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Don’t be misled by false Medicare or Social Security ads

Online and otherwise, there’s a lot of information out there, and sometimes it’s difficult to tell what sources are credible. With millions of people relying on Social Security, scammers target audiences who are looking for program and benefit information.

The law that addresses misleading Social Security and Medicare advertising prohibits people or non-government businesses from using words or emblems that mislead others. Their advertising can’t lead people to believe that they represent, are somehow affiliated with, or endorsed or approved by Social Security or the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (Medicare).

People are often misled by advertisers who use the terms “Social Security” or “Medicare.” Often, these companies offer Social Security services for a fee, even though the same services are available directly from Social Security free of charge. These services include getting:

  • A corrected Social Security card showing a person’s married name;
  • A Social Security card to replace a lost card;
  • A Social Security Statement; and
  • A Social Security number for a child.

If you receive misleading information about Social Security, send the complete ad, including the envelope, to:

Office of the Inspector General

Fraud Hotline

Social Security Administration

P.O. Box 17768

Baltimore, MD 21235

You can learn more about how we combat fraudulent advertisers by reading our publication What You Need to Know About Misleading Advertising at

You can also report Social Security fraud to the Office of the Inspector General at

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

Protect man’s best friend with adequate shelter

Many of our outdoor dogs could use extra bit of TLC. The primary concern is safety. They need to be in a confined space. Four dogs were shot and killed in our tiny neighborhood in the last 3 years for trespassing. A few months ago, as I was coming home from work, I watched a young German shepherd proudly trotting back from a chicken house with a chicken in its mouth. Next time, he may not be so lucky and will run a risk of getting shot.

An ideal boundary is a physical boundary, like a good quality fence, 4 to 6 feet tall. These fences are not hard to build. In deciding on the height of your fence, take into consideration your dog’s jumping or climbing abilities.

Half to one acre of fenced area will be sufficient in most cases. The cost is not exorbitant. One can plant evergreen trees along the fence to make their house an island of tranquility and increase their property value.

The perimeter can also be established with an “invisible fence.” For some highly impulsive dogs, the wireless fences may not work. When they are chasing something, they simply ignore the electronic signal but when things settle and it is time to come home, they don’t want to risk coming back though the radio field again. Please talk to a professional.

Placing a dog on a restraint, such as a chain or tether, can be OK if done for a short period, or while supervised, and if the tether is secured in such a way that it can’t become entangled with other objects. An otherwise friendly and docile dog, when kept continuously chained or intensively confined in any way, can become neurotic, unhappy, anxious and often aggressive. Also, collars should be comfortable and fitted properly.

After the perimeter comes the concern of shelter. Our summers are brutal and our winters can be challenging. A good rule of thumb: if it isn’t tolerable for you, it probably isn’t tolerable for them. A simple hut with raised flooring can be easily built over a weekend. It is wise to block north, south and west sides of the shelter. If constructing a building is not in your plan, buy the biggest enclosure you can afford. Place the enclosure about 6 to 8 inches above ground on a small deck. If you don’t have a garage full of power tools, this a valid excuse to buy some.

Be careful about providing heat for the winter months in the shelter. A friend’s mobile home caught fire from the heating lamp in the dog shelter. Have a qualified electrician handle any electrical work.

Dogs are social animals! Even outdoor dogs need regular human interaction. If possible, bring the dogs inside after dark. In the end, let’s not forget them outside!

Goutam Mukherjee, DVM, MS, Ph.D. (Dr. G) has been a veterinarian for more than 30 years. He works part time at Grant Animal Clinic and is a member of North Alabama Electric Cooperative.

Take to the trails

Varied terrain makes Alabama a mountain biking destination

By John N. Felsher | Photos by Billy Pope, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

Chewacla State Park has become a prime destination for mountain bikers. The Central Alabama Mountain Pedalers (CAMP) group has constructed many miles of biking trails and structures such as this ramp at the park.

Many Americans grew up riding bicycles as their primary form of independent transportation until they learned how to drive automobiles. In recent years, cycling enthusiasts have taken their sport to higher levels, literally and figuratively. Today, Alabama offers riders abundant trails running through terrain as varied as sandy beaches and mountaintops.

“When it comes to mountain biking, Alabama is a hidden gem,” says Philip Darden, manager of James Bros Bikes in Opelika and the Alabama representative on the Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association (SORBA) executive board. “The state really has a lot to offer bikers from beginner to expert levels. The quality of rides is exceptional. I’ve ridden many different trails and some of my favorites are right here in Alabama.”

