job is safer now than when he started, but he and other linemen are acutely aware that the possibility for something to go wrong is always present.

“You’ve just got to watch each other’s back when you’re out there,” Kirby says. “We talk about that every day on the job. Just be aware of the danger.”

Bill Cobb has been with Wiregrass Electric Cooperative for more than 50 years, and reflected on those years of service in a 2015 article written by the co-op. “When I started, everything was done by hand, and it was really difficult work, and it was hazardous work.” But bucket trucks and improved tools and techniques have made the job much safer.

AREA’s Kelley thinks that safety enjoys a heightened awareness in all aspects of our society today – vehicle safety, airline safety, school safety. So the fact that co-ops and linemen spend a great deal of time talking about safety, and practicing in the field, is no surprise.

“Used to be, it was, well, if we have time, we’ll talk about safety. Now, safety is what you do.”

Bill Cobb, a lineman with Wiregrass EC, says, “I never hated getting up and going to work. I’ve always loved what I do and been proud of what I do.”

Storm restoration

Linemen often rotate on-call duties, when they have to be ready to respond to a weather-related or a catastrophic event. But they are always ready to help.

“It’s not just an 8-hour day,” says Caleb Duncan, a journeyman lineman with Dixie Electric Cooperative. “It’s a 24-hour, 7-day a week, 365-day job.”

He knows he may have to leave his family on Christmas morning to respond to an outage. “You provide a service that has to be on. It’s a commitment to work, because there’s a lot of times where you get called into work, and you’re needed.”

Linemen don’t just respond to outages in the co-op service area. In true cooperative fashion, Alabama’s co-ops respond to the call when another state’s electric utility suffers a catastrophic event, knowing that their sister co-ops will do the same in return.

Pioneer’s Thrower remembers the worst conditions of his career. He went to South Carolina after Hurricane Hugo devastated much of that state’s coastal area, and worked from dawn to night in knee-high water to restore power.

And there are times when linemen themselves are affected by a catastrophe. North Alabama’s co-op service areas suffered incredible devastation after the April 2011 tornadoes, and co-op employees were no exception.

“We had employees who lost their homes, but yet they left their families and came to work,” Kelley says.

Roger Thrower of Pioneer EC says even in storm conditions and adverse weather, he wouldn’t trade his job of serving his co-op’s members, many of whom he knows personally.

A fulfilling career

For these men, line work at the co-op is not just a job – it’s a lifelong career that offers stability, an opportunity to make a good living and an atmosphere that values family, service and hard work.

“It’s a really fulfilling job, it really is,” says Dixie’s Duncan. “You go off on storms when people have their lights off for a while, and you get to come in and help them. They really appreciate it, and you get a good sense of accomplishment.”

And no two days are ever the same, an aspect that linemen find appealing. “I learn every day,” says Kirby, of Joe Wheeler EMC. “It’s a good, interesting job. … For 30 years, I’ve enjoyed every day I’ve been here. You’ve just got stay with it and learn.”

Even after 50 years, Cobb says he wakes up eager to tackle whatever the workday’s challenges present.

“I keep thinking maybe I’ll wake up one morning and say I’m tired of it,” Cobb says. “But that’s sure never happened yet after all these years.”

 


Honor Alabama’s Linemen
Alabama’s Lineman Appreciation Day will be June 5. This annual event is jointly supported by the Energy Institute of Alabama, Alabama Power Company, the Alabama Municipal Electric Authority, the Electric Cities of Alabama, PowerSouth Energy Cooperative, TVA and the Alabama Rural Electric Association of Cooperatives. Look for coverage of the event in an upcoming issue of Alabama Living.

Gardens: Berry good options

Growing and gathering berries in Alabama

It’s berry season in Alabama and the perfect time to relish the healthy, natural, flavorful qualities of locally grown berries. And, whether you buy them at roadside stands, U-pick operations or farmers markets, harvest them from the wild or plant them in your garden, the options are plentiful.

