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Consumer Wise: fireplaces

Using fireplaces efficiently


Q: We like to use our brick open wood-burning fireplace, but it makes the rest of the house cold. Our heating bills are high enough, so what simple things can we do to make the fireplace more efficient?

A: During the winter, a warm fire can be quite comfortable. Radiant heat from the flames and coals keeps you warm when you are sitting directly in front of an open fireplace. But unfortunately, most fireplaces lose more heat than they produce.

That warm, relaxing open fire is actually costing you a lot of money – in several ways. First, for some, firewood must be purchased, which is not cheap. Second, the radiant heat feels nice in front of the fire, but already-heated air is being sucked up the chimney from the rest of your house. This makes your heat pump or furnace run longer. Third, if there is no damper on the fireplace or the fireplace is not fitted with its own outdoor air source, indoor air is escaping up the chimney when the fireplace is not in use.

The best tip is to avoid using the fireplace in extremely cold weather. All of the indoor air lost up the chimney is being drawn outdoors through leaks in the house exterior. During milder weather, the air leaking indoors is not as cold so less energy is needed to warm up this cold air.

It also helps to crack open a window at little in the room by the fireplace and close doors leading to the room. Much of the excess air being drawn up the chimney will be cold outdoor air from the open window. When sitting right in front of the hot fire, you probably will not notice the chilly breeze.

Do not place wood into the fire several hours before bedtime so the fire is totally out by the time you go to sleep. It is not safe to leave a smoldering fire. Also, if the fire is completely out, you can close the chimney damper to block room air loss without filling the room with smoke.

High-quality doors are worth the expense

If you make just one investment to improve the efficiency of your fireplace, it should be to install high-quality glass doors. These doors control the amount of indoor air that escapes up the chimney when a fire is burning and also when one is not.

High-quality fireplace doors are not cheap, but they are worth the expense. The best doors are relatively airtight when closed. By adjusting combustion air vents in the bottom of the glass door frame, you can still have a raging fire without major indoor air loss.

Keep in mind, the fire does need an adequate supply of combustion air for an efficient, clean burn. If the air flow is reduced too much, creosote buildup occurs, leaving the potential for a chimney fire. I recommend having the chimney inspected and regularly using several squirts of a creosote control spray during each fire.

Burn only well-seasoned wood or no more than one unseasoned log to three seasoned ones. If you try to burn more unseasoned wood, it requires more combustion air to keep it burning well, which draws even more air out of your home.

There are several designs of heat-circulating grates that increase the heat output from a fireplace. Many efficient grates are designed to fit snugly under the bottom edge of the fireplace doors and contain an electric blower that circulates indoor air through the grate, keeping the air warm.

Stoll Fireplaces makes a unique heat exchanger, which mounts at the top of the fireplace opening, creating a tremendous amount of heat output. These models work with gas or wood-burning fireplaces.

A circulating heat exchanger with built-in glass doors is also available for a more airtight combination. Also, an optional upper oven section is available for cooking and baking, which can help reduce energy use.

When your fireplace is not in use, insert an inflatable chimney pillow or balloon in the fireplace flue. This seals much better than the chimney damper. Once the pillow is inflated, it should stay in place. Some models include a pole to keep it steady. Chimney top dampers, which operate from indoors with a chain, also help reduce air leakage and keep critters and debris out of the chimney. It’s a good idea to hang a sign or ribbon in the fireplace to indicate that the damper is shut or a pillow is installed. This will hopefully stop someone from building a fire when the chimney is closed.

For additional tips and information about fireplace efficiency, check out’s Home Efficiency Analysis Tool (

The following companies offer fireplace efficiency products: Battic Door, 508-320-9082,; Diamond W Products, 248-652-8833,; Northline Express, 866-667-8454,; SaverSystems, 800-860-6327,; and Stoll Fireplace Inc., 800-421-0771,
Send your questions to: James Dulley
Alabama Living
6906 Royalgreen Dr.
Cincinnati, OH 45244
You can also reach Dulley online at:

James Dulley is a nationally syndicated engineering consultant based in Cincinnati.

National Veterans Shrine


Shrine gives veterans the respect and honor they deserve

By Miriam Davis

“It’s sacred ground,” says Melanie Poole, of the American Village. She’s talking about the earth enshrined under the bronze figure of Liberty in front of the National Veterans Shrine and Registry of Honor, earth taken from battlefields around the globe where Americans served and some “gave the last full measure of devotion.”

National Veterans Shrine at the American Village in Montevallo is patterned after Carpenter’s Hall in Philadelphia. Photo by Mark Stephenson
National Veterans Shrine at the American Village in Montevallo is patterned after Carpenter’s Hall in Philadelphia. Photo by Mark Stephenson

Located at the American Village near Montevallo, the National Veterans Shrine was dedicated Feb. 17, 2014. It honors those of every generation who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice for liberty.