In 1989, SORBA ( formed to promote mountain biking and added regional chapters for cycling aficionados. Many association members periodically volunteer to build and maintain biking trails on public properties.

“I really encourage anyone who wants to try mountain biking to contact one of the riding associations,” suggests Mary Anne Swanstrom, president of SORBA-Huntsville ( “Mountain biking is not about speed. It’s about the experience and the camaraderie of riding with other people. I’ve seen children as young as three years old ride bikes that don’t even have pedals. The children push their way along.”

Chewacla State Park has a partnership with Central Alabama Mountain Pedalers (CAMP) that offers a great trail system to the public.

Learning to ride

People who want to try mountain biking shouldn’t buy the first cycle they see in a department store. People riding rugged mountain trails need strong equipment that can take abuse.

“There’s a big difference between riding a bicycle around the neighborhood and going on a mountain trail,” says Marcus Tillman, trail director for the Northeast Alabama Bicycle Association ( and the Anniston recreation trails manager. “Quality mountain bicycles start at about $400 to $600. More advanced bikes might cost $1,000. I’ve even known people to pay $15,000 for a custom state-of-the-art bike.”

Writing a big check doesn’t necessarily put a rider on the correct seat. Like riders, bikes also come in varied sizes. Darden recommends visiting a bike shop to get the proper equipment specifically suited to one person.

“In the last few years, mountain biking equipment has really gotten much better,” Darden says. “A prospective mountain biker needs a bike that fits that person’s size. People at a bike shop know how to put a bike together for a specific person. A correctly sized bike is more enjoyable to ride.”

Besides the bike, a rider needs a good helmet, which might cost $40 to $60. Many experienced riders also recommend wearing full-fingered gloves with padded palms and comfortable biking shorts with chamois pads. A new cyclist might also buy a small backpack to hold valuables, snacks, cell phone, maps and other items while riding.

Even with the best equipment, someone who hasn’t ridden a bicycle in years should not immediately hit the toughest mountain trails. Start pedaling around the neighborhood to build up leg muscles and endurance while becoming familiar with the equipment. Then, ride an easy trail, perhaps one with a few small hills, and progress from there.

“Someone getting back into biking should ease into it and learn how to use the equipment properly,” Tillman says. “Riders need to become comfortable with when and how to shift gears properly. People also need to practice braking. Grabbing just the front brake is usually not a good idea. People need to learn how to use the rear brakes and feather the front brakes.”

All kinds of terrain

Fortunately, riders ranging in skill levels from beginner to expert can find many trails coursing through diverse habitat all across Alabama. Many city, county and state parks offer trails of varied lengths and degrees of difficulty. In addition, cyclists can ride trails through many national forest or Forever Wild properties.

The largest state park in Alabama, Oak Mountain sprawls across 9,940 acres just south of Birmingham. Cyclists at all skill levels can ride several trails. Experienced riders like the Double Oak Trail, also called the Red Trail, which runs approximately 22 miles through mountainous terrain. In 2010, the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) placed Oak Mountain on its list of Epic Rides, making it one of the “must ride” trails in the world.

Chewacla State Park south of Auburn offers riders more than 30 trail miles. Named for the Central Alabama Mountain Pedalers ( who helped build and maintain it, the CAMP Trail runs about a mile through relatively flat terrain around the campground. Other trails, like the eight-mile long For Pete’s Sake Trail, wander through rugged rocky terrain.

“As a former president of CAMP, I’m most familiar with Chewacla,” Darden says. “We want to build trails that are easily accessible so people can jump into the sport without any previous experience and feel comfortable riding. We also want riders to have opportunities to progress in their skill levels so they continue to grow as mountain bikers.”

CAMP and other volunteers worked to construct a dual slalom trail, the first of its kind in the state and unique to most of the Southeast. The Chewacla trail will host the Southeastern Collegiate Cycling Conference’s 2018 Mountain Bike Championship in early October.

The Coldwater Mountain Doug Ghee Nature Preserve and Recreation Area ( covers 4,183 acres of Forever Wild property in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains by Anniston. Because of its status with the IMBA, people from surrounding states and even foreign countries frequently visit Coldwater Mountain, giving the Anniston area a tourism boost.

“The greater Anniston area has more than a hundred miles of trails,” Tillman confirms. “In terms of habitat, Alabama is one of the most varied states in the union, but the crown jewel is Coldwater Mountain. It has 37 miles of trails right now, but when we finish, it will have 70.”

