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Earn points for free or discounted travel

You can earn airline miles with specific airlines, eMiles, travel websites and credit card rewards points.
Photo courtesy American Airlines

By Marilyn Jones

One of the best ways to earn free or reduced-price travel is by saving points. Hotels, airlines, credit cards, internet advertisement websites and other businesses offer memberships entitling you to earn points. But there are tricks to growing those points. 

  • Stay loyal to one or two airlines and hotel brands if they are the best choice when making reservations
  • Look for free programs where points don’t expire
  • Look for participating merchants where you can add points to your travel accounts
  • Featured here are six rewards or points programs that I use and can recommend.

Best Western Rewards:

  • Points never expire
  • Members are often offered exclusive member rates
  •  Worldwide free night redemption
  • Matches the status of other hotel loyalty programs
  •  Instant rewards
  • Partners with select car rental agencies, airlines and merchants
  • One point per dollar spent. Special promotions will double and triple points as well as offer bonus points
  • Redeemable for free night’s stay, gift cards and merchandise start at 2,500 points
  • Best Western credit card available for additional point opportunities
  • Sign up at www.bestwestern.com/en

American Airlines AAdvantage

Frequent Flyer Miles:

  • Earn miles when you fly on American Airlines, oneworld affiliated airlines and other participating airlines, as well as more than 1,000 other partners including car rentals, hotel stays and dining
  • Oneworld includes British Airways, Finnair and Japan Airlines as well as other non-oneworld airlines including Jet Airways, Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airline
  • Use miles for flights, upgrades, vacations, car rentals and hotel stays
  • Flights begin at 7,500 points each way
  • Sign up at www.aa.com

Venture Miles Rewards Credit Card:

  • Unlimited Rewards
  • Earn two miles for every dollar spent on purchases
  • Use Venture card to make travel purchases including any airline, any hotel and rental cars. Once a travel purchase is made with Venture, miles are redeemed as a statement credit toward the cost
  • Rewards don’t expire for the life of the account
  • No transaction fee when making purchases outside of the United States
  • The downside – $0 intro for the first year, $95 a year fee after the first year
  •  For more information and to apply: https://www.capitalone.com/credit-cards/venture

e-Miles.com:

  • Earn airline and hotel points
  • Email notifications are sent with new offers
  • Watch ads, sign up to free services, make a purchase or complete a survey to earn points
  • Earning offers include charities, sweepstakes and other website visits
  • Miles don’t expire
  • Miles can be redeemed for United Airlines and Delta Airlines miles, Hilton Honors and other hotel points, and Starbucks and other gift cards
  • Travel deals offered through the website
  • Apply at www.emiles.com/app/earn

MyPoints.com:

  • Points never expire
  • Go through the website to make online purchases including retail stores, travel websites like Expedia, car rental companies and specific hotels, and purchase gift cards for a specific number of points per dollar
  • Go through the website to search the internet and earn points
  • Download grocery coupons for points
  • Complete surveys and watch videos for points
  • Exchange points for gift cards including gas stations, restaurants, airlines, hotels and retail stores
  • Rewards start at 480 points
  • Get started at www.mypoints.com

Expedia

  • Points never expire
  • Points can be redeemed for all services and reservations on Expedia including flights, hotels and car rentals
  • When using Expedia+, you may still be able to earn your airline frequent flyer points and credit card reward points as well as Expedia+ points on bookings
  • You can use Citi ThankYou and American Express Membership Rewards on Expedia by linking accounts to redeem points on hotels and flights plus earn Expedia+ points
  • No blackout dates
  • Book travel for yourself or anyone else with your Expedia+ points
  • Book family and friends though Expedia+ account to earn points. Each individual still earns their airlines’ frequent flyer miles
  • Service is free
  • Sign up at www.expedia.com

Disease- carrying ticks widespread across Alabama

A collection of ticks found in certain areas in Alabama. (Photo by Emily Merritt)

By David Rainer (Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources)

 As a turkey hunter, I am keenly aware of the threat posed by sneaking through the Alabama woods. And I’m not talking about the danger of encountering a member of the serpent family.

