Bowled Over

Liberty Bowl Stadium (Photo courtesy of AutoZone Liberty Bowl)

Liberty Bowl Stadium
(Photo courtesy of AutoZone Liberty Bowl)

There’s more to bowl-game trips than football

As football season fades into history, host cities gear up for events that really score. Get ready for kickoff with a tour of the 2015 bowl games in cities across the South — which are great places to visit anytime.

December 23

GoDaddy Bowl; Mobile, Alabama; Ladd-Peebles Stadium

Let’s start your tour with the week leading up to the bowl game in Mobile. The focus is on the bowl’s eve and its Mardi Gras-style parade. Marching bands and cheerleaders from each bowl team will help pump up team spirit. The parade culminates in a giant pep rally on the waterfront at Mobile Bay. So don’t sit on the sidelines. Get into the action.

Other sights to see:

USS Alabama in Mobile Bay

USS Alabama
(Photo courtesy of USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park)

The USS Alabama arrived in Mobile Bay in 1964 and opened for public tours a year later. Bill Tunnell, executive director of the USS Alabama Memorial Park, says bowl week is always a lot of fun for players and fans.

One of the best places to view Mobile’s historic past is at the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception. The cathedral’s stained-glass windows date to 1890, so bring your camera. And this would be a good place to say a prayer for a successful Hail Mary near game’s end. The church is at 2 S. Claiborne St.

Where to eat: Regina’s Kitchen, 2056 Government St., a mile from the stadium. Best bet: muffuletta with a side of potato salad.

December 26

Camping World Independence Bowl; Shreveport, Louisiana; Independence Stadium

On our next stop, the days leading up to the bowl game see a marked change in the city of Shreveport. Fans sporting team colors are out in full force enjoying the many cool, old places to eat, drink and socialize along the riverfront. There will be a pep rally, which consistently draws big crowds. And there’s always been a free event for families: Fan Fest — a fun time with face painting, jump houses and more.

If you feel the need to shop, there’s no better place to go than Louisiana Boardwalk Outlets, home to 60-plus stores. “It’s probably the most-popular destination for football fans,” says Chris Jay, with the Shreveport-Bossier Convention and Tourist Bureau.

Kids will enjoy spending time at Sci-Port: Louisiana’s Science Center. It’s always ranked in the top 10 of children’s science museums in the country.

Where to eat: Sam’s Southern Eatery, 3500 Jewella Ave., 0.7 miles from the stadium. One of the best spots in town for fried seafood. Favorite dish? It’s a coin toss between the 3N3 — three shrimp and three fish fillets — or the shrimp with red beans and rice.

December 30

Birmingham Bowl; Birmingham, Alabama; Legion Field

The journey continues as the year winds down. It’s one of the smaller bowl games, but don’t be blindsided by the fact that there will be as much play-by-play action off the field as on.
Bowl eve begins with the Monday Morning Quarterback Club Team Luncheon. The public is welcome, but tickets are required. Then, at 2 p.m., the Uptown Street Fest and Pep Rally kicks off a huge celebration with team bands, cheerleaders, players and live music.

And if you have time, make a drive to the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum with its collection of almost 750 vintage and modern motorcycles and race cars.

Where to eat: Niki’s West Steak and Seafood, 233 Finley Ave. W, 2.7 miles from the stadium. Some of the best soul food in Alabama. Fried green tomatoes, turnip greens, stewed okra and white beans are favorite sides to daily entree choices.

December 30

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl; Nashville, Tennessee; Nissan Stadium

Hot Chicken Eating World Championship (Photo courtesy of Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl)

Hot Chicken Eating World Championship
(Photo courtesy of Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl)

The home of country music earns a stop on the itinerary. Last year’s Music City Bowl was one of the highest-attended in its 17-year history, and organizers are hopeful to repeat that success this year. To kick things off, there’s a battle off the field on game eve: MusicFest and Battle of the Bands. It begins with the Hot Chicken Eating World Championships, followed by a free concert at Riverfront Park. The evening ends with the two team bands “duking it out” on the streets.

While in town, be sure to make time for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, where the history of country music comes alive.