The new Duck River Reservoir in Cullman just opened a 20-mile hiking and mountain biking trail that circles the entire lake. Susan Eller with the Cullman Economic Development Agency says it’s already attracted cyclists from across northern Alabama, and they intend to market it to local residents but also to create tourism dollars.

South of Anniston, Cheaha State Park offers incredible riding opportunities. Cheaha Mountain, the highest point in Alabama, reaches 2,413 feet. People can also bike through parts of the Talladega National Forest, including Coleman Lake Recreation Area north of Heflin.

In northern Alabama, many people ride the trails at Monte Sano State Park near Huntsville. In the fall, park visitors enjoy spectacular views of mountains emblazoned with colorful foliage. Riders can choose among 14 miles of trail that range from very easy to extremely difficult. The adjacent Monte Sano Land Trust Preserve offers another 20 trail miles.

“Northern Alabama has some wonderful bike trails,” Swanstrom says. “On Monte Sano, the terrain is rocky so people need to have some ability to ride the trails. Mountain biking is a wonderful way to enjoy nature and the mountain scenery while getting good exercise. It’s a very social sport, whether people just get out with a few friends to ride or they join hundreds of other people participating in an organized ride.”

Although lacking mountains, cyclists can still find ample cycling opportunities in southern Alabama. In Mobile County, Chickasabogue Park provides 17 miles of trails wandering through hardwood forests, sandy pine flats and over bridges crossing lowlands. In southeastern Alabama, Dothan coordinated with the Alabama State Lands Division to build a 319-acre park that features 10 miles of trails.

“The Dothan Forever Wild trails are multi-use, but their primary purpose is for mountain biking,” says Evan Lawrence with Alabama State Lands. “The terrain is somewhat flat, but the city added some features. The trails go through mixed hardwood and pine forests and cross Beaver Creek, which is very swampy.”

All over Alabama, cyclists can usually find a place to ride close to home with a quick internet search. For Alabama state park information, see

Mountain biking in Alabama’s state parks is for every age.

The healing power of nature

Flower photos help daughter connect to mom with Alzheimer’s

By M.J. Ellington | Photos by Elmore DeMott

This pink dogwood blossom, shot in rain in Florence, took hours of waiting for just the right light and shows results of being patient, something that Elmore DeMott recommends for even novice photographers.

What started out as a trip of curiosity to take a few photographs led one Alabama woman to a professional career as a nature photographer.

The career, in turn, led Elmore DeMott to a personal commitment to capture an image of a different special flower each day to share with her mother, Elmore Inscoe, who has Alzheimer’s disease.

The convergence of DeMott’s sophisticated nature and plantation burn photographs and “Flowers for Mom,” her ongoing daily photographic gift to her mother, will be on display in September at a Tuscaloosa art gallery. Proceeds from sales of her work will benefit Black Warrior Riverkeeper, a nonprofit that advocates for clean water.

DeMott began photographing one flower each day as a way to have a daily personal connection with her mother, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2016. The result is a topic that draws on Inscoe’s fond memories but also acts as a link to today through her daughter’s work.

DeMott said the discipline of achieving the perfect image of a new flower each day for her mother has been a challenge, but she said the impact on people outside her family has been a wonderful surprise.

“Never did I dream that ‘Flowers for Mom’ would be so far-reaching. People literally send me pictures and ideas from all over the world,” DeMott says. The daily contact with her mom is important and the search for a different flower, a different angle, the perfect light in which to photograph have made DeMott look at things differently now.

“Much to the chagrin of my youngest daughter, I like to set a background as much as the foreground. So doing can take a photo from average to amazing. Unlike furniture, one cannot move a tree, so there is a lot of luck involved in having things that will line up and give a great background,” DeMott wrote in a “Flowers for Mom,” blog post on her website. The particular flower she refers to in the post is a bright pink dogwood tree blossom captured in the rain.

Foxglove at Jasmine Hill Gardens and Outdoor Museum, property that DeMott’s outdoors-loving parents bought and developed outside Wetumpka.

Gleaning from the gardens

DeMott’s mother is an outdoorswoman from Montgomery who, with her husband, Jim Inscoe, bought and expanded the private Jasmine Hill Gardens near Wetumpka. The previous owners designed their garden as a private tribute to the flowers and statuary of Greece.

The Inscoes expanded the gardens and opened them for public access. Mrs. Inscoe also taught her daughter the art involved in taking care of and arranging beautiful flowers so much a part of the gardens.

Now, DeMott says her father, the family flower expert, gives her ideas for her mom’s flower photos and suggests places where she might want to check for a blossom. “It is fun now to walk through Jasmine Hill with my father. It gives me the greatest joy to talk about flowers with him in a positive way,” she says.