The shrine emphasizes veterans as individuals. Inside, a 16-minute video features veterans or family remembers recounting the story of the vet’s service. John O’Mally describes his 21st birthday spent in a hollow log hiding from the North Vietnamese. Chris Fraser, whose mother vehemently opposed her enlisting, talks about her service in the Persian Gulf War as a nurse. Mary Nell Winslow remembers her 17-year-old son Ryan, killed by a roadside bomb three weeks after arriving in Iraq. “Vets are people,” says Poole. “Each one is someone’s child. And it’s not just the men and women in the military who serve, but their families too.”

Hundreds of pictures line the walls of the exhibit showing individuals who served, often far from home and at great risk: women pilots in World War II, soldiers waving from a World War I troopship, a marine in his dress uniform.

One panel pictures Admiral Jeremiah Denton returning from almost eight years as a POW in North Vietnam. The text recounts his determination to die rather than reveal anything of value to his captors. Other panels picture other notable Alabamians, such as Medal of Honor winners George Watson and Red Irwin.

The heart of the shrine is the Registry of Honor. Veterans who register (or are registered by their families) have a short movie made of their service that can be viewed at one of the eight computer kiosks. The video contains pertinent information about the vet’s service — branch, rank, campaigns, battles, years of service – as well as any pictures or information in the vet’s own words that are submitted. The video also contains background information about the conflicts the vet served in, and a Google map shows where the vet was born and where he or she served. The end result is a personalized record of a veteran’s service. Anyone can sit down and search for a particular vet by name or hometown.

Visitors leaving the shrine pass by a large screen showing a ticker-tape parade and under an archway with the words, “Our Heroes,” above it. Photographs nearby show scenes of homecoming; in one a girl holds up a sign that says “Thank you.” This is because, Poole explains, so many vets were not properly welcomed home and this way, “all vets get the honor they deserve.”

And that is the purpose of the National Veterans Shrine and Registry of Honor – to give all veterans the honor and gratitude they are due.

For more information, visit The Shrine is open Monday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Miriam Davis is a research associate in history at Delta State University.

Protect yourself and everyone else by getting a flu shot


Influenza is a serious contagious disease that can lead to hospitalization and even death. The good news is that flu vaccines can protect against it, everyday precautions such as hand-washing can prevent the spread of germs that cause respiratory illness, and antiviral drugs your doctor prescribes can make illnesses milder.

In the nearly four decades I’ve worked in public health there have been some constants regarding influenza, but predicting how severe the next flu season will be is not one of them. While flu spreads every year, the timing, severity, and length of the season all vary from one year to another. That’s because flu viruses are constantly changing, so it’s not unusual for new flu viruses to appear each year. Flu activity most commonly peaks in January or February. However, seasonal flu activity can begin as early as October and continue to occur as late as May.

Some constants are that public health recommends a yearly flu vaccine to protect against this serious disease. While there are many different flu viruses, the seasonal flu vaccine is designed to protect against the top three or four flu viruses that research indicates will cause the most illness during the flu season. People should begin getting vaccinated soon after flu vaccine becomes available to ensure that as many people as possible are protected before flu season begins. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection against the flu.

Influenza can make anyone seriously ill; however, vaccination is especially important for people at high risk for serious flu complications and their close contacts. During a regular flu season, about 90 percent of deaths occur in people 65 years and older. Other deaths often occur in young children and people with weakened immune systems.

Children between 6 months and 8 years of age may need two doses of flu vaccine to be fully protected from flu. Your child’s health care provider can tell you whether two doses are recommended for your child. The two doses should be given at least four weeks apart. Children younger than 6 months are at higher risk of serious flu complications, but they are too young to get a flu vaccine. Because infants under 6 months cannot get a vaccine, safeguarding them from flu is especially important. If you live with or care for young infants, you should get a flu vaccine to help protect them from flu.

Starting this flu season, the use of the nasal spray vaccine (LAIV) is now recommended in healthy children 2 to 8 years of age, when it is immediately available and if the child has no contraindications or precautions to that vaccine. Recent studies suggest that the nasal spray flu vaccine may work better than the flu shot in younger children. However, if the flu shot is available and the nasal spray vaccine is not, children age 2 to 8 years should get the flu shot. Don’t delay vaccination to find the nasal spray flu vaccine.

Flu vaccines are offered by many doctors’ offices, clinics, health departments, pharmacies, urgent care centers, and college health centers, as well as by many employers, and even by some schools. Don’t believe persistent myths like getting a flu shot can give you the flu—it can’t. Injected flu vaccines only contain dead virus that cannot infect you. Nasal spray vaccine is specially engineered to remove the parts of the virus that make people sick. Most people are protected from flu two weeks after getting the vaccine.