Where to eat: Manny’s House of Pizza, 15 Arcade Alley, 0.8 miles from the stadium. Creative pies are the trademark of this pizzeria, as well as great spaghetti and calzones. A local favorite.

December 31

Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl; Atlanta, Georgia; Georgia Dome

Don’t forget to plan a New Year’s Eve stop. When traveling to a city the size of Atlanta, deciding what venues to visit is difficult. And during bowl week, they’re often crowded. The Peach Bowl draws one of the largest of all bowl crowds. Visitors enjoy the restaurants, sights and sounds of The Big Peach, including the Peach Bowl Parade. Dozens of bands and floats pass through the streets.

To narrow down the playing field of other sights to see, there are two places near the Georgia Dome. The College Football Hall of Fame is a touchdown for football fans with its interactive exhibits and helmet and jersey collections. And for fishy folks, there’s the Georgia Aquarium and the inhabitants of its 10 million gallons of fresh and salt water.

Where to eat: Jamal’s Buffalo Wings, 10 Northside Drive NW, 0.7 miles from the stadium. Scramble over to Jamal’s for a football tradition: wings. It’s a hole-in-the-wall, but don’t let that stop you.

January 2

AutoZone Liberty Bowl; Memphis, Tennessee; Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium

Bash on Beale Pep Rally (Photo courtesy of AutoZone Liberty Bowl)

Bash on Beale Pep Rally
(Photo courtesy of AutoZone Liberty Bowl)

There’s nothing sad about ending a bowl season journey at the home of the blues. As if Beale Street wasn’t busy on any given day or night, it scores big with an undercurrent of excitement that builds as the Liberty Bowl teams come to town, exploding at the Bash on Beale Pep Rally. The area comes alive beginning at 3 p.m. with a parade featuring local bands, team bands, cheerleaders and more. When the parade ends, the pep rally begins. And this year, it all happens on Jan. 1, the day before the game.
And if there’s time in your schedule, don’t forget a tour of Graceland, as well as Sun Studios where Elvis, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison and more sang the blues.

Where to eat: Soul Fish, 862 S. Cooper St., 1.4 miles from the stadium. The best catfish, Cuban sandwiches and fish tacos in Memphis, but the place scores an extra point for its oyster po’ boys.

Tech-Savvy Traveler:

As if the holidays didn’t provide enough excitement, it’s nearly time for an unending blitz of college bowl games. There are a few apps to help get us even further into the game. Team Stream is a popular sports news app by Bleacher Report. Want the latest scores and highlights? The ESPN app alerts you when your team scores. Searching for a social media society of sports fans? FanCred’s app could help visiting fans survive a trip into hostile territory.

For the love of food

A Q&A with Stephanie Parker, a blogger from Birmingham, Alabama, who loves to share recipes and family adventures with fellow foodies on her blog “Plain Chicken.” Check out her blog …

What do readers find at your blog in addition to recipes?
Stephanie Parker: In addition to recipes, Plain Chicken posts about our world travels and our three cats, and we also post a weekly menu on Sunday to help get you ready for the week.

Why did you become a blogger, and how has blogging changed your life?
SP: Blogging started as a way for me to store recipes. I would make food and take it to work. People would ask for the recipe later, and I had to search for it. I decided to make a blog and store everything online. The blog started expanding because we were in a dinner rut. I decided to make one new recipe a week. Well, that morphed into four new recipes a week. Plain Chicken has totally changed my life. I was in corporate accounting for over 18 years. Plain Chicken took off, and I was able to quit my corporate job and focus solely on I am so lucky to be able to do something that I love every single day.

Everyone has different tastes, so when the extended family gets together, what kind of menu can you plan to please everyone?
SP: Pleasing everyone is always hard, especially nowadays with all the different diet plans people are on. I always try to have something for everyone. If you know someone is vegetarian or gluten-free, make sure they have some options. But for me, at the end of the day, I’m their hostess, not their dietitian.

What are some ideas for getting the children involved in preparing the holiday meal?
SP: Getting the children involved with preparing the holiday meal is a great idea. When making the cornbread dressing, let the children mix up the batter and crumble the cooked cornbread. Have the children mix the cookie batter and form the cookies. For safety’s sake, just make sure the adults put things in the oven and take them out.

