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The Fearless Gardener’s Guide to décor


By Kristen Hannum
Photos Courtesy Tracey Delfel Johnson and Spi Home

Dale Chihuly’s “Perennial Fiori” glass art at the Denver Botanical Gardens, opened a new window on how garden décor could be true art.
Dale Chihuly’s “Perennial Fiori” glass art at the Denver Botanical Gardens, opened a new window on how garden décor could be true art.

We’ve all seen scary garden décor. Moldy naked concrete statuary, gnomes caught in private acts, random junk painted in neon colors. We’ve also smiled as a friend sneered over a piece of garden décor—say, the face of a Green Man in a tree or a life-size ostrich cleverly made of twisted wire—that we actually sorta liked.

Liked a lot, actually.

And we worry that it’s a slippery slope, that our graceful bronze crane standing amidst the hostas might, in a few years, multiply into a backyard where it’s hard to see the Kniphofia through the kitsch. Or worse, a front yard in that condition.

Here then, is a brief guide to garden décor and how to fearlessly add a few eccentric or classic touches to your garden. We begin with the four great truths of garden décor:

  1. Trust your taste.
  2. Find inspiration everywhere.
  3. Don’t let your garden décor overwhelm your garden.
  4. Refresh and cull your garden décor so it can work its magic.

Trust your taste

Garden décor and art have nothing to do with snooty art critics. It’s rather about whether a fountain, sculpture, mural or that quirky little wooden hedgehog in the pansies makes your heart smile. If it brings you joy, it’s right. It may even be art.

a wagon filled with potted plants
a wagon filled with potted plants

“Some people might think they’re kitschy, but I don’t care,” says longtime gardener Tracy Johnson about the metal woodpecker on a tree outside her kitchen window and other salvage metal pieces. “I love them.”

Think of garden décor as an opportunity to build your confidence in your own personal style. Just because a critical friend doesn’t like your Buddha statue or your giraffe theme doesn’t mean it’s not exactly right for your garden. It’s just not right for hers.

That said, if you’ve got qualms, trust them too. Put the piece (or pieces) in question in the backyard instead of out front. And if it turns out that the planter you repurposed from a wrought iron bed makes you feel annoyed or self-conscious rather than joyful, make it the star of your next yard sale.

Find inspiration everywhere.

A raven fountain
A raven fountain

Don’t just flip the magazine page past that brightly painted wooden chair that makes your heart flutter. Tear it out and add it to your inspiration collection. Do you love your neighbor’s idea of using an old bed’s headboard for a gate? She doesn’t have a patent on it; tell her you love it so much you’re looking for a headboard of your own. Begin a scrapbook or Pinterest board with ideas and inspirations. Even if you never find that perfect headboard or get around to painting a chair for your own porch, collecting ideas is fun and it gives you a better understanding of your own style.

Your scrapbook, either on Pinterest or on paper, will probably reveal a pattern in what you love. That’s your style. Whether it’s mostly whimsical, formal, Southwestern or English cottage, you can use it to give your garden a theme that will hold it together.

Don’t let your garden décor overwhelm your garden.

Rising sun plaque
Rising sun plaque

Garden décor, whether humorous or classic, gives our gardens distinction, just as the décor inside our homes does. Don’t let it become clutter. Just about every town has an example of garden décor gone overboard. Use that as a touchstone for what’s too much. Think of that house crowded round by so many concrete fountains and statues that it looks like a display yard for a store. In fact, maybe it is a display yard for a store.

Garden décor should please the eye with its beauty or be a whimsical surprise. It shouldn’t overpower its surroundings.

That doesn’t mean you need to forgo collections of objects—colorful birdhouses on newel posts, displayed tools on a shed wall or galoshes filled with flowers on the fence all can be pleasing in an artful arrangement.

Refresh and cull your garden décor so it can work its magic.

shovel man
shovel man

This last pointer is actually a strategy for achieving the first three goals. Your tastes evolve just as you do, and your garden is the perfect place to live out those changes and grow your style.

Do your best to see your garden with an artist’s or photographer’s eye. Infuse yourself with some of those ideas from your inspiration scrapbook, slow down and then take a look at your garden as if for the first time. What do you want to rearrange? What needs to be cleaned? What simply needs to go? Would a birdbath please you more than the sundial?

Then get to work. You’re creating a unique sense of place, a garden that will be like an outdoor room with your own personal style. No one can do it better.

Alabama Bookshelf: April 2015

Alabama’s largest literary event hosts more than 35 authors and exhibitors in Montgomery’s historic Old Alabama Town. The family-friendly, free event on April 11 includes book-related activities, including author readings and signings, for children and adults. Highlights of this year’s event include appearances by Alabama native Rick Bragg, whose most recent work is the biography Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story, and award-winning novelist Ravi Howard who will discuss his new historical novel, Driving the King. There will also be writing workshops on creative writing, graphic (pictorial) writing and getting work published. Food vendors will be on site.