I’m talking about something much, much smaller but possibly just as harmful.

It’s the family of ticks that turkey hunters dread each spring, and the prevalence of disease-carrying ticks is becoming more evident each year.

Emily Merritt, a research associate at Auburn University’s School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, has been working on a project since 2015 to determine the species of ticks in Alabama and their ranges.

Merritt said a study on ticks and tick-related illnesses hadn’t been done since the early 1990s, and it was very limited in scope. The study that started in 2015 was to update and expand that research to include field collection sites for ticks.

The most commonly collected ticks included the Lone Star tick, the Gulf Coast tick, the black-legged tick (aka deer tick) and the American dog tick.

The Lone Star tick is the most common tick in Alabama and can transmit a host of diseases, including the alpha-gal red meat allergy, Southern rash disease (a Lyme-like illness), tick paralysis and spotted fever diseases that are closely related to Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

“We found that the Lone Star tick and the Gulf Coast tick are the most aggressive,” Merritt says. The Lone Star tick is found primarily in hardwood stands, while the Gulf Coast tick, which is a little larger and transmits similar diseases, is found primarily in more open areas with shrubs.

The tick that has gained the most notoriety because of its association with Lyme disease is the black-legged tick.

“It is the main culprit for spreading Lyme disease, but it also can spread other illnesses, like anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis and tularemia,” Merritt says. “We find black-legged ticks equally in pine and hardwood stands.”

Merritt said the American dog tick also can transmit all the diseases associated with the other tick species.

“As the name implies, they bite dogs a lot,” she says. “We find them in people’s backyards, especially if they’ve got a nice, green lawn and a nearby wooded area. Obviously, people’s dogs are at risk. If their kids play in the backyard or if you’re gardening or landscaping in the yard, people can come in contact with the American dog tick.”

Anglers, hunters respond

One aspect of Merritt’s research includes a survey conducted through the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. The survey was sent to hunters and anglers to ask about their experiences, knowledge of and costs associated with ticks and tick-borne illnesses.

For those who spend time outdoors, Merritt said the project research found that the most effective deterrent for tick attachment is a spray that contains permethrin.

“You don’t apply it to your skin,” Merritt says. “You spray it on your clothes, boots, hats, socks, backpacks, basically any fabric. When I go camping, I spray my tents and tarps with it. Depending on what brand you get, it will last anywhere from two weeks or two washings to six weeks and six washings.

“More so than bug spray, we found that the products with permethrin significantly reduced the amount of ticks we encountered. It also works well on other biting insects like chiggers and mosquitoes.”

 Although the likelihood of contact with ticks is higher during the warmer months, Merritt said the insects are active year-round in Alabama.

“Be on the lookout, not only on pets, but your children, your loved ones and yourself,” she says. “If you go outside, there is the potential to come in contact with ticks. When you come back inside, check your clothes and gear immediately to see if there are any crawling ticks on you, your pets or children. Then take it a step further and check your body thoroughly for ticks. If you need to use a mirror or a partner, do that. Ticks can hide in all sorts of areas that are hard to see.

“And the longer a tick is attached, the better the chances are to get a tick-borne illness if that tick is harboring that illness.”

Removing a tick

If you do find a tick attached to your body, Merritt said don’t haphazardly try to remove the insect.

“Don’t try to pick it off with your fingers or burn it off with a match or anything like that,” she says. “Get tweezers and get as close to the skin as you possibly can. Firmly grasp the tick where it attached to your body and start pulling with steady, even pressure until it eventually releases. It might be uncomfortable and a little painful, but you want to get that tick off as soon as you can.”

Merritt said tick-borne illnesses may cause symptoms as early as a couple of days, but symptoms could also occur as late as a couple of months after the exposure.

“If you start to experience flu-like symptoms, like aches and pain, or you see an expanding red rash, sometimes spotted and sometimes circular, you need to see a doctor,” she says. “It’s normal for a bite to be red, but if you see an expanding rash or it seems to be spreading to other parts of your body, that’s a clear indication that you do have a tick-borne illness.”

