Winter Wonders: Flowers that bloom in winter

Extension Daily:

With winter is in full swing  and spring slowly approaching, many gardeners are wondering what types of plants and flowers bloom during the chillier seasons.

Winter’s dreary and colorless tone can make many gardens and homes look gray and dull. But there are beautiful plants and flowers that thrive in the cold and can give you that oomph of much needed color to your backyard. Here are just a couple flower and plant suggestions to liven up your landscape. Kerry Smith, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System specialist, gives some insight on the different types of plants and flowers below.

She said that there are both cold hardy annuals which only live for a single season and longer lived perennials that are good choices for winter color.


Pansies & pinolas make a colorful container garden

Pansies (Viola x )

The pansy is a “staple” flower that blooms in the cold. The pansy comes in a large variation of colors and generally grows approximately 6 inches to 9 inches tall. “It is a low, mounding type plant and grows in full sun to partial shade,” Smith explained. Pansies can be used to line sidewalks or other pathways because of the size and shape they grow. Pansies are ideal because they tend to bloom for extended periods, adding long-lasting color to your garden.


Snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus)


Snapdragons are vertical-growing plants that tend to bloom in dense bunches all the way up the stalk . They come in a variety of bright and light colors and are commonly paired with pansies. Snapdragons require consistent moisture and full sun to grow their best.

“While you can plant them in the winter, they actually perform even better if you plant them in the fall. This allows for better root growth and then a bigger show of flowers,” Smith said.

Snapdragons grow from 1-3 feet tall.

English Daisy (Bellis perennis)

This flower grows close to the ground and reaches about 6 inches tall. Though it is considered an annual in the Deep South, the English Daisy can perennialize in colder regions.  Colors come in pink, orange, white and yellow. English daisies should be watered often and grows best in full or partial sun.

Sweet Alyssum (Lobularia hybrids)

An annual flower that grow approximately 12 inches, it is used primarily to line beds and sidewalks. These flowers come in white, lavender or pink. Sweet alyssum is best grown in full sun or partial sun.  “Sweet” is in their name because of their soft fragrance that catches your attention.

Honeywort (Cerinthe major)

With deep blue and purple flowers, honeywort is a great flower to spruce up a garden. This unusual and rare plant grows up to 3 feet in length and width and should be planted in full sun, or with a little shade.

sweat pea

Sweet Peas (Lathyrus odoratus)

Sweet peas look good and smell good. As its name implies the flowers have a sweet smell. This is an annual vine that can grow on a trellis or other upward-directing support. Sweet peas come in a variety of flower colors ranging from hot pink to deep blues and purples making it another colorful flower to add to your winter garden.


Perennials are plants that persist for many growing seasons. Generally the top portion of the plant dies back and regrows the following year from the same root system . There are good perennial choices for the winter garden. Here are some good choices for the winter garden.

Hardy Cyclamen (Cyclamen coum)

hardy clycamen

This is another beautiful, low-maintenance winter flower that in addition to varying flower shades of pink, it also has foliage interest because of its dappled, silver color,” Smith said. They bloom usually in the fall or spring, depending on the species, but can be planted in the winter as well to brighten up a garden. Hardy cyclamens spread across the ground creating a “carpet in the leaf litter” as she described the plant. They grow in part shade.

And a plus for growing these flowers is that they have a special quality that repels deer from eating them.


After the initial planting, bulbs are low maintenance and can return for many years. Bulbs can create lots of color and are perfect for late winter and early spring. Many bulbs are deer resistant as well. Some bulb suggestions are:

  • Daffodils
  • Crocus
  • Snowdrops
  • Hellebores


Tips for preparing your flower bed for winter gardening


When getting ready to make room for your winter flowers and provide adequate living situations for your perennials, some tidying up needs to happen. Make sure you clean your garden of all old, dead and blackened annuals so they will not run the risk of spreading diseases or insect eggs to your new plants.

Once rid of old and dead leftovers, spread a new level of rich mulch over your garden to protect your plants and soil during the cold months. “Adding compost to the existing soil and gently mixing in where space allows and dividing  overgrown perennials gives you more to spread around,”  Smith advised.

Remember to keep adequate drainage for both annuals and perennials that live in beds. Roots do not do well with continuous water around them. Smith suggests an idea to create good drainage. “Before planting build a slightly raised, or mound bed area by adding compost or chipped leaves from your yard.

To learn more about how to enhance your garden and landscape, check out Alabama Extension’s “Gardening in the South” series. You can find the series on iBooks.

Based on proven Master Gardener training and seasoned with university research, the “Gardening in the South” series of books is packed with information, tips and tricks to being a successful Southern gardener.

More Resources:

Herbaceous Perennials in Alabama

Annual Bedding Plants 

Attracting birds to your garden

Extension Daily:

Bird House Basics

Observing wildlife is the second most done leisure activity in the United State, and birds are one of the most commonly observed types of wildlife. Bird watching has been, and still is, a captivating hobby nationally and internationally.

Birds range in a variety of species, colors, sizes and characteristics- each displaying its own distinct routines and habits that make watching them an enjoyable experience. Not only are birds interesting to watch, but they’re sound is pleasant and even better, they provide many benefits to your garden and backyard.

Birds are heavy eaters of insects, including mosquitos and spiders, so they provide great insect control. For obvious reasons, this comes in handy during summer months when you want to enjoy your backyard without becoming the main course for the numerous insects flying around. Apart from insect control, certain bird species also aid in reducing weeds in the garden by eating weed seeds as well as help pollinate your flowers.

