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Gardens: The roots of fall flavor

I grew up watching Bugs Bunny go to great lengths for some carrots.  Me, though, I didn’t “carrot all” for them. That is until I tasted the sweetness of a crisp, garden-fresh carrot and began to appreciate Bugs’ infatuation with them.

If you’re fond of fresh carrots, you’re living in the right state. Alabama’s climate allows us to grow carrots and many other root vegetables as both spring and fall crops. And now is the ideal time for a fall planting.

There are lots of reasons to love root vegetables, but it’s their diverse array of flavors — from sweet to zesty to earthy to nutty — that make them especially appealing on salads and as cooked dishes. And these days they are available in an equally diverse array of colors, shapes and sizes.

Take color for example. In addition to the familiar orange carrot that Bugs adores, we can also nibble (or chomp) on red, purple and yellow carrots. Today’s radishes range from the standard reds and whites we all know and love to radishes with pink and black skins and yellow, pink and green inner flesh. The same goes for beets — think beyond the typical purplish-red beet to golden, pink and striped options.

Then there’s shape. How about a little round carrot that looks more like a beet or a radish, or radishes and beets that look more like carrots? Or maybe a giant daikon radish that weighs more than a pound? The options are abundant!

Because root crops are easy to grow, they are perfect for gardeners of all skill levels. In addition, root vegetables don’t need a lot of room to spread out their root systems so they are ideal for small garden areas or for planting in containers (just make sure the pots are deep enough for their taproots to fully form).

Root vegetables can also be inter-planted with one another or with other crops, and they are easy to grow in succession plantings — sow a few seeds every couple of weeks and you’ll always have a new crop coming on.

Best of all, root crops have few disease or pest issues (yes, wild rabbits can be a problem, but they can usually be controlled with repellents — no Elmer Fudd or Mr. McGregor techniques needed) and require little pampering.

For optimal production, they need six to eight hours of sunlight each day, about an inch of water each week and a loose (“fluffy”), well-drained soil that is free of weeds and of rocks, dirt clods or other debris that might hamper their growth. The soil should be rich in potassium and phosphorus (but not too much nitrogen) and have pH levels between 5.5 and 7, so for best results test your soil and make amendments to it before you plant.

The easiest way to grow root vegetables is from seed, and most of these plants have small, sometimes tiny, seeds so it can be hard to nail their ideal plant spacing. If you end up with overcrowded seedlings, simply thin them but don’t throw those seedlings away! They, like the leafy tops of most root vegetables, are edible and can be used to add fabulous, interesting flavors to salads, stir fries, pastas and other dishes.

While the season for spring-planted root vegetables is limited by hot weather, which can make them tough and bitter, many fall-planted root crops can be left in the ground and harvested well into the winter months. Cover them with a thick layer of mulch during the cold months and you may well get to enjoy them until its time to plant the spring crop.

Imagine, garden-fresh carrots for months on end … just don’t let Bugs know.

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

Montevallo encourages students to get outdoors

Many students keep a tradition of leaving school to go hunting or fishing whenever they can. However, for some young people attending the University of Montevallo, the school not only allows them to take great outdoors adventures, but even encourages – and pays them!

Dr. John W. Stewart grew up exploring the salt marshes of Delaware, but missed the outdoors when he attended college away from home. Now the University of Montevallo president, he began the UM President’s Outdoor Scholars Program in 2015 to encourage students to learn about future employment opportunities in the outdoor industry with an emphasis on conservation and game management.

“The University of Montevallo’s President’s Outdoor Scholars Program is committed to educating the next generation on the values of work ethic and conservation to lead the way in protecting our heritage for the benefits of our wildlife, lands and natural resources,” Stewart says.

The program awards scholarships averaging about $2,500 a year toward their education for up to four years. In the first year, the program provided eight students with more than $20,500 in scholarships. In the second year, 22 students received $43,000 in scholarships. This year, about 40 scholarship recipients began the 2017 school year.

Students enrolled in the University of Montevallo’s President’s Outdoor Scholars Program participate in various outdoors activities including fishing and hunting. Here, Ashley Hawk, J.T. Russell and Porter James learn shooting skills and gun safety at a firing range. (Photo courtesy of the University of Montevallo’s President’s Outdoor Scholars Program)

The outdoors scholars must maintain at least a 2.5 grade point average. In addition, they must attend monthly on-campus meetings and other activities related to hunting and fishing. They must also complete coursework on the outdoors and the environment, learn how to prepare fish and wild game for the table and attend periodic lectures related to the outdoors.

