Navigate / search

Weighing your lawncare options

By Pat Keegan and Brad Thiessen

Q: I’m seeing a lot of ads lately for electric lawn mowers. I want to save money and help the environment, but from what I’ve heard, a lot of electric mowers can be underpowered, and the cordless ones lose their battery charge too quickly. Do you think it’s worth making the switch from a gas mower to an electric mower?  

A: Until recently, corded and cordless electric mowers tended to be underpowered. For cordless mowers, this fact was made worse by their sub-par battery life. 

But today, with those problems largely solved, the best electric mowers have the power and battery life to keep pace with a gas mower, depending on the size of your lawn. 

Unlike models from only a few years ago, many of today’s electric mowers have the power and battery life to keep up with gas mowers. Photos Source: Pixabay.com

A cordless, electric mower with a large 56-volt battery can run for about one hour. Plug-in electric mowers don’t have this limitation, but using a long electrical cord can be challenging. 

Quality electric mowers, especially the cordless, rechargeable ones, tend to cost twice as much as a new equivalent gas model. But you can recoup some of the expense with cheaper operating costs, since electricity is a less expensive fuel than gas, and electric engines generally require less maintenance than gas engines. 

Another important cost consideration is that rechargeable batteries typically need to be replaced after three to five years. The cost savings also depend on the size of your lot. A small lot uses less gas, so fuel cost savings are less significant.

You can save a significant amount of money on purchase price with a corded mower, if you don’t mind the hassle of navigating around the cord.

There are additional benefits of electric mowers besides lower fuel and maintenance costs. Electric mowers are much quieter than gas mowers, and they start instantly. Electric mowers produce less tailpipe emissions, but the overall environmental impact depends on how the electricity you’re using (to charge the mower) is generated. The environmental benefits will be greater if the electricity is generated from renewable energy sources.

Given all these considerations, my advice is to weigh your priorities. If you are looking to buy new, have a small- to mid-size lot, prioritize environmental concerns and don’t mind navigating a cord or recharging batteries, an electric mower could be the right choice for you.

If you don’t mind the noise, maintenance and other hassles of a gas mower, have a large lot and prefer not to invest in the upfront purchase price, a gas mower may be a better option. 

There’s also a third choice. If your goals are to save money and hassle while protecting the environment, you can minimize your need for a mower, or get rid of the need completely.

If you’re willing to keep your lawn mowed regularly and don’t mind breaking a sweat, consider a manual reel mower. Some models are more effective than you might think, and they’re far less expensive and require little maintenance or storage space.

A rotary push mower is an eco-friendly, low-maintenance and easy to store – and great exercise, too! Photos Source: Pixabay.com

The most dramatic step you could take is replacing your lawn completely, perhaps with water-efficient landscaping, a rock garden, a vegetable garden or even an artificial lawn. This could dramatically cut your water bill and the environmental impact of a lawn.  

Any change you make, whether in mowing or landscaping, will require a little research. But it’s great to know the option of an electric mower is more viable than ever!

This column was co-written by Pat Keegan and Brad Thiessen of Collaborative Efficiency. For more information on mower options, please visit: www.collaborativeefficiency.com/energytips.

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

Fast Food

Instant Pot Orange Chicken

Learn how to make the best use of one the hottest cooking tools to hit the market in years, the rapid-cooking, multi-tasking Instant Pot.

BY JENNIFER KORNEGAY STYLING/PHOTOS BY BROOKE ECHOLS

A few years ago, a new “must-have” kitchen appliance burst on the scene and gained fame at a rate that matched the product’s name. The Instant Pot flew off shelves and was THE gift to give the busy cook in your life. And while its fast-track to popularity followed the trajectory of any fad, this trend has enjoyed true staying power. The Instant Pot has held onto most of its initial admirers and keeps gaining new ones. And that’s because it’s not just one thing: It’s a multi-faceted meal maker that reduces the time and effort required to feed yourself or your family.

Now, don’t be deceived by its moniker: It does not deliver actual instant results, but it can do many things faster than other cooking methods, and this speed is its main appeal. It can cook large cuts of tough meat fast with fork-tender results. In only about five minutes, it cooks rice to perfection. While it can also function like your trusty “set-it and forget it” slow cooker, on its most-used setting, it gives traditional “low and slow” dishes that “all-day” flavor much faster, sometimes cutting the cook time for these comfort faves in half. You can use it simply to warm foods too. And it even has a yogurt-making button (although online reviews for the results of pushing this button are mixed).

It evokes the excitement of advanced technology with new recipes, new cookbooks and food bloggers and reviewers using words like “life-changing” to describe it. But it’s really just a versatile, revised take on the not-new-at-all pressure cooker. When it’s working like a pressure cooker, it uses a high-pressure atmosphere to increase water’s boiling point from the standard 212 degrees to almost 250 degrees. This cooks foods quicker but also pushes liquid into them, keeping them juicy and tender. This is the same method employed by yesterday’s pressure cookers, the ones that sometimes garnered headlines by exploding. But thanks to built-in features that make it impossible to open its sealed lid until the pressure has been released (an issue with past pressure cookers), the Instant Pot adds increased safety to its list of pros, a list that keeps attracting Instant Pot buyers.

