Sweet Home Strange Alabama

greg strange bikeLocation, location, location; the classic real estate mantra. Well, chances are if you are reading this, the answer you would give for one of the location blanks on a form is “Alabama”. Maybe you have lived here your entire life. Maybe you are new to the Yellowhammer State. Either way, there is a good chance you have uncovered an indisputable fact: Alabama is strange.

Don’t get me wrong; I mean the title as the highest compliment in some ways. The first definition of strange is unusual, extraordinary, curious. That doesn’t sound so bad. Much better than cookie cutter, standard, and boring. In fact, there is a delightful blog and facebook page devoted to the wonderful strangeness of Alabama, named very cleverly, Strange Alabama. In recent months, the author, Beverly Crider, has offered entertaining examples of our strangeness. For example, her most recent blog has delved into the roadside wonders our state has to offer, such as the Giant Rooster of Brundidge, monuments to hogs, bird dogs, and boll weevils, and the ancient sign near Prattville that reads “Go to Church, or the Devil will Get You”.

Thinking about those roadside oddities, we must have a fascination with rear ends; I have overheard an actual argument about which had the best butt, Vulcan‘s moon over Homewood, or the very cheeky Big Peach water tower near Clanton. I personally think Vulcan wins; after all, there is a song dedicated to his famous derriere. Thank heavens the past petitions to clothe his posterior were stopped by admirers and he stands today in all his glory.

And then there are the crazy place names. Slapout, Whodathoughtit, Remlap (Palmer spelled backwards), Lick Skillet, Boar Tush, Frog Eye, Hell’s Half Acre (maybe that’s where the devil sign should be), Possum Trot, Chigger Hill, and in keeping with the backend theme, Buttsville.

And yes, as claimed in the movie Sweet Home Alabama, there is a sweet cemetery dedicated to Coon Dogs, the only one like it in the world.

Alabama is blessed with a hodgepodge of amazing musical styles and talents.  I give you three namesake artists and dare you to find three more different: Alabama, Blind Boys of Alabama, and the sensational Alabama Shakes. Artists paying musical homage to our state spans The Doors, Jim Croce, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald, Otis Redding,  Lynyrd Skynyrd, and many more. And of course Muscle Shoals was at one time the Hit Recording Capital of the World.

If you are in Alabama for long, chances are you will eventually break one of our more bizarre laws, which include my favorites:

  • It is illegal to wear a fake moustache that causes laughter in church.
  • You may not have an ice cream cone in your back pocket at any time.
  • It is illegal to sell peanuts in Lee County after sundown on Wednesday.
  • In Anniston, you may not wear blue jeans down Noble Street.
  • Boogers may not be flicked into the wind.

Never fear. If you do have legal issues in Alabama, our top politicians sport names that should inspire confidence. Our state treasurer is Young Boozer, in charge of the PSC is a lady named Twinkle, and the Alabama Attorney General’s name is: Luther Strange.

Alabama is known for our strange obsession with college sports, specifically college football. It’s not just everywhere that the spring practice game is standing room only in our huge campus stadiums. The Auburn/Alabama rivalry is documented ad nauseam; but what is not as well known is how, in times of trouble, each group of fans is very likely to rush to the aid of the other.

Living in Alabama for fifty years, I have learned to not be surprised at the wacky and weird; an adventure is always right around the corner. I never knew until recently that I live within fifteen miles of Hitler’s typewriter; and even stranger, until just a few years ago it was placed a few feet away from a real, live… no, make that just a real, authentic… mummy named Hazel. If I’d known it I would have visited her.

The internet and the local meat-and-three diners provide a wealth of information about crazy festivals, fabulous foods, and eccentric characters in Alabama. Whether the state is your home sweet home or just a sweet spot to visit, you will not be disappointed if you get off the beaten path and find your own strange favorites.

For Kids: Street Name Bugs!

IMG_6480For kids, one of the fun things about moving to a new home is getting an entirely new address; although it can be a little stressful, too. Here is an easy, creative way to help your child learn and celebrate your new street name: create Street Name Bugs! Or Street Name Aliens, or Street Name Robots, or Street Name Critters… you get the picture.

    All you will need is:

  • computer paper
  • a Sharpie
  • something to decorate with; can be dollar store watercolor paint, crayons,
    markers, or any combination of them.

Young children will need help with the first part, but when the name is turned into a “bug”, they can take it away! At that point, you will be reminded that there is nothing like a child’s creative eye.