Budgets play a big role in planning holiday menus. What are some ideas for hosting a party with “champagne taste on a beer budget?”
SP: Plan your menu early and watch the grocery store sales. Buy ingredients and store them for the holidays. Freeze what you can, and store canned/dry goods in the pantry. Wholesale clubs, like Sam’s and Costco, are also great places to buy large quantities of items and meats.

Do you have a good recipe for the holidays you’re willing to share?
SP: Yes. Spicy Ranch Crackers are a great snack to have on hand during the holidays. The recipe makes a lot, and the crackers will keep for weeks. They are perfect for unexpected guests and are also great in soups and stews.

Spicy Ranch Crackers
Spicy Ranch Crackers
1 (1-ounce) package ranch dressing mix
1/2 to 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 1/2 cups canola oil
1 box saltine crackers

Combine dry ranch mix, cayenne pepper and oil. Pour over crackers. Toss crackers every 5 minutes for about 20 minutes, until all crackers are coated and there is no more oil mixture at the bottom of the bowl. Store in a resealable plastic bag.

Other food blogs that might tempt your palate:
This site combines a love of reading, writing and cooking into a blog that will keep you busy in the kitchen creating recipes that have been tested and tweaked for delicious results.
Even for people who work with food for a living, the editors at Saveur “were overcome with desire,” and named this blog its “Blog of the Year” for 2014.
This Prattville, Alabama-based blog focuses on Southern food with the idea that “food down South is not all about deep frying and smothering stuff in gravy.”

Connected Christmas

Your 2015 Gadget-Giving Guide

Ah, Christmas. It’s approaching quickly, and it’s never too early to start shopping. But are you struggling with what to buy that someone who has everything? Here are some of the season’s hottest items that are sure to impress that technologically savvy, hard-to-buy-for family member, significant other or friend.

Wocket Smart Wallet


If you’re tired of keeping up with all the cards in your wallet, the Wocket is for you.

The Wocket Smart Wallet is the world’s smartest wallet. How does it work? First swipe your cards using the card reader included in the Wocket. Information like your voter registration or any membership or loyalty cards with bar codes can also be entered manually.

The information stored in the Wocket is then transmitted through the WocketCard.
The WocketCard gives the information to the point-of-sale device when it is swiped, just as with a regular credit card.

For only $229, you can own the smartest wallet on the planet. Order yours at


The Lily Drone

Have you been considering getting a drone, but can’t bring yourself to pull the trigger? Meet Lily, the drone that takes flight on its own, literally. All you have to do is toss it up in the air, and the motors automatically start.

Unlike traditional drones that require the user to operate what looks like a video game controller, Lily relies on a hockey puck-shaped tracking device strapped to the user’s wrist. GPS and visual subject tracking help Lily know where you are. Unlike other drones, Lily is tethered to you at all times when flying.

Lily features a camera that captures 12-megapixel stills, and 1080p video at up to 60 frames per second, or 720p at 120 frames per second. You can preorder today, but Lily will not be delivered until May 2016. Expect to pay $999.

Amazon Echo

Amazon Echo

If you’re looking for a new personal assistant, Amazon has you covered. The Amazon Echo is designed to do as you command — whether it be adding milk to your shopping list, answering trivia, controlling household temperature or playing your favorite music playlist.

The Echo, which uses an advanced voice recognition system, has seven microphones and can hear your voice from across a room. The Echo activates when hearing the “wake word.” The Echo is constantly evolving, adapting to your speech patterns and personal preferences. “Alexa” is the brain within Echo, which is built into the cloud, meaning it’s constantly getting smarter and updating automatically.

It’s available for $179.99 on



Have you ever wondered what your beloved pup is doing while you’re not at home? Wonder no more. iCPooch allows you to see your dog whenever you’re away. By attaching a tablet to the base of iCPooch, your dog can see you, and you can see them — you can even command iCPooch to dispense a treat.

