Navigate / search

Consumer Wise

Maintain your home’s heating system efficiency

QI want to keep my utility bills as low as possible. With the heating season soon upon us, what can I do myself to keep my heating system running at its maximum efficiency and heat output?

AHeating and cooling a home contribute to the majority of utility bills for most families. Water heating usually is the second largest energy consumer, typically accounting for about 20 percent of the utility bill. Doing a simple heating system tune-up yourself improves its efficiency, resulting in significant annual cost savings.

Since central air-conditioning uses the same air handler (blower and ducts) as the heating system, maintaining your heating system for winter often also reduces cooling costs during summer.

First, turn off the electric circuit breaker. Remove the cover from the burner and control portion of a condensing gas furnace to inspect. –Photo by James Dulley
First, turn off the electric circuit breaker. Remove the cover from the burner and control portion of a condensing gas furnace to inspect. –Photo by James Dulley

Unless your furnace is actually malfunctioning in a significant way or making strange noises, you generally cannot tell if it is operating at peak efficiency. One way to tell is to compare your current utility bills to previous years.

Make sure to compare the actual amount of energy used (KWH, gallons of oil, cubic feet of gas, etc.), not just the dollar amounts of the bills. Adjust the amounts accordingly for the severity of the weather measured in heating degree days for each comparison year (

Don’t skip your regular scheduled professional maintenance calls just because you have done your own heating system mini-tune-up. There are many areas within a heating system that only a qualified technician can evaluate and adjust properly. A rule of thumb when doing your own tune-up is, if you are not absolutely sure what a part or adjustment screw does, don’t touch it.

The first items to check are for safety. With a gas or propane furnace, put several drops of soapy water on any gas-line fittings you find. If the water bubbles at all, there are leaks. Leave your house immediately and call your gas company to have it repaired. With a heat pump, check to make sure the insulation on all of the external wiring looks correct. You can inspect potential ‘bad spots’ – damaged or frayed areas – more carefully once you turn the circuit breaker off.

Turn off the electric power to the heating unit at the circuit breaker panel. Remove its side cover to gain access to the blower. Using a vacuum cleaner brush attachment, clean any dust deposits off the blower. You may find bearing oil cups on the blower motor of older systems. Put a drop of oil in each cup.

If you can find the fan control switch, adjust the temperature setting lower. Common settings are on at 135 degrees and off at 100 degrees. You might try using 110 and 90 degrees. This starts the blower sooner and keeps it running longer as the heat exchanger heats up and then cools down. This may cause a slightly chilly draft when it starts and stops, but it will extract more heat from the system. If you have trouble identifying the fan control switch, call a certified technician and wait for assistance.

Replace the cover and make sure all the cabinet screws are tight. While you have the screwdriver or wrench in your hand, check the tightness of any cabinet screws you can find. Having the cabinet well-sealed improves efficiency by maintaining the proper air flow through the coils or over the heat exchanger surfaces. With a heat pump, also check the cabinet screws on the outdoor condenser unit.

Set up the thermostat so the furnace starts. Hold a stick of lighted incense near all the joints in the ductwork, both return and supply air ducts, to check for air leaks. If you find leaks, wipe dust off the surfaces and use mastic around the leaking joints.

This is a good time to change your furnace filter or clean a central air cleaner element. Consider installing a more effective filter element than the low-cost fiberglass ones that many systems use. This may not help indoor air quality much, but it can keep the air-flow paths cleaner for more efficient heat transfer.

Check the accuracy of the wall thermostat. You may actually be keeping your house warmer than you realize. Tape a bulb thermometer on the wall next to your furnace. Check the thermometer reading when the furnace shuts off and note the difference between it and the thermostat setting. Now you will know where to set the thermostat to get the indoor temperature you desire. If it is inaccurate, replace it with a new electronic setback model.

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

If your child is disabled, Social Security can help 

Cancer is a terrible disease that, although sometimes beatable, can strike a blow to anyone unfortunate enough to face it. It is especially difficult to see children struck by cancer.

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, designated to bring attention to the types of cancer that largely affect children. About 13,000 children under age 21 receive cancer diagnoses every year. About a quarter of them will not survive. Those who do will likely suffer with the disease for some time.

While Social Security cannot help with the cure, we can offer financial support to children with cancer or any other severe disability.

If your child has cancer or another disabling condition, and if your family has low income and few resources, you may be able to get Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, for your child. If you are receiving retirement or disability benefits, your child may be eligible for Social Security disability insurance when he or she turns age 18 as a “Disabled Adult Child.” To receive SSI or disability insurance benefits, your child’s condition must be expected to last for at least 12 continuous months or result in death.

For both Social Security and SSI, you will need to file an application for disability benefits. A good place to start is by visiting and selecting the “Disability Starter Kit” under “Apply for Benefits.” There, you’ll find a “Child Disability Starter Kit” that includes a factsheet to answer your questions, a link to the “Child Disability Report” for you to complete, a checklist for your in-office interview with a Social Security representative, and a “Medical and School Worksheet.” A printable version of the “Child Starter Kit” is available.

