The Wire

  • Mobile pastor sentenced to 50 years for child sex crimes

    Excerpt from WKRG:

    Alvin McNeil was sentenced Thursday to 30 years on Rape 1st of a child and additional 20 years for sexual abuse of another child. The sentences are set to run consecutively.

    Back in April, a jury found Pastor Alvin McNeil guilty of rape and sex abuse of a child under 12.

    Judge Lockett revoked his bond and took the defendant into custody, the District Attorney’s office said.

    56-year-old Alvin McNeil was a pastor of Open Door True Worship Apostolic Church.

  • ‘Monster’ who video-recorded his rape of 3-year-old girl gets life without parole

    Excerpt from ABC 33/40:

    An Odenville man who video-recorded himself raping a 3-year-old girl was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole on Wednesday.

    43-year-old Robert Armbrust, Jr. pled guilty last week to rape, sodomy, sex abuse of a child younger than 12, and child porn involving a child younger than 17. St. Clair County Judge Phil Seay sentenced Armbrust to life in prison without parole for the rape charge and life in prison on the remaining charges.

    According to Chief Assistant District Attorney Lyle Harmon, Armbrust committed the horrific crimes from June through September 2016 while he and his girlfriend were babysitting a sick friend’s grandchild. Armbrust videotaped and photographed himself committing the child sex crimes.

  • Alabama Archers Win Top Honors at National Championship

    Excerpt from an Outdoor Alabama news release:

    It was a very good year for Alabama’s student archers at the National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP) Eastern National Championship. Placing in the top five of their shooting categories were two Alabama teams and four individual students. Additionally, an Alabama elementary school student was chosen as an Easton Academic Archer and five Alabama students made the NASP All-American Academic Team.

    “We are extremely proud of the performance of Alabama’s student archers,” said Marisa Futral, Hunter Education Coordinator for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR). “Their determination and dedication to both archery and academics is paying off and will serve them well in other aspects of life.”

    More than 14,000 archers traveled from 35 states to the competition, which was held May 10-12, 2018, in Louisville, Ky. Alabama’s top five results are listed below.

    Overall Competition


    East Elementary, First Place, Elementary School Division
    Alma Bryant High, Fifth Place, High School Division

    Kayden Henderson, Vinemont Elementary, Third Place, Elementary School Male Division
    Allie Stewart, East Elementary, Fourth Place, Elementary School Female Division
    Caleb Thornton, Alma Bryant High, Third Place, in both the overall competition and the High School Male Division with a near perfect score of 297 (out of 300).
    International Bowhunters Organization 3D Tournament


    East Elementary, First Place

    Ava Ray, East Elementary, Second Place, Elementary School Female Division
    Allie Stewart, East Elementary, Third Place, Elementary School Female Division
    Academic Archer

    The Easton Academic Archer program highlights students who excel in the classroom as well as on the archery range. Each of the newly chosen academic archers received a Genesis Bow and custom Easton Academic Archer arrows during the tournament.

    Pierce Gudger of East Elementary School was chosen as one of 10 academic archers for 2018.
    All-American Academic Team

    The 2018 NASP All-American Academic Team was formed based on the results of both the NASP Eastern and Western National tournaments and a roster of Academic Archers from across North America. Five students from Alabama have made this year’s team.

    Allie Stewart, East Elementary
    Jonathan Hall, Breitling Elementary
    Taylor Darby, Munford Middle
    Justin Liveoak, Chilton County High
    Caleb Thornton, Alma Bryant High

11 hours ago

Tips for a beach trip with a baby (the last one is SUCH a sanity saver!)

(Kristin Berney/Birmingham Mom's Blog)


If your baby is 6 months or older, sunscreen is an absolute must-have! Apply sunscreen before you go outside, and reapply every 60-90 minutes. I recommend using a mineral sunscreen over a chemical sunscreen to keep harmful ingredients off your baby’s skin.

I would also recommend a lotion over a spray, as lotion will ensure full coverage and sprays are difficult to apply evenly. Environmental Working Group (EWG) creates a sunscreen guide each year with great information for moms, including a list of the best and worst sunscreens for kids. Here is a link to their 2016 Sunscreen Guide, and their 2017 guide is coming out soon. PopSugar also highlighted 10 safe sunscreens for kids in this article.

Rashguard and Hat

Don’t rely on sunscreen alone to protect your little one from the sun. Baby Gap and Old Navy sell super cute swimsuits and rash guards with UPF 30+ for extra protection (and extra cuteness). Buy Buy Baby and Target usually have a good selection of sun hats for babies, and their prices are budget-friendly.

Keep Baby Clean

Swim Diapers and Essentials

I went to the beach with my husband’s family a few years ago, and every time we went to the pool, it was closed because a kid had pooped in the pool. We all know accidents happen, but let’s try our best to prevent our child from being that kid!

Your options are disposable or reusable swim diapers. I personally purchased both before my 1st trip with our 9-month-old. I ended up liking the reusable diapers more; they were a better overall fit and super cute without a swimsuit on!

Tip: Do NOT put on a swim diaper until your child is actually getting into the water! Swim diapers are designed to hold in poop — that’s it! They don’t absorb liquid like a regular diaper. I learned this the hard way when pee ran down my baby’s leg as we were walking to the beach!

Bonus Tip: Don’t forget to bring a wet/dry bag or a zip top bag to the beach. We also brought our portable changing pad with us in our beach bag, and it made diaper changes on the beach much easier.

Baby Powder

It magically removes all sand from hands, feet and skin. I know, right? I didn’t believe it either until I tried it.

Hand and Face Wipes

I threw some Burt’s Bees Hand and Face wipes in our beach bag, and they were really nice to have on hand, especially while snacking on the beach or reapplying sunscreen.

Keep Baby Cool


Our family brought a 10×10 tailgating tent, and I’ll never go to the beach without one! It provided shade for everyone, not just baby. Umbrellas work great too.

We also purchased a collapsible baby tent from Buy Buy Baby (hoping our little one would nap on the beach!) but that did not happen, so we never used it. But it might work for you!

Mesh Teethers

I packed a zip-top bag full of ice cubes in our cooler and gave them to my son in a Nuby Mesh Teether. It was a great distraction when he was getting fussy and also helped with teething. He LOVED chewing on the ice through the teether and letting it melt and drip all over him.

If you nurse your baby, you may also consider making breastmilk popsicles or “momsicles” to bring to the beach as well. I froze my breastmilk in an ice tray, and the ice cubes fit perfectly in the mesh teethers. Here is the inspiration behind this idea.

Spray Fan

I’ve had a spray fan since battling the heat during sorority recruitment in college, and I take my spray fan with me everywhere in the summer. I literally keep that thing in my car! My son laughs hysterically every time I spray him with it, and he loves to play with the fan.

Keep Baby Entertained

Baby Pool

I spent $10 on an inflatable baby pool at Target, and it was maybe the best $10 I’ve ever spent there (which is saying something). It kept our 9-month-old from crawling around (and eating) all the sand at the beach. We didn’t even put water in the pool; we just brought his bath toys, and he had a blast! It took approximately 2 minutes to blow up, so we were able to inflate and deflate as needed, making it super transportable.

Pool Float

While the ice-cold pool water was not his most favorite, the toys attached to the pool float were a big win for him. The big win for me was the adjustable sunshade that came with the float. If you don’t want to hold your baby the entire time you are in the pool, get a float designed for babies and enjoy some quality pool time.


Have Fun!

Watching your baby discover the sand and the ocean for the first time is pure joy. Soak in these moments, take a bunch of pictures, and don’t forget to reapply your sunscreen.

(Courtesy Birmingham Moms Blog)

Kristin Berney is the fundraising director for a Birmingham ministry and a contributing writer for Birmingham Moms Blog

14 hours ago

The worst day of your life?


Last night, I couldn’t sleep. This is not an especially unusual situation for me. Sometimes I’ll sleep for an hour, wake up, and that’s it.

Other times, I can’t get to sleep at all. Not that it occurs often, but when it does, my wide-awake-full-ness usually has something to do with a gathering storm of thoughts. On those occasions, it’s as if a connection or important point is swimming just beyond my reach.

That’s how it was last night. Three people were on my mind.

All three are very cool guys, about my age, and despite having known each of them for more than forty years, none of the three have ever met the others.


They are aware of each other, for at one time or another, I have included each of them in at least one of my books. Who are they, you ask? Gene Myers, Kevin Perkins, and Roger Luker.

Yesterday afternoon, with an extra half-hour to spend, I stopped in to say hello to the guys at Paradise Marine in Gulf Shores.

Situated on the corner of Highway 59 and County Road 8, the beautiful business and property are owned by Gene (page 10 in The Noticer) Myers.

It was almost closing time. Gene and I were situated on the high cushioned stools in the accounting alcove—an area near the cash register, directly between the massive showroom and equally huge garage.

Gene is a fairly big fellow. His salt and pepper beard adds to his large presence and even though I’m a guy, I’ll admit that Gene is good looking—in a Kenny Rogers sort of way.

Furthermore, he’s smart and witty which makes him the perfect conversational companion with whom to kill a half-hour. Gene, along with every other person at the dealership—including his sons, Travis and Jarett—are the reason Paradise Marine has been the BEST on the gulf coast for many years.

Anyway, there we were yesterday…Gene and I jabbering about kids or fishing or dogs or whatever it was, when a guy burst through the door and yelled, “I need help!”

There was no, “Excuse me,” or “Hey, how ya doin?” It was just BOOM! And there before us was an anguished man in his mid-thirties, breathing hard, getting right to the point.

Had there been an accident? Was someone badly hurt? Had a child been lost?

We didn’t know.

Gene was off his seat in an instant. “What’s the problem?” he asked.

“Arrrgh!” The man made a seriously strange noise. Clenching his fists, he crossed his arms and hugged himself as if he was in pain.

“Sir?” Gene said and glanced at me. Now, I was off my stool too. “Hey Mister! Sir, what’s wrong?”

What was wrong? Well, it all came boiling out of the man at once. “I’ve been to that #%@#*% marina in Perdido three times today,” he raved. “And my boat battery is STILL not firing!”

There was a moment of silence. A pause, if you will. I glanced to my left and saw Gene’s jaw drop by a fraction as his head raised. Then, his eyes narrowed just the tiniest bit. “Your battery is dead?” Gene asked carefully.

“Yes!” The man replied, literally wringing his hands. “Right. Yes! The battery is dead. My boat won’t start. This is the worst day of my life!”

With that declaration, Gene relaxed. Sinking slowly back against his stool, he looked at me with the corners of his mouth twitching. Despite his attempt to maintain a straight face, a full-on grin was taking shape.

Me? I only raised my eyebrows, but it was enough to prompt a chuckle from Gene. The man appeared confused by Gene’s reaction.

Please understand…Gene was not rude. He never laughed in the guy’s face. It was more of a soft, fatherly, head-shaking, rueful kind of chuckle…the kind that went perfectly with what he said next…

Gene pushed away from his stool and reached out as he closed the few feet separating him from the distressed newcomer. Gene gently grabbed the guy and draped a big arm across the man’s shoulders as he steered him to a mechanic.