The Alabama Book Festival celebrates its 10th anniversary this year on April 11.


The Alabama Book Festival features writers of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, children’s and young adult books. To see a complete list of authors and exhibitors, visit



Journey to the Wilderness: War, Memory and a Southern Family’s Civil War Letters, by Frye Gaillard, NewSouth Books, Spring 2015, $23.95

On the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, author Gaillard reflects on the war, and how it’s remembered today, through the lens of letters written by his family members, two of whom were Confederate officers. To these voices from the past, Gaillard offers a personal critique of the haunted identity of the South, one informed by his perspective as a civil rights journalist.



Southern Made Fresh: Vibrant Dishes Rooted in Homemade Flavor, by Tasia Malakasis, Oxmoor House, $24.95, March 2015

Tastemaker Malakasis, a native of Alabama, grabbed the attention of state and national media with her award-winning Belle Chevre goat cheese company based in Elkmont, and later with her first book, Tasia’s Table featured in Alabama Living December 2012. With this new work, she wanted to update the flavors she remembered from her childhood and to celebrate the South and its wonderful food. The book highlights farm-to-table cooking and simple ingredients.

Each month, we offer a summary of recent books that are either about Alabama people or people with Alabama ties, and/or written by Alabama authors. We also occasionally highlight book-related events. Email submissions to

Alabama Outdoors: Panfish


Abundant small scrappers, a.k.a. ‘panfish,’ offer big action

By John N. Felsher

Practically all anglers start their piscatorial pursuits by tempting panfish, and for good reason. Just about anyone can catch these abundant and widespread, if diminutive, scrappers.

“Panfish are very common throughout Alabama,” explains Doug Darr with the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division. “Our 23 state public fishing lakes ( are stocked with bass, bluegill, redear sunfish and channel catfish. They offer some of the finest bream fishing in the country.”

Fishing for panfish, from the bank, dock or a boat, offers an excellent way to teach children, and novice adults, about the outdoors. To start fishing for panfish, anglers don’t need much complex, expensive gear. Many people use cane poles without reels. Add a few hooks, bobbers and some bait to the list and start fishing.

Thread a worm or cricket onto a hook dangling under a bobber and drop it next to a stump, fallen tree, grass bed or other cover. Wait for the bobber to disappear under the water. Then, watch the expression on the child’s face as it goes down and the youngster sets the hook on a fat bluegill. Pound for pound, or more appropriately ounce for ounce, few fish outfight panfish, so called because they fit nicely in a frying pan and taste great.

In just about every freshwater system in Alabama, anglers can find enough delicious panfish to make a meal. While anglers may catch more than a dozen panfish species in Alabama, most people simply lump them all together as “perch” or “bream.”

“The Tennessee River lakes offer great panfish action,” Darr says. “The Tombigbee River around Demopolis is also a very good area for panfish. Lake Eufaula is another really good bream lake. The Little River, Tallapoosa River and Coosa River can also provide good bream action.”

Among the most common and widespread panfish, bluegills occur throughout Alabama. They derive their name from the navy blue “ear flap” near their gills. Slow rivers, farm ponds or lakes with abundant vegetation offer excellent places to look for bluegills. A bluegill can weigh nearly five pounds, but few exceed one pound. T.S. Hudson landed the state record, a 4.75-pounder, while fishing Ketona Lake near Birmingham.

One of the most distinctive panfish, a warmouth looks similar to a bluegill in color, but with the shape and mouth of a bass. Also called a goggle-eye, these thick, dark fish love swamps, shallow weedy lakes, sluggish streams or canals with thick vegetation. A warmouth may weigh more than two pounds, but few reach one pound. Jimmy A. Barfield set the state record with a 1.75-pound fish that came from a small farm pond.

Commonly called shellcrackers because they relish snails, redear sunfish look similar to bluegills, but with orange to red highlights on their “ear flaps.” Shellcrackers occur throughout the state, but thrive in southern Alabama, particularly in the Mobile-Tensas Delta. Jeff Lashley caught the state record, a 4.25-pounder, while fishing a park pond.

“In south Alabama, redear sunfish begin bedding in March, but fishing usually peaks in May,” Darr says. “If we get a couple warmer days in a row in the spring, bream start moving into the shallows.”

As water warms in the spring, panfish head shallow to lay eggs in nests. In a good spawning flat, anglers can spot these nests, dark depressions fanned into the bottom. Highly prolific panfish may breed several times from March through October and frequently return to the same beds every year.

In many bedding areas, several hundred bream may congregate, making such places great spots to fish. Anglers can tempt panfish with many baits including worms, crickets, grasshoppers, bread, crawfish and other morsels. For those who prefer artificial lures, a beetle spinner or a small jig make excellent enticements.

For the ultimate fun, try a fly rod. Bluegills and other panfish readily strike flies, streamers and nymphs, but small floating “popping bugs” make deadly topwater temptations. Some better surface enticements include foam or cork creations that resemble tiny frogs, crickets, grasshoppers, dragonflies or other natural prey.

