Connected homes, connected bodies

Consumers are embracing home automation and mobile, wearable devices

By Stephen V. Smith, Editor

For decades, society has imagined what the future will look like through movies, television, comic books and novels. These images almost always portray people interacting with technology to communicate with one another and control everyday tasks.

In the past five years, that future has moved much closer to reality, thanks to the convergence of several factors:

  1. Tech companies are creating devices that are more affordable and easier to use.
  2. Consumer demand for such technology is increasing (see infographic on right).
  3. Communications networks are delivering the bandwidth necessary to make these devices work.

Several recent news reports reveal just how fast we are moving toward a lifestyle similar to that of “The Jetsons.” The global market research and consulting company MarketsandMarkets published a report in November stating that the value of the home automation and controls market is expected to reach $48.02 billion by 2018. And in January, tech giant Google entered the home automation arena when it bought Nest Labs, the maker of advanced thermostats and smoke/carbon monoxide detectors.

The Ivee,  a voice-activated assistant that controls home automated devices over your Wi-Fi network, was one of the many products that premiered at the Consumer Electronics Show in January.

The Ivee, a voice-activated assistant that controls home automated devices over your Wi-Fi network, was one of the many products that premiered at the Consumer Electronics Show in January.

The future was perhaps most evident at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), held in January in Las Vegas. Dominating the huge conference were new, wearable, connected devices that control, monitor, collect, communicate and share for a wide range of functions (see for highlights).

For any of this technology to work, however, consumers need access to a reliable broadband network. Whether the devices are connecting directly to the Internet, across a broadband-enabled Wi-Fi network in your home or via a cell tower, the network that our independent telecommunications providers are building is making all this functionality possible in rural America. 


Amazing effort

8-year-old girls raise $2,800 for St. Jude

Over the summer, a group of inspiring 8-year-old girls held a charity event to raise money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Madelyn Griffith, her twin cousins Sarah Kate and Sydnee Grace Griffith, Abby McGee and Jonna Graham performed a dance recital in August with the hopes of raising $500.

These friends held a charity dance fundraiser for St. Jude. They are (l to r) Sydnee Grace Griffith, Jonna Graham, Madelyn Griffith, Abby McGee and Sarah Kate Griffith.

These friends held a charity dance fundraiser for St. Jude. They are (l to r) Sydnee Grace Griffith, Jonna Graham, Madelyn Griffith, Abby McGee and Sarah Kate Griffith.

More than a year ago, Madelyn Griffith was inspired to raise money for charity. Sarah Kate and Sydnee Grace Griffith thought it was a fantastic idea, but they weren’t sure what charity they wanted to help.

When February rolled around and Cornerstone Christian Academy held their annual Math-a-thon to raise money for St. Jude, the twins knew what charity they wanted to help. “Our teacher showed a video about how the money we collect helps the children,” recalls Sydnee Grace.

Once the cousins agreed that St. Jude was the perfect charity to support, Sydnee Grace created a donation folder and scheduled dance practices for the group. The five girls would meet weekly to choose music, choreograph dance moves and plan the event. They set a date for the recital to take place, and their parents provided food. The event was held at the twins’ home and about 60 friends and family members of the group were in attendance.  A table was set up with a jar to collect donations.

The girls’ fundraising goal was $500. They said that if they met that goal, they wanted to go to St. Jude’s to deliver the donation.

Before the dancing began, the jar was already full. When the donations were counted at the end of the night, and the announcement was made that the girls had raised more than $1,800 dollars, they went crazy.

“We all jumped in the pool with our clothes on,” says Sarah Kate. “It was amazing.”

To make the evening even more special, the girls tell that while in the pool they all saw a double rainbow in the sky. “It never even rained where we were, but we all saw the rainbow,” says Madelyn.

They believe God was smiling on them.

Word of what the girls had done spread throughout Jackson and DeKalb counties through a couple of newspaper articles. And by the time the girls traveled to Memphis to deliver the money, their donation had grown to $2,800.