Gene laughed a little harder and kind of shook the fellow as they walked toward the garage. Then he said, “Awright. We are gonna get that battery workin’ one way or another. And we’ll do it fast. But I gotta tell you, ‘Dude…if this really is the worst day of your life, everything’s gonna be straight downhill from here!”

I waved goodbye to Gene and walked to my car wondering about the perspective of someone who might consider a weak battery the epitome of a horrific experience.

The worst day of his life? Seriously?

It was just too weird to contemplate, I thought.

So I didn’t.

About an hour later, I heard from Kevin (Baseball, Boys, and Bad Words) Perkins. I knew Kev had qualified for the Alabama State Championship in Sporting Clays.

Unfortunately, he had arrived earlier in the day at the shooting center in Mobile to find his 20-gauge unusable.

Despite the case in which it was housed, the Beretta had been bounced in the trunk of his car, shearing a piece from the gun and making it unsafe to shoot. He didn’t have an extra. And Kevin wasonly entered in the 20-gauge competition.

I suppose an occurrence of that sort might have pushed another person over some imaginary edge, ringing alarm bells and alerting everyone within hearing distance that this was “the worst day of his life.” But no.

Kevin simply used another 20-gauge. It belonged to a competitor who had brought an extra one.

And Kevin Perkins won the state championship.

With a borrowed shotgun.

It won’t take long to tell you about Roger (Return To Sawyerton Springs) Luker. Our parents were best friends. Roger and I were born a month apart in May and June of 1959.

During the years, Roger and I have gone through predictable periods of life. There were months when we talked every day and there were years we touched based with a Christmas card. But when we got together—whenever we got together—he was “Roge”, I was “Ange”, and it never seemed like a lot had changed.

That was true when Roger married Carol and it was true a few years later when I married Polly.

When you know someone and love someone, it can seem as if time has stopped.

If I allow my mind to drift—even a little bit—I can see Roge and Ange riding horses or shooting minnows with a BB Gun or having a carnival for the neighborhood kids and charging them a dime to get in.

I remember that not long after my parents died, Carol and Roger came down and stayed with me for several days. With the $2,500 insurance money I had received, I purchased a trailer. This was about a year before I had to sell the trailer to pay bills…about a year before I lived in a tent, then ditched the tent and lived on the beach. In any case, Roger and Carol stayed with me, loving and encouraging me, in that nasty trailer.

Eight years later, I married Polly. Roger and Carol already had two children. By the time Polly and I had kids, they had moved from St. Louis to Atlanta. And they’d had another child.

Roger’s children are now grown. Mine, it seems, are, too. Almost anyway. So, in reality, I suppose, things donotstay the same.

Last night, when I couldn’t sleep, I walked out into the front yard and looked at the stars.

I thought about Polly. She was, I knew, sleeping soundly, unaware that I’d even slipped outside.

I looked at the stars again and Carol came to my mind. It’s been several weeks now since she passed away.


Her ordeal seemed to last so long and end so suddenly.

As I went back inside, I thought about Roger. Polly and I want to firm up a date for him to come down and visit. Maybe, we are hoping, he can bring, Jack, their youngest, who is still in college. They won’t have to stay in a trailer this time…

I turned out the carport light and eased up the stairs. Looking down the hallway to our boy’s bedrooms, I said a quick “thank you” that they were in and safe, then I moved into our bedroom and climbed into bed beside Polly. She never woke up.

Drifting off to sleep, I thought again about my friend. I had talked to Roger earlier that evening and he was, as the saying goes, “doing as well as can be expected.” He had eaten dinner, he told me, and was about to watch a movie. We talked about Carol and both of us cried.

We also laughed.

And you know what? As many times as Roger and I talked…as often as I spoke to Carol…touching base through diagnosis and hospice—through however many days and months it has been since this all started or ended or whatever is really happening…I have not—not a single time—heard my friend or his beautiful wife Carol, refer to any day they had together as “the worst in my life.”

The truth should be obvious:

Every day—every one we have left—is precious.

— Andy Andrews

Hailed by a New York Times reporter as “someone who has quietly become one of the most influential people in America,”; Andy Andrews is the author of multiple international best-sellers including The Traveler’s Gift and The Noticer. He is also an in-demand speaker, coach, and consultant for the world’s largest organizations.

3 days ago

Auburn University named to 2018-2019 Military Friendly® School list

As a staff sergeant in the Air Force, Houston native Melissa Villanueva was stationed throughout the world, from Kuwait to Indonesia, serving in communications and later as a medic. These days, Villanueva has shifted her medical focus to helping animals and her location of choice is Auburn University, which recently received national recognition as a Military Friendly School.

“I have taken classes at different campuses throughout my military career, and I can say Auburn has been the best place so far,” Villanueva said. “Auburn’s ranking is high when it comes to military friendliness.”

Villanueva joined the Air Force in August 2005 “because I wasn’t sure about going to college and I wanted to travel away from home.” She was deployed to Abu Dhabi and Kuwait and her initial job was as a satellite communications technician and involved her setting up antennae for communication access for large groups. Six years into her communications role, she had the opportunity to change paths and chose to go into the medical field, working as a medic in both the clinical and inpatient settings.


“My experiences in the field of medicine sparked my interest in animal medicine,” she said, adding that “once my enlistment was at its end I decided I wanted to pursue a degree in animal medicine.”

Enter Auburn and the university’s connection to Villanueva’s love for animals. Villanueva said she always knew she wanted to work with animals and applied to three universities, including Auburn, which she determined is “one of the best schools to study animal science.”

Villanueva was accepted to Auburn in 2016 and quickly learned it also was a top university for military students.

“Auburn’s Veterans Resource Center has been such a blessing to me since I’ve been here,” she said. “The center is a place I can go to and feel comfortable in, whether it be to study, use a computer or even just talk to someone who can relate to the transition from military to civilian life.”

Villanueva said it was no surprise to her that Auburn was recently named to the 2018-2019 Military Friendly School list that will be published in the May issue of G.I. Jobs magazine.

Auburn is one of just 941 schools nationwide to receive the designation, which was based on extensive research using public data sources from more than 8,800 schools nationwide, input from student veterans and responses to a survey of participating institutions. Ratings combine survey scores with the assessment of an institution’s ability to meet thresholds for student retention, graduation, job placement, loan repayment, degree advancement or transfer and loan default rates for all students and, specifically, for student veterans.

Paul “Puck” Esposito, director of the Auburn University Veterans Resource Center and a retired Navy captain, said it’s great to have Auburn listed as a Military Friendly School but his office works hard daily to go even further, providing service above and beyond the standards of such rankings and offering a “holistic approach” for the military clients they serve.

“There’s so much more to it that doesn’t go into that rating that we offer,” he said, adding that everyone on his office’s staff has past military experience or is the spouse of a veteran.

According to a brochure about the Auburn University Veterans Resource Center, or AUVRC, which services a total of 1,100 clients, the center’s mission is to “assist, transition and support veterans, guardsmen, reservists, active duty, military dependents and survivors who receive federal Veteran Affairs educational benefits in all aspects of benefits, both campus and community.”

The Veterans Resource Center offers tutoring services, a student textbook library, an annual veterans golf classic and even a professional clothing locker with dress clothes available to help military students better prepare for interviews or presentations.

“They can come in and pull from the clothing locker and if they need it, they can keep it,” said Meg Ford Alexander ’86, a VA certifying official and outreach coordinator in the Veterans Resource Center.

Alexander said a major part of the center’s appeal is how it reconnects those who have or are currently serving in the military.

“We’re a big family uniting that population,” she said.

Villanueva agrees.

“Along with the AUVRC staff, fellow student veterans have become my family here in Auburn,” Villanueva said. “When I moved here, I did not know anyone from Auburn or even from Alabama at that. The AUVRC staff are so welcoming and create such a great environment to help veterans feel at home. I am so thankful to have them here for support.”

The center even offers an Auburn Warrior Orientation and Learning, or A.W.O.L., program, which provides a veteran-specific orientation session that helps military students not only find their classes but also such resources as financial aid. The Veterans Resource Center participates, among other programs, with the post 9/11 G.I. Bill and the Yellow Ribbon program.

Additionally, military students can follow the AUVRC on Facebook (@Auburnvrc) and can become members of the Auburn Student Veterans Association, or ASVA, which is a chapter of Student Veterans of America, or SVA. The 501(c)3 group represents veterans transitioning from prior military service into higher education.

“Veterans comprise a unique and integral part of the student body within Auburn University, and we aim to help them acclimate to a new culture when they have a very different perspective on life,” said Kyle Venable, president of the Auburn Student Veterans Association. “Our goal is to help student veterans connect with one another on campus for camaraderie, to share information about local community veteran resources and to create a culture within the local community that supports veteran academic success and leads to future employment.”

As for Villanueva, she plans to graduate in December with her bachelor’s degree from the College of Agriculture, majoring in animal science muscle foods. Her goal is to then earn a master’s degree in animal nutrition. In the meantime, Villanueva said she will do all she can to promote Auburn and its Veterans Resource Center.

“The AUVRC staff is caring and makes sure the Auburn student veterans are taken care of,” she said. “There are so many resources and information that can be used there in the center, but also it is a great place of camaraderie.”

(Written by Preston Sparks.)

(Courtesy Auburn University)

4 days ago

4-year-old Alabamian Austin Perine feeding the homeless with huge heart and wise words: ‘don’t forget to show love!’

(Alabama NewsCenter/Vimeo)

Most 4-year-olds live with only a few things on their minds: Mom, Dad, siblings, play, eat and drink.

Not Austin Perine.

He feeds the homeless.

Ask him why, and be prepared for a simple but wise answer.

“If you were homeless, would you want to be fed? Well, that’s why I’m feeding the homeless, because they’re hungry,” Austin responds.


(Austin Perine is a young Alabama Bright Light who proves some heroes do wear capes from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.)

Austin wears a superhero cape when he goes on his feeding outings with his father, T.J. Perine. At Linn Park recently, the little guy handed sandwiches and drinks to the homeless. Every time, he exclaimed, “Don’t forget to show love!”

Show Love is the name of the nonprofit the elder Perine started.

“This whole thing started when we were sitting at home watching Animal Planet and a baby panda was abandoned by its mom,” Perine said. “Just to give him an answer, I told Austin that the panda would be homeless. Then he asked, ‘Well, are people homeless?’ and I said yes. That sparked an idea for him to want to come and feed the homeless, so here we are just a few months later.”

A few of the homeless at Linn Park knew little Austin with his superhero cape, and exchanged hugs and fist bumps. Those who did not know him were flabbergasted. One homeless man said he’d never seen anything like this.

Most people are concerned with their own well-being. The few who show this level of dedication to serving others are usually adults with a giving spirit. For Austin, it’s not about age but empathy.

Austin explained how doing this makes him feel inside.

“When I feed the homeless it makes me really happy and I think what I do is very special,” Austin said. “When I grow up I want to be president. My jobs when I become president would be to feed the homeless and to chase the bad guys out of schools.”

Austin’s efforts have garnered worldwide attention from media outlets interested in his story.