Although bream anglers won’t land any monsters, they may fill limits with great tasting fish in just about any Alabama waters. This spring, think small for really big action.


John N. Felsher is a freelance writer and photographer who now lives in Semmes, Ala. He co-hosts a weekly outdoors show that is syndicated to stations in Alabama. For more on the show, log on to Contact him through his website at

Looking for de Soto


Still looking for de Soto with the help of pig bones

In October of 1540, at the Indian town of Mabila, soldiers of Hernando de Soto clashed with the forces of chief Tascaluza. When the fighting was done, one Spaniard estimated that between 2,500 and 5,000 Indians lay dead. If the count is anywhere close to correct, this was the bloodiest battle fought on North American soil until Union and Confederate armies slaughtered each other at Shiloh.

Mabila was in Alabama.

We don’t know where.

Soon we might.

A few months ago, a three-university archaeological expedition set out to find where the battle was fought.

It won’t be easy.

We are not even sure of the route de Soto traveled.

Back in 1939, a national commission was set up to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the Spanish invasion. It identified what it felt was de Soto’s route and put Mabila down in Clarke County, where I grew up. Locals were so tickled with the honor that they named a Boy Scout Camp after the battle.

Then, years later, a cadre of anthropologists, archaeologists, and historians did another study, and concluded that Mabila was likely located farther north, where the Cahaba River empties into the Alabama, near the site of Cahawba, Alabama’s first state capital.

Couldn’t be, one critic claimed. The Spaniards wrote of meeting Indians who wore hats made from palmetto fronds and ate chestnut bread. No palmetto and chestnut at Cahawba.

Then someone produced a picture of palmetto-covered wetlands at the site and pointed to a nearby plantation called “Chestnut Hill,” which was obviously not named for the pines on the place.

The critic pouted.

Meanwhile Clarke County rejected the new findings and continued to claim Mabila as its own, an intransigence that reveals just how much it means to a community to know that history once touched it. Towns all over the state would like to attach “de Soto slept here” to their city seal.

Now if the folks leading this new expedition asked me, I’d suggest they take a look at the route-tracing scheme devised by Doug Jones of the Alabama Museum of Natural History.

You see, we have only a few sites where we know de Soto camped. At one site archeologists found pig bones.

Jones suggested that scientists extract DNA from de Soto pigs and clone modern pigs that would have the route imprinted in its genetic structure. OK, I don’t understand either, but it sounds good. Then the cloned pigs would be released and following them would confirm, once and for all, the route de Soto took.

On that route they would find Mabila.

Now the expedition may already be using this approach. If they are, I hope they do as Jones proposed and when the pigs reach their destination, throw a wing-ding barbeque.

I hope I am invited.


Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is retired professor emeritus of history at Jacksonville State University whose most recent book is The Rise and Decline of the Redneck Riviera, featured in the January 2013 Alabama Living. His work appears in the Anniston Star and Northeast Alabama Living. He can be reached at

Spring into a stress-free retirement

April has arrived, and spring is here! As we say “goodbye” to winter weather hardships and “hello” to gardens budding with vibrant color, we welcome the season by celebrating Stress Awareness Month.

Did you know that stress, also called the “silent killer,” could cause heart disease and high blood pressure? Recognizing the sources of stress is the best way to understand how you can start eliminating factors in your life that put unnecessary strain on your body and mind.

Social Security wants to make your retirement planning as stress-free as possible, which is why we have a number of online tools available for you. You can create your own secure, personal my Social Security account from the comfort of your living room and avoid unpleasant traffic and a possible long wait in one of our field offices. Once you have a my Social Security account, you can view your Social Security Statement, verify your earnings record, and find out what to expect in monthly benefits if you retire at ages 62, 67, or 70. Once you begin receiving Social Security benefits, you can use my Social Security to check your benefit information, change your address and phone number, change your electronic payment method, and obtain an instant benefit verification letter and replacement SSA-1099/1042S.

You can easily sign up for my Social Security at

If you’re thinking about retiring at an age not shown on your Statement, reduce the stress of the unknown by using our Retirement Estimator. The Retirement Estimator allows you to calculate your potential future Social Security benefits by changing variables such as retirement dates and future earnings. You may discover that you’d rather wait another year or two before you retire to earn a higher benefit. Or, you might see that this is the season for you to kiss that work stress goodbye and retire right now. To get instant, personalized estimates of your future benefits, go to

When you decide it’s time to start receiving your retirement benefits, the application process is far less stressful now that you’re prepared. You can securely apply online without picking up the phone or leaving your house. Simply go to, and, in as little as 15 minutes, you can breeze through our online retirement application.

Our website and online tools are always available. You can enjoy Social Security’s stress-free retirement planning tools any time of the year, giving you more time to enjoy these warmer months. Doesn’t that put a spring in your step?