In addition to getting vaccinated, you should take everyday preventive steps such as staying away from sick people and washing your hands to reduce the spread of germs. Be considerate. If you are sick with flu, stay home from work or school to prevent spreading influenza to others.

Jim McVay, Dr.P.A., is director of the Bureau of Health Promotion and Chronic Disease of the Alabama Department of Public Health.

Alabama covered by ‘Yellow Dot’

Highway safety program now available in all 67 counties


A free program that could save your life after a traffic crash is now available to residents in all 67 Alabama counties.

The Alabama Yellow Dot program, begun in Etowah County in 2009, provides each participant with a Yellow Dot decal to place on the back window of his or her vehicle. In the event of a crash, the decal alerts first responders to a yellow information packet kept in the glove compartment that lists health conditions, medications, recent surgeries and emergency contacts, permitting more effective medical care at the scene. While the statewide rollout is now complete, many Alabamians have already benefitted from Yellow Dot.

Clanton resident Bethanie Chancellor learned about the value of Yellow Dot after a tragic car crash that took her husband’s life and left her unconscious. Chancellor explained that if she had participated in Yellow Dot, emergency responders would have had the family’s emergency contact information at the scene.

Yellow Dot helped save Homewood resident Vivian Howard’s life in 2013. Howard, who is diabetic, began to lose consciousness while driving back to her home after attending a funeral.

“When I opened my eyes, there were paramedics all around me,” she said. “I had been steadily bumping the curb as I drove and then eventually blacked out and crashed.”

Because Howard had taken advantage of Yellow Dot, first responders had immediate access to her medical information, helping them quickly assess her condition and initiate proper procedures.

For more information on the program or to find an enrollment station in your county, visit

Being aware of fraud is key to avoiding it


With all of the holiday shopping going on this time of year, both in stores and online, there is no better time to remind you to beware of fraud — you never know where it is lurking.

When it comes to doing business with Social Security online, there is little to worry about — all of our online services are protected by strong Internet security protocols and you should have confidence that they are safe and secure. But, there are other ways identity thieves and criminals can obtain your personal information and cause you significant harm. Here are some tips to help keep that from happening.

* If someone contacts you claiming to be from Social Security and asks for your Social Security number, date of birth, or other identifying information, beware. Don’t provide your personal information without first verifying that Social Security is really trying to contact you. It could be an identity thief snooping for your personal information (a disguise to acquire sensitive information, known as “phishing.”) Call Social Security’s toll-free number at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778).

* If you receive a suspicious call, report it by going to Or call 1-800-269-0271 from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. EDT. You should provide as much of the following information as you know:

  • The alleged suspect(s) and victim(s) names, address(es), phone number(s), date(s) of birth, and Social Security number(s);
  • Description of the fraud and the location where the fraud took place;
  • When and how the fraud was committed;
  • Why the person committed the fraud (if known); and
  • Who else has knowledge of the potential violation.

Identity theft is one of the fastest-growing crimes in America. If you or anyone you know has been the victim of an identity thief, contact the Federal Trade Commission at, or 1-877-IDTHEFT (1-877-438-4338); TTY 1-866-653-4261.

Another form of fraud that people fall victim to: businesses using misleading advertisements that make it look as though they are from Social Security. These businesses often offer Social Security services for a fee, even though the same services are available directly from Social Security free of charge. By law, such an advertisement must indicate that the company is not affiliated with Social Security.

If you receive what you believe is misleading advertising for Social Security services, send the complete mailing, including the envelope, to:
Office of the Inspector General, Fraud Hotline 
Social Security Administration 
P.O. Box 17768, Baltimore, MD 21235.

Also, advise your state’s attorney general or consumer affairs office and the Better Business Bureau. If you see or hear what you believe is misleading advertising related to Social Security, you can report it at the address above, by calling 1-800-269-0271 from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. EDT.

Protect your investment in Social Security and do your part to report potential fraud. We rely on you to let us know when you suspect someone is committing fraud against Social Security.

Reporting fraud is a smart thing to do — and the right thing to do. Visit Social Security’s Office of the Inspector General at Learn more about identity theft and misleading advertising by reading our publications on the subjects at

Kylle’ McKinney, Alabama Social Security Public Affairs Specialist, can be reached in Montgomery at 866-593-0914, ext. 26265, or at

Helping veterans heal through hunting, fishing

Alabama Outdoors

Cpl. Justin Masellas, USMC, shows a big catch he made on a fishing expedition with A HERO friends.
Cpl. Justin Masellas, USMC, shows a big catch he made on a fishing expedition with A HERO friends.

By John N. Felsher

Capt. Lee Stuckey, a decorated combat Marine from Shorter, Ala., started America’s Heroes Enjoying Recreation Outdoors, or A HERO, to connect veterans with patriotic members of local communities who help organize hunting, fishing or other activities. The supporters do this as a reward for the courageous service demonstrated by these warriors and to allow them to heal from the emotional wounds of combat.