DeMott said she is touched by the feedback she gets from others. “In a positive way, it has been a beautiful thing to share through flowers, through art and speaking about the challenges our family is going through with Alzheimer’s disease,” DeMott says. “No matter what your hardships, you can share through flowers.”

How the girl who grew up in a nature-loving family evolved from a Vanderbilt University math graduate and banker into a photographer – who chronicles images in nature with a different angle – is a story with twists and turns that come together as art.

“Nature photography has always been my favorite because I’m outside,” says DeMott, who loved spending time outdoors on the property her family owned in Elmore County. One day, her husband, Miles DeMott, suggested she go with him to a controlled plantation burn and take her camera.

Before long, DeMott’s early photo exhibits of pine trees and her controlled burn fire shots began to take their place in gallery showings, and her career as a nature photographer took off. The controlled burn photographs, sometimes printed on aluminum, give a dramatic shimmering backdrop for the orange flames licking the undergrowth beneath towering pine trees.

DeMott still loves photographing pine trees she remembers from childhood. She and her husband are co-authors of a book of her pine tree photographs, “Chulee – Spirit of the Pine Tree.”  She also drew on the experiences as a member of a quail-hunting family for the dramatic images in her controlled fire burn photographs.

Decades ago, the men in the family and their friends went quail hunting. In that era, women did not hunt quail, but the practice has opened for women in recent years, she says. Burning the undergrowth on quail plantations enables hunters to walk without obstacles, see clearly where they are going and enjoy nature. The controlled burns remove undergrowth that could catch fire rapidly with more damaging results if the source were from natural causes.

DeMott said she hopes her photographs encourage people to take time to see the beauty in nature as a way to rejuvenate. “Beauty is all around us. Seek it,” she says.

For information about Elmore DeMott’s photography: For information about Jasmine Hill Gardens outside Wetumpka:

Rose from a friend’s garden photographed in Montgomery.

“Flowers for Mom” will be the focus of a fundraiser from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Sept. 14 at Harrison Galleries, 2315 University Blvd., Tuscaloosa.

The public is invited to the fundraiser to benefit the nonprofit Black Warrior Riverkeeper, which works to protect the endangered habitat along the Black Warrior River and its tributaries in 17 counties. The exhibit will be at the gallery through Sept. 21.

Land trust helps preserve north Alabama’s natural spaces

By Aaron Tanner

North central Alabama is a diverse natural area, with an abundance of caves, sinkholes and plants and wildlife unique to the region. But this part of the state has also rapidly exploded in population.

The Land Trust of North Alabama is a non-profit dedicated to conserving natural resources and preserving vulnerable land for people in the Tennessee Valley. Since the late 1980s, when the organization was formed to prevent the west side of Monte Sano Mountain near downtown Huntsville from being lost to sprawl, the Land Trust has preserved more than 7,000 acres of land in five counties throughout North Alabama, along with creating more than 70 miles of public trails.

“As our city grows, we need to be responsible about how we grow in order to save the beautiful natural spaces we have,” says Melanie Manson, marketing director for the Land Trust of North Alabama.

A portion of the acreage owned by Land Trust of North Alabama is held strictly for conservation value. But seven Land Trust preserves are open to the public, each offering unique natural features along with different amenities for people to enjoy. Currently there are seven nature preserves, all located in Madison County, owned by the Land Trust of North Alabama. Each preserve offers hiking trails with varying levels of difficulty.

These preserves receive visitors locally and from outside of North Alabama who are often unaware of the outdoor activities offered there. “North Alabama offers different terrain and unique natural features that can’t be found in other parts of the state,” Manson says.

Those who visit Land Trust public preserves can easily visit other nearby natural attractions, such as the Wheeler Wildlife Refuge, Monte Sano State Park and Bankhead National Forest.

To maintain the preserves, a land manager and two land stewards continually monitor Land Trust properties for problems, along with hundreds of local volunteers who pick up litter and build trails. Besides maintaining the properties, Land Trust staff and volunteers also host educational programs.

“The purpose is to see nature firsthand and hopefully better understand its value,” Manson says. Adults and children can participate in a hiking series each spring and fall while also learning about the history of the area.

Although having a Land Trust membership, which funds the maintenance of the properties, is not required to access the preserves, some perks of membership include discounted tickets to Land Trust events, discounts at local businesses and access to a smartphone app that tracks your location along the trails.