“We’ve been on CNN, NBC and CBS, and we’ve been covered by news in France, Germany and England,” Perine said. “Austin has been doing his thing and has no idea; he’s just being Austin. I think it’s remarkable. Every day I have to pinch myself to make sure I’m still alive, because this is like a dream.”

Austin continued handing out sandwiches and drinks when he got a huge hug from a woman sitting on the steps at Linn Park. She had a grocery cart full of bags and clothes and other items, most likely all she owned.

“When I get hugs from the homeless, it makes me feel great inside,” Austin said.

Remember this: Austin Perine is only 4 years old.

To donate or for information visit,

(Courtesy Alabama News Center)

5 days ago

The scary truth about kid nut allergies and asthma


Growing up, did you know ANYONE allergic to nuts? I surely did not. I had not even heard of a nut allergy until well into my adult years. In today’s world, however, the number of children living with a peanut allergy has tripled between 1997 and 2008, and the numbers continue to rise. Why??! There is no clear answer.

When my daughter was three years old, we had a BIG scare. I had never given her nuts because she had eczema as a baby, and I had read that there is a link between eczema, nut allergies, and asthma. She also had reactive airways (a term used by doctors when they suspect asthma). We had planned to get her tested before offering her any nuts . . . just in case.


At Christmas time that year, one of our sweet neighbors made some trail mix, and my little girl indulged in the holiday treat. Little did we know that my neighbor had included peanut m&m’s in the recipe! We did not realize this until after my little girl was already into a SEVERE allergic reaction. She broke out in hives from head to toe and started itching like crazy. She began to cough and wheeze.

My husband and I RUSHED her to Children’s of Alabama. They immediately gave her an antihistamine and steroid to calm down the reaction. The ER doctor warned us that a second reaction could be more severe with an even quicker onset. She was prescribed an EpiPen to keep with her at all times.

When our son was born later, we had him tested and discovered that he also is allergic to nuts! Neither my husband nor I has any allergies whatsoever, so we went into research mode to learn all we could. I wanted to share in a nutshell (ha!) what we have learned through the years: 

— Read ALL food and skincare labels. Even if you are sure that the food or product is nut-free, read the label AGAIN. This is a good rule of thumb since many things contain hidden ingredients (e.g. almond oil/extract) that can easily be missed.

— Train your kids to only eat what you send with them. Since you cannot be present at all times to read food labels, it is best to send your child’s food to school, parties, and other activities. This does create more work for you, but it also provides added peace of mind that your child is safe.

— Inform teachers, camp counselors, and other parents about the severity of your child’s nut allergy. Some parents whose children do not suffer with nut allergies often forget that it can be life-threatening! I surely did not think about it until my kids were diagnosed. Do not be shy about reminding everyone in every situation (especially at parties and holiday events) that the nut allergy exists. After all, that same chocolate bar that can bring joy to one child could cause a potentially fatal reaction for your child!!

— Wash your hands. We learned this the hard way with my son. A girl at his preschool touched his face after eating a cashew bar sent in her lunch. His eye became swollen, and his teachers called me immediately thinking he had been poked in the eye. He was having an allergic reaction! By the time I got there, his face was breaking out in hives and his eye was swollen shut! So, as you can see, some nut reactions occur topically — not just if the nut is consumed. For this reason, kids who have eaten nuts should not touch kids with nut allergies without washing their hands.

— Educate your child about not eating anything without asking an adult, “Does this contain nuts?” Combined with #2, this has been our best defense while our kids are away from home.

— Create two emergency kits. One should be kept with you at all times, and the other one goes to the school nurse. A good kit includes their EpiPens, Albuterol inhalers (with chambers, if needed), and Benadryl.

(Courtesy Birmingham Moms Blog)

Kendra Lyas is a Birmingham mompreneur and contributing writer for Birmingham Moms Blog

1 week ago

I cut my kids’ hair and they still have friends — the value of home haircuts

She wasn’t.


I mean, it wasn’t awful, and I don’t have ridiculous pictures that would garner hundreds of laughs/likes on social media, but it wasn’t very good. Turns out that stick-straight hair has to be cut, well, straight. The haircut set me back about twenty bucks and a (stressful) hour of my life was gone, so I waited a long time to do it again. Months later, I took her again (to a different salon) and had the same experience. Not-very-good haircut, stressed mama. I figured that if my daughter was going to get a bad haircut, she might as well get a bad haircut for free, from me, in the comfort of our home.

Lots of friends and family comment on my kids’ hair and when I mention that I cut it at home, I get a lot of incredulous looks. Many a friend has told me that they could never cut their children’s hair. Before I started doing this, in my mind, the kind of moms who cut hair were the super domestic types who grow their own organic vegetables, plan Pinterest-worthy dinner parties, and make homemade toothpaste. But I can assure you that I am not exactly Suzy Homemaker (but if you are, props to you, Mama!). I am a less-than-mediocre seamstress (I forget how to thread the bobbin every time, and I just had to Google “bobbin” to make sure that is a real word), I forget to water the few plants I do try to grow, and my toothpaste comes straight to my door via Amazon Prime.

Yet even I can cut my kids’ hair at home. It saves money, yes. And with three kids, I estimate we save about three hundred dollars a year because I cut their hair at home. But even more importantly, it saves time; and time is money, as the saying goes. Plus, the thought of taking three kids to a hair salon and entertaining two while simultaneously explaining to a stranger who is annoyed to have to deal with children that we want two inches off, no bangs(!) makes me want to poke out my eyeballs. Oh, and I have to also manage to not cry in public over those sweet, last baby curls falling to the ground and being swept into a pile?! Not happening.

So, I’m here to tell you that you too can cut your kids’ hair, especially if your standards are low like mine! I am not going to give a tutorial because there are lots of great video ones on YouTube that are far better than anything I could write up. Pick your favorite if you like a good how-to. In my four years of home hair cutting, I’ve learned a lot, almost all by trial and error. Here are the tips I wish I would have had when I started this venture.

1. You really do need the right supplies.

You should not — no, you cannot — scrimp on the supplies. Do not cut your kids’ hair with kitchen shears or kid scissors from their art box. It will look like your kids cut each other’s hair (this is not good, FYI). You need real hair-cutting scissors. Apparently, in the business they call these shears. Good news is these cost less than one haircut at a budget salon, so it’s a small investment. I bought a pair for ten bucks at CVS, but they are available at Wal-mart, Target, and Amazon, among other places. You also need a simple fine tooth comb and a spray bottle for getting kids’ hair wet (hello, dollar store).

2. You need perseverance.

The first cut is the hardest! And yes, it could turn out poorly. But, the worst that can happen is that you have to take them to get their hair “fixed”.  But then you’ll have a fabulous story to tell for the rest of their life (bonus if you get a funny picture!), so it’s a win-win.

My first couple of cuts weren’t very good, but I kept trying. I have found that, like with most things, practice results in improvement. I have also learned tricks to keep kids still(er). Oh, and I always go back the next day and trim up any missed hairs (I always miss  a few), so willingness to let go of perfection is a must too.

3. Give them rewards, not bribes.

I find that moms, myself included, tend to joke about bribing our kids. And while I’ve certainly been guilty of bribing them to survive a grocery shopping adventure or a long car trip, I do try to use rewards rather than bribes.

A bribe is used to prevent bad or unwanted behavior (i.e. Here you go, fussy, wiggling kid . . . have a sucker while I cut your hair and don’t fuss or move, or else!) Meanwhile, a reward encourages and/or praises desired behavior (i.e. Here kid, you sat so nicely during that haircut, you have earned a sucker).

The “prize” is the same, but the lesson a child learns is quite different. With the bribe, the child learns how to get what he/she wants by misbehaving while with the reward, the child learns how to get what he/she wants by obeying. My go-to reward with a haircut is a juice box, but any favorite treat or toy will do. I often let my girls watch a favorite show during the haircuts (helps with keeping their eyes fixed in one direction!) and then give them a juice box if they are able to sit (relatively) still and be (relatively) pleasant. A simple reminder that if you sit still during your haircut you may have a juice box does the trick pretty well.

4. Keep it brief.

Keep the haircuts short, Mom! I don’t mean the length of the hair, but the length of time the cut takes. Ten minutes is the absolute max in my experience, especially for little ones. Give kids a bath, comb out wet hair, cut, praise them, give reward. That’s it. Check the next morning, trim up any stray hairs (this should take 10 seconds!) and count the savings — in your bank account and in your sanity.

(Courtesy Birmingham Mom’s Blog)

Mallory Marshall is a Birmingham mom, college professor and contributing writer for Birmingham Mom’s Blog

2 weeks ago

Yellowhammer U: Shapiro and Peterson discuss gender, meaning and manhood

(YouTube/Daily Wire)

This evening we’re introducing Yellowhammer University, a regular series of posts that will highlight information we find educational and believe advances the conservative movement.

The university’s “curriculum” will include subjects that stretch across politics, faith, and culture, and will be comprised from a mix of content — interviews, lectures, speeches, videos, articles and books.

Tonight’s inaugural installment is a fascinating discussion between Ben Shapiro, who we feature weekly on Yellowhammer News, and noted behavioral psychologist Dr. Jordan Peterson. They discuss identity politics, gender differences and man’s search for meaning.

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2 weeks ago

Bear Bryant ‘Have you called your mama today?’ (VIDEO)

(YouTube/South Central Bell)

On a day like today, many sons and daughters across Alabama can appreciate Coach Bear Bryant’s famous television commercial for South Central Bell.

“Have you called your mama today?” the Bear asked, after explaining how he encouraged his players to keep in touch with their families. “I sure wish I could call mine.”

Me too, coach.

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1 month ago

Serda Brewing is an Alabama Maker producing beer in the Port City

(Brittany Faush / Alabama NewsCenter)

John Serda was fascinated with brewing beer even before he could legally drink it.

“Serda Brewing has been in my brain since I was probably 17 years old,” said Serda, the founder and CEO of Serda Brewing Co. in Mobile. “It’s been a long time in the making.”

While he couldn’t buy the finished product until he was 21, Serda could buy the ingredients and he did.

He started home brewing beer and “developed a passion and appreciation for the art” of it.

After spending some time in Costa Rica where he learned about coffee (he also owns Serda’s Coffee Co.) and some time at film school in California, Serda returned home to Mobile.


“Coming back to Mobile I realized what Mobile had to offer,” he said.

Alabama Maker Serda Brewing has plenty on tap in the Port City from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

After sharing a beer with his father in downtown Mobile and remarking on the resurgence in the heart of the city, the idea he had as a 17-year-old returned to his head.

“I always had the idea that I wanted a brewery … but when I decided to go all out for it, that was actually four years ago and it took four years to finally get everything together and to open our doors,” he said.

The doors to Serda Brewing are now open in the former Sweat/Goodyear Tire shop on Government Street.

“We’re the first brewery to open in Mobile since Prohibition,” Serda said, noting that brewpubs have opened in Mobile and other breweries are operating but not yet producing beer in Mobile.

Serda Brewing serves up its four flagship beers – Hook Line & Lager pilsner, Tidewater Vienna amber, Mobile Bay IPA and Clear Prop porter – in a brewery that offers a 360-degree view of the brewing equipment and an inviting courtyard.