“The primary purpose of these activities is to boost the morale, encourage constructive communication and engagement and develop an informal support network of war veterans across the country in an effort to heal the physical and psychological wounds of war,” explains Stuckey, who earned a Purple Heart for combat wounds he suffered in Iraq in 2007. “A HERO was organized and is operated by Iraq and Afghanistan Marine Corps and Army veterans who understand the challenges war veterans face today in re-engaging the civilian world.”

Stuckey survived three combat deployments. During one of them, an improvised explosive device destroyed his vehicle, severely injuring him. Dealing with the emotional trauma as well as his physical injuries, Stuckey put a gun to his head after returning home. With Lee’s finger already starting to squeeze the trigger, his mother called his cell phone. As the phone rang, the captain dropped the pistol and realized he needed help fast. If he, a tough Marine officer who led warriors in combat, needed help, thousands of others probably suffered the same stress and needed help as well.

Stuckey visited several military hospitals to talk to fellow vets and asked them how he could help them overcome their physical and emotional injuries. One Marine who lost both legs and all of his fingers, except his trigger finger, said he would love to go deer hunting again. Another vet confined to a wheelchair said he wanted to go fishing. The proverbial light bulb ignited inside Stuckey’s head and he founded A HERO to find people who could take vets hunting and fishing as a healing remedy.

“These trips are not focused on the hunting as much as on creating a network of like-minded individuals who are dealing with similar issues,” Stuckey advised. “A HERO gives the vets the ability to meet new people that they can call on when they are dealing with stress. They know the phone will be answered and someone will be there to listen and never judge.”

Many veterans arrive at A HERO events still healing from their physical wounds after recently returning from overseas. Some sit in wheelchairs or walk on new prosthetic devices they just began to learn how to use. All carry physiological wounds. Some once proud, confident and strong young men arrive depressed and withdrawn, wondering what will become of them. After talking with their fellow veterans, they learn to smile and laugh again.

Band of Brothers

On a recent outing, one small band of brothers, all Purple Heart veterans of the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan or both, came to a quiet 1,500-acre tract of private forest east of Montgomery to hunt and to heal. They enjoyed the quiet fellowship of telling stories and jokes around a blazing campfire with the only people who truly understand what they experienced – other veterans.

“Just being here with other vets and helping each other out is very enjoyable,” remarked Daniel Meisenholder, an Army National Guard sergeant from Hamilton, Miss., who suffered injuries in 2012 when an Afghan child set off an improvised explosive device under his vehicle two months before his tour ended. “It’s a lot easier talking to someone who was deployed and who shared the same experiences than someone who has no idea what we’re talking about.”

Some of the men stayed up all night around the fire, not wanting to miss a minute of the fellowship. Others stayed awake as long as possible talking with their friends rather than risk returning to some hellish moment in their lives that still haunts their dreams. In the morning, most scattered throughout the surrounding fields, pine forests and hardwood bottoms to hunt deer. Others preferred to relax peacefully around the cabin on a cold, rainy dawn. What they did didn’t matter. Safe, well fed and surrounded by people who care, they could do whatever they wanted and take time to heal in their own ways.


“We’ve been working with Lee for about five years,” said Thomas Crews of Montgomery, who hosted the group of vets on his family’s property and allowed them to stay in his hunting camp. “We’ve hosted several hunts and a couple fishing trips for the A HERO program. We just appreciate what these veterans do for us. I get out of it just as much as they do. It’s really rewarding to spend the weekend with these guys. If they want to go hunting, that’s fine. If they just want to watch movies in the camp, that’s fine too. We just want them to have a good time after what they went through. They’ve earned it.”

A few older vets from previous wars also arrived to help the healing process. They all swapped stories of their experiences from their times in uniform, whether weeks or decades ago. Most told funny stories about people they remembered or the idiotic and illogical things all of those who served must do on occasion as ordered by Uncle Sam.

“I was in the original invasion of Iraq in 2003 as we advanced up the Tigress River,” recalled Ty Banks of Macon, Miss., who fought with a Marine Corps reserve unit from Montgomery. “Lee invited me to help with the first hunt and I saw how it helped the guys and how much they enjoyed it. Ever since then, I try to help in any way I can.”

Most didn’t really talk about combat. They didn’t need to. Those who endured it and survived already knew. Those who never experienced combat could not possibly understand anyway. Whether serving in a steaming Vietnam jungle, a frozen valley in Korea, a waterless Iraqi desert or atop a remote Afghan mountain, the scenery changes and the technology changes, but the experience remains the same.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed this,” Meisenholder said. “I’ve been an outdoorsman all my life. I love hunting and fishing. I really appreciate the opportunity that I’ve had to hunt here. At home, I still can’t hunt. This helps a lot with the healing process. I’m also helping a Marine friend who went into Iraq with some of the first units. He’s my best friend. We grew up together. It’s all about being there with each other and helping each other out. The best thing I take out of this experience is knowing that people care and are willing to help us out.”