We’ve got some Instant Pot devotees among our readers, and they’ve shared their favorite recipes this month. Whether you’re already in the fan club or you just joined, give them a try.


Cook of the Month

Paige Gaines, Central Alabama EC

Paige Gaines got her Instant Pot two years ago, but admitted that she was initially hesitant to use it. “I was actually scared of it for months, but I finally decided to give it try. After one or two uses, I was hooked,” she said. Now, it’s a fixture on her kitchen counter, and she cooks in it three to five times each week, even if she’s only using it to cook rice or boil a big batch of eggs. “I mostly use it in the pressure cooker mode to make one-pot meals, like the recipe I submitted,” she said. “The Cajun Sausage Potatoes and Green Beans is truly a full meal, and it’s just so easy, and so tasty.” She suggested adding some rolls or Texas toast to go with it, and while she likes the Cajun sausage her recipe calls for, she encouraged others to substitute their favorite kind. “A lot of people love Conecuh sausage, and I’m sure it would work well too,” she said.

 

Cajun Sausage, Potatoes and Green Beans

¾ cup chicken broth

1 twelve-ounce package Cajun-style andouille sausage

2 pounds red potatoes

2 16-ounce packages frozen green beans

½ pound fresh mushrooms

3 teaspoons Cajun seasoning

¾ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon pepper

4 tablespoons salted butter

Pour chicken broth into Instant Pot. Cut sausage into thin ¼-inch slices. Cut potatoes into 1-inch cubes. Cut off the ends of the frozen green beans. Chop and add mushrooms. Add the sausage, potatoes, green beans and mushrooms to the Instant Pot. Sprinkle the Cajun seasoning, salt and pepper into the pot. Toss with a spoon. Cut the butter into 8 pieces and toss them into the pot. Cover the pot and secure the lid. Be SURE the valve is set to “sealing.” Set the manual/pressure cook button to 3 minutes. (It might take 15-20 minutes for the pot to come to pressure). When the timer is up, perform a quick release by moving the valve to venting. Remove the lid when you can. Gently stir the contents of the pot. Scoop onto serving plates or bowls and enjoy. May be served with or over rice.


Turkey In-A-Pot

1 frozen bone-in turkey breast, thawed

1 teaspoon pepper

1 tablespoon salt

1 teaspoon garlic power

¼ teaspoon chili power

½ teaspoon celery salt

½ teaspoon paprika

¼ teaspoon rosemary, crushed

½ large onion

1 apple (any variety), washed and halved

3 tablespoons butter

2 cups chicken broth or water

*Seasonings can be increased or decreased depending on personal preference

Marinate thawed turkey in salt water brine or apple cider at least 12 hours; drain. Combine all seasonings and spices. Loosen turkey skin and rub seasoning under skin (depending on size, additional seasoning may be required); reserve some seasoning for cavity. In pot, turn turkey breast skin side down. In cavity sprinkle remaining seasoning and place half of a large onion, halved apple and 3 tablespoons butter. Pour 2 cups of chicken broth or 2 cups of water. Seal Instant Pot and set on pressure cook for 1½ hours. When timer runs down, pot will stay on low for 10 hours. Remove from pot and debone, strain liquid for gravy or for dressing.

Deborah Spain, Marshall-DeKalb EC


Instant Pot Orange Chicken

2 pounds chicken breast or thighs cut into 1-2-inch pieces

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Sauce:

1 cup orange juice, no sugar added

1 tablespoon ginger, grated

6 cloves garlic,* minced

1 tablespoon rice wine or dry white wine

1/2 cup tomato sauce, optional

¼ cup granulated sugar

¼ cup brown sugar

¼ cup lite soy sauce

1 tablespoon Sriracha, optional

Zest from 1 orange

 

Cornstarch Slurry:

2 tablespoons cornstarch

2 tablespoons orange juice

Garnish:

4 green onions, sliced

Extra orange zest

It is important for the chicken not to have any extra moisture, so dry it with a few paper towels and cut the chicken into 1-2-inch chunks.

Heat up your pressure cooker: press Sauté; click on the Adjust button; select More to get the Sauté More function, which means that the food will be sautéed over medium-high heat. Wait for the Instant Pot indicator to read HOT.

Add the oil to the hot Instant Pot, add the chicken and sauté for 2-3 minutes, stirring a few times. Cook until it just starts to get golden. When sautéing it, stir constantly so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.

Also, after you sauté the chicken, check if bits are stuck to the bottom. In that case, deglaze the pot with 1/4 cup orange juice and scrape them with a wooden spoon. If you leave the bits stuck to the bottom, they may burn or cause the pot not to come to pressure. (If you want a truly golden-brown chicken, brown it on the stove top, as the Instant Pot isn’t really good for that.)

Add the sauce ingredients to the pot (remaining 3/4 cup of orange juice, minced garlic, ginger, soy sauce, white sugar, brown sugar, rice wine, orange zest and Sriracha sauce). You can skip the Sriracha sauce, or add more if you prefer your food on the spicier side.

