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Alabama Snapshots – Sunflower Fields

Aplin farms in Dothan. Submitted by Allison Lumbatis, Dothan.
My granddaughter, Caroline Vaughn. Submitted by Peggy Morris, Stevenson.
Kaitlyn Jones Johnson. Submitted by Jolene Holloway, Geneva.
Clarabel Richerson in a beautiful Baldwin county sunflower field. Submitted by Gwen Windham, Robertsdale.
Cecil, Melanie, Hunter, Macie, James Camden and Maggie Davis at Dallas Ragan sunflower fields. Submitted by Macie Davis, Bridgeport.
Harmony and Marshall. Submitted by Amy Mosley, Loxley.

Submit “Fall foliage” photos by August 31.
Mail: Snapshots
P.O. Box 244014
Montgomery, AL 36124
Winning photos will run in the October issue.

Rules: Alabama Living will pay $10 for photos that best match our theme of the month. Photos may also be published on our website at and on our Facebook page. Alabama Living is not responsible for lost or damaged photos. Send a self-addressed stamped envelope to have photos returned.

August Spotlight

Identify and place this Alabama landmark and you could win $25! Winner is chosen at random from all correct entries. Multiple entries from the same person will be disqualified. Send your answer by Aug. 7 with your name, address and the name of your rural electric cooperative. The winner and answer will be announced in the September issue.
Submit by email:, or by mail: Whereville, P.O. Box 244014, Montgomery, AL 36124.
Contribute your own photo for an upcoming issue! Send a photo of an interesting or unusual landmark in Alabama, which must be accessible to the public. A reader whose photo is chosen will also win $25.

July’s answer

In mid-2018, DeSoto State Park naturalist Brittney Hughes conceived the idea of installing an ambitious public art project at DeSoto Falls – transforming the plain cement stairs leading to the viewing platform into a mosaic work of art. On each of the 43 risers is a mosaic of colorful stained-glass pieces, giving the effect of a cascading river flowing down the steps. The lower steps feature a quote from famed naturalist John Muir: “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.” (Information from the Little River Arts Council website) Photo submitted by Morgan Haynes of Cullman EC; the randomly drawn correct guess winner is Mary S. White of Joe Wheeler EMC.

Help the state identify gaps in broadband service

Alabamians are encouraged to take a broadband internet speed survey at to help the state locate gaps in broadband service. The information gathered will be used for planning efforts to help fill those gaps.
The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs administers the Broadband Alabama program, which includes the Broadband Accessibility Fund created by the Alabama Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Kay Ivey. It was created to assist broadband providers in extending high-speed internet service for households, businesses and community anchors in unserved areas of the state or in areas lacking minimum threshold service.
Many Alabama homes and businesses are likely receiving less than the current federal definition of broadband service, which is 25 megabits per second (Mbps) download speed and three Mbps upload speed. The information gathered from the speed survey will help pinpoint the specific areas that lack this coverage. Your address will not be made public and the information will be used solely for the state’s planning efforts.

Letters to the editor

E-mail us at:
or write us at: Letters to the editor
P.O. Box 244014
Montgomery, AL 36124

Enjoyed column on Kathryn Tucker Windham
I so enjoyed your piece on Kathryn Tucker Windham! (Hardy Jackson’s column, June 2020.) My mother loved her and followed her to many storytelling festivals. She would come back and try to retell the story, but she would always say, “I can’t do it justice like she can.” I lost my mom 5 years ago, but articles like this make me smile as I know she would have appreciated it. So glad you made the memories you did with Kathryn while she was here. My favorite: “If it didn’t happen that way, it should have.” Ha! I’m going to use that line with my writing club!
Audrey Barker

Inspired by snapper article
I enjoyed your article (Outdoors, May 2020) and decided to go fishing for the first time in 25 years. Caught a whopper of a red snapper. Thanks!
Beverly Haslauer
Orange Beach

Beverly Haslauer and her husband, Ed, with fresh catch

Fan of Hardy Jackson
I wanted to tell you how much I enjoy your column in Alabama Living. I just read your story about “Remembering Cousin Kathryn” and thoroughly enjoyed it. I wish I had met her in person! Also, I wanted you to know that you’re included in my book, Amazing Alabama: The Bicentennial Edition (pages 248-249). I quoted your story about “Bicentennial Beers” in this “tour-able history” book. It was listed in your magazine (Alabama Bookshelf, June 2019). Thanks for being so entertaining!
T. (Theresa) Jensen Lacey 

Take us along!