Kylle’ McKinney, SSA Public Affairs Specialist,
can be reached by e-mail at

April Spotlight


Send us a photo of your favorite historic markers in your hometown!

What’s your favorite historic marker in your hometown? Tell us in 100 words or so why, and include a photo, if possible. Email your info to HERE. Deadline is April 30. We’ll publish a selection of historic markers in our June travel issue.


APRIL 18-19

A step back in time

When they think of Fort Toulouse-Fort Jackson Park near Wetumpka, most folks think of the annual Frontier Days event, in which tens of thousands of visitors and schoolchildren come to learn about pioneer life in early Alabama. But the annual French and Indian War Encampment each April is equally special, focusing on the military forces of France, Britain and their American Indian allies. Re-enactors will be dressed and equipped as they appeared in North America during the mid-18th century. Admission is $4 for adults and $2 for children 6-18. Search “Fort Toulouse-Jackson Park” on Facebook or call 334-567-3002.

APRIL 23-25

Writers, scholars converge on Monroeville

This year’s Alabama Writers Symposium will feature some of the country’s favorite writers as well as students and scholars – all of whom share a love of the written word and the state’s literary heritage. They’ll lead discussion sessions, readings and workshops on themes ranging from literary gumbo to murder, mystery and mayhem. Among the literary luminaries scheduled to attend this 18th annual event are Rick Bragg, Rob Gray, Rod Davis, Frye Gaillard, Chantel Acevedo, Ravi Howard, Jeanie Thompson, Nancy Anderson and Cynthia Tucker Haynes. All events take place on the campus of Alabama Southern Community College, the Monroeville Community House and the Monroe County Museum downtown. Visit or call 251-575-8223 to register by April 3.


 Follow the smells on the Alabama BBQ Trail

The Alabama Tourism Department has a new tool to help you discover the state’s best barbecue restaurants. The new Alabama BBQ Trail smartphone app will also track the places you’ve tried, as well as set up alerts to sound when you’re near a restaurant you’ve wanted to try. The app is available for iPhone and Android; visit to download.

Alabama Recipes: Cookies


Why do we eat cookies?

I asked myself this question and came up with a few thoughts. Cookies are small and easy to eat. You only really need one hand. They are fairly easy to prepare and the possibilities for ingredients are endless. They are perfect to make for a quick bake sale, or just to brighten someone’s day. Preparing cookies can be a great way to spend time in the kitchen with kids. The older I get, the more I realize that spending time with my children is far more important than the “stuff” they accumulate. At the end of every day I ask my oldest daughter what was her favorite part of the day. She most always answers when she spent time playing or talking with another person. It’s rarely about “things.” Let that serve as a reminder to get together and spend time with the ones you love. How about starting with making one of the cookie recipes in this issue? Let me know how they taste.

You could win $50!

Upcoming recipe themes and deadlines are:

June Dad’s favorite dish April 15
July Sandwiches May 15
August Cool drinks June 15

Submit your recipes here, email to or mail to: Recipes, P.O. Box 244014, Montgomery, AL 36124. Don’t forget to check us out on Facebook for updates throughout the month.


Mary Tyler Spivey is a graduate of Huntingdon College
where she studied history and French but she also has a
passion for great food.

Contact her at


Cook of the month:

Jennifer Hallmark, Joe Wheeler EMC

Mama Lander’s Tea Cakes

  • 1 cup shortening
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 cups self-rising flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Melt shortening in microwave in large bowl and let cool for five minutes. Mix all ingredients and roll into small balls. Roll each ball in sugar, then press the top with a fork on cookie sheet. Bake at 325 degrees until lightly brown on bottom. Serves 2 dozen.

Southern Pecan Cookies

  • 2 cups of broken pecans
  • 1 egg white
  • 2/3 cup of brown sugar (light)

Beat egg white until frothy. Add the brown sugar and beat until egg white melts the sugar. Add pecans and stir by hand until well blended. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Drop by teaspoons on a greased cookie sheet (I use Pam spray).  Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool on cookie sheet before you remove them. Makes 24 to 30 cookies.

Beverly Danford, Pea River EC

Coconut Honey Bits

  • 3/4 cup honey
  • 1 cup coconut
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 cube butter
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 cups Rice Krispies
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Maraschino cherries
  • Additional coconut

Cook together over medium heat the honey, coconut, milk and butter. When hot, add flour. Stir until mixture leaves sides of pan. Add Rice Krispies and vanilla. Form balls. Roll in additional coconut. Make a thumbprint on top. Top with 1/2 of a maraschino cherry in thumbprint. Enjoy!

