The Wire

  • Trump orders establishment of ‘space force’ as 6th branch of military

    Excerpt from Fox News:

    President Trump vowed on Monday to make space great again.

    Speaking at a meeting of the National Space Council, Trump ordered the Pentagon to immediately establish a national “space force” that would become the sixth branch of the armed forces.

    “We are going to have a space force,” Trump said in Washington D.C. “An Air Force and a Space Force. Separate, but equal.”

    This is not the first time that Trump has floated the idea of establishing a “space force.” The president mentioned the idea in May during a ceremony at the White House honoring the Army Black Knights college football team.

    Trump did not go into details about what military role the so-called “space force” would carry out or who would command it, but he framed space as a national security issue, saying he does not want “China and Russia and other countries leading us.”

  • Ivey says import tariffs could hurt Alabama industry

    Excerpt from AP:

    Alabama’s Republican governor is separating herself from President Donald Trump on the issue of trade, saying import tariffs like those supported by the administration would hurt the state.

    Gov. Kay Ivey released a statement Monday saying import tariffs could cause retaliatory tariffs that would drive up the cost of items made in Alabama and sold abroad.

    The administration already has imposed duties on $50 billion worth of Chinese imports, plus steel and aluminum from China, the European Union, Canada and Mexico.

    Ivey says growth in Alabama’s auto industry could be harmed if tariffs are imposed on U.S. goods around the world. Almost 60,000 people work in automotive-related jobs in the state.

  • Police ID suspect in shooting of State Senator’s son

    Excerpt from WKRG:

    “Foley Police Department has identified 29 year old Orneal McCaskey aka “OJ” as the suspect in the shooting of Akil Michael Figures this morning at 635 East Azalea Ave in Foley. The investigation revealed that McCaskey drove to the residence to confront Figures over a female. An argument ensued at the doorway and McCaskey pulled out a handgun and shot Figures at least twice in the lower hip area. After a brief struggle in the house, McCaskey fled the area in a gold or tan colored vehicle. Figures was taken to South Baldwin by private vehicle and later flown to Sacred Heart and has since been released. Orneal McCaskey is wanted for questioning in this case. The public is asked to call Foley Police Department at 251-943-4431 if you know where McCaskey is. He is considered armed and dangerous.”

2 years ago

Seven tips for Alabamians looking for savings on fall energy bills

It's fall – time for football and staving off the cold to come, with seven easy energy-savers from Residential Marketing at Alabama Power.
It's fall – time for football and staving off the cold to come, with seven easy energy-savers from Residential Marketing at Alabama Power.
It’s fall – time for football and staving off the cold to come, with seven easy energy-savers from Residential Marketing at Alabama Power.

It’s the first day of fall, and while cooler weather may still seem far off, it’s a good time to consider some simple “temperature tamers” that can help you save on energy as temperatures begin their slide:

    1. When it’s time to switch to heating, set the thermostat no higher than 68 degrees when you’re at home, and lower the setting when you go to bed or leave the house. For every degree you lower your thermostat during colder weather, you can save about 2 percent on your heating bill.

    2. The water heater is your home’s second-largest energy user. Turn on the savings by turning down the temperature on your water heater to 140 degrees. Save even more by using an insulating blanket, which is made to easily fit around the water tank and keep heat in. They are available at many hardware and home improvement stores.

Set thermostat no higher than 68 degrees when it’s time to switch to heating. (file)
Set thermostat no higher than 68 degrees when it’s time to switch to heating. (file)
    3. Reducing air leaks can cut as much as 10 percent a month from your household energy bill. Some of the most common sources for leaks are around doors and windows, from leaky ducts and vents, from the fireplace, and from plumbing and electrical penetrations in floors or walls. For an easy fix, caulk and weatherstrip around doors and windows. Use locks on windows to make them tighter and more draft-resistant. Consider adding insulation in the attic, basement and outside walls. It will help you save on energy this winter and next summer.

    4. On cold and sunny days, open the curtains on the south side of your home to allow solar heating. At night, close the curtains to keep heat inside.

    5. You use ceiling fans in the summer. Try them during colder seasons, too. Most ceiling fans can be switched to reverse for cool weather operation. In this mode, the fan can help move warmer air trapped near the ceiling and circulate it through the rest of the room.

Compact fluorescents last longer than standard bulbs. (file)
Compact fluorescents last longer than standard bulbs. (file)
    6. Use Energy Star® compact fluorescent light bulbs. Compact fluorescents use 75 percent less electricity than standard light bulbs and last up to 10 times longer. To save even more, try LED lights. They cost more than compact fluorescents, but they will save you more over their lifetime.

    7. To prepare for cooler weather, have your heating system serviced. Replace or clean the heating system filters monthly to save energy and money.

It doesn’t take much time to make your home more energy-efficient. For more money-saving ideas, visit Alabama Power’s website: www.AlabamaPower.com

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2 years ago

Rockstar Samford student lands ‘once-in-a-lifetime opportunity’ with ESPN

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By Kara Kennedy

Samford University senior Grace Bowes did not know what to expect when she landed a coveted ESPN internship last summer.

Bowes secured her spot with the sports broadcasting business after eight interviews and a sports knowledge exam. Before pursuing the internship with ESPN, she had the opportunity to meet and spend time with Ben May, senior director of sports management at ESPN/SEC Networks. May is an advisory board member of the Brock School of Business Sports Marketing Program headed by Darin White, chair of the Department of Entrepreneurship, Management and Marketing.

“This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity would not have been possible had it not been for the partnership we have with key executives who serve on the Brock School Sports Marketing Program Advisory Board,” White said. “Ben May originally opened the door for Grace last fall after he spoke to a sports marketing class. We are so thankful to executives from the world of sports like Ben who give of their time and resources to help make our students’ dreams come true.”

After Bowes shadowed a senior executive producer of ESPN College Game Day last September in Tuscaloosa, the wheels were put into motion for the internship at ESPN.

The wheels were set in place for an ESPN internship after Bowes shadowed a producer with the network. (file)
The wheels were set in place for an ESPN internship after Bowes shadowed a producer with the network. (file)

“I was very persistent in pursuing the internship position with them,” said Bowes. “I received my offer last April as a professional sales and marketing intern at ESPN after going through the steps of following up and waiting.”

Bowes worked at the ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut, where she said no two days were alike as an intern. Her main job was to schedule commercials for each of ESPN’s networks: ESPN, ESPN2 ESPNU, Deportes and the SEC Network. She was responsible for making sure the commercials scheduled met the guidelines of the clients’ contracts before they were sent to production for airing.

She also got to shadow several popular shows such as SportsCenter, Baseball Tonight, Mike and Mike and First Take. She traveled to the New York City office to work on marketing projects like the ESPYS Award Show, the Major League Baseball Home Run Derby and the Wimbledon tennis championships.

In addition, Bowes competed with a team of four in “The Pitch,” an intern competition within ESPN. Seventy-two interns had to come up with a new business idea, venture or show concept. Bowes’ team presented an idea called E-Games that would bring together the largest gaming competition featuring the best video and digital gaming professionals from around the world to compete annually. All of the intern teams presented to higher-level executives within ESPN first. Then the top five interns made final presentations to vice president–level executives.

“Out of 24 teams, my team tied for first place, and our idea may be branded and implemented by ESPN,” Bowes said.

Bowes said it was difficult to pick just one aspect of the internship that she loved most because for her, “working at ESPN was a dream come true.”

She added the atmosphere that ESPN provided interns and its willingness to make sure interns had the best experiences possible was what makes it the “worldwide leader in sports.” Bowes interacted with many key players, including John Skipper, ESPN president; Ed Ernhardt, president of global sales and marketing; and on-air talent Lindsey Cznariak and Scott Van Pelt.

Bowes also came up with ideas for College Game Day that are being implemented in the new season.

“This was truly the experience of a lifetime, one that I am very proud of,” she said. “If you had asked me three years ago if I would be living my dream, I probably would have said, ‘I am not sure, but I am going to work my hardest to make it happen.’ It shows how dedication, hard work and persistence can pay off when you’re determined to making your dream a reality.”

The bright lights and popular ESPN shows such as SportsCenter, Baseball Tonight, Mike and Mike and First Take were included in Bowes’ internship. (file)
The bright lights and popular ESPN shows such as SportsCenter, Baseball Tonight, Mike and Mike and First Take were included in Bowes’ internship. (file)
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2 years ago

Southern Research developing plan to bring jobs back to Alabama’s coal country

(Photo: Flikr user rcene2010)
(Photo: Flikr user rcene2010)

Southern Research will use a $60,202 grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) to develop a strategic plan to foster job creation and entrepreneurial activity in 19 Alabama counties hurt by the decline of the coal industry.

This downturn has struck a blow to portions of northwest and central Alabama, wiping out thousands of jobs and creating economic hardships, said Corey Tyree, Ph.D., Southern Research’s director of Energy & Environment – Alabama, who is leading the project.

Tyree said employment in Alabama coal fields decreased 43 percent between 1990 and 2014 as the number of mines fell by half. Over this time frame, more than 21,000 coal-related jobs disappeared in these 19 counties, costing their economies more than $1.8 billion in lost wages.

“Looking at the coal mining industry from a long-term perspective, with production at a low point and no clear economic drivers to reverse the negative trends, it’s difficult to see how coal will be a source of job creation in this region of Alabama,” Tyree said.

Identifying resources

Southern Research’s strategic plan will examine ways the Alabama coal region can create jobs that help spur an economic revival.

On the project, Southern Research will team with the University of Alabama at Birmingham to identify business sectors ripe for new entrepreneurial activity, given a higher level of investment. The organizations are frequent collaborators and have forged partnerships for drug discovery and medical device development.

 Alabama has lost more than 21,000 coal-related jobs. Southern Research is working on a plan for boosting the economies of the most-affected counties. (Southern Research)

Alabama has lost more than 21,000 coal-related jobs. Southern Research is working on a plan for boosting the economies of the most-affected counties. (Southern Research)

Tyree’s project team will also study how similar revitalization projects in the nation achieved successful outcomes and assess how the two organizations’ long-standing research-and-development experience can support programs that stimulate startup activity. The goal will be to capitalize on the strengths and capabilities of the existing workforce and put people back to work in new industries fueled by creativity and innovation.

As part of the 12-week project, the team will engage with educators, economic development professionals, investors and others in the coal region to build a broad coalition of advocates for a renewal effort.

The team will also work with partners such as the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, the Energy Institute of Alabama, the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries, and the Alabama Department of Commerce.

“Areas that lose their historical economic base must recognize future opportunities for industrial development and growth, and they must put assets in place that fuel job creation and enhance competitiveness,” Tyree said.

Fueling innovation

Included in the study are Alabama’s three top coal-producing counties – Walker, Jefferson and Tuscaloosa. The other counties are Lauderdale, Franklin, Marion, Lawrence, Winston, Colbert, Lamar, Fayette, Pickens, Greene, Bibb, Hale, Shelby, Chilton, St. Clair and Blount.

Bulldozer tracks cross a coal pile. A steep decline in the number of coal-industry jobs has affected 19 Alabama counties. Southern Research has been awarded a grant to develop a plan to spur the region’s economies using the abilities of the available workforce. (File)
Bulldozer tracks cross a coal pile. A steep decline in the number of coal-industry jobs has affected 19 Alabama counties. Southern Research has been awarded a grant to develop a plan to spur the region’s economies using the abilities of the available workforce. (File)

While some of the counties don’t have significant coal-mining activity, they may house a coal-fired power plant that has closed or undergone a conversion to natural gas, or they may simply be part of a regional economy that historically included jobs in the coal supply chain. All the counties are in economic development regions drawn by the Alabama Legislature in 2015 to encourage collaboration in job-creation initiatives.