“It’s a scholarship for students who have a passion and desire for the outdoors,” says William Crawford, program director. “We have scholarships for people with athletic skills or music skills. Why not have a scholarship program for students who love the outdoors and are good at it?

“We’re educating our students on different career opportunities in the outdoors industry by bringing in different speakers. As part of the program, the students also get involved with doing conservation projects to try to teach them how to put back something in the lands and natural resources and make things better.”

The outdoors scholars and the UM bass fishing team participated in the “Gone Fishin’, Not Just Wishin’” event at Oak Mountain State Park. The students taught about 1,000 young people from Jefferson and Shelby counties how to bait hooks, cast rods and catch fish. They also released about 2,000 fish.

The outdoors scholars also participated in a Kidz Outdoors event at Soggy Bottom Lodge in Linden, Ala. The event helped children with disabilities take part in various outdoors activities. The Kidz Outdoors event raised $54,000 to be used to take terminally ill children on a hunting trip of a lifetime.

Probably the most popular part of the program, besides receiving money to attend school, is that the students take various “field trips” through the year. These trips aren’t just to a museum. Since 2015, students fished for redfish and speckled trout in Venice, La., and caught blue marlin in the Bahamas. In Alabama, the students hunted ducks, deer and quail as well as caught largemouth bass.

“Anything we can do to introduce our students to the outdoors, we try to do it,” Crawford says. “Most of our students grew up hunting white-tailed deer and bass fishing. We’re trying to introduce them to new things as well as let them do the things they’ve grown up doing. It’s so fascinating to see these students start to love and understand the importance of everything in nature.”

Any high school senior with a desire to become involved in the outdoors or go into an outdoors-related industry can apply for a scholarship. Students can also transfer in from community colleges. The scholarship money comes from various individual, corporate and foundation donors.

“We’re looking for any students who want to further their education and be associated with a program tied to the outdoors,” Crawford says. “We appreciate any help we can get from donors who want to support the program and help these students stay connected to the outdoors. If not for them, we wouldn’t be able to do this.”

In August 2017, the Alabama Wildlife Federation honored the University of Montevallo President’s Outdoor Scholars Program with its Conservation Educator of the Year award. The university also plans to build a lodge on campus to house scholarship students. It should open in 2018.

“The lodge will be our little hangout where we can have meetings and students can store their outdoors equipment,” Crawford says. “It will also have a boathouse where our fishermen can store their boats. We’ve very excited to have that addition.”

For more information, contact Crawford at 205-665-6216 or email Visit


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

Alabama Bookshelf: September

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

Poles, Wires and War: The Remarkable Untold Story of Rural Electrification and the Vietnam War

by Ted Case, $15.95 (history)

During one of the hardest chapters in American history, electric co-ops volunteered to win the war in Vietnam. They didn’t win the war, but in his new book, the author tells a riveting story of how they tried. He argues that the success electric co-ops had in the conflict that divided our nation just might have helped that southeast Asian nation recover more quickly by demonstrating the value of bringing electricity to the countryside.

What followed was a classic battle of enormous personalities, foreign and domestic political and military maneuvering, and a determined band of people who brought electricity to the American countryside, fighting the odds to bring light to a war zone halfway around the world.

Case creates a fast-paced narrative as crews race the collapsing war to pass bylaws, organize the co-ops and tangle with corruption, bureaucracy, in-fighting, and oh yes, Viet Cong soldiers determined to destroy what they were creating. In the end, in less than four years, three electric co-ops were bringing electricity to more than 8,000 members.

Order online at

Here We May Rest: Alabama Immigrants in the Age of HB 56

by Silvia Giagnoni, NewSouth Books, $29.95 (current events)

Alabama’s 2011 Beason-Hammon Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act, also known as HB 56, sought to criminalize the lives of undocumented immigrants. The law triggered lawsuits and brought widespread criticism; federal courts later gutted much of the bill.

Author Giagnoni, herself an immigrant, wrote the book to explore the needs and relationships of others who shared the experience of immigration. She frames the bill in larger political, social and cultural contexts to help explain the current sentiments toward new immigrants in Alabama.

Once in a Blue Moon

by Vicki Covington, John F. Blair, Publisher, $26.95 (novel)

Against the background of Barack Obama’s 2008 election campaign, a group of struggling individuals are thrown together, tenants of a benevolent landlord in a Birmingham, Ala., neighborhood that has seen better days. The neighbors form their own brand of community, lifting each other up and bringing hope for a better future back into their lives.