Merritt said if the tick is found it can be saved for testing by taping it to an index card, placing it in a freezer bag and storing it in the freezer.

“But don’t wait for test results,” she said. “If you think you have a tick-borne illness, your doctor should go ahead and start treatment. For most tick-borne illnesses, that involves treatment with antibiotics. For tick paralysis, it’s removal of the tick. For the alpha-gal allergy there is no treatment. You just have to avoid eating red meat, and that’s terrible.”

For more information, go to www.aces.edu/pubs/docs/A/ANR-2315/ANR-2315.pdf or www.alabamalymedisease.org, the Alabama Lyme Disease Association’s website.

Meet the electric John Deere

In 2017, John Deere showcased the first, fully battery-powered tractor. This technological innovation is truly the first of its kind. Nicknamed SESAM, for Sustainable Energy Supply for Agricultural Machinery, this all-electric tractor is modeled after John Deere’s 6r series tractors.

Green and yellow are arguably the second-most American set of colors, behind red, white and blue, of course. This rings true particularly for those who operate John Deere machinery on a daily basis, as the growth of our nation is supremely dependent on the country’s agriculture industry, including the good folks who support it.

Technology in recent years has been the catalyst for the boom and bust of many industries. In the past decade or so, advancements in farming technology have primarily been focused on automation and precision, but with the automobile industry moving towards electric vehicles, the ag-industry is following suit.

John Deere showcased the first, fully battery-powered tractor in 2017 at SIMA, an international agribusiness tradeshow in Paris. This technological innovation was given a ‘special mention’ as it truly the first of its kind. Nicknamed SESAM, for Sustainable Energy Supply for Agricultural Machinery, this all-electric tractor is modeled after John Deere’s 6r series tractors.

In a press release by John Deere, SESAM is said to have all of the same “features and functionality of a ‘conventional’ tractor while offering the benefits of electric power.” This emissions-free tractor runs at a lower noise level than other traditional tractors and is operated using two independent electric motors. The electrification of this tractor simplifies the moving parts and thus, greatly reduces the need for maintenance.

These two motors power an adapted DirectDrive transmission, producing 130 kilowatts of continuous power with a peak output of 400 horsepower, according to Farm-Equipment.com. The website also affirms that the tractor takes 3 hours to fully charge and can run up to 4 hours in the field with speeds ranging from 2 to 30 mph. As a comparison, the Tesla model 3 may have a capacity of up to 75 kilowatt hours of battery storage (kWh), providing a range of about 310 miles. The SESAM has a capacity of 130 kWh with a range of about 34 miles, which means that this tractor uses a lot more electricity in a shorter period of time.

In order for the SESAM to take off, the battery capacity will need to expand to support the sun-up to sun-down longevity of farm work. In fact, the President and CEO of Autonomous Tractor Corporation, Kraig Schulz, purported that a 200 horsepower electric tractor would hypothetically need about 1,500 kWh of batteries to complete a full day’s work. As energy storage technology continues to advance, it’s only a matter of time before John Deere manufactures a tractor that can meet this need.

Although SESAM’s battery technology may not yet be practical for a full day of farming, the all-electric tractor is a very exciting development for the agriculture industry. This is one of many future steps in the direction of electrifying agricultural machinery and integrating this equipment with renewables. As the press release stated, “The SESAM tractor is a major part of John Deere’s vision of the energy-independent farm of the future.”

This push towards electrification of farm machinery in lieu of using fossil fuels directly supports the beneficial electrification movement. This concept, known fully as “environmentally beneficial electrification,” is gaining traction among a growing number of groups in the U.S. including local electric cooperatives. Frequently promoted as a means to reducing greenhouse gases and helping the environment, beneficial electrification also helps consumers by providing products that are cleaner, quieter and easier to maintain. John Deere’s SESAM tractor does just that.

Kaley Lockwood 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.

WTD: The Copper Kettle is everyone’s cup of tea

The Copper Kettle Tea Bar is nestled in a shady spot in downtown Foley.