Though Alabama and the coal region have taken steps to put resources in place for entrepreneurs, actual startup activity remains low, with Alabama ranking No. 49 in new business creation in a 2015 study by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

To attack challenges, Tyree said the team will focus on ways to introduce new levels of innovation into the region’s business environment.

“Productivity is the fundamental driver of prosperity, and innovation is the driver of productivity,” he said. “The focus of economic development must be on supporting all forms of innovation, as that will fuel the growth of new business in the region by fostering new ideas, technologies and jobs.”

Southern Research’s ARC grant was among $38.8 million in awards announced recently by the Obama Administration for programs to assist communities hurt by the downturn in the U.S. coal industry and changes in the power section.

The ARC is a regional development agency that represents a partnership between federal, state and local government.

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2 years ago

Ongoing drought taking toll on Alabama’s lake levels

Drought conditions are causing Alabama Power to limit water releases from its dams. (Winter Byrd / Alabama NewsCenter)
Drought conditions are causing Alabama Power to limit water releases from its dams. (Winter Byrd / Alabama NewsCenter)
Drought conditions are causing Alabama Power to limit water releases from its dams. (Winter Byrd / Alabama NewsCenter)

The drought affecting portions of Alabama continues to reduce flows in rivers and streams that feed Alabama Power’s lakes. The conditions have resulted in lower levels at Alabama Power reservoirs.

Scattered summer showers in July and early August helped slow the drop in lake levels. Since then, however, dry conditions have returned. Water levels at Weiss, Neely Henry, and Logan Martin lakes on the Coosa River, Harris and Martin lakes on the Tallapoosa River, and Smith Lake on the Black Warrior River are dropping and are expected to continue their decline.

In response to the dry conditions, Alabama Power has minimized water releases from its hydroelectric dams and suspended recreational releases from Jordan Dam on the Coosa River. The company is working with government agencies, municipalities, businesses and industry, and community groups to communicate about the efforts to conserve water.

The National Weather Service is forecasting lower-than-normal rainfall for the coming three months. Based on the forecast and current conditions, a potential fall extension of summer water levels at Lake Martin has not been implemented and is unlikely to take place during September. Updates on the likelihood of issuing a fall extension at Martin will be posted on the APC Shorelines website every Tuesday through Sept. 30.

The ongoing Alabama drought is causing limited releases, including recreational ones, from Alabama Power dams. (Winter Byrd / Alabama NewsCenter)
The ongoing Alabama drought is causing limited releases, including recreational ones, from Alabama Power dams. (Winter Byrd / Alabama NewsCenter)

Alabama Power will continue to closely monitor conditions on the lakes and manage the limited water resources carefully. Individuals with boats and other water-related equipment and facilities should always be alert to changing conditions on Alabama Power reservoirs and be prepared to take the necessary steps to protect their property.

For details about Alabama Power lakes, visit Shorelines or add the free Alabama Power Shorelines app to your mobile device. To view specific lake advisories, click on the lake name and then click the circular information icon. Individuals can also call Alabama Power’s automated Reservoir Information Line at 1-800-LAKES11 (1-800-525-3711).

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2 years ago

Pizitz building ready to shape Birmingham’s future as it did its past

The Pizitz building is nearly ready for its second life as a mixed-use development after a $70 million restoration. (contributed)
The Pizitz building is nearly ready for its second life as a mixed-use development after a $70 million restoration. (contributed)
The Pizitz building is nearly ready for its second life as a mixed-use development after a $70 million restoration. (contributed)

By Michael Tomberlin

Birmingham’s Pizitz building has a presence about it and that presence has been felt.

From its construction in 1923, the massive, six-story home to Pizitz department store shaped retail and helped make that part of downtown Birmingham a shopping mecca for the region.

When the last elements of the Pizitz store closed in 1988, its presence was also felt as a sizeable vacancy and its emptiness spoke to the decline of downtown Birmingham in the face of suburban growth and shopping malls.

pizitz-building-layout

In the multiple false starts of renovation and restoration that followed, the Pizitz generated excitement befitting its size, only to be followed by equal amounts of disappointment when planned condos/offices/apartments/retailers never materialized.

Now Pizitz will have its presence felt in a positive way once again.

Bayer Properties has nearly completed its $70 million restoration of the 250,000-square-foot Pizitz and the property’s new life as a mix of apartments, office space, restaurants, retail and theater space is set to begin.

“We’re a little over 90 days from the first residential units opening. After close to 15 years of working on the project, we’re very excited,” said David Silverstein, principal of Bayer Properties. “We hope that it will be well-received by the community. We do believe it will be transformative for the downtown area.”

Brasfield & Gorrie, the general contractor, said scaffolding that has surrounded the historic building for more than a year will begin coming down this month. The first of the 143 apartments will be ready for residents in November.

Silverstein said the city of Birmingham and Mayor William Bell supported the project and pledged streetscape improvements to make the Pizitz renovation possible. He said the city supported the Pizitz revitalization as it had Bayer’s development of The Summit shopping center on U.S. 280, which is in the city limits of Birmingham.

“Mayor Bell has always been supportive of our initiatives here,” said Silverstein. “We really do think that this is reflective of how it is to do business in the city of Birmingham.”

A new 18,000-square-foot food hall and bar on the ground floor is expected to open in December or January.

“You’re going to see such an ethnic mix of food unlike you’ve seen in one place in this city before,” said Bayer Properties CEO Jeffrey Bayer.

The food hall at the Pizitz building will have a variety of foods and a bar in the center. (contributed)
The food hall at the Pizitz building will have a variety of foods and a bar in the center. (contributed)

Bayer consulted with food blog “What to Eat in Birmingham” in coming up with the concept for the food hall. He said to expect such diversity as dumplings, Ethiopian food, coffee, ice cream and maybe a bakery.

A large bar will be at the food court center under an old clock uncovered during the restoration.

Bayer said a well-known restaurateur from New York will open a restaurant and operate the bar in the Pizitz.

REV Birmingham is working with sponsors and Bayer Properties to establish a restaurant incubator in the food hall.

The incubator will help startup restaurateurs learn everything from inventory control to handling cash flow and managing a staff. It will also serve as a proof of concept for the restaurants’ menu, pricing and other elements.

“If you look at the businesses that have been at the forefront of the resurgence of Birmingham, they have been food-based,” said Deontée Gordon, director of business growth at REV. “Those are the most impactful but they are also the hardest to get started.”

After four to six months, the restaurant will be expected to move into its own space and allow a new restaurant to set up in the incubator.

Regions Bank, Bayer Properties, Wood Fruitticher, Appleseed Workshop, Maynard Cooper & Gale and private foundations are sponsoring the incubator and will continue to work with restaurateurs after they graduate to help them get established.

In addition to restoring the exterior of the building to its original appearance – including replacing and cleaning the terra cotta – Bayer added an atrium through the center of the building to bring natural light to the apartments and the food hall.

The mezzanine will have more than 14,000 square feet of office space for either a single user or flexible office space for multiple users.

The Pizitz will begin taking residents for its apartments in November and the food hall could see restaurants opening as soon as December. (contributed)
The Pizitz will begin taking residents for its apartments in November and the food hall could see restaurants opening as soon as December. (contributed)

The lower level of the building will be home to the Sidewalk Film Festival. The organization will have its offices there along with its own bar and two theaters.

Chloe Cook, executive director of Sidewalk, said what will be known as Sidewalk Cinema will be a perfect fit in the building.

“We intend to screen first-run independent films and offer retrospective film screenings as well,” Cook said. “We see the Sidewalk Cinema driving traffic to the food hall and serving as a great companion to the building overall, serving food hall patrons as well as residents of the building.”

The Sidewalk Cinema will be open seven days a week with nightly showings Monday-Wednesday and daily and nightly showings Thursday-Sunday, Cook said. There will be special showings during the lunch hour several days each month and other showings of educational programs for students along with events for professional filmmakers.

Sidewalk Cinema will join the Imax Dome Theater across the street at the McWane Science Center and will be a block or two away from the Alabama Theatre, the Lyric Theatre, the Carver Theatre and the Red Mountain Theatre Company Cabaret Theatre in what is known by some as the Theatre District.

“The Sidewalk Cinema will further enliven the Theatre District in several ways – a new venue in the district that will not only be open for special events but every day, driving traffic to the area on a regular basis – increasing foot traffic, shopping and dining in other nearby businesses,” Cook said.

Silverstein said the addition of Sidewalk gives the Pizitz an added dimension.

“They really do enhance the cultural well-being of our community, so to add that type of user to the building and entertainment truly makes the building a mixed-use project,” Silverstein said.

Adding further to the mix of uses will be shops on the ground floor.

“Along with the food hall and restaurants, there will be one or two traditional retail users,” Bayer said.

The apartments will have high ceilings, large windows and a variety of views of the city.

Tom Walker, development manager with Bayer Properties, said the top floor of the building will feature a rooftop pool, meeting space, fitness center, locker rooms, Wi-Fi and other “millennial-friendly” offerings. The building has its own adjacent parking deck and a crosswalk into the building.

The apartment area of the Pizitz building will have its own entrance off 19th Street. (contributed)
The apartment area of the Pizitz building will have its own entrance off 19th Street. (contributed)

Its location at 19th Street and Second Avenue North is a key selling point, Walker said.

“When we open up, we will have very public space opening our arms to downtown Birmingham in the middle of what’s going on in the Parkside District and what’s going on in the Central Business District as well,” he said.

Bayer agreed that, as with most real estate projects, location and timing make all of the difference.

“In many ways it is the bull’s eye,” Bayer said of the Pizitz.

Bayer believes the mix of apartments, office, food, retail and theater space is the combination that will give Pizitz the presence it deserves. Knowing that makes the years his company has spent on the project worth it.

“We’re all very conscious of those who have come before us, and do not want to suggest that this is the pivotal project, but in the long history of great projects we believe this will be one of the next good projects for the city,” he said. “It’s gratifying. We’re thrilled for the city. We think it will make quite a difference and we’re thrilled to be involved in downtown Birmingham.

“Timing is everything.”

1
2 years ago

Alabama psychologist to parents: Stop over-scheduling your children’s lives!

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By Alicia Rohan

A new school year means new after-school activities, which can lead to a balancing act of schedules for parents. Between sports, music lessons, youth groups and other activities, it is easy for parents and children to quickly become overcommitted.

“Busy schedules have become a part of our culture,” said Josh Klapow, Ph.D., clinical psychologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “As much as we would like to keep our children active and engaged, overscheduling is simply not good for them or parents.”

An overbooked family spends little time together, is usually worn out and stressed, and tends to argue, creating a fine line between being busy and overdoing it. Klapow suggests setting house rules, educating kids about activities and their choices, balancing adult and kid activities, establishing family time, and recognizing that down time is important.

If you have a busy schedule and your kids are displaying any of these signs, there is a good chance they are being stretched too far:


    • Tired
    • Irritable
    • Nervous
    • Easily distracted
    • Headache and/or stomachache complaints
    • Having a tough time keeping their grades up.

The question for many parents becomes, “How do you keep your busy schedule in check?”

As a parent, ask yourself a set of questions:


    • How many hours per week should be spent on extracurricular activities?
    • What activities is your child interested in?
    • What will your child’s homework load look like?
    • Is it practical to have more than one activity per season?
    • What are the means for transportation to and from each activity?
    • What activities are your other children involved in?
    • What are your activities, and how do these play into scheduling?
    • What are your commitments professionally?