Thanks to all our readers who’ve sent us photos of their travels. We realize due to the pandemic, no one’s doing much traveling these days due to the statewide “safer at home” orders, but we enjoy seeing your pictures from past travels. We’re including several on this page. If you have any past photos send them to
We also want to see where you’re reading Alabama Living at home! Send us photos of you or a family member reading the magazine in your favorite home location. Send to
We’ll draw a winner for a $25 prize each month, so let us hear from you!

Dave and Lavina Thompson of Foley traveled with a group of veterans to the battlefields of Vietnam in March. Members of Baldwin EMC, they returned to the sites where each veteran served and brought their copy of Alabama Living to show their new friends where they live.

Donna and Clyde Barksdale of Section, members of Sand Mountain EC, took their magazine on a Caribbean cruise on the Crown Princess. Donna is shown at the cruise port in Antigua and Clyde is in front of the Parliament Building in Bridgetown, Barbados.

Don’t enjoy exercise? Look for options to get moving

Having trouble getting in enough exercise? People rarely exercise if they don’t enjoy it, even though they know it’s good for them. Here are some ways to get in some physical activity, courtesy of HealthMed Inc.:
■ Nature trails and walking: Find a trail close to your home. Being outside can do wonders for your mood too.
■ Group fitness classes: Many gyms and fitness facilities have reopened with strict safety protocols in place. Zumba, cycling, yoga and more offer a chance to socialize (and socially distance) as well as get healthy.
■ Meet up outside: Take a friend or your child to an outdoor green space and toss a football or baseball around, if it’s not crowded. Just ensure you can stay six feet away from people you don’t live with.
■ Walk and talk: Need to catch up with a friend? Take your phone along on a walk around the park or your neighborhood. You may be a little out of breath, but you’ll at least get to socialize!

2020 Photo Contest Winners

They’re off the beaten path, or right on your front porch. Sometimes they’re the first thing in the morning, other times they’re in the quiet of the concluding day. And some feature young ones in the first few years of life, while others feature those in their sunset years.
The photos entered in this year’s contest were all of these and more. We asked readers in the March and April issues and on our Facebook page to gather their best photos to enter into the annual contest, which was open on for the month of May. We received more than 200 entries in four categories: Capture the Beauty, Discover the Past, Making Memories and Rural Landscapes.
Our judge again this year was Phil Scarsbrook, a professional photographer with more than 40 years’ experience in photojournalism, fashion and product photography as well as wedding and portraiture. He did not know the identities of the entrants.
The winner of each category receives a $100 prize. Enjoy this year’s winners and keep an eye out for next year’s contest!
– Allison Law

Capture the Beauty

First place: Drew Senter of Oxford, Ala.

“I took this photo in April at Bains Gap on a rainy day. The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed me to re-explore the wild places nearby, just to find some sanity. The spring greens in the photo really made this location pop.”
Judge’s comment: “Beautiful image. Well composed and exposed. Long exposure very effective use of ‘silking the water.’”

Honorable mention: Lindsey Green, Arab EC

“I took this from my front porch. … it shows how much beauty surrounds us every day if we just take a second to look around.”

Discover the Past

First place: Richard Brown, Central Alabama EC

“This is Winter Place in Montgomery. … One of my most memorable experiences with this photograph was meeting one of the former residents and having them explain the splendor of this home.”
Judge’s comment: “Created excellent framing and depth by using the tree limb in the foreground. Very nice toning and use of black and white.”

Honorable mention: Sophia LaPalme, Baldwin EMC

“I found this old rusted silo with a ladder in the fall of 2018 in Loxley, Alabama. I found the angle and perspective as well as the colors interesting.”

Making Memories

First place: Emery Little of Birmingham, Ala.

In this photo of Ronald and Bonnie Payne, the photographer says, “I have always been fortunate to have wonderful grandparents … they’ve always lived life to the fullest, and this is a great example of how full of life they are.”
Judge’s comment: “Wonderful facial expressions evoking memories of summer days on the porch.”

Honorable mention: Sacha Green, Marshall-DeKalb EC

In this photo of Tim and Corbin Frasier, “every time Corbin comes over to Papa’s house, he constantly wants to drive the lawn mower. He loves it! Such great memories for both involved.”

