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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Home Sweet Home: Stayin' or Leavin'?

Note: I wrote this blog a few years ago and am reposting since journalists have recently questioned as to why anyone would want to live in this area of Alabama, specifically Wilcox County, but hey, that is right next door to Dallas County!

SOME OF MY TRANSPLANTED FRIENDS FROM THE NORTH have remarked more than once that young adults of the rural South, especially Alabama, don’t want to leave home.

Apparently, our high school graduates mostly think alike: Go off to a state college, then return to where they came from…or close to where they came from. 

I guess sometimes it takes “outside” observation to reveal trends that longtime homefolks don’t find unusual or maybe never even thought about. 

This "phenomenon” wasn’t exactly at the top of my cultural events list,  but once they mentioned it, I recalled one of my sons saying in high school that he didn’t plan to date until he finished college and headed out West.  

“Why on earth?” I think I asked.

“Because most of the girls around here want to stay around here, and I don’t want to have to stay around here forever,” he explained. 

And yes, my friends noted that this “Sweet Home Alabama” trend is especially true of girls.

Well, they have a point.

Females of the Piney Woods and Black Belt are just as comfortable in creeks and rivers and on four-wheelers and deer stands as they are in antebellum gowns at the historic homes Pilgrimage.

Their mamas or grandmamas still bake cornbread without sugar, and they are never far from a vacation at the mountains or beach. 

So, who wouldn’t want to immerse themselves in such surroundings for the rest of their lives?

In some other regions and especially in cities, children are expected to take the most lucrative job offer wherever it may be, even if that means frigid Fargo or windy Chicago! Then, they’re groomed to stay mobile and move halfway around the world if that’s what it takes to advance.

However, while the theory of our progeny loving their land to the point of perpetual homesickness sure seems plausible, it just doesn’t compute.

A 7th District congressional candidate once remarked on local radio that despite a wealth of natural resources, “We’re losing our children to other states.”

And I noticed online where the Small Business Administration compiled  research that shows more “brain drain”  across rural America, especially the South, particularly Alabama and even more specifically the Black Belt, than in most cities.

It’s the metropolitan centers that attract and keep our professionally trained kids. While our farm-grown  and small-town raised children still love home, they’re moving to   Atlanta, Memphis and Nashville, and some even venture to ...well…Chicago! 

Still, I can’t help but agree with my northern sistas’ keen revelation. There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence to the contrary. My boy, who vowed to remain unattached until on his own and out of state, started dating anyway, and our state’s job market suddenly had much stronger appeal! 

Besides, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that Alabama leads the nation for its drop in unemployment. 

So, I guess it won’t be long before we’ll know:
 Will he stay or will he go?

He went! 

South instead of West. 

For more on this subject, please visit my friend and former co-worker Jackie Walburn's latest blog post, "Wilcox County: Why on Earth People Live There."  

I addressed similar issues in yet another column by John Archibald of in my post, "What's Hot and What's Not, or Dare to Defend Our Town" in February 2013. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Great Backyard Bird Count

Okay, so I don't have a good closeup of this bluejay or any other bird for that matter, but now is our chance to assist ornithologists (bird scientists) in finding out where the birds are!

All you need is at least 15 minutes and a backyard!

For just four days (Friday, Feb. 15 thru Monday, Feb. 18), bird watchers of all ages can participate in The Great Backyard Bird Count. You simply identify and count the birds in your backyard for at least 15 minutes (or all day if you prefer)! 

Last year, more than 104,000 checklists were submitted that recorded more than 17 million observations identifying 623 species. No surprise that the cardinal got the award for most observations!

The Bird Count gives scientists input over wide areas about bird migration, diversity and even how weather affects bird populations.  

You'll need to register at the GBBC website and submit your data there. 

This big birdwatching/counting event is sponsored by Wild Birds Unlimited, Cornell Information Technologies, Natural Resources Conservation Service and the National Science Foundation.  