To learn more, view, print, or listen to an audio version of our publication, Benefits For Children With Disabilities by visiting

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

Do you have prediabetes?

Lifestyle changes may delay or prevent serious illness

The vast majority of people with prediabetes don’t know it.

Prediabetes is a condition that can lead to type 2 diabetes and other serious conditions including heart attack and stroke. The condition classified as prediabetes means your blood glucose (sugar) is higher than normal, but not high enough to be called diabetes. Before people develop type 2 diabetes, they almost always have prediabetes.

I have a son in his early 40s who didn’t see any reason to be screened for diabetes because he had been healthy all of his life. A few months ago he became extremely ill, went to the emergency room, and was found to have a very high blood glucose level. After being hospitalized for 10 days and nearly dying, he was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

No Clear Symptoms

People usually find out that they have prediabetes when being tested for diabetes–both can be diagnosed with a simple blood test. During a routine office visit your health care provider can order screenings that indicate prediabetes as follows:

  • An A1c (a test that measures average blood glucose for the past 2-3 months) of 5.7 – 6.4 percent
  • Fasting blood glucose (FPG) of 100 – 125 mg/dl
  • An oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) 2-hour blood glucose of 140 mg/dl – 199 mg/dl

If you have prediabetes, you should be checked for type 2 diabetes after six months to one year and be retested annually. The good news is evidence indicates people with prediabetes can take steps to prevent or delay complications that are linked to diabetes. For some people with prediabetes, early treatment can actually return blood glucose levels to the normal range.

Who Should Get Screened?

The American Diabetes Association recommends that the following people be screened:
Adults of any age who are overweight or obese with one or more of these risk factors:

  • Having a parent, brother or sister with diabetes
  • Low HDL (good) cholesterol level and high triglycerides level
  • High blood pressure
  • History of diabetes during pregnancy or having a baby weighing more than 9 pounds
  • Being inactive
  • History of cardiovascular disease
  • Belonging to an at-risk ethnic group (African American, Hispanic, Native American, Hispanic American, Asian American or Pacific Islander)
  • Previous blood test showing prediabetes
  • People aged 45 or older without any risk factors
  • Overweight children aged 10 years and older who have two of these risk factors:
  • High body mass index (BMI) based on child’s weight and height
  • Family history of diabetes
  • Signs of insulin resistance or having a condition associated with insulin resistance
  • At-risk ethnic background
Preventing Type 2 Diabetes

You will not develop type 2 diabetes automatically if you have prediabetes. Research shows that you can lower your risk for type 2 diabetes by 59 percent by making lifestyle changes that include:

  • Losing 7 percent of your body weight (or 15 pounds if you weigh 200 pounds)
  • Exercising moderately (such as brisk walking) 30 minutes a day, five days a week

In addition to weight loss and physical activity, your doctor will also recommend that you make changes to your diet that may include eating more fruits, vegetables and whole grain foods. You should also limit your consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages. If you drink alcohol, limit yourself to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women.

Even if you can’t reach your ideal body weight, losing even 10 to 15 pounds can make a big difference. Work with your health care provider to avoid diabetes and its complications. Eating right, staying active and taking any needed medications can help you stay healthy.

I am pleased to report that my son is now controlling his diabetes by following a healthful diet, engaging in regular physical activity, taking medication and monitoring his blood glucose levels twice daily. He has succeeded in losing 20 pounds and feels much better since he has made appropriate lifestyle changes.

Please be screened and follow your health care provider’s recommendations to enjoy better overall health. Check the Alabama Department of Public Health website at for information and educational opportunities in your area.

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


Alabama Outdoors

One memorable day in the marsh

By John N. Felsher
Small ducks, blue-winged teal migrate earlier than other ducks
Small ducks, blue-winged teal migrate earlier than other ducks

Bagging game doesn’t necessarily define a successful hunt. Some hunts create memories that live forever — for better or worse – because of the experiences in the natural beauty of the wilderness.

For me, one such memorable hunt occurred many Septembers ago during teal season. Small ducks, blue-winged teal migrate earlier than other ducks. They begin arriving on the Gulf Coast in late summer and may disappear when the first cold front hits. Therefore, the state allows sportsmen to hunt teal in September.

One balmy September afternoon, I paddled through a narrow marsh channel to reach my hunting spot. As I rounded a bend, the boat nearly bumped into two alligators sunning themselves on the muddy bank, barely a few feet away. One quickly disappeared, but the larger one stayed put until the boat began to pass it. Then, it plopped into the channel, resting on the bottom as the boat glided over it.

With water barely two feet deep, I could easily see it and decided to give it a less than subtle nudge with the paddle — perhaps not my best decision! Nearly upsetting the tippy craft, the very surprised alligator sloshed an Olympic 100-yard thrash through the marsh to get away from this crazy teenager!