Creating a bird paradise in your own backyard is not a hard process. There are some basics tips and tools you should know before and during the process of attracting specific birds to your yard.

First, creating a desirable space for birds is the starting point. Roosevelt Robinson, an urban regional agent with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, said “where you live plays a key role in the bird you want to attract.” When creating an environment that attracts birds you have to, “be sure the species of bird is found where you plan to install the nesting box,” Robinson added. You should find out what types of birds are in your area.

Basic wooden bird house

The location of your bird house is important too. But just building a bird house and placing it in the right spot is not the only part of the process.

“Managing and monitoring the birdhouse on a regular basis” is equally important too Robinson said.
For housing, you need to know what type of bird you want to attract. There are many different kinds of houses desisnged for the requirements of different species.

“Placing the nest box in the appropriate location is important,” Robinson stressed.  wood is the most common and easiest to use material to build the houses.  Though there are many types of woods, Robinson adviced using naturally decay-resistant wood. “Cedar, redwood or a good grade of exterior plywood is best.”

Metals should be avoided. The sun will heat metal up and can kill nesting birds.  If you do not want to use wood, there are a few other types of materials, such as pottery (only if it is designed for houses), corrugated cardboard, plastic and natural gourds that can be used.

While providing an adequate home for your intended bird is crucial, bird feeders also play a large role in the amount of birds that flock to your garden.

Choosing Right Feeder

evening grosbeak

Feeders come in a range of designs and sizes, letting you customize it in a way that suits your personal style.
As a publication on Extension’s website directs: The type of bird feeder you choose plays a large role in the types of birds that come to feed. Seed feeders, for instance, do well in attracting a variety of birds because of the basic structure. Smaller, hanging feeders will host smaller species such as songbirds. The small perches and swaying motion of these feeders dissuade larger birds from feeding. Tube feeders specifically will lend an extra hand for the size of birds you prefer to feed, depending on the perch size you decide on.

A second type of feeder that is popular is the weighted perch bird feeder.  These are great for bird-type selection. The weighted perch, in short, only allows smaller, light-weight birds to feed. Larger birds and pesky squirrels are too heavy for the perch, and their weight closes the opening to the food.

If you are feeding birds during fall and winter, don’t stop until well into the spring months when other food sources are plentiful or until the birds have begun to migrate to northern breeding areas.

Housing and feeding are simple ways to attract beautiful birds to your yard and garden.goldfinches on feeder

 More Resources

Are fleas making you itch?

Extension Daily:

The Low-Down on fleas


Fleas, like many of nature’s pests, are persistent and hard to eliminate.  These pests are problematic because of their hardy, durable nature. It can sometimes take multiple approaches to rid your household of these pests. Although fleas are considered less dangerous than some common household pests, they should still be treated as quickly as possible.

Your family pets are susceptible to picking up fleas if they go outside or are around other animals that go outside. Fleas are able to jump from host to host because of their strong back legs that let them jump long distances. Robert Spencer,  an animal science specialist with  Alabama Extension, advises the use of flea and tick prevention when outside and inside pets interact.

“This practice reduces potential problems with indoor pets and households. The fleas initially infest the outdoor animals and through interaction with household pets, the fleas can become a pet and household problem.”

This advice should not be taken lightly either. Apart from possible infestations of the home, fleas also carry diseases and organisms, such as tape worms. Once your animal becomes infested with fleas, the flea larvae have a high possibility of transferring tape worms to your pet. As Dr. Xing Ping Hu, an Alabama Extension entomologist, says the life cycle of a tape worm starts as eggs which are ingested by the flea larvae.  Once inside the flea, the eggs continue to grow to their immature form. An animal, usually during a scratching fit, eats the flea carrying tapeworm larvae.  Once inside the intestine, the tapeworm larvae separate from the flea and grow to complete its full life cycle. Then tape worms lay eggs in the intestines which pass out of the body in the animal feces, allowing the cycle to begin again.

“A tapeworm cannot be passed from cat to cat or dog to dog. It must live part of its life in the flea first.  Most of the flea life cycle is spent in the environment and not on the pet. Therefore, stringent flea control is the key in preventing tapeworms in animals. You need to treat the house and outdoors for fleas the same time you treat your pets,” Hu said.

Because tape worms are transmitted via fleas, owners who regularly treat their pets for fleas reduce the potential for tapeworm infection. Pet owners who don’t regularly administer flea control medicine are the owners who run the higher risk of their animals getting worms.

Apart from tapeworms, fleas can transmit various infectious diseases to both animals and humans, Hu said. Cat scratch diseases and flea-borne spotted fever are two diseases that can be passed to humans.

Fleas by themselves pose a serious problem too. . Because fleas reproduce rapidly within the two days of their first blood meal, Hu reports they can lay an average of 27 eggs per day, which can add up to 5,000 over their life span.

“The tolerance of flea on pets and in the home is zero. Take care of a flea problem the moment you see if happening, which is usually the adult stage,” said Hu.

Besides the fast rate in which fleas reproduce, resulting in home invasion faster than you can blink, they also can make your pet miserable.  When fleas bite pets, they make your cat or dog itch and itch, which can lead to skin tears, hair loss and inflammation. Secondary skin infections can appear in sensitive or flea-allergic animals, called flea allergy dermatitis.

So what can you do to stop and prevent fleas from wreaking havoc on your house and pets? First, go to your local veterinarian or pet store and buy a flea and tick preventative.  That’s the first step to keeping fleas at bay.  Second, if you are already experiencing flea problems, remove pets from areas where fleas are and wash pets in a mild detergent (such as Dawn) or shampoo that is designed to kill fleas and eggs. If your yard  is infected, do your best to keep your pets inside until the outdoor problem is fixed. Hu recommends the best method to keeping a flea-free yard and a flea-free home is to keep a flea-free pet.