Add the tomato sauce if you are using it. (The tomato sauce adds a tanginess to the overall sweet recipe, and it makes it taste more savory. It is based on your own preference.) Stir gently until all the ingredients are combined and coated in sauce. Close lid, select Manual, and select 5 minutes on High Pressure. Make sure the vent is closed. Use a 10-minute Natural Release. Turn off the heat. Release the remaining pressure by opening the vent. Open the lid.

Select again the Sauté function, on LOW. In a medium bowl combine 2 tablespoons of cornstarch with the orange juice, whisk until all combined with no lumps. Add the mixture to the Instant Pot and gently stir to combine. Cook on Sauté function for a few more minutes, stirring gently, until the sauce thickens. Simmer for 2-3 minutes. If you want the sauce even thicker, mix one more tablespoon of cornstarch with orange juice and add it to the pot. Let the Orange Chicken stand for 5-7 minutes; the sauce will thicken more. Serve over rice and garnish with fresh chopped green onions and extra orange zest.

Cook’s note:

*I love the extra garlic in this dish, but for some people it may be too much, so can use 3-4 cloves if you are not a huge garlic fan.

Marsha S. Gardner, Baldwin EMC


Instant Pot Sweet Potato Apple Crisp

2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and diced

1 pound sweet red cooking apple (Pink Lady, Rome or Fuji), peeled and diced

¼ – ½ teaspoon cinnamon, to taste

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ cup water

Topping:

4 tablespoons melted butter

¾ cup old fashioned rolled oats

¼ cup flour

¼ cup brown sugar

¼ teaspoon salt

Put sweet potatoes and apples into Instant Pot and mix. Top with cinnamon, salt and water. Stir. In separate bowl, mix melted butter, oats, flour, sugar and salt. Drop by spoonful onto the top of sweet potato and apple mixture. Cook for 20 minutes on high pressure. Use a natural release.

Pam McGehee, Baldwin EMC


Send us your recipes for a chance to win!

Themes and Deadlines

June: Bacon | March 8

July: Grilling | April 5

Aug.: Weeknight Suppers | May 10

3 ways to submit:
Online: alabamaliving.coop

Email: recipes@alabamaliving.coop

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

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

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

Rattlesnake Rodeo features more than just reptiles

The 59th annual Opp Rattlesnake Rodeo will feature snake handling and demonstrations, for sure. But if getting up-close and personal with the venomous vipers is a little scary, there are plenty of other activities that will entertain adults and kids alike. The event, which is March 23-24 at Channell Lee Stadium in the south Alabama town of Opp, will also have arts and craft s, concessions, a greasy pole climb, children’s rides, buck dancing contest and a 5K run/walk. Country music stars Tyler Farr will take the stage on Saturday evening, and Craig Morgan will entertain on Sunday. Gates open at 8 a.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. Sunday, and tickets can be purchased for $10 per day in advance or $15 at the gate; children 6 and under are free. For more information, visit opprattlesnakerodeo.com or call 334-493-2122.

Alabama roads: Infrastructure improvements key issue in legislative session

The Melvin Cutoff Road in Choctaw County. Photo courtesy the Choctaw Sun-Advocate

By Minnie Lamberth

Daryl Jones, general manager of Black Warrior EMC in west Alabama, is very familiar with the conditions of the roads in Alabama’s rural areas. Black Warrior has a service area that touches 12 counties. “We travel over about 7,000 miles of county roads,” Jones says. “On any day we will have about 35 to 40 company vehicles on those roads.”

Over his 35 years at the co-op, he’s noticed that conditions have gotten worse. “Most of the county roads we see need a lot of work,” Jones says. “We don’t see a lot of widening of the existing roads. We don’t see county dirt roads being paved.”

He also noted that culverts need replacement. Flooding after heavy rains can be too much for them to handle. “When those culverts blow out, we have members who are stranded.”

Though some counties where the co-op serves have their own county gas tax, Jones can tell the difference in areas that don’t. “What you see is they’re struggling to continue maintenance on what they have,” he says.

Roads across the state will get much needed attention if the Alabama legislature acts on proposals coming their way in the next session, which begins on March 5.

In her inaugural address on Jan. 14, Gov. Kay Ivey called for additional investment in the state’s infrastructure, including the state’s roads and bridges. This added funding would come through an increase in the gasoline tax.

“Obviously we need more revenue,” says Tim Culpepper, general manager at Cullman Electric Cooperative in northwest Alabama. “Our rural farm to market roads are falling apart.”

The roads and trails around Smith Lake in Cullman County in particular are always impacted by heavy rain and extreme weather conditions, he adds. “These are the roads that our lineman crews, our first responders and everyone else has to ride on.”

Steve Sheffield, general manager at Clarke-Washington EMC, says his area has similar needs. “We serve some of the most rural and distressed areas in the state in Clarke, Washington, Wilcox and Monroe counties. I believe the counties have done the best job they could with the available funding but there are still many rural roads that are in dire need of attention,” he says.