Dr. Josh Klapow, clinical psychologist and professor at UAB. (UAB Media)
Dr. Josh Klapow, clinical psychologist and professor at UAB. (UAB Media)

Klapow recommends laying out ground rules before making commitments, such as playing only one sport or activity per season or no more than two practices per week. Set priorities and expectations for schoolwork and obtaining good grades.

Having a conversation with children about activities is important. Make sure they know what they are signing up for and the expectations for coaches and peers. Conversations about time commitment are important, specifically expressing how this could cut into their social time with friends.

“Be upfront with your kids,” Klapow said. “If the activities require that the child be at practice right after school, note that this will cut into their play time with their friends, as homework will need to be completed when they get home before dinner.”

Parents have to balance activities for their children and themselves. As a parent, consideration for a child’s activity should be taken from a personal perspective, including getting the child to and from practice, attending games or recitals, and making sure the child is performing the activity well with additional practice at home.

In addition, parents should carve out time for their own activities they enjoy, as well as opportunities to stay healthy.

“Driving your health into the ground in order to accommodate your child’s schedule is simply not a smart thing to do,” Klapow said.

Family time is also important. Parents should set aside family time at the very least, one night a week. Eating dinner together or playing a card game, a time when everyone living in the house sits down to spend quality time together.

“It’s critical that everyone in the house be a part of family time,” Klapow said.

Down time offers a chance for parents and children to relax, reflect on the day or just do nothing.

“We live in a very busy world, and we want the best for our kids,” Klapow said. “Sometimes the best means less.”

1
2 years ago

ALWAYS ON: Inside the lives of the men who keep Alabama’s electricity flowing 24/7

Lineman works to restore outages after storm damage in Hoover. (file)
Lineman works to restore outages after storm damage in Hoover. (file)
Lineman works to restore outages after storm damage in Hoover. (file)

More than 12,000 overtime hours worked by Alabama Power’s 12th Street line crews add up to a lot of missed time with their kids on summer vacation.

But two of members of Foreman Greg Herbinger’s crew take a philosophical view.

“I’ve missed several Little League baseball games as well as family birthday parties due to working extra,” says Lineman David Laminack. “I’ve also missed out watching my baby girl grow and do new things like roll over and sit up.”

Laminack worked 10 of his 29 off days since Memorial Day for a total of 242 overtime hours.

Lineman Jason Quick worked 300 extra hours since Memorial Day; in some cases 90 overtime hours in one week. But his story is a little different.

Alabama Power linemen are frequently required to put in long hours and respond at a moment’s notice to get power restored for families. (file)
Alabama Power linemen are frequently required to put in long hours and respond at a moment’s notice to get power restored for families. (file)

“I’ve been very blessed. I haven’t missed any major events due to being at work this summer,” Quick said. “But there have been other summers I have.”

Quick still suffers from what most linemen do in the summer.

“What I miss the most are the evenings when I have worked a lot of long and hot hours, or my days and nights get mixed up due to pulling all-nighters,” he said. “I find myself so tired and exhausted I can barely hold my eyes open once I get home. So I miss the evening and night activities such as dinner with the family, enjoying the long days of sunshine, baseball practice or just hanging out with the kids before bedtime.”

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Summer requires more overtime work to restore power, as soil softened by daily thunderstorms makes it easy for trees heavy with leaves to topple. Wires, poles and transformers all must be replaced. Excessive heat adds more adversity to what is already a difficult job.

But both linemen have ready answers for their families.

“I remind my kids when someone’s power goes out, it’s my job to get their power back on so they can enjoy their family time,” Laminack said. “I explain when I work overtime, I see that as a way to help people get back to their normal lives. I also assure them I will make up the time I missed with them.”

Quick said his children seeing him work long hours “shows them getting up early or leaving in the middle of the night is what you have to do sometimes to provide for the family and be able to give them the things they need and want.

“I tell them this is the profession I chose and it requires me to help others at any time. My children know what I do, that I love what I do and I have worked hard to learn this job.
“Not everybody is cut out to do this job,” Quick continued, “so when others need you and you have the knowledge and training to help, that’s what my job calls me to do.”

1
2 years ago

‘Together We Are Greater’ — Birmingham community continues rallying around UAB

The Blazer spirit is on display in the "Together We Are Greater Birmingham" campaign by Burton Advertising. (contributed)
The Blazer spirit is on display in the "Together We Are Greater Birmingham" campaign by Burton Advertising. (contributed)
The Blazer spirit is on display in the “Together We Are Greater Birmingham” campaign by Burton Advertising. (contributed)

By Michael Tomberlin

UAB unveiled a new video today, kicking off a campaign for the 2016-17 season a year before football returns to the school.

The “Together We Are Greater Birmingham” video and promotion taps into the revived interest in football and other sports at the school after the football program was eliminated in December 2014. The return was announced six months later after a public outcry.

Burton Advertising produced the inaugural video for the campaign, which can be viewed below.

The green and gold colors of the school are sprinkled throughout the video along with images of Magic City icons like Vulcan, Railroad Park, Legion Field, Alabama Theatre and the UAB campus itself.

“The entire Birmingham community has rallied around UAB and this campaign is a way to show our appreciation for what the city has worked so hard to accomplish,” UAB Athletics Director Mark Ingram said. “UAB is a world-class institution located in a world-class city, and together we can achieve unprecedented levels of success. We are living proof of that.”

UAB just broke ground on a new football complex with practice fields and offices, the result of a major fundraising effort led by some of Birmingham’s largest corporations and business leaders.

“The support has been unwavering,” football coach Bill Clark said. “We have put shovels in the ground for our new Football Operations Center and it wouldn’t have been possible without Birmingham believing in UAB and our vision of becoming a championship caliber program.”

Although the returning football program is a point of emphasis, the new campaign will connect to all 18 Blazer sports programs. Fans are being asked to use the #TogetherWeAre hashtag on social media this season.

An image from the “Together We Are Greater Birmingham” video. (Burton Advertising)
An image from the “Together We Are Greater Birmingham” video. (Burton Advertising)
1
2 years ago

Verne reminisces entering his final year on CBS: ‘When Bama got Saban, the world changed’

Longtime pressbox partners Verne Lundquist, left, and Gary Danielson have one more season doing play-by-play on SEC football games for CBS Sports before Lundquist retires. (CBS)
Longtime pressbox partners Verne Lundquist, left, and Gary Danielson have one more season doing play-by-play on SEC football games for CBS Sports before Lundquist retires. (CBS)

By Wayne Hester

Verne Lundquist will be four days shy of 53 years in broadcasting on Sept. 3 when CBS televises the UCLA at Texas A&M game.

“Verne is a legend in this business,” said his partner Gary Danielson. “I am thankful to have had the opportunity to sit next to him calling SEC games.”

Gary Danielson, left, and Verne Lundquist are familiar faces to SEC football fans, having spent years providing play-by-play for the conference’s games on CBS. (CBS)
Gary Danielson, left, and Verne Lundquist are familiar faces to SEC football fans, having spent years providing play-by-play for the conference’s games on CBS. (CBS)

CBS has had the highest ratings for college football for the past 10 years, and Lundquist plans to make his last year all about the game.

“Verne has never wanted to be the story of any broadcast,” said CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus. “He has always wanted the game, the players and the coaches to be the story.”

Lundquist, Danielson, McManus and studio host Rick Neuheisel were on a conference call with the media Thursday as CBS approaches its 16th year of covering the SEC.

Lundquist remembered the year 2000, when coach Mike Dubose’s Alabama team finished 3-8.

“We’re light years removed from that Alabama team,” Lundquist said.

“When they got Nick Saban, the world changed.”

McManus let the media in on a change coming to CBS broadcasts this season. He said viewers should be prepared for graphics having a “slick new modern look.”

And Garth Brooks “is going to customize a song for us,” McManus added.

Danielson was asked about Lundquist, and he answered with high praise.

“I think he has been as important to the SEC as Bear Bryant,” Danielson said.

“Verne always finds the goodness in the game with the players and coaches he interviews.”

Gary Danielson and Verne Lundquist provide play-by-play commentary for an Auburn-Georgia game. At the end of this season, Lundquist will turn his job over to Brad Nessler after 53 years in the business. (CBS)
Gary Danielson and Verne Lundquist provide play-by-play commentary for an Auburn-Georgia game. At the end of this season, Lundquist will turn his job over to Brad Nessler after 53 years in the business. (CBS)

Other takeaways from the conference call:

• Lundquist on preparing for a game: “You can’t shortcut it. If you do, you’ll be found out.”

• Danielson: “I’ve had what I consider four, five, six dear friends in my life. People come up in the booth and hug Verne and call him their dear friend – hundreds of them.”

• Verne on his successor, Brad Nessler: “I’ve known Brad for more than 30 years and have always admired his work ethic and his on-air presence. He shares the same passion for college football that I do.”

• Neuheisel’s four picks for the College Football Playoff: Alabama, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Clemson.

1
2 years ago

Jerusalem’s biggest Bama fan is ready for football: ‘I say Roll Tide around 50 times a day’

Hani Imam's store brings Tide pride to David Street in Jerusalem. (Karim Shamsi-Basha/Alabama NewsCenter)
Hani Imam's store brings Tide pride to David Street in Jerusalem. (Karim Shamsi-Basha/Alabama NewsCenter)
Hani Imam’s store brings Tide pride to David Street in Jerusalem. (Karim Shamsi-Basha/Alabama NewsCenter)

By Karim Shamsi-Basha

As football season approaches, the battle cry of the defending national champions, the Alabama Crimson Tide, is rising up from Tuscaloosa to Dallas to New York to Jerusalem.

Jerusalem?

The last thing one might expect to find on the ancient streets of Jerusalem is anything having to do with American football – especially Alabama football.

Along David Street, leading from Jaffa Gate to the Wailing Wall, there is the aroma of jasmine, rosewater and saffron. Vendors offer engraved leather and Mosaic boxes, Middle Eastern jewelry, spices, handmade soap, Jewish menorahs, Christian olivewood crosses and Muslim prayer rugs.

The place beckons to a time when all three monotheistic religions shared similar stories and familiar heroes.

This is where the Old and New Testaments were born. It is where the Quran played an important role. It is where the Torah was penned. It is also where a storeowner named Hani Imam says “Roll Tide!” several times a day.

Imam fell in love with Alabama football when he studied at the university. Upon returning home to Jerusalem, he decided to continue the Alabama tradition by opening a store dedicated to the state.

Imam said he is ready for the kickoff this weekend, jumping into the conversation like he still lives in Tuscaloosa.

“Alabama did a great job recruiting this year. Let’s see, the two Alabama boys, Ben Davis and Lyndell Wilson, they’re two of the top players,” he said. “We should do very good. I see another national championship season on the way – Roll Tide! Yes sir, Roll Tide!”

Imam offers long-distance words of encouragement for coach Nick Saban.

“Coach Saban, you are a great man, and it’s a blessing to have you as our head coach. Thanks for all you’ve done for the great state of Alabama,” Imam said, quickly adding, “One more thing. Roll Tide, Coach Saban! Roll Tide!”

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Imam’s crimson pride is evident from the sign that sticks out among the other storefronts in Jerusalem. “Alabama – The Heart of Dixie” is nestled between a store that sells Middle Eastern spices such as cumin, sumac and cardamom, and one that sells leather goods with engraved Jerusalem scenes.