Although too young to take a tour of the actual hospital, the group was able to tour the Danny Thomas Pavilion, named for the founder of the hospital. They learned about who the hospital helps and how much money it takes to keep the hospital going.

As they were leaving, the group was really moved by an accidental meeting. “We were getting ready to leave and we saw a girl through the window of the hospital,” says Madelyn.

“She came outside and talked to us,” adds Sarah Kate.

Breanna, a 12-year-old leukemia patient, made a huge impression on the girls. But it was the words of founder Danny Thomas that left the greatest impression. Inscribed above one of the arches in the pavilion is his statement “No child should die in the dawn of life.”


Every donation helps!

You can help the students of Cornerstone Christian Academy raise money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Feb. 14 through Feb. 28, kids in Kindergarten through the 6th grade will be accepting pledges for their annual Math-a-thon. Kids will get a math booklet and you can donate any dollar amount to encourage them to complete the booklet. After two weeks, all donations and booklets are turned in.

Every donation goes to St. Jude to help fund research to cure childhood cancer and for patient treatments. Since they began the Math-a-thon 10 years ago, Cornerstone has raised $28,288!

You can drop off your donation at Cornerstone, or you can donate to the hospital directly by visiting

Call of the wild

By Kerry Scott

 Hank Woodall of Fyffe was only 2 years old the first time he went fishing. By the time he was 6, he was an avid deer hunter. But as an 8-year-old on his first duck hunt, he found his passion.

Hank Woodall, a 13-year-old from Fyffe, started his own business making custom duck calls.

Hank Woodall, a 13-year-old from Fyffe, started his own business making custom duck calls.

“Duck hunting is addictive,” he says. “There’s nothing else like it.”

Woodall’s enthusiasm for duck hunting continued to grow, and just this past year he started his own business making custom duck calls. That would be an accomplishment for anyone, but when you consider that Woodall is a 13-year-old eighth-grader, it’s simply amazing.

Last summer Joey Haymon, a family friend and an ag teacher at Sylvania High School, offered to teach Woodall how to make calls. It wasn’t long after posting pictures of that first call on Facebook that he started getting requests to make custom calls. With the help of his parents Brett and Amanda Woodall, he was able to purchase a lathe, drill press and other equipment necessary to make calls.

Then he was in business.

Alabama Outlaws produces Outlaw Calls from redwood, cedar, maple and other standard woods, along with more exotic woods such as African blackwood and tigerwood. He uses pre-made acrylic inserts, with some calls having either a brass or aluminum band. Eventually, Woodall plans to purchase the equipment to make the inserts, too. He coats each barrel with cyanoacrylate to increase the durability while preserving the wood before waxing to a high-gloss finish.

“With proper care, these calls should last for five or six years,” he says. At $25 to $35 apiece for most woods, that’s quite a deal. Mass-produced calls typically wear out much quicker, says Woodall, and they sell in sporting goods stores for anywhere from $20 to more than $150.

He’s already sold several custom calls to people in places as far away as Oklahoma and Texas. And he’s making a lot of new friends online through his Facebook page for Alabama Outlaws. “About 85 percent of my sales have come from Facebook,” says Woodall. “I would never have been able to reach those people were it not for the Internet. It’s really helped me expand my reach.”

He also uses his broadband connection to research calls, learn the latest hunting techniques and moderate a weekly forum about various hunting topics for kids.

Woodall is even using his business connections to help people. “One of the main goals of Alabama Outlaws is to provide hunting opportunities to kids who may be underprivileged or who just don’t have an adult in their life that can take them hunting,” explains Woodall. “I also want to have a positive influence on everyone I meet. Just recently, I was able to talk with a boy from Wisconsin who had lost his grandfather. He was taking the loss pretty hard. We talked for what seemed like hours and I think he’s doing much better now.”

Outlaw Calls uses a variety of woods and finishes on the barrel of the calls.

Outlaw Calls uses a variety of woods and finishes on the barrel of the calls.

He’s also been in touch with a boy from Oklahoma that Woodall plans to take hunting with him and his father. “We’ve got a hunt in Missouri planned for February and we’ll probably meet him there since that’s closer for him,” he says.