For the treatment of pets, use adulticides because the adult fleas are what stays on pets; the larvae usually nestle in your carpet or fabric material in the house. For dogs, Advantage and Frontline are two quality products that control adult fleas on dogs from one to three months. A flea collar or oral medication can be used to prevent egg hatching.

To treat the infested areas, such as your carpet, you need to use multiple treatments that kill fleas at all life stages. For eggs and adults, vacuum as much as possible to suck them up, but for larvae and pupae another type of treatment will be needed.

“If you neglect to treat the premises of your home, you will miss more than 90% of the developing flea population,” Hu warned.

Fleas are a problem that can easily get out of hand. Since, they are small and undetectable from a distance, you can miss the early warning signs of infestation. Knowing what to look for is an important part to preventing fleas on your animals and in your home.

College of Liberal Arts Encourages Civic Involvement With Living Democracy Program

Auburn University’s College of Liberal Arts is giving students a chance to give back to Alabama communities in a way that has a lasting impact. Through the Living Democracy program, students of all majors have the chance to interact with and play integral roles in Alabama towns that have a population of under 9,000.

Living Democracy began in the summer of 2011 when the first group of students went to live in four towns: Collinsville, Elba, Linden and Selma. For 10 weeks these students lived and immersed themselves in the towns’ cultures, communities and activities. Each town gave the student a place to live for the entirety of their stay as they still do for current students now.

First funded by The Kettering Foundation, the idea for Living Democracy was, as Nan Fairley, associate professor of journalism at Auburn University, and co-coordinator of Living Democracy, said “to find out what happens when you initially take students beyond service into a deeper immersion experience.”

Apart from community outreach, The Kettering Foundation focused the program on politics: “what you can learn about democracy while living in a community,” Fairley explains.

But the purpose and outcome of the program is much more than that. Its mission is to enable students to be active in community life and enrich their own lives by giving back and making personal connections with citizens. During their 10-week stay students are assigned projects and specific tasks that match student interests and community problems, as well as write weekly reflection reports that often turn into publishable material, many of which have been published on

“It’s more than identifying the problem, but addressing the problem and finding solutions,” Fairley said, describing the purpose of civic journalism.

For one student living in Linden during the summer of 2012, Blake Evans, who is currently earning his Master’s in Public Administration, his main task was to create an economic development DVD for the town and help set up a photography contest with Linden’s youth.

“At the end of my time in Linden, the town threw me a celebration and gave me a key to the city and asked me to come back and be the Grand Marshall for their Christmas Parade,” Evans told a group of prospects for next summer.

While the students work on their projects they learn about the importance of democracy, its impact on society, and discover things about themselves along the way. The stories the students come back with range from profiles on different community members to the adventures they have had while living there.

While living in these towns, students interact with people they typically wouldn’t in a normal setting and also gain a new perspective on life in a small town. From the projects they do to the articles and reflection papers they write, each student gains valuable experience in civic involvement and journalistic writing.

“There is so much more learning in the real-world than inside the classroom,” Fairley emphasized, “We really don’t understand anything until we get out there.”

But before the students embark on this project, they are enrolled in a journalism and research program that teaches them the basics of research, interviewing, and journalistic writing. Through this class they can successfully research and write about the issues and stories they have taken away from these rural communities.

The coordinators, Nan Fairley and Mark Wilson, meet with the towns’ community partners and the students to design an impactful project and thoroughly understand what needs to be addressed in each community. Extensive planning goes into the Living Democracy program so students can get the most out of this experience.

“After three years of this program, we are learning how the students truly discover a lot about themselves during those ten weeks as well as have an impact on the communities where they live in a lot of positive ways,” Fairley said.

For more information:

To read the Living Democracy publication:

Food Bank Running Low on Inventory

The Corner News:

The East Alabama Food Bank is facing a serious problem: a severe shortage of their food inventory.

The cause: the Food Bank has been putting out more than they have been bringing in.

In other words, they are lacking the amount of food donations they need to put meals on families’ and individuals’ plates every night. While food donations generally ebb and flow throughout the year, during the summer months and into winter specifically, there is an increased amount of need among the community. But while the Food Bank is feeding more people, they are also experiencing a lack of donations, which presents a problem.

“We are having to rely on the local community more than ever before,” Martha Henk, the director of the East Alabama Food Bank, said.

“Last year nearly 66 percent of the food we distributed came from the local community. That is a dramatic shift from previous years, where the national food bank network played a much larger role.”

Because the Food Bank relies so heavily on local donations, food drives, such as the annual “Beat Bama” drive are huge contributors to how many families eat a decent meal.

Apart from the classic “Beat Bama” drive, new food drives are being created to assist in the Food Bank’s efforts to generate inventory levels. One produced by Auburn University students, the Auburn Coffee Crawl, is an attempt to reach a large market of people able to participate. Designed and organized by Auburn’s Committee of 19, the coffee crawl breathes new life into an old cause.

Participants can purchase early bird passes for $6.27 and partake in a two-week long crawl from November 14-21 that gives users savings at coffee shops around Auburn. The key fact: every cent raised goes directly to the Food Bank.

“This event is primarily a fundraiser for the Food Bank of East Alabama, but it also serves to form connections with small local businesses and families in the community. We all have something to bring to the table to end hunger, and this is a good way to meet together,” Hannah Hashimi, member of the Committee of 19 explains.

