Bringing Congress to Rural America

By Nancy J. White
Chief Executive Officer

It’s not often that rural telcos like ours get a chance to share our stories, struggles and successes with a busload of congressional staff members.

So when the Foundation for Rural Service recently brought a group of legislative advisors on a bus tour through East Kentucky and Middle Tennessee, we at NCTC made the best of the opportunity.

These bright, young staffers — most of whom work for representatives and senators on key commerce, technology and communications committees — left Washington, D.C., to visit our part of the country and see what rural broadband looks like firsthand.

The staffers came from across the country, representing places such as Salt Lake City, the Dallas suburbs, Central Florida and the Research Triangle in North Carolina. Before moving to the nation’s capital, many of them lived in big cities, such as Chicago. For some, this bus trip may have been the first time they’d ever visited a rural area like ours.

While in Lafayette, they toured the NCTC data center, the city’s technology park and Macon County General Hospital. They met with some of our local officials. At one stop on the tour, we explained to a few of the staffers the impact our mission has on local residents. We wanted them to see how vibrant our communities are and to meet the great people in our area. We wanted them to hear rural businesses owners, hospital administrators and local officials talk about the importance of a broadband connection.

It’s critical for congressional leaders to understand the challenges cooperatives like ours face in building a network that may cost tens of thousands of dollars each mile, with as few as five customers per mile.
The tour was a great chance to tell them our cooperative’s story: We are providing service in areas that for-profit companies will not serve, and local residents depend on our network to work, play, shop, learn and connect with friends and family. I am proud NCTC could play a role in bringing the congressional delegation to rural Tennessee and Kentucky.

There is much to be excited about as a member of NCTC. As you may recall, we were designated a Smart Rural Community last year. This year, we were named a “Gig-Capable Provider” by NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association. This means NCTC is certified as being able to deliver Internet connection speeds of up to 1 Gbps — that’s 1,000 Mbps. The “Gig” speed you keep hearing about that is coming from the big providers … that impressive service that Google will deliver to Nashville in the future … it is available in many parts of NCTC’s service area today.

Much of that is possible thanks to the broadband stimulus project your cooperative has been working on for three-plus years. I am proud to report that we have completed this progressive construction project — on time and on budget — and that we are delivering advanced telecommunications services across the new fiber optics network.

To hear more good news about your cooperative and the great things happening in our connected communities, please attend our annual meeting on Saturday, Nov. 7, at the Macon County Junior High School. Entertainment begins at noon, and the business meeting starts at 1 p.m. We hope to see you there!

Company News

North Central endorsed as a “Gig-Capable Provider” by NTCA

GIG_SealNorth Central is once again receiving national recognition for the quality of services the cooperative provides to local residents. NCTC was awarded the designation of being a “Gig-Capable Provider” by NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association. Being “Gig Certified” denotes that speeds of up to 1 Gbps, or 1,000 Mbps, are available from NCTC.

NTCA is an organization representing nearly 900 independent, community-based telecommunications companies and their interests in national government affairs. North Central is one of only 23 cooperatives to be initially “Gig-Certified” by NTCA.

“After being honored as a Smart Rural Community by NTCA in 2014, it’s an incredible accomplishment to be recognized as a ‘Gig-Capable Provider,’” says Nancy White, CEO of North Central. “It’s a testament to the hard work of our employees and their commitment to make our community a better place.”

Santa is ready for your calls and emails!

Hey, Kids! Santa and his elves are busy getting ready at the North Pole, so don’t forget to call or email your Christmas list to Santa this year! Call 615-67-SANTA (615-677-2682) or email your list to St. Nick at santa@nctc.com. North Central will make sure Santa gets your list this season!

NCTC adds broadband to new area communities

Those living in North Central’s service area have access to some of the fastest Internet speeds available — faster than the speeds that can be found in many large cities.
Areas where broadband is currently available include: Lafayette, Maple Grove, Fairgrounds, Golf, Bledsoe Creek, Harris, Bethpage, Westmoreland, Pleasant Shade, Siloam, Barefoot, Clark Hollow, Oakgrove, Hogback, Fairfield, Defeated, Womack, School, Crosslanes, Keystone, East (Galen Road) and Memaw.
NCTC is working on the Petroleum area near Adolphus, Kentucky, and hopes to have broadband available in December.