Just download the free app to your tablet or smartphone and never miss a moment with your pup!

iCPooch is available for $99, not including tablet, from Amazon and the website

Classic Christmas Cookies

Hope Barker, of West Liberty, Kentucky

Hope Barker, of West Liberty, Kentucky, makes family cookie recipes her own.

Cookies so good Santa won’t want to leave

By Anne P. Braly,
Food Editor

We all know that holiday cookies are a lot more than sugar, flour and eggs. They tell a story. Remember walking into grandma’s house only to see warm cookies she just took from the oven sitting on the counter?

Hope Barker has similar stories when she reminisces about baking cookies with her mom. Her favorite recipe is a simple one: sugar cookies.
“My mom and I used to make these when I was young,” she recalls. The recipe came from an old cookbook — now so yellowed and worn with age that it’s fallen apart, but, thankfully the pages were saved and are now kept in a folder.

She learned to cook at the apron strings of her mother, Glyndia Conley, and both grandmothers. “I can remember baking when I was in elementary school,” Barker says. “My mom and I made sugar cookies to take to school parties. And Mamaw Essie (Conley) taught me how to bake and decorate cakes. From Mamaw Nora (Cottle), I learned how to make stack pies — very thin apple pies stacked and sliced like a cake.”

She honed these techniques and soon became known for her baking skills in her town of West Liberty, Kentucky, so much so that she opened a bakery business that she operated from her home, making cookies and cakes for weddings, birthdays, holidays and other special events.
During the holidays, cookies are in demand. Not only are they scrumptious, but just about everyone loves them, too. They make great gifts from the kitchen, and if you arrange them on a beautiful platter, they can become your centerpiece.

“Cookies are easy to make and easy to package,” Barker says. “They don’t require plates and forks, so they are more convenient than many other desserts. Also, because they are less time-consuming, you can make a variety in less time than many other desserts. They can be decorated many different ways. And who doesn’t love to get a plate of pretty cookies?”

But there is one big mistake some less-practiced cooks often make when baking cookies — overbaking.

“If you leave them in the oven until they ‘look’ done, they are going to be overdone,” Barker warns. “The heat in the cookies will continue to bake them after you have taken them out of the oven.”

She says the best outcome for pretty cookies is to start with the right equipment — a good, heavy cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. “This will keep them from sticking to the cookie sheet and help them to brown more evenly on the bottom,” she says. And when finished, remove them from the oven and let them cool completely before putting them in a sealed, airtight container to keep them moist.

Barker no longer caters, but she continues to do a lot of baking during the holidays for family, coworkers and friends.
Cookies, she says, just seem to be a universal sign of welcome, good wishes and happy holidays.

Sugar cookies are a delicious and versatile classic during the holiday season. This is Hope Barker’s favorite recipe. They can be made as drop cookies or chilled and rolled for cut-out cookies. You can use the fresh dough and roll balls of it in cinnamon sugar to make Snickerdoodles, or use it as a crust for a fruit pizza.

Classic Sugar Cookies
2/3 cup shortening
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 1/2 cups self-rising flour
1/4 cup milk
Additional sugar (optional)

Cream together the shortening and sugar. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix very well. Add flour and milk alternately, beginning and ending with flour. Make sure all ingredients are well-incorporated.
For drop cookies, scoop fresh dough into 1-inch balls and place a couple inches apart on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet. Smear a small amount of shortening on the bottom of a glass, dip the glass into the sugar of your choice and flatten each dough ball into a disk about 1/4-inch thick. Continue to dip the glass into sugar and flatten the dough balls until all are flattened into disks. Sugar can be sprinkled on cookies at this point, if desired. Bake the cookies at 400 degrees for 8-10 minutes. Remove from the oven when they begin to color at the edges.
For rolled and cut cookies, refrigerate the dough for at least 3 hours or overnight. Roll out portions of the dough on a floured surface to about 1/4-inch thick and cut into desired shapes. Sugar can be sprinkled on cookies at this point, if desired. Place the cookies at least 1 inch apart on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet. Bake at 400 degrees for 8-10 minutes, depending on the size/thickness of the cookies. Remove from the oven when they begin to color at the edges.