Rural Landscapes

First place: Drew Senter of Oxford, Ala.

“I took this photo several summers ago on a warm evening in Oxford, Alabama. The sun’s rays were just perfect that night!”
Judge’s comment: “Nice capture. Love the ‘God rays’ streaming through the clouds.”

Honorable mention: Keri Fike, Joe Wheeler EMC

“It was such a beautiful morning with just a touch of fog and the sun rays coming through. It really made me take a moment and marvel at God’s handiwork.”

College Football: Just what the doctor ordered

By Brad Bradford

Editor’s note: As of press time, the Southeastern Conference had not made a decision regarding the 2020 fall schedule.

To say that 2020 has been in turmoil is sort of like telling Notre Dame quarterback Steve Beuerlein that Cornelius Bennet can knock you into next week. The coronavirus pandemic stopped the football world from turning. No spring training; no off-season workouts; no media days.
So, everything related to college football is based on two factors: 1. That we have football in some form this fall. 2. Predictions and assessments are based on what we know from last year’s teams. Without spring training, depth charts can be hit or miss.


Tide fans puff out their chests every year when the recruiting rankings come out. Bama is always in the top 3; often number 1. Nick Saban had BY FAR, his greatest recruiting news earlier this year. It had nothing to do with fuzzy-faced high schoolers. It was the fact that six starters, who were eligible for the NFL draft, decided to come back for their 4th year. This was not big; it was HUGE.
On offense, running back Najee Harris, ultra-productive wide receiver DeVonta Smith and first round lock at left tackle, Alex Leatherwood.
From the injury-plagued defense, All-American linebacker Dylan Moses, 6th year linebacker Josh McMillon and defensive end LaBryan Ray. The big question mark for the Tide is how QB Mac Jones is going to lead the offense, since record-setter Tua Tagovailoa is now with the Miami Dolphins. Mac Jones had the third highest passing efficiency rating in the SEC last year. Number 1 was Tua and number 2 was Joe Burrow.
Strengths: Running back, offensive lineman, linebackers. Concerns: Secondary and kickers.
Schedule analysis: Georgia will be breaking in a transfer quarterback from Wake Forest and has to come to Tuscaloosa in the 3rd week. Defending champ LSU lost everyone on the team but the water boy. Auburn comes to Bryant-Denny after playing a physical LSU team the previous week.
Prediction: 12-0, SEC champion, football playoffs.


Freshman quarterback Bo Nix proved that he was a winner last year. He will only get better. The big question has to do with Gus Malzahn and the offense. Gus hired ex- Arkansas coach Chad Morris to run the offense. Will Gus turn the keys over to Morris? Will he continue to have his finger in the offensive pie? Will he pull the string and take over if the offense is struggling?
Last year, defensive lineman Derrick Brown decided to come back for his 4th year. He made all the difference and ended up as the SEC defensive player of the year and 7th overall pick in the draft. As long as the Tigers have Coach Kevin Steele running the defense, their defense will keep them in all games.
The big question mark for Auburn is going to be the offensive line. They lost four of five starters. How long will it take new O-Line coach Jack Bicknell Jr. to mold them into a cohesive unit? Missing spring training and the off-season really affects these players as much as any position.
Auburn returns all four linebackers from last year, led by All SEC K.J. Britt. Their go-to weapons on offense are wide receivers Seth Williams and speedster Anthony Schwartz.
Strengths: Quarterback, linebacker, kicker. Concerns: offensive line and secondary.
Prediction: 9-3 with losses to Georgia, LSU and Alabama.


1. Alabama 2. LSU 3. Auburn 4. Texas A&M 5. Ole Miss 6. Mississippi State 7. Arkansas. Alabama gets its 2 toughest, Georgia and Auburn, at home. LSU has depth from last year but lost way too many, 15, to the NFL and both coordinators. Auburn has its two toughest on the road against Georgia and Bama. Malzahn has never defeated either one on the road. Playing LSU the week before the Iron Bowl will be a challenge.


1. Florida 2. Georgia 3. Tennessee 4. Kentucky 5. South Carolina 6. Missouri 7. Vandy. The Georgia-Florida game will determine the champions of the East. Florida gets a rebuilding LSU at home as their crossover game. Georgia has to go to Alabama. The Bulldogs have very little margin for error. Jeremy Pruitt has Tennessee headed in the right direction. Their annual crossover game with Alabama will be tough as well as an early road game to Oklahoma. Wait until next year.