Linking to Rurality  


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

What's Hot and What's Not, or Dare to Defend Our Town

It's "D" Week over at ABC Wednesday,
 and I'll just be DARNED that I've got to DEFEND my town!

DO you live in a hot spot?

And if you DO, what makes it hot?

I learned from the other day that one of my sons lives in one of the hottest spots in the state, while I, on the other hand, DO not.  In fact, my town is DESIGNATED as one of the least hottest spots, and it’s not talking about climate.

It’s all about quality of life, but hey, my town got lumped in with the likes of Mountain Brook, which is DEEMED the hottest spot in the state.

The writer compared cities with populations over 20,000 (a population we barely top), and more than half the places cited as “hottest” are all suburbs of Birmingham, which by the way, is not so hot!  The rest are suburbs of large metro areas like Huntsville and Mobile…except for Auburn, home of Auburn University, which in my opinion is a category apart. So, War Eagle!

I won’t bore you with the stats, but they were retrieved from places like the Census Bureau, FBI and DEPARTMENT of Public Health. They measure things such as unemployment, health, crime, taxes, education, access to arts and cultural events, restaurants, DISTANCE from work, access to DOG parks…

Access to DOG parks?

Seriously?  DOG parks made the quality of life survey?

DO these so-called hot spots not have tree-lined sidewalks DRAPED with Spanish Moss or big picket-fenced yards or winding riverfront parks where both people and DOGS are welcome to walk? 

Well, Selma has all that!

Now obviously, I cannot DEFEND some of my town’s not-so-hot DESIGNATIONS, bless its heart!  But, I can surely DARE to DEFEND the categories with biased Yuppie (Young Upwardly Mobile Professionals) influence, and I consider the inclusion of DOG parks to be biased.

Any such survey has got to consider that Selma is in the middle of the rural Black Belt prairie, an hour  from metropolitan Montgomery and the interstate, and our DEFINITION of quality and culture is a whole DIFFERENT software program.

To start with, we live a RUPPIE rather than a YUPPIE lifestyle. 

I wrote about RUPPIES (Rural Under-appreciated People) a long time ago when I worked DOWNTOWN,  and for a city to make the RUPPIE Top 10 Hot Spots, the survey would have to include the following:

  •  Access to farm-raised catfish grown in America. (Again, Selma ranks No. 1 since we live in the No. 2 county for catfish production in Alabama.) Don’t tell me tilapia, swai, pangasius or any other foreign import is a better, cheaper or healthier fish. Just google all the health hazards!

  •  Access to meat-and-three restaurants. If you have ever eaten at The DOWNTOWNER, Steak Pit or Golden Ranch, Selma wins again. 

  • Access to fishing. Just go to the sandbar across the river or head to the marina, launch your  boat or enter a fishing tournament.

  • Commute time to work. About five minutes, unless you live in the suburb of Orrville or Plantersville, in which case the 15- to 20-mile trip will take about 10 minutes.  

  • Stress levels on the main highway. Our main highway is U.S. 80. It is four-lane. It is mostly straight and doesn’t have too many hills. It has a reasonable speed limit. We don’t have to drive 85 mph to keep from getting run over. Try driving 60 on the interstates near those “hottest” cities, especially during rush hour, or hey, just head on over to Highway 280 and see how you like it!

  • Local utility fees to pay the urban bankruptcy bill. If you live anywhere around six of the top 10 hot spots, then your water and sewer bill just might be as much or more than your power bill each month! How towns in a county (yes, that would be Jefferson) that is bankrupt ever made the top 10 is incredible!

  • Walkability. Try walking “downtown” Vestavia Hills or even Alabaster. Then come to Selma and walk our downtown. Here, City Hall, the library, convention center, courthouse, restaurants, museums, ice cream shop, coffee shop, newspaper office, lawyers’ offices, drugstores, riverwalk, Pettus Bridge, churches and jewelry stores are all within walking distance of each other. 