You and your child are going to write the street name on a folded piece of paper; this needs a little adult help the first time. Cursive makes beautiful name creatures, but it’s a dying art that sometimes the kids are no longer taught. Printing makes cool name aliens and robots. Either is fun!

Step One:

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Fold a piece of paper lengthwise, keeping the folded part in toward your body. I tell kids to turn it so you can quack  like a duck.

It’s a great idea to have a piece of scratch paper underneath your folded paper.

 

Step Two:

Choose whether to write the name in cursive, or to print it neatly.  You are going to do this part with a Sharpie,  so it’s a great idea to keep an eye on the kids– Sharpie will not wash out.

For the example, I wanted to find an unusual name that kids might find difficult to remember and spell,  so I chose a name from a neighborhood called Glen Iris at Ballantrae, where Signature Homes is building gorgeous new homes.  One of the main streets in Glen Iris is: Kilkerran Drive.  yes, K-I-L-K-E-R-R-A-N. Kilkerran fits in perfectly with the Scottish influence of the neighborhood architecture; it’s even the name of a famous castle. But it isn’t the easiest name for kids to remember.

Whether you print or write cursive, the most important thing to do it to bring the letters all the way down to the fold of the paper, especially on the first and last letter.  Parents, one reason you may be needed the first time is because spacing can be tricky until you get the hang of it; you can do a dry run with pencil if you want to.

Here is Kilkerran both ways (ignore the strange looking “a” in the cursive version):

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Note how close we write the letter to the fold:

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Step Three

This is the trickiest step; after this it is all easy.  Flip over the folded paper and hold it up to a window; with that little bit of light shining through, you can see the image of the word.  Using the Sharpie, trace over the entire name. It will look strange!

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Step Four

Now the fun begins!  Open up the paper and see what you have!  Look for its personality.  Is it a monster? An alien? A strange insect? Turn it 180 degrees if you don’t see something and look at it from that perspective.  If something doesn’t jump right out at your child, help them look for what might be eyeballs– once you settle on the eyeballs, the rest comes easy sometimes.  Kids are usually way better at this than adults.

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Once you get the eyes placed, features start to become evident.  Add hands, antennae, hair, ears, nostrils, a mouth, shoes… just whatever your little creature needs to bring it alive.

Encourage your child to let his/her imagination run wild!

 

 

Step Five:

You will be amazed at how much the color will bring the personalities out of these little creations. Crayons or markers work great; or if your child loves to paint, nothing beats a strip of dollar store watercolors (but use water sparingly– encourage the kids to use a pretty dry brush on this thin paper). If you don’t know what something is on your creature, just start coloring the different sections and the ideas will start flowing. You can always add more details, too.
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Put on the finishing touches and enjoy your Street Name Bugs!  Can you recognize the name? If you want to fold the finished bug and look at it again, you can still recognize the root word in it, but when you open it up the magic happens.
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Feel free to pass this link along, and if you create a Street Name Bug, please email it to me at donna@arcarahomes.com.  I would love to create a gallery of wonderful bugs, aliens, robots, monsters, and other creatures.   It’s also fun to create bugs out of other names; some of my favorites have been from positive words to celebrate, such as JOY, HOPE, SMILE. And of course, celebrating your own name gives you a signature critter; you can scan it in, reduce it down, and use it as an avatar or strange signature.

Have fun and let me know what you think!

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Pipes, Pets, and Plants. Surviving Deep Cold in the Deep South.

from airplane overlooking chicago
Traveling back from Pasadena by way of Chicago during Polar Vortex 2014, I often found myself smirking with the knowledge that once we made it home to Hoover, we would enjoy superior weather and would be tooling around in flip flops in no time. We were still hovering self-righteously over the Illinois tundra in a Southwest airplane at the exact moment our water heater pipe burst in our attic, so there was no one at our Alabama home to hear the pop! sound it must have made. There was no one to witness the maniacal spewing of gallons and gallons of water, but one well accepted scientific principle was proven: water always flows downhill.

So now I sit here having sheepishly just tracked sheetrock dust all over my flooded house, writing big checks to cover water remediation bills and waiting for the painters to arrive, and I wonder. What might we have done to prevent all this? Maybe once those hearty northerners stop laughing at us for cancelling school because it was too cold they might help us out with some advice.

If you go by our local news coverage, besides the main danger of keeping all our people healthy and warm during these bitter cold snaps, there seem to be three secondary concerns: pipes, pets, and plants. There are wonderful general guidelines floating around to help people with cold weather preparedness, especially offering the important advice to check on neighbors who may be elderly or disabled. But for the purposes of this blog, I am hoping you will find useful a few specific things I’ve been learning about the three P’s that follow “people” on the list.