Mama Mocha’s, Toomer’s Coffee, Overall Company, Coffee Cat and Wake Up Coffee Co. are the five shops participating this year. Not only does the crawl give you discounts at these shops, but also gets you in to Overall Company’s “Barista Throwdown” on Nov. 21. But the importance of these events are the amount of people that participate.

The tickets are the driving force behind the monetary donations to the Food Bank. The more participants equals more money for the Food Bank. With more campaigns being created, such as the Coffee Crawl and others around Auburn, the hopes of raising the inventory levels are high.

Another campaign that hopes to increase food bank levels is a newly developed program, The Food Project, designed by the East Alabama Food Bank. Its goal is to increase community involvement with donating. Instead of sporadic donations by community members, The Food Project will encourage monthly donations from participants, which helps create a steady supply of food, while developing a sense of community involvement and togetherness.

The importance of community donations is higher than ever. While there was once a stream of donations from larger sources, such as the United States Drug Administration (USDA) and the National Food Bank, the harsh impact of the nation’s economy has affected the amount of resources available.

“During economic downturns, food manufacturers are careful not to produce more than they can sell and retailers are careful not to order more than they can sell. Then there is also competition with flea markets and second-hand stores,” Henk explains. All these factors play a role in the lack of contributions by larger sources.

Regaining the food inventory is a multi-veined problem.

Relying on multiple sources for donations- with many of them being unable to provide adequate amounts, puts the Food Bank in a tight spot. And with so many hungry adults and children just in our local area, the need for citizens to play a more active role in donating is crucial. But many citizens still are not aware of the poverty issue within their community.

As Hashimi says: “One in five children in Lee County are food insecure, and that is one too many. Sadly, hunger hides in the face of both the unemployed and the employed. With this being the case, it is important for us to provide services to everyone who is in need. Poverty also affects all areas of life from health issues to financial issues.”

Approximately 149,000 people are served by the East Alabama Food Bank. Poverty comes in all shapes and sizes. Your next-door neighbor could be struggling to put food on the table every night without you realizing it.

“There’s a Yiddish proverb that says, ‘The one sitting in a warm bath thinks the whole town is warm!’ For those who don’t struggle with the issue of hunger themselves, many of them are not really aware of the extent of the problem,” Henk says.

Whether it is the elderly, homeless, jobless or families with low-income, the basic human need for food should be met. Help be the change in your community.

For more information, please visit:

Opelika “On the Tracks” food and wine event

On Friday, Oct. 10, food vendors, live music, entertainment, shopping and wine tastings will turn the downtown Opelika area into a festive night to kick off the start of fall. Eighth and Railroad Road streets will be the main location of the event.
From 6 p.m. until 11 p.m., Opelika hosts its 18th bi-annual “On the Tracks: A Food and Wine Event” inviting people, mainly 21 and up, to enjoy all that downtown Opelika has to offer. But families are always welcomed, whether it be participating in the crawl or enjoying the music and shopping.
For the event, food vendors will line the streets, offering samples of their fall menus. Along with culinary samples, each vendor offers wine tastings and shopping where you can shop and sip and enjoy the cool, autumn night. Outside the event, restaurants will open their doors for famished event-goers, welcoming them to sit down and eat.
Live music will also be present for the entirety of the event. There will be four bands, all in different areas of the event.
For individuals participating, the choice to pre-purchased tickets or purchase a ticket the night-of is available. Both options cost $25. With a ticket, participants can enjoy the tasting trail of vendors plus a beverage at each stop. There will be approximately 25 stops.
“We want people to enjoy and experience all downtown Opelika has to offer. We really love it when new people find us and have fun. Which is truly why this event was created years ago,” Director of Opelika Main Street and the On the Tracks event, Pam Powers-Smith said.
On the Tracks happens both in the fall and spring, giving residents a fun night to look forward to twice a year. Not only does this event offer festivities for locals, but encourages tourism for Opelika, which has been on the uphill since Opelika Main Street was created 1987.
“We wanted to think of a way to not only make people visit downtown Opelika for an event, but for them to see every store while they were there,” Smith said.
In the past years, On the Tracks has seen a turnout of about 3,000 people. This year Opelika Main Street hopes to have more. Because On the Tracks not only boosts visibility for tourism and shop exposure, it also raises money for Opelika Main Street to continue promoting downtown Opelika and making it a town people want to spend time in.
“If people are new to the area, I tell them downtown Opelika is the best kept secret that we don’t want to be a secret,” Taylor Sumrall, store manager for Taylor Made Designs, said. Taylor Made Designs is one of the local shops opening its doors for On the Tracks participants.
“The atmosphere is so great. It’s fun, laid back and everyone really enjoys themselves. It’s an opportunity to see old friends and make new ones too,” Smith elaborated.
With live music the whole night and tons of shopping to do, On the Tracks creates a perfect night for couples, friends and anyone wanting to get out and enjoy all that downtown Opelika has to offer.
“Between the restaurants and the stores there is something for everyone,” Sumrall said.
For more info, visit