Lorena Wilson, Black Warrior EMC

 Peanut Butter Pretzel Truffles

  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 4 ounces cream cheese
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 cup crushed pretzels
  • 1 12-ounce package chocolate chips

Line a baking sheet or tray with waxed paper. In a large microwave-safe bowl, combine peanut butter and cream cheese. Microwave, uncovered, on high (100% power) for 30 seconds or until mixture is slightly softened, stirring once. Stir in powdered sugar and pretzels. Shape the peanut butter mixture into 1-inch balls. Place balls on the prepared baking sheet. Cover and freeze for 15 minutes or until firm. Place chocolate chips in a microwave-safe container. Microwave at half power or defrost setting for 30 seconds. Stir thoroughly until smooth. Using a fork, dip balls into melted mixture, allowing excess to drip back into bowl. Place dipped balls back on baking sheet. Chill for 30 minutes or until firm.

Robin O’Sullivan, Wiregrass EC


Malted Munchies

  • 1 cup butter (no substitutes) softened
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2¼ cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons baking cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups malted milk balls, coarsely crushed

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. With mixer, cream the butter and sugars. Beat in egg and vanilla and mix well. Combine the flour, baking cocoa, baking soda and salt; gradually add to creamed mixture. Add crushed malted milk balls to dough and mix thoroughly, being careful not to over-mix. Shape (do not roll) into 1½-inch balls. If you roll, the cookies won’t have that nice crackly appearance. Place cookies 2 inches apart on greased baking sheets or use Silpat baking mat. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes or until lightly golden brown on edges. Cool for 1 minute before removing cookies from pans to wire racks.Yields about 3 dozen.

Cyndi McConnell, Baldwin EMC



Double Chocolate Cookies

  • 1 cup butter or margarine, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2¼ cups all purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1-1½ cups chopped white chocolate

Beat butter until creamy; gradually add sugars, beating well. Add eggs, 1 at a time, and vanilla, beating until blended after each addition.  Combine flour, cocoa and baking soda.  Add to butter mixture until blended.  Stir in chopped white chocolate.  Drop by tablespoon full onto parchment lined baking sheet.  Bake at 375 degrees for 7-10 minutes.  Cool on baking sheet for 2 minutes.  Remove to wire racks and cool completely.

Victoria Black, North Alabama EC

 Catch A Man Cookies


    1 cup butter

  • 1 ¼ cups dark brown sugar
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup uncooked rolled oats
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips
  • 1 cup chocolate chips

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat until melted. Remove from the heat. Add the dark brown sugar and granulated sugar and stir until sugars are incorporated and smooth. Chill the mixture for 10 minutes. Remove from the refrigerator and stir in the egg, egg yolk and vanilla. Add the flour, oats, baking soda, ½ teaspoon salt and cinnamon and mix together. Stir in the white chocolate chips and chocolate chips. Roll by hand into 24 medium-size balls, or use a scoop, and place on a light-colored cookie sheet. Chill for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Remove the cookies from the refrigerator and bake for 12 to 14 minutes.

Pamela Martin, Arab EC


 Orange Slice Cookies

  • 2 cups shortening
  • 2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1½ teaspoons baking soda
  • 1¼ teaspoons baking powder
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 3 cups quick cook oats, uncooked
  • 1 3½-ounce package flaked coconut (sweet or unsweet)
  • 1 bag (about 20 pieces) orange slice candies, finely chopped

With an electric or stand mixer, in a large mixing bowl, cream shortening. Next, gradually add both sugars beating at medium speed until well mixed. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each one. In a large bowl, combine flour, soda, and baking powder. Slowly add by thirds to creamed mixture and mix well. Stir in water and mix in oats, coconut, and orange slices. Bump up speed to medium to mix the batter just until combined. It will be really thick. Chill batter for about an hour. Drop dough by teaspoonfuls onto greased or parchment lined cookie sheets. Bake at 325 degrees for 12 minutes or until browned. Dough can be refrigerated up to a week or you can freeze unused dough up to 6 months.

Summer Magnus, Dixie EC


Nutella Cookie Cups

  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • ½ cup dark brown sugar, packed
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • ½ tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup Nutella, melted or softened

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a standard size muffin pan with cooking spray and set aside. In a large bowl, add flour, baking soda, and salt. Whisk to combine. Set aside. In another bowl cream together butter and sugars for 2 minutes until light and fluffy. Then add in the egg and vanilla extract and beat for 2 more minutes. Slowly add in the flour mixture and mix until all combined and well-incorporated. Using a spatula, fold in the chocolate chips. Place Nutella in a microwave-safe bowl and warm up the Nutella in 30 second intervals in the microwave until you achieve a smooth and runny consistency that is easy to spoon out. Using a medium cookie dough scoop, scoop out 1.5 – 2 tbsp. of cookie dough, flatten it to the bottom of the muffin tin. Repeat with the dough until all 10 of the muffin tin bottoms are lined with cookie dough. Take a tablespoon of the warmed up Nutella and place in the middle of the dough that’s in the muffin tin. Then, take the remaining cookie dough and cover the Nutella layer. You don’t have to push it down hard, it’ll make the Nutella ooze. Just a gentle tap will do. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the edges are brown. Immediately run a paring knife around the cookie cups when they come out of the oven so you can loosen them for easy removal later.