Pipes
burst pipe

The first humbling question from our great plumber was, “Did you not have that copper pipe in an insulated sleeve?” Well, I had been worried about all the family members staying in warm sleeves, including the weenie dog, but it never occurred to me that our most vulnerable pipes might appreciate sleeves, too. At a whopping $1.86 at Home Depot, I think it would have been the way to go.

It turns out that when you build a home in Alabama, as opposed to Minnesota, a lot of priority isn’t given toward avoiding placement of water pipes into unheated areas of your home. Especially if your home is built on a slab in Alabama, there is a very large chance that you have pipes in the attic. When a decade goes by with no problems, you may forget to love your pipes.

The Weather Channel estimates that the danger of water pipes freezing in homes usually starts occurring when the outside temperature is about twenty degrees. The next time James Spann tells you it may go below twenty degrees, here are some precautions recommended by the Institute for Business and Home Safety:

  • Seal all openings where cold air can get at unprotected water pipes. It’s especially important to keep cold wind away from pipes, which speeds up the freezing process.
  • Leave cabinet doors open under the kitchen and bathroom sinks to allow warmer room air to circulate around pipes.
  • Let faucets drip slowly to keep water flowing through pipes that are vulnerable to freezing. Ice might still form in the pipes, but an open faucet allows water to escape before the pressure builds to where a pipe can burst. If the dripping stops, it may mean that ice is blocking the pipe; keep the faucet open, since the pipe still needs pressure relief.
  • Pipes in attics and crawl spaces should be protected with insulation or heat. Pipe insulation is available in fiberglass or foam sleeves. Home centers and hardware stores have sleeves providing 1/8 to 5/8 inches of insulation; specialty dealers have products that provide up to 2 inches of insulation. The extra thickness is worth the price and can save a pipe that would freeze with less insulation.
  • Heating cables and tapes are effective in freeze protection. Select a heating cable with the UL label and a built-in thermostat that turns the heat on when needed (without a thermostat, the cable has to be plugged in each time and might be forgotten). Follow the manufacturer’s instructions closely.
  • Exterior pipes should be drained or enclosed in 2″ fiberglass insulation sleeves.
  • Pipes leading to the exterior should be shut off and drained at the start of the winter. If these exterior faucets do not have a shut-off valve inside the house, have one installed by a plumber.

It’s a great idea for every member of the household to know where the main water cutoff valve is for your home.

If nothing else, the science behind the bursting pipes is fascinating. But I would prefer a jaw-dropping controlled experiment to living through the real thing. Any day.

Pets
luigi laundry
The author of this blog struggles to maintain a reasonable perspective of caring for pets during the deep cold. From my own weenie dog, Luigi, the recommendations would be heated blankets, little doggie sweaters, special treats and complete domination of the entire household. We often sacrifice a load of clean laundry from the dryer just so Luigi can nest in happy warmth.

Turning to more reasonable sources for recommendations, it seems there is not an exact temperature at which it becomes dangerous outside for pets, although several good sources have said for puppies, kittens, and old or sick dogs it may be as high as forty degrees. For healthy adult animals the threshold varies widely by breed. However, it is completely false to think that dogs and cats have the innate ability to survive extreme cold. Especially when temperatures go into the low twenties, bringing your pets inside is the obvious answer. Birmingham-Jefferson County Animal Control has a snuggly solution for pet owners, in three easy steps: 1. Bring them indoors. 2. Keep them there. 3. Snuggle frequently. However, if that isn’t an option for you, below are a few guidelines for caring for your own pet during cold weather:

  • Provide Extra Food – Animals that spend time outdoors in the winter require extra food to give them the necessary energy to stay warm.
  • Give Liquid Water – Ensure their water remains unfrozen by frequently replacing the water or using a heated bowl. Avoid metal bowls that tongues can stick and freeze to.
  • Have a Proper Dog House – Straw bedding is better than blankets, which soak up moisture that then turns to ice. The house should be turned away from the wind, or have an L-shaped entrance to reduce wind chill.
  • Help Cats, too – Cats also need shelter outside – a plastic storage bin turned upside down with a small opening cut in the side and bedding inside can work.
  • Watch Closely When Your Pet Is Outdoors – Pets that are not acclimated to the cold may not be able to tolerate it even for short periods of time. Watch your pets to ensure they aren’t showing signs of discomfort or distress while outdoors.
  • Be Aware of Garage Dangers – Make sure that all chemicals are properly stored and spills are cleaned up. Be especially careful with antifreeze, which has a sweet taste that attracts dogs, cats and wildlife but can be fatal in even small amounts.
  • Practice Caution Before Starting Your Car – Cats and small wildlife in search of warmth may curl up inside a car engine. Before you turn your engine on, honk the horn or knock on the hood to scare them away.