Story and photos by Emmett Burnett

Laid back, framed in shady oaks, beside an easy-on-the-eyes emerald green park is not what one expects on a road named “Chicago Street.” The Copper Kettle Tea Bar is here, too, and also unexpected – an unexpected delight.

At first glance, the little house appears to be a small working class home in downtown Foley, and indeed it was. In the 1930s, 106 N. Chicago served railroad workers, accommodating a nearby train station long since gone. Today “The Little Tea House with the Big Heart” serves sandwiches, soups, cakes, pies, and tea, lots of tea, over 130 versions.

An anonymous quote on the menu reads, “If asked, ‘How do you take your tea?’ I reply ‘seriously, very seriously.’”

I’ll say.

Susan Adams and Robin Peters, sisters and co-owners of the Copper Kettle Tea Bar, at the front counter.

Co-owners and sisters Robin Peters and Susan Adams are not new to the brew. Tea is their passion. Great tea, coupled with excellent food in a congenial setting, is their goal. Chicago Street is tea-topia.

Admittedly, the tea room experience is novel for most southerners. “But tea is our niche,” says Robin, about her popular spot across the street from a downtown park. “Lots of people make great food down here, but we are the ones for tea.

“First timers sometimes come in and often have no idea what they want,” she continues. “I will ask, ‘what do you like in fruit, flavor, or taste? Let me see what I can do.” And before you know it, it’s tea time.

Small glass bottles of tea leaves adorn dinner tables. Inhale the aroma, sense the flavor, imagine the taste and let Copper Kettle pour the dream. Both Robin and Susan are emphatic: If you don’t like it, they will pour you a different one. No one leaves unhappy.

There are black teas, originating far away from Foley. Blends like English Breakfast, Irish Breakfast, Russian Samovar, Yunnan/China, Assam/India. Fruity favorites include Hibiscus Raspberry Currant, Queen of Berries, Cranberry Harvest, Pomegranate Ginger Pear, and Bora Bora.

There are white teas: white peony, white monkey, indulgence tea, and fruit favorites such as the most excellent, strawberry ginger peppercorn that puts the feisty in Foley.

Down home Southern flavors abound, such as strawberry sparkling wine to the more exotic Feng Shui/dragon fruit. Herbals, organics, every tea imaginable is available except grocery store stuff. This is no place for Milo’s on the rocks.

Hummus and chips with vegetables.

Robin’s first encounter with Foley was from vacationing at nearby Gulf Shores. “After days on the beach we came to town looking for something different, and discovered 2 Sassy Cups Tea Room in Foley and loved it,” she recalls. 

The Michigan sisters moved here in 2003. They reopened 2 Sassy’s in 2005 but the run was short. In 2014 the duo opened The Copper Kettle Tea Bar, moving it to the current location in 2015.

The little diner is off the main road, which is according to plan.

“We are like a secret right in the middle of town,” Robin says. “That’s part of the charm. We are right here but you have to find us. It’s like a treasure hunt.”

Off the beaten path is part of the experience. It fits their environment. “Having tea is a slowing down and stopping process rather than hurry up, quick cup of coffee to go thing,” she says. “In fact, Starbucks employees come here on coffee breaks.”

“We don’t do a food menu,” adds Susan, who supervises all cooking. “I usually know what we are serving the night before. Everyone else finds out in the morning.”

Homemade soup is available every day – tomato, potato, carrot, broccoli, and dozens more, depending on Susan’s daily decision. On today’s visit, a homemade apple-pear pie is out of the oven. It won’t be here long. Sandwiches, cookies, brownies, and more round out the list.

Katy Herndon visits often, driving in from Mobile. “I go to Foley just for the Copper Kettle,” she says. “Robin and Sue are just good people and the tea is always great. I love the huge selection and usually tell Robin to just surprise me. It’s always good and their soups are spectacular.”

The dining room seats 20 but plenty of space is available in the backyard, around tables under oaks. Regular customers including locals, snowbirds, and the beach bound are there any time, for a great time, at tea time.


 

Electric utility linemen to be honored on June 4

Seth Hammett, chairman of the Energy Institute of Alabama, addresses those gathered to celebrate Lineman Appreciation Day in 2017.