Sugar Cookie Variations

Various Sugar Cookies Frosted Cookies
Bake either the rolled or drop cookies. Prepare your favorite frosting recipe (or buy canned frosting) and frost the cooled cookies. Frosting can be tinted with different colors and piped on in seasonal designs.

When making the drop cookies, mix together 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon with 1 cup granulated sugar. Roll each ball of dough in the cinnamon-sugar mixture and then put onto the cookie sheet. Flatten with the bottom of a glass into a disk shape and bake as directed.

Maple Cookies
Replace the vanilla flavoring in the recipe with maple flavoring. Make rolled cookies with no sugar on the tops. On the stovetop, stir together 1/4 cup butter and 1/2 cup brown sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and let boil for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and add 2 tablespoons milk; stir well. (Be careful as the mixture will splatter a little when you add the milk.) Put saucepan back on stove and bring back to a boil. Remove from heat. Pour the mixture over 1 1/2 cups of sifted powdered sugar and mix on low/medium speed until smooth. Drizzle the warm frosting over the cookies with a spoon. Allow to cool completely.

Jell-O Cookies
Make rolled cookies with no sugar on the tops. When the cookies come out of the oven, spread a thin layer of light corn syrup on the tops with a spoon. Immediately sprinkle with Jell-O gelatin powder of your choice. Allow to cool completely.

Fruit Pizza
Use about a half batch of the dough and spread evenly in a greased jelly roll pan. This will be the crust. Bake at 400 degrees for 10-15 minutes, or until the dough begins to get some color at the edges and on top. Let the crust cool completely. Mix together 8 ounces softened cream cheese with 7 ounces marshmallow creme. Spread this over the crust. Cut up about 4 cups of fresh fruit (strawberries, kiwi, bananas, mandarin oranges, grapes, apples, etc.) and stir together with a package of strawberry fruit gel. Spread the fruit mixture over the cream cheese mixture. Refrigerate before slicing and serving.

Fiddlin’ Around


People from all over the country gather at the Tennessee Valley Old Time Fiddlers Convention to play together and compete for prizes.

By Melissa Smith

fiddleFiddlin’ your way to an Alabama state championship is about more than bragging rights. Cash prizes are on the line when the best musicians around gather for the 49th Annual Tennessee Valley Old Time Fiddlers Convention on Oct. 2-3 at Athens State University.

But make no mistake; there are bragging rights, too.

“This is really a celebration of old-time music and arts and crafts,” says Rick Mould, co-director of the convention.


A few of the musicians who competed in the 48th Annual Tennessee Valley Old Time Fiddlers Convention.

There are many categories that musicians can compete in other than fiddlin’, like mandolin, dulcimer, harmonica, guitar, banjo and old-time singing, but the fiddle is the star of the show. “Whoever wins the ‘fiddle-off’ becomes the Alabama State Champion,” Mould says.

The birth of the convention was in the West Limestone area. People would get together and play for one another, and they decided to make an event of it. “The popularity of the event shows how much people love this music, and it gives them a chance to pass it on from generation to generation,” Mould says.

Homemade crafters also showcase their artistic abilities during the event.

Homemade crafters also showcase their artistic abilities during the event.

This gathering is rich with Appalachian history, dating back to when families played music for each other and storytelling was an art passed down through generations of Southerners. Skills from years gone by will be revived in the arts and crafts presentation at the convention. Crafts and goods range from homemade soap, honey, painted leather, beads and jewelry, watercolor, oil, on-site portraits, face-painting, candles, baskets, quilts and musical instruments like cigar box guitars and dulcimers. Artisans are mainly from Alabama, but there are some from surrounding states as well. In order to participate, all vendors’ crafts must be handmade or hand-enhanced.

Be sure to bring your lawn chair to enjoy the event, as the stage is outdoors. In case of rain, the event will move inside, but remember that space is limited and refunds will not be given because of weather.

2008 FC 9

Spectators are captivated by the music and talented competitors.

“We would like to thank the company for all they’ve done. They’ve been such a kind sponsor over the years, and we appreciate their support and help in providing scholarships,” Mould says.
Admission to the convention is $10 on Friday and Saturday or $15 for both days.