Some sites recommend those animal booties, but if you decide to use those on your pets we ask that you video their reactions and share for our entertainment.

What if you see pets outside suffering in the cold? According to the Greater Birmingham Humane Society, the best course of action is to call local law enforcement agencies because these animals are at risk of hypothermia, frostbite and death. Another option is to contact the GBHS cruelty prevention program at cruelty@gbhs.org.

Plants
frozen plant

Homeowners in central Alabama love their plants; thankfully there are enough Southern Gardeners around that there is an abundance of experts who can help you with any specific plants questions. Especially if you like to push our hardiness zone to the extremes and plant lots of sub-tropical plants and half-hearty perennials, you may already be looking at a disappointing spring because of the extreme lows we already experienced. Here are a few general guidelines from Julie Day at Today’s Homeowner for protecting your plants from the cold:

  • Bring Indoors: Frost-tender plants in containers should be brought inside during cold weather. Dig up tender bulbs and store them in a cool dry place.
  • Water Plants: Water plants thoroughly before a freeze to prevent desiccation and to add insulating water to the soil and plant cells.
  • Protect Tender Sprouts: Cover tender plants overnight with an inverted bucket or flower pot, or with a layer of mulch. Be sure to uncover them in the morning when the temperature rises above freezing.
  • Cover Shrubs and Trees: Larger plants can be covered with fabric, old bed sheets, burlap, or commercial frost cloths (avoid using plastic). For best results, drape the cover over a frame to keep it from touching the foliage. Fabric covers help to trap heat from the soil, so make sure your cover drapes to the ground. Uncover them in the morning when the temperature rises above freezing.
  • Assess Losses: Hardy perennials, trees, and shrubs may recover from a late spring freeze, even if visibly damaged. Their blooms and fruit may be lost for the year, but once they begin actively growing you’ll be able to determine and remove any permanent damage to stems and branches. Frost-tender plants will not recover at all, so avoid planting them until you’re confident that freezing weather has passed.
  • Practice Prevention: Choose plants that are hardy for your climate zone, or plant tender plants in containers that can be brought indoors. Avoid applying fertilizer until after the last frost, to prevent a flush of tender growth that can be damaged by the cold.

Our friends at the National Weather Service have warned that we may have more extreme temperatures coming this winter, so please take care of your people, pets, pipes, and plants.

And don’t forget that purchasing a new home will give you a warm feeling, higher tech pipes, new plants, and happy pets. Call Arcara Residential for all your real estate needs!

Surviving the Auburn/Alabama Madness

roll tide dress miss alabamaWell, it happened. After fifty years of living on the front lines of the Auburn/Alabama rivalry, I saw something today that surprised even me. There she was. Miss America wannabe, our beautiful Miss Alabama, previewing an official ensemble of Roll Tide meets Hancock Fabrics with a dramatic flair of Scarlett O’Hara thrown in. First I was speechless; then my thoughts soon turned to the unsuspecting people who have decided to move to our state, unprepared for the extreme phenomenon that is Alabama and Auburn. If this is all new to you, bless your heart, I’m gonna try to help you out here.

Decades before ESPN made a revealing documentary about the Auburn/Alabama rivalry, Roll Tide War Eagle, residents of the state were immersed in a great cultural divide of orange and blue versus crimson and white, going all the way back to 1893. Even before I learned to ride a bike, I could tell you that Alabama ran the Wishbone offense formation and Auburn ran the Veer. The names Bear Bryant and Shug Jordan were spoken with hushed tones, and my first encounter with product placement occurred during their weekly TV shows. Golden Flake and Coke, there they were; the Bear himself taking a big ole swig of Co’Cola, kicking off his awe-inspiring monologue occasionally punctuated with a sudden exclamation of “Bingo”! That meant the right man had made his tackle stick.

Without a lifetime of developing coping mechanisms for surviving football season in Alabama, how does one make it?  Well, it is pretty obvious that the least effective strategy for living in the world of Alabama/Auburn is to ignore it. Mainly because it’s impossible. There is houndstooth everywhere, at all times; it’s the state pattern. Some days there is toilet paper thrown across big things: everything from trees to army tanks. Not only is there a wealth of logo’ed merchandise, but there is also an entire industry of stuff stamped with the compromising, all telling “House Divided”. And then there was that house that was actually divided. Peace.