The author, who grew up in Birmingham, asks questions about family, faith, race, class, and ultimately, hope.

The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry: Auburn Vs. Georgia

by Douglas Stutsman, Arcadia Publishing and The History Press, $21.99 (Southern sports history)

The rivalry between Auburn University and the University of Georgia began in 1892 and has largely been a competition more brotherly than bitter. According to one legend, Auburn’s “War Eagle” battle cry originated at the first game between the two schools. Renowned UGA coach Vince Dooley graduated from Auburn, while Auburn coach Pat Dye was an All-American at UGA.

Journalist Stutsman recounts the unforgettable games, moments and personalities on the 125th anniversary of the Deep South’s oldest rivalry.

Recipes: Cheese Please

These cheese-centric dishes are sure to make you smile

When you hear that a casserole or a dip is cheesy, that’s good. You happily pay more for extra cheese on a pizza. When someone wants you to smile for a photo, they tell you to say “cheese,” knowing that the word alone will bring such joy to your heart that it will shine through on your face. (And also, the way you must move your mouth to form the word forces it in the direction of a smile. But the word “fleas” would do the same thing, and you don’t hear photographers using that prompt.)

The point is, the word cheese and its variations are often positive. Until they’re not. If someone tells you a lampshade, television show, outfit or anything not food-related is cheesy, that’s negative. So how and when did this use of the word enter our lexicon?

A quick Internet search reveals several possibilities, but most trace its origins back to England in the mid- to late-1800s, when the word “cheese” moved from slang denoting wealth to a derogatory word for something or someone that was “showy” or “gaudy.”

Over time, its meaning has broadened. Folks today can use it as described above, but also as a synonym for tacky, sappy, inauthentic and more. And the term is highly subjective. What one person deems cheesy could just as likely be adorable, sentimental, fashionable or funny to someone else.

No matter what things outside of the food world earn the title “cheesy” in your book, when it comes to eating, we flip the adjective back to affirmative, so much so it’s a safe bet that most of us don’t just say “cheese, please,” but “more cheese, please.”

And as our taste buds know and some of our reader-submitted recipes show, you really can’t have too much cheese.

Cook of the month

Harper Reed, Tallapoosa River EC

Ten-year-old Harper Reed has always been interested in cooking, thanks to his family. “We have a small organic farm and grow a lot of our own food,” his mom Anna says. “And his dad does most of the cooking and always has the kids in the kitchen helping out.”

His Cheese Buttons are treats he developed while cooking with his grandmother, and they offer a fresh take (and shape!) on the classic cheese straw with the addition of Rice Krispies. “He just loves them, and we all love the crunch from the Krispies,” Anna says. “It’s different.”

Harper knew the recipe was a hit with his loved ones, but he didn’t think about submitting it until his mom suggested he practice his typing skills. “I thought he could type up some recipes to brush up, and if they were typed, why not send some in to the magazine.” So he did.

He was both surprised and thrilled to be named Cook of the Month. “He’s so excited,” Anna said. “It means a lot.”

Cheese Buttons


  • 1 pound sharp cheddar cheese, grated, at room temperature
  • 2 cups plain flour
  • ½ pound butter, melted
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper
  • 2 cups Rice Krispies
  • Sprinkle of salt
  • ¼ cup chopped pecans

Sprinkle flour on cheese and pour on melted butter. Add red pepper. Add Rice Krispies to mix, and knead by hand until well blended. Roll into marble-sized balls and place on greased cookie sheet. Flatten with fork. Sprinkle with salt and chopped pecans. Bake at 300 degrees for 30 minutes. Cut oven off and do not open door for two hours. If they become soft they can be heated in a 200-degree oven for a few minutes.

Tangy Cheese Ring

Tangy Cheese Ring prepared by Allison Griffin
  • 1 pound grated extra sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • ¾ cup mayonnaise
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • ½ teaspoon Tabasco sauce
  • 1⁄8 teaspoon garlic juice or garlic paste
  • 1 small jar of strawberry preserves

Mix all ingredients and make into a circle and pour the preserves in the middle. Serve with your favorite crackers.

Jill Coale, Wiregrass EC

Stuffed Mushrooms

  • 1 package of mushrooms, stemmed
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 4 slices bacon, cooked and chopped
  • 1/3 cup mozzarella cheese
  • Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Clean mushrooms. Place them in a dish, cup side up, and drizzle with olive oil. Roast in oven 12 minutes. Microwave the cream cheese until soft and mix in bacon. Remove mushrooms from oven, sprinkle with salt and pepper, turn them over and salt and pepper again. Stuff mushrooms with cream cheese mixture. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and top with mozzarella cheese. Bake 5 more minutes.