In addition, Sheffield notes, “US Highway 43 desperately needs a turn lane between Jackson and Grove Hill and US Highway 84 is four lane to our west and east, but is a heavily traveled two lane through our service area.”

As Ivey noted, it’s been nearly three decades since the legislature has provided any change in funding for road improvements. The most recent gas tax legislation passed in 1991, and those who understand the conditions of the state’s roadways are welcoming the prospect of additional resources. These groups include the Association of County Commissions of Alabama.

“We’re falling behind. Not only can we not catch up, we’re actually losing ground,” says Chase Cobb, ACCA’s governmental affairs manager.

County Road 3 in the Aquilla community. Photo courtesy the Choctaw Sun-Advocate

Cobb specifically highlighted county roads – which are largely dependent on the state’s gas tax for maintenance and resurfacing. Cities have more flexibility to pass a revenue measure such as a sales tax. County governments, however, must have legislative approval even if a gas tax increase is proposed at the local level.

In 2018, the ACCA released results from a road and bridge data collection survey that provided a picture of county infrastructure across the state. Of 44,790 paved county roads that currently exist, 48% have been resurfaced over the last 18 years, the survey showed. However, the national standard for road maintenance is to resurface every 15 years.

“Counties aim for a 15-year road cycle,” Cobb says. “It’s cheaper to maintain a road than it is to have to rebuild it. In 18 years, we should definitely have resurfaced all of our roads. We’re only halfway there.”

It’s not likely that the state is catching up anytime soon. Cobb adds, “In the next five years, we’re only projected to resurface 8%.”

County bridges are facing a similar situation. Of the 8,663 bridges on county roads, 45% are 50 years old or older – and at a timeframe for replacement or rehabilitation. However, only 4% of bridges are projected to be replaced over the next five years.

What is the cost of doing nothing? As Ivey said in her address, “Improving our infrastructure is more than an investment in our roads and bridges; it’s an investment in economic development, public safety and local communities.”

Mount Nebo Road, Choctaw County. Photo courtesy the Choctaw Sun-Advocate

The conditions of county roads impact economic development because industrial sites are often in the county. “Without proper infrastructure, it becomes difficult to attract industry,” Cobb says. Safety issues are also created. Revenue for roadways is used for striping, signage, herbicide treatment and other forms of routine maintenance, including mowing rights of way.

“The maintenance budget takes up so much money we don’t have money left over for resurfacing,” Cobb says.

As legislation is proposed and debated, one of the big discussion points will be in how the funds are split among localities. Recognizing that city governments and county governments will both be seeking funds from the same source, Jones hopes the division will be fair. “They need to come out with a plan that’s prorated fairly,” Jones says.

Alabama Bookshelf

In this periodic feature, we highlight books either about Alabama people or events or written by Alabama authors. Summaries are not reviews or endorsements. We also occasionally highlight book-related events. Email submissions to bookshelf@alabamaliving.coop Due to the volume of submissions, we are unable to feature all the books we receive.

 

Alabama: The History of a Deep South State, Bicentennial Edition, by William Warren Rogers, Robert David Ward, Leah Rawls Atkins and Wayne Flynt, University of Alabama Press, $39.95 (state history) The book, at 808 pages, is a comprehensive narrative account of the state from its earliest days to the present. This edition, updated to celebrate the state’s bicentennial, offers a detailed survey of the colorful, dramatic and often controversial turns in Alabama’s evolution.

 

Covered Bridges of Alabama, by Wil Elrick and Kelly Kazek, Arcadia Publishing and The History Press, $23.99 (history) From their beginning as practical modes of transportation to their status as romantic, picturesque walkways, Alabama’s covered bridges have stood the test of time. They’ve become historic attractions both to those in their surrounding communities and the tourists who visit

 

Rush, by Lisa Patton, St. Martin’s Press, $26.99 (novel) The book was inspired by the author’s real-life experiences as a sorority member at Alabama, and born after an encounter with one of the sorority’s beloved housekeepers. Bothered by the fact that the staff of these multimillion-dollar sorority houses usually have no health insurance or retirement benefits, Patton decided to write a book that while fictional, is a call to change in the traditions that allow race and pedigree to remain factors in the treatment of staff and potential new members.

 

Tuscaloosa: 200 Years in the Making, by G. Ward Hubbs, University of Alabama Press, $24.95 (city history) Full of illustrations and historical photos, the book focuses on six key turning points that dramatically altered the fabric of the city over the past two centuries. The narrative traces the city’s origins as a settlement on the banks of the Black Warrior River to its development as a hub of higher education and collegiate sports.

 

Baseball in Alabama: Tales of Hardball in the Heart of Dixie, by Doug Wedge, Arcadia Publishing and The History Press, $22.99 (sports) Though football reigns as the king of sports in Alabama, the state has made its mark with the country’s national pastime. Thirteen players with Alabama roots are enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, including all-time greats like Hank Aaron, Ozzie Smith and Satchel Paige.