Imam sells T-shirts with the University of Alabama logo along with the state’s name in Arabic and Hebrew. UA logos are printed on mugs, plates, hats, car tags and many other items. An Alabama-red wooden sign with a “Welcome to Bama Country” greets customers at the door. Inside, a picture of Saban hangs on the door with a Sharpie-written note: “To Hani, Roll Tide, Nick Saban.”

The Palestinian-born Imam studied engineering at the University of Alabama and lived in Tuscaloosa from 1984 until 1994.

“I went to school in Alabama, and I am a big Alabama fan. My family and I love Alabama football and are very proud of Coach Saban and the program,” Imam said. “No one expects an Alabama store here, but everyone loves it.”

Alabama and Auburn fans walk into his store every day.

“In the summer, I say ‘Roll Tide!’ around 50 times a day. They love it here They walk in all happy and shocked,” Imam said. “Auburn fans also visit, but they can’t give me a hard time. They also love the store, even though it’s everything Alabama.”

1
2 years ago

After coming up just short last year, Jacksonville State gears up for Nat’l Championship run

Jacksonville State Gamecocks cornerback Jaylen Hill (11) carries the ball in last year's 42-20 victory over the Murray State Racers. (Jacksonville State Athletics)
Jacksonville State Gamecocks cornerback Jaylen Hill (11) carries the ball in last year's 42-20 victory over the Murray State Racers. (Jacksonville State Athletics)
Jacksonville State Gamecocks cornerback Jaylen Hill (11) carries the ball in last year’s 42-20 victory over the Murray State Racers. (Jacksonville State Athletics)

Some people might think you’re on Easy Street the year after your football team finishes as the runner-up to the national champion in the Football Championship Subdivision.

Don’t count Jacksonville State coach John Grass among that number.

“You’ve got to work harder now than what you were working,” said Grass, whose team lost 37-10 to North Dakota State in the 2015 FCS title game. “You’ve got to try to stay there. That’s the past.”

Grass acknowledged that getting to the championship game wasn’t the goal. He and his Gamecocks want to win it. “We weren’t that team last year,” he said. “Hopefully, this year we’ll make another run at it.”

Alabama NewsCenter is posing five questions to state college coaches as the 2016 football season draws near. Next up are Grass and his Gamecocks, who open their season at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 1, hosting longtime rival North Alabama.

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NC: What is the outlook for this season?

JG: Same as it’s always been. There’s a process that goes to it. We’re just looking to be the team we can be on a daily basis, just get better as the year goes and make the playoffs, and get a chance in the playoffs to win a national championship. Our team’s very dedicated to doing that. I’ve seen a lot of good things in the offseason and fall camp in how they work and how they approach the game. We’ve got a good platform, foundation built here. Our guys know what to expect, they know how to get the job done and they know what it requires of them.

NC: What is your team’s strength?

JG: Our depth is pretty good across the field. We’ve got some newcomers but we’ve got a lot of guys back who played a lot of snaps last year. I think that team speed and our overall athleticism is good and I think our depth is good.

NC: Who are your standouts this season?

JG: That’s a good question. I don’t know how to predict that. We don’t pay a lot of attention to preseason this, preseason that. You have to not talk about it; you have to actually go out there and do it. We have some returning players on both sides of the ball who have a chance to have some great years. Of course, offensively you start with (quarterback) Eli Jenkins, (wide receiver) Josh Barge and guys up front like Casey Dunn and Nick Johnson and Justin Lea and Dylan Cline. Defensively, you’ve got guys like (defensive end) Darius Jackson and (defensive back) Jaylen Hill. It’s hard to predict who’s going to have a great year.

NC: What game do your fans have circled on your schedule?

JG: I’d say any home game. Our fans – just like our players and staff – they love playing at home. They like playing on Burgess-Snow Field, the gameday experience. It’s a pretty special deal that we have. They look forward to having a good time.

NC: What is your lingering question?

JG: Can we win the last one? You’ve got to play and play well enough so that you have a chance to win the last one. Then, of course, you’ve got to win the last one to be a national champion.

Also in this series: Read Alabama NewsCenter’s interviews with head coaches Reginald Ruffin of Miles College, Bobby Wallace of the University of North Alabama, Brett Gilliland of the University of West Alabama, Eddie Garfinkle of Birmingham-Southern College, Willie Slater of Tuskegee University, Chris Hatcher of Samford University, Joey Jones of the University of South Alabama and James Spady of Alabama A&M University.

1
2 years ago

DROPPIN’ KNOWLEDGE: Alabamians named National Trivia Champions

Pacers celebrate their national championship at at the National Trivia League finals in Las Vegas. (John Herr / Alabama NewsCenter)
Pacers celebrate their national championship at at the National Trivia League finals in Las Vegas. (John Herr / Alabama NewsCenter)
Pacers celebrate their national championship at at the National Trivia League finals in Las Vegas. (John Herr / Alabama NewsCenter)

LAS VEGAS – Question: What Southern state just produced the 2016 national trivia champion?

Answer: Alabama. But you probably guessed that.

On Saturday, Aug. 28, the 2016 National Trivia League finals were held at the Rio Hotel.

Sponsored by Challenge Entertainment, the competition brought together 170 teams that qualified by winning weekly trivia contests across the country.

The winning five-person team, the Pacers, hail from Russell, Alabama. They play regularly at Sam’s Sports Grill in Decatur.

Another Alabama team, “J’accuse,” also finished in the top 10.

“I couldn’t be happier. This is awesome,” said Jamie Golliver, whose Pacers team earned a trophy and $20,000. “I wouldn’t want to do it with another group of guys.”

“We made it to Vegas last year; we just came up short on the final question,” said teammate Casey Lowery. “But man, this year everything just hit right.”

Pacers, the Alabama team from Decatur, captured the championship at the National Trivia League finals in Las Vegas. (John Herr / Alabama NewsCenter)
Pacers, the Alabama team from Decatur, captured the championship at the National Trivia League finals in Las Vegas. (John Herr / Alabama NewsCenter)
The National Trivial League finals were held in Las Vegas last weekend. One Alabama team won the championship while another finished in the Top 10. (John Herr / Alabama NewsCenter)
The National Trivial League finals were held in Las Vegas last weekend. One Alabama team won the championship while another finished in the Top 10. (John Herr / Alabama NewsCenter)
The National Trivial League finals were held in Las Vegas last weekend. One Alabama team won the championship while another finished in the Top 10. (John Herr / Alabama NewsCenter)
The National Trivial League finals were held in Las Vegas last weekend. One Alabama team won the championship while another finished in the Top 10. (John Herr / Alabama NewsCenter)
The National Trivial League finals were held in Las Vegas last weekend. One Alabama team won the championship while another finished in the Top 10. (John Herr / Alabama NewsCenter)
The National Trivial League finals were held in Las Vegas last weekend. One Alabama team won the championship while another finished in the Top 10. (John Herr / Alabama NewsCenter)
J’accuse, a team from Pelham, placed in the National Trivia League finals in Las Vegas. (John Herr / Alabama NewsCenter)
J’accuse, a team from Pelham, placed in the National Trivia League finals in Las Vegas. (John Herr / Alabama NewsCenter)

This was the second year for the National Trivia League finals, which kicked off with a party Friday night that featured an Elvis impersonator. The next day hundreds of competitors gathered to answer 32 difficult questions on topics ranging from history to geography to vocabulary.

A sample:

What major Midwestern city in 1980 gave the “key to the city” to Iraq’s then-president Saddam Hussein? (Answer: Detroit).

What lost Beach Boys album was released by Brian Wilson in 2004? (Answer: “Smile.”)

What company created “Pokemon Go”? (Answer: Niantic Labs.)

While rock music played, teams huddled and brainstormed, assigning a point value to each answer on a sliding scale, depending on their confidence in getting it right.

The Pacers, which also include Chris Pace, Slade Gilmer and Brent Jackson, pulled ahead of the pack by correctly answering the super-tough final question, a four-parter on which teams could risk up to 30 points.

“Our knowledge is just so diversified across the board,” said Golliver. “We really all complement each other very well.”

“J’accuse,” which plays its trivia contests at Oak Hill Bar and Grill in Homewood, included Randy Harrison and Diane Wiitanen (from Pelham), Douglas Murchie and Jud Barber (Hoover) and Brian Stack (Fultondale). Along with the other top 20 teams, they won a cash prize.

“We were fifth here last year,” said Stack.

“We always came in here thinking that if we got in the money, we’d won,” said Harrison.

National Trivia League Director Miguel Sanchez marveled at the growth of the event.

“It’s crazy to see,” said the New Orleans native. “From the small local events that we had to now having almost 600 events a week nationwide, and having this kind of turnout, it’s been great.”

Challenge Entertainment was formed 10 years ago in Memphis, Tenn., by CEO Britt Mock. Its second office was opened in Birmingham.

Taylor Smith, who runs the Alabama office, acknowledged the people behind the scenes.

“This was a four-hour event, but the amount of man-hours that went into this is staggering,” said Smith.

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2 years ago

BJCC’s $300M master plan: Renovate, build open-air stadium, expand entertainment district

The open-air stadium is a major component in the latest master plan for the BJCC. (Populous)
The open-air stadium is a major component in the latest master plan for the BJCC. (Populous)

The latest master plan to expand the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex goes topless, revealing the new direction to focus on adding outdoor sports to the venue.

Kansas City-based Populous presented its latest plans to the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center Authority board of directors, calling for extensive renovations and expansion of Legacy Arena, modernizing the entire complex’s look and access, adding an open-air stadium and expanding the Uptown entertainment district.

The open stadium is a departure from past plans focused on a domed stadium on the site.

The new plan aims to make the BJCC more competitive for the next two decades as it seeks to draw conventions, concerts and other events to the Magic City.

“We have looked forward to reviewing the work of Populous and master plan revisions for the BJCC,” BJCC Executive Director Tad Snider said. “The process of assessing key enhancement and expansion opportunities based on the underlying goal of creating a flexible framework to meet the future vision and needs of the BJCC has been extremely rewarding.”

The 45,000-seat open-air stadium would be built north of Uptown and could be expanded to 55,000 seats. Designers spoke with the University of Alabama at Birmingham and ESPN, which produces the annual Birmingham Bowl, to gauge their needs and input.

The stadium is projected to cost $174 million and the other improvements will total $123 million. There was no discussion of how the projects would be financed.

A proposed new look for the Legacy Arena at the BJCC. (Populous)
A proposed new look for the Legacy Arena at the BJCC. (Populous)
Proposed changes to the BJCC piazza. (Populous)
Proposed changes to the BJCC piazza. (Populous)
The entrance to a proposed open-air football stadium. (Populous)
The entrance to a proposed open-air football stadium. (Populous)
A proposed new southern entrance to the Legacy Arena at the BJCC. (Populous)
A proposed new southern entrance to the Legacy Arena at the BJCC. (Populous)
A proposed new north entrance to the Legacy Arena at the BJCC. (Populous)
A proposed new north entrance to the Legacy Arena at the BJCC. (Populous)
The revisions to the BJCC master plan would add a new open-air stadium, an expanded Uptown entertainment district and changes to the existing complex. (Populous)
The revisions to the BJCC master plan would add a new open-air stadium, an expanded Uptown entertainment district and changes to the existing complex. (Populous)

Mark Ingram, athletics director at UAB, said he is pleased to see the proposal out in the public.

“We continue to be encouraged by the progress made by the BJCC,” Ingram said. “It’s exciting for all to see their plans, which will be a tremendous benefit to Birmingham, UAB, our athletics department and football program.”