First, I recommend picking a side. If you are living in the state of Alabama, it’s almost imperative to go for one or the other; flip a coin if you must.  It’s just easier to answer the inevitable question you will get in the check-out line at Walmart: Auburn or Alabama?  I contend that it’s way too time consuming to explain that no, you really don’t live for college football, or no, you really don’t see the difference, or no, you feel silly chanting, “Bodda Getta Bodda Getta Bodda Getta Bah” or “Rammer Jammer Yellowhammer“. The lowest hanging fruit here is to just pick a side and hang on for dear life.  Note: if you are already a rabid college football fan of another school, you get a shrug.  If it’s an SEC school, you get a pass.  The only mistrusted decision is No thanks, none of the above.

Second, it might be a good idea to conjure up an excuse to have at-the-ready if you don’t really want to hear every detail of the 1972 Punt Bama Punt game, or how Alabama has won a gazillion national championships. “Oh, my! I’m due at the chiropractor, RIGHT NOW” might work. Better yet might be, “Oh, my! I am due to pick up the babyback ribs I ordered for our tailgating!” In that case, you might be met with a “Run, Forrest! RUN!” response.

Third, I offer this really important advice: don’t assume that you know which side one’s bread is buttered on, football wise. We, the residents of Alabama, are all mixed up; and there are divided families everywhere. Just because Dad is wearing an elephant head doesn’t mean Mom isn’t an Aubie groupie, and vice versa. I am the product of a mixed marriage; and I am in a mixed marriage. (A carefully placed Reverse Rammer Jammer might reveal which team I, the author of this Arcara Residential blog, pull for; but it might not be a good idea since the owner of the actual Arcara Residential company yells for the other. Oops.)

Fourth is a piece of helpful information. There is a great sucking sound on Saturday afternoons in the Fall as people migrate to the two college towns of Tuscaloosa and Auburn, to Jordan Hare and Bryant Denny stadiums, and to theater-sized televisions all over the state to watch the big smashmouthed events. The vacuum that is created leaves prime spots open in the best restaurants, shows, movies, and shopping areas, especially when both teams are playing. Especially during the Iron Bowl. You might even get right in at Hot & Hot Fish Club, or maybe navigate nicely with little traffic up Highway 280, or park right outside the door at… well, anywhere not showing the game. But don’t plan something meaningful like a wedding during the game; you might be stunned when even Grandma fakes an illness to see the Big Game.

Fifth, and most important: don’t sweat it. Don’t take it too seriously. Do Auburn and Alabama fans hate each other? Paul Finebaum says yes from his vantage point, and many people agree; no doubt the rivalry is out of hand, with horror stories of disrespectful and downright despicable acts being committed in the names of both teams.

tornado logoBut here’s what is often missed, and often forgotten: when the chips are really down, the good people of the state of Alabama set aside rivalries and come together. When the 2011 tornadoes devastated Tuscaloosa in the worst tragedy our state has suffered in years, the first and biggest relief organization that was formed and ran to the front lines was a grass roots group formed in the heart of Auburn, called Toomers for Tuscaloosa. Had the tables been turned, the good people of Alabama would have done the same for Auburn folks.

There was a time I would have recommended running for the hills, taking up tennis, and avoiding the football madness like the plague.  No more; something strange happened along the way, and the jokes and ribbing became funny again.  Auburn kinda likes being a Cow College, and Alabama fans don’t all have “summer” teeth (some are missing, some are not).  The enthusiasm is contagious; it’s not just anywhere that can pack in 80-90,000 people to watch a practice game in the spring. Something fun is going on here; might as well cash in on the joy.

If all this is too much for your kids to take in, never fear. Among the stacks and stacks of books about Auburn and Alabama football and the surrounding culture, a few books have emerged aimed at helping the kids while they are young. In particular, I have on my reading list When Mommy loves Bama and Daddy Loves Auburn. Whoever wrote that psychological handbook is a genius.

January 6, 2014 marks the end of the 2013 college football season. Between now and then you have plenty of time to perfect your chosen battle cry; a cry that is also a greeting, a celebration, a mark of comradery. Put your hands up, air in the lungs, and haul off with a steady yell…War Eagle! Roll Tide!

You might even find yourself meaning it.

A Pretty Red Dress

The world came crashing down on many residents of Oklahoma yesterday, and it brought back so many heartbreaking memories for Alabama residents; memories of April 27, 2011. Our prayers are with everyone affected by yesterday’s tragedy.