Pamela LaRue Martin, Arab EC

Rivers in bloom

Mike Duffey of Rome, Ga., paddles through a stand of Cahaba lilies.
Mike Duffey of Rome, Ga., paddles through a stand of Cahaba lilies.


Paddle Hatchet Creek to see more Cahaba lilies in May

For those with a more adventurous spirit, an overnight paddling trip on Hatchet Creek in Coosa County will carry participants through several wide shoals choked down with Cahaba lilies in late May.
Registration for the Third Annual Hatchet Creek Festival on May 30-31 is open through April 30, but space is limited and on a first-come, first-served basis.
The $40 registration fee for this 2-day float on Hatchet Creek in Coosa County includes a Hatchet Creek Festival t-shirt, shuttle service, campgrounds with limited amenities, snacks, Saturday dinner, Sunday breakfast, music, games, fishing and more. Participants are responsible for providing their own canoe or kayak. Hatchet Creek is a beginner level run, but does have numerous shoals and a few rapids.

For information on how to register, call Beverly Bass or Tom Bass, 256-207-3353, or email

Festivals celebrate the lovely, fragile Cahaba lily

Story and photos by David Haynes

Even though the camellia is Alabama’s state flower, the rare and wild-growing Cahaba lily is almost certainly the most recognizable bloom found here in the Heart of Dixie.

Photographs and illustrations of this beautiful white spider lily (Hymenocallis coronaria) adorn everything from license plates to coffee mugs, so much so that most Alabamians could identify its distinctive white-on-white blooms before those of the camellia.

Named the Cahaba lily here due to large populations in the shoals of the Cahaba River in central Alabama, the same flower is also found on other streams in Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and parts of North Carolina, where it’s known as the Shoal lily or Shoals spider-lily. In fact, this lily was first observed by renowned naturalist William Bartram in 1783 in the Savannah River near Augusta, Ga.

Whatever the name, these unique aquatic plants require clean, swift water and rocky shoals to thrive. When they bloom in May and June (usually between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day) each year, thousands of people make pilgrimages to canoe or wade into Alabama’s shoals to take in a spectacular panorama.

In good years I’ve seen a waterway turn almost solid white for as far as the eye can see, as hundreds of thousands of these three-foot-high blooms merge together, like a new snowfall covering the stream.

Many locations for the Cahaba lily are somewhat remote and getting to them can be a logistical challenge involving canoes, kayaks or other watercraft, plus shuttling vehicles back and forth at put-in and take-out points.

But we Alabamians are fortunate to have some of the easiest access to view these lilies up close at the Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge near West Blocton in Bibb County. Here these unique lilies are literally within view of a gravel road that parallels the Cahaba River for a mile or more.

This is also home to the Cahaba Lily Festival, which will be May 16 in West Blocton and at the Cahaba Wildlife Refuge a few miles away. Farther south in late May, the Hatchet Creek Festival offers a two-day paddling trip to see the lilies in Coosa County (see story, page 14).

Myrtle Jones, an original volunteer organizer of the Cahaba Lily Festival, says this will be the 26th annual event.

Events will begin with an 8 a.m. registration at the Cahaba Lily Center in downtown West Blocton, followed by programs featuring speakers from the Cahaba River Society, Alabama Fish and Game, Wildlife Rescue and other festivities, including the crowning of the 2015 Miss Cahaba Lily.

Samford University professor Lawrence Davenport, considered the world’s leading authority on the Cahaba lily, will again be the featured speaker, as he has been for each of the previous 25 festivals.

“That first year it was pretty much just me and my slide projector at the First Baptist Church,” Davenport says. The Cahaba Lily Festival is the first such festival to be established to honor a flower. However, in the years since the festival in West Blocton began, similar events have been established in both Georgia and South Carolina celebrating the same lily, he says.

He notes that the Cahaba lily is found in the shoals of the Cahaba River from its headwaters near Trussville all the way downstream to Centerville. Other places in Alabama where the lily is found include tributaries of the Black Warrior, Tallapoosa and Coosa rivers, he said.

Davenport wrote an article for the Encyclopedia of Alabama about these striking blooms, which open in the early evening when they are most fragrant. Unfortunately, human activities threaten the survival of the Cahaba lily, including the damming of rivers for navigation and power generation. More recently, the lily has been threatened by increasing levels of sediment from development, logging and mining.

The best hope for the lilies’ survival may be increased awareness of its fragile habitat, thanks to public events like the Cahaba Lily Festival and the Hatchet Creek Festival.

Jones explains that the event has grown each year since the first festival in 1990, when it consisted of Davenport, a few enthusiastic West Blocton volunteers, several home-baked cakes and a program at the First Baptist Church. Today the Festival involves more than 30 volunteers and is attended by more than 400 people each year from around the United States as well as from other countries.