Opelika band, Jule Vera, on the rise
As the members of Jule Vera, an upcoming local Opelika alternative-rock band, sat across from me at The Overall Company in downtown Opelika, I asked them how they felt about their recent achievements in the music industry.
“You know it doesn’t seem like a long time [from starting Jule Vera to now] because signing record labels can happen within just a couple months, but it feels like a long time for us,” Jake Roland, band member, explained. “We’ve had all these songs and feelings bottled up for so long that the fact we are actually doing this is like our first step, our shot.”
Three years ago, Ansley Newman, lead singer, Jake Roland, guitarist, and Will Stacey, bassist, were three teenagers playing and writing music in their houses, uploading their songs to Sound Cloud and sending their music to band managers, hoping one might take an interest in their music. Since Ansley Newman joined Roland and Stacey, back when Newman was only 15, the three have been writing and creating music collaboratively. Not until 2013 did the band officially become “Jule Vera” which is Greek for “young truth.”
“We wanted our name to be different, not just something like The Strokes or like that, we wanted a name people will remember,” Roland said.
After being a three-person band for years, this January Kyle Horvath, drummer, and Austin Jones, guitarist, came in the picture. Horvath and Jones, both hailing from Nashville, Tenn., had heard of Jule Vera through a friend of a friend. They met with Newman, Roland and Stacey and joined their band in January when Jule Vera was about to sign with California-based independent label, Pure Noise Records. (Photo courtesy of Jule Vera)
Being signed to a label was just the start. They have recently released a new single through Alternative Press magazine titled “One Little String,” check it out HERE, and they will be releasing an EP album this summer as well as playing on The Vans Warped Tour for the entirety of the 2015 tour, which kicks off in June.
In their early beginnings, Newman, Roland and Stacey played at local bars and coffee shops, then eventually started traveling to Atlanta to play more shows because the music scene was larger there.
“There’s just not that many venues to play around this area, for our type of music anyway, so we usually go to Atlanta or Birmingham and have started branching out and traveling to up to Michigan and stuff,” Roland said. “Now this summer we will be playing in almost all the states with The Vans Warped Tour. Maybe we will get a bumper sticker or something for every state.”
Being able to participate in The Vans Warped Tour gives Jule Vera more national exposure and a chance to shine. They now have band managers, tour managers and an RV to take them from city to city.
“When you’re just starting out no one really wants to help you, but now everyone is like, ‘What can I do for you?’ which is great for us,” Roland laughs, explaining the difference between now and when they first got together.
While most bands dream of success and making it big, for Jule Vera this dream is becoming reality. But it is not luck that has gotten them to where they are today. Their hard work and determination has paid off and the music industry has noticed.
For the five members of the band, success is not the only goal of Jule Vera. Though being able to get signed to a label and playing on a national tour is definitely an achievement, Jule Vera is not just about the fame.
“We don’t necessarily have to be famous, you know, as long as we are playing in front of kids who like us. We really strive to meet everyone at shows and try to respond to everyone who tweets us and stuff like that. We just want to hear from other people, that’s the best part about it,” Roland clarified.
Sipping on coffee, a passerby would not recognize them as members of a band that is about to perform on one of the world’s biggest traveling tours. Dressed in normal, comfortable clothes, they blend into the rest of the patrons enjoying their coffee at The Overall Company. Laid back, laughing and talkative, they are genuine and friendly.
Roland, the main talker of the group, continued on about their fan base.
“We have a wide sound, we don’t necessarily confine ourselves to one genre, so we have all different kinds of fans,” he said.
“When we make music, what’s so cool about it is that you can create something from nothing and suddenly there is a song there,” Horvath chimed in.
“Yeah, the ideas to start songs usually come at random, in the middle of the night or when you’re driving in the car,” Roland added.
However their music and lyrics have come to be, Jule Vera will now be releasing their songs on an EP expected to come out in early summer, just in time for The Vans Warped Tour.
To listen to Jule Vera yourself, go to their Sound Cloud page at:
If you want to check out Jule Vera live this spring, they will be playing with Lydia in Birmingham, Ala., May 7, and with He Is Legend along with Meddler in Mobile, Ala., March 24. Also don’t forget Jule Vera will be playing the entirety of The Vans Warped Tour, which begins June.
For more information about tour dates, locations and news visit or their Facebook page
For more information about The Warped Tour, visit

Healing Springs: Small town, big secret

Small towns can hide big secrets. Some secrets can be unpleasant, but others turn out to be a miracle.

In the case of Millry, Ala., its secret was never much of a secret, but all the same it has something that today many people would never know about. People who are aware of the area’s gift from nature say a local spring can cure an array of ailments and diseases, from skin rashes to kidney and bladder infections.

Imagine the late 1800s. Horse-drawn carriages, dusty dirt roads, railroads, cotton gins, women in heavy cotton dresses working in the garden and men sweating for a couple dollars pay in the saw mills. While this time was closing in on the turn of the century, normal middle-class citizens still couldn’t afford the luxuries of new-age technologies that were becoming available in the United States.

Lack of technology came with lack of medicines as well. Ailments various in nature plagued townspeople, especially in small towns where connections to medicine were mainly inaccessible. A cure-all remedy for common illnesses was a dream… or at least until the discovery of Millry’s secret in 1872.

According to Millry legend, the springs were discovered long before 1872, but not well-known until around that time. The legend goes that a young injured Indian warrior living in the region stumbled across these springs to clean a lesion on his leg. After daily use, the lesion healed and the water was thought to have been the cure. When the area started becoming populated, the springs’ presence became known to locals. After claims of its clear waters healing numerous conditions, more people around Washington County and Alabama started traveling there to bathe and drink from the 17 springs on the property. Thus the Healing Springs were born.

Motivated by the springs’ popularity, William Wooten, in the early 1900s, built a two-story bed-and-breakfast hotel and several cottages for visitors and promoted the property as a “place for health and pleasure.”

With multiple changes of ownership, amenities grew over the years resulting in two separate spring-fed pools visitors could bathe and swim in, as well as other spring outlets that were left free-flowing.