Children under 12 get in free with parents. For more information, check out


A Broadband Commitment

Trevor Bonesetter

Trevor Bonesetter

By Trevor Bonnstetter
Chief Executive Officer

Every month or two a news story will appear that looks at the so-called “digital divide” between big cities and rural areas like ours. This narrative paints a picture that rural Americans have a more difficult time getting reliable broadband Internet access.

While statistics show rural broadband providers such as Ardmore Telephone face significant challenges in providing connections to our customers, we are taking steps to eliminate the notion of a “digital divide” in our service area.

In the past three years, we have completed a number of equipment upgrades that have allowed us to increase broadband connection speeds. We are also making strategic upgrades to our network to deliver fiber optic technology to the region.

Our fiber buildout program will allow us to offer speeds in some areas that are even faster than what’s available in big cities. Such changes, of course, take years to implement. Fiber is not just an upgrade of an existing network — it also represents an entirely new network with much greater capabilities than a traditional copper-based one. The upgrade is expensive and labor-intensive, so it takes time.

As we introduce more fiber into the Ardmore Telephone network, we continue to focus on other upgrades that will meet the broadband needs of area residents and businesses. The availability of a state-of-the-art communications network is critical to support the quality of life we all want and expect today — from entertainment and smart home technology to education and economic development. Broadband supports these areas and more, and you can rest assured that Ardmore Telephone is committed to delivering you that broadband access.

In some of the recent numbers I’ve seen from the FCC, there is a stark contrast between broadband access in rural America and in big cities. Based on the FCC’s thresholds, 94 percent of urban residents have broadband access, compared to only 55 percent of people in rural America. Sitting in an office in New York or Los Angeles, it would be easy to see those numbers and think rural America has been left behind in today’s technology-driven, connected world.

But we are working to make sure that doesn’t happen here in our part of North Alabama and Tennessee.

In a news release from the USDA published in July, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said, “Broadband is fundamental to expanding economic opportunity and job creation in rural areas, and it is as vital to rural America’s future today as electricity was when USDA began bringing power to rural America 80 years ago.”

Sec. Vilsack is correct. Without access to broadband, our community would be at a disadvantage. Thankfully, you can count on Ardmore Telephone for broadband access that keeps our corner of rural America connected to one another — and to the rest of the world.

Paddling through rough water

By Matt Ledger


Don Bowling and his dog, Bubberball, atop a stand-up paddleboard while enjoying Wheeler Lake at Joe Wheeler State Park in Rogersville, Alabama.


Life is like a river. Peaceful moments can easily be replaced with rough waters that are difficult to navigate. Despite the best of intentions or preparation, you never truly know what lies around the next bend.

Just ask Don Bowling. An unexpected diagnosis put the ordinary family man’s life on a different course.

“When I got cancer, my whole outlook on life changed. I began to rethink my priorities,” Bowling says. He was diagnosed with lymphoma in February 2011.

Going with the flow

The UG White Outpost on Upper Fort Hampton Road is a meeting point for the kayak tours and features an SUP showroom.

The UG White Outpost on Upper Fort Hampton Road is a meeting point for the kayak tours and features an SUP showroom.

Bowling was a three-sport athlete in high school and played tight end for the University of Southern Mississippi. He now teaches psychology and history at Athens High School, where he once coached basketball, tennis and football and now coaches the girls golf team. “I’ve always been very active, and I enjoy any kind of outdoor activity,” Bowling says.

After the diagnosis, Bowling focused on spending more time with his kids, even planning a whitewater rafting trip in 2012, while still fighting cancer. “When I was going through chemo, I tried to keep doing everything even though I didn’t feel very good,” he says. He also continued teaching and coaching, only skipping school for his treatments.

Two years after the diagnosis, doctors told him the disease had gone into remission. A few months later, Bowling and family returned to the South Carolina coast — as they had on previous vacations — leaving the golf clubs at home and trying a new sport out on the water.

The family sought to spend time surfing and kayaking on the water, and he was even swayed into a few stand-up paddleboard (SUP) lessons. “We absolutely loved it,” Bowling says. “We were determined to do the whole nine yards on this trip.” Bowling and his daughters — Katie Beth, 9, and Claire, 11, at the time — even encountered a shark during their first SUP experience. Fortunately, it was less than 2 feet in length.