After fighting and almost dying in the Korean War during the early 1950s, Purple Heart recipient Howard William Osterkamp once said, “All gave some. Some gave all.” Decades later, that succinct and poignant statement still sums up the experiences of veterans from all wars. On this Veterans Day and throughout the year, remember and honor those who gave so much so the rest of us can enjoy our freedom.

For more information or to help with America’s Heroes Enjoying Recreation Outdoors, call 850-449-4023 or see A, or visit the group on Facebook at A Hero.


Mobile AeroFest to support AHERO Foundation


AeroFest 2015, set for March 20-21, 2015, will celebrate our nation’s heroes in a festival of music, art, food, and athletic events at the Brookley Aeroplex in Mobile. Sponsored by the Mobile Airport Authority and Titan FC, professional athletes will work alongside wounded veterans in efforts to reduce bullying in local schools throughout Mobile County and bring awareness and financial support to the AHERO Foundation.

The event will be featured on the CBS Sports Network during the Titan FC Mixed Martial Arts Championship Title Fight during the festival.

For information, visit or contact Dave Glassman at

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

Worth the Drive: Rattlesnake Saloon

The Rattlesnake Saloon in Tuscumbia invites you to dine in the side of a mountain. Photo by Jennifer Kornegay
The Rattlesnake Saloon in Tuscumbia invites you to dine in the side of a mountain. Photo by Jennifer Kornegay

Hidden restaurant unlike any in Alabama

By Jennifer Kornegay

I’d wager that more than half of my Worth the Drive articles in the last few years have profiled eateries that are true hole-in-the-wall joints. But this time, I’m encouraging you to visit a place that’s a true hole-in-the-rock.

And not just encouraging you to go, imploring you. The Rattlesnake Saloon in Tuscumbia is unlike any other restaurant in the state, and its hidden location amid some of North Alabama’s most stunning scenery is a sight you must see. Opened in 2009, this one-of-a-kind spot draws folks by the thousands from all over the globe. Once you’re there, it won’t be hard to figure out why. Oh, and you can rustle up some good grub there, too.

Rattlesnake Saloon is a part of the Seven Springs Lodge on the outskirts of the city. The lodge is set on 200,000 acres at the bottom of the Appalachian Foothills and welcomes guests looking for a place to kick off their boots and relax, as well as those who are after some outdoor adventure. Trails for horseback riding, mountain biking and hiking cut through the property and lead to several historical markers designating ancient Native American sites. Accommodations at the lodge include cabins and rooms built into two concrete grain silos in addition to hookups for campers and RVs. There are also covered stalls to shelter visiting horses.

Your journey to Rattlesnake Saloon begins in the lodge’s dirt parking lot. Once you hop out of your car, hail the always-near Rattlesnake Taxi, an old pickup truck with wooden benches built into its bed. A kindly gentleman will help you up to your seat in the back and instruct you to hold on. Do as you are told.

The taxi drives along a dirt road toward a metal arch with the name of your destination across its top. As soon as you pass under it, the path angles down sharply, and the truck descends a steep hill, heading down into thick trees. The road winds deeper and deeper into the woods until it bottoms out in a flat. And then you see it, a geological gem. Up on your right is a massive rock ledge jutting out of the hillside. Layers of stone eons old are exposed, and tangled vines slip over the edge and hang down to form a green, growing curtain. If there’s been a recent rain, a waterfall ranging from thundering sheets to tinkling trickles flows over the ledge as well.


It may take a minute for your eyes to adjust to the dim light in the forest shade, but you’ll soon make out chairs and tables set into the cavern that the overhang creates. To one side, a small building is set halfway into the cave, complete with swing doors and big hitching posts carved into coiled rattlesnake shapes. You’ve arrived at the Rattlesnake Saloon, a Western-style watering hole and a restaurant that takes full advantage of Mother Nature’s raw beauty and invites you to do the same.

No matter the weather outside, the air is always cool and calm under the sprawling stone ceiling. There are tables inside the building and on an adjacent deck, but unless it’s too crowded, you’ll want to grab a seat in the cave. A friendly waitress will bring you a menu featuring classic American bar food with catchy saloon-themed names. Choose from Skunk Rings (onion rings), Snake Eyes and Tails (fried jalapenos and green beans) and Cowboy Buttons (fried mushrooms) to start. But don’t fill up on these tasty vittles, or you’ll be unable to truly appreciate The Duke, an enormous and delicious half-pound burger topped with bacon, Snake Eyes and onion on a soft Kaiser roll. Finish with some Apple Fritters, and then just sit a spell and take in the view.