“We just wanted to be a relaxed environment,” Serda said. “We’re pet-friendly. We’re family-friendly.”

You will find people playing games and food trucks selling food off the courtyard on any given day at Serda Brewing. The taproom is always introducing new experimental beers and seasonal brews like the just-released Homeport hefeweizen on tap for summer.

Serda Brewing’s first canned beers are expected to be available the end of April with bottling expected to start in May.

The Product: Craft beer produced in Mobile. Enjoy any of the four flagship beers at the taproom for $6 per pint.

Take home: A growler of Hook Line & Lager pilsner ($19).

Serda Brewing Co.

600 Government St., Mobile, AL 36602

Taproom hours: Monday-Thursday, 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday, 3 p.m. to 11 p.m.; Saturday, noon to 11 p.m.; and Sunday noon to 9 p.m.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

YH FILM: Bham CEO almost lost his life, family — until a tough choice turned his worst year into his best

C. Chandler, ICU, 2016 (contributed)

Birmingham-based marketing expert Corbitt Chandler says he used to think 2016 was the worst year of his life.

It was the year an addiction threatened his marriage, an infection threatened his life, and a showdown with his personal demons threatened his faith.

“I was just mad at life,” said the founder and CEO of Apex Current. “I didn’t really want to live anymore. …I was like, I’m just going to blow up my life and lose everything. I got kicked out of my house, and the whole thing just destroyed me. It destroyed me to start thinking about legacy and how I wanted my daughters to grow up.”

The father of two girls, ages 4 years old and 2 years old, said he made an extremely difficult decision that led to a surprising revelation … and a powerful turning point that turned the worst year of his life into his best.

WATCH the inspiring Yellowhammer Film created by editor and director Aaron Spigner:

Q & A with Corbitt Chandler:

What is your connection to Birmingham?

CC: I grew up here so it’s my hometown. I moved out to Los Angeles after graduating college and lived there for more than a decade working before being recruited back for a vice president of marketing role at Iron Tribe Fitness.


What was life like in California?

CC: Living in L.A. was crazy. I worked in sports marketing and pretty much traveled the world. I went through a ton as well, but ultimately it all led to me meeting my wife Michelle, who’s from California, and having our first daughter born out there.

What are your wife’s interests?

CC: Michelle is a full-time rock-star mom, wife and interior designer. She runs her own independent design firm called Harper James Design and she also runs a charity called Flower Child Project.


How did you realize you had contracted meningitis?

CC: I felt a little sick with a headache during the week. I took some Benadryl to sleep. When I woke up the next morning, I just remember feeling out of it and I just thought the meds were still kicking in, so I decided to workout — brilliant, I know. Then, driving to work, I had to cover one eye because my vision was impaired. I was at the office and had chills and finally was told to go home. When I got home and my wife saw me, she was pretty worried. We went to the doc and my fever was right at 104 degrees. They pumped me full of liquids with an IV, gave me meds and then ultimately sent me home, but said if I worsened to go straight to the hospital. I took a nap, woke up, ran into the door trying to go to the bathroom, and then nausea kicked in and we went to the ER. They did the spinal tap there and saw it was meningitis and sent me to the ICU.

What was it like for you in the ICU?

CC: I was in ICU for 7 days. They wanted me to stay longer so I literally had to muster everything in me to try and walk so they’d let me leave. I went in on August 11th, 2016. It was super weird being there. They took great care of me, but I realized how bad it was when I first got there and laid down and asked where the bathroom was and they handed me a bottle telling me you’re not allowed to get out of your bed in ICU. They had those things on my legs that every certain amount of minutes inflate to keep blood circulating. I had tons of needles stuck in me because veins collapse over time and they need to reposition the IV. I did a bunch of scans. The first few days were tough because they didn’t know if it was bacterial or viral. Bacterial is bad news bears and super contagious so I didn’t even know if I could see my kids again if I didn’t get better. Ultimately, after a few days, the results came back saying that it’s viral and it’s sort of a celebration, but you still feel like you’re dying so there’s that.

What was recovery like?

CC: As bad as ICU was, leaving was far worse. I get home thinking I’m going to be down for a couple weeks and it took me four or five months to start feeling close to normal. I could barely walk up the stairs or get in and out of my car. It’s hard to explain that to people especially when you’re in it. I went from being physically the strongest I had ever been to not being able to hold my kids. It was super weird. The funny thing is now I don’t work out nearly as hard. Really, I don’t work out hard at all. Physically, I’m much weaker. Part of what I do these days has more to do with discipline so I’m more focused on a very specific diet since I can’t train like I used to. My left arm never quite recovered from the nerve damage that was done so it still to this day has some deficiencies and coordination issues. Which used to frustrate the crap out of me, but now I just deal with it and it’s part of life. Which I, now, realize how crazy I sound doing those upside down push up things in the video. But, if you look closely, my left shoulder is wanting to collapse and I can only do like two now where I could do like 15 before.


What is your advice to anyone who is struggling, maybe fighting their own epic battle or feeling hopeless?

CC: A good plan executed violently today is better than the perfect plan next week! Just go and move forward. Other than physical dependency or illness, there really is not a good excuse for not taking control of your life. It’s in your hands, but no one’s going to give you permission. It’s up to you.


What is your advice to someone contemplating taking a risk like starting their own business?

That’s a great question! I’m still learning. I think the hard part as always is thinking about scale. I am passionate about the work. I love what I do, but as we grow it involves creating that scale and working on the business, not in it. That’s not my favorite so I really have to use my “why” to drive that.

What are some of your goals for Apex Current?

I think ultimately, it’s our mission: “Connecting Businesses with Their Audiences”. We run performance-driven ads utilizing data and analytics. Ultimately, we’re about getting our clients trackable results, but it goes both ways. To the buyer, we want to serve them ads they want to see when they want to see them. That creates a very positive environment for both parties. So, growing Apex to that end is the goal and that feeds my why of creating an amazing life for my girls and being able to give. So, from a giving perspective, that’s something that keeps me centered. It’s like: This is not about me. So, I’m doing that personally right now, but working on a plan for that to be an essential part of the business structure.

Editor’s note: Yellowhammer Multimedia recently became an Apex Current client.

Rachel Blackmon Bryars is managing editor of Yellowhammer News

1 month ago

YH FILM: Former homeless Montgomery man shares hard-earned wisdom


A 63-year-old man known as “Wise William” is well-known in the Montgomery historic garden district for riding his bike all around town and sharing his smile and sunny outlook on life. William took a freight train from Birmingham to Montgomery forty years ago and stayed in Montgomery. He was homeless for some time but now has a room with an elderly lady.

“William is an inspiration,” said Chason Smitherman, Sr. who creates Yellowhammer Films and owns Growing Dreamz Media. “…We all need a little get up and go like William, and we all need to have that faith that William has.”

WATCH the 1-minute Yellowhammer film “Wise William”:

(What are your words of wisdom? Share this video on social media and start a conversation with your family and friends)

2 months ago

Mentored turkey hunt yields unforgettable results

(D. Rainer)

The fate of a turkey hunt’s outcome is indeed fickle. High-fives can be the celebratory conclusion just as easily as the dejected hunter’s incessant second-guessing of the tactics that caused the gobbler to walk away instead of strutting into range.

Chuck Sykes, Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Director, has been in both situations. Sometimes that fate varies daily. Sometimes it’s different segments of the season, and sometimes, it’s different years.

With a little less than a month left in the season for most parts of the state, Sykes said hunters have had mixed results.

“Some hunters are doing well; some are not,” Sykes said. “It depends on where you are in the state. Personally, I think the turkeys are a little behind for this time of the season as compared to previous seasons. Gobbling has been very poor for me. I’ve hunted quite a few days, and I’ve seen five turkeys die, so don’t be crying for me.

“It’s substandard for me compared to what it was last year, which gives me great hope that the end of the season is going to be really good. I just think that cold snap slowed things down a little bit. I know we had some cold weather last year, but there’s something just a little bit different this year.”

Sykes said last year’s opening few days started with lows in the 30s, but the turkeys were still “gobbling their brains out.”

“We even had a couple of mornings in the upper 20s, but we were killing turkeys,” he said. “They were working right. This year, turkeys are gobbling two or three times, hitting the ground, and it’s over with.”

Sykes said it appears the 2017 and 2018 seasons will be flipped in terms of turkey activity and hunting success.

“The first few weeks of the season last year couldn’t have been any better for me,” he said. “The last two or three weeks of the season couldn’t have been any worse.

“I’m anticipating, based on past experience, that during the last few weeks of the season, the gobbling should be better and turkeys should be working better. I think we’re going to have a good closing few weeks of the season.”

Although the overall season has been a disappointment for Sykes, one magical afternoon will be forever etched in his memory, and he wasn’t the one who pulled the trigger.


That hunt occurred on one of the WFF’s Special Opportunity Areas (SOAs) during an Adult Mentored Hunting Program outing.

Sykes recruited his old hunting buddy Al Mattox to help guide during the hunt on the new Pine Barren SOA area. Charles Barrow of Ozark and Adam Arnold of Pelham were the lucky hunters who were randomly drawn for the hunt.

“Charles actually participated in one of the mentored deer hunts,” Sykes said. “He was lucky enough to get selected for the turkey hunt.”

Arnold, on the other hand, has been an avid shooter for years, including long-distance shooting and sporting clays, but had really never hunted.

“Adam is one of those guys who has been participating in the Pittman-Robertson Act program by buying guns and ammunition, but he hasn’t been buying a hunting license for us to be able to capture that money and bring it back to Alabama,” Sykes said of the excise tax levied on firearms, ammunition and hunting equipment. “So, this was a unique experience.

“His family didn’t hunt. I think he may have been dove hunting once or twice throughout his life, and that was it. His family and group of friends weren’t exposed to hunting, but he was introduced to shooting later in life.”

Sykes said Arnold is a very accomplished shot who has his own shotgun and extensive knowledge of firearms overall.

“The gun part of it was easy,” Sykes said. “The hunting portion, we had to do a lot of teaching. The way we handled it, my best hunting buddy, Al Mattox, was with me. Al got back from Afghanistan three weeks before the hunt and wanted to help. He had been serving a tour in Afghanistan for about nine or 10 months. Al and I have hunted together a long time.”

Sykes and Mattox came up with a plan to hunt as a four-man team with a primary shooter and a backup shooter.

“That way, during the heat of the action, whoever was with the secondary shooter could give them a play-by-play of what was going on, taking the pressure off of them,” Sykes said. “They weren’t worried about shooting. They were worried about learning. I could walk them through everything. I could explain what Al was doing with the primary shooter. Al could explain what I was doing with the backup shooter.”

What Sykes and Mattox didn’t anticipate was that by the end of the hunt there was a spent shell lying on the ground next to each hunter.

“It worked out really well,” Sykes said. “It just so happened, when everything came together, there were two mature birds and both were able to harvest their first birds.

“It was a once in a lifetime experience for those guys as well and Al and I as the mentors. It was a very emotional afternoon.”

Sykes said the unsuccessful morning hunt got the hunters prepared for the eventful afternoon session.