Summer Watson, Cullman EC

Cheese Frenchies

  • 12 slices white light bread
  • 6 teaspoons mayonnaise
  • 12 slices cheese
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1 package cracker crumbs
  • 2 cups cooking oil

Spread mayonnaise on six slices of the bread. Place two slices of cheese on top of the bread and top with the remaining bread slices. Cut each sandwich into triangles. In a mixing bowl, beat egg with milk. Dip each triangle into the milk-egg mixture and then dredge in cracker crumbs. Heat oil in a pan over medium heat. Fry each triangle until golden brown. Drain on paper towels.

Julia C. Fleming, Southern Pine EC

Cheddar Salsa Biscuit Bites

  • 1 2/3 cups self-rising flour
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • ½ cup salsa
  • ¼ cup margarine, melted
  • ¼ cup water

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Generously spray large cookie sheet with vegetable spray. In a large bowl, combine flour and cheese; mix well. Add salsa, melted margarine and water; stir until just combined. On a lightly floured surface, knead dough gently just until smooth. Press or roll out dough to 12-inch by 6-inch rectangle. With sharp knife or pizza cutter, cut into 2-inch by 1-inch strips. With thin spatula, place strips about ½ inch apart on greased cookie sheet. Bake 11-13 minutes or until light golden brown. Serve warm. Yields 36 biscuit bites.

Peggy Key, North Alabama EC

Three Cheese Fondue

  • 8 ounces shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 8 ounces shredded Swiss cheese
  • 8 ounces shredded Gruyere cheese
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • Dash hot sauce
  • 1 12-ounce bottle of good beer
  • Pinch of salt and pepper

For dipping:
Granny Smith apple slices
Soft German pretzels
Sourdough bread pieces

Combine all ingredients. Heat over low heat, stirring until melted through. Keep warm and dip apples, pretzels and bread pieces.

Kirk Vantrease, Cullman EC

Mini Pizzas

  • 1 six-count package English muffins
  • 2 cups shredded cheese, any kind
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 bunch green onions, chopped fine
  • 1 teaspoon garlic salt

Slice each muffin in half and place on an ungreased, foil-lined baking sheet. In large bowl, hand mix the cheese, onions, garlic salt and mayonnaise. Evenly divide the mixture onto each muffin half. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until bubbly. Remove from oven. Cut each muffin into four pieces and serve.

Linda G. Morton, Pioneer EC

South of the Border Cheese Pasta

South of the Border Cheese Pasta prepared by Lenore Vickrey
  • 1 pound pasta (can use elbow, penne, ziti or your favorite macaroni)
  • 1 16-ounce jar cheese sauce
  • 2 cups tomato salsa (mild, medium or hot)
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain, cover and set aside. In large saucepan, combine cheese sauce, salsa, and ½ cup Parmesan cheese. Heat through, stirring until well mixed. Add cooked pasta to cheese mixture, stir. Put in casserole dish and sprinkle with remaining ½ cup Parmesan cheese. Bake 15 minutes or until hot and bubbly.

Janice Bracewell, Covington EC

Coming up in October…Pies!

Please send us your original recipes, developed by you or family members, and not ones copied from a book or magazine. You may adapt a recipe from another source by changing as little as the amount of one ingredient. Cook of the Month winners will receive $50, and may win “Cook of the Month” only once per calendar year.

Submit your recipe here.

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.

The benefits of air source heat pumps


It looks like we’ll be needing to replace our furnace soon, and we’re wondering if a heat pump would help us save some money. Do you have any suggestions?


An electric air source heat pump can be a good alternative to a furnace system that runs on propane or fuel oil. A heat pump is also a cost-effective alternative to electric resistance heat that is used in electric furnaces and in baseboard and wall units.


How heat pumps work

In the summer, an air source heat pump acts as an air conditioner (AC) that draws heat from your home’s air and transfers it outside. In the winter, the system’s direction is reversed so that heat is pulled from the outside air and moved into your home.

The heat pump has two major components: the condenser (also called the compressor) that circulates refrigerant through the system; and an air handler that distributes the conditioned air. Most heat pumps are split systems, with the condenser located outside and the air handler inside. A packaged system contains both components in one unit that is placed outside your home. Heat pumps usually distribute the hot or cold air through the duct system. Ductless mini-splits, which can serve as many as four rooms, will be covered in next month’s column.