Saddle Up

The Rattlesnake Saloon
Open February through November, Thursday – Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
1292 Mt Mills Rd., Tuscumbia, AL 256.370.7220

Jennifer Kornegay travels to an out-of-the way restaurant destination in Alabama every month. She may be reached for comment at Check out more of Jennifer’s food writing, recipes and recommendations on her blog, Chew on This at


Winter garden preparations


In right spot, kiwi and satsumas can work in your garden

Winter may be nearing, but that doesn’t mean you have to do without fresh in-season produce. After all, we have a great supply of Alabama-grown pecans, chestnuts, pumpkins, winter squash, apples and pears — enough to fill a cornucopia to its brim. And that’s not even counting the more exotic fruits of fall and winter such as Asian persimmons, loquats, kumquats, pomegranates, a variety of citrus fruits and kiwifruit.

Some of these crops, such as pomegranates, may not be mainstays of the winter menu but have been grown in Alabama yards for generations. Others have a long history of production in parts of the state, such as the Gulf Coast region’s satsuma mandarin orange industry, but until recently were not grown widely. Still others are relatively new crops for the state but are becoming more and more popular for both home and commercial production.


One thing all these crops have in common is that they have benefited from research conducted through the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station, the agricultural research arm of our state land-grant universities. That research has helped find better ways to produce these and many other crops across the state.

For example, AAES has demonstrated that both kiwifruit and satsumas do exceptionally well in central Alabama and even farther north in the state and are not just limited to southern parts of Alabama.

The key to making this plethora of possibilities work in your garden is to choose varieties and cultivars that are adapted to your area, plant them in the most ideal spot in your yard for their specific needs, then give them all the attention they need. Some will need more attention than others, by the way, so make sure you’re up for the task before you invest in any new plant.

Late fall and on through the winter is considered prime planting season for many fruit and ornamental trees, shrubs and vines in Alabama—a great way to work off some of those holiday calories. And now is a good time to do a little research of your own by exploring the different options you might want to plant for yourself. Check with your county Alabama Cooperative Extension System office, area plant nurseries or fellow local gardeners to see what they suggest.

Winter’s coming, time for mulching

Now is also the time for another big garden chore—mulching.

Mulching provides lots of benefits year-round, such as controlling soil erosion, suppressing weeds and conserving water. But as an email from Gloria and Wayne Littles of Conecuh County reminded me, it is especially important in protecting tender plants in the winter. They were concerned about protecting their strawberries over the winter, which may be especially important this year: In case you haven’t heard, a harsh winter is predicted.

While not all plants need to be mulched for the winter, an application of organic mulch in the fall can be useful for many fruiting and ornamental plants, especially new plantings that have not had time to put down a deep root system. Applying a mulch for the winter provides a blanket for the plants’ root systems, helping insulate soil from temperature fluctuations and can also prevent cold damage to above-ground plant parts.

When it comes to other plants, the amount or type of mulch needed may vary, but typically an application of 2 to 5 inches of straw, pine needles, hay, compost, leaves, bark chips or other organic matter should be mulched evenly over or around the plants. Do keep the mulch material a couple of inches away from the trunks of trees and shrubs, though, so it doesn’t promote rot or allow small rodents that may seek cover in the mulch to gnaw on the trunk.

Of course there is so much more to learn about mulching, planting and generally scheming for next year’s garden. But at least we have all winter to tuck in with our catalogues and garden books and maybe a bowl full of satsumas by the fire. And if you have questions, send them on. If I don’t know the answer I’ll sure try to find out!


November Gardening Tips

  • Store unused pesticides in sealed containers and place them in freeze-protected locations for the winter.
  • Clean and flush gasoline out of lawn mowers and other garden equipment before storing them for the winter.
  • Test your soil and begin adding needed amendments once the results are in.
  • Turn the compost pile.
  • Bring potted plants into the house or place in protected area before the first hard freeze.
  • Plant leafy greens such as lettuce, arugula and spinach, as well as garlic and shallots.
  • Plant spring-blooming bulbs.
  • Plant beets, carrots, radishes and asparagus.
  • Plant annual flowers such as sweet peas, poppies, snapdragons, larkspurs and delphiniums.
  • Keep bird feeders cleaned and filled.

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

Old Barn restaurant has a new barnkeeper

The former barn is a popular eatery that draws customers to Goshen from all over the Southeast.

By Ben Norman

It was Amy Chandler’s idea to turn the old barn on her family’s farm into a famous eatery, and now she’s the new owner.

When Amy Chandler was a 10-year-old girl playing in the loft of the large barn on her parent’s farm, the furthest thing from her mind was operating a famous eatery out of the same barn. Back then, she was much more interested in watching the nest where a mother owl hatched a trio of baby owls, or playing with a new litter of kittens the barn cat was raising.

“That mother owl would let me get up close enough to peek into the nest, but if I got too close she would hiss and spread her wings to warn me that was close enough,” Amy remembers. “Later on, I read how ferocious a nesting owl can be, but somehow she just knew I meant her babies no harm.”