“It all worked out for the best,” he said. “During the morning hunt there was no gobbling, nothing. So, we got to teach them how to be still. We got to teach them how to pick a location when turkeys aren’t gobbling; how to look for tracks; how to look for sign. We taught them a bunch of the basics that morning.

“Right after lunch we went out, and on our first setup, I called in an extremely vocal hen. They were introduced to a live turkey at close range. They could use what we taught them that morning on camouflage and how to be still, when to move and when not to move.”

Mattox had done some scouting a few days before the hunt and found some gobblers in one area. Still, the hunters were on unfamiliar ground because WFF had just recently closed the purchase on the Pine Barren tract. Sykes and Mattox used aerial maps on their smartphones to survey for likely turkey hangouts.

“We actually found a hidden food plot and set up off the edge of it,” Sykes said. “Adam was the primary shooter. I was with Charles off to the side. We placed two hen decoys out in the field. I yelped on a box, and a turkey gobbled about 400 yards from us, kind of behind us. About 15 second later, I looked and saw two other gobblers in the hardwoods coming to us.

“Adam did really well. Al was talking him through everything. Charles and I were sitting back as spectators at that point. Adam and Al let the turkeys strut all the way by them, about 75 yards across the field at a distance of about 15 yards from the hunter.”

Al waited to give Adam the sign to shoot so that the turkeys would be in position for Charles to get a shot if the second turkey happened to hang around for a few seconds.

“When the turkeys got into a position where I knew Adam was ready, I called to them,” Sykes said. “The dominant bird gobbled. I was letting Adam and Al know it was time.”

Arnold fired and dropped his bird. Sykes then coached Barrow through the backup-shooter process.

“When turkeys are at 15 yards and there is a big boom, they don’t know where it came from,” Sykes said. “The turkey was walking in circles. I was cutting to him. The turkey didn’t know what to do. By the time the gobbler got his bearings, Charles was ready and made a good shot.

“It was an incredible hunt.”

Sykes fully expects similar scenarios to unfold on the Pine Barren SOA in Dallas County.

“It’s the most exciting piece of property I’ve been on that is public hunting,” Sykes said. “It’s part of the old Hit and Miss Lodge where Mossy Oak did a lot of their filming. The amount of game there is incredible.”

For those who haven’t had much luck this turkey season, Sykes said it’s time to regroup but never surrender.

“You’ve just got to keep going,” he said. “As my grandmother always told me, a bad beginning means it’s going to be a good ending, and I’m counting on it.”

David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

2 months ago

The nine-year-old girl competing on a HIGH SCHOOL boys varsity golf team

(Tuscaloosa News/YouTube)

The big news in golf over the last few weeks has been Tiger Woods’ potential re-ascendency, but it’s nowhere near as interesting as a third-grade Alabama girl competing – and beating – 17-year-old boys in high school varsity golf.

A recent Tuscaloosa News report outlines the story of Anna Beeker, a nine-year-old who competes on the varsity boys golf team at Tuscaloosa Academy.


Beeker is able to compete because Tuscaloosa Academy is part of the Alabama Independent School Association, whose rules allow young athletes to compete at the highest level. She would not be able to compete at a typical public high school involved with the Alabama High School Athletic Association, which does not allow athletes to compete at the varsity level until the seventh grade.

“She knows how to conduct herself on the course, how to stand, but she also knows how to hit the ball, and at her age to be able to hit the ball the way she does is a big advantage,” Scott Taylor, Anna’s coach, told the Tuscaloosa News. “She doesn’t hit like a third-grader, and she is willing to learn and listen.”

One of Beeker’s 17-year-old opponents, Luke Agent, was surprised to hear that his teammate played against a nine-year-old girl.

“I played a third-grader today,” Agent’s teammate told him, according to the Tuscaloosa News story.

“I don’t think they let third-grade girls in the tournament,” Agent responded.

“Well, they did,” his teammate said, “and she almost beat me.”

How an Alabama businessman turned his tragic loss into triumph

In this episode of Executive Lion’s Living Life On Purpose, Matt Wilson and Andrew Wells sit down with Mike Bailey to learn more about the devastating loss of his daughter Ashlynn, and how tragedy has turned into triumph for him and his family. You do not want to miss this episode!


Mike is the President of C.N. Bailey & Company, Inc., a commercial construction company that has been very successful throughout the Southeast and other parts of the country. The firm builds Taco Bells, Jack’s, Hardee’s, Taziki’s and Milo’s among other construction projects. He is also the Founder of the Ashlynn Bailey Foundation in memory of his late daughter to assist in Restoration of the reformed addict’s life. Mike is an amazing man of faith, a devout husband, father, and businessman.



— God can take our pain and turn it into our purpose and Mike is the epitome of that as he is now fueled by the tragedy that would have crippled many other people.

— Sometimes God can speak to us in the most unlikely situations to do things we never dreamed we would be doing and we can touch many lives because of it.

— When your faith is rooted in Him, no obstacle or circumstance is too difficult for you to walk through without peace.

2 months ago

Here Are The Weirdest Easter Traditions From Around The World


Western Christians celebrating Christ’s resurrection with colored eggs and chocolate rabbits may seem strange, but Easter overseas often looks stranger and more macabre.

Christian faithful across the world will soon celebrate in commemoration of Jesus’ victory over death and the grace they believe God offers to humanity through Jesus’ death and resurrection. While worldwide Easter celebrations bear some universal elements — church services, special desserts and feast foods, proclamations that Jesus lives, and more — many countries have their own specific Easter traditions that span the range from whimsical to gruesome.

Most of these stranger Easter traditions are either adopted from ancient Spring rites or developed from a country’s unique interpretation of the story of Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection on the world’s behalf.

Here are three of the most unusual of those Easter traditions from around the world:


Blessings From Witches, Bonfires To Scare Off Demons

The Christians of Finland hold to the tradition that demons run amok on Holy Saturday, known in Finland as Easter Saturday — the day before the celebration of Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday. Finnish faithful construct gigantic bonfires on Holy Saturday to ward off these evil spirits and hold church services in preparation for Resurrection Sunday.

The children in western Finland also dress up as witches on Easter Saturday and go door to door, in a similar fashion to Halloween in the U.S. and U.K., offering blessings to drive out evil spirits in return for chocolate eggs. Elsewhere in Finland, children do this on Palm Sunday.

“The little witches then go from door to door, bringing willow twigs decorated with colorful feathers and crepe paper as blessings to drive away evil spirits, in return for treats,” Reeli Karimäki of the Pessi Children’s Art Centre told This Is Finland.

The child “witches” recite a traditional rhyme to homeowners before receiving candy in return for their blessing: “Virvon, varvon, tuoreeks terveeks, tulevaks vuodeks; vitsa sulle, palkka mulle!”

Translated to English, according to This Is Finland, it means: “I wave a twig for a fresh and healthy year ahead; a twig for you, a treat for me!”

The strange tradition of blending symbols of witchcraft with Christ’s resurrection and the warding off of demons is apparently a mix between traditions of the Eastern Orthodox Church and a tongue-in-cheek reference to old fears about magic and the demonic.

“This Finnish children’s custom interestingly mixes two older traditions – a Russian Orthodox ritual where birch twigs originally represented the palms laid down when Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday; and a Swedish and Western Finnish tradition in which children made fun of earlier fears that evil witches could be about on Easter Saturday,” Karimäki said.

Fertility Whippings

The Czech Republic’s most popular Easter tradition actually comes from what is most likely a pagan tradition from the 14th century, before Christianity became prominent in the area, according to The Culture Trip. That tradition is the pomlázka whipping of young women. The pomlázka is a whipping stick made of braided willow branches topped with colorful ribbons. Young men would hand-make these sticks and go about whipping young women, which was believed to keep the women young, fertile, and beautiful for another year. The women would give the men a treat of some kind to thank them for the whipping.

Now, however, the people of the Czech Republic have toned the whippings down to light spankings or even just taps delivered by family members or close friends to a young woman’s backside or legs on Easter Monday. Most people also now buy their pomlázka from an Easter market instead of hand-making them.

Crucifixion and Self Flagellation

While Catholic faithful in the Philippines will celebrate Easter Sunday with church services and feasts, the lead up to that celebration is intense, to say the least. Scores of men line the streets on Good Friday armed with braided whips. They flog themselves bloody as they march, reenacting one of the sufferings of Christ. Streets, houses, and roadside kiosks and storefronts are left splattered with crimson colors as the men march by, flailing their whips.

The reason for this gruesome practice is that Catholics in the Philippines believe that voluntarily undergoing this pain can serve as penance or, if a loved one is sick or ailing, can earn miraculous healing or divine favor as a form of intercession on the loved one’s behalf.

Filipino men, and sometimes women, also engage in mock crucifixions on Good Friday for the same reasons and have three-inch nails driven through their hands and feet.

The Catholic Church openly disapproves of these practices, saying that any sacrifice given by the faithful during Lent and the lead-up to Easter should instead be made in the form of service or donation to benefit the needy.

Easter in the Mainstream

Whatever your thoughts may be on the aforementioned Easter traditions, they are certainly not representative of the focus of most Christian churches during Easter. Whether it is the tradition of colorful eggs, chocolates, throwing pots out of the window, or even bonfires to commemorate the Easter peace made between Comanches and the German settlers of Fredericksburg, Texas, Christian faithful have modified these practices and their meanings to point back to the story of Christ’s victory over death, his payment of the debt of sin on the humanity’s behalf, and the hope that they believe his resurrection gives the world.

(Content created by The Daily Caller News Foundation is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a large audience. For licensing opportunities of our original content, please contact

2 months ago

David Rainer: Alabama leads way with artificial reef program

(David Rainer/Outdoor Alabama)

Those who wonder why anglers off Alabama catch more than 30 percent of the red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico despite having only 53 miles of coastline should have attended the Red Snapper Conference in Mobile last week.

The key to Alabama’s phenomenal red snapper fishing is the more than 1,000 square miles just off the coast that are designated artificial reef zones.

During the day-long conference, numerous scientists and fisheries biologists discussed reef fish management, habitat requirements, red snapper and triggerfish recruitment and growth. All those components are tied to Alabama’s reef zones.

Craig Newton, Alabama Marine Resources Division’s Artificial Reefs Program Coordinator, provided those in attendance a comprehensive look at the state’s artificial reefs program, from its unofficial start to today’s highly regulated deployment protocols.


Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Commissioner Chris Blankenship, formerly the Marine Resources Director, said Alabama has the largest artificial reef system in the country and has created noticeable improvements in the fishery.

“I went to work on a charter boat when I was 14 years old,” Blankenship said. “If we caught a red snapper that weighed 5 pounds, that was a big red snapper. If you caught one that weighed 10 pounds, you took a picture with it. If you caught one that weighed 20 pounds, your picture ended up in the paper and in the red snapper fishing hall of fame. That was a big fish.”

A massive reef-building program occurred after that, and anglers continue to enjoy the results of the widespread habitat enhancements.

“We build reefs with money from CIAP (Coastal Impact Assistance Program), Sport Fish Restoration and other sources,” Blankenship said. “Over the last few years, we’ve gotten money from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation from the Deepwater Horizon criminal fines, and we’ve built several hundred reefs with that money. We’ve created seven new reef zones within our 9-mile state waters boundary. We’ve built more than 30 inshore reefs. So, reef-building has been, and continues to be, extremely important to our state. Because of that, we have such a great red snapper fishery.”