He and his father are planning hunting and fishing trips with the boys from the Long Boys Ranch, which his pastor, Paul Long of Antioch Baptist Church in Fyffe, is starting. “My dad and I will take them one at a time,” he says. “It usually only takes one trip for them to get hooked. It will also give us a chance to be a positive influence, and we’re giving back.”

Ultimately, Woodall would like Alabama Outlaws to host a TV show on one of the outdoor channels where he would take other kids hunting. He says he’d also enjoy traveling, doing call competitions, going to expos (where he would set up a booth and also have church sessions), and introducing youth everywhere to the great outdoors.

Contact Alabama Outlaws
Facebook: search Alabama Outlaws

Designing woman

Malorie Griffith

By Kerry Scott

While most 7-year-old girls were busy playing with Barbie dolls, Malorie Griffith was using Legos to build dream homes or drawing floor plans in a binder she carried with her everywhere. “I was obsessed,” says Griffith with a laugh. “My all-time favorite stores were Lowe’s and Home Depot.”


Malorie Griffith

Her obsession with design stayed with her throughout high school, and after taking some core classes at Northeast Alabama Community College, the Flat Rock native moved to Auburn to attend the university’s design program.

“The classes were grueling,” recalls Griffith. The instructors were tough, but offered lots of real-world experience that would have been hard to come by elsewhere. In fact, when Griffith graduated in 2011, Auburn University’s design school was ranked No. 1 in the nation by DesignIntelligence, a report by the Design Futures Council.

Griffith married her high school sweetheart, Andrew, just before graduating and accepted a position with Yessick’s Design Center in Chattanooga shortly thereafter. Although she loved the job, she didn’t like the time constraints it put on her. “Andrew was traveling for work, and I was gone a lot when he was home,” she recalls. So she decided to venture out on her own.

Griffith Interiors opened in February 2012. “It was a little scary,” says Griffith of becoming a business owner. And she heard from a lot of naysayers. “They told me I would have to move to Atlanta or New York to be successful, but I knew this was my passion and I really believed in my dream.”

Neutral tones and classic furniture pieces are always in style. Personalize a space with accessories and pops of color.

Neutral tones and classic furniture pieces are always in style. Personalize a space with accessories and pops of color.

Her first job was for a family whose home was destroyed in the April 2011 tornadoes. Since then, she’s helped many clients across Sand Mountain and even into Tennessee, whether it’s helping choose paint colors, staging furniture, selecting lighting and finishes for a new home or even starting a home from the ground up.

“Facebook has been an amazing help for my business, too” says Griffith. “I don’t have a company website because Facebook is so much more personal. People can see current projects or look back through photos of previous jobs. And every time someone ‘likes’ my page, it gives me a real boost of confidence.”

It has helped her business grow, since most of her work comes through referrals. “People not only hear about what I’ve done from others, but they can also see photos of the work,” she says.

The same FTC broadband connection she uses to keep Griffith Interiors’ Facebook page up to date also provides necessary tools for research. “I spend a lot of time online,” says Griffith. “While everyone else is watching TV, I’m scrolling through ideas and marking pages.”

Griffith says plants can liven up a room. Here, she pairs one with books, another favorite decorating staple.

Griffith says plants can liven up a room. Here, she pairs one with books, another favorite decorating staple.

Although each design job is completely different, they all start with a consultation where Griffith tries to learn all she can about the project and the client. “I have to read people and try to get inside their mind,” she says. “I use Facebook occasionally to look through photos they have. If they have a Pinterest account, I can sometimes tell their design style. It can be tricky, but it’s a lot of fun getting to know my clients.”

After the consultation and deciding on a budget and style, Griffith gets to work. She scours antique shops, retail outlets, the Internet and specialty stores to find just the right furniture pieces, architectural details, accent pieces, flooring, fixtures or whatever else the job calls for.

“Everyone should love their home,” says Griffith. “You eat and sleep there. You entertain and unwind there. You really want it to be comfortable and functional and represent your style, whatever that may be.”