A new passion on the water and purpose in life

Sharing the ride down the river, and the workload of paddling with a friend, provides a fun-filled afternoon on the water.

Sharing the ride down the river, and the workload of paddling with a friend, provides a fun-filled afternoon on the water.

Before returning home, the family purchased two paddleboards from the outfitter, planning a summertime on the river.

“I used to be really frugal with money and never really wanted to spend much of it,” Bowling says. “But, after cancer I decided you don’t get to take it with you and we might as well have fun while we can.”

During the drive home, the family also began considering turning their newfound sport into a family business.

“It was a long ride back, so we started talking about the experience,” Bowling says. “It gave us something that the whole family could do. We even discussed how our guide made it fun for us, and that it would be cool if we could do the same for other people.”

This fluorescent sit-on-top kayak is greener than the sun-drenched shoreline.

This fluorescent sit-on-top kayak is greener than the sun-drenched shoreline.

They purchased more equipment and several Tennessee-made Jackson kayaks for their business, fully launching Fort Hampton Outfitters in 2014. The Bowlings found two suitable launches for kayaks and a beach at Joe Wheeler State Park for beginner SUP trips. Don and his wife, Tonyia, returned to the park nearly every other day, experiencing the new sport together and enjoying afternoon picnics, eating bologna sandwiches and pork skins.

While SUPs are growing in popularity, the majority of the Fort Hampton customers are interested in renting kayaks. Self-guided tours utilize the Limestone County Canoe & Kayak Trail along the Elk River. Beginners can opt for the 6-mile version — which lasts two to three hours — or seasoned adventurers may want to complete the 21-mile course. “Some people may be scared or nervous that they can’t do it, but it’s really about going out there the right way and putting you on the right board or kayak,” Bowling says.

The Bowling family tried nighttime kayaking last year and have since purchased NOCQUA lights, which mount under the hull and cast a colorful orb beneath the water. “It’s just a lot of fun out there when you have a full moon,” Bowling says. “That’s the thing about being out on the water; it’s peaceful, and it allows you to get out and enjoy nature. It’s one of the best ways to spend two hours with your family.”

Don Bowling takes a break from paddling down the river on a sit-on-top kayak, as his dog, Bubberball, relaxes while sporting a personal flotation device.

Don Bowling takes a break from paddling down the river on a sit-on-top kayak, as his dog, Bubberball, relaxes while sporting a personal flotation device.

The Bowling family knew of a few kids who also battled cancer and decided to hold a kayaking fundraiser through Fort Hampton Outfitters, sending all of the proceeds to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. “We have been very blessed so we wanted to do something to help others,” Bowling says.

If you go:
Fort Hampton Outfitters
18855 Upper Fort Hampton Rd.
Elkmont, AL 35620


How well do you know security?

Basic RGB
Ardmore’s full line of security services will keep you safe in an emergency.  Whoever said “What you don’t know can’t hurt you” didn’t know much about home security. It’s exactly what you don’t know about break-ins and fire emergencies that can cost you or your family a high price in property, peace of mind and even personal safety. As with many things, knowledge is your best weapon.

Find out how much you know by taking this security quiz.
1) The total number of burglaries in Tennessee in 2013 was:
A) 17,498
B) 29,248
C) 40,333
D) 51,037

2) The total number of property crimes in the City of Ardmore and Limestone, Giles and Lincoln counties last year was:
A) 396
B) 613
C) 787
D) 1,455

3) What is the most deadly month for house fires?
A) September
B) July
C) January
D) November

4) Rank the most common times for a burglary to occur:
A) 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.
B) Midnight to 3 a.m.
C) Noon to 3 p.m.
D) 6 a.m. to 9 a.m.