In the past, heat pumps weren’t efficient enough to work in colder climates. In recent years, however, technology has advanced to make them viable in climates with long periods of sub-freezing temperature, such as the Northeast U.S.

If your old furnace has an air conditioner (AC) attached, replacing both the heating and cooling system with the all-in-one solution of a heat pump might produce significant cost savings. If you are currently cooling with window units, or have an older central AC, moving to an air source heat pump could reduce your summer energy bills.

Heat pumps not only reduce energy costs, they can also eliminate the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning and problems that can occur with on-site storage of propane or heating oil.

Heat pumps must work harder to extract heat as the outside temperature drops. At some point the heat pump switches to resistance mode, which operates the same way a toaster or an electric baseboard heater works. If your area has very cold winters, you should consider a dual fuel system, which utilizes a heat pump along with a gas or propane furnace.

Selecting and installing

If you live in a cold climate, look for a unit with a higher HSPF rating, which measures heating efficiency; if you live in a warm climate, you probably want to focus more on the SEER rating, which measures cooling efficiency. The minimum standard heat pump is SEER 14 and HSPF 8.22. An easy way to compare options is to look for the ENERGY STAR® label. This indicates the unit is at least 15 SEER and 8.5 HSPF3. Visit to learn more about equipment, installation and qualified contractors.

How much can a heat pump reduce your energy costs? This depends upon the size and efficiency of your home, local energy prices and local climate. You can find calculators online that can help you predict energy savings. One entry with sample data found that the cost of heating in South Carolina, using a new heat pump and national average fuel costs, was less than half the cost of heating with a typical propane furnace or an electric resistance system. 

Energy auditors can predict energy savings with greater precision, and they can offer advice on choosing a specific brand and size of the unit. More importantly, energy auditors can suggest other ways to improve comfort or reduce energy use such as duct sealing or insulating the building envelope.

Your local HVAC dealer, if they have heat pump experience, can be very helpful. Many heat pumps are not installed correctly, so be sure to ask how they will ensure a quality installation. Contact your local electric co-op to find out what they recommend. They may even offer rebates, free audits or discounted rates for electric heat.

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

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


Hardy Jackson’s Alabama

Football in Dixie

Fall approaches.

Football season.

You can argue, as many do, that in different parts of our nation different sports are more special (Indiana and basketball come to mind) but down in Dixie, football has few competitors.

Now, I’ll grant you that NASCAR runs football a good race – pun intended.

NASCAR is a sport with roots in the pleasures of regular folks, of which we have a bunch.  All along a line beginning around Birmingham and running up into Virginia, a line that followed the hardscrabble farms and mill towns of the Piedmont, folks souped up their beat-up cars and ran whiskey from still to town.  And when they weren’t racing “revenuers” they raced each other.

On the other hand, football began as the sport of Southern elites – the ones who could afford college. And there weren’t many of those.

But once it got started (in 1877, Washington and Lee took on Virginia Military Institute in the first football game in Dixie) it did not take long for the sport to filter down to high schools.

It helped that football enjoyed a seasonal advantage. Cotton was picked, tobacco harvested and corn pulled, so country kids and town kids could play together. Class distinctions blurred.

Lots of folks participated. Eleven on a team. Substitutions were frequent. And there were auxiliary groups – cheerleaders, bands, pep clubs – which made football a true school event.

Football was also a measure of a community.

How do you know local schools are good? The football team is a winner.

Where is evidence of civic pride? In the stands on Friday night.

The sport drew in parents, aunts and uncles, grandparents, friends of the family, and just plain fans.

The following was equally intense among African Americans, for in the pre-integration South, teams and schools were the pride of the black community.

The advent of radio spread the game even more. The University of Alabama’s 1926 Rose Bowl victory put Dixie on the map, especially in the minds of Southerners.

Other events further broadened football’s appeal – the GI Bill sent more Southern boys and girls to college where they developed institutional loyalties that included loyalty to a football team. Then came TV. When ABC began broadcasting football, the pageantry and excitement was beamed right into Dixie’s living rooms.

Come September, everything fell into place.  At the end of the work-week, small towns across the South closed down for the high school game, and on Saturday afternoon friends (and foes) gathered around the TV to watch a college contest.

Football also followed the trajectory of Southern history. In 1970, when an integrated University of Southern California football team whipped the Crimson Tide, that defeat, (according to Alabama assistant coach Jerry Claiborne) “did more to integrate Alabama in 60 minutes than Martin Luther King did in 20 years.” Of course, integration was more complicated than that, but when football fans at white schools began to believe that winning was more important than segregation, segregation didn’t stand a chance.