The master plan shows an expanded Uptown next to the stadium and to the south of the current district. An additional hotel and parking deck east of the stadium is on the master plan, though that was not a focus of Wednesday’s presentation.

The plan includes aesthetic enhancements to Legacy Arena with a new facade, new entrances and an expansion that will add a suite level and premium club space. Inside the arena, enhancements will improve crowd flow, and food and beverage options for patrons.

Long a source of criticism for its dated design and lack of open space, the new design of the piazza outside of the arena has a more open plan that would provide better pedestrian flow between the arena, concert hall and theater.

Dennis Lathem, chairman of the BJCCA board, praised the master plan update.

“This plan creates an exciting vision for the future of the BJCC,” Lathem said. “The BJCC’s success is Birmingham’s success.”

Past plans called for a domed stadium rather than an open-air venue because of the ability to use a covered space for conventions and non-sporting events for when the BJCC’s current 200,000 square feet of exhibit halls, meeting rooms and three entertainment venues were in use or booked.

Others have pointed to a need to replace Legion Field with a modern stadium, especially now that UAB has re-established its football program with games starting in the 2017 season.

1
2 years ago

Down to their last $20, these Alabamians decided to make the world’s best hummus. It worked.

Allie Clark and Colin Woltmann, a.k.a. The Hummus People, hold some of the fresh ingredients they put into their increasingly popular products. (Mark Sandlin/Alabama NewsCenter)
 Allie Clark and Colin Woltmann, a.k.a. The Hummus People, hold some of the fresh ingredients they put into their increasingly popular products. (Mark Sandlin/Alabama NewsCenter)

Allie Clark and Colin Woltmann, a.k.a. The Hummus People, hold some of the fresh ingredients they put into their increasingly popular products. (Mark Sandlin/Alabama NewsCenter)

The Hummus People, Athens

The Makers: Allie Clark and Colin Woltmann

Winter was coming and the tomatoes were almost gone.

Allie Clark and Colin Woltmann had grown up in Wisconsin, but they’d recently moved to Anderson, Alabama, to help Allie’s father raise heirloom tomatoes — and the growing season was drawing to a close.

“My family owned a dairy in Wisconsin, and Colin’s grandfather kept bees and had a Christmas tree farm,” Allie said. “So farming was in our blood. And Colin is also a musician, so he thought it would be great to be near Muscle Shoals and Nashville.”

The couple soon joined Allie’s father in cultivating tomatoes and selling them at farmers markets. But as winter neared, they looked for another source of income.

“We were literally down to our last $20,” Allie remembers. “Colin had always made hummus, so we took that money, bought some chickpeas, tahini, black beans and spice and started cooking.”

The hummus handlers filled about 40 plastic containers with their concoction, glued on handwritten labels and headed to a local farmers market. They sold out in less than an hour.

“For a year or so we sold tomatoes and hummus at farmers markets,” Allie said. “A lot of customers called us the ‘Hummus People,’ so we embraced that as a name. Then in 2014, we decided to make it a real business, and came up with the slogan, ‘Music to Your Mouth.’ We knew if we were going to make it a full-time job, we wanted it to represent everything we loved: good food, music and art.”

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Three years after whipping up that first mouth-watering batch, Allie and Colin now produce four flavors of hummus that they sell at farmers markets around northern Alabama, and at Whole Foods Markets in Birmingham, Huntsville and Nashville.

They’ve moved from their tiny home kitchen to a renovated restaurant in downtown Athens, where Colin tries out new recipes on a 10-burner range. Using organic ingredients, the couple create all-natural, gluten-free products.

“The main difference between us and the other guys is our whole hummus line is oil-free,” Allie said. “Most commercial companies use less tahini, and add oil as a cheap filler. We use U.S.-made, organic tahini and fresh ingredients like garlic, red peppers and onions instead of powders. That makes ours tastier and has half the calories.”

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Getting dip-and-chip loving Alabamians to try something new has been a mission for these hummus people.

“Many people we met at farmers markets had never tried hummus, so we had to convince them to sample some,” Allie said. “But once they tasted it, especially the Memphis Black Bean flavor, they were sold. And being in Whole Foods has helped spread the word tremendously.”

In fact, while they hope to introduce some new flavors this year, the couple stay busy “just trying to keep up,” Allie said.

Luckily, their success means the Hummus People can now afford all the ingredients they need … including plenty of tomatoes.

The Product: Homemade hummus in flavors including Classy Classic, Spicy Voodoo Jalapeño, Memphis Black Bean and Roasted Garlic Masala.

Take Home: A container of Memphis Black Bean Hummus ($5.99).

The Hummus People

305 W. Lee St., Athens, AL 35611
https://www.facebook.com/thehummuspeople/

715-383-6539

1
2 years ago

This Alabamian won Olympic gold as a teenager. The experience changed her life forever.

Alabamian Jennifer Chandler still gets asked about her career as a diver, four decades after she won a gold medal in the 1976 Olympic Games. And she still remembers what every dive felt like. (Contributed)
Alabamian Jennifer Chandler still gets asked about her career as a diver, four decades after she won a gold medal in the 1976 Olympic Games. And she still remembers what every dive felt like. (Contributed)
Alabamian Jennifer Chandler still gets asked about her career as a diver, four decades after she won a gold medal in the 1976 Olympic Games. And she still remembers what every dive felt like. (Contributed)

Jennifer Stevenson leads a double life of sorts.

At home, she’s the wife of John Stevenson, editor and publisher of The Randolph Leader, spending her time at their place in Roanoke tending to donkeys, chickens, goats and more.

At the office, though, as head of development and special events for the Lakeshore Foundation, she goes by a different name – the name she had when she won a gold medal in diving in the Montreal Olympics 40 years ago.

“I’m a Chandler at work and a Stevenson at home,” she says.

And since she’s taking a walk down memory lane, reliving her Olympic experience, we’ll stick with the former.

“I’m where I am today because of what happened that night,” Chandler says. “My entire life, that experience has influenced everything I’ve done in some way.”

Chandler’s diving career came about because of a couple of happy coincidences.

First of all, her mother, the swim team manager at Mountain Brook Swim and Tennis Club and a former diver herself, was trying to start a diving team.

“We didn’t have any divers, and she suggested I do it,” Chandler recalls.

Most important, though, was the presence of Carlos DeCubas.

“He just happened to be at MBST, and he was a Cuban Olympic swimming and diving coach,” she says.

DeCubas took the 8-year-old under his wing and knew early on that she had talent.

“He told me when I was 10 I could be a national champion, and we started training for the Olympic trials when I was 12,” Chandler says. “It was kind of an early plan.”

And Chandler, with two very supportive parents behind her, loved every minute of it.

“I always liked the flying part,” she says. “I liked the airtime. I also liked being outside and being with my friends.”

Jennifer Chandler trains for the 1975 Pan American Games, where she won the gold, setting the stage for her gold medal performance in Montreal the next year. (Contributed) - See more at: http://alabamanewscenter.com/2016/08/12/olympic-champion-jennifer-chandler-dives-history-every-day/#jp-carousel-58728
Jennifer Chandler trains for the 1975 Pan American Games, where she won the gold, setting the stage for her gold medal performance in Montreal the next year. (Contributed) – See more at: http://alabamanewscenter.com/2016/08/12/olympic-champion-jennifer-chandler-dives-history-every-day/#jp-carousel-58728

Toward the gold

At age 13, Chandler moved to Georgia to continue training with DeCubas, who became coach at Georgia Tech. (Chandler attended his induction last year into the Georgia Aquatic Hall of Fame, of which she is a 2012 inductee.) At age 14, she won the senior national diving championship for the first time.

In 1975, Chandler began training with Ron O’Brien, who was coaching future Olympic gold medal winner Greg Louganis and many others.

“I needed to dive with divers who were better than me and I could emulate,” Chandler says. “When I was diving with Carlos, I was the only diver he had.”

Soon after changing coaches, Chandler won gold at the Pan American Games in Mexico City at age 16 and set her sights on the Olympics the following year.

“One of the hardest parts was just making the team,” Chandler says. “We had a lot of depth in diving.”

Chandler won the Olympic trials, and it was off to Montreal, where she hobnobbed with the likes of Bruce Jenner, who was competing in the decathlon.

“It was over the top from the very get-go, starting with the opening ceremonies,” Chandler recalls. “You stand for hours and hours and hours while they’re lining up all the teams. When you finally get to step on the track, it’s such a relief. It’s also so overwhelming you can barely take a breath. The cheers were so overwhelming.”

‘I needed to comb my hair’

Chandler’s event, the 3-meter springboard, was one of the Montreal Games’ first.

“I remember my dives,” says Chandler, now 57. “I remember what my dives felt like, all of them.”

At the end, Chandler, who did not pay any attention to the scoreboard, had no idea she had won the gold, much less by 40 points.

“I was in shock,” she says. “My first thought was I needed to comb my hair and find my sweats.”

She also had no idea how much her life would change.

“It didn’t really start up much until I got home,” Chandler recalls. “I was asked to be grand marshal at parades all over the state. People would recognize me when I’d go out, and I wasn’t prepared for that. I really thought I was the same me and I had just had a good meet. I had to take some time off. It was a lot of pressure for a 17-year-old.”

A missed opportunity

Chandler took 10 months off from diving before returning to the pool as a freshman at Ohio State University, where O’Brien was coach. She followed him to Mission Viejo, California, and eventually would graduate from the University of Arizona with a degree in drawing and painting.

In 1980, she once again made the Olympic team, but the U.S. boycotted the Games because of Russia’s involvement with Afghanistan.

“You can’t really put into words how disappointing that was,” Chandler says. “I was so fortunate that I had already had a chance to compete. There were teammates of mine in ’80 who didn’t get to go again.”

In the end, that was it for Chandler, who had hurt her back during the Olympic trials. She retired from the sport four years after winning gold. She did a few commercials here and there and some TV commentating.

Still a fan

Chandler went to work for HealthSouth Rehabilitation in 1993. She eventually became educational outreach director for the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame and, five years ago, began working at Lakeshore.

Jennifer Chandler, now head of development and special events for the Lakeshore Foundation, says her Olympic experience four decades ago has profoundly affected her life ever since. (Contributed)
Jennifer Chandler, now head of development and special events for the Lakeshore Foundation, says her Olympic experience four decades ago has profoundly affected her life ever since. (Contributed)

Chandler attended the Olympics in Los Angeles and Atlanta as a spectator, and she still watches them every four years.

“It’s beautiful to watch,” she says. “It does take me back some. What really gets me is right after the whistle blows and before the dives – the silence over the water. … Diving is a beautiful sport, and the dives have gotten more difficult. It’s a lot more acrobatic than it used to be.”

Her gold medal has a place of honor – with her mother, Kay Merrill, who lives in Birmingham.

“She deserved it because she got me everywhere I needed to go,” says Chandler, whose father, Terry Chandler, lives in Albertville. “I was the Olympic diver, and she was the Olympic driver. … I really never look at it unless someone asks me to bring it to a speaking engagement.”

In 2007, Chandler married John Stevenson, and she now spends her weeks in Birmingham and her weekends in Roanoke.

“We have a city house and a country house, and it’s perfect,” she says. “I got a chicken coop for my birthday, and we’re getting new chickens this weekend.”

But she’ll always look back fondly on her days as an Olympian, not hesitating a second when asked what one word she thinks of when she thinks of the Montreal Games.

“Joy,” she says. “Just joy.”

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2 years ago

VIDEO: how did this Gulf restaurant create a dish that Alabamians ‘must eat before they die?’