Yearly fundraisers are held at Three Caves on Monte Sano Nature Preserve, including a concert series in the summer and a dinner and auction event in September.

Several new projects are in the pipeline, including the opening of an eighth public preserve near Gurley and future plans to turn a donated former farm in Jackson County on Keel Mountain into a public preserve. 

The Land Trust is also partnering to build the Singing River Trail, an extensive regional walking and biking trail along the Tennessee River that will link communities in Madison, Limestone and Morgan counties.

Overall, Manson is pleased with the cooperation between the Land Trust and organizations at the local, regional and state levels to provide residents opportunities to participate in an active lifestyle by being out in nature. “We believe that if people explore the outdoors and experience nature, they will appreciate the importance of preserving it,” Manson says.

Land Trust Preserves are open from dawn until dusk daily and are free. Visit

Discovering (and protecting) Alabama

Dr. Doug Phillips is arguably the most passionate and vocal conservationist in Alabama. He’s an educator and an outdoorsman, and he’s become a familiar face as the host of “Discovering Alabama” for more than 30 years. He didn’t plan to be the face of the program, which is broadcast by Alabama Public Television and has won three Emmy Awards. He originally was going to be a consultant, but he is in his element in the backwoods of Alabama, and relishes the opportunity to educate viewers about the state’s natural heritage and biodiversity. – Allison Law

What got you interested in conservation?

The show we did on the Locust Fork River is a journey back to my childhood home, which was miles down a dirt road. It was just miles of woods and streams and countryside. I roamed it all and claimed it all and bonded with it all.

I went off to West Point, and that was a culture shock. From a country boy to New York. I was desperate to get back to Alabama. I was fortunate to get back and get into graduate school and get a Ph.D. in educational research, where I could really start making a difference in educating about Alabama’s natural wonders and environmental protection. That was still way back when, when the politics was not on the environmentalist’s side.

You didn’t start out with the TV show?

I started out developing school programs. We ran extended teacher environmental camps and worked with schools to adjust their curricula to get more environmental learning in there. I was literally taking teachers down the rivers, up the mountains and into the wilderness.

One of those teachers said to me, as I recall, “this is so inspiring. Now we see how to make connections between our math and our science with the real world, in an exciting way. But you’re going to be leading little groups of teachers forever. You need to start a TV show.”

If I heard it once, I heard it at least half a dozen times, when I would hawk the idea, “who would be interested in that?” It wasn’t a hunting or fishing show.

(But a) little film crew went out with me, and we shot a bunch of (footage) and put it in the pilot. Alabamians saw it and said, “Wow, what a wonderful state.”

Talk more about the show and its relationship to education.

We will soon be in our 35th year, and have now joined among the longest-running TV series in TV history. That’s an Alabama TV show we’re talking about. We’ve limped along – you don’t have a lot of money sometimes. But at this point, we have almost 100 shows on every aspect of natural diversity in Alabama.

All of those shows are with teacher guides I write to go with them, and they are correlated to support the academic requirements in this state, in science, math, and we try to cover the arts. Certainly environmental science. Geography, history. I’ve been in this business for a while, and I can tell you, we’re the only show that does it this way.

Has the show has given you a platform to do public speaking?

Yes. I welcome the chance to bring thoughtfulness and substance to this whole topic of our natural heritage and our environment and how we can improve education, because we’re in trouble.

People ask me, what’s the biggest environmental threat in Alabama? They think I’m going to say, all that litter. I have to dismiss that. Litter can be picked up.

The biggest long-term threat is loss of our rural countryside. Because when that’s gone, there goes your watershed protection, your biodiversity.

Look at Atlanta, look at Houston. I ask my audiences, if that kind of growth and change comes here, what’s this state going to be for your children and grandchildren?

Some of my political enemies, although they’re friendly enemies, they disagree with me. “All the growth we can get is what we need.” They have their reasons, and they’re not bad reasons. But thinking long-term, where’s that going to take us, people?

What should we do? Get serious about long-term planning, and connect education to the land.

Are you hopeful for the future of Alabama’s environment and its natural heritage?

Depends on what side of the bed I get up on. (laughs) There’s a lot of wonderful new environmental awareness and leadership going on in Alabama today. But I realize that the culture is becoming cognitively disconnected from the land. When you combine that with this profit-driven need for growth, it’s just gotten out of hand in so many places.

Alabama has got to quit being ashamed of ruralness. I’ve seen this in some people, who are sort of subconsciously equating our ruralness with ugliness.

I tell people, do not equate backwoods with backwards. Ruralness and backwoods is putting us ahead of other regions that have lost all of this.