According to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, a berry is any “pulpy and usually edible fruit of small size irrespective of its structure” and it goes on to say that, technically, grapes, tomatoes, cucumbers and even bananas are “berries.” For most of us, however, the word “berry” conjures up Alabama’s three favorite (and native) berries — strawberries, blueberries and blackberries. But there are other kinds of berries to consider, both in the wild and for our gardens.

Let’s start with some wild options.

Berries that grow naturally in Alabama include blackberry (designated as Alabama’s state fruit and which usually exhibits a more upright, arching growth habit than other wild bramble berries), dewberry (a cousin to blackberries that typically has a sprawling, trailing growth habit), strawberry (mock and true strawberries are both edible, but the true ones actually taste good) and elderberry and mulberry (shrubs or small trees with fruit that should only be eaten if ripe).

In theory, all of these are there for the taking (as long as you’re not trespassing to gather them), though never eat wild-harvested fruits and plants of any sort that you cannot identify! Some may cause stomach upsets while others are highly poisonous to humans, so always use a field guide to make sure you’re picking and eating the safe ones (a quick reference guide is available at http://cf.ltkcdn.net/herbs/files/1336-Wild-Berry-Identification.pdf).

Avoid picking berries or any other wild edibles from roadsides where chemicals may be sprayed, and keep an eye out for possible threats to your health and wellbeing while picking berries. Poison ivy, poisonous snakes, ticks and chiggers are fond of berry patches and there may even be some black bears around that won’t appreciate sharing their food sources.

If you want a tamer environment for harvesting berries, and if you want to take advantage of domesticated cultivars that have added benefits (such as no thorns), plant some for yourself. Not only can berry plants be used as handsome ornamentals, most berries produce fruit after the first year and require only minimal attention if they are planted in full sun and on a well-drained soil.

A couple of caveats: A soil test is well worth the money before you plant to make sure you’re providing your berries the right soil nutrients and pH balance; some berries (blueberries, for example) require at least two varieties with corresponding bloom times to achieve proper pollination, so you may need to plant more than one bush to ensure good fruit development and yields.

Planting berries in your own yard also offers a chance to try non-native species such as tayberries, boysenberries, loganberries, Goji berries (Chinese wolfberries), Juneberries (serviceberries), Chinese mulberries (sometimes known as silkworm trees), raspberries, gooseberries and currants. These days, a whole range of varieties and cultivars is available that are better adapted to our growing conditions and, if they won’t do well in the ground, they may do beautifully in containers.

Regardless of the types of berries you plant, if you pick plants that are adapted to Alabama’s USDA Plant Hardiness Zones and buy those plants from reputable local nurseries or regional mail-order companies, you should be able to expand your berry options with relative ease. After that, the biggest problem you may have is keeping wildlife from eating the berries before you can. That means you either have to protect them or, heck, just go ahead and plant enough for everyone. You’ll be feeding the world around you along with yourself.

To learn more about growing berries, seek advice from local or regional specialty plant nurseries, check with your Alabama Cooperative Extension System office or Master Gardener organization or ask local home gardeners or farmers market growers for suggestions. They are likely all berry — I mean very — happy to help.

June Tips:

  • Harvest basil leaves from the top of plants before they begin to bloom.
  • Weed regularly.
  • Plant more tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and sweet potatoes.
  • Sow seeds for beans, field peas, pumpkins, squash, corn, cantaloupes and watermelon.
  • Tie up or provide support for tomato plants and beans and other trailing vegetables as they grow.
  • Pinch back flowering annuals to encourage continued blooming.
  • Prune or shear your evergreens as soon as the new growth begins to turn a darker shade of green.
  • Give houseplants, newly planted shrubs and perennials and lawns water as needed.
  • Keep an eye out for insect, disease and problems.
  • Keep fresh water in birdbaths and ornamental pools to reduce mosquito breeding.
  • Refresh hummingbird feeders at least once a week and more frequently as the weather gets warmer.