As these storms tear apart lives, homes, and communities, they also yield another powerful outcome: these tragedies seem to bring out the best side of human nature, inspiring neighbors to help neighbors, and strangers to help strangers. Immediately after the 2011 Alabama tornadoes, I had a heartfelt conversation with my grandmother; as she reflected on how a tornado had forever changed her life eighty years before, one thing became very clear. People may feel helpless during these tragedies, and gestures may seem small and meaningless in the face of catastrophic problems, but sometimes the smallest of acts can change the course of a life. My grandmother is proof of that, and here is her story as I wrote it for her just a few weeks before her 2011 death.

One spring day in 1933, despite the hard economic times, somewhere there was a nice lady who decided to donate a pretty red dress to the Red Cross . I know this because that red dress changed the course of my grandmother’s life.

My grandmother, Ollie Smith, was a vivacious young lady with lots of brothers and sisters, strict parents, a natural talent for playing the piano, a hard scrabble existence, and a proud stance against taking charity. Church was the cornerstone of her community, and the Smith Family was well known around Jefferson County, Alabama, to showcase amazingly good throw-down gospel singers. Life in Adamsville had a pretty typical and normal rhythm; until the tornado hit.

That tornado must have been a doozy. If you ask my 96-year-old grandmother today, she can’t tell you what day it is but she sure can describe in vivid detail what it felt like to be caught between the house and the storm pit when that tornado came. She talks about the wind picking her up and dropping her back down, and about the roaring sounds, and about the terror. Her baby brother Fred was not too young to remember later that the tornado carried him acres away from the house and dumped him into a field. There were bumps, bruises, and breaks, but all survived. The house and all their belongings were destroyed; a complete and total loss.

Being in Alabama during the Spring of 2011 has brought to life for me what the days after the 1933 tornado must have been like for the Smith family. Despite their almost fanatical stance against receiving charity, they gracefully and gratefully accepted help from the Red Cross and from generous neighbors; boxes of necessities and clothes came in and a new house went up.

In one of those boxes was a pretty red dress.

Ollie and her sister Mabel scrapped over ownership of that dress, and for some long forgotten reason, Ollie won. When she ventured out to a singing in Republic, I wonder if that red dress gave her some extra swagger up there in front of the congregation. I wonder, too, if the church family felt close, and prayerful, and thankful like we all feel now. I wonder if the reason my grandfather, Calvin Garner, decided to visit that church with his buddies that day was because of the recent storm and the aftermath.

The rest of the story is not up for debate. When Calvin Garner saw Ollie Smith in that red dress, he knew. He had to meet that girl; he had to brave his friends’ warnings that those Smith gals were shielded from rascals like him by the strictest father in the county. He proved his character, ran the gauntlet, and got the girl. The smiling, singing girl in the pretty red dress.

That tornado was eighty years ago, and yet that simple exchange still lives on. The giving. The receiving. The generosity; the gratitude. A garment handed over; a garment worn.

Proof that a simple act of giving can be much more than it seems. A donated red dress can change the course of a life.
ollie calvin bob

May 2013 Tornado Relief

Zombies!

Image credit: antonbrand / 123RF Stock Photo

What is the deal with zombies lately?

I admit, I have always had a thing for zombies, but I have kept that a secret for decades. In my teens, I didn’t admit to my girlfriends when I’d see movies like Return of the Living Dead (tag line: “The dead are back from the grave and ready to party!”) My sweet grandmother, in her uniquely southern dialect, would say “I am walking around like a zombius today”. You say zombie, I say zombius; both are fun words. Mama Ollie, would two be called zombii? And then, of course, there was Thriller.

Lately, I have noticed a national obsession with all things zombie. Except for a scarily named term about foreclosures that haven’t really gone away, called Zombie Foreclosures, I’ve never connected the dots between zombies and a real estate blog. That was true until yesterday, when I ran across a wonderfully fun zombie piece in the biggest real estate blog of all, realtor.com, Eight Zombie-Proof Homes for Living in the Land of The Walking Dead.

The zombie craze has not escaped central Alabama. Zombie fans are anxiously awaiting the date announcement of this year’s Zombie Chase 5K, a fundraiser where the runners are chased through the woods by zombies, all for a good cause. That’s about the only thing that might get me sprinting through the woods these days. In a unique fundraiser, Birmingham’s oldest and most historic cemetery holds Oak Hill Zombie Walk, complete with contests for best make-up, best screams, and best zombie shamble. You don’t have to exercise to enjoy zombies; a zombie movie, Warm Bodies, is at the top of the box office list, and close to the top of the TV list is Walking Dead.

(Author grimaces, holds breath, and types out the words MUST. NOT. MENTION. POLITICS. Sighs.)