Lineman Appreciation Day has a special meaning for Tracy Riddle.

Riddle’s father, Ricky Sybert, worked for Joe Wheeler EMC from about 1968 until 1992. “He loved his job and he loved his co-workers,” Riddle recalls.

“I can remember him being on ‘trouble’ and getting a trouble call at night, or when it was storming. Even as a child, it worried me for him to go out, but it never seemed to bother him.”

Riddle was moved to contact Alabama Living when she saw a notification about the national Lineman Appreciation Day, which was in mid-April.

“He has gone to be with the Lord now, but every year (that) I see Lineman Appreciation Day, I wish he was here for me to tell him how much I appreciate how hard he worked,” Riddle says.

In Alabama, the Legislature passed a formal resolution in 2014 designating the first Monday in June as Lineman Appreciation Day, ensuring that linemen are formally recognized in our state every year.

Linemen are often first responders during storms and other catastrophic events, working in brutal weather conditions to ensure we all have safe and reliable power. They work with thousands of volts of electricity on power lines at any time of day or night, 365 days a year, sometimes far from their families.

Tracy Riddle’s father, Ricky Sybert, is on the far right in the front row in this photo taken around 1970. Sybert and the others graduated from lineman school together.

This year’s statewide Lineman Appreciation Day commemoration will be June 4 in Montgomery, and will involve personnel from Alabama’s electric utility industry, including linemen from the state’s rural electric cooperatives. The event, which will include the presentation of an outstanding service award to a utility team member, will feature several speakers as well as a catered meal and gifts for the linemen.

The event is being coordinated by the Energy Institute of Alabama, which works to build public support for Alabama’s energy industry.

On social media, you may see the #ThankALineman hashtag. It’s an important part of increasing awareness of Lineman Appreciation Day.

Even if you’re not on social media, you can do your part. If you see a line crew from your rural electric cooperative out working in your area, stop and say “thank you” to them for all they do to keep the lights on for all of us.

Linemen serve on the frontlines of our nation’s energy needs. There are about 18,000 full-time linemen in the electric cooperative program, making up nearly one-third of all distribution cooperative employees. Together, they maintain more than 2.5 million miles of distribution line for 850 systems across the country.

Alabama’s not-for-profit electric cooperatives employ some 600 linemen who help keep the lights on for more than 1 million Alabamians in 64 counties.

Allison Law

Gardening hacks: Ways to make gardening easy, economical and eco-friendly

Recycle or up cycle in the garden. Here is a pair of boots hanging from iron rebar. Boots contain plants of wild strawberrys.

Gardening hacks — or creative ways to save time and money in the garden — can be fun and often effective shortcuts for many gardening chores. If used correctly, garden hacks can also help us create more eco-friendly gardens, especially if we concentrate on the three Rs of sustainability: recycling, reusing and repurposing.

Recycle

Many items that we might throw in the trash or send to our local recycling center can be useful tools in the garden. Here are a few ways to turn trash into garden treasure.

Yogurt cups and other small plastic cartons make great seed-starting containers. Emptied milk, water, soda and juice containers can be used as plant covers, plant collars and as mini greenhouses or terrariums. Those with handles are perfect for use as watering and dusting devices or as scoops for potting soil and birdseed.

Old newspapers and cardboard can be laid in garden beds to control weeds and retain moisture in the soil.

Empty wine bottles can be filled with water, then pushed upside down into a pot to slowly irrigate container plants. They are also a great source for garden art and ornamentation — think bottle trees or a garden bed bordered with upturned bottles.

Reuse

Lots of things can be reused in the garden — old boots can become planters and old pallets can become tool racks — but there are few things as valuable to a garden as kitchen waste. Yes, it makes great compost, but here are a few other uses for it, too.

Eggshell halves make cute, biodegradable seed-starting containers and can be crushed and sprinkled around plants to keep away slugs and add calcium to the soil.

Banana peels, which are high in potassium and other plant nutrients, can be added to compost or chopped or dried and added to garden soil as a slow-release fertilizer. They can also help ward off aphids.