 

Deep in the Piney Woods, Southeastern Alabama from Statehood to Civil War, 1800-1865, by Tommy Craig Brown, $39.95 (regional history) The piney woods of south central and southeastern Alabama, commonly known as the wiregrass, is one of the most understudied areas in Alabama history. The book highlights the area’s formation and settlement, economy, politics, race relations and its role in both the secession of the state and the Civil War.

Rallying around the Flagg

Working to bring Coosa’s Flagg Mountain to new heights

The Flagg Mountain observation tower offers a 360-degree view of the area. In this drone photo, Cheaha Mountain can be seen beyond the peak of the tower roof. Photo courtesy Alabama
Forestry Commission

By Jim Plott

In April 1935, the Montgomery Advertiser proclaimed it would be one of Alabama’s most visited state parks once completed.

Citing its proximity to Montgomery and Birmingham, the newspaper said, “The park will be a spot known far and wide throughout the South … for with its beauty and quietude it will be an ideal location for one to spend vacations.”

But barely three years after opening, Weogufka State Park in Coosa County – unlike many other state parks built by the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps – fell back into obscurity, although it remained in use by its owners, the Alabama Forestry Commission, until 1989.

Flagg caretaker Meredith “Sunny” Eberhart, here with a copy of his book that focuses on his hike, is every bit an attraction on Flagg Mountain as the trails and tower. Photo by Jim Plott

Now a new spotlight is being shone on the 1,152-foot-high Flagg Mountain, where the park was situated.

The Alabama Hiking Trail Society, along with the recently formed volunteer group, Friends of Flagg, have, with the blessings of the Forestry Commission, reopened the 240-acre-site in the Weogufka State Forest.

The surviving CCC-constructed rustic cabins have been refurbished and are available for overnight lodging while work is expected to be started soon on returning the 70-foot-high rock observation tower, which crowns the mountain, to its historic glory.

Adding to Flagg Mountain’s appeal is that it is the start of the Pinhoti Trail, a 330-mile route that connects to the Appalachian Trail in north Georgia. Several shorter trails strung out like necklaces also adorn the mountain and the site is also part of the Alabama Birding Trails.

Flagg caretaker and veteran hiker, Meredith “Sunny” Eberhart, who also goes by the trail name “Nimblewill Nomad,” says while a lot of work remains, the progress is already beginning to pay dividends. The site draws in visitors almost daily, including many who have started or ended their Appalachian Trail trek there.

“Getting the mountain open to the public last summer for the first time in nearly two decades was a milestone,” says Eberhart, 80. “Folks have been coming to the mountain in increasing numbers. They’re interested in both the work done on the historic CCC structures and hiking.”

And while he might not admit it, visitors are also eager to hear Eberhart’s personal tales of his hiking the Appalachian and every major scenic U.S. trail.

It was Eberhart’s reputation that drew hiker Nathan Wright and his family of nearby Sylacauga to Flagg Mountain.

“When I found out he was here, I decided to visit and see what was going on,” Wright says. “Despite living so close, I knew nothing about this place. Now we come up here one or two times a month to either camp or hike or help out. Sometimes we just sit and talk.”

The Forestry Commission also likes what it is seeing.

“With the beauty of the forest and the significance of the Pinhoti Trail starting here, restoring and maintaining the historical integrity of the fire tower at Flagg Mountain is very important to the Alabama Forestry Commission,” State Forester Rick Oates says. “We’re looking forward to reopening the tower in the near future for everyone’s enjoyment, and we hope it will become a popular Alabama destination.”

Volunteers Craig Thornton and Joe Jones smooth in the concrete walk to one of the cabins. Photo courtesy of the Alabama Hiking Trail Society

New life on Flagg Mountain

Following renovation, Friends of Flagg slowly began breathing life back into the mountain. In 2018 the group began holding “First Friday on Flagg,” a monthly potluck supper designed to reacquaint locals and introduce newcomers to the mountain while also building support.

In December, the group held its first Pinhoti Winterfest, an all-day event that included a trail run, camping and hiking programs and vendors. And the group, which relies on donations and volunteer support, has begun selling Flagg-logoed souvenirs.

Weogufka State Park was one of several built in Alabama under President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal policy, intended to provide employment to people during the Depression. More than 200 workers, mostly from New York and New Jersey, were employed at the Weogufka site in the early 1930s. Although many were unfamiliar with construction, the workers, living in an army-type environment, succeeded in building the tower, cabins and access road and damming a creek and installing lines to supply water uphill to the cabins.

Yet the park was never completed, and when the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources was formed, Weogufka State Park, unlike other CCC park projects, didn’t make the cut.

Instead it remained in the hands of the Forestry Commission, which used the tower as a fire look-out post and the cabins to house rangers and provide an office.

John Roberts, whose father was the ranger, recalled the time he spent on Flagg Mountain “some of the best years of my life.” His family moved into the caretaker’s house when he was 3 and lived there for 14 years until his father, L.D. Roberts, died in the line of duty.“I didn’t think so then, but looking back I had some of the best experiences of my life,” recalls Roberts, 78. “We would walk to the creek to swim. I had to walk to school, and our closest neighbor was three miles away.”