Making the most of moss adds landscape interest

If you’ve got moss growing in your landscape, don’t think of it as an enemy. Think of it as a gorgeous, low-maintenance friend.

Mossy spots in a yard usually occur in areas that are too shady, wet, acidic and/or compacted to support turf, groundcovers and other ornamental plants. Those spots are, however, prime habitat for mosses, which are ancient (thought to be 500 million or more years old), primitive plants capable of living in some of the most challenging environments, even desert and arctic locales. They’ve also been used by gardeners for centuries to create exquisite botanical settings — think the serene lushness of Japanese gardens.

I’ll resist my natural nerdy urge to go into the scientific reasons that moss is amazing, though it’s a fascinating story worthy of further study if you are interested. Suffice it to say that mosses are non-vascular bryophytes that, despite the fact that they lack true leaves, branches or roots, are able to draw nutrients and moisture from even the harshest of environments.

Because of this, mosses can grow in places that other plants cannot, including on trees, rocks, bricks, concrete and compacted soils. They can also withstand periods of drought and cold, often becoming brown and desiccated in hard times only to rejuvenate once moisture and temperature conditions improve.

If you have moss “problems” in your yard or need a low-maintenance option for a shady, moist area of the lawn, a soft carpet for a rocky ledge, an edging for stepping stones or a novel idea for a “container” garden (pots, table-top rocks, terrariums and more), moss is your friend, one you should protect rather than fight.

This can be done by nurturing an existing patch (obviously moss already likes that area) or readying a new moss-friendly space by removing grass, weeds and plant debris, such as fallen leaves, from the area to expose bare ground. Existing moss will begin to spread (it reproduces through spores and division) in the area, or you can transplant new mosses into the space. 

If you’re transplanting moss, which is best done in the fall and spring, you’ll need to water it regularly for the first few months. You may also want to cover the area with lightweight landscape netting to hold new plugs in place and protect them from yard critters that might disturb them before they become established.

Once moss has a foothold — which may take a year or longer as moss is a meditative, slow-growing creature — just keep the area clean and moist (especially during extended periods of dry weather). Moss requires no mowing or pesticides and little-to-no fertilizer, though you can boost moss growth by using a light dose of an acidic fertilizer or a drench made from equal parts water mixed with buttermilk, powdered milk or yogurt.

So where do you get moss? Moss spores naturally float in on air currents or in water droplets, but transplants of moss can also be gathered from existing patches in your own yard or (ask permission first!) from the yards of your friends, family and neighbors and even from nursery greenhouses. Collecting moss from the “wild” is discouraged because doing so can damage or destroy natural ecosystems and, because your yard may not provide the proper growing environment, it may not survive the transplanting process.

If you can’t find a free source, purchase moss from specialty growers (look online for suppliers) who can also offer guidance on the proper choices for your specific growing conditions.

Many books and online resources are available on moss gardening, and public gardens and garden centers and organizations often host moss gardening workshops, too. One fabulous resource is the website of Moss and Stone Gardens (, an amazing place in Raleigh, N.C., where moss gurus David Spain and Ken Gergle illustrate just what can happen if we embrace moss as a friend — a gorgeous, undemanding friend.

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

Do skylights bring sky-high energy bills?

Well-placed skylights can brighten rooms that lack daylight. Source: NREL/DOE

By Pat Keegan and Brad Thiessen

Q: Our kitchen and dining rooms are in major need of some natural light. We’ve been thinking about installing a skylight, but we’re wondering if that will increase our energy bills. Can you provide any advice?

A: Skylights can bring a little of the outside world indoors and make your living space more livable—when they are installed correctly. But they can also impact your energy bills and comfort level, so you’re taking the right steps by doing some research ahead of time.

One downside of skylights is they can add heat to your home during the summer and heat loss during the winter. The amount of impact depends upon a number of elements, including the skylight’s energy rating, size, placement and quality of installation. You can check its energy efficiency by looking at the skylight’s NFRC Energy Performance Label, which shows four important pieces of the energy efficiency puzzle:

  • Insulation value (U-Factor)
  • Ability to transmit solar heat (Solar Heat Gain Coefficient)
  • Ability to allow light to transfer (Visible Transmittance)
  • Air leakage.

Finding a unit with the best ratings in all these categories will help maximize your skylight’s energy efficiency and performance. It’s probably worth spending a little more on a better product, since professional installation takes up the lion’s share of the cost of installing a skylight into an existing roof. That said, even the best skylight has a much lower insulation value than a properly insulated attic.