Three teams are locks: Ohio State, Alabama and Clemson. The remaining slot will come from Georgia, Oklahoma, Florida, Penn State and Oregon.


Bama defeats Ohio State, 35-24.

Brad Bradford is former football staff member at Alabama and Louisville. His wife, Susan Moseley Swink Bradford, is a former Auburn cheerleader. His daily blog about Southern Life can be found at

Cooped up?

Booksellers have some recommendations.

Story and photo by Jack West

With the number of coronavirus cases in Alabama climbing every day, it is beginning to look like many people will be spending the rest of their summer — and possibly a lot of their fall — quarantined, socially distanced and likely bored.
Netflix, movies and hours scrolling through Twitter and Facebook have become coping mechanisms to stem the tides of boredom. The problem is that now, nearly six months into the coronavirus pandemic, even those options can seem dry.
For those looking for an alternative to the internet for readable content, there are plenty of good options for your bookshelf. If you don’t know where to start, we talked with two book buyers and reviewers for independently run bookstores in Alabama who gave us some suggestions.

Ashley Warlick, a novelist and writing professor, is in charge of buying books for Auburn Oil Co. Booksellers, a locally owned bookstore in Auburn; and Anderson McKean is the buyer and reviewer for Page & Palette, a third-generation family-owned bookstore in Fairhope.
Here is their list of new books, old books, summer books and fall books that are topically, geographically and timelessly relevant.

The Secret History by Donna Tart
According to Warlick, this literary thriller novel is a great choice for someone who might have had a few years go by without reading a book. “It opens with a circle of friends standing at the top of a cliff and the fifth friend dead at the bottom,” she says. “It’s a fantastic book, and it’s a fantastic book to pick up when you might miss your own college friends.”

Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy
McKean says that this book, which comes out in August and is about a girl’s determination to follow the migratory patterns of arctic terns, is incredibly hard to stop reading.
“It is one of those books that, once you start it, you literally cannot put it down,” she says. “Throughout the novel, you literally feel like you are out on this research vessel. You can smell the sea; you can feel the spray coming against your face, and you just are just completely transported on this journey of this woman.”

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemison
This award-winning novel is the first in Jemison’s Broken Earth trilogy. It is a great option for fans of fantasy novels, but also has an appeal to readers outside of the genre.
“[It’s a] fantasy world that is built on the language of geology and engineering, and the sort of magical entities in the trilogy move earth with their brains,” Warlick says. “It’s exciting, and it’s super smart. I had the best time, and I don’t read that genre ever.”

Anxious People by Fredrik Backman
Written by the same author as A Man Called Ove, Backman’s newest book is set to come out in September. According to McKean, the characterization and loving atmosphere in Backman’s novels are, among other things, a good reason to keep reading.
“(Backman’s novels) are filled with these quirky, endearing characters that you feel like could be your family, your friends, your neighbors,” she says. “You just find yourself wanting to give all of these people a hug by the time that you’re finished with this novel.”

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi
In her new novel, Gyasi, who was born in Ghana but raised in Huntsville, Alabama, explores the origins and realities of addiction. “The novel is about a young Ghananian medical research student who is studying mice for their addictive patterns,” Warlick says. “In that, she is trying to uncover the roots of addiction and pain and difficulty in her own childhood.”

For more information on any of these and other books, check with your local booksellers, your local library or online resources.

Alabama People – Anna Brakefield

In 2012, Anna Yeager Brakefield took her graphic design degree from Auburn University and headed off to New York to work with high-end clients in the advertising industry. A couple years later, she returned to the South, moving to Nashville to continue her career path.
But in 2016, she brought her skills and experience back home to Lawrence County, Ala., and partnered with her dad, longtime cotton farmer and innovator Mark Yeager, to create Red Land Cotton, a farm-to-home textile company. RLC creates heirloom inspired bedding, bath and loungewear made from cotton grown on their family farm. The company’s luxury linens are made in the U.S. and made exclusively with cotton sourced directly from the family’s north Alabama farm.
The company made headlines after the COVID-19 pandemic, when it partnered with other Alabama businesses to create masks for communities as far away as Alaska and Hawaii. The effort was never for profit, Anna says, but was just one small way they could help. Now, she’s eager to talk about what’s next for the Moulton-based company. – Allison Law