Feel rather cocky after fighting my way through alligators, I finally reached the pond where I wanted to hunt. As I stepped from the boat, I tripped on a root and fell face first into the muck – quite literally bringing me back down to earth!

Upon opening my eyes, I stared into the face of a large venomous cottonmouth coiled not more than a foot away. Positive the “big moment” had arrived, I closed my eyes tightly and braced for the inevitable strike. “Lord, make a place for me. I’m coming soon,” I prayed, asking forgiveness for all sins real and imagined including some I hadn’t even thought of doing yet.

After several years, or at least what felt like years in that position, I slightly cracked open one eye. Yes, the enormous coiled black snake was still poised, ready to strike at my nose, but no fangs pierced my flesh. Mustering some courage, I peeked with both eyes and noticed something odd. The snake didn’t move. Curious, I rose and picked up a stick to poke it. Nothing happened. I don’t know what caused the snake’s death. Perhaps it suffered a massive heart attack as I nearly fell on top of it, but better it than me!

Lifelong memories

Getting back to business, I placed the duck decoys, fashioned a blind from native vegetation and waited for waves of teal to whistle into range. I waited and waited and waited. Multitudes of other birds including pelicans, egrets, herons and diverse shorebirds flew overhead, but no teal.

As I waited, six otters merrily swam into the pond and played among the decoys. Plastic fake birds did not impress them as they snatched fat crabs from the bottom. Floating on their backs, they held each crab with their two front hand-like paws and ate it as if eating a sandwich.

Aware of my presence, they took turns watching me. One would approach within a few feet to observe me squatting in the weeds while the others concentrated on catching dinner. Then, another one would relieve the sentry at the observation post so it could eat. For a long time, we just studied each other until they ate their fill of crabs or simply grew tired of staring at a soggy, muddy, camouflaged teen-ager trying to sit still in marsh grass while being slowly devoured alive by mosquitoes. As quickly as they had arrived, they disappeared when they lost interest.

About an hour before dark, a pair of mottled ducks landed in the decoys. Not legal during the September season, I simply watched them for a while. Eventually, a small flock of teal darted over the pond in waning daylight. I splashed one blue-wing and let it float in the pond as legal shooting hours wound down.

The dead duck floated undisturbed for several minutes. All of a sudden, the pond surface erupted in a huge commotion as if a bass annihilated a surface lure. In a flash, the teal vanished, swallowed whole by an alligator, perhaps even my earlier reptilian nemesis seeking its revenge. All creatures must eat.

The day ended in a spectacular cosmic kaleidoscope of color as another early autumn day ended. Dying sunlight captured the radiant colors of a strikingly handsome drake wood duck flashing over the decoys as shooting hours ended.

I returned home with an empty game bag, but lifelong memories of a day that would never return. Similar days may occur, perhaps even better ones, but never another one just like this one. An old proverb says that a man can never put his hand in a river twice in exactly the same spot. Time, place and exact conditions change and never repeat.

John N. Felsher is a professional freelance writer and photographer who lives in Semmes, Ala. He’s written more than 1,700 articles for more than 117 magazines. He co-hosts a weekly outdoors radio show. Contact him through his website at

See Alabama First

Author documents history of state tourism

By John Brightman Brock

Tim Hollis, a magazine editor in Walker County, years ago set out to preserve his family’s past. He ended up preserving the past for his fellow Alabamians.

At age 9, in 1972, he chronicled his family vacations from when he was 3. Today, at 51, he has a museum of tourism memorabilia at his residence. It is the same home where as a toddler, he was suited up to join his amateur photographer/teacher father and a not-so-fond-of-traveling mom as they hit the road … to see Alabama.
Hollis started actively collecting in 1981, his first year in college. His family memories, assisted by carloads of archival files given to him by the Alabama State Department of Tourism, fueled his desire to write the definitive Alabama tourism book, his 22nd book.

See Alabama First, The Story of Alabama Tourism will be the focus of an Oct. 16 Architreats discussion program at the Alabama Department of Archives and History in Montgomery. The self-acknowledged “pop culture” author plans to delve deeply into his book, which harkens back to a simpler time of flashy roadside attractions popping up everywhere, including the “wigwam” replica motels that sprouted up to lure the tired traveler. Those were the days when, along roads like Highway 31, there were no posted speed limits, just what was “reasonable” to the driver.

“It’s going to bring back so many memories,” the author said in a telephone interview from his home located between Birmingham and Jasper. “Especially if they (readers) grew up in the state. So they can remember and now see what they missed. So much of this stuff … came and went.”

Putting history together

The book keys on Alabama’s at-first small tourism emphasis, pausing for strong looks at places like Bellingrath Gardens, near Mobile, which began as a location for locals to discover. See Alabama First examines in chronological order a changing Alabama highway and tourist landscape starting from the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s. As for Hollis, he relates most easily to the ‘60s.

“I have always put history together,” Hollis says.