Just as important as finding the right skylight is determining the proper size, number and placement. You want adequate light, but too much can make a room less functional on a bright day. Skylights on a steep, north-facing roof will reduce the unwanted solar heat gain in the summer, but this also reduces the desirable solar heat gain in winter.

Ultraviolet (UV) light can cause furniture finishes to fade. This can be minimized by making sure your skylight has high-quality glazing or by applying a special film to the skylight.

Proper installation by a knowledgeable professional is essential to avoid all-too-common problems. One serious issue is water leaks—a problem often caused by improper exterior installation on the roof. Flashing must be installed correctly to be effective for the pitch of the roof and the type of roofing materials.

Another potential problem area is the skylight shaft that transmits the light into the living space below. Inadequate or poorly installed insulation is a source of heat loss and can cause ice dams that allow water to find its way into the home. Air leaks in the shaft can also cause these types of problems. Moisture problems can cause condensation build-up inside the home, resulting in mold, mildew and rot (especially in bathrooms).

An alternative option to the regular skylight is the tubular skylight. A small skylight on the roof is connected to a flexible tube that runs through the attic to a room below. This system provides a diffused natural light. The tube is much smaller than a skylight shaft and is easier and less expensive to install. The tube has less heat loss and is less leak-prone. Tubular skylights can fit into spaces that a traditional skylight can’t, and can be a better choice in rooms with high moisture, like bathrooms, saunas or indoor swimming pools. 

As you consider your options, it may be worthwhile to think back to your goals. Perhaps you can gain more light in these rooms without installing a skylight by trying these steps:

  • Paint the room a lighter color.
  • Hang mirrors.
  • Replace heavy window coverings with lighter ones.
  • Add indirect lighting such as upward-facing pole lamps.
  • Trim any trees that shade the windows.

If you’ve done your research and decide to move forward with new skylights, I hope you will consider buying the best product your budget will accommodate––and find a contractor with experience and solid references to provide the installation. Good luck!

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

Patrick Keegan writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. Write to for more information.

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.coopDue to the volume of submissions, we are unable to feature all the books we receive.

Coastal Alabama Retirement Guide and Coastal Alabama Economic History, both by Mark Fagan, BookBaby (publisher), $30 and $40 respectively (travel) The retirement guide summarizes the factors important for retirement destinations and includes detailed information on such topics as climate, housing, health care and more. It includes a general description of coastal Alabama, including a brief description of each municipality.

The economic history book could be used as an educational resource on the history of coastal Alabama, as well as a guide to historical tourism. This book resulted from the author’s research into the history of Mobile and Baldwin counties, and became so detailed that it deserved treatment on its own as a resource for people who love coastal Alabama’s history. Author Fagan is professor emeritus at Jacksonville State University and also wrote “The Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail: Its History and Economic Impact.” He has researched retiree migration and retirement communities for more than 30 years.

Alabama Lore, by Wil Elrick, Arcadia Publishing and The History Press, $23.99 (Alabama folklore) Alabama is a weird and wonderful place with a colorful history steeped in folk tales passed from generation to generation. Author Elrick, who is from Guntersville, explores the history behind some of the Cotton State’s favorite tales.

Treeborne, by Caleb Johnson, Picador, $26 (novel) Janie Treeborne lives on an orchard at the edge of Elberta, Ala., and in time, she has become its keeper. Elberta has seen fierce battles, violent storms and frantic change – and when the town is once again threatened, Janie realizes it won’t withstand much more, so she tells the story of its people. As the world closes in on Elberta, this debut novel from Johnson, who is from Arley, Ala., lifts the veil and offers one last glimpse.

Alabama Founders: Fourteen Political and Military Leaders Who Shaped the State, by Herbert James Lewis, The University of Alabama Press, $24.95 paperback (Alabama history) While much has been written about the significant events in the history of early Alabama, there has been little information about the people who participated in those events. The book examines the lives of those who opened Alabama for settlement, secured its status as a territory in 1817, and helped lay the foundation for the political and economic infrastructure of Alabama in its early years.

To Raise up the Man Farthest Down: Tuskegee University’s Advancements in Human Health, 1881-1987, by Dana R. Chandler and Edith Powell, The University of Alabama Press, $39.95 (Alabama history) Though the university’s accomplishments and devotion to social issues are well known, its work in medical research and health care has received little acknowledgment. Tuskegee has been fulfilling Booker T. Washington’s vision of “healthy minds and bodies” since its inception in 1881. This book documents the school’s medical and public health history with rich archival data and never-before-published photographs.