Blankenship pointed out the extensive research being done in the Alabama reef zones by the University of South Alabama (USA), Dauphin Island Sea Lab and Auburn University.

“Dr. (Bob) Shipp is here today,” Blankenship said of the professor emeritus at USA’s Marine Sciences Department. “He was doing red snapper science before reef-fish research was in vogue. We’re blessed to have such great academics in the state to do this work.

“We’ve spent a lot of money and emphasis on red snapper research. We want not only to show we have the largest artificial reef system in the country. We also want to show how those reefs produce such a great fishery here in our state. Like I said, I remember what it was like to go out and catch small fish, a few fish. Now you can’t wet a hook without catching red snapper, big red snapper. The average weight of snapper in the charter fleet now is about 10 pounds. Having a robust reef fishery is extremely important to the economy of the state.”

Newton said the artificial reef story off Alabama started in 1953 when 200 car bodies were cabled together and deployed in two segments by the Orange Beach and Dauphin Island fishing communities. In 1961, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers designated the “Snapper Banks” as the first artificial reef zones off Alabama.

The first deployment by the Conservation Department occurred when five 415-foot Liberty ships, known as the Ghost Fleet in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta, were hauled offshore and sunk in 1974.

The Marine Resources Division (MRD) strategy then changed to creating artificial reef zones instead of individual reef sites. The Corps permitted the first reef zone of 364 square miles in 1978. This is the first area where individuals could deploy MRD-approved reef material.

“What’s unique about this is these privately deployed reefs remain unpublished,” Newton said.

The Hugh Swingle reef zone of 86 square miles followed before another expansion occurred in 1989 with another 245-square-mile reef zone. In a program called Reef-Ex, 100 M60 decommissioned battle tanks were thoroughly cleaned and deployed in the Gulf for reefs in 1993. The Corps granted another expansion in 1997 with a permit for 336 square miles for reef zones. MRD teamed with the Orange Beach Fishing Association on the Red Snapper World Championship from 2004 through 2007 to deploy about 1,000 artificial reefs.

Since then, the focus has moved to nearshore with a 1.6-square-mile zone permitted just inside the 3-mile state boundary.

The latest artificial reef zones were permitted last year. A total of 30 square miles inside the 9-mile boundary for reef fish management was approved after an arduous permitting process.

Newton said acquiring a permit for reef zones from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has grown increasingly more complex through the years.

“Historically, it was relatively easy to get a permit,” he said. “You outlined the size and goals of the reefs. Several months later you got a permit. Quite a few things have changed since then.”

Now a reef zone permit application must go to the Corps of Engineers and ADEM (Alabama Department of Environmental Management) for consideration. The application must include detailed construction techniques and methods as well as defined boundaries. A 30-day public comment period required by the Corps is followed by an additional 15-day comment period for ADEM.

Because these are federally authorized permits, they also fall under the National Historical Preservation Act, which is the costliest factor in the permitting process.

“We’re required to have a marine archeologist in all aspects of performing a Phase 1 archeological survey,” Newton said. “We have to use multiple remote sensing techniques. We have to use side-scan sonar, a magnetometer and a sub-bottom profiler to identify not only archeological resources exposed on the sea bed, but those below the sea bed as well.

“We also have to prove the project doesn’t harm threatened or endangered species or compromise the critical habitat. The entire permitting process now takes from 20 to 42 months.”

The material allowed for reef deployment has changed significantly over the years as well. White appliances, like washing machines and refrigerators, are no longer used because they do not provide long-term stable structures. Vehicles and anything fiberglass are also banned. Now, material made of concrete, steel and natural rock are allowed. Chicken transport devices are used as well as concrete pyramids and other structures constructed specifically to provide the best habitat for reef fish.

The Rigs to Reefs program takes advantage of the federal “Idle Iron” regulations, which require oil and gas structures to be removed within five years of the last date of production. The reef program takes obsolete petroleum platforms and uses the structures for reefs.

“We have a diverse assemblage of reef types in our reef zones,” Newton said. “We have 1,282 reefs deployed by the state that are published in our reef program. What makes our reef zones unique is we have the permitted authorization to authorize the public to build their own reefs and the locations remain unpublished.

“We estimate there are more than 10,000 reefs off the shore of Alabama. About 12 percent of those structures are public reefs.”

Newton said about 42 percent of the reef structures are in the zones that have depths from 60 to 120 feet. About 28 percent of the reefs are in depths of 120 to 180 feet. Only 4 percent are deeper than 180 feet.

“What’s really important, you look at relative contribution of these artificial structures in deeper water,” he said. “We have very little natural bottom, natural rock, offshore of Alabama. The natural reefs we do have occur in these deeper waters. This aligns with our goals of avoiding natural reefs when we are deploying artificial reefs.”

Newton said a downward trend in reef deployment by the public coincides with the reduction in the public’s access to the fishery with the shorter and shorter seasons.

“From the mid 90s to the mid 2000s, we permitted about 1,000 reefs per year,” he said. “Now we’re permitting a fraction of that.”

When Marine Resources developed a model to look at the future of the reef system off Alabama, it provided a stark reality.

“What we see is the existing reefs are not going to last forever,” Newton said. “The usable life is about 10 years for regular structures, about 30 for the concrete pyramids. The model shows a steady decline of available habitat into the future. That is why it is imperative that we continue to build reefs on an ongoing basis.”

However, significant progress has been made recently in ending the extremely short federal red snapper seasons. If NOAA Fisheries approves an Exempted Fishing Permit (EFP) for the 2018 season, Alabama will receive just under one million pounds of red snapper allocation for a potential 47-day snapper season, which could be the catalyst to reverse the downward trend in private reef deployment. Marine Resources will host meetings in late April and early May to answer questions from the public if the EFP is approved.

David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

2 months ago

Brittany Howard is a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact


The list of 2018 Yellowhammer Women of Impact includes the governor, business leaders, philanthropists, entrepreneurs and educators.

But it is quite possible that the woman who has touched the most lives is Brittany Howard, a 29-year-old Alabama native who is a founding member of the musical sensation Alabama Shakes.

It took about two years for the band to reach international stardom after playing James Brown covers. Their debut album in 2012, “Boys & Girls,” was still at the top of the iTunes and Amazon sales list a year later. It went gold and as of 2015 had sold 744,000 copies.

“Hold On,” Rolling Stone magazine’s No. 1 song of 2012, has been viewed almost 27 million times on YouTube.


The band has won four Grammys, been nominated for four others and has appeared on “Saturday Night Live.”

As told in a 2013 Rolling Stone story, Howard was delivering mail when the band took off. Reared in Athens by a mother who loved Elvis Presley — she had a collection of the King’s albums and no other artist — and a dad who dug Motown, she dealt with her share of adversity. That includes her parents’ divorce, the death of her older sister, vision problems and the loss of the family home to fire.

Eventually, she hooked up with bandmates Zac Cockrell, Heath Fogg and Steve Johnson during high school.

Someone posted a photo of Howard, from a bar, on record producer and music blogger Justin Gage’s Facebook page in 2011. Gage told the Los Angeles Times in 2016 that he listened to a pair of songs from the band and then emailed Howard and asked if he could listen to more music.

Gage was blown away and posted a song on his blog, Aquarium Drunkard. He told the Times that he wanted to sign the band.

“But I made the mistake of posting that song on Aquarium Drunkard,” he said. “The response was insane. By noon there were already 40 comments … Within two weeks the band told me, ‘Yeah, we’re not going to do that record with you.’ They ended up getting a high six-figure deal and sold 2 million records worldwide.”

Howard told National Public Ratio’s “Fresh Air” in 2016 that Athens was a “slow-placed place” to grow up.

“And that’s a good place to stay forever, you know what I mean?” she said. “It’s a good place to raise your kids, raise your grandkids, take care of your parents. It’s just a really nice, peaceful town.”

Howard also downplayed the significance of her mixed-race heritage. She said her rural upbringing, growing up in the woods, helped keep her isolated from racism and did not feel negative repercussions from the fact that her mother is white and her father is black.

“My mom’s white. My grandma’s white,” she told host Terry Gross. “My dad’s black. My grandma’s black. You know, they’re just people. I love them — never really had to experience that kind of prejudice growing up.”

Howard may have had confidence in the band’s abilities, but she told Rolling Stone that she still was taken aback by its meteoric rise.

“I mean, we never expected the Grammys; we never expected to do world tours,” she said. “All we did was go into the studio, because we wanted to be like a real band and have an album, and then it turned into all this.”

@BrendanKKirby is a senior political reporter at LifeZette and author of “Wicked Mobile.

2 months ago

Dr. Gina Loudon is a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact


Media personality Dr. Gina Loudon may have grown up in Missouri, but the firebrand conservative commentator who regularly appears on national television and radio says she will always call Alabama her “sweet home.”

Loudon, who got her talk radio and TV start in St. Louis, moved to Alabama to host the popular “Dr. Gina Show” on Birmingham’s WYDE where she said her broadcast career was “really born.”

“It really began happening for me in Alabama,” Loudon said in an interview with Yellowhammer News. “It wasn’t so much about me, but it was really about what my audience in Alabama taught me about myself, how they believed in me, and how they inspired me.”

Loudon arrived for her new job the day after tornadoes ravaged the area. She said the experience bonded her to Alabamians.


“I was put on air ’round the clock because we were the only radio signal that survived the tornado, and people were depending on us for food, medicine, and even company,” she said. “I didn’t know a single road, a single moray, or the difference between Alabama and Auburn. But I would learn.”

Loudon said she and her husband, former Missouri State Senator John Louden, had a conversation one evening at their home in Hoover and agreed they never wanted to leave Alabama.

“Our lives were complete,” she said. “We loved our work, our home, our friends, and our family was really flourishing in Alabama. We planned that night to stay forever.”

When John was recruited for a job in California, the couple initially said no before reconsidering whether God was calling them to serve in the state that Loudon said she felt was being destroyed by its government.

“We told ourselves it was a tour of duty, and looking back now, I can tell you that was a true description,” Loudon said. “California, in all her beauty, cost us greatly. Our children were changed, and we were attacked in ways that are darker than I can describe. But we fought the fight, alongside great patriots.”

Loudon, a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact, has gone on to host national TV shows and frequently appears on Sean Hannity’s radio show and networks such as Fox News, Fox Business, CSPAN, ABC and the BBC. She is the author of several books and her latest, “Mad Politics,” will be released in September and is now available for pre-order.

Loudon also serves on President Trump’s media advisory board and was a National Republican Convention delegate for Trump, as well as an official media surrogate and spokesperson for his campaign.

Her opinion columns have appeared on, and and she has been a featured speaker at the American Conservative Union’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).

She holds a master’s degree from St. Louis University and a master’s degree and doctorate in human development from Fielding Graduate University.

The Loudons have five children, one of whom is an adopted child with Down syndrome. Loudon is an outspoken advocate for special needs children and chairs a non-profit foundation to help families who choose life or wish to adopt children with special needs.