At Hollis’ request, Alabama tourism officials turned over a huge amount of memorabilia. File cabinets full of information revealed, among other things, that politician John Hollis Bankhead in 1916 ensured that one of America’s first transcontinental highways went through Alabama. “By 1926, (highway) numbers were replacing names throughout the country, including in Alabama,” Hollis writes. “The process of numbering the highways was not done by some willy-nilly, pull-a-number-out-of-a-hat method. The first decision was that highways running north-south would have odd numbers, and east-west highways would bear even numbers. In Alabama, the former Bankhead Highway largely became U.S. 78. The Lee Highway became U.S. 11 and the Andrew Jackson Highway was U.S. 31. The former Old Spanish Trail was U.S. 90.”

Alabama for years had been a state that people passed through on their way to somewhere else, he says, never coming to places like Vulcan Park (in Birmingham) or Ave Marie Grotto (in Cullman) to vacation. Sometime in the late 1940s or early ‘50s, state officials figured it out. In the early ‘50s, Alabama instituted posted speed limits.

Memories for more than just one family

During his childhood, Hollis’ family went to Gulf Shores a lot. He saved postcards and brochures. His dad’s 35mm camera images became “in many ways, the record of my life.” His dad once noted on a postcard that the family “had watched the astronauts land on the moon in our room at a Holiday Inn. (Well, the moon wasn’t in our room, but you know what I mean, so lay off the smart remarks),” Hollis writes.

The book is peppered with astounding photos, like the one of the 56-foot-tall cast iron statue of Vulcan – his favorite memory – mounted on a 124-foot pedestal, on the crest of Red Mountain, overlooking U.S. 31. A 1954 brochure about Alabama’s first Holiday Inn, between Birmingham and Bessemer on U.S. 11, was “more elaborate than most,” having 82 rooms, a candy shop, lounge, library, drugstore, barbershop, gift shop, beauty parlor, assembly hall, and a 24-hour service station.

Hollis has turned his home into a collection point for all things pop culture – a preservationist mantra he adds to on weekend trips to this day.

“I live in my own memories, someone told me,” he says, pausing. “When I first started, I preserved my own memories … and I realized I was collecting other memories, too.”

See Alabama First, The Story of Alabama Tourism is available at local stores and online at

Tim Hollis supplies the nostalgic materials for the popular website, through which he may be contacted.

Alabama’s waiting children

Adoption process takes time, but rewards can be great

Story and photos by Lori M. Quiller
Julie Dapprich holds her new son, Josh, who adoption was finalized earlier this year.
Julie Dapprich holds her new son, Josh, who adoption was finalized earlier this year.

On a warm Saturday under a cloudless blue sky, the Dapprich family gathers at Gateway Park in Montgomery for a double-header afternoon of baseball.

The family patriarch, Darrell, is coaching the Saints, dressed in purple and white, while his son, Christian, 16, takes the field. The rest of the Dapprich family sits cheering in the stands. The crack of the bat brings cheers from the bleachers from everyone…except the newest member of the Dapprich family.

Six-year-old Josh is a bundle of energy. Baseball moves too slowly for him, and he doesn’t sit still very long. He grabs his sunglasses, flashes a Hollywood grin over his shoulder, and then jumps down the steps. Josh has soon commandeered his Razor scooter and is zipping in and around the bleachers. Carefree and giggling.

Josh clowns with his new family members, from left, Emily Grace, Ashley and Christian; back, parents Julie and Darrell.
Josh clowns with his new family members, from left, Emily Grace, Ashley and Christian; back, parents Julie and Darrell.

“Baseball isn’t exactly his thing,” Julie Dapprich says. “He’s more into basketball. Since he’s been with us, he’s turned our house into a basketball court!”

The Dapprich family grew by one in early December 2013 when Josh officially came to live with them, and his adoption was finalized in May. But, the process began more than two years ago at Orphan Day at the family’s church.

Julie and Darrell were already parents to three teenagers, twins Christian and Ashley, 16, and Emily Grace, 14. The family felt the need to do more when the opportunity presented itself. They knew the process would not be an easy one, that it would take time, but they also knew that the reward would be great.

“I was adopted,” Julie says. “So, I feel like I could understand Josh’s struggle a little better. When we had Orphan Day at the church, we took a look at the paperwork and the website, and we just knew. We knew what was right for our family.”

The family found a child on Heart Gallery of Alabama, which works closely with Alabama DHR and Alabama Pre/Post Adoption Connections to allow prospective adoptive and foster families to get to know the thousands of children in Alabama’s foster care system that who are awaiting adoption.

Alabama Pre/Post Adoption Connections is a statewide program of Children’s Aid Society, funded by Alabama DHR, designed to empower adoptive families by facilitating stronger bonds and interaction with all adoptive families. Children’s Aid Society is a 100-year-old non-profit social services agency that developed the APAC program in collaboration with the Alabama Department of Human Resources in 2001. The APAC program has offices in Birmingham, Huntsville, Montgomery and Mobile to serve adoptive families around the state.