Twilight descends on the Flagg Mountain tower in this time-lapse photo.
Photo courtesy Chris Kent

Before he died, L.D. Roberts hired Kate Prater, a local resident who became legendary during her 35 years as tower keeper and radio operator. Long-timers said “Miss Kate” had the ability not only to spot wildfires a county away, but to pinpoint their location. She also developed the ability to predict heavy rain days ahead of time by noticing when the tower’s interior stone walls developed condensation. After its discontinued use, the site began a rapid decline until another CCC group stepped in. The Coosa County Cooperators, a local group of volunteers, provided new metal roofs for the tower and adjoining structures and repaired broken windows and damaged wood throughout the complex.

“They basically saved the whole place from falling down,” says local resident and AHTS member Callie Thornton, who helped initiate the Flagg renovation. “Had it not been for their work, we probably wouldn’t have had anything to work with.”

While Eberhart admits that Flagg Mountain will likely never ever rejoin the inventory of other state parks, it has an opportunity to regain its glory status.

“Flagg Mountain is a monumental mountain; it is a very special place both historically and geographically,” Eberhart says. “Of historic significance is the old Civilian Conservation Corps complex. Of geographic importance, it is the southernmost mountain in the Appalachian Mountain Range. Through continuing and ongoing efforts by AHTS and AFC, it is certainly destined to become a very important asset for Coosa County and the state of Alabama.”

Getting there

Flagg Mountain can be accessed by a number of different routes. These are the easiest for most travelers:

From Birmingham: Take Interstate 65 south to Exit 212 in Clanton. Turn left onto Alabama Highway 145. Within two miles veer right on Chilton County 55. Travel about 20 miles (crossing Lay Lake). Turn right at the Flagg Mountain sign (CCC Camp Road). Follow signs to the cabins and caretakers lodge or to the tower, which is higher on the mountain.

From Montgomery: Travel north on Interstate 65 to Exit 212 in Clanton. Turn right on Alabama Highway 145. Then follow the remainder of the directions above.

NOTE: Gates to cabin are open almost daily, but because the complex is staffed by volunteers, visitors should send a text to 417-543-3801 to ensure gates are open or to reserve a cabin for the night.

For more information on Flagg Mountain, search on Facebook for the public group “Friends of Flagg.”

The go-to book for teachers of Alabama history

Illustration by Dennis Auth

In 1954, fresh on the cusp of literacy and hungering for new and exciting stories, I entered the fourth grade at the Grove Hill Elementary School and was assigned to the class taught by Mrs. Willie Tucker.

There, for the first time, I was “taught” Alabama History.

Earlier I had absorbed bits and pieces of our state’s past from tales told in my family, but this was the first time I was exposed to Alabama’s history in all its grandeur. I was hooked.

Looking back, I realize that what Mrs. Tucker taught was a reflection of her own interests, and if it did not interest her, she left it out.

Face it. We all do that.

Back to the point.

Mrs. Tucker began with the Indians and for weeks we made model Indian villages in the big sandbox she had in a corner of the room. Then she brought in the white settlers and recounted the heroic struggles – the Canoe Fight, Horseshoe Bend, Fort Sinquefield and such – until the Native Americans were defeated and we became a state.

Because so much of this happened in and around our county, history took on a particular reality. One of my classmates, a guy who lived close to where some of it occurred, brought in a bone spear point that he claimed he found where an Indian camp had once been. If Mrs. Tucker knew he had fashioned it himself from the leg of a dearly departed cow, she never let on. Instead she put it among the arrowheads and other artifacts she had displayed.

In the middle of all this we paused to celebrate Thanksgiving, which I assumed happened on the Alabama River, somewhere around Gosport, and then she took up the story again.

Before I knew it, we had reached the “War Between The States,” but rather than fill our impressionable minds with state’s rights and slavery and all that, she told of how local men signed up and marched away to fight.

Some, I learned later, did not return.

Then the class lost its luster, and I cannot recall much of what we covered next. Helen Keller, maybe. Bibb Graves, possibly. World War I, the Rainbow Division and poppies, could be.  But she had nothing to match the stories she told before.

Where did she get them, I wondered?

Years later I found out. She got the stories from Albert James Pickett.

Those of you of my generation – and generations who came along before and after – were taught Alabama history in Alabama public schools by teachers who themselves were taught from Pickett’s History of Alabama, and Incidentally of Georgia and Mississippi from the Earliest Period. It was the go-to book for the stories that educated and enlightened teachers and students over the years since its publication in 1851.

Now, thanks to NewSouth Books, Pickett is back, but not just a reprint of an earlier edition. Instead, this is a carefully annotated work in which the commentary, provided by historian James P. Pate, is as interesting and informative as the text itself. It would not be going too far to say that this is a monumental achievement.

It is also fun to read, for though it is a hefty volume, both the text and the additions will entertain the interested layman as well as the history “buff.”

More than that, it is familiar – especially if you were educated in our fair state. In it you will find the old and often-told tales recounted and explained, fleshed out and documented so that Pickett’s achievement can be appreciated all the more.

In this book I rediscovered Mrs. Willie Tucker’s Alabama and was reminded of the richness of our heritage.