Used coffee grounds can be sprinkled around plants to tamp down fungal diseases, provide a slow-release source of nitrogen to plants and improve soil texture. (A word of caution: coffee is acidic, so used grounds are not recommended for plants that require more alkaline conditions.)

Repurpose

Many of the household products we use every day in the home are also useful in the garden to control pests, add nutrients to the soil and in other ways.  Here are a few examples. 

Baking soda can help fight fungal problems on flowers and shrubs and can help sweeten the taste of tomatoes.

Concoctions of vinegar, baking soda, dish soaps, vegetable oils and other products can be used in place of stronger chemicals to remove and thwart a variety of pests.

Mixtures made of ingredients such as hot peppers, garlic and water can be misted on to plants to deter aphids, and jar caps filled with beer can trap and kill slugs, snails and some flying insects.

These are just a few of the hundreds, maybe thousands, of gardening hacks that make gardening easier, cheaper, sustainable and more fun. Additional details for these and other ideas are available in gardening publications, online and through local garden experts (one great book of ideas is 101 Organic Gardening Hacks: Eco-friendly Solutions to Improve Any Garden by Shawna Coronado). Do a little poking around to find ones that suit your needs.

A word of caution, though: not all hacks are effective or safe, so if you have questions or concerns, seek advice from your local Cooperative Extension or Master Gardener organizations or other professional gardening sources, especially before applying any potentially toxic or unsafe products to your garden.

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

Set to trap a catfish

Eugene Hendrick displays some of the catfish traps he’s built.

When this Brantley, Alabama native wants a fish fry, he grabs one of his fish traps and heads to the river.

Story and photo by Ben Norman

Several years ago, Eugene Hendrick decided he would try his hand at fishing with wire fish baskets.  But he had very little luck.

“One day I was checking my wire fish basket and when I pulled one up, someone had thrown a wooden slat box trap over my basket and they had become entangled,” says Hendrick. “His trap was full of fish and I had nothing in mine.  I had my measuring tape on my belt and so I measured the dimensions and decided I would build one of my own.  The first box I built was the same dimensions as the one tangled in mine.  I soon realized that this box was too big and bulky and I could catch just as many fish in a smaller scaled down version.”

After much experimenting, Hendrick settled on a box 14 inches square and 4 feet long with a built-in bait box with double throats or muzzles.  “These are what the catfish go in to get into the box but the limber slats close up and prevent the fish from getting out,” he says. “I build all of my traps with either red oak or white oak strips.  I actually like red oak better because it is tougher wood and retains the bait odor longer.  I use galvanized staples, as I found they are better than nails or screws.”

Hendrick is a well-known sign painter in Crenshaw, Covington and Coffee counties area. Those who know him well know that he is quite a perfectionist especially when it comes to painting signs or building fish traps.  Hendrick says when he sells someone a fish trap he likes to give them a lesson on where to place them and how to use them before they leave. 

“I like to use an old head from a V8 motor for an anchor and about 50 feet of green nylon cord attached to the trap,” he says.  “I construct a simple three-prong grab hook that I can throw out and draw across to snag the line so I can retrieve and pull the trap up to the boat.  I like to fish my traps in water that is 10 to 12 feet deep.” 

Hendrick says it is a fallacy that you can’t put them on sandy bottoms, but you do have to check them more often to make sure they don’t sand in. “For bait, I recommend spoiled cheese that I purchase at Ron Smitherman’s Bait Shop in Clanton.  Although I think cheese is by far the best, some people have good luck with cotton seed meal cake, rotten cabbage, lettuce, bananas and other produce.”

Hendrick says after much experimentation, he builds a small bait box to put his cheese in that slowly oozes downstream and attracts the fish.  He also says rather than having a small door, he builds his traps so that one complete side can be removed to facilitate baiting and fish removal.

“I fish my traps year-round but the best time I have found for catching catfish in a trap is October to April.  If you fish them in the summertime, you need to check them every day, but you can get by checking them once or twice a week in the winter.”