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

Worth the Drive: Quality local ingredients star at Rosie’s in Anniston

What do you do when find yourself owner of the family farm? That’s easy. You open a restaurant and share the bounty of that land with your community.

This story behind Rosie’s Gourmet 2 Go take-out and restaurant in Anniston sounds simple enough, but the longer version tells a tale of honoring a home place, family working together, a fortuitous friendship becoming a partnership and a commitment to local fare that’s feeding the area right.

It all happened pretty fast, as Stacey Hardy, Rosie’s co-owner, explains. “My sister and I were raised on our grandmother Rosie’s farm, PondeRosie, in Cedar Springs, and when she passed in 2012, we weren’t sure what to do with it.” Hardy and her husband had a thriving business that kept them plenty busy – owning and running 15 AT&T stores. “We didn’t need the farm, but it meant too much to us. I couldn’t stand to sell it,” she said. So she didn’t.

She and her husband bought it from the estate, and then, out of the blue, a company called and made them an offer on their stores. “We weren’t looking to sell. We hadn’t even thought about it, but it timed out just right,” she says. They moved onto the farm and began farming – or least trying. “We’d never run a farm. We spent the first few months just figuring things out,” she says.

After getting a pair of tractors, they still needed help. “We had our kids, my sister and her kids, all out with us making this place work, making things grow again,” she says. Their labors paid off. The crops were so abundant, they started selling at the fledgling Anniston farmers market and watched it grow along with their farm.

The Hardys’ market stand became a favorite of local restaurants and chefs, including Chef Katrina Watson, who was running Cahaba Brewery’s kitchen at the time. “We became friends, and one day, she made a meal for me. It was amazing,” Hardy says.

After that, Watson started doing dinners for Hardy to serve her family after long days on the farm. And then they had an idea. “Katrina is wildly talented but didn’t have the financial resources to open a catering business or restaurant,” Hardy says. “And I didn’t know food, but I know how to manage a business. We decided to join forces.”

They opened Rosie’s in April 2016 as both a meal take-out shop and sit-down restaurant, and once again, things happened fast. “We had such a great response so quickly, we had to bring all the kids and family we’d used as farmhands over to the restaurant to work,” Hardy says.

Now, crowds come in for a taste of the goodness harvested from the Hardys’ farm, but also the dishes made with other local products.

Like Granny Hester’s Sweet Potato Biscuits made in Fort Payne (one of the few items not made in-house) drizzled with Eastaboga Bee Company honey. Or the potato salad that’s got a kick, thanks to Wickles Pickles. Or the chunky pimento cheese (braced by planks of bacon) gluing together two thick slices of sourdough from Anniston’s Artisanal Baked Goods bakery.

The salads, sandwiches and burgers are all built on local ingredients. So are the specials served on Friday and Saturday nights. And on Sundays, Rosie’s serves farm-to-table “meat and three” plates, packing in more than 300 people on this day alone each week.

While produce at its peak is a hallmark of Rosie’s, the best seller is Watson’s chicken salad. “We have to grill 40 pounds chicken every day to have enough to meet the demand,” Hardy says.

And Hardy’s favorite menu item is the burger. “It’s so, so good,” she says. Last year, it won “Anniston’s Best Burger” in a blind-tasting contest.

Chef Katrina’s tempting homemade desserts include red velvet whoopie pies, hefty wedges of turtle cheesecake and strawberry and white chocolate bread pudding (when strawberries are ripe!) as well as cheeses from Wrights Dairy down the road.

With Rosie’s one-year anniversary approaching, Hardy and Watson are grateful for the area’s warm welcome, one that’s only strengthened their dedication to their original philosophy. “We started this saying we’d only use the best quality ingredients and local ingredients,” Hardy says. “The huge response from our customers shows that they love it, and it’s what we will keep on doing.”