The idea of opening a restaurant developed because of Amy and husband Scottie’s desire to get back home to Goshen, Ala. “We were working in south Alabama and wanted to get back home. I approached my father and mother, Johnny and Beverly Taylor, about converting the farm barn into a restaurant,” she says. “Daddy was somewhat receptive but mom was a bit apprehensive. But after considerable thought and planning, we decided to do it. I had worked my way through college as a waitress and had a good understanding of what it would take to run a restaurant. My dad and husband were already accomplished cooks, and I had a knack for preparing desserts. Mom was good at bookkeeping and administrative matters. It wasn’t long before we were nailing and sawing and The Old Barn Restaurant was beginning to take shape.

Beverly and Johnny Taylor hand over the keys to the Old Barn to their daughter, Amy Chandler. Photos by Ben Norman
Beverly and Johnny Taylor hand over the keys to the Old Barn to their daughter, Amy Chandler. Photos by Ben Norman

“We wanted a comfortable place for our customers but we also wanted to retain as much of the original décor of the barn as possible. The supporting posts of the Old Barn show scars of where mules chewed them in the early 1900s to obtain salt. Daddy likes to remind customers in one section that ‘you are sitting right where the sow, Big Mama, had their pigs.’ He also liked to tell someone coming out of the bathroom you ‘just used what used to be the corn crib,’” laughs Amy.

South Alabama Electric in Troy helped in the initial planning and made recommendations for their electrical needs. The family worked many long days and gradually the old hay and mule barn evolved into a rustic restaurant, with their agricultural antique collection adorning the walls of the dining area.

While the Old Barn’s rustic appearance, decorated walls and the large front porch attract customers, it is the food that is the real drawing point. “We have people from all over the Southeast come and eat with us,” she says. “I think it was our diversified cooking abilities that led to our success. Daddy’s specialty is barbecue and camp stew, Scottie’s is cooking meat loaf, chicken, bread pudding and preparing a real country lunch for Sunday. I get a lot of compliments on my Conecuh River Mudcake, ice cream and peach cobbler. Our cook is one of the very best at grilling steaks and preparing seafood. We have also cross-trained by learning how to make each other’s specialty.”

Her parents decided in November 2013 that they wanted more free time to travel and turned the Old Barn over to Scottie and Amy. Amy says she loves the business and their customers have become their friends. Eating Sunday lunch at the Old Barn is about as close as one can get to eating at grandmama’s house. The Chandlers are now growing most of the vegetables served at the Old Barn in their large garden. The days they are not open Amy spends most of her time cultivating, picking vegetables and hand shelling peas and butterbeans.

The Old Barn specializes in quality steaks and succulent seafood from Thursday through Saturday night, with a country lunch served on Sunday. After enjoying a meal, many customers like to move to the spacious front porch, sit in the rocking chairs and enjoy a cup of homemade ice cream or a cup of coffee and chat with old friends and meet new ones.

The Old Barn hours are 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. They are open for Sunday lunch at 11 a.m. The Chandlers also book parties and do catering. The Old Barn is located at 2146 Pike County Road 2243, Goshen, Ala., 36035. If you need help with directions, call 334-484-3200 or email

Ben Norman is a writer from Highland Home, Ala.

Alabama Recipes: Thanksgiving ’14


Thanksgiving is a day for families to get together, talk about food, memories, argue about what REALLY happened at the family reunion last year, watch football, laugh and make room for more memories. When thinking about your menu for the big day, think about foods your family loves to eat during the year. I know some folks who just don’t love to have turkey, so they grill steaks. Just remember if a dish doesn’t turn out the way you hoped, it’s not really about the food; it’s about the time we spend with one another.



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: Maureen Nichols, Clarke-Washington EMC

Butternut Squash Pie

To cook fresh squash, slice the butternut squash into halves and remove seeds and strings.  Place cut-side down on an oil-sprayed baking sheet and bake at 325 degrees until flesh is tender and can be scooped out (about an hour).  Scrape the pulp from the shell and mash it.


1 1/2 cups cooked butternut squash
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar or can use Splenda
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg or allspice
Dash of ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon flour
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. In a medium large bowl, mix together the dry ingredients.  In a separate bowl, mix the wet ingredients.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry mixture and mix well.  Pour into a prepared 9-inch piecrust.  Bake for 15 minutes at 425 degrees, then lower the temperature to 350 and continue baking (about 45 minutes) until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean. Shield the crust perimeter with foil, if necessary, during the last 30 minutes, to prevent over-browning.