According to Leslie Hales, LCSW, PIP, APAC pre-adoption services coordinator, the Heart Gallery of Alabama is often a prospective parent’s first introduction into the world of adoption.

Heart Gallery Alabama recruits professional photographers to take portraits of each child, as well as short videos to introduce prospective families to the children. The portraits are placed on display in a variety of venues across the state where prospective adoptive parents can learn more about the children in Alabama who are still waiting for their forever family.

That’s just a starting point. As the Dapprich family came to realize, sometimes you have to start over.

“If you find a child on the Heart Gallery website, you would go through an APAC orientation, fill out some paperwork so the screening process can begin. Sometimes the child you choose on the website may not be the child for you,” Hales says. “We process you as a potential family not just for the child you choose but for every child in the database. You may not match with the child you choose online, but you may be a better match for another child.”

Part of the qualification process for an adoptive family through APAC is a 10-week Group Preparation and Selection course that gives the family an inside look into the world of a child that who has lived in foster care and what it will be like to parent that child. In Alabama, this course is mandated if you are planning to adopt a child.

Getting to know each other

During the course of the 10 weeks, the families get to know one another, bond with each other as they get placed with children, and network as a tightly knit group that often reaches beyond the borders of the classroom andfar after the class ends.

Julie said that two of the most remarkable aspects of the adoption process were the classes and how involved APAC has remained with the family after the adoption.

“Every time I get a package in the mail from Children’s Aid Society, it’s exactly what I need!” Julie says. “I just got a package of books last week with some books and ideas on coping with a 6-year old. He’s such a blessing to our family, but we do have our challenges, and I’ve been amazed at just how closely our contacts with Children’s Aid have been with us not only through the process but now that the process is over. We all know that we can call on them for just about anything. APAC has social workers, counselors and psychologists to work with us on any issue that can come up after the adoption, and knowing that we can call on them at any time has been a great comfort.”

One concern the Dapprich family had early on was how bringing a rambunctious 6-year-old child into the family would affect a family dynamic that included three teenagers.

“Of course we talked about it as a family, but what impressed us the most was how the APAC representatives handled it. There’s a questionnaire that you have to fill out in the very beginning to express what you’re looking for with the adoption or foster child. The APAC reps never neglected our kids. They always ask us how they are doing, especially now that Josh is with us. It was an adjustment. It was an adjustment for all of us. But, to know that APAC not only looks out for the children that are going through the adoption but also the children that are already inside the home speaks to where their hearts are. They care so deeply about the welfare of all our kids, and that means so much to us.”

According to Hales, individuals or married couples in Alabama are eligible for adoption. APAC looks at a prospective parents’ support system because neither the adoption process nor parenting a foster child will be easy.

“We want to make sure that your support group network is going to be there for you when you adopt this child. Married or single, you need that support when you’re going through the adoption process and then afterward when you have a child, because there are going to be trials just like with any other child,” Hales says. “We call them ‘Waiting Children’ when their parental rights have been terminated and they are in foster care. It doesn’t matter the age of the child, everyone wants forever.”

An estimated 5,000 children are in foster care

At any given time, the number of children in foster care in Alabama varies, and children enter care at varying rates because of abuse and/or neglect in their home, says Connie Chance Rogers, LBSW, program supervisor of recruitment and retention of the Office of Permanency for the Alabama Department of Human Resources. Rogers estimates 5,000 children are currently in foster care.

“Right now we have 260 children whose parents’ rights have been terminated…but they will not be adopted by their current foster parents. About 90% of the children who are adopted from foster care every year are adopted by the foster parent already caring for them. At any given time a few dozen of these children may be matched with a potential family, but the official placement hasn’t occurred. Some of these children may have severe mental health issues and are in treatment facilities, so we don’t recruit for families for them until they are stable and ready for placement. Over the last several years the population of children in care has dropped due in large part to the successes our agency has realized in adoption,” Rogers says. In 2013, Alabama finalized 526 adoptions, which has decreased slightly each year since 2009 when Alabama finalized 676 adoptions.

Alabama DHR charges no fees. However, there are legal fees and court costs associated with adopting a child. If the family is adopting a child that meets the DHR special needs definition, Alabama DHR can reimburse the family up to $1,000 per child for these fees. Special needs children qualify for monthly adoption assistance payments (better known as subsidy). These children also are eligible for Medicaid coverage. There are no fees associated with adopting through DHR, and the office can also help an adopting family apply for health insurance and even pay for the child’s physical. Adopting a child may have its challenges, but DHR has many resources available to help families cope and thrive during the process.

For Josh and the Dapprich family, things are beginning to settle down and settle in. The family recently took a trip to Tuscaloosa for another double-header baseball tournament. Exhausted, Josh fell asleep on the ride home. Every now and again, the family gets a peek into just exactly what he’s really thinking.

“We put him on our bed when we got home, and he stretched out, put his hands behind his head and said, ‘Ahhhhh…I’m home.’” Julie says.