Rosie’s Gourmet 2 Go

3337 Henry Road • Anniston, AL 36207

256-342-5293

rosiesg2g.com

Hours:

Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Friday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Saturday, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Sunday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Gourmet Meals 2 Go:

Monday-Thursday, 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

River Solitude: Kayaking the Elk River

The author’s first day section kayaking the Elk River passing through Kelso, Tenn., in October 2012.

Channel your inner Huck Finn and explore Alabama from the water. You do not have to make a log raft though; a canoe or kayak will suffice.

The enchanting Elk River is no mighty Mississippi either, allowing for beginners to easily navigate the river. The Elk River begins near Pelham in Tennessee, flows west toward Fayetteville, and meanders south into Alabama, passing just west of Ardmore and Elkmont. Totaling 195 miles, this tributary meets the Tennessee River near Wheeler Lake, west of Athens.

Keep an eye out for short sections of white water rapids that add some excitement as well as much appreciated current to the river. You will find many small sand bar islands throughout, which are ideal for picnics or campsites. Whether going on day or overnight kayaking trips, there are many road crossings for easy access to different sections along the river.

I have gathered this information from my time spent on the river, but remember the river is always moving and offers different experiences to those who seek it.

The Elk River is the closest major waterway to my hometown in North Alabama, and I grew up canoeing on the river with friends and family. As I got older, I spent more and more time away from Alabama leaving the state for school, seasonal work and traveling.

But a few years ago, I decided to revisit the Elk River near Fayetteville. I spent the late October day paddling and enjoying being back on the calming waters.

Long-distance challenge

After that daytrip I was inspired to kayak the river all the way to where it joins the Tennessee River near Rogersville. I saw it as another long-distance challenge for myself as well as an exploratory adventure to see my home state from the view of the river.

My logistics for each day entailed simply looking on Google maps for a road crossing the river about ten miles further down from where I left off the previous time, and aim for that bridge. I approached the section-kayak trip casually, where I have spent one or two days a year over the past five years working my way South toward the Tennessee River, a hundred-mile journey.

Before the river widens out ten miles shy of the Tennessee River, the Elk River is nice and narrow, giving the feel of a secret oasis. The river seems far removed from roads and neighborhoods, hidden by rocky banks and wide pastures. The majority of the time when I kayaked during the fall, I was the only one on the river besides the occasional fisherman. Solitude on the river was a welcome respite, allowing me to clear my head all while flowing with the current downstream. I found myself dreaming of future plans but would then remind myself to be present because like time, the river never stands still.

In these moments of heightened sensory awareness I focused on the small rapids echoing in the distance, animals foraging in the leaves at the river’s edge, or the musty smell of rain approaching.

One of the highlights of my time on the water was wildlife viewing. Besides the usual cows resting on the riverbank when passing farmland, I have seen deer, raccoon, turtles, herons, river otters, and even a beaver. I was not aware there were river otters in the area, so the first time I heard and saw them I immediately stopped paddling and floated, my mouth open in awe. Later I continued paddling with a big grin on my face, feeling extremely lucky that I was able to witness them playing in their natural habitat. I left them swimming in the water knowing that we shared in a special secret, a moment in time, that remains only between the river, otters and me.

Whenever I finish kayaking for the day I cannot wait to get back out on the water because I never know what I will encounter on the ever-flowing, engaging Elk River.


Sara Leibold is from Hazel Green, Alabama. She was a student-athlete at The University of Alabama, an Appalachian Trail thru hiker, and is currently looking for new adventures. You can follow her by checking out her adventure travel blog at www.whereintheworldissara.com

Alabama People: Serving up gumbo love

We caught up with Lucy Buffett, owner of the popular Lulu’s restaurants in Gulf Shores and Destin, as she was about to begin a promotion tour for her new cookbook, GUMBO LOVE, Recipes for Gulf Coast Cooking, Entertaining and Savoring the Good Life, a follow-up to her first book, Lulu’s Kitchen, a Taste of the Gulf Coast Good Life.  The Mobile native and sister of singer Jimmy Buffett, Lucy spends her time between homes in Perdido Key and Key West, loves to cook for her friends and family (including her grandchildren), and after a two-year book-writing process, says she is ready to get back home to the beach. — Lenore Vickrey

What does the title GUMBO LOVE mean?