Just what is a zombie? The first definition from World English Dictionary is “a person who is or appears to be lifeless, apathetic, or totally lacking in independent judgment; automaton.”

Don’t we all know some of them? And don’t we all feel that way some days? If you are looking for help in finding or selling a home, you won’t get very far with lifeless and apathetic. Maybe we’ll adopt a new tagline, “Arcara Residential: The unzombiest realtors in town”. Or about the market: “Back from the grave and ready to party!”

In honor of this crazy blog entry, we have added to the site a game called Zombie Realtor; you will find it under the “Kids” tab.

In closing, we are passing along a useful chart for anyone wanting to Zombie-proof your home. Arm yourself with Max Brooks’ valuable Zombie Survival Guide and hunker down until summer, when that awful-looking Brad Pitt zombie movie comes out.

Zombie Image credit: antonbrand / 123RF Stock Photo

Make Sure Your Deck is Ready to be Enjoyed!

Tips from The Handyman Connection

Thank you to Handyman Connection for sharing the following tips.

Collapsing decks is a serious problem.

Decks collapse for a variety of reasons but mostly because they were not built correctly, they have not been properly maintained and because they’re too old.

To make sure your deck is safe, look for these warning signs:

  • Missing Connections – Look underneath your deck for missing connections. A deck needs to be built with metal connectors, nails, screws, and bolts. Make sure all of the wood framing under your deck is tied together with metal connectors and that the deck is connected from the house all the way into the ground with metal connectors. The most critical connection of a deck is the ledger, where the deck attaches to the house. Ledger screws or bolts should be used.
  • Loose Connections – Check to see if any railings or stairs are loose. If they are, repair them immediately. Also, check the balusters on the railing and make sure they are spaced less than four inches apart.
  • Corrosion – Connectors, nails and screws can corrode. Look for red rust or other signs of corrosion. Make sure the hardware you use to replace the corroded metal is rated for the outdoors to resist corrosion.
  • Rot – To test the wood on your deck, stick a screw driver in the area of wood you think is rotted. If it appears soft, replace it.
  • Cracks – Look for deck boards with large cracks. Deck boards or posts with large cracks should be replaced.
    Moisture – Flashing is a metal or plastic guard that directs water away from sensitive areas (where the deck and house meet). This keeps moisture and debris from collecting between the house and the deck’s ledger board. Make sure the flashing is sound and firmly in place. If you see areas that collect water, add or replace the flashing.

New Home Construction Picks Up in Birmingham

According to today’s Birmingham Business Journal, new home construction is starting to pick up in Birmingham.

New home construction in the Birmingham area began to thaw in February, according to recent data from the Alabama Center for Real Estate.

The University of Alabama center said 120 single-family home building permits were issued in February, a 9.1 percent increase over January.

Statewide, permits increased 20.5 percent to 659 issued in February over January, the first increase after a 10-month consecutive decline.

Read the entire article at the following link to the Birmingham Business Journal:

http://www.bizjournals.com/birmingham/news/2011/04/20/new-home-construction-picks-up-in.html

Latest Census Information About Alabama…

The 2010 Census Information has been published for our state, with several interesting trends over the past ten years. Arcara Residential is pleased to have many choices of homes in the areas of growth! Do a property search by area to find the latest listings. Here are a few specific areas that line up with what we are seeing:

  • 2010 Census Showed that Calera and Chelsea both grew by 250%.  Check out Shiloh Creek!

  • The Fastest Growing Cities in the Jeffco/Shelby area were:
    (graphic from the Birmingham News)

  • Trussville Boomed! Population growth in Trussville was 54% over the past decade.  Visit the spectacular Brooke’s Crossing for a beauty in Trussville.

  • The three fastest growing “larger” cities (cities that started the decade with populations more than 10,000) were Helena, Trussville, and Pelham.  We are proud to feature neighborhoods in these areas such as Pelham’s Eagle Cove.

  • Hoover population soared 30% over the past decade.  Hoover’s Mayor Petelos attributes the growth to Hoover being a great place to live and raise a family, with one of the better school systems in the state.  It is amazing that million dollar views are still available in this beautiful city, such as you will find at Southpointe Ridge (with full basements, starting at $299,900). 

More detailed information and analysis is available at http://www.al.com/census/news/index.ssf/index.html.

Summer Energy-Saving Tips

Everyone just got a big summer power bill and it is still hot outside. We hope these hints will help you save on your power bill until the cooler weather gets here.