5) In 2012, what percentage of burglars used forcible entry to get into a target home?
A) 15 percent
B) 28 percent
C) 47 percent
D) 64 percent

6) The average dollar loss among homes where a burglary occurred in 2011 was:
A) $330
B) $884
C) $1,493
D) $2,120

7) What age range had the highest amount of deaths from structure fires in Alabama during 2013?
A) 60 to 69 years of age
B) 50 to 59 years of age
C) 40 to 49 years of age
D) 10 to 19 years of age

8) On average, how many house fires occur in the U.S. each year?
A) 45,644
B) 79,467
C) 198,776
D) 366,600

9) What percentage of convicted burglars say they would attempt to see if their target had an alarm system?
A) 12 percent
B) 38 percent
C) 45 percent
D) 83 percent

10) How long does a typical burglar take to break into a home?
A) Less than 60 seconds
B) Two minutes
C) Four minutes
D) More than 5 minutes

11) What percentage of unsuccessful burglaries can be attributed to alarm systems?
A) 18 percent
B) 29 percent
C) 51 percent
D) 74 percent

Sources: National Fire Protection Association, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, 2013 Crime Statistics, FBI “Crime in the United States”, Electronic Security Association, Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance, and Bureau of Justice Statistics

Answers: 1:D, 2:D, Limestone County had 787 property crimes alone. 3:C, 4:C,A,D,B, 5:D, 6:D, 7:A, 8:D, 9:D, 10:A, 11:D

A family heirloom and legacy

By Matt Ledger


The “McVille” homeplace was built in 1824 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. (From left) Evan Ellison, his mother Marguerite Ellison, the late Thomas R. McCrary, his wife Mary Frances McCrary and daughter Rosemary McCrary.

Through six generations, the McCrary farm has remained in the family from its founding in 1809 to today. The farm, located in New Market, is the oldest family farm in Alabama and, in fact, predates the founding of its home state by 10 years.

“It’s been added on to generationally,” says Marguerite Ellison, one of the co-owners. “But it’s still in pretty fantastic shape for its age.”

The original Thomas McCrary — a 20-year-old unmarried farmer — moved to Madison County in 1809 from Laurens County, South Carolina, investing money left to him by his father. “The estate allowed him to purchase the land, which was still considered part of the Mississippi Territory,” says Ellison, Thomas’ great-great-granddaughter. “He originally built a cabin; then in 1824, he built the home — called McVille — that still remains on this property.”

A smokehouse, commissary and carriage house are among several original 19th-century buildings that remain on the farm.

The property is now jointly owned by Ellison and her cousin Rosemary McCrary.

McCrary’s 60-acre homestead would grow to more than 2,000 acres in the 1800s, with cotton as the primary crop. Much of the home’s massive furniture was made onsite. A smokehouse, commissary and carriage house are among several original 19th-century buildings that remain on the farm, which is now recognized on the National Register of Historic Places.

The farm has seen drought years and bumper crops, but the biggest threat came as the Civil War dramatically impacted Southern farms — especially those producing cotton. “After the war, hard times followed, and some of the land was sold,” Ellison says. “But the next several generations of the family kept plugging away, never giving up, avoiding bankruptcy. Each generation just found a way to keep it going.”

Thomas McCrary died in 1865, shortly after the Civil War. His son, Williams Wright McCrary — Ellison’s great-grandfather — worked hard to make the farm profitable again, selling off some of the outer parcels of land.

A modern family legacy
Rosemary’s father — Thomas R. McCrary — spent most of his life on the farm. As a 10-year-old boy, he started by helping his father with the daily farm chores. He left only for a few years, serving in the Army during World War II. Through several decades he inherited and purchased portions of the original property from cousins, thereby recreating a tract much larger than he individually inherited. “He had farmed his whole life, and continued riding the tractor until age 101,” Ellison says.

Unfortunately, he passed away in 2012, only four days away from reaching his 102nd birthday. He left the farm to his daughter, Rosemary. Another portion of land had been inherited by Ellison. The two cousins decided to merge their individual properties into a family trust, operating as a limited liability corporation, producing a variety of farm products, including beef cattle.

While Rosemary has no children, Marguerite has four, who are determined to keep up the operation. Her son, William, is studying agricultural economics at Auburn University with plans to one day run the family farm.

To find out more about the farm, search Facebook for McVille Manor, or to schedule a wedding or event, call Marguerite Ellison at 256-658-8249.