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Restaurant owner Jimmy McPhillips describes food as his “passion.”

But customers who visit his restaurant on the Alabama coast say it’s more than the food that makes The Southern Grind a hit.

The Mango Salsa Chicken Salad received rave reviews and earned a place on the 100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama Before You Die. Customers who dine at the restaurant say the ambiance and decor add to the experience as a retreat in the Orange Beach community.

Open for nearly four years, the community has received The Southern Grind with open arms. Here’s how the culinary magic is made with this dish.

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2 years ago

Three Alabama cities among the nation’s most stressful

Alabama cities (clockwise from bottom left) Mobile, Birmingham and Montgomery ranked in the Top 10 most stressed cities according to WalletHub. (file)
Alabama cities (clockwise from bottom left) Mobile, Birmingham and Montgomery ranked in the Top 10 most stressed cities according to WalletHub. (file)
Alabama cities (clockwise from bottom left) Mobile, Birmingham and Montgomery ranked in the Top 10 most stressed cities according to WalletHub. (file)

When you imagine Sweet Home Alabama, you don’t typically envision high stress. But an analysis from website Wallet Hub found three Alabama cities among the top 10 most stressed.

The rankings of the nation’s 150 largest cities placed Mobile second, Birmingham third and Montgomery 10th.

The study collected data from the cities, rating their stress in five areas: work-related, money-related, family-related, health and safety-related stress, and coping with stress. The data used stressful factors such as job security, cost of living, divorce, mental health and physical activity. Detroit topped the list as the most stressed while Fremont, Cal. was the least stressed city.

Source: WalletHub

Of course, cities themselves aren’t stressful – it’s what’s going on in the lives of the people.

Dr. Josh Klapow, clinical psychologist and professor at UAB. (UAB Media)
Dr. Josh Klapow, clinical psychologist and professor at UAB. (UAB Media)

“Psychological stress is an individual experience,” said Dr. Josh Klapow, a clinical psychologist and professor at UAB. “It is only experienced by the individual and can only be quantified by indicators or variables associated with perceived stress.”

Klapow noted that an area may have a large number of people experiencing stress, yet it does not mean that any one individual has a very stressful experience by living in that area.

Klapow said it’s not the existence of stress in these cities but how people deal with it that is key.

Crime, divorce, cigarette smoking rates, environmental conditions, joblessness and the economy all can contribute to a person’s stress. High stress levels can lead to early death, disability, psychiatric disorders, lost work productivity, crime and poor overall well-being. These create new sources of stress in what becomes a vicious cycle.

 Can the home of the beautiful and serene Bellingrath Gardens really be the second most stressed city in the nation? (Visit Mobile)

Can the home of the beautiful and serene Bellingrath Gardens really be the second most stressed city in the nation? (Visit Mobile)

Though stress levels have declined since 2007, there is always room for improvement.

Klapow recommends a few ways to lower stress.

Changing the situation or environment, changing the thoughts about the situation and changing the physiological reaction to the environment are all options, he said. Though reducing stress is not the easiest thing to do, it’s important.

Representatives from the ranked Alabama cities disagree with the rankings, saying the survey is based on unrelated statistics that don’t accurately paint a picture of a place and its people.

“I don’t see Mobile as a high-stress city – we are in the South, we are known for our Southern hospitality, and laid-back lifestyle,” Mobile City Councilwoman Gina Gregory said. “We swim, ski, surf, fish, hunt, listen to live music and dance at multiple music festivals, support the arts with an ever-growing Art Walk, and take pride in having some of the best seafood in the country.”

Mobile has co-working spaces, new restaurants, attractions, shops and galleries opening – all of which scream “fun,” not “stress,” Gregory said.

“More and more people are visiting Mobile because they enjoy the experience here, and international companies like Airbus and Austal chose to open their facilities here for a reason,” said Stacy Hamilton, vice president of marketing and communications at Visit Mobile.

Dilcy Hilley, vice president of marketing and communications with the Greater Birmingham Convention and Visitors Bureau, was similarly surprised at the Magic City’s ranking as a “stressed city.” Birmingham has been continuously growing and innovating in recent years with new attractions, restaurants and businesses that don’t suggest an area of high stress.

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2 years ago

Cost of living in these Alabama cities is among the lowest in the nation

Alabama cities Huntsville (top), Montgomery (bottom left) and Mobile (bottom right) ranked in the Top 25 of cities in the nation with the lowest cost of living, according to website Niche. (file)
Alabama cities Huntsville (top), Montgomery (bottom left) and Mobile (bottom right) ranked in the Top 25 of cities in the nation with the lowest cost of living, according to website Niche. (file)
Alabama cities Huntsville (top), Montgomery (bottom left) and Mobile (bottom right) ranked in the Top 25 of cities in the nation with the lowest cost of living, according to website Niche. (file)

Three of Alabama largest cities, Huntsville, Montgomery and Mobile, are among the top 25 places in the nation with the lowest cost of living, according to the website Niche, with the Rocket City and state capital cracking the top 10.

Birmingham, the state’s biggest city by population, made it into the top 30.

Huntsville is ranked fourth in the “2016 Cities with the Lowest Cost of Living,” trailing Ft. Wayne, Ind., which tops the list; Evansville, Ind., at No. 2; and Odessa, Texas, which is third.

Huntsville had the fourth lowest cost of living in the nation. (iStock)
Huntsville had the fourth lowest cost of living in the nation. (iStock)

Montgomery comes in at seventh, Mobile is 22nd, while Birmingham came in at 29.

“The 2016 Cities with the Lowest Cost of Living ranking provides a comprehensive assessment of the affordability of an area at the city level,” Niche states about the methodology it used. “This grade takes into account key factors, including a location’s housing, food and fuel costs, as well as the median tax rates, in an attempt to measure the overall affordability and relative cost of living of an area.”

Montgomery ranked seventh in the nation in lowest cost of living. (iStock)
Montgomery ranked seventh in the nation in lowest cost of living. (iStock)

It uses categories from the U.S. Census and Bureau of Labor Statistics, including home value to income ratios, median effective property taxes and median rent figures.

In Huntsville, the average home is valued at 3.3 times the income of an average family. The median home value is $160,400 and the median rent is $723.

The average home of a Montgomery family is valued at 2.3 times income, while the median rent is $818. The median home value is $119,500.

 Mobile came in at 22nd in the lowest cost of living in the nation. (iStock)

Mobile came in at 22nd in the lowest cost of living in the nation. (iStock)

In Mobile, the median rent is $764 while the average value of a home is $123,600. The value of the average home in the Port City is 3.1 times what a family makes.

The median home value in Birmingham is $86,818 and the median rent is $728. The value of a home is 2.8 times income.

The three Alabama cities in the top 25 have median effective property tax rates ranging from 0.39 percent (Montgomery) to 0.62 percent (Mobile). Huntsville’s effective property tax is 0.45 percent.

Birmingham’s effective property tax is 0.75 percent.

The average monthly housing cost for families in Huntsville, Montgomery and Mobile is 0.2 times income, 0.3 in Birmingham.

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2 years ago

Alabama meets humanoid robot that can run, dance, recognize voices and faces

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Honda’s innovative humanoid robot, ASIMO, visited the automaker’s Talladega County plant this week, part of an effort to encourage STEM education among local students and celebrate the advanced technology found throughout the facility.

ASIMO, which stands for Advanced Step in Innovative Mobility, was featured at the Honda Manufacturing of Alabama Family Open House on Sunday. The event drew more than 15,000 Honda employees, family members and friends.

During five 15-minute demonstrations, the robot climbed stairs, kicked a soccer ball, ran, hopped and danced.

“Of course, robots are intriguing to children, but ASIMO is particularly appealing because of its smaller size and the mobility that it exhibits,” said HMA spokesman Ted Pratt. “But we also hope that ASIMO will encourage and inspire students to learn more about science, technology, engineering and mathematics in their studies.”

Honda's ASIMO robot shows an audience at Honda Manufacturing of Alabama what he can do. (Honda)
Honda’s ASIMO robot shows an audience at Honda Manufacturing of Alabama what he can do. (Honda)

ASIMO’s roots date to 1986, when Honda engineers set out to create a walking robot. Over the years, various models moved closer to the dream of designing a machine that can mimic human motions.

The latest version of ASIMO, which debuted in 2011, can run, kick a ball and go up and down stairs, as well as recognize faces and voices. Development continues, and Honda uses ASIMO as a teaching tool for students around the world.

While ASIMO is an example of Honda’s overall innovation, some of the technology behind it can be found inside the Lincoln plant.

During Sunday’s open house, guests toured the 3.7 million-square-foot factory, which is the sole production source of Honda’s Odyssey minivan, Pilot SUV, Ridgeline pickup and Acura MDX luxury SUV.

On the tour, they saw welding robots bend, twist and zip through sample production cycles. During these demonstrations, the welding tips were not charged, eliminating the chance of sparks.

Visitors also got the chance to operate robots to toss basketballs into a hoop, thanks to a set-up by Honda Engineering-Alabama employees. The robots have the same design as the hundreds of robots in the plant’s welding, painting and assembly operations.

Other examples of innovation at the plant include a new automated engine assembly line, which opened last year.

“The pride that we all have in our jobs, in this facility and with this team was very evident by the smiles and enthusiasm that was shared by all who attended the event,” said HMA President Jeff Tomko. “Sunday was a special time for our family members and friends to share the pride we have in our Honda team and our company.”

Honda’s Alabama plant, which launched production on Nov. 14, 2001, is celebrating its 15th anniversary this year.

The plant recently launched mass production of the redesigned Ridgeline.

This story originally appeared on the Alabama Department of Commerce’s Made in Alabama website.

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2 years ago

30 years after Olympic gold, this Alabamian is still a role model—just in a different uniform

Lillie Leatherwood today works as a security officer at Alabama Power's Western Division office. She holds winning Olympic medals. (Meg McKinney/Alabama NewsCenter)
 Lillie Leatherwood today works as a security officer at Alabama Power's Western Division office. She holds winning Olympic medals. (Meg McKinney/Alabama NewsCenter)

Lillie Leatherwood today works as a security officer at Alabama Power’s Western Division office. She holds winning Olympic medals. (Meg McKinney/Alabama NewsCenter)

For Lillie Leatherwood, the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro bring back memories of the highlight of her life – the day 32 years ago when she took her place on the podium as a gold-medal winner.

Leatherwood brought home the gold in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics as part of the U.S. team that competed in the 4×400-meter relay. She ran the first leg of the event in 50.15 seconds. Then, four years later and a world away in Seoul, Korea, the track star was once again on the Olympic stage.

“Being up on that podium, that’s when it really hit home,” said Leatherwood. “We actually did this; we got the medal. You know everybody back home is rooting for you. It was an exciting experience and an exciting time period in my life.”

Lillie and her gold and silver medals. (Meg McKinney/Alabama NewsCenter)
Lillie and her gold and silver medals. (Meg McKinney/Alabama NewsCenter)

Leatherwood, part-time security officer at the Alabama Power Western Division Office and director of the Tuscaloosa Police Athletic League (PAL), said it was not until she was a junior at Tuscaloosa County High School that she joined the track team and realized she could run fast. She soon began winning state championships in the 200 meters. With her talent as a sprinter, Leatherwood received a four-year track scholarship to the University of Alabama.

That’s when Leatherwood began to shine as an international sprint champion. Wayne Williams, track coach at the University of Alabama, saw Leatherwood’s potential as a longer-distance runner and challenged her to begin competing in 400-meter events.