From field to fabric

Talk about RLC’s new collection.
This fall, we will be launching a new line of blankets. It’s a completely new production line that we’ve put together. The blankets are woven in Maine; they’re 100 percent cotton from our farm. The yarn is being spun in North Carolina, then it’s all going to Maine where they’re finishing, cutting and sewing it. Our blankets will range from baby size to king size for the bed, in white and natural. I hope they’ll launch around September. We’re also going to be launching a bathrobe, made from the same terry cloth as our towel.
We started 2020 with some good vision about these new things that we wanted to bring to market. A lot of that was put on hold earlier this year, but fortunately factories have gotten back to work, and we’re really hopeful we can get these new products out in time for Christmas.

And you’re also working on a new facility in Moulton. 
We’re super excited. Over the past two years, we’ve really grown, which has been a huge blessing. We’ve outgrown our little storefront/fulfillment facility in downtown Moulton. We’re building a massive distribution facility as well as a cut and sew facility right next to our cotton gin in Moulton.
We’re hopeful we’ll get in there by September, before that Christmas rush, and this will allow us to hire more people. Maybe 30-35 people to work in the cut and sew or in our distribution facility.

I know you started this venture with your dad – is he still involved in the business?
Oh, yes. His focus is still primarily on the farm. When we’re starting up a new supply chain, he is very, very involved in that. He’s extremely involved in this new building and how that is structurally going to look, how it’s going to function. He’s not as much into the day-to-day weeds as I am. He’s quite literally in the weeds, on the farm, when it comes to the day-to-day. We speak at least 10 times a day on the phone. It’s a good partnership. Even though sometimes working with family can definitely be challenging, overall it’s a good thing.
Both of my younger brothers, they farm with my dad. My sister-in-law works with me. She’s my go-to person as far as managing inventory at the store or at the distribution facility, making sure orders get out the door. It’s a big family involved venture.

And I’ve read that Red Land takes its name from the north Alabama soil? 
Yes, ma’am. It has no political affiliation whatsoever! My dad named his farm Red Land Farms I think in 1983. That was really important to him that we named this business to be very close to the farm in that regard. Not everything is political! 

Talk about your company’s commitment to manufacturing in the U.S. 
That is essential to who we feel like we are. Hopefully it will never come to this, but I can’t see us going outside of the U.S. to source any of our products. If there is a way to make it here, we’re going to make it here.

Fresh produce, local traditions star at Cahawba House

Story and photos by Miriam C. Davis

In 2015, Tim Essary worked for several chefs in Atlanta. His sister, Tara Essary-Studdard, was a mixologist in south Florida. But when they returned home to Montgomery for Christmas, they agreed they were both tired of working for other people and wanted their own place.

“We saw the development taking place in Montgomery,” says Tim, and with a strong push from their dad, “we decided, ‘Let’s do this!’” They moved back home, found an empty restaurant space downtown, and Cahawba House opened in the fall of 2016.

The name pays tribute to Cahawba, the site of Alabama’s original capital. The food pays tribute to traditional Southern cuisine, with an emphasis on fresh produce and local traditions.

Homemade meatloaf and black-eyed peas are among the lunch entrees.

“We wanted to showcase not only the local cuisine,” says Tim, “but also local farms and businesses.” When they set up their restaurant, Tim and Tara deliberately cultivated relationships with nearby farmers. They get their purple hull peas from Clanton, the collards from a family farm in Tuskegee, and fresh eggs are delivered by “a sweet little red-headed lady” from tiny Pine Apple, Alabama. Jams and jellies come from a farm near Auburn and the coffee from Prevail Union, a craft coffee shop around the block.

Their menu changes according to what’s available. If it’s fresh and in season, Tim says they try to work with it. “I might not necessarily need a bunch of rhubarb,” laughs Tim, “but I’ll find something to do with it.”
While Tara manages the restaurant, Tim is in charge of the kitchen where he draws on local talent, too. When they established Cahawba House, he had a number of recipes from his time in previous restaurants. Then he started hiring local cooks, many of them African American women who brought their own cooking traditions with them.

Outside seating has been expanded to keep diners safe.

He’s grateful for all that he’s learned from the ladies in the kitchen. “A couple of months after opening, I realized that if I continue to hire people way smarter than me and bring in talent I don’t have, we can grow into something I couldn’t do all by myself. By bringing in different flavors, different backgrounds and ethnicities, we can showcase not only Southern food but the South’s rich melting pot.”