Loaded Mashed Potatoes

21/2 pounds potatoes (peeled and boiled)
8 ounces cream cheese (softened)
8 ounces sour cream
½-1 stick butter (melted)
1/3-½ cup milk
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese (grated)
Pam non-stick cooking spray

Boil potatoes until well done. Place in bowl and begin mixing potatoes with mixer. Add cream cheese and blend well. Then add sour cream, amount of butter to your taste (at least ½ stick), and milk. Mix well. Place mixture in casserole dish that has been lightly sprayed with Pam and add grated cheese on top. Bake for approximately 15 – 20 minutes in a 350 degree oven or until cheese is melted and lightly browned.

Mildred Nordman, North Alabama EC

Apricot Salad


6 ounces of apricot Jell-O
2/3 cup water
2/3 cup sugar
1 20-ounce can of crushed pineapple
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 small jars of apricot baby food
1 can of condensed milk, chilled
11/2 cups pecans chopped

Bring Jell-O, water and sugar to a boil in a large saucepan. Remove from heat and add cream cheese, baby food and pineapple. You will have to smash the cream cheese with a spoon until it is blended. Set aside to cool. Add condensed milk by folding into the mixture. Pour into a large casserole dish. Sprinkle pecans on top. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

Faye Stone, Baldwin EMC

Pecan Pie

1 cup white corn syrup
1 cup light brown sugar
1/3 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup melted butter or margarine
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 eggs, slightly beaten
1 cup heaping chopped pecans
2 deep dish pie shells

Combine syrup, sugar, salt, butter or margarine, vanilla and mix well. Add eggs. Pour into pie shells. Sprinkle chopped pecans over all. Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 45 minutes. This is a family recipe that has been passed down for over 20 years. It is a family favorite and always requested at the annual family Thanksgiving get-together.

Memory Bush, South Alabama Electric Cooperative

Rainbow Jell-O® Salad

1 package (3 ounces) each of orange, lime and lemon Jell-O®
1 envelope plain gelatin
8 ounces cream cheese
½ cup mayonnaise
1 can (15.2 ounces) crushed pineapple in its own juice
2 cans (15 ounces) apricot halves

Moisten finger with oil and barely grease loaf pan (or 9.5 cup size rectangular plastic container). Add ½ envelope of plain gelatin to orange Jell-O. Prepare according to package directions using only 1 and ½ cups boiling water instead of 2 cups total. Drain apricots, mash with a fork, stir into orange Jell-O, pour into loaf pan or plastic container and chill until firm. Prepare lemon Jell-O according to package directions using only 1 and ½ cups boiling water. Stir mayonnaise into softened cream cheese then add Jell-O to mixture. Pour this over firm layer of orange salad and chill until firm. Add remaining ½ envelope of plain gelatin to lime Jell-O. Prepare according to package directions using 1 and ½ cups boiling water. Add crushed pineapple, pour over lemon layer and chill until firm. To serve, use a knife to go around sides of loaf pan, unmold onto serving platter. Garnish if desired. If serving from plastic, simply cut Jell-O into blocks. Orange layer up is pretty for Thanksgiving. Consider color of layer as you prepare. Today’s loaf pans hold less which may require filling no more than 1/3 with each layer. Dip a few spoonsful into small plastic container. (Free sample for the cook.)

Rena Henderson, Tallapoosa River Electric Cooperative

Cranberry Salad

2- 3-ounce packages raspberry Jell-O®
2 cups boiling water
1- 16-ounce can whole berry cranberry sauce
1- 8-ounce can crushed pineapple

8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Empty contents of Jell-O packets in to a large mixing bowl; add boiling water and stir until dissolved.  Add cranberry sauce and continue stirring until sauce is no longer jelled.  Add crushed pineapple along with its juice.  In a clear cut-glass bowl place half of the cranberry mixture.  Be careful not to get the mixture up the sides of the bowl. (I take a cup and dip it into the bowl to keep the sides clean.)  Refrigerate until cranberry mixture is firm.
Topping: Beat ingredients together until smooth.  Keep at room temperature, so it will spread easily.
When first layer of cranberry mixture is jelled, spread half of topping mixture over it. Carefully pour in the remaining cranberry mixture and refrigerate until firm.  Then spread on remaining topping mixture.  Sprinkle on a few more chopped nuts as a garnish.

Note:  This is such a festive dish with the deep red and white layers showing through the sides of a clear glass bowl.  It is a tradition for our family’s Thanksgiving and Christmas meals.

Martha Joy Troyer, Southern Pine EC

Mother’s Dressing

4 cups of crumbled day old cornbread
2 cups dry breadcrumbs
3 ½ cups chicken broth
3 eggs
1 cup milk
2 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1 cup chopped celery
¾ cups chopped onion
Pinch of sage – no more than a pinch

Mix cornbread with breadcrumbs. Add chicken broth. Beat eggs lightly in bowl then beat into milk. Add milk, salt, pepper to cornbread mixture. Add sage, celery and onion. Mix and pour into well-greased pan. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes.

Frances D. Borders, Tallapoosa River EC