Once all the work is done, Griffith gets ready for her favorite part — the big reveal. “I love to walk in front of the client facing them as they walk into their home,” she says. “I absolutely love to see their expression when they see the end result. It’s my favorite part of the job.”

While it would be a dream come true to one day have her work featured in a design magazine like Veranda or Architecture Digest, Griffith says she measures true success by the smiles she brings to her clients’ faces. “That’s when I know I’ve succeeded.”

Learn More:
Griffith Interiors

Quick Design Tips

  • Less is more.
  • Declutter.
  • Bring in color through accent pieces. Unless you can afford to replace furniture every 3 to 5 years, it’s better to choose neutral pieces and add pops of color with pillows and throws.
  • Add life to a space with a plant.
  • Rugs can ground a space or define a specific area.
  • Choose simple window treatments.
  • Go light. If everything in a room is dark — walls, furniture and flooring — it can feel gloomy.
  • Don’t be too “matchy-matchy.” If your coffee table is heavy, go with lighter end tables. If you have a heavy bed frame, you don’t want the nightstands to be really heavy.


High school sophomores or juniors could win a trip to Washington, D.C.!

FTC is searching for two outstanding high school students to represent our area in the nation’s capital in June (must be under the age of 18 at time of trip) as part of the FRS Youth Tour sponsored by the Foundation for Rural Service.

bigstock-Vintage-red-suitcase-26647823All-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C.

Tour the Capitol and other landmarks

Meet elected officials, hear speakers, meet teens from across the country and take part in many exciting activities

Applications and an information packet about the program are available from your high school guidance counselor. Applications can also be downloaded at Applications must be turned in by March 3.

For more information, contact Kim Williams at 256-638-2144 or email

To be eligible, at least one parent or legal guardian must be a customer and have active service with Farmers Telecommunications Cooperative or its affiliates.


Be a superhero…

Recycle your old FTC phone books!

Collect old directories and earn money for local schools!

New phone directories will be in mailboxes soon. When you receive it, don’t just throw away your old one. Recycle it and help area schools earn money.

DirectoriesFTC sponsors a Directory Recycling Program each year that helps keep thousands of old phone books from making their way into landfills. Instead, they are recycled into products such as roofing material, packing material, insulation and even new phone books. What’s more, FTC pays participating schools 25 cents for each 2013 or older Northeast Alabama Regional Directory. (Other phone books are accepted, but only FTC directories earn cash for your school.) The schools can use this money toward anything they need.

Everyone can pitch in to help. Gather old FTC directories from your home and business and give them to a student or take them to the school of your choice. Let’s make this the largest phone book recycling effort ever!

Hurry, the last day to turn in phone books to your school is March 7, 2014!

Earn 25¢ for each FTC directory!

Apply for FTC and FRS Scholarships

FTC Scholarship

FTC offers two $2,000 scholarships to students in our service area each year. One scholarship is given to a deserving high school senior, while the other is given to a student enrolled in college. Applications are available from guidance counselors or downloaded from Completed applications must be received at the FTC business office by 4 p.m. on March 10.

FRS Scholarship

Scholarships are also available through the Foundation for Rural Service (FRS). FRS awards 30 scholarships annually worth $2,000 each to high school seniors across the nation. If a senior from the FTC service area is selected, FTC will contribute an additional $500, bringing the scholarship total to $2,500. FRS gives preference to students who plan to return to rural communities to work after graduating. Completed applications must be received at the FTC business office by 4 p.m. on Feb. 19.


To be eligible, at least one parent or legal guardian must be a customer and have active service with Farmers Telecommunications Cooperative or its affiliate.


A very special thanks

By Fred Johnson
Executive Vice President and General Manager

June 14, 2013, was marked by the passing of a distinguished leader in rural electrification. James A. Vann, Jr. was a man of remarkable talent and influence.

Fred Johnson

Fred Johnson

He contributed significantly to Rural America while serving as the leader of a local electric cooperative, the CEO of one of our nation’s leading electric generation and transmission utilities, and a guiding force at the state and national levels of the industry. Mr. Vann was a well respected Director and Past President of the National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corporation and was instrumental in the founding of one of our most important business partners, the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative.