For more information on Heart Gallery Alabama, go to To learn more about adopting one of Alabama’s Waiting Children, visit or and click on “Quick Links” to go to Adoptions & Alabama’s Waiting Children.


Blogger’s cookbook blends simple recipes and family stories

By Jennifer Kornegay

Stacey Little
Stacey Little

You’ll find no fancy food-photo-styling tricks or odd ingredients in the food Prattville native Stacey Little has been cooking and sharing for years through his popular blog, Southern Bite. Little believes that “three-course gourmet meals and perfect-looking food are intimidating, and things don’t have to be perfect to be really good.” He carried that philosophy into his cookbook The Southern Bite, a compilation of the recipes, tips and stories on his blog.

It’s a response to the way some food blogs and social media can make the average home cook feel about their efforts, a feeling Little wants to help others overcome. “I think the main thing I’m doing with the blog and the cookbook is giving people confidence. And with a good recipe and confidence, I’m convinced anybody can make anything,” he says.

The success of the blog and book proves that home-cooks appreciate his no-nonsense, anti-Martha Stewart approach. But they also like Little’s stories. Throughout the blog and the book he has interwoven family stories because his relatives are major sources of his recipes are the inspiration behind his cooking. “The stories are just my way to relate to food, and including them gave my blog readers a connection to me. I think people are looking for that,” he says.

While Little has had a “day job” as the marketing manager for Legacy Partners in Environmental Education for 10 years (and is still there), he was doing restaurant reviews for The Montgomery Advertiser on the side. When he stopped writing for the newspaper in 2008, he created a blog to continue dispensing advice on where to eat. “Then one day, I included some recipes,” he says. “That was the most popular post I’d ever done.”

After that, Southern Bite became a recipe site, a community for folks who love comfort food with Southern flavors. Little quickly realized what his readers wanted. “They were looking for home-cooked meals for their families that were easy to prepare. With the hustle everyone’s running in today, it can be a real challenge to make dinner and eat it together. I don’t have any formal culinary training. Most everything I know, I learned from growing up cooking in my family’s kitchen.”

And so, he began pulling from his family’s recipe collection, sometimes tweaking dishes to make them simpler. “It was important to share and develop recipes that used ingredients people probably already had on hand,” he says.

That something extra

But it’s not just about the food; it’s an extra element that Little offers that’s made Southern Bite so popular: encouragement. “The blog and cookbook have given me the opportunity to share my life experiences and to encourage people,” he says. “I love that part of it.”

The Southern Bite cookbook wasn’t really part of Little’s plan. “One day, an editor at a publishing house sent me an email saying they wanted to do a book,” he says. “I didn’t believe them at first, so I googled the name, and they were legit.” He included favorites from the blog, as well as new recipes and even some reader-submitted recipes. And when it came time to put it together, he bucked the system and did the food styling for the photo shoot himself. “I wanted it to be the real food,” he says. “I wanted the food in the book to look like what the people who make the recipes end up with.”

Little’s blog audience is now bigger than ever, and the book is boasting stellar sales, so much so that a follow-up might be in the works.

Check out Little’s blog at and get yourself a copy of the cookbook. It’s available on the blog, at bookstores everywhere and online from Watch the blog for news of upcoming book signings.

Try these

A quick flip through The Southern Bite cookbook left me with a difficult choice: what to make and write about. I wanted to make and eat it all, but I narrowed it down to two main dishes, the Garlic Roasted Chicken and Sour Cream Chicken Enchilada Pie. The prep for both was quick and easy, and none of the ingredients required an internet search or trip to a specialty store.

The roasted chicken is a one-dish wonder and will leave your entire house smelling yum (if butter melting over garlic is a yum scent to you). But you just can’t beat the enchilada pie. It will more than satisfy your Mexican food craving (and you do crave Mexican food all the time, right? Is that just me?). Plus, it only takes about 15 minutes to put together. Try not to eat it all a suppertime. It’s even better the next day, reheated for lunch. – J.K.

When and how do I divide irises?

September is a good time

Here’s the thing about writing a gardening column: There is so much great information to share and so little space to share it fully.

For that reason, I’m prone to offering lots of tips and suggestions, but not so much in the way of detailed guidance. It’s just hard to fit it all in! I always hope that readers who want to know more will seek out a knowledgeable source for assistance—Extension System experts, Master Gardeners, garden-wise friends and relatives, books, magazines and, yes, the Web. And, honestly, even if I had all the column inches in the world, I’d still encourage readers to track down experts who have loads more experience and knowledge than I will ever possess.

Still, my ever-creative and reader-oriented editors at Alabama Living offered an idea on how to better address the questions my tips and ideas may evoke. So here’s a stab at it, starting with a question my sister recently asked after reading a tip in my July column: So how do I divide irises?

Though the ideal time to divide irises it just after they bloom, in most parts of Alabama it’s fine to divide and replant them (and many other perennials) throughout the month of September, so it seemed an appropriate question to tackle this month.