So, it seems to me, because of football, Dixie is a better place than it might have been.

That says a lot.

Alabama Snapshots: Grandparents

Herman Hickman and great grandson Zander Taylor. SUBMITTED BY Emily Martin, Sylacauga

Lena Belle Smith and grandson Parker Smith. SUBMITTED BY Edith Smith, Troy

Martha Mercer and her great grandchildren. SUBMITTED BY Martha Mercer, Elmore

Papa Steve Stanton and granddaughter Ellyott Stanton. SUBMITTED BY Elliott Stanton, Loxley.

Carl and Debbie Clark with granddaughters Karleigh, Rylee, Avarey and Presley Sanders.SUBMITTED BY Jennifer Sanders, Andalusia

Woodie Glenn and granddaughter Danielle Hickman.SUBMITTED BY Woodie Glenn, Rockford.

Submit Your Images!

November Theme: “Heirloom Quilts” Deadline for November: September 30

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

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

Social Security: Q&A

Over the next two issues, I would like to share with you some common Social Security questions I receive on a variety of topics and my answers.

Question: My child, who gets Social Security, will be attending his last year of high school in the fall. He turns 19 in a few months. Do I need to fill out a form for his benefits to continue?

Answer: Yes. You should receive a form, SSA-1372-BK, in the mail about three months before your son’s birthday. Your son needs to complete the form and take it to his school’s office for certification. Then, you need to return page two and the certified page three back to Social Security for processing. If you can’t find the form we mailed to you, you can find it online at:

Question: I’m trying to figure out how much I need to save for my retirement. Does the government offer any help with financial education?

Answer: Yes. For starters, you may want to find out what you can expect from Social Security with a visit to Social Security’s Retirement Estimator at The Financial Literacy and Education Commission has a website that can help you with the basics of financial education: Finally, you’ll want to check out the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which offers educational information on a number of financial matters, including mortgages, credit cards, retirement, and other big decisions. Visit the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau at

Kylle’ McKinney, SSA Public Affairs Specialist, can be reached by email at

Rural hospitals need new revenue sources

Thirty-two of Alabama’s 46 rural hospitals are operating at a loss. That’s according to information recently developed by iVantage Health Analytics for the National Rural Health Association. Six rural Alabama hospitals have closed since 2009, tied with Georgia for the most closures in any state. An additional 14 rural Alabama hospitals have been identified as being at risk of closure.

Simply by being there, rural hospitals attract additional health care services and provide vital economic development opportunities for their service areas. With 41 of Alabama’s 67 counties projected to lose population between 2010 and 2040, our rural areas cannot afford a more threatened economic future by losing their local hospital.

The struggle to keep rural hospitals open is very complex. Rural hospitals receive lower reimbursement for the same service than hospitals in more urbanized areas. This poses a constant financial challenge. Continuing to offer health care services, such as obstetrics, that consistently cost more to provide than is reimbursed, is very important to the perception of local health care. Such consistent losses cannot be sustained forever.

In addition, government programs and private insurance have established admission and length of stay requirements that place many rural hospitals in a position of having daily inpatient censuses below the number of beds available for inpatient services.

Rural hospitals do not exist only to serve the local population. They provide a front line of health care defense for residents and visitors going through our rural areas who need immediate and critical health care services.

In response to financial threats, some rural hospitals are being innovative in welcoming and developing new sources of revenue. The Bibb Medical Center in Centerville and its administrator, Joseph Marchant, are an example. This medical center has 35 authorized beds with an average daily inpatient census of around 14 or 15.


This facility operates an affiliated rural health clinic to offer patients an option to the emergency room where care and reimbursement options may better benefit the patient and hospital. Approximately 24,000 primary care encounters were seen in this clinic last year. There is also an affiliated 131-bed nursing home with a current 92 percent occupancy rate.

However, this facility has established a 79-unit senior retirement community as a part of the hospital campus with 100 percent occupancy and a waiting list. This service has long-term benefits for the medical center since the majority elect to become residents in the affiliated nursing facility when independent living is no longer possible.

One of Bibb’s garden homes.

Residents are typically 55 or older and have underlying health care needs that prompt them to live near a medical center. The garden homes and apartments are available at highly impressive rates that include utilities, high definition Direct television, and lawn care. Other services such as meal delivery, laundry, etc. are available on a fee-for-service basis. Local physician care, dental care, Federally Qualified Health Clinic services, the cafeteria, and other services are readily available for community residents. The hospital offers health care advice and assistance in matters such as Medicare plan selection.