Most Alabama counties permit the use of wire fish baskets after you purchase a tag for each basket.  But state law requires you to have a commercial fishing license to use a slat basket in the public waters of the state.

“I keep my muzzle tapered down to 4 inches and I have caught fish that would weigh seven pounds that were able to get through the muzzle,” says Hendrick.  “I have caught close to 100 pounds in my traps on occasion.  They are constructed in a way that game fish can escape through the required one and one eighth-inch gap between the slats.  I recommend being a good conservationist and if you catch more fish than you can use, release them back into the river and catch them again another day.  And everyone knows a needy family that can use catfish.”

Hendrick invites anyone interested in purchasing his traps to contact him at 334-303-9389 or at Hendrick Signs, 673 Elba Highway, Brantley.  He charges $60 for a single trap and $50 for two or more traps. Contact your local game warden if you have questions about fishing with fish traps.

Hardy Jackson’s Alabama: Food for thought

We Southerners love our food.

But now, according to recent studies, it seems that the cuisine for which the South is famous is leading Southerners to an early grave.

Not long ago it was reported that anyone who wants diabetes should move South and start eating. According to a 2017 study, the highest adult obesity rates are in the South, with Alabama and Arkansas tied for third place (West Virginia and Mississippi were one and two, respectively). And in another study, Alabama ranked right up there with West Virginia with the highest percentage of folks with diabetes.

Like so much that is Southern, our eating habits can be traced to our history. For about as long as there has been a South, culinarily speaking, a good part of the population has had to get by on the poorest cuts of meat and the most forlorn vegetables.

So Southern cooks set out to make the bad at least taste better. What they accomplished has been nothing short of miraculous.

For proof, I refer you to the late Ernest Matthew Mickler’s 1986 classic book, White Trash Cooking, a loving tribute to what southerners can do with traditional staples like fat pork, corn meal, molasses, garden greens, Ritz crackers, Cool Whip, Velveeta and whatever else happens to be handy.

This sort of cooking and this sort of eating has survived almost intact in the rural South or among rural Southerners who moved to cities like Birmingham and Montgomery. But rather than take our eating habits as an indication of how isolated and unsophisticated the deep South remains, I contend that what we cook and consume is just one more bit of evidence of just how cosmopolitan southerners actually are.     

Consider my buddy Jim, who taught Southern history at one of our fine Southern Universities. A scholar recognized both at home and abroad, Jim was invited to lecture at the University of Vienna.

As a gift for his hosts, Jim carried cans of Vienna Sausage to pass around. The sausages were a big hit, as was Jim’s explanation of how Vienna was properly pronounced (“Vi – eeee – nah”).

Now I don’t know, or really care, how Vienna would rank among healthy cities in Europe. And from what Jim tells me, the Viennese don’t know or care either. They enjoy food fixed the way they like it fixed.

Same as down in Dixie.

“Foodies” in places like New York City and San Francisco can go on about experimenting with ingredients and approaches, but we can match ‘em with dishes like “Uncle Willie’s Swamp Cabbage Stew,” “Freda’s Five-Can Casserole,” and a “Kiss Me Not Sandwich” (White Trash Cooking, pp. 11, 41, 73).

As for discovering that most of the cities in the Southern heartland are not healthy places to live well, if you can’t have it all, I’d rather have mine with “Ham-Lama Salad” and some “Soda Cracker Pie,” thank you very much.

Harvey H. (Hardy) Jackson is Professor Emeritus at Jacksonville State University and a regular contributor to Alabama Living.  He can be reached at hjackson@cableone.net.

Social security: How the retirement rules work for you

Retirement doesn’t have the same meaning for everyone. Some people plan to retire and never work again. Some people plan for second careers in occupations that wouldn’t have adequately supported their families, but they do the work for pure enjoyment. Some people, whether by design or desire, choose to work part-time or seasonally to supplement their retirement income.

Retirees (or survivors) who choose to receive Social Security benefits before they reach full retirement age (FRA) and continue to work have an earnings limit. In 2017, the annual earnings limit was $16,920 for those under FRA the entire calendar year. In 2018, it is $17,040. If you earn over the limit, we deduct $1 from your Social Security monthly benefit payment for every $2 you earn above the annual limit.