The current care-taker, Mary Dearmon, of the springs today explained in detail about the pools.

“That was the first swimming pool in Washington County,” she said, pointing over to the black waters of what is now just a pond. “It had a board bottom in it, and they later upgraded to a second brick- block pool.”

Much of the board and blocks are gone from the pools now. Grass and brush line the sides, but the other springs have updated boardwalks carrying visitors over the marshy land to pavilions that encompass PVC pipes churning out spring water. The land is simple now, the cottages gone and simple red dirt roads twisting their way down to each of the springs. When the hotel and pools were in operation, the scenery was much more extravagant. With various buildings, walkways and pavilions, the grounds were of utmost sophistication.

Along with the addition of the second pool in the 1950s, the new owner established the Healing Springs Industrial Academy, a three-story structure youths attended because of the water and the warm climate, which burned down later. A church was built on the property, and the hotel and cottages were added onto.

The springs thrived for most of the 20th Century, welcoming visitors to stay and enjoy the bathes. Locals established the property as a social gathering place where the men and women would dress in their Sunday best and sit on the boardwalk that circled the pools, dangling their feet in the water, and on other days young people would come to swim and play.

Out of the 17 springs on the property, three of them were the most famous.. The Mound Springs catered to women, supposedly curing female diseases such as dyspepsia, indigestion, stomach aches, eczema, sores and all skin problems, while another called Creek Springs was said to treat kidney, bladder, urinary ailments and Bright’s disease.

The third spring, Iron Springs, contained large amounts of iron and helped treat chronic constipation, piles, chills, malarial fevers and was a blood builder.

So, a cure for common illnesses was found in the small southwestern town of Millry, Ala. It was advertised in papers as a “delightful all-year health resort” and would ship bottles of the spring water “to any address.” Attested by hundreds of people over the 75 years of operation, people to this day still travel from all over to sample the springs’ water.

“We’ve had people come from Missouri and all over the world to drink the water. You never catch a break. There are always people coming in to get water. One day I sat outside and I bet I counted at least a hundred vehicles coming in here,” the care-taker said as she gestured to the property.

So where do the special healing powers of these springs come from? No one is completely sure, but locals assume it’s the small amount of dissolved minerals that combine together in the water.

The closing of the pool and hotel in 1961 led to a down-sizing of the amenities at the springs. Now, only the main two-story hotel and an additional 4-room guesthouse, where the caretakers live, mark the entrance.

Surrounded by woods so dense with yellow pines, sunlight’s long fingers barely touch its floor. The springs are easy to miss if a visitor isn’t searching for a break in the woods. Down about a mile from Millry’s town center along a road littered with potholes, the springs hardly announce their presence.

A dirt road cuts between the two main buildings and down to the springs. White signs nailed to trees by the road offer insight into the springs. The first sign at the entrance asks visitors to respect the property. The second sign is much more poignant.

It’s a place hidden to most outsiders now. Traveling south down U.S. Highway 43, take a slight right onto County Road 34 and keep straight making sure to watch out for the potholes and changes in pavement texture. The road cuts its way through fleshed out forests that create a twisting tunnel of green to navigate, curving like a writhing snake, the road finally opens up to the only stoplight in Millry. Taking a left on the main road, you will pass “Sookies,” the main gas station and diner. Turn right onto 1st Avenue and keep straight for about a mile and the Healing Springs will be on your left.

Millry’s 700-person population grants it the title of a small town. A main street, a high school, one bank and a town hall that holds only one office and an attached police station are the main components of the town.

Though small on size, the people of Millry are big on generosity. Anyone is willing to direct a lost traveler to their right path, pointing out stop signs buildings and landmarks to help them on their way. With a warm smile they will offer places of interest, people to talk to and friendly advice, telling you to come back if there’s anything else they can do.

Small towns can hide big secrets, secrets in the form of helping hands and springs with healing powers.

The second sign at the Healing Springs:

A thought… Man can make many things. Only God can make a spring. We have found the water to be healing… We hope it will do the same for you.”