  • Patriotism. Few towns are as patriotic as Selma. This place ranks among the hottest as far as support for our country, and we cried enough tears to fill the Alabama River when the government came and took Craig Air Force Base away. 

  • Housing affordability. I am well aware of the exhorbitant rental rates in some of the “hottest” cities, but here, rents are reasonable, and I guarantee you can buy a lot more house that is a lot better built for a lot lower price.

I could go on and on, but honestly, I need to get outside and plow my backyard garden. Oh yes, home gardening is another RUPPIE category, and I’m betting you just might be a YUPPIE living in a “hot city” IF you don’t grow your own food and preserve it!


Thursday, February 23, 2012

I'm a Believer (in Severe Weather Preparedness)

If you awake to the sound of a train with no railroad, then it’s probably already too late.

You have seconds, not minutes, to get up and find a safe place in an effort to escape injury or death from a tornado. 

This is Severe Weather Preparedness Week, and I had firsthand experience with its purpose back in March 1996 when my family was sooooo not prepared. We awoke to the sound of an F2 tornado barreling through our neighborhood at 4 a.m.

Our young sons woke up first, frightened by the thunder and torrential rain. After reassuring them that it was just a thundershower, I unplugged the television, because lightning was popping everywhere. Had I turned it on instead, we would have known a tornado was almost upon us.

 Then we heard it.

“What does that sound like?” I asked, hoping I wasn’t hearing what I thought I heard.

“Mama, that sounds like a train.”

Then the power went out.

“Get up, everybody! In the hall!”

As their daddy raced to get sofa cushions and pillows for our protection, I tried to pull a hall tree out of the way so it wouldn’t fall on top of us. By the time we were huddled together, the storm was already past our house.
As it turned out, we were very fortunate. Unlike some families in our neighborhood, we still had a roof and a house. Unlike a nearby couple, we still had our lives. We did have some property damage, but it wasn’t devastating.

Still, I mentally kicked myself for being unprepared and not turning on the TV. Later, I purchased a weather alert radio, which at the time didn’t help since we lived just out of range of a NOAA weather station.  Eventually, my mind eased when the county installed a weather siren a quarter mile away. 

These days, we still have the weather siren, but we can also receive NOAA radio alerts.  We have live streaming severe weather via the Internet, and if we want, we can get alerts on our cell phones.

So, last April 15, when a series of small tornadoes swept through, I was ready. A few areas in the county, such as the agricultural research station, received damage from short-track storms.

 Then, when parameters for powerful, long-track tornadoes went off the charts for April 27, it was a little comforting that our county was on the southern tip of the forecast area. Still, I prepared for the worst, moving the hall tree and gathering cushions, pillows and a small mattress for cover, just in case.  (There wasn’t enough time to dig a basement!)

After the first storm of the afternoon hit Cullman, I tuned into James Spann via Internet and another station via TV as the monster tornado bore down on Tuscaloosa.


Then, as the Tuscaloosa supercell kept on going and going and going, I just prayed that it would spare Birmingham. 

About that time, my son who lives in Birmingham, called (or maybe I called him!). He and his wife had their safety plan in order, and he stayed on the phone as the tornado entered the western part of Jefferson County. We soon realized that their area would be spared. 

A few weeks later, I had the opportunity to write an article about some of the rural damage caused by the historic outbreak. While the heavily populated cities received the most media coverage due to loss of life and extensive property damage, there were farmers frantically trying to save their livelihoods.

A catfish farm in Greene County suffered a direct hit by an EF2-3 tornado as it plowed 71 miles across the countryside. Winds damaged 75 percent of the ponds, tossing aerators out of the water and throwing roofs, siding and tractors in.

Three workers narrowly missed certain death when they chose to leave the smaller farmhouse (that was leveled) and take cover in a larger structure. The farm lost its shop, sheds, silos, boats, tractors, trucks, trailers, aerators and 50 power poles.  Other farmers arrived the next day to begin weeks of work to help locate replacement equipment and get the operation back up and running. 