Following lunch, a bus shuttle will be available to ferry attendees from town the five miles or so to the Cahaba River National Nature Preserve, where large stands of the blooming flowers are near the gravel road that parallels the river.

Randall Haddock, field director for the Cahaba River Society, tells me that group will have rental canoes available that day for festival-goers who want to do more than get their feet wet. He adds that while the shoals that are beside the road usually have lilies blooming during the festival, the more adventurous can also take a 20-minute hike farther downstream to Hargrove Shoals to see one of the largest blooms on the entire river.

Walk-in tubs


Before you jump in, know the basics of walk-in tubs

By Carole Howell

A long hot bath and water jet massage with less risk of falling sounds like a dream come true. A walk-in tub system that allows easy entry and exit, along with therapeutic jets, can be the best solution when traditional bathing is difficult. They’re designed for individuals with limited mobility, arthritis or chronic pain, or for anyone who wants a spa-like experience in a limited space.

A walk-in tub is simply a taller-than-average bathtub with a low step. To use a walk-in tub, a person enters and shuts the door behind them. They then fill the tub, which takes several minutes. After bathing, the person remains in the tub while the water drains. The door will not open as long as there is water in the tub.

Walk-in tubs come in a variety of styles and sizes. Special options include various types and upgrades of the water jet massage and quick fill and drain. Specialized tubs, such as bariatric tubs for larger individuals, and wheelchair accessible tubs, are available.

To find out if a walk-in tub is the right fit for you, educate yourself before you take the plunge.


Total costs with installation can easily exceed $10,000, and Medicare and Medicaid do not cover the cost except under very special circumstances. Your health insurance may or may not cover any part of the cost, so check your policy first.


Professional installation is highly recommended, and most full service installers offer a complimentary home visit to help you determine what you’ll need for the tub’s intended purpose. A licensed contractor should be able to manage every aspect of the installation including demolition and reconstruction, and sub-contract for additional electrical or plumbing needs.

“To select a walk-in-tub franchise or a contractor, we encourage people to research the company online,” said Elizabeth Garcia, president of the North Alabama Better Business Bureau (BBB). “The BBB website also allows searches by zip code to help find a contractor and read consumer reviews. Get three estimates, and ask the company for two or three local references.”


Garcia advises buyers to get an itemized list of the costs, additional charges, shipping, installation, and return policies. Also, make sure that you have all the guarantees and warranties in writing so that you know beforehand how you will address problems and who will do the repairs. She adds that in Alabama, building and remodeling jobs of $10,000 or more require building permits and inspections.

Also make sure that the contract specifies the payment schedule. “Be suspicious if you’re asked to pay everything in advance,” said Garcia. “As protection, add a lien release clause so that sub-contractors cannot seek payment from you if the contractor fails to pay them.”


David Lisenby, president of Lisenby Construction, Inc. of Montgomery, is a Certified Aging in Place specialist and a Certified Graduate Remodeler. He says he talks to many people who are thinking of retrofitting their bathrooms or installing a walk-in tub during new construction.

“While these tubs can be great for people who need them for therapy, they’re not recommended for people with dementia, especially if they’re unsupervised,” said Lisenby. “And they don’t work really well as a shower. The water tends to get out around the curtain, causing a wet floor and a slipping hazard.”

As an alternative that’s more versatile and less expensive, he often recommends replacing a traditional tub and shower with a low-threshold, full size shower with grab bars. A removable shower chair, along with a handheld showerhead should be all you need for safe bathing. When others want to use the shower, simply remove the chair.

The features and upgrades you choose simply depend on your needs and budget, and thousands of people have been pleased with their decision install a walk-in tub. The choice is yours. Do your homework before you buy, so you can truly relax as you soak.

Gardening that’s for the birds

American Goldfinch. Photo courtesy Kay Home Products
American Goldfinch. Photo courtesy Kay Home Products

By Kristen Hannum

Gardening with an eye to attracting birds, plus the butterflies and bees that come along with them, means gardening with a completely different mindset than we’re used to. So why do it?

The joy of creating a lively home for a wide variety of colorful, lively birds turns out to be reason enough for most gardeners. But there’s more: Gardeners report that an amazing satisfaction comes with doing something to help threatened birds. The Audubon Society and the U.S. Department of the Interior say there’s been a 70 percent decline in populations of common backyard birds since 1967. If everyone made just a corner of their yard more bird friendly, that could help turn those declines around.

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: American Goldfinches. Photo courtesy Kay Home Products; Northern Cardinal male. Photo courtesy Kay Home Products;  Eastern Bluebirds. by Laura Hathcock/Courtesy Cornell Lab of Ornithology;  Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Photo courtesy Kay Home Products; Carolina Wren. by Laura Frazier/Courtesy Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Downy Woodpecker. Photo courtesy Kay Home Products.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: American Goldfinches. Photo courtesy Kay Home Products; Northern Cardinal male. Photo courtesy Kay Home Products; Eastern Bluebirds. by Laura Hathcock/Courtesy Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Photo courtesy Kay Home Products; Carolina Wren. by Laura Frazier/Courtesy Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Downy Woodpecker. Photo courtesy Kay Home Products.