Fighters for Freedom

Dust clouds swirl in the air, rising up from the earth in great plumes. Beyond the haze, tall white-capped Nevada Mountains stand erect in the distance; a gulf of rolling plain separates them from the next cluster of mountains. A helicopter’s blades cut through the air, flying low over the range in pursuit of what’s hidden under the large mass of dust: wild horses.
The herd runs for their life; eyes rolled back in fear, sweat running off their tired bodies. Soon, the helicopter chasing them will herd them into a small, high-fenced corral where the horses will be pushed and prodded into a trailer leading them to what could be their deaths.
What were once proud, American symbols of the Wild West are now disappearing faster than sand through an hourglass- more than 270,000 wild horses have been removed from public lands since 1971 by a government appointed agency. The Bureau of Land Management, or BLM, is responsible for dispatching wild horses off public lands in order to keep the number of wild horses and burros from overpopulating and crowding grazing room for cattle. But wild life activists claim that wild horses barely enter grazing land designated for cattle. Activists also argue the species will become extinct if the number of wild horses taken off the land stays the same.
These animals are protected under an Act of Congress passed in 1971. Wild horses and burros are placed under protection of the “Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act,” which is designed to keep wild horses and burros on public lands to save biological diversity and represent the spirit of the Wild West. Though the BLM has practically disregarded this act, there is still hope for wild horses. Many guardians are working to save these animals’ freedom. One of those guardians is Suzanne Roy.
Roy is a 20-year animal welfare advocate. She now serves as director for the American Wild Horse Preservation, fighting for the rights of wild horses and burros in America.
She joined AWHP in 2010 when the wild horse issue heated up. With a background in politics, Roy has helped AWHP become a leader in the fight for wild horse welfare, but the job hasn’t been an easy one.
“A culture of treating wild horses like livestock instead of managing them as a wildlife species has made changing this mindset very difficult. Government agencies view wild horses as a resource to be periodically slaughtered, whereas Congress has deemed wild horses worthy of protection,” Roy explained.
With a small staff, a “crushing” workload and “a very difficult issue,” as Roy stated, the challenge of working for AWHP is tough. Roy in particular, as director, deals with raising funds, managing finances, donor relation and media relations, policy, lobbying and coalition relations. Creating political strategies, writing briefs for Congress, writing press releases, blogs and web articles, reviewing BLM policies, devising press strategy and social media campaigns are just a few parts of the work she has to do.
Roy works 10 to 12-hour days, and many times, weekends too. But it’s worth it to Roy.
“After working on presidential elections in 1998, I decided to apply the political skills I had gained to my passion, which was protecting animals,” Roy said.
Roy first had contact with the wild horse issue when she was working at an animal protection group. She met Neda DeMayo, the founder of Return to Freedom which is AWHP’s parent organization, in the early ‘90s and stayed in contact with DeMayo over the years. When Roy’s daughter took an interest in horses, she reconnected with DeMayo and started visiting the Return to Freedom horse sanctuary often, which eventually led to the offer of being director for AWHP.
Roy’s career in animal welfare wasn’t her first plan though. Growing up with a father very involved in politics, he sparked a political fire in Roy.
“My first memory is of the day President Kennedy was shot. I was just three. This had a big impact of my family. After that, my father instilled in me a sense of public service and interest in politics.”
Though even with a political-rich childhood, Roy took the pre-med path at Boston College, but after graduation, she realized medicine was not what she wanted to do with her life. Her friend’s father, who was running for Congress, offered Roy a job as his personal travel agent. This was the toehold that launched Roy into the world of politics. After, she started working in the Lt. Governor’s office and received an informal education in public relations via the Lt. Governor’s press secretary.
“He took me under his wing and taught me everything I know about PR,” Roy said.
After that politics became her life. Roy worked on multiple campaigns, including being the press secretary for Gary Hart, the press advance for Joe Biden and Jesse Jackson, all during their presidential campaigns. Eventually, she focused her political skills on her passion: helping animals.
Roy explained, “For as long as I can remember, I have loved animals. I have rescued many dogs and cats, and I became a vegetarian at 19.”
Now, her full attention is on the plight of wild horses and burros. Before her role as director, there were only 2,400 people signed up to receive emails about updates of AWHP’s work. Now with her work, AWHP has reached 100,000 sign ups. But generating email sign-ups is only one part of a large goal.
Roy details the goal of AWHP as this:
“The idea was to create a coalition through which wild horse advocates could speak with one voice and to facilitate the development of unified positions on the varied issues affecting wild horse management on public lands.”
There are many other organizations and campaigns like AWHP too. They all have the same goal in mind: help protect and defend wild horses’ right to live freely.
Through working at AWHP, Roy has had the opportunity to meet many “colorful people and great horses” along the way. She’s had many different experiences, but there are some memories that still stand out in Roy’s mind.
One of them was Roy’s first time watching a herd of wild horses in person in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada. Witnessing the horses up close allowed Roy to really understand “the dynamics of this small family and how they loved each other.”
Another was seeing her first BLM roundup, which wasn’t as pleasant an affair as the first memory.
“It was devastating to watch horses being chased by helicopters and see them lose their freedom and their families in an instant. A stallion died in front of me from a broken neck while charging the bars of the trap pen. I have seen other roundups since then, and to this day the sound of helicopters anywhere gives me a sick feeling in my stomach.”
The fight for wild horses and burro’s freedom is a long and complicated one. Apart from the main task of convincing the government to keep more wild horses free, which is a challenge within its self, there are other tasks that prove just as hard.
“Just making sure we have the funds to pay for our programs and other ones we want to launch is difficult,” Roy explained. “A lot of what we do would be very appropriate for funding from foundations, but it is difficult to find the time to get funding for our work.”
Regardless of the challenges Roy faces, protecting America’s last symbol of the Wild West is something she is dedicated to. Living in North Carolina, Roy makes monthly trips to D.C. for lobbyist activities, but she expects to move back to California, where she resided previously, to be closer to the wild horses.
While some people spend their lives only voicing their own problems, Suzanne Roy spends hers being the voice for creatures who don’t have one.