Enjoy and learn.

Harvey H. (Hardy) Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University and a columnist for Alabama Living. He can be reached at hjackson@cableone.net.

Ed. note: The Annotated Pickett’s History of Alabama is available online, in bookstores or through NewSouth Books, newsouthbooks.com.

Alabama People: Todd Stacy

On the Capitol beat

With his Alabama Daily News website, aldailynews.com, Prattville native Todd Stacy has created a platform that not only aggregates the top stories from local, state and national media outlets, but also provides strong original reporting on statewide issues. Since its launch in January 2018, his morning email digests have become must-reads for legislators, elected officials, journalists and anyone interested in Alabama politics. He took time out after a week in Washington, D.C., interviewing Alabama’s congressional delegation to answer questions for Alabama Living. – Allison Law

Can we start with your educational and political background, for the readers who may not know you?

I’m from Prattville and went to Auburn, where I studied public relations and journalism. My first job in politics was working for State Sen. Wendell Mitchell back when I was still in high school. My big break was working for Gov. Bob Riley as his press secretary.

After that I went to the Legislature, where I worked as the Speaker’s communications director, and then for Congressman Martha Roby leading her communications shop. There were several smaller campaign stints along the way, but that about covers the big jobs.

Have you always wanted to be involved in politics?

Growing up, all I wanted to do was play high school sports like my brothers did. But in ninth grade I suffered some concussions that ended my football playing days. That forced me to look for other outlets, and I got interested in student government and theater, both of which I was involved in throughout high school and college. 

I was fascinated by the idea that, under our political system, you can get almost anything you want with enough determination, organization and persuasion. I also began to understand early on that there are two types of people working in politics: those serving their own interests and those serving the interests of others. You could say I developed a sense of duty from thinking it was important for more people in the latter camp to be involved.

You were in Washington for several years, the center of the political world. What made you want to come back to Alabama?

I loved living in Washington. There’s nothing quite like it. But I never wanted to be there forever. And while the “center of the political world” is thrilling, I confess that I did eventually tire of the rat race. To me, whether you’re working in Congress or the State House or on the local school board, you’re there to make a positive difference on behalf of others. I was proud of the work I did in Congress, but I reached a point at which I believed I could make more of a difference elsewhere.

How has it been for you to come back to Alabama?

It has been great. I get to spend a lot more time with my family and go to as many Auburn games as I want.

Talk about the genesis of Alabama Daily News.

I’ve always been interested in the media business. Around January 2017, Mike Allen and Jim Vandahei left Politico and founded Axios, a brand new email and web-based media company in D.C. Mike’s morning news email quickly became must-read material for senators, congressmen, Capitol Hill and White House staff. And because those influential people are reading, it creates a very valuable ad space for organizations that want to reach them. It kind of just clicked that, “Hey, I can do the same thing in Alabama.” Also fundamental to the idea was my desire to improve the media landscape in Alabama. 

How has ADN been received by elected officials?

Really well. They pretty much all read, which is great. I just spent a week in D.C. where I had meetings and interviews with the congressional delegation, and I was blown away by how many people said the Daily News was an essential part of their morning routine.

Washington officials and staff really like having a way to keep up with what’s going on in Alabama, while their counterparts here in the state like knowing what’s happening in Washington with a little explanation from someone who has been there. That crosscurrent is my specialty. 

What’s next for ADN? 

We’re growing! I recently brought on Mary Sell, who is widely known as one of Alabama’s best political reporters. ADN is offering a Capitol News Service. So few newspapers can afford to have their own State House beat reporters, but their readers still want to know what their local delegation is up to. So we’ll provide quality, localized content for local papers for an affordable fee.

Also, I’m starting a podcast called “In the Weeds.” It’s a weekly program where we pull back the curtain on Alabama politics so you can get to know how our top public officials go about their jobs.

Anything else you want to mention or talk about?

Thank you to everyone who subscribes and reads every day! Oh, and don’t forget to click on an ad every now and then.

Practice prevents panic in case of a home fire

By Richard Bauman

If the piercing squeal of a smoke alarm and the smell of smoke awakened you, what would you do? Call 9-1-1, report the fire and get out of the building following your escape plan.

You don’t have an escape plan? Well, you’re not alone. Most of us probably haven’t defined escape routes from our homes, held family fire drills or practiced how we would get out of our burning home — but we need to.

Home fires are killers. According to the National Safety Council, “Eighty-five percent of all fire deaths occur in the ‘safety’ of home.” The NSC says:

• A home fire occurs every 55 seconds in America

• There are more than 1,500 home fires every day

• For every person who dies in a fire, about 100 more sustain serious injuries

• Two-thirds of fire victims are trapped on upper floors of their homes

The high percentage of deaths upstairs is understandable. Fire feeds on combustibles such as paper, draperies and furniture. They ignite quickly and produce flames, super-heated air and toxic gases that race through halls, stairways and open doors with explosive fury.

Nonetheless, you stand a good chance of escaping with pre-planned escape routes.

Working smoke detectors are the first line of defense in home fire safety. The National Fire Protection Association says there should be at least one on each level of your home, including the basement.