Follow these simple, cost-effective tips to stay cool and reduce summer energy bills:

  • Turn In. Turn On
    ENERGY STAR® qualified room air conditioners use up to 25 percent less energy than a standard new model and up to 40 percent less energy than a model that is more than 10 years old. Look for a high Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER). Units with high EERs cost less to operate. Turn in your old, room air conditioner to your local waste management facility and turn on a new ENERGY STAR air conditioner.
  • Size it Right
    A properly sized air conditioner will operate more efficiently and dehumidify more effectively. An oversized unit will cycle on and off more frequently. Short cycling reduces an air conditioning system’s life, and a short cycling system will not reduce humidity effectively. Undersized equipment can reduce the efficiency of air distribution and accelerate wear on system components, leading to premature failure.
  • No Dirty Business
    A dirty filter will increase energy use and can damage the air conditioner leading to early failures, so check the filter every month and replace as needed.
  • Work in the Morning or Evening
    Use ovens, washing machines, dryers and dishwashers in the early morning or late at night when it’s generally cooler outside. Use a microwave oven to cook, or barbecue outside, if possible.
  • Chill Out in the Shade
    A unit operating in the shade uses as much as 10 percent less electricity than the same one operating in the sun.
  • Don’t Forget the Adoring Fans
    ENERGY STAR qualified ceiling fans can help cool a home without greatly increasing electricity use. They improve airflow and create pleasant breezes.
  • Just Chill When You’re Home
    For central air conditioning, a programmable thermostat allows homeowners to automatically adjust to a more comfortable temperature when they are scheduled to be home. Homeowners can set the temperature to use less cooling when they are normally away. Residents save three percent on energy costs for each degree they turn up the thermostat from 72 degrees. ENERGY STAR window and through-the-wall room air conditioners also typically include programmable thermostats or timers.
  • A Home Needs Shades Too
    Block out heat by keeping blinds or curtains closed during the day, especially on south facing windows.
  • Take the Whole-House Approach
    Houses work as a system. Insulation, heating and air-conditioning, air sealing, water heating, ductwork, windows and doors all work together to determine efficiency. A Home Performance with ENERGY STAR contractor can perform a home energy assessment to help residents map a plan to improve a home’s energy efficiency.
  • Turn It Off
    Save electricity and reduce waste heat by shutting off lights. Seldom used home electronics should actually be unplugged from the wall. Items like DVD players, VCRs and cordless phones use 40 percent of their energy while in the off position to power functions like clocks and remote controls.
    Additional tips for:

APPLIANCES
Use your microwave oven as much as possible in the summer rather than your regular oven. You’ll stay cooler and save energy.
When buying appliances, compare yellow EnergyGuide labels, not just prices, to make sure you buy an energy efficient unit.
The size of your pan should match the size of your burner for the highest efficiency.

  • Dishwashers
    To save even more energy, defer use until off-peak hours, after 6:30 pm and before 9:30 am.
    Put full loads in the dishwasher and use the “energy saving” setting for the drying cycle, or let dishes air dry to reduce energy use.
  • Clothes Washers
    Do your laundry during off-peak hours, after 6:30 p.m. and before 9:30 a.m., and hang your clothes outdoors in the summer.
    When doing your laundry, use a cold water wash on full loads.
    Clean the lint trap regularly to keep it running more efficiently and make sure the exhaust isn’t blocked.
    Horizontal-axis clothes washers (front loaders) are far more gentle and effective on your clothes, and are much more energy efficient when compared to traditional clothes washers.
  • Refrigerators/Freezers
    Defrost your refrigerator regularly so it can operate more efficiently, and do so only on weekends to avoid peak load.
    Vacuum and clean the condenser coils, motor and evaporator pan of your refrigerator once or twice a year, and leave space between your refrigerator and the surrounding walls and cabinets to allow air to circulate around the coils.
    Keep your refrigerator away from the stove and heat registers. By being next to those items, you’re making your refrigerator work twice as hard and decreasing its overall efficiency.
    Test your refrigerator and freezer by placing a thermometer inside for an hour. The reading should be as follows:
    Refrigerator 36-38%
    Freezers 10-15%
    Select a refrigerator/freezer with energy-saving features. It will use 20% less electricity than the standard model, saving you approximately $60 a year.
    Avoid purchasing used refrigerators, as an older refrigerator often uses more than three times the energy of today’s models.
    Make sure the seals on your refrigerator, freezer and oven doors fit tightly.
All information on this website is deemed reliable, but not guaranteed, and may change without notice. Any square footage is approximate.

Property of Arcara Residential, LLC; 771 2nd Street; Helena, AL 35080