Leatherwood is joined by her Olympic team. (contributed)
Leatherwood is joined by her Olympic team. (contributed)

“At that time, Lillie was on the team with a group of guys and girls who were really good in the SEC (Southeastern Conference) and NCAA track championships,” said Williams, now a volunteer coach at Presbyterian Christian School in Hattiesburg, Miss. “They fed off of each other, and were highly skilled and motivated. Lillie was talented and good. But she had a great working environment with other athletes who were motivated, and she was able to step up her game with the rest of them.”

As a sophomore at Alabama, Leatherwood qualified for the Olympic trials and finished third in the nation. That victory secured a spot on the U.S. 4×400-meter relay team headed for the games in Los Angeles. During this event a team of four sprinters in turn run a leg of the race.

To prepare for the Olympics, Leatherwood said she started every day with a 2- or 3-mile run. Then, under the watchful eyes of Williams and the other Alabama track coaches, she endured grueling workouts and ran about two hours every afternoon.

“Everything happened so fast,” Leatherwood said. “You had to stay focused because you knew you would be competing against the best in the world. You couldn’t be missing practice. You had to stick with it and eat healthy.”

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Leatherwood said the Olympic experience was thrilling. She made friends from many different countries and still keeps in touch with them through Facebook.

Life in the Olympic village was “almost like home,” Leatherwood said. Although the athletes spoke different languages, the barriers were not noticeable with interpreters on hand to help bridge the communication gaps.

Leatherwood, called a “team player,” is celebrated for her accomplishments. (file)
Leatherwood, called a “team player,” is celebrated for her accomplishments. (file)

Williams attended the Los Angeles Games to monitor the workouts of Leatherwood and other Olympians from the university who were competing and to cheer them on from the stands.

“On the final day of the Olympics in L.A., two of my athletes, Lillie and Calvin Smith, got the gold within 45 minutes of each other,” Williams said. “It made me feel extremely excited and proud.”

“Lillie was the best runner in the 400 meters for two or three years there,” Williams said. “That was pretty good for a small-town girl from Ralph (near Northport).”

Brooks Johnson, who was Leatherwood’s Olympic coach at the 1984 games, called her the “quintessential team player.”

“We could have put her on any leg and she would have been the same,” said Johnson, noting that he asked Leatherwood to lead the relay because of her strength. “She would do whatever it took to help the team.

“You can tell a lot about an athlete’s training and upbringing by how they carry themselves,” he said. “Lillie carried herself in a very dignified, professional and respectful manner.”

Leatherwood running today (Meg McKinney/Alabama NewsCenter)
Leatherwood running today (Meg McKinney/Alabama NewsCenter)

That win in Los Angeles was just the start for Leatherwood. She returned to the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, where she helped her 4×400-meter relay team capture the silver medal for the United States.

“The second go-round was harder. There was more pressure because I was going back. You’re expected to win,” Leatherwood said.

Leatherwood won many other national and international titles while at the university and as a professional athlete. She won the 400-meter dash in the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships in 1985 and again in 1986. Her time of 53.12 seconds at the 1986 championships marked an indoor collegiate record.

She took medals at two World Championships in the 4×400-meter relay. Leatherwood got the bronze in the championships in Rome in 1987 and the silver in Tokyo in 1991.

Leatherwood’s talent as a top athlete gave her the chance to compete in many countries, including Russia, Germany, Italy, England, Australia and France.

“I got to travel and sightsee in so many other places all during college and even after college,” she said. “I made friends from all over the world.”

In 1993, Leatherwood stepped out of the limelight when she decided to join the Tuscaloosa police force. She was assigned to her dream job at PAL two years later and rose to director in 2012. This juvenile-crime prevention program provides children, ages 6-18, with after-school activities such as tutoring, bowling, skating and volleyball.

“I think I can be a role model for these kids and give back to the community,” said Leatherwood, who has organized track meets as part of her work with PAL. “We’re here to help them so they won’t be out on the street and get into trouble.”

Leatherwood’s athletic talent is still drawing attention. She received the 2015 Paul W. Bryant Alumni-Athlete Award from the University of Alabama last fall.

When the U.S. track team competes starting this weekend in the 2016 Rio games, Leatherwood said she will be watching from home.

“I still get a little jittery because I was once a part of it,” Leatherwood said. “I enjoy seeing the kids run good times and win those medals.”

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2 years ago

UAB ranked Alabama’s top hospital, among the best in US

Dr. Selwyn Vickers, Senior VP, Medicine, and Dean, School of Medicine, talks to several medical students. (file)
Dr. Selwyn Vickers, Senior VP, Medicine, and Dean, School of Medicine, talks to several medical students. (file)
Dr. Selwyn Vickers, Senior VP, Medicine, and Dean, School of Medicine, talks to several medical students. (file)

U.S. News & World Report’s 2016-2017 Best Hospitals report ranks UAB Hospital No. 1 in Birmingham and Alabama, and nine UAB specialties are listed among the nation’s top 50, up from six specialties the previous year.

“We are proud to be one of the best hospitals in America, and located in Alabama,” said Health System CEO Will Ferniany. “UAB Medicine is something all people in Alabama should be proud of. We even have a bumper sticker that says ‘Our Nationally Ranked Team Wears Scrubs.’ While we are nationally ranked and internationally known, our faculty and staff never forget they are here to serve the people of Alabama with the best medical care possible.”

Rheumatology (11), Gynecology (16) and Nephrology (20) appeared in the nation’s top 20; Neurology and Neurosurgery (25), Pulmonology (29), and Ear, Nose and Throat (29) appeared in the top 30; and Cardiology and Heart Surgery (37) and Urology (47) rounded out UAB’s highest-ranked programs.

University Hospital exterior at night. (file)
University Hospital exterior at night. (file)

The biggest jumps in rankings came from Ear, Nose and Throat and Diabetes and Endocrinology, which were ranked as high-performing last year and both leapt to top-30 national rankings this year.

Cardiology and Heart Surgery went unranked last year and appeared at 37 this year. Rehabilitation, Orthopedics, Cancer and Geriatrics all earned the high-performing designation.

Rankings like U.S. News & World Report’s are just one tool available to patients as they make informed decisions about their health care, Ferniany says. UAB Medicine recently launched another when it became the first care provider in Alabama to empower patients to publicly rate and review its physicians — a reliable source of verified and up-to-date information from actual patients in UAB’s Find a Provider directory.

The rating and reviews feature gives patients an alternative to third-party rating sites that often exist with little if any oversight and feature outdated, inaccurate and in some cases libelous information. At its launch, more than 81 percent of eligible UAB physicians had a posted rating of at least four stars on the five-star scale.

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2 years ago

Auburn horticulturist lays out how to build your own ‘mosquito arsenal’ this summer

Using the right ingredients -- natural, skin-loving oils that repel biting mosquitoes -- with soybean oil as a base, everyone can make their own safe, "happy smelling" mosquito repellant, said Auburn University Horticulturist Tia Gonzales, shown at the university's Medicinal Plant Garden. (Photo by Nik Layman - Alabama NewsCenter)
Using the right ingredients — natural, skin-loving oils that repel biting mosquitoes — with soybean oil as a base, everyone can make their own safe, “happy smelling” mosquito repellant, said Auburn University Horticulturist Tia Gonzales, shown at the university’s Medicinal Plant Garden. (Photo by Nik Layman – Alabama NewsCenter)

Crush and rub.

This little-known remedy for keeping mosquitoes at bay – by simply rubbing your skin with the leaves of mosquito-repellant plants – sounds too easy, but the tried-and-true method repels the pesky insects, said Tia Gonzales.

With nearly 30 years of experience as a horticulturist, Gonzales, Agricultural Program assistant at Auburn University, knows the hidden properties of many commonly known plants.

For example, Gonzales said that rose-scented geraniums, citronella, lavender, basil and garlic, rosemary, wax myrtle, lemon balm, lemon grass, lemon thyme and lemon verbena are certain to send the flying vermin to the other side of the yard.

“Using these plants turns you into a walking mosquito arsenal,” said Gonzales, who earned her horticulture degree at Auburn University and is responsible for its 1-acre medicinal plant garden. “The key is to bruise and abrade the leaves, releasing the oils. Crushing releases the plant’s chemical properties and scent.”

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Gonzales recommends grabbing several leaves or a cutting from mosquito-repelling plants such as basil or lemon balm and crushing the plant in your hands. Then rub the plant leaves across your bare skin, releasing the plants’ oils and scent that is a natural bug repellant.

“If I want to sit out on my deck at night, I crush the leaves of rose-scented geraniums and then rub them on my arms and legs, making sure to release the plant oils and scent,” she said.

It’s a trick that Gonzales hit on many years ago, when she used to track timber for the state. When Gonzales ventured into dense forests and encountered swarms of mosquitoes, she was armed with a secret weapon: crushed garlic in her pockets. She placed crushed garlic under her hat, where her body heat would steam the oil and release the scent.

“I call it the hat trick,” Gonzales said, with a laugh. “Of course, you don’t want to use garlic when you’re sitting outside with friends and family. There are so many nice-smelling plants to choose from that work as effectively as garlic.”

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Taking a midday stroll through the university’s Medicinal Plant Garden, Gonzales pointed to rose-scented geraniums.

“I like having plants that do something,” she said. “Every plant needs to have a job. The rose-scented geranium is a great plant that grows in full sun, and it’s very drought-resistant. They will die in the winter, but they come back. We bring cuttings in and root them.”

She noted the rose-scented geraniums – common at specialty nurseries but less available at “big box” stores – are sold on-site to the public.

Make your own mosquito repellant

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While Gonzales said it doesn’t hurt to light a citronella candle outside, she makes her own natural mosquito repellant. She uses soybean oil as a base, then adds up to 20 drops of natural oils such as lavender, neem oil and catnip oil in a small spray container. Those oils are extremely efficient; catnip oil is proven more effective than DEET in repelling mosquitoes, she noted.

“Neem oil smells a little garlicky,” Gonzales said, “but the other smells on top can take away that smell.” If placed in a cool, dark place, the mixture will stay fresh for up to two years. Best of all, the mixture is nontoxic.

Spraying a bit of one of her concoctions, Gonzales said, with a smile, “I feel so refreshed – happy and mosquito-free.”

The public is invited for a free visit to Auburn University’s Medicinal Plant Garden 365 days a year. Visitors will find lists with traditional uses for each plant for reference during self-guided tours. Staff members give tours of the garden every third Thursday through October.

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2 years ago

Stain of BP oil spill long gone from Alabama’s Gulf Coast as tourism booms

Tourists enjoy the beaches at Fort Morgan (Robert DeWitt/Alabama NewsCenter)
Tourists enjoy the beaches at Fort Morgan during the last week of July. Summer rentals have set records each year for the past five years and appear to be on a record-setting pace this year. (Robert DeWitt/Alabama NewsCenter)
Tourists enjoy the beaches at Fort Morgan during the last week of July. Summer rentals have set records each year for the past five years and appear to be on a record-setting pace this year. (Robert DeWitt/Alabama NewsCenter)

There have been few darker moments on the Alabama Gulf Coast than when the Deepwater 2010 Horizon oil spill stained the brilliant white sand beaches and clouded the blue water.

Hurricane Frederic (1979) and Hurricane Ivan (2004) had taught coastal residents what it would take to rebuild from the most devastating storms. But they had never experienced an oil spill.

Even once the flow of oil spewing into the Gulf was halted and the visible effects were gone, another question lingered. How long would it take consumers to get that image out of their heads?