Over time, the rhizomes (main roots) of irises produce lots of “baby” rhizomes that need to be removed and relocated so parents and children alike can thrive, thus the need to divide irises. To divide them, carefully lift the plant clump and its rhizomes/roots out of the ground with a garden shovel or fork, then gently separate individual rhizomes from the clump by snapping or cutting them apart. If you have more than one kind of iris in your yard, you may want to group them according to their color and/or cultivar as you do this.

Wash any excess soil off the rhizomes, soak them for 10 minutes in a 10:1 water:chlorine solution, then rinse them with fresh water and allow them to air dry in the shade for at least 30 minutes. From this freshly cleaned and dried collection, select the healthiest rhizomes for replanting or sharing and discard any that look diseased, shriveled or just plain puny. Try to replant them as soon as possible, preferably the same day.

As you replant the rhizomes, don’t bury them too deeply. Iris rhizomes need to be close to the soil’s surface and either partially exposed or only lightly covered with soil to reach their full blooming potential next year.

Another question my column recently elicited was about cover crops. Cover crops, unlike perennial ground covers used in the landscape, are annual crops that are used to hold and build soil between planting seasons in vegetable gardens.

As the summer gardening season comes to an end, you can replant the area with cool-season vegetables (cabbage, collards, lettuces, garlic and onions, for example).

But if you’re planning to leave the space dormant this winter, consider planting it with crimson clover, rye, soybeans, hairy vetch, oats and other legume or cereal crops. These crops help hold the soil in place, build soil quality and, depending on the cover crop you choose, can add nitrogen to the soil, suppress weeds, help control some insect and disease pests and attract pollinators.

Cover crops will protect and enhance your soil all winter and, next year, can be used as “green manure” by mowing the cover crop in late winter or early spring, letting it dry for a week or two, then working the crop residue into the soil as you prepare the garden for the coming vegetable season.

More information on what kinds of cover crops to use and how to use them in vegetable gardens can be found through your local Alabama Cooperative Extension System office or in the Extension publications Cover Crops for Alabama (available here) or The Alabama Vegetable Gardener (available here).

And if you have gardening questions, send them on. If I don’t know the answer I will try to find someone who does, and your question may well be fodder for a future column!

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

September Gardening Tips

  • Make notes about what did and didn’t work in this year’s garden for use as you plan next year’s garden.
  • Clean dead plants and debris from garden beds and the landscape.
  • Add lawn and garden debris to the compost, along with any organic (non-meat) kitchen waste.
  • Test your soil so you’ll know what amendments to add this fall and winter.
  • Plant fall and winter vegetables and root crops, such as cabbage, collards, celery, garlic and onions.
  • Continue to mow and irrigate lawn as needed.
  • Fertilize azaleas and camellias.
  • Plant winter grass seeds on bare areas.
  • Plant perennials and biennials and spring-flowering bulbs.
  • Divide perennials and thin or transplant irises and daylilies.
  • Clean bird feeders and birdbaths and keep them filled throughout the fall for resident and migratory birds.

If you like Italian home cooking, Mama’s is the place

By Jennifer Kornegay

The Genoa salami pannini is worth the drive.
The Genoa salami pannini is worth the drive.

If you’re hungry for some cornbread, collard greens or maybe a good ole hamburger, don’t go to Mama Misitano’s Place. If you’re seeking a fancy atmosphere and servers fawning over you, don’t go to Mama Misitano’s Place. If you want some good Italian home cooking, do go to Mama Misitano’s Place.

And when you do go, don’t complain too loudly about the garlic or the amount of basil in the Alfredo sauce. The many regulars around you are loyal; they like what this little eatery is serving up just fine, and some of them are probably armed. Mama’s is part of the Sand Mountain Shooting Club in Boaz, and its owners Dan and Jan Cooper are making Italian food the way their Italian grandmothers did. While they want make their customers happy, they aren’t about to fuss with their family’s time-tested flavors.

“Every now and then, someone will come in, and they don’t like garlic or onions, and I’m like, ‘Do you know where you are eating?’ Then others ask, ‘Got anything other than pasta?’ We don’t. We are an Italian restaurant,” says Dan.

Mama’s does offer items other than pasta on weekdays; in fact, it’s only on weekends that you can get a pasta dish. Tuesday through Friday, massive Italian sandwiches dominate the menu. “We do make a ham and cheese sandwich for kids,” Dan concedes, “since they’re young and don’t know what good food is yet.”

No matter what day you visit, there’s a good chance you’ll meet a member of Dan’s family. When his daughter is not in the kitchen with her mom, she’s a server. Her daughter also helps wait tables. It’s a true family business, with a family name. “We wanted to honor our heritage and so named the place after my wife’s grandmother,” Dan says.

They’re doing Mama proud, working from the recipes she and Dan’s grandmother made in their home country and in America once they came here. Everything is scratch-made. Jan bakes the bread fresh every morning; herbs and tomatoes come from a small garden patch out back.