In addition to a new revenue stream that contributes to the financial stability of the medical center, the services of this retirement community are resulting in savings to individuals, families, and programs by delaying long-term facility residence for several years.

Another new revenue stream involves its cafeteria service, now named the Cahaba Lily Café, which has become one of the community’s favorite eating establishments, serving more than 24,000 non-patient meals last year.

With an uncertain reimbursement future, our rural hospitals and medical centers are encouraged to respond with innovation by developing additional revenue streams that may make the difference between remaining open or closing.

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

Spreading school spirit

College mascots say life behind the mask rewarding

They lead us in victory, console our defeats, and comfort with unwavering support. They are the mascots of college football. Requiring good grades, excellent physical conditioning, and the ability to ham it up in front of thousands, life is challenging in mascot mania. But life is good for those who don the suit. They love it. Here are some of Alabama’s favorites.

Blaze the Dragon

It’s not easy being green. It’s not easy walking on campus with wings and a tail either. But at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Blaze the Dragon does just fine. UAB’s reptile of renown originated in 1995. But the name “Blaze” was predestined, from 1978, after the school’s sports teams were nicknamed by student vote. “They tried other mascots,” recalls Ryan Martin O’ Connor, coordinator of cheerleaders. “We considered a rooster, and Viking, but finally felt Blaze was best.”

She adds, “No mascot has a suit like ours. The wings are huge and if not careful, his tail can knock you down.” He has to be very careful in a crowd. And he is always in a crowd. Everybody wants to be around him. And Blaze rocks. “Most people think mascot performers are extraverts,” says Ryan, “but that’s not necessarily the case. Many are more comfortable in the suit than out of it when it comes to performing crazy antics.” For a bulky winged serpent, this leaping lizard can cut the rug. Blaze owns the dance floor. UAB sources confirm, when performing “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae,)” no dragon is better.

Big Al

Named by University of Alabama student vote in 1979, Big Al the elephant is one of the most recognized sports mascots in America. His first public appearance was at the 1980 Sugar Bowl. Today he appears everywhere.

“When donning the elephant suit you become more than a mascot,” explains Big Al coordinator and former Alabama cheerleader Jennifer Thrasher. “You are an ambassador of the University. You must represent us in a positive way.”

Bama’s elephant is known for football games but sports are just part of the job description. He makes hundreds of public appearances annually and encounters situations from jubilant to sadness. “Big Al visits a lot of children’s hospitals,” Thrasher says. She related one such visit: a young child stricken with cancer too weak to offer little more than a feeble smile.

“Big Al sat at the little girl’s bedside, quietly holding her hand in silence,” Thrasher says. Later in private, the mascot removed the elephant head, revealing a college student with tears streaming down her face.

And then there is game day. “Every time you put on that massive head you are part of something bigger than you,” recalls Justin Sullivan of Nashville, mascot from 2011 to 2016. “I had no experience when selected as Big Al. I went from nothing to Bryant Denny Stadium, in front of 150,000 people. Even today it seems surreal.”

SouthPaw and Miss Pawla

Love is in the air at the University of South Alabama, Mobile: SouthPaw and Miss Pawla are engaged, in a classic tale of jaguar romance.

OK, it’s probably the only tale of jaguar romance, but earlier this year, at a USA pep rally, SouthPaw proposed to fellow jaguar mascot, Miss Pawla. She nodded yes. The affirmative came as little surprise because Miss Pawla has flirted with SouthPaw since she has known him, just like she does with most males. It is who she is and part of why USA loves them both.

“South Paw is the strong silent type,” says USA Cheer Coach Bre Kucera. “He is athletic, 7 feet tall, and dresses in accordance with the sporting event represented.” Pawla is shorter and a prissy–flirty feminine feline. They are cool cats, and in South Alabama, “cool” is not easy.

“It takes heat endurance to be our mascot,” Kucera says. “A football game down here can be 100 degrees on the field.” Try being in that heat totally encapsulated in simulated jaguar fur.

Not a problem for SouthPaw and Miss Pawla, because love conquers. And the only heat these two are concerned with are the warm hearts they have for each other.

Cocky the Gamecock

For the last five years, Niki Martin has been Cocky the Fighting Gamecock of Jacksonville State University. Martin graduated in April, relinquishing her title as rooster with an attitude. But as all costumed performers say, even after you’re gone, the mascot lives on.