Tim says he’s picked up family recipes from staff, such as smoking a turkey himself and adding it to collards. Recent menus have featured oxtails and gravy with mashed potatoes and pot likker soups, created from boiling turnip or collard greens with turkey tail or ham hock for hours, soaking up all the flavors.

Breakfast features biscuits and choice of local honey, jams, and jellies, and a protein — Conecuh sausage, scrambled eggs, or apple wood smoked bacon. You can add gravy, various cheeses, fried green tomatoes, and veggies of the day. Lunch includes salads, sandwiches with hand cut fries, and the traditional meat and three.

Cahawba House’s good food has been recognized nationally. The New York Times recommended it in an article on things to do in Montgomery. USA Today declared that it had the “Best Breakfast Sandwich” in Alabama.

The walls are loaded with black-and-white photographs, ink drawings, and oil paintings, many of downtown scenes — and all the work of local artists.
When the pandemic hit in mid-March, Tim and Tara quickly pivoted: “We had to change our business model overnight,” says Tim. They moved the tables out of the restaurant, installed shelves, stocked up on bread, produce, toilet paper, and other necessities and dubbed their new grocery the “Bama Bonafide Bodega.”

Tim Essary and his sister, Tara Essary-Studdard, are committed to safety for their staff and customers.

Now, the restaurant is open again, but things have changed. Diners order at their tables rather than standing in line at the counter; tables are six feet apart and there is more terrace seating. Everyone wears a mask. Surfaces are constantly disinfected. “We are adamant about being safe,” says Tara.
Customers are trickling back. The Paycheck Protection Program allowed Tara and Tim to rehire their old employees, and plans for a new bar are going ahead. They’re optimistic that things will pick up as people start travelling again.

“We are ready for it,” says Tara. “We’ve got to have faith over fear.”

Cahawba House
31 S. Court Street
Montgomery, AL
Hours: 6:30 a.m.–2 p.m. Monday-Friday.
The owners plan to be open on weekends starting in August, but check to verify.

Three healthy financial habits to start now

By Jacquie Johnson and Cecilia Waits

Developing healthy financial habits can do wonders for helping us achieve our goals. The earlier you start, the better! Here are three habits you can start today.

Keep a journal

Budgeting is the foundation of personal finance. The first step to successful budgeting is to keep a journal of what you spend; even that $1.50 drink you bought at the gas station. Budgeting is not about limiting what you do with your money, but tracking to maximize the money you work hard for every day. Those little “impulse” buys add up to a lot more than you would think!

If you have trouble remembering to write everything down, guess what: there’s an app for that. Alabama Rural Electric Credit Union’s mobile app has tools to help you track your spending, and there are a variety of free apps to promote healthy money habits. We’d love to point you towards some!

Pay yourself first

When it comes to managing your finances, give yourself permission to be a bit selfish. Paying yourself first, by transferring some of your paycheck into a savings account, is vital to having a successful financial future. No one can avoid unexpected expenses or financial emergencies, but you can help yourself prepare.

Most employers make it easy for you to save by offering direct deposit options, so that a portion of your paycheck is put into a savings, investment, or retirement account each pay-period. This method of saving disperses your money before you see your check, so it’s likely you won’t even miss it. You can also set up automatic transfers – right from your phone with ARECU.

Set financial boundaries

Ignoring the “Joneses” can be one of the biggest battles when making practical decisions regarding your finances. Spending outside of what your budget can handle will push you further away from saving money and deeper into debt.

Consider implementing the “50-20-30 rule.” Experts state we should spend 50% of our monthly income on necessities: utilities, food, and rent or mortgage. The next 20% is allotted to savings and debt, such as paying off loans or student debt. The last 30% of your income is for personal purchases, such as your phone plan, internet/cable/streaming services, clothing, and personal care. Staying within these guidelines can help establish financial boundaries which will cultivate a healthy financial future.

Alabama Rural Electric Credit Union is committed to helping you achieve financial wellness. The coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis continues to be a stressful time. If you or a loved one has been financially impacted by the COVID-19 virus, our partners at GreenPath Financial Wellness can help. Call and speak to a certified financial counselor free-of-charge.

Contact our Financial Wellness TEAM!