I am indebted to Mr. Vann on a more personal level. He taught me one of the most important professional lessons of my life. It was not a pleasant experience! I must regretfully say that, in my late twenties, I possessed far more confidence than competence. Placed in a position of leadership that, in retrospect, I probably was not prepared for, I was called upon to represent an organization in an important meeting. Though accompanied by two gentlemen far superior to me in age, wisdom and standing, I was assigned spokesman duty. Worse yet, I was prepped for potential controversy and encouraged to “stand my ground.” Mr. Vann led the delegation with whom we were meeting. The meeting did not last long at all and neither did I. It is actually important to note that my position was a correct one; I even expressed it well. My dreadful mistake was in failing to realize that Jim Vann already knew that. In fact, he knew more about the issue than I would ever dream of. There really was no real conflict and the last thing in the world he needed was for some smart aleck upstart like me to “tell him what he needed to know.” Mr. Vann put me in my place and ended the meeting as quickly as it began. In the face of his rebuke, my older and wiser colleagues folded in a heartbeat and threw me under the bus without the slightest hesitation. It remains to this date the most humiliating moment of my professional career — and without a doubt, one of the most important and beneficial!

It is not always those who make us feel warm and fuzzy who contribute the most to our lives. The lesson I learned that day from Mr. Vann had more to do with understanding the importance of proper respect for those who’ve earned such respect than it did with being right or wrong. I will be forever grateful to him for teaching me that lesson even though it took me years to fully understand and appreciate how important it was. That lesson and the wisdom it imparted ultimately made a tremendous difference in my life and in my career. By the way, a short while later, I encountered Mr. Vann in a very close setting. I was terrified. He, however, could not have been more gracious or gentlemanly. It was another lesson from a great man. Having set me on a proper course, there was no need for further rebuke. I’ve learned from others this was the type of person that Jim Vann was. Despite good intentions, I must admit much regret that I failed to personally thank him for his contribution to my life. I have written this article with his family’s permission. I hope the message somehow makes up for at least part of my inexcusable negligence. I am sincerely thankful to Mr. Vann for making a difference in Rural America and in my life.

Baked soup: a family staple

Soup cuts across cultures. Its popularity spans the nation in wintertime and becomes comfort food in every corner of America. This is especially true in the small town of Kirbyton, Ky., when Rebecca Spraggs makes her Baked Soup, a recipe handed down in her family for generations.


Rebecca Spraggs

“I can remember my grandfather making it. Just the thought makes me happy,” she says. “He’d cook it in a great big iron kettle. And when we’d come inside from sledding, it would be ready.”

This soup, as well as others, is part of Spraggs’ repertoire of comfort foods that she brings to the table as a caterer. About a year ago, she and a friend launched Catering by Lorie and Rebecca.

“We both loved to cook, and often did for family and friends,” Spraggs says. “So we started catering out of our houses.” In less than a year’s time, they’ve built up a good client base.

Spraggs says clients often ask for soups when they call. “It’s just good comfort food. People love it. And it makes a hearty meal, too, when we add sandwiches or salads.”

Magic happens when Spraggs stirs the pot of her favorite baked potato soup. As the cheese melts, the flavors of bacon, garlic and onions come together, bringing the pot to a crescendo of comforting flavors. “It’s got just the right amount of texture to make your taste buds happy,” she says. “It’s just wonderful.”

Her lasagna soup is one that sends mouth-watering Italian aromas through the home as it simmers in the slow cooker for hours. And her baked soup cooks in a slow oven allowing the vegetables to absorb the flavors of fork-tender meat, creating a delicious gravy that you can sop up with bread, or use a spoon to get every last bite. There’s something about cooking it in the oven that gives it such good taste, Spraggs adds.

“Soup is just so good. And it’s so easy, you can just throw it together and let it cook all day and you have a full meal, getting all the vegetables and meat you need,” Spraggs says. “You can use leftovers and probably canned goods from your pantry.”