“Oh yes, I was a crying mess,” Martin laughs, about giving up her feathered friend. “But it has been so rewarding. To put a smile on someone’s face, even for five seconds, helps them and helps me.”

Cocky goes beyond mascot. This bird is hilarious. “He is always in trouble, always doing something he should not be doing,” adds head cheer coach Dave Almeita. “That’s why people love him.” But despite the rooster’s rants, no one cries fowl.

“He’s a prankster but not a jerk,” Martin says. “After pulling a joke on someone, I always offered a handshake or hug, to show it’s all in fun.” Martin is credited for developing Cocky’s signature strut and personality. “Cocky is the guy the girls love and the guys want to be like,” she says.

Few people know for the last five years Cocky was a woman. Even less know Cocky was Martin. When asked what is it like being famous yet anonymous inside a mascot suit, Martin says, “It’s like being Clark Kent and knowing you are Superman.”

Tuskegee’s Golden Tiger

Herschel Freeman has a dilemma. He loves children but also portrays the feisty Golden Tiger for Tuskegee University. Kids and giant cats don’t often mix and Herschel is caught in the middle.

“It happens at almost every game,” the sophomore business major and mascot says. “I’ll be standing there in the costume and here comes a parent with a baby to thrust in my arms for a picture.” The child is terrified.

“Mascots can’t talk in uniform,” Freeman laughs. “But sometimes I want to shout to the dad, Oh, come on, man!  I’m a 6-foot tiger standing on two legs! What do you expect this baby to do?”

Like all good mascots, Freeman excels at reading situations. “I always let young children approach me. I don’t walk up to them.” And though he cannot speak, “I nod and make gestures. With experience, you become good at it.” Also like all good mascots, actions speak louder than words.

Aubie the Auburn Tiger

In 1979, Auburn University student Barry Mask was selected as the first Aubie the Tiger. “I wanted Aubie to be four things,” recalls Mask, who today is a Montgomery banker. “He had to be a good dancer, prankster, a ladies man, and love children.” Oh, how the tiger roared.

Today Aubie holds 9 UCA National Championships, more than any college mascot. He was the first inductee into the Mascot Hall of Fame, and is a state legend.

The 1979 Iron Bowl solidified Auburn’s mascot as a cat to reckon with because, of all people, Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant.

During the pre-game, Coach Bryant leaned against a goal post. Barry was Aubie. Wearing a crimson jacket and houndstooth hat, just like Alabama’s coach wore, Aubie sneaked up behind Bryant.

Curious as to why the crowd was cheering, the Bear turned to the Tiger, and did a double-take. Barry remembers, “In front of thousands, I was face to face, looking into squinting steel blue eyes of a legend glaring back at me.”

Seconds later, Coach Bryant’s stare transformed into a smile. Pointing at the tiger’s houndstooth headwear, he chuckled, “Nice hat, Aubie,” and walked away.

Aubie has been cutting edge ever since. Mask, who later served in the Alabama House of Representatives, occasionally meets current mascots, and offers advice: “If you are not pushing the limits, you are probably not a good Aubie.”

T-Roy, Trojan of Troy

All hail mighty T-Roy: Warrior of the Wiregrass, gladiator of goodwill, and Trojan of Troy – now new and improved.

“He has a new and improved head and facelift,” says Kyle George, Troy University’s associate athletic director for marketing and sales. T-Roy first appeared in the mid-1980s. The upgraded one was seen throughout Alabama this summer on a state tour, but his official debut is September 9 at Troy’s first home football game.

The big noggin now allows better visibility through the eyes and improved neck support for the mascot’s interior human.  And not a moment too soon. Because when it comes to big man on campus, T-Roy rocks.

“One cool thing about mascots is they can go where a live person can’t,” adds Kyle. “They lift spirits and make people happy just by being around them.” The red-capped wonder frequently appears at children’s events, birthday parties, hospitals, alumni gatherings and almost anywhere his schedule allows.

But he walks a fine line between muscle-bound warrior and helmeted loveable softie. T-Roy is a powerful warrior through and through but a friendly one. He is stern yet fun. Toddlers are as comfortable with him as adults.

Typically, three to 5 students are helmet–ready at any given time. One wears the suit. The others attend the mascot. They are trained in the ways of Troy and Trojan spirit, ready to lead in battle or hug sweet babies.

See ya’ later, gladiator.



Here’s to those who push the limits, wear the suits, and bring fantasy to life for the joy of all the fans of College Town, Alabama.