In the calendar year you reach FRA, which you can check out at socialsecurity.gov/planners/retire/ageincrease.html, you have a higher earnings limit. Additionally, we will only count earnings for the months prior to FRA. In 2017, the limit was $44,880. In 2018, it is $45,360. In the year of FRA attainment, Social Security deducts $1 in benefits for every $3 you earn above the limit.

There is a special rule that usually only applies in your first year of receiving retirement benefits. If you earn more than the annual earnings limit, you may still receive a full Social Security payment for each month you earn less than a monthly limit. In 2018, the monthly limit is $1,420 for those who are below FRA the entire calendar year. The 2018 monthly limit increases to $3,780 in the year of FRA attainment.

Once you reach FRA, you no longer have an earnings limit, and we may recalculate your benefit to credit you for any months we withheld your benefits due to excess earnings. This is because your monthly benefit amount is calculated based on a reduction for each month you receive it before your FRA. So, if you originally filed for benefits 12 months before your FRA, but earned over the limit and had two months of Social Security benefits withheld, we will adjust your ongoing monthly benefit amount to reflect that you received 10 months of benefits before your FRA, and not 12.

Most people understand that if they work while receiving benefits before FRA, their benefit may be reduced. What most people do not consider in their retirement planning is that we recalculate your Social Security monthly benefit at FRA to credit you for Social Security benefit payments withheld due to earnings over the limit. Explaining the earnings limit is another way that Social Security helps secure your today and tomorrow.

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

Rural health: Drones offer exciting promise in rural Alabama

A drone delivers medical supplies to the annual Remote Area Medical (RAM) in Wise County, Virginia. Photo courtesy of Tim Cox

Rapidly emerging new technologies offer a reason for excitement in caring for the health of Alabama’s rural areas.  Alabama faces a great challenge to provide adequate and quality health care for one of the country’s most unhealthy populations.  The use of drones (also called unmanned aircraft systems UAS) is one such promising technology that we need to be prepared to embrace and develop plans for using.

Military and smart phone technologies have played major roles in the rapid development of drone technology and capability.  Having the ability to inspect from above and move in straight lines offer many advantages that surface bound travel does not have.  This technology continues to advance at a rapid pace with drones getting faster, being able to carry heavier cargos, and travel greater distances without the cost of gasoline.  The futuristic city of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates is even considering the use of passenger-carrying drones that are manufactured in China.

Zipline, a Silicon Valley-based company, has been transporting medical supplies and life-saving blood to and bringing back specimens for laboratory testing from dozens of remote hospitals in Rwanda since October 2016.  Lighter air traffic allowed governmental restrictions to be much less restrictive in Rwanda than in the U.S.  Zipline has announced plans to work with state governments across the country to launch its medical drone delivery in the U.S.

This will not be the first such use of drones in the U.S.  Since July 2015, The Health Wagon and Remote Area Medical have partnered to provide medication delivery in the Appalachian area of Wise County in far southwest Virginia.

Drones are already being used for purposes in addition to health care in the U.S.  There is much promise for agricultural applications, including crop inspection and treatment.  Package delivery, search and rescue activities, aerial photography, parking lot and other security monitoring, damage surveying, and firefighting are only a few other examples.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration’s Birmingham office, two waivers allowing the use of drones in Alabama have been approved.  These waivers allow for drones to be used for weddings, parties, other events, boating and water sports, video production, construction, construction inspection, roof inspection, agriculture, surveying, mapping, and other such applications.  No health-related services are being provided.

Safety and legal concerns appear to be the major obstacles.  Safety issues involve birds and areas with heavy airplane traffic.  There are a number of legal issues, including that of personal privacy.

Alabama’s leadership and other stakeholders involved in the future use of drones in providing health-related activity are encouraged to start preparing for the use of this promising innovation.

Dale Quinney is executive director of the Alabama Rural Health Association, 1414 Elba Highway, Troy, 36081.