Gun Sign
Gun Sign

The shooting club opened in the late 1970s, but Dan opened the restaurant in 1998. It all started when some of his customers at the gun range got hungry. “They wanted something to eat, and there’s not a lot to choose from in the area,” Dan says. “We decided to feed them and to feed them what we grew up on.”

Today, Mama’s draws more people coming just to eat than it does from the gun range, but no matter why they end up at the shooting club, they visit Mama’s for the food. Dan’s favorite dish happens to be pretty popular with diners too: the Italian Beef sandwich. Jan splits open a roll and fills it with sautéed peppers and onions and paper-thin sliced beef, slow-roasted in Italian herbs. It’s all covered under a blanket of melted provolone.

Other between-bread offerings include the Misitano Meatball, Chicken Italia and the Genoa Salami Panini. There are also pizzas on hand-tossed crust as well as salads, and carb-conscious folks can order any of the sandwiches sans bread; the tasty filling is simply served in a bowl. Desserts are another of Mama’s specialties, especially the Italian Cream Cake. Around the holidays, people order whole cakes and order enough to keep Jan baking from morning to night for days.

That’s during the week. On weekends, Mama’s pulls out all the stops for old-school Sunday dinners, which include a range of pasta dishes served family style. “We do those the same way we ate on Sundays; it’s traditional Italian,” Dan says.

You’ll have no choice but to observe the “day of rest” literally after filling up on Mama’s unique, yet still rich, Alfredo sauce. “We make it a bit different. We add pesto that’s made with basil from our garden to the sauce,” Dan said. “I’d put that stuff on my cornflakes it’s so good.” Cereal Alfredo is not currently on the menu, but that’s okay. It also goes well with pasta.

Eat at Mama’s
Mama Misitano’s Place
626 Bloodworth Road, Boaz, AL

Alabama Recipes

On the grill

Do you love using your grill? What is the strangest thing you’ve ever cooked on the grill? I’ve heard many discussions on the benefits of using charcoal over electric and vice versa. I’m interested to hear your opinions. Head over to our Facebook page and talk to us! We love hearing feedback from our readers. In fact, last month it was brought to my attention that Mrs. Varnum’s recipe for “Cream Cheese Frosting” to go with her Zucchini Cake was in fact mislabeled. There is no cream cheese in her frosting. The recipe is correct, but it should have been titled “Frosting.” Thanks to our loyal readers for pointing that out to us! It’s time to dig out your favorite holiday recipes to submit. November’s theme is Thanksgiving recipes and December is Holiday Cakes. I’m getting hungry anticipating the submissions!

Cook of the month: Norma Jean Roberts, Tombigbee EC


Cedar-Planked Salmon

1 – 15 x 6.5 x ½-inch cedar grilling plank
1½ teaspoon kosher salt
1½ teaspoon dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed
¾ teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
¾ teaspoon Hungarian sweet paprika
¾ teaspoon chili powder
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 – 3-pound center-cut salmon fillet, skinned

Immerse and soak plank in water for at least 1 hour, drain. Preheat grill between 350 degrees to 400 degrees (medium-high heat). Combine salt and next 7 ingredients, rub over fish. Place plank on grill rack; grill 3 minutes or until lightly charred. Carefully turn plank over, place fish on charred side of plank. Cover grill with lid and grill fish 25 minutes or until fish flakes with a fork. Cut fish crosswise into slices.

Delicious Turkey Burger

3 pounds ground turkey
1 tablespoon Mrs. Dash Garlic and Herb seasoning
1 tablespoon Mrs. Dash Steak or other seasoning for grilling
1 tablespoon Mrs. Dash Original seasoning
Salt, to taste

Mix all together and form into patties. Grill patties on charcoal grill for maximum flavoring. Serve on bun with lettuce and sliced tomato.

M. Smith, Cullman EC
(from the recipe archive)

 Grilled Shrimp

3 teaspoons salt
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1½ cups olive oil
2 teaspoons liquid smoke
Paprika (enough to make marinade red)
2 pounds shrimp (peel and devein)

Pour marinade over shrimp and cover all for at least one hour. Place in skillet and cook (sauté) until shrimp is done (three to five minutes). Liquid smoke can be used if not cooking on the grill. Shrimp can also be put on skewers and placed on the grill, without liquid smoke.

Carolyn Cranford, Cullman EC
(from the recipe archive)

Bill’s Grilled Lemon

Pepper Chicken 6 to 8 boneless chicken breasts
1 stick light margarine
1 cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
Lemon pepper and salt to taste

In a medium saucepan melt margarine. Add lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, lemon pepper and salt. Remove from heat and add chicken breasts. Marinate approximately 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes to make sure all pieces are coated. Heat grill, then turn heat to low. Grill chicken 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown and tested done.

Bill J. Blake, Coosa Valley EC
(from the recipe archive)