“For some reason, people find it difficult to believe that we set out, and searched for 10 years, for a child with Down syndrome who we could adopt,” Loudon wrote in a recent op-ed.

“Samuel was born to a Latino man and a Polish woman in a large public hospital in Florida. Today Samuel’s birth mom is one of my very best friends. She had attempted several times to abort him, and she says God intervened in miraculous ways … once when her car ran out of gas and another time when a train stalled across the highway,” Loudon wrote of her 12-year-old son’s birth story.

“We have been so blessed by adopting Samuel,” Loudon said in a touching St. Louis Post-Dispatch video produced when Samuel was a toddler. “There’s just no question that it has been, I would say, the hand of God in our family.”

Loudon returns to Alabama to host the inaugural Yellowhammer Women of Impact awards this evening, both as master of ceremonies, and as an honoree. Details and registration may be found here.

“Alabamians understand something that I can tell you with authority, most of the rest of the country don’t understand,” Loudon said. “They know secrets about life that make them wiser in many ways, than the ‘enlightened’ coasts or the ‘savvy states’ that love to look down their proverbial noses at the south. They taught me how to be a Woman of Impact.”

2 months ago

Cathy Randall is a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact


How do you know when you’ve made it? When your employer names a program after you.

That is what happened last year to Cathy Randall, the longtime director of the University of Alabama’s computer-based honors program. It now is called the Catherine J. Randall Research Scholars Program.

Randall isn’t just the director of the program. She was a member of its first class in 1968.


She also is a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact.

According to a University of Alabama news release, Randall has guided the computer program to a powerhouse that attracts elite students from around the world. Honors students take courses on complex problem solving, project management and research fundamentals. Students later select research projects and work closely with faculty members.

The Alabama Academy of Honor, which includes 100 outstanding living Alabamians, inducted her and then tapped her to chair the organization. She also has served as national president of the Mortar Board — a national honor society for college seniors — and headed the board of directors at the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame.

Beyond her professional career, she’s participated in relief efforts following deadly tornadoes that ripped through Tuscaloosa in 2011. She has served as director of the American Legion’s Alabama Girls State. She won the Living Legend award in 2007 and Tuscaloosa’s Lifetime Achievement Award for Women of Distinction in 2005.

Perhaps closest to Randall’s heart has been the charitable work she has done at her church, Christ Episcopal. Among those endeavors has been the Lazarus Project, which helps poor people pay utility bills.

“The most important part of who I am is my faith,” she told the Tuscaloosa News in 2012.

The Birmingham native moved to Tuscaloosa to go to school and met her future husband, the late H. Pettus Randall, while he was a law school student.

“I came to Tuscaloosa as a freshman at the university, met Mr. Wonderful and never left,” she said in the Tuscaloosa News article.

Randall served as youth chairwoman for Albert Brewer’s gubernatorial campaign and got her future husband involved. The couple married a year later and went on to have three children.

The university named her one of the top 31 women graduates of the century, an honor she shared with “To Kill a Mockingbird” author Harper Lee.

“She is one of the most kind, caring people I know,” Lee told the newspaper before her death in a rare interview. “She is one of my dearest friends, and I love her to death.”

Randall told the Tuscaloosa News that it is important to make time for faith and service.

“When we say we don’t need to pray, that’s when we need to pray twice,” she said. “In the same way, when we say we don’t have time for community service, that’s when we need to do more.

Randall will join Gov. Kay Ivey and special guests from across the state for a Birmingham awards event March 29 honoring the 20 Yellowhammer Women of Impact whose powerful contributions advance Alabama. Details and registration may be found here.

@BrendanKKirby is a senior political reporter at LifeZette and author of “Wicked Mobile.”

2 months ago

Elizabeth “Liz” Huntley is a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact


When Birmingham lawyer and child advocate Elizabeth “Liz” Huntley describes her childhood, she says it was filled with “nightmarish events” and “tremendous adversity” that she overcame with the life-giving support of mentors and teachers who helped her see her potential.

In an inspiring 2015 TEDxBirmingham talk, she described her harrowing early life: Her dad was a drug-dealer who eventually went to prison. Her mother was a heroin addict who sent her five children to live with separate relatives in different towns and then committed suicide.

At five-years-old, Huntley was living in poverty with her grandmother and an uncle who physically abused her and another uncle who sexually abused her. She said that she was subjected to domestic violence to such an extent that she had to move in with extended family members and foster families throughout her school life.

Huntley, who is a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact, said those were “the darkest days of her life”, but that she believes God sent “game-changing” people to speak hope and encouragement into her soul, beginning with her preschool teachers.


“I was empty and I was scared and I was lonely,” Huntley said. “I basically felt like a used rag doll until that day I walked into that preschool.”

Her teachers showered her with love and affection and prepared her for public school. Huntley also noticed that whenever she did something “fantastic” academically, she got even more attention and praise and that encouraged her to work hard to do well.

“As a kid who was starved for that, I challenged myself to be the best student that I could be so that I could get that response,” she said.

Later, the first-grade teacher who she said reminded her of Wonder Woman told her she believed Huntley would be the brightest student she would ever have.

“What a powerful, game-changing moment for me,” Huntley said. “I had no idea what a powerful, game-changing moment that was for me at that time. That act of kindness. So obviously, I was determined to be the brightest student she ever had.”

Amid continued abuse at home, which Huntley has written about in her memoir “More Than A Bird,” Huntley excelled in school and found strength in a sermon preached by Elijah Good — the pastor at her Clanton church who would become her father figure.

“[He] inspired me with a simple message: If God takes care of the birds, He will take care of me because I am more than a bird,” Huntley wrote on her website. “…I want my story to let children in similar situations to mine to know that they can reach their dreams, and to encourage more adults to become advocates for them like so many did for me.”

Huntley went on to graduate from Chilton County High School with a 4.0 grade point average, sharing the title of valedictorian and earning a full scholarship to Auburn University. She then earned a law degree from the University of Alabama and is currently a litigation attorney at Lightfoot, Franklin & White, LLC in Birmingham. She serves on the Auburn University board of trustees and is chair of the University of Alabama’s Farrah Law Society board of trustees.

Huntley also serves on the Governor’s Task Force on Prevention of Sexual Abuse of Children, along with other boards including Leadership Alabama, Children’s First Foundation, Children’s Village, Alabama School Readiness Alliance and as the president and co-founder of Project Gear.

She also serves on the Defense Research Institute’s (DRI) Diversity for Success seminar committee and is the recipient of multiple honors and awards for her professional and volunteer work.

Huntley says her greatest successes are her relationships with her husband Tony and their three children.

“I really never thought I’d be able to function as a wife and mother growing up,” Huntley said in an interview with

“My husband and three children are the greatest accomplishment of my life, and one’s not any more important than the other. When you go through the childhood I went through, and you get to watch your own children blossom in a healthy home and environment and not have all the fears and insecurities that I did as a child, to be able to be a mother, is my greatest success.”

Huntley will be honored in a Birmingham awards event March 29 recognizing the 20 Yellowhammer Women of Impact whose powerful contributions advance Alabama. Details and registration may be found here.

Rachel Blackmon Bryars is managing editor of Yellowhammer News.

2 months ago

GE Aviation managers in growing Alabama plant share training duties

(GE Aviation)

AUBURN, Alabama — Joseph Moore works days on the shop floor at GE Aviation’s fast-growing jet engine factory in Auburn – then teaches his experiences at night in the classroom.
He’s one of several operations managers at GE’s Auburn site with a teaching role during the month-long vocational training sessions at  Southern Union State Community College near Auburn to prepare GE’s growing roster of hourly workers.

About four sessions are held annually to handle the demand for more trained workers in the GE Auburn factory. In addition to the Southern Union instructors, the program includes Moore and his GE colleagues each leading a three-hour evening of instruction each week.

“I really enjoy the interaction,” said Moore, who teaches lean manufacturing, Six Sigma quality practices, and compliance. “Being part of the training also allows us to get a good look at the people we are evaluating for positions at the plant.”


The close cooperation between GE Aviation, Southern Union, and the Alabama Department of Commerce is another example of GE Aviation preparing workers for the skill sets required in its new modern factories across the U.S.

“Alabama has long been a leader in workforce development, and it’s critical that we partner with industry leaders like GE Aviation to develop cutting-edge training programs like this one,” said Ed Castile, director of AIDT and deputy secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.“With new technologies rapidly changing how factories and other workplaces operate, our workers must be equipped with the in-demand skills to succeed in the future.”


 GE’s Auburn facility uses sophisticated equipment to machine advanced turbine airfoils and structural components for jet engines.  Machine operators vying for positions are first trained at Southern Union with a curriculum developed by the Commerce Department’s AIDT division and by local GE plant leaders.GE is actively involved in the training process because GE Auburn is ramping up fast. Employment reached 200 people in March and is expected to grow to 280 by year’s end, according to plant manager Ricardo Acevedo.

GE Auburn produces components for the fastest-selling jet engine in commercial aviation history, the “LEAP” engine for CFM International, the 50/50 joint company of GE and Safran Aircraft Engines of France.More than 14,000 LEAP engines are on back order to power three airplanes: the Airbus A320neo (soon to be made in Alabama), Boeing 737 MAX, and China’s COMAC C919.  The Airbus and Boeing airplanes are now in airline service. The GE and Safran factories delivered 459 LEAP engines in 2017. The LEAP delivery goal for 2018 is up to 1,200 engines, and in the 1,800-engine range in 2019.

In addition to machining parts, the Auburn site this year will produce more than 34,000 fuel nozzle injectors for the LEAP engine using laser-powder, additive manufacturing machines. Auburn’s 37 additive machines is expected to grow to 45 by mid-year to handle the needed higher volume.

These employees require six weeks of in-house training. GE is looking at ways to engage the local community colleges in offering additive manufacturing as part of their curriculum.  GE Aviation is also engaging with engineering students at Auburn University in additive manufacturing projects as part of a groundbreaking partnership.


Training for GE’s Auburn employees is not limited to community college classes. The plant also offers training in non-destructive testing where employees become certified to evaluate jet engine components scanned in advanced X-ray machines.

“There’s a skills shortage in this field,” said Tory Landry, the plant’s human relations leader.  “It’s hard to find the people. We offer in-house training to candidates who can then experience a significant pay increase.”

Among the factors Acevedo attributes to high retention at the plant is the GE investment in training.

“There are great careers in advanced manufacturing,” he said.

Over the past decade, GE Aviation has opened eight new facilities in the United States, including the new factory in Auburn and a $200 million advanced materials production center in Huntsville.

(Courtesy Made in Alabama)

2 months ago

Alexia Borden is a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact


Alexia Borden’s trajectory at Alabama Power has been rapid and in one direction — up.

Borden last year became senior vice president and general counsel of Alabama Power, only a year after joining the company. She is both the youngest person and first woman ever to hold the position.

She also is a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact. The honor comes a year after Yellowhammer named her among the Yellowhammer Power & Influence 50, recognizing the 50 movers and shakers in business and politics.