Now, as Alabama holds the record as the state with the most tornadoes for 2011 and so far, for 2012 as well, we accept that this is a high-risk state, and there is nothing we can do to tame severe weather. We can only prepare and pray for the best.

So  yes, I recently purchased a brand new weather alert radio and had it programmed when the meteorologists from Montgomery came to town.  I also bought myself a bicycle helmet to protect my head, and even if y’all think that is paranoid, James Spann said that helmets saved lives last April 27 and probably could have saved even more if people just had them…and frankly, that tornado back in 1996 turned me into a believer!  

(Posted for the Alabama Disaster Relief Blogging Program to help fund the Christian Service Mission in Birmingham rebuild homes, lives and communities.)

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

ABC Wednesday, P is for Pepper Jelly Festival

The letter "P" is featured over at ABC Wednesday today, and I bet this is the ONLY blog about the Pepper Jelly Festival in Thomaston, Alabama! 

 The festival was held last weekend at the old Marengo High School. Not only could you buy pepper jelly at the Rural Heritage Center, but music included the Sucarnochee Revue. There were Thomaston barbecue, a domino competition and crafts. Kids had fun making arrowheads the way that Native Americans once did. And little ones enjoyed climbing on the brick base of the flagpole. 

Posted at ABC Wednesday

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Calico Fort (That's My World!)

So! It had been 37 years since I last visited Calico Fort, and I am positive there was no bungie jumping then!
Back in 1974, Boy Scouts performed Native American dances, and Kathryn Tucker Windham read her ghost stories to children.  The entertainment has changed!

This past weekend, the Calico Fort Arts & Crafts Fair celebrated its 40th anniversary. The two-day event  is sponsored by the Fort Deposit Arts Council which only has 24 members! So how do they put this fair together? They rely on the town's 1500 residents who work for months to make it successful. Proceeds benefit community projects that have included the municipal auditiorium, volunteer fire department, college scholarships and various cultural events.

The festival is about 30 miles south of Montgomery just off Interstate 65 and located on the grounds where Gen. Andrew Jackson ordered the establishment of a supply fort back around 1813. 

Moving on:

 My favorite exhibit was Phillip Adams' Swings and Things. He builds cypress outdoor furniture and bird feeders/houses. Since he lives in Fort Deposit, I won't have too far to travel for my next outdoor swing! We used to have a cypress swing that lasted for years and years and years. I wouldn't mind bringing home a picnic table too.

 Okay. Here we are at PJ Crochets. Now, I crochet...or at least I USED to crochet afghans. But Paulette Jones of Cartersville, Ga., uses cotton fabric to crochet purses and rag rugs. Tempting!

Jeff and Jaky Felix of Titus won the Best of Show trophy for their exhibit of fused glass.  You can view more of their colorful and spectacular creations at Joyful Imagination Glass.

These metal welcome signs looked so welcoming that I bought one! Made by Thomas and Kathy Rash of Rutledge, there were numerous styles from which to choose, and how I'd love to have some of their metal wind chimes too. (Yes, that's a hint!) Check them out at T&K Sheetmetal Works & Design.
And now, here's the dazzling Adams' Glass Studio. Charles Adams of Troy started out with a small hobby shop, but he's since added stained-glass church windows and other ecclesiastical art.  
And finally, we actually started our day at The Pig Pit! The barbecue sold here not only benefited our appetites but the fire department too.

While this year's fair had fewer exhibitors (still more than 100 though) than some in years past, the planners go all out to contact new artists and craftsmen with quality products. And, organizers say that "because Calico Fort is planned to present new ideas, it will never grow old."

Posted at That's My World Tuesday

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Papa John's Cat

We don't allow our cats on top of the kitchen counter...really, we don't! But, you know how cats are, and this one apparently could not resist claiming a Papa John's pizza (or at least the box) all to herself! And of course, I could not resist taking her picture.

Posted at Camera Critters

Camera Critters