An Angel in Disguise: An Oncologist Social Worker’s story

Chelsea Kroll works with uncertainty. Uncertainty about life, uncertainty about death, uncertainty about the future. But dealing with all these uncertainties is what Kroll excels at. Navigating her way through the numerous secondary problems that leech themselves to cancer’s formidable stature, Kroll’s job is to help patients deal with these problems as they focus their attention on fighting cancer.
Kroll makes it easy for them to access resources they need to live with cancer. In her own way, she is the unseen angel for these patients.
“When working at the hospice, there was a family who couldn’t afford a funeral for their loved one and needed a casket,” Kroll said. “I got a call from the Auburn University School of Industrial Design, and they had constructed a casket and wanted to know if we knew of someone who might need it… So I conferred with the then-Volunteer Coordinator, Valeri White, and she worked with a volunteer who was able to get the casket from campus, put it on a trailer and leave Auburn University on graduation day and head down Highway 14 with casket in tow to get it to the family in need.”
These kinds of acts are what Kroll goes to work for every. Helping patients and their families obtain the resources they need to function, even in the end when the battle is sometimes lost.
Kroll is an oncology social worker. She works with the East Alabama Medical Center. She devoted 14 years of work specifically at the Cancer Center at East Alabama Medical Center in Opelika. Prior to that, she worked two years at EAMC Hospice.
She provides resources, counseling, assistance, education and support for patients while they explore the ever-changing world of cancer. These types of resources enable patients to have the things they need and allow them to live their lives with as much ease as possible.
From getting patients to and from the center, helping them with insurance needs, emotional support, referring them out to community assistance programs and setting them up with support groups, Kroll helps with the day-to-day challenges that come with dealing with cancer.
While the doctors treat the body, social workers treat the spirit, she explained.
“Giving them the support they need to get through treatment, whether it’s emotional support… or maybe it’s just a smile or relieving some of the financial and emotional stressors- that’s what we try to do for them. It’s a team approach, so it’s not just the medicine, but everything else we can do to help them travel this journey,” Kroll explained.
The team Kroll works with at EAMC includes oncologists, hematologists, nurses, radiologists, dosimetrists, breath health navigators, clinical navigators and other social workers. The group effort to provide maximum assistance to patients is how many patients are saved.
Oncology social work is largely an untold story – the focus is usually on the medical side. Doctors save lives and perform surgeries to rid bodies of cancer is undoubtedly the main aspect of fighting a disease. But there are also non-medical ways to save a person with cancer, at least mentally and emotionally.
That’s where Kroll comes in.
“I think one of the memories that has stayed with me from working in hospice was working with a patient and her boyfriend. The nurse, our hospice chaplain and I worked it out for them to be married before he died. He couldn’t leave the hospice, so we were able to have the ceremony there, cake and all,” Kroll said. After a moment’s pause she continued, “There are going to be situations that tug at your heart. Hope and healing come in many different ways, and that’s the way I like to explore it.”
Before working at East Alabama Medical Center, Kroll worked in the Army since she enlisted after graduating high school in Mt. Pleasant, Texas. So, her path wasn’t a straight line to social work. Enlisting because she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do yet, the Army offered her a way to explore her options.
While stationed in Anchorage, Alaska, during the first two years of being in the Army, Kroll took classes at the University of Alaska and graduated with an associate’s degree. After she finished her required time in the Army she went into the Reserves in June of 1993 and enrolled at the University of Texas at Tyler to get her Bachelor of Arts in criminal justice.
During this time, Kroll finally stumbled upon the field of social work. Her minor in sociology, required her to take social work classes.
That’s where everything clicked for Kroll. But the University of Texas did not offer a social work major or minor, so, after graduation, Kroll went straight to New Orleans to work on her master’s in social work at Tulane University.
“I did an internship at the Department of Veteran’s Affairs in New Orleans. So that’s kind of what got me interested in going into the medical field,” Kroll said.
After getting her master’s, Kroll went from being enlisted in the Reserves to being an officer and started her career in social work in Tuscaloosa, Ala. working at the Combat Support Hospital. From there, Kroll went into a public affairs unit with the military until she retired in 1997.
“My first social work job [after retiring from the Army] was at Jackson Hospital in Montgomery, so I worked as an in-patient social worker on the medical oncology floor… my husband was working at the vet school, so we ended up moving up here and I worked with the hospice for the first four years,” Kroll explains. “So my whole time in this area I worked with the East Alabama Medical Center.”
Over time, Kroll’s brown office cabinets have become covered with smiling pictures of her family, patients, co-worker’s families and past interns. She half-laughs, her pink-toned face lights up as she turns to describe all the people lucky enough to get their pictures on her cabinets.
“That’s one of my patients when Aubie came and her little boy. And that was our Think Pink walk for breast cancer,” Kroll said while describing the smiling picture of a little boy with Aubie, Auburn University’s mascot, and a picture of the Colleen Alsobrook, the breast health navigator, during the Cancer Center’s Think Pink walk.
Her other pictures include her two sons, Joshua, 10, and Jacob, six.
“That was probably two Christmas’s ago, but I can’t stand to take it down,” Kroll’s explains.
Her soft, round face smiles at the pictures then turns serious again. Her blue eyes shift to the phone that starts ringing, and she clips on her Bluetooth ear piece to take the call. She swivels around so her pink and black scrub-clad back faces the room.
Kroll’s intern for the semester, Erin Holt, senior at Auburn University, is with her today.
“She’s awesome. She does a really good job of teaching and also letting you try it yourself,” Holt said.
“Every day is something different… I write down at the end of the day what I learned,” Holt said.
Kroll quickly finishes the call with quiet, short clipped words and turns back to face the room.
She says resources, such as transportation, are one of the more challenging areas of her work. Trying to get patients to the center for treatment can be tricky if they don’t have a vehicle. But those challenges seem small compared to all the different ways Kroll can help patients.
“It really all depends if you look at the glass half empty or the glass half full,” Kroll said as she talked about giving hope to patients. “That’s how it is as a team. We don’t ever take anyone’s hope away and sometimes, even if we can’t give medicine, we are able to refer someone to a hospice. That’s a treatment in a sense because we’re not giving up. Sometimes you just let go of one focus of care and focus on another.”
Kroll used a metaphor for being diagnosed. She said life is like a puzzle where everything has its place, then cancer comes and scrambles up the picture and the pieces don’t fit right anymore. The puzzle’s picture is not the same anymore, and they have to figure out that new puzzle and put the pieces back together again.
“That’s what a lot of this is, it’s navigating a new part of their life’s picture puzzle, and we do that as a team.”