“So many problems seem beyond individual action,” says Dr. Stephen Kress, vice president of bird conservation for the Audubon Society. “But we can make a difference for birds.”

The best place to start, says Dr. Kress, is in your own backyard.

It’s not difficult. Simply think in terms of being a good host, making sure that your little guests have refuge, food and water, and that you don’t accidentally poison them with pesticides or herbicides.

Bird’s eye view

A birdfeeder is a good beginning, a first hop toward seeing your property from a bird’s point of view. The busy little birds at the feeders near a window are undeniably entertaining. Birdfeeders can also help wintering birds make it through the coldest days.

Birdfeeders, however, are perhaps a bit more for us than for the birds. Both Dr. Kress and George Adams, author of Gardening for the Birds, How To Create a Bird-Friendly Backyard, say it’s far better to landscape with a variety of native shrubs, trees, flowers and grasses that provide a year-round supply of food for the birds. “Birdfeeders tend to attract the noisiest and bossiest birds, birds that attack or chase away the beautiful, small songbirds,” says Adams.

Birds’ names can be a guide to what to plant for them. Cedar waxwings love the little berries on red cedars; that is, eastern junipers. Pinyon jays will seek out piñon pines for their delicious little nuts. Yellow-rumped warblers used to be called myrtle warblers because of their taste for wax myrtle berries. Adams’ book has a guide to regional plants and birds, with specific advice for different species. Your state Audubon Society can also help with specifics.

Plan a garden that will produce seeds and berries for the birds year round.

Caterpillar baby food

Native shrubs area also important because they host native insects. We’ve all become accustomed to thinking that insects need to be wiped out, but that’s completely wrong from a bird’s point of view. Caterpillars are the major source of protein for many nestlings, making the native plants that host caterpillars especially important for baby birds. (Not to mention butterflies!)

Those native plants are the ones that birds depend upon for food, refuge, and homemaking. Again, says Adams, the birds’ names sometimes tell you what to plant. The little cactus wren depends on cactus thorns to discourage predators from reaching its nest. Pine warblers usually build their nest in pines, binding pine needles together to make a cup-shaped nest.

When native trees aren’t available, birds are forced to live in exotic trees. That makes them and their nests more vulnerable to predators.

Birds do not thrive amidst endless acres of chemically treated lawns, which are dangerous, unprotected food deserts that provide neither food or shelter.

Location, location, location

Suitable nest boxes can be one of the simplest things you can do to increase the variety of birds on your property, although just putting out a nest box and forgetting about it isn’t helpful. Just like teenagers’ bedrooms, nest boxes need to be thoroughly cleaned out at least once a year.

Don’t choose a birdhouse by its cuteness scale. That darling Victorian may be completely wrong for the birds you’re hoping to attract. Bluebirds, for instance, need doors that are one and a half inches in diameter. That discourages larger birds, namely aggressive starlings, from moving in and taking over.

Another feature to look for in a birdhouse is a hinged roof. Once you’ve tried to clean out a birdhouse that doesn’t have a hinged roof, you’ll find yourself a convert to that type.

Dr. Kress says that just as in the human real estate market, location is key to successful birdhouses. For bluebirds, that means out in open habitat, so that pushy little house sparrows don’t take it over.

Gardeners in rural areas, like so many of Alabama Living’s readers, are especially well equipped to help birds because so many of them also favor rural life. gives great advice on birdhouses, and the Audubon Birdhouse Book: Building, Placing, and Maintaining Great Homes for Great Birds is another excellent resource.

Bird-size puddles

Birdbaths really are for bathing. Cleanliness is key to staying warm, cooling off and flying right if you’re a bird. A birdbath is an easy and often beautiful addition to the garden. Buy a pedestal type and put it near protective shrubbery to keep the birds safer from cats. Birdbaths are especially important in arid areas, but even if you live near a lake a puddle-sized birdbath will attract visitors. “Puddles are more their size,” Dr. Kress says.

Water with a dripping action is especially popular.

Adams urges gardeners to take on the difficult challenge of providing thawed water for birds in the winter. Winter sun may do the trick, but he advises going for guaranteed results by installing a stock tank de-icer or heating element especially designed for birdbaths.

The magic of doing good

Keeping fresh water in birdbaths and putting in native plants may sound like work, but it’s satisfying work.

“I know a lot of people who started out with sterile backyards and transformed them into great bird habitats,” says Dr. Kress. “They talk about how much fun it is.”

One of Adams’ readers reported how easy it was to change their boring backyard into a bird haven. “The result was almost magical,” that gardener wrote in a review on Amazon. “The more things I planted the more birds showed up.”