Borden, who grew up in Atlanta and Pensacola, Florida, graduated from Georgia Institute of Technology with a degree in industrial engineering and then worked in the U.S. Embassy in Paris. Later, she attained a law degree from the University of Alabama School of Law and joined the firm of Balch & Bingham’s Birmingham office.

Borden moved to Montgomery because of career opportunities for her husband, Gray Borden, now a federal magistrate judge.

Alexia Borden told RSVP magazine in 2013 that she appreciated the ability to balance work and family that Balch & Bingham afforded her.

“I love the flexibility of working in a private firm,” she said.

Borden’s promotion at Alabama Power represents a rapid ascent at one of the state’s most powerful companies. She had joined the firm in 2016, after a decade of practicing environmental law. She has family ties to the industry. Her father, Paul Bowers, is president and CEO of Georgia Power.

At Alabama Power, Borden proved herself running  the company’s governmental affairs shop, monitoring the state government and lobbying on issues of importance to the utility.

Borden told RSVP that her parents were the biggest influences on her life. She said her father taught her patience and perseverance, while her mother imparted kindness and thoughtfulness.

Borden serves on several civic and charitable boards, including the Alabama Shakespeare Festival and the Baptist Health Foundation. She also has participated in Leadership Montgomery and served as president of EAT South, an urban teaching farm.

Borden and Gov. Kay Ivey will be among 20 Alabama women honored in a March 29 awards event in Birmingham. Event details and registration may be found here.

@BrendanKKirby is a senior political reporter at LifeZette and author of“Wicked Mobile.”

2 months ago

Sheepshead fishing on fire on Alabama Gulf Coast

(David Rainer/Outdoor Alabama)

A little rust was evident after a long hunting season. The first tap at the end of the line meant a fish was interested in the bait, but the reflexes hadn’t been tested for a while. By the time I set the hook, I had felt the second tap. I knew that, in all likelihood, the hookset was a futile attempt to overcome my dormant fishing senses.

As suspected, no resistance was felt on the hookset and I reeled up a clean, bronze Kahle hook. I’d been robbed by one of the best bait thieves in Alabama’s coastal waters – the toothy, tasty species known as sheepshead.

After putting a chunk of fresh-dead shrimp on the hook, I tossed it near the structure. As soon as I felt the first tap, I set the hook and the fight was on. With its vertical body and large fins, sheepshead can stress your tackle. With the drag set correctly, a few runs later, the fish finally tired enough for me to bring it alongside the boat and into the landing net.


It took only a couple of hours for Capt. Jay Gunn (251-752-8040), Grady Gunn and I to fill the ice chest to the brim with nice sheepshead, a scene that is repeated often this time of year along the Alabama coast.

Sheepshead is a species that comes into coastal waters during the winter and hangs around structure preparing for a migration to nearshore waters to spawn. Structure means jetties, piers, petroleum rigs inside Mobile Bay and the rigs just off the coast in 50 feet of water or less. During this pre-spawn period, the fish are voraciously feeding.

“Sheepshead come out of the Gulf and into the inshore waters during the winter when the water temperature falls below 65 or so,” Capt. Gunn said. “They’ll hang around in the bays and estuaries. After the winter when the water temperature gets back up near 65, they get ready to spawn.

“The full moon is on March 31, so this bite will reach a crescendo on the full moon. At that point, the bite will become somewhat sporadic. The females will go to the Gulf and there will be lots of smaller, three- to four-pound, males left in the bays. Once you start catching about half-and-half spawned out females and males, you’ll have about seven more days of fishing in the bays. Then it will be time to speckled trout fish.”

Gunn uses fishing tackle that would be suitable for fishing for largemouth bass or larger speckled trout. He uses 12- to 14-pound monofilament or fluorocarbon line or 20-pound braided line.

“After all kinds of experimentation, that size line doesn’t cause much resistance in the current and you don’t have as much bow in your line,” he said. “You have to keep that line tight to feel the strike and set the hook immediately.

“I use the smallest lead I can to keep the bait on the bottom. I use half-ounce leads when I can and go to three-quarters when the current is stronger. Sometimes, I can get away with just a split-shot. Whatever lead you use, you have to keep the line tight.”

Gunn uses Kahle hooks because the shape of the hook makes it easier for the sheepshead to get it inside its mouth. He starts with a No. 4 hook and never goes larger than a No. 1.

“Anything larger than that and you’re going to miss a lot of bites,” he said.

A close look at the mouth of a sheepshead reveals a set of teeth and bony structures that are designed to crunch the shells of a variety of crustaceans, especially small crabs and barnacles. If you reel in a hook with a closed gap, the sheepshead crunched it with the bait and robbed you. Move up one hook size as long as it’s not larger than a No. 1 and keep fishing.

This time of year, live shrimp are a little hard to find, but fresh-dead shrimp and fiddler crabs work just fine.

“You don’t always have live shrimp, so you may have to use fresh-dead shrimp or fiddler crabs,” Gunn said. “Sheepshead can be picky about using frozen shrimp, but you can get fresh-dead from your live bait dealer. And I never use a whole shrimp unless it’s really small. I pinch the shrimp into two to three pieces and try to hide the hook when I can.”

When Gunn approaches a likely sheepshead haunt, he starts fishing before he gets to the structure.

“I start about 10 feet from the structure if water clarity allows them to see the bait,” he said. “I move closer to the structure until I start getting bites. Sometimes it’s right on the structure, so bring plenty of weights and hooks because you’re going to lose some if you’re fishing on top of the structure.

“I reel down until the line is tight, and I set the hook when I feel that first tap. If you feel the second tap, that’s the hook being spit back out with no bait.”

Gunn insists that sheepshead are not like other inshore species this time of year. There’s no waiting around to see if the fish are triggered into a feeding mood.

“If they’re there, they’re not finicky as long as you have the right kind of bait,” he said. “Don’t sit around on the bite. If you don’t get a bite in 10 minutes, move to the next spot.”

The average size of the fish in the bays will vary from 3 to 6 pounds. Gunn says about every 25 to 30 fish, you’ll hook a whopper that will weigh from 8 to 10 pounds. A 9½-pounder is his largest so far this spring.

Of course, one of the largest structures on the Alabama Gulf Coast is the Gulf State Park Pier, which juts more than 1,400 feet into the Gulf. The sheepshead bite has been on fire according to dedicated pier fisherman David Thornton, who said, “The sheepshead are chewing the pilings off the pier.” Of course, he was speaking figuratively, but I’m sure the sheepshead are chowing down on the abundant barnacles attached to the pier’s pilings.

Over the years of watching plenty of guides clean sheepshead, Gunn continues to refine his fileting technique. He uses a large, sharp butcher knife to cut along the dorsal fin down to the rib cage. He then makes a cut upward and around the rib cage and finishes to cut the filet off with the skin and scales attached. When it’s time to complete the filet process, he switches to a filet knife that has a double-bevel to keep the cut about a sixteenth of an inch off the skin to avoid the strong red meat next to the skin.

“I cut over the top of the rib cage,” he said. “There’s no meat on the ribs. All they’re good for is dulling your knife. Before you fry or freeze the fish, make sure you get all the red meat off.”

Of course, the most common way to consume sheepshead filets is to dredge them in your favorite fish-fry mix, then drop in 350-degree oil and fry until golden brown.

As an alternative, Gunn makes a faux West Indies salad, substituting sheepshead for crab meat.

He cuts the filets up into chunks and gently boils them in salted water. After the fish chunks are done, he drains the fish and refrigerates until completely cold. At that point, the fish will flake easily. He flakes the fish thoroughly and sets aside. He then finely chops equal parts of red and green peppers, white and purple onions and celery. He tosses in the flaked fish and mixes the whole dish with his favorite Italian dressing. Refrigerate for at least a couple of hours, preferably overnight to absorb the flavors.

Alabama has a 10-fish-per-person sheepshead limit with a 12-inch size limit.

“I don’t keep any sheepshead below 16 inches,” Gunn said. “With a 16-inch fish you get a decent filet. With an 18-inch fish you get a nice filet.

“The thing about sheepshead this time of year is they don’t have to have tide movement or a certain kind of weather. Go when you can, and don’t sit on one spot waiting for them to bite.”

David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

2 months ago

Jeana Ross is a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact

An Alabama program called First Class Pre-K is seeing such extraordinary results that Harvard University is producing a documentary about the effort and more than 30,000 four-year-olds were pre-registered last year in hopes of snagging one of the less than 17,000 available spots state-wide.

The program is overseen by Alabama Secretary of Early Education Jeana Ross, a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact, who has seen First Class Pre-K’s attendance increase by 374 percent under her leadership, while maintaining the highest possible ranking for quality by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER).

Alabama hosts the program in more than 950 classrooms statewide and is one of only two states to meet all 10 of the institute’s quality benchmarks.


Ross told Yellowhammer News that the most rewarding part of her work is seeing firsthand the impact that skilled teachers can make, inspiring “a sense of wonder, joy, creativity, achievement and success” in a student’s learning.

“I care about children and their right to reach their greatest potential,” Ross said. “Education can and should provide children a powerful opportunity to find purpose and success for their future lives.”

Studies measuring results from tests such as the Alabama Reading and Math Test and the ACT found that First Class Pre-K alumni outperformed their peers who did not attend the program, according to the Alabama School Readiness Alliance.

Ross, who is the mother-in-law of Yellowhammer News owner and publisher Allison Ross, helped secure a $77.5 million preschool development grant to help fund the state-funded program, which also requires local communities to provide at least 25 percent of the funding to participate.

Also under her leadership, the Office of Early Learning and Family Support division of her department has expanded to serve 4,289 vulnerable families and children through more than $12 million in federal awards.

In all, Ross has led her department in writing and receiving federal grant awards totaling more than $100 million.

She attributes much of her success to the partnerships she has built with other groups serving children and families in Alabama to build a cohesive support system.

“My success has been achieved in a collective effort of devoted educators who, regardless of pay or recognition, work to create experiences where children enjoy through natural curiosity and joyful exploration a love of learning that lasts a lifetime,” Ross said.

Ross is a member of Governor Kay Ivey’s cabinet and was appointed by Governor Bentley in 2012. She advises the governor and state legislature in matters relating to the coordination of services for children under the age of 19 and, among her divisions, also oversees the Children’s Policy Councils, the Children First Trust Fund and the Head Start Collaboration office.

Ross previously served in a variety of education roles in Alabama, including as a central office administrator, assistant principal and classroom teacher. She holds a master’s degree in education leadership from the University of Alabama and a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education from UAB.

“My hope for education in Alabama is for every child to have a competent, sensitive and responsive teacher every day, every year,” Ross said.

As other states look to Ross’s success in Alabama’s early education, she offered three recommendations in a 2017 U.S. Department of Education interview:

“Set high-quality standards, communicate what those are, and demonstrate what they look like; involve parents, businesses and industry leaders in the initiative; and provide supports such as coaching and monitoring to maintain quality,” she said.

Ross and her husband live in Guntersville and Montgomery and have two adult sons and two grandchildren.

Join Ross and special guests from across the state for a Birmingham awards event March 29 honoring the 20 Yellowhammer Women of Impact whose powerful contributions advance Alabama. Details and registration may be found here.

Rachel Blackmon Bryars is managing editor of Yellowhammer News.