For financial wellness resources and free counseling, visit: or

Cecilia Waits
Jacquie Johnson

A redesigned retirement benefits portal that works for you

By Kylle’ McKinney

We are excited to tell you about our redesigned retirement benefits portal at Keeping you informed about our products and services, and helping you prepare for making decisions that will affect your benefits is very important to us. Preparing for retirement is one of the most important decisions you can make.
Our website has helped millions of people get ready for and apply for retirement. But we heard your feedback that you also want to:
• Find the information you need without reading through too many pages.
• Learn about the benefits in a clear and concise way.
• Be better prepared to apply for retirement online.
• Learn how to manage your personal my Social Security account online.
We made our redesigned retirement benefits portal more user-friendly and easier to navigate, whether you are ready to learn about, apply for, or manage your retirement benefits. You’ll find the new portal eye pleasing, informative, and optimized for mobile devices. We also improved how we list our information on search engines to make it easier for you to find outside our website.
The new Retirement Benefits portal is just the first of several steps we are taking to improve your experience on our website. Visit our new retirement benefits portal today at to learn, apply, and manage your retirement benefits and subscribe to receive retirement information and updates.
Stay tuned for more exciting improvements and services.

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

Ferns are made for the shade — and more

This time of year, there’s nothing like spending time in a shade garden, and with the help of a few well-selected plants, any shady spot can become a garden.

The list of shade-loving plants is extensive and includes annuals (such as impatiens), perennials (think hostas and caladiums) and a variety of shrubs, vines and trees (hydrangeas, clematis and Japanese maples, for examples). But the most iconic made-for-the shade plant is one of Earth’s most ancient plants — the fern.

Ferns date back more than 350 million years when they blanketed the Earth even before dinosaurs roamed and rumbled through their fronds. In the eons since, ferns outlived dinosaurs and many other creatures and fellow plants by adapting to Earth’s ever-changing and diverse environments.
Today more than 10,000 fern species exist worldwide, some 120 of which are native to Alabama. Among those thousands of ferns are species capable of growing in some of the harshest conditions in the world — from frozen tundras to arid deserts — and in almost any location in our yards, from shade to sun. Ferns also come in a diverse array of sizes and styles, which means there’s a fern for almost every garden design need.

Plants that love the shade include ferns, perennials such as hostas and caladiums, and a variety of shrubs, vines and trees. Photo by Katie Jackson

Ferns can be grouped for mass plantings, tucked into woodland settings, singled out as specimen plants, intermingled with other plants in garden beds or potted for use inside or outside the house. Their foliage, which ranges from soft and delicate to broad and leathery depending on the species, adds texture to a landscape. And though they don’t flower, ferns exhibit a wide range of colors in their foliage, including bright neon to dark greens and hints and hues of red, cinnamon, dun and silver.
So why don’t we have ferns everywhere? Probably because they have a reputation as finicky shade-only plants. According to Eleanor Craig, however, that reputation is undeserved.

Craig owns Fern Ridge Farms in Cherokee County, a nationally acclaimed nursery located between Centre and Cedar Bluff that produces a wide array of native and nonnative hardy garden ferns (65 different varieties at last count) along with a selection of tropical ferns and other fern companion plants.

According to Craig, ferns are not all that persnickety, especially about sun. “Most ferns actually don’t like deep, dark shade,” she says. “They prefer early morning sun or dappled sunlight. And there are ferns that love full sun.”

While they do need sufficient moisture, many do fine in drier settings as long as they have the right growing conditions (especially some of our native ferns), which can be enhanced using proper planting techniques.
“I’m a big proponent of fall planting — September through November,” Craig says. That’s because there’s usually plenty of soil moisture that time of year to give ferns a good start, and they have time to establish root systems that help them tolerate summer heat stress.

“Make sure to dig a hole that is wider rather than deeper,” Craig says, noting the fern’s crown should be above soil level so it won’t rot. “I like to mix in composted leaves or pine bark soil conditioner and add a handful of lime as I plant, too.”

Once in the ground, ferns need little more than sufficient moisture and occasional pruning to remove dead or damaged fronds, which gives plants more energy to grow new ones. They also need little to no fertilizer.
And ferns have what Craig calls “one really big plus. Deer hardly ever eat them!” Nor do many other types of wildlife and insects. Who could ask for more?

Want to find out more? Craig is happy to help. Though she enjoys speaking to groups throughout the Southeast, she’s staying safer at home these days; however, she welcomes visitors to Fern Ridge. Check out her website at to learn more.

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