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The answer has turned out to be a pleasant surprise, as a full-scale rebound began in 2011. Taxable lodging rentals, the bellwether statistic for tourism, indicate record-setting years for Baldwin County beaches have followed the disastrous 2010 season.

“Thank goodness we have a very loyal customer base,” Malone said. “We had a record year in 2011 and we’ve had record years back to back ever since.”

The recovery was a bit slower for Dauphin Island in Mobile County. But tourism there, too, has rebounded to surpass pre-spill levels.

“It was in 2014 that things really started going,” said Dauphin Island Mayor Jeff Collier. “2015 was better and 2016 is looking better than that.”

The commercial seafood industry has not reached its pre-spill high point. But other factors may be in play.

“It’s been a tussle for the last six years,” said Avery Bates, president of the Organized Seafood Association of Alabama.

Bates said the spill hit bottom-dwelling species, oysters, blue crabs and flounder, particularly hard. And many of the people who lost their livelihood due to the spill have yet to be compensated for it, he said.

John Kemper of Fairhope, Mike Robichaux and Ali Robichaux of Ruston, La. and Trinity Stanley of Homer, La. relax at Fort Morgan. Tourists have come back in record numbers since the 2010 oil spill. (Robert DeWitt/Alabama NewsCenter)
John Kemper of Fairhope, Mike Robichaux and Ali Robichaux of Ruston, La. and Trinity Stanley of Homer, La. relax at Fort Morgan. Tourists have come back in record numbers since the 2010 oil spill. (Robert DeWitt/Alabama NewsCenter)

But Bob Shipp, professor emeritus in the University of South Alabama Department of Marine Sciences, said there is no scientific evidence of any lingering effects from the spill.

When the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded on April 20, 2010, the Gulf Coast was coming out of two years of recession in pretty good shape. Rental bookings for the 2010 tourist season looked to be on an upward trend. But the spill caught tourist-dependent businesses at their most vulnerable moment.

“One of the worst things about the event for us was that it hit right at the beginning of the high season,” Malone said. “Not only did it knock the top off of the high season, it caught our businesses at the low point of their cash flow.”

While the Gulf Coast Community had experience with tropical storms, which basically shut down businesses during the storm and cleanup, they usually come at the end of the tourist season in August, September and October. By then, businesses have had time to build their cash reserves, the bulk of which for the entire year come during the spring and summer tourist season. The spill cut off the flow of money at the worst time.

Lodging and other tourist dollars aren’t like hard inventory that can be sold later. They are more like perishables that must be thrown out once their time has passed.

As the oil spill dominated daily headlines, lodging cancellations started rolling in. Collier estimates that 95 percent of the island’s vacation bookings were cancelled immediately following the spill. While the beaches weren’t actually closed, they might as well have been.

“Everything we had to offer as an island town was turned off,” Collier said. “Most of what people come to a beach community for is the beach and the water.”

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The oil flow eventually stopped and the beaches were cleaned but the damage had been done to the local economy. In Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, taxable rentals for the summer dropped 25 percent from $133 million in 2009 to $100 million in 2010. But that wasn’t as bad as Malone had feared.

For the year, Gulf Shores and Orange Beach dropped 13.4 percent from $236.7 million in 2009 to $204.9 million in taxable lodging rentals in 2010.

“We thought it might be down as much as 70 or 80 percent,” he said.

In Dauphin Island, the town’s lodging tax dipped from almost $338,000 in 2009 to about $248,000 in 2010. Losses were somewhat blunted by rentals by cleanup crews.

Commercial fishing was shut down for the duration of the oil spill. Commercial landings of all seafood dropped from 13,000 metric tons in 2009 to 6,300 metric tons in 2010.

“It hit us and threw us for a loop,” Bates said. “When you lose your customers, you lose your business.”

Bates said the Portersville Bay area once supported about 300 oystermen but the area hasn’t produced since the spill.

“It hit crabs tremendously,” Bates said. “They’re just coming back this year. The reproductive organs of some of these species were affected.”

In 2011, commercial seafood landings rose to 11,800 metric tons and have been fairly constant since then. Commercial landings totaled 11,900 metric tons in 2012, 10,600 in 2013 and 11,600 in 2014.

But Kevin Anson, biologist for the Department of Conservation’s Marine Resources Division, said landings are influenced by a number of factors such as the market price. Flounder, crab and oyster landings are off but they were in decline before the oil spill.

The state had shut down the oyster harvest in 2009, Anson said. Alabama oyster reefs had sustained considerable damage in Hurricane Ivan and Hurricane Katrina (2005) followed by drought years during which an oyster predator called a drill snail prospered.

While Anson says the oil spill certainly wouldn’t have been positive for crabs, oysters and flounders, there is no way to pin their decline strictly on it. There are too many factors.

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The Alabama blue crab harvest had dropped from 2,100 metric tons in 2000 to 661 metric tons in 2009. That dropped to 420 metric tons the year of the spill but rebounded to 733 metric tons in 2011. It declined since then to a low of just 464 metric tons in 2013.

The oyster harvest in Alabama reached a high of 472 metric tons in 2005 but had fallen off to 32.4 metric tons in 2008 and 10 metric tons in 2009. The harvest rose to 30 metric tons the year of the spill. It rose as high as 134 metric tons in 2011 but has declined since and was 26 metric tons in 2014.

Blue crabs and oysters suffer from loss of habitat, adverse weather and human impact, Anson said. Shipp has devoted his life to studying the Gulf’s sea life. He continues in research and says he sees little effect from the spill.

“The bottom line is that the oil spill’s impact is almost nonexistent,” Shipp said. “Things are back to normal.”

Tourism has fared better in the years since the spill. During the fall of 2010, taxable lodging rentals were down 3.5 percent from the previous year and ended up 13.7 percent less than the previous year

But in 2011, rentals soared to $281 million, 37 percent over the previous year and about a 20 percent increase over 2009. Malone tempered his enthusiasm and counseled others to do the same. The increase might have been due to pent-up demand and people who wanted to do their part to help the Gulf Coast.

Another view of Alabama’s beach scene. (file)
Another view of Alabama’s beach scene. (file)

“We were concerned that it was just a big rebound and, as we approached 2012, we were a little bit apprehensive,” Malone said. “We figured if we could just get back to what we had in 2011, that would be great. We ended up with about a 16 percent gain over that.”

Taxable lodging rentals rose to $325 million in 2012, a 15.7 percent gain over the previous year. Record-setting years have followed every year, reaching almost $433 million in 2015. This year is on pace for a 12 percent increase over 2015, Malone said.

“Once we get recovered and people start coming back, they seem to come back in numbers that are larger than ever,” Malone said. “We experienced that with Ivan and before that.”

Dauphin Island saw a more modest recovery at first. Its lodging tax revenues jumped to $445,000 the year following the spill, then fell back slightly two years in a row. But in 2014, lodging taxes rose to $506,000 and have been climbing ever since. In 2015, tax income reached $675,000.

Malone and Collier credit marketing campaigns funded by post-spill grants with helping to bring tourists back in record numbers. Malone said the Gulf Shores/Orange Beach campaign was to “come see for yourself” and focused on being honest with consumers. “When our beaches were slathered with oil, we showed them slathered with oil,” Malone said. “I think they appreciated that honesty.”

The Dauphin Island business community is mostly small mom and pop businesses. Collier said “two or three” failed as a result of the spill but most “hung in there.” If there’s any residual effect, it’s a nagging concern that some unknown impact may be lurking in the Gulf like a malevolent sea creature.

“With the economy, you can run the numbers,” Collier said. “You know what’s happening. With the environment, you don’t.”

In the end, officials learned from the oil spill experience and know better now how to react to such a disaster, Collier said

Malone believes that while the publicity from the spill was negative, it may have raised awareness of the Alabama Gulf Coast. Some people never knew Alabama had beaches before the spill.

He also learned something about people who come to spend their money every summer.

“All of us who live here have a very strong affinity for the Gulf and the beach,” Malone said. “I didn’t realize that our guests have that same affinity.”

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2 years ago

Alabama businesses try to catch all customers as Pokémon goes beyond the game

Amber Kirtland, 25, left, and Emily Griffin, 26, play Pokémon Go in Mobile (Mike Kittrell/Alabama NewsCenter)
Amber Kirtland, 25, left, and Emily Griffin, 26, play Pokémon Go in Mobile (Mike Kittrell/Alabama NewsCenter)
Amber Kirtland, 25, left, and Emily Griffin, 26, play Pokémon Go in Mobile (Mike Kittrell/Alabama NewsCenter)

Pokémon Go has taken the world by storm with gamers of all ages. It is giving people a reason to leave the house while reminiscing on childhood.

Using a cellphone’s camera and a GPS locator, Pokémon gamers can walk around watching their devices in hopes of a virtual character popping up on the screen. Pokémon characters have been placed all over the globe, where gamers must catch them to earn points.

With Pokémon characters being scattered randomly, there could be one in your own backyard. Characters are being found in restaurants, parking lots and even corporate buildings. Some businesses are using this as a positive marketing tactic, while others are finding it highly hazardous.

Pokémon Go has surpassed Twitter in the number of mobile users since its release. It broke the Apple App Store record, reaching 75 million downloads in less than one month, and companies are beginning to see the game as a marketing tool.

Businesses capitalize

Mobile recently held a Pokémon Go Facebook event for gamers to capture characters along Dauphin Street. The restaurants and bars in the area saw this as a time to promote themselves while promoting Pokémon. They held specials at the restaurants and announced which characters were hidden in their shops. Many areas across the globe plan to host similar Pokémon days.

Other restaurants, like Firebirds Wood Fired Grill in Hoover, have been found throwing lure modules for Pokémon Go.

Any Pokémon player can purchase a “lure.” When a lure is deployed at a particular location, it allows Pokémon characters to gravitate toward that location, allowing players in the area to benefit if they stop by. This marketing tactic brings Pokémon-hungry customers to a business where they might purchase something.

Companies like the Lee County Humane Society have found having the characters near their businesses to be beneficial. The shelter has used the Pokémon Go app to promote its dogs as professional Pokémon catchers. Visitors can stop by the shelter to take a dog on a walk while catching Pokémon. “It’s a great way to get publicity out about our dogs,” said employee Bailey Ray. “I think it’s just crazy not to promote Pokémon Go.”

Not every business can promote the characters, though. With the disruption of privacy and potential danger zones, gamers must be aware where they are playing.

Children’s of Alabama hospital and some Alabama cemeteries have placed restrictions on gamers to prevent violations of privacy. Pokémon Go players have been found roaming hospitals and disrupting funerals in search of Pokémon characters.

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Alabama Power has placed restrictions on gamers due to the danger of playing near power lines and power facilities. The company has generating plants that are potentially dangerous even to trained workers.

“It is hazardous even to the employees who work there and adds more stress when kids come through playing Pokémon,” said Bill McGough, Alabama Power Safety and Training supervisor.

The Pelham Police Department sent a request to the Pokémon Go app hoping to have all of the characters near the police station removed. “What would have happened if we had a hot call and needed to speed out of the parking lot, but kids were catching Pokémon behind our cars?” asked officer Patrick McGill.

The primary danger occurs when users focus their eyes on the cellphone camera, using that as their guide rather than looking at the ground.

To ensure safety, players should be careful where they decide to play and “drivers (should) refrain from playing the game behind the wheel,” said the National Safety Council. Safe Pokémon stops can be found in parks and restaurants, but large areas of water, power plants, corporate buildings and streets can place gamers in danger.

RELATED: Police: Criminals used Pokémon Go to lure Auburn student into violent robbery

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