It has translated into a philosophy, especially for all the people who work around me and with me in this Cinderella story we call Lulu’s, that started so small with me, my two daughters and six other people.  It’s a philosophy about life, love, respect, kindness and trying to be in the moment and trying to self-improve. I’m the cook of the family. I found that cooking was kind of my gift. My art. It became my meditation, my health. It’s an evolving concept.  Gumbo love is more than just a salutation now!  In our world, we’ve adopted it into our corporate culture. It’s spreading the gumbo love!

How do you split time between Key West and Gulf Shores?

With all my business interest in Gulf Shores, Lulu’s is my baby and my home. For years I lived in Fairhope, that’s where my grandchildren are. A year or so ago we bought a lot on Perdido Key and we’re building. Then I bought this little place in Key West. I’m up there (on the Gulf) all summer long and here (Key West) in the winter months. I’m an Alabama girl at heart.

Tell us about the cookbook process.

So we’ve been working on the book for two-plus years.  I always knew I needed a second follow-up cookbook. I wanted to do it a year after the first one but you know, life gets in the way. Business happened. We opened a restaurant, Lucy B Goode, next to Lulu’s, and that didn’t work. Then we decided to open Destin. What really spurred us was outside interest from a publisher. Then I got an agent. So that required a year for a book proposal to write. And then the book took about a year to write. So I’ve been up against a tough deadline to get it released before the summer. It’s been an ongoing big team effort to get this going. I feel like I’ve been in the last five laps of the Daytona 500!

When was the first time you ever ate gumbo?

It has to be at my grandmother Buffett’s house in Pascagoula, Mississippi. It is her recipe that that my recipe is based on. I’ve updated it a little bit. They all used bacon grease. Back in those days, everything had to be seasonal. She cooked gumbo every Friday of her life. So I probably had my first gumbo by the time I was four.

Making gumbo can be intimidating. What advice do you have for someone who’s never made it before?

Fix a drink! Do it as a party thing.  Because food is a connector for people. You get a bunch of folks together and it’s not difficult. You just have to prepare everything, but everybody’s pitching in. Some one’s peeling the shrimp. Someone’s chopping the onions.  Of course, now I can do it with my eyes closed. You just keep going and that’s what makes it fun. Now roux can be intimidating. You have to stir it for a while. I end up knowing about when to take mine off by the smell.

Other than your own restaurants, where is your favorite place to eat (anywhere in the U.S.)?

When I’m in Key West, my favorite is Louie’s Backyard. In Alabama, and when I’m at home, believe it or not, I love to go to the Flora Bama Yacht Club. The chef there is really great, really funky. If I’m Birmingham, I’m going to one of Frank Stitt’s places, and I like Chris Hastings’ place too, Hot and Hot. He’s a good guy. I don’t drink any more, but there’s nothing like that bar at Highlands Bar and Grill.

What’s for dinner tonight?

Sushi takeout, because I’m getting on a plane at 6 in the morning! You know what’s interesting, I’m kind of addicted right now to boneless chicken thighs. I put a recipe in the cookbook for cumin chicken thighs. Last night I made those with roasted vegetables and a nice big salad. That’s so not Creole, but it’s my little thing I’m doing right now. I keep these chicken thighs around, so if I get hungry and have a sugar craving, I’ll eat one of those chicken thighs. I’m never going to give up sugar all the time, I’m never going to give up dairy, and I’m never going to give up Daddy’s fried chicken. It’s his recipe (and it’s in the cookbook). It’s like a balance. I can’t eat like I used to eat, but what I can do is have it every once in a while. I think fried food has gotten a real bad rap. It’s delicious, it’s joyful. I don’t think having it once a week is bad.