A Gathering Misery, by Rocky Porch Moore, Southern Yellow Pine Publishing, $15.99 (Southern Gothic, horror) Deborah Ballard is pushed away from July Mountain by her grief-stricken parents into the overbearing arms of the grandmother who has vowed to straighten her out. In this sequel to Clemenceau’s Daughters, family secrets reach beyond the grave to ensnare Deborah in a haunting cycle of cruelty. The author lives in Foley.

Looking for good barbecue? Safety pros are in the know!

Most publications get professional foodies to compile lists of favorite restaurants. But we think we have an even better source: The safety staff of the Alabama Rural Electric Association, which publishes Alabama Living.

Why? Our safety guys are always on the road, traveling to provide training and guidance to our 22 member cooperatives and some municipal electric utilities.

Among the staff’s many duties: They conduct monthly in-house safety meetings, crew visits and facility inspections at your local co-op; they train your co-op’s employees on everything from CPR to hazardous materials to pole-top rescue; they work with co-op managers and CEOs to provide updates and interpretations from such national regulatory groups as OSHA and DOT; and they coordinate power restoration assistance after weather-related events.

These jobs keep them moving all over the state of Alabama, from the mountains of the northeast to the Black Belt to the Wiregrass to the Gulf Coast. And as you might expect, it means a lot of eating on the road!

We asked them to tell us their favorite barbecue places around the state, just in time for football season tailgating. Of course, we can’t list every great barbecue joint in Alabama, so drop us a line and let us know your favorite (and why!).

Send those by mail to Alabama Living, P.O. Box 244014, Montgomery, AL 36124, or via email to

– Allison Law

Michael Kelley

Director of safety, loss control and regulatory compliance, AREA

Home base: Wetumpka

Favorite barbecue place: Mud Creek Bar-B-Que, 804 County Road 213, Hollywood, AL 35752; 256-259-2493

Billy Carver and his brother-in-law, Gerry Teal, own and operate Mud Creek, which features a barbecue sauce that is Carolina style – meaning it’s vinegar and mustard based, as opposed to the more ketchup- or molasses-based sauces. It’s off the beaten path in Jackson County, but is known by locals and travelers alike for its great food and friendly service.

Safety man says: The hush puppies are a must-try side item, and the barbecue sauce is “the bomb.”

Eric Turner

Safety specialist, AREA

Home base: Cullman

Favorite barbecue place: Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q, 2520 Danville Road SW, Decatur, AL 35603, 256-350-0404; and 1715 6th Ave. SE, Decatur, AL 35601, 256-350-6969

Big Bob Gibson’s was founded in Decatur in 1925 by Bob Gibson, an L&N Railroad worker who honed his cooking skills on the weekends in a hand-dug barbecue pit. In addition to the delicious smoked meats, the restaurant became famous for its original white sauce. Today, five generations of pitmasters have earned 15 World BBQ Championships and five Memphis in May World BBQ Grand Championships. And the restaurants now feature a signature red sauce in addition to the peppery white sauce served on the barbecued chickens; both sauces are widely available in stores.

Safety man says: “They have the best smoked turkey that I’ve eaten anywhere. I’m not a huge pork fan so I base my restaurants on the turkey. Their white sauce is I believe a world champion winner.”

Jeff Whatley

Training and safety coordinator, AREA

Home base: Grady community

Favorite barbecue place: SweetCreek Farms, 85 Meriwether Road, Pike Road, AL 36064; 334-280-3276

SweetCreek was also our Worth the Drive feature in August! In addition to the pulled pork, the restaurant serves smoked chicken and St. Louis-style ribs.

Safety man says: “All meat is cooked over pecan wood for a mellow smoke taste. You can smell it when you get out of the truck. Homemade sauce combines sweet and savory. Everything is fresh and homemade. Favorite sides are jalapeno-based swamp slaw and broccoli salad. Finish it off with homemade ice cream and cookies.”

Buster Bishop

Training and safety coordinator, AREA

Home base: Billingsley

Favorite barbecue place: Jim’s B-B-Q, 3657 U.S. 82, Billingsley, AL 36006; 334-366-4284

Jim’s is still family-owned and operated since it opened in the 1970s, and is likely best known as the place to stop on the way to and from Tuscaloosa for Alabama home football games. Owner Jeannette Hughes told that employees put in 18 hours a day when Alabama plays at home.

Safety man says: The smoked pulled pork in their sandwich is piled high and “yum yum. The vinegar sauce is outstanding.”