Are you in need of a little comfort? Try one of Spraggs’ recipes and see if it doesn’t bring some warmth to your soul.

Loaded Potato Soup


Loaded Potato Soup

3 pounds potatoes, peeled, cooked and chopped
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
8 cups of half-and-half
16 ounces Velveeta cheese, cubed
White pepper, to taste
Garlic powder, to taste
2 teaspoons Tabasco sauce
Bacon, cooked and crumbled
Green onions, chopped (tops only)
Cheddar cheese, shredded
Sour cream, optional

Melt butter in large pot, slowly add flour and half-and-half. Stir continually until flour is incorporated. Add Velveeta; continue stirring on medium heat until melted. Add potatoes, pepper, garlic, Tabasco, bacon and green onions. Once cheese is melted, turn heat down and simmer for 30 minutes. Serve topped with cheese and sour cream, if desired.

Baked Soup


Baked Soup

1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 cup water
3 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca
2 teaspoons sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 pounds beef stew meat, cut into 1-inch cubes
4 medium carrots, cut into 1-inch chunks
3 medium potatoes, peeled and quartered
2 celery ribs, cut into 3/4-inch chunks
1 medium onion, cut into chunks
1 slice of bread, cubed

In a large bowl, combine the tomatoes, water, tapioca, sugar, salt and pepper. Stir in remaining ingredients. Pour into greased 3-quart baking dish. Cover and bake at 375° for 2 hours or until meat and veggies are tender. Serve with cornbread or corn cakes.

Crock Pot Lasagna Soup

1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
3 cups beef broth (or more, see note)
1 pound ground beef, browned and drained
4-5 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1 tablespoon dried basil
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1 cup V8 juice
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
2 cups uncooked shell pasta
Shredded cheddar cheese, optional

Mix tomatoes and tomato paste in Crock pot. Add broth, beef, garlic, parsley, basil, onion, V8 juice, salt and pepper. Cover and cook on low 7 to 8 hours or on high 4 to 5 hours. Thirty minutes before end of cooking time, add in 1 cup of water and pasta. Stir to combine, cover and continue cooking 30 minutes. Serve topped with cheese, if desired.

Note: If you need more liquid, add extra broth when you add pasta.

Tips for making a super bowl of soup:

  • To lighten up a cream-based soup, use fat-free milk or chicken or vegetable broth.
  • Simmer soup as long as you can. It will only make the flavor better.
  • Don’t saute the vegetables first.
  • Use the freshest ingredients you can find.
  • Do not add salt until the end. Taste as you go.
  • If the recipe calls for chicken broth, and if you have the time, make your own. Use the chicken in the soup or save it to make chicken salad for sandwiches to go with the soup.

Picking a favorite?

By Anne P. Braly
Food Editor


Anne P. Braly

There’s no better way to ward off winter’s chill than holing up inside with a bowl of steaming soup. So lately, I’ve been experimenting and making many different soups. I can’t make up my mind which is best, but I know one thing for sure: using my mother’s old soup pot makes a difference. Not only does it make a good soup, but somewhere in the steam, I swear I can see Momma smiling.

So what’s your favorite soup? For me, it’s West African Peanut Soup. There are many different recipes for this soup, but my favorite is this one that I managed to get from a restaurant in Chattanooga that no longer exists.

West African Peanut Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, very finely diced
2 large green peppers, finely chopped
6 large cloves garlic, minced
1 (28-ounce) can chopped tomatoes with juice
8 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 cup uncooked rice
1 (18-ounce) jar creamy peanut butter
Chopped roasted peanuts (optional)

Heat olive oil in large stock pot over medium-high heat. Cook onion, bell pepper and garlic until lightly browned. Stir in tomatoes with juice, broth, pepper and red pepper flakes. Simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Add rice to soup; stir. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 25 minutes, or until rice is tender. When rice is cooked, whisk in peanut butter, return to a simmer and serve. Garnish with chopped roasted peanuts. Makes about 8 servings.

Email Anne Braly at