Planning your escape routes

A fire escape plan should include:

  • Two separate escape routes from each room of your home.
  • Escape plans for each level of your home, including the basement
  • A designated place to meet, away from the burning building
  • Home fire drills at least a couple of times a year.

First, draw a floor plan for each level of your home. (Visit NFPA.org/escapeplan for a free downloadable escape floor plan template.) Sketches will do, but be sure to include:

  • All windows, doorways and staircases.
  • In each room, determine a primary escape route and an alternate route that will get persons out of the house or building.
  • Give bedrooms special attention since nighttime fires are usually the most deadly.

Older persons, young children and those with disabilities or physical limitations may need special assistance to escape a fire, and should receive careful consideration as you plan fire escape routes.

According to the National Fire Prevention Association, smoke and fumes cause nine out of ten house fire deaths. A couple of breaths of hot, poisonous, suffocating air can burn out your lungs. For this reason alone, experts say you should sleep with bedroom doors closed. It is a barrier to smoke, fumes and fire. With the doors closed, you have several more minutes to escape the fire.

If you are awakened by the smell of smoke or the squeal of a smoke alarm, don’t immediately open your bedroom door. First, feel the door. If it is hot, don’t open it — there isn’t anything good waiting for you on the other side. If it isn’t hot, experts say you should place your weight against the door and with your face turned away, slowly open the door about an inch. If the air that seeps through the opening is hot or smoky, or there is pressure against the door, slam it shut. Use one of your escape routes to get out of the building.

Home fire drills

Home fire drills help family members practice escaping the home if there should be a fire. They can also make you aware of obstacles that could hinder someone’s escape.

Ideally, you’ll use a doorway to escape, but if fire blocks that route you can use a window instead. Fire drills are an opportunity to assure windows, screens, or storm windows open easily, and that everyone knows how to open them. If there are burglar bars on windows, make sure the opening mechanism for them operates smoothly and easily.

Escaping through lower floor windows usually isn’t too difficult, but upper story windows are a different matter. For those who live in multi-story houses or buildings there are rope ladder type fire escapes. Such ladders are secured to either the floor or wall studs. They can be tossed out the window and you, and others, can climb down to safety. There are also permanently installed fire escape ladders for home use.

If the room is smoke-filled, crawl, with your head about eighteen inches above the floor, to get to the escape route door or window. If you can’t escape the building, and have to stay in a room, get close to a window, and open it a crack. Use towels, bedding or even clothes to block the space below the door and in door cracks to keep out gases and smoke.

No matter your escape route from the house, once you are out safely, stay out. Forget about saving valuables, pictures or documents.

Talking with family members about fire and escaping it is important. It might be uncomfortable to do so, but that’s better than ignoring it and being injured or dying in fumes, smoke and flames you and they could have escaped.

Pets: Loving yet aloof, companion cats rule the household

The winter is still with us. Pets still need to stay warm. After the January article about outdoor pet housing, an Alabama Living reader reminded us about straw (not hay) as an excellent bedding material.

Another client asked about a Great Pyrenees puppy. When can they start to stay outdoors? Although the guardian breeds are a lot more cold tolerant, no puppy can regulate their body temperature well. They should stay in a protected warm place till they become an adult.

In this month’s article, we will talk about cats, the little lions in our bedrooms.

Any cat owner knows that cats are far from being little dogs – they play differently, they love differently, they have a different role in the hierarchy of the household. They are the boss!

Scientists believe cats originated in Egypt about 10,000 years ago. Then they spread all over the world via sea routes and migrating farmers. Now, they are on every continent except Antarctica.

Cats have special needs. One of the most important is probably their need for water. We believe that cats should stick to wet food entirely for many reasons. The two most important ones are that wet food has a lot more water, and dry food tends to be much higher in carbohydrates, which may not be appropriate for cats.

No matter whether you feed dry or wet, your cat could still enjoy a continuous-flow water fountain. There are even stainless steel water fountains for cats that may be allergic to plastic.

A cat’s tongue has little barbs that face backwards. Any string or thread-like material can get caught and forced down the throat, causing serious damage to the intestinal tract. Be sure to keep yarn, ribbons and tinsel out of kitty’s reach.

Cats are rather quiet about sharing their pain. As kitties age, watch for lower back sensitivity. They may also be slightly hesitant to jump up on their perch. Some studies show that 60 percent of cats over 10 years of age may have arthritis.

In an older cat, accidents outside the litter box can indicate that kitty is in too much pain to climb into the box.

A relationship with a cat is an amazing experience! If you don’t have one, talk to a friend who is a seasoned cat owner and then head to the shelter to save a life.

Here is one last, but highly pertinent and potentially controversial subject. As an avid environmentalist, I firmly believe that domesticated cats should remain strictly indoors with adequate environmental enrichment. Let me know your thoughts.

Goutam Mukherjee (Dr. G), DVM, MS, PhD., has been a veterinarian for more than 30 years. He owns High Falls Holistic Veterinary Clinic in Crossville. Email questions of general interest to drg.vet@gmail.com.