Your shows are on the move with Watch TV Everywhere

You don’t have to leave your favorite television shows, movies and sports behind while you’re away from home this winter. TV Everywhere from NCTV gives members the ability to catch all the biggest games on channels like ESPN and the NFL Network. Plus, channels like Hallmark, Lifetime and ABC Family broadcast hundreds of timeless holiday movies this season. By using Watch TV Everywhere from North Central, you can view your TV shows anytime and anywhere — from home computers, smartphones and tablets. Wherever you go, your favorite TV shows go with you.

Watch NCTV for all the local Christmas parades this season

Stay warm without missing any holiday festivities this winter! NCTV subscribers can enjoy all of the area’s Christmas parades from the comfort of their homes. Each of the area parades will be shown, including Lafayette, Red Boiling Springs, Westmoreland, Scottsville and Bethpage. Check the NCTV listings for the dates and times of each parade

With broadband, Macon County General Hospital performs like a big-city hospital in small-town Lafayette

By Patrick Smith

Editor’s note: This story is the sixth in a series of articles highlighting NCTC’s Smart Rural Community award from NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association.

It’s not often the credit for someone’s good health goes to an Internet connection. But for Macon County General Hospital, the broadband connection helps the staff save lives.

Unlike many rural hospitals, MCGH is equipped with fiber optic technology. The service from North Central allows the hospital to provide services usually unavailable in small towns, such as telemedicine and better digital imaging files. Also, it has the ability to send and receive large amounts of information with ease.
“It used to take 45 minutes to send big files,” says Chief Financial Officer Thomas Kidd. “Now, it’s measured in seconds. Broadband has been a huge benefit to us. We’re able to treat patients here in our community, rather than send them out of town.”

The hard work being done at MCGH has not only been recognized locally, but also nationally. The hospital was among the first six named a Stage 1 Meaningful Use Hospital by Healthcare Management Systems. This designation highlights MCGH’s ability to deal with payments and electronic records. The hospital is also recognized as a critical access hospital, a designation held by only 16 Tennessee hospitals.

Additionally, the ability for MCGH to provide higher-quality care through fiber is one of the reasons North Central was recently acknowledged as a “Smart Rural Community” by NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association. NTCA developed the Smart Rural Community award as a way to recognize cooperatives that are promoting and using broadband networks to foster innovative economic development, education, health care and government services.

Crucial care at home

For a stroke victim, minutes matter. For a woman waiting on the results of a mammogram, minutes matter. And for a patient who has just broken a leg, minutes matter — and broadband is helping MCGH treat each of these symptoms and patients more quickly and easily.

Through a telemedicine machine, a patient connects to a doctor at a nearby hospital. The doctor performs a general assessment and recommends the best course of action.

Telemedicine is particularly useful for stroke victims. Without a broadband connection, local stroke patients would be transported to Nashville or another large city nearby. But with the first minutes after a stroke being the most crucial, telemedicine can mean the difference between a full recovery and a much rougher road for a patient.

With advancements in digital mammography and X-rays, MCGH patients are also able to receive their diagnoses more quickly. Prior to broadband, if someone broke their leg on a Friday, it would be Monday before their X-ray could be read. Now, with the high-speed connection, the X-ray is sent to an on-call radiologist at a nearby hospital and read almost immediately.

“Broadband gives you a secure feeling that we can do a lot of things here that other rural hospitals simply can’t do,” says Kidd. “It’s not necessary to drive 60 or 80 miles away for care anymore.”

Bold leadership

Cato veteran uses the Battle of Mogadishu and ‘Black Hawk Down’ to inspire

By Patrick Smith

For the soldiers of Operation Restore Hope, the morning began with the promise of a day off. Then the orders came. Troops would converge on the Olympic Hotel in downtown Mogadishu, Somalia, capture the accomplices of warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid, and return to base. But missions don’t always go as planned.

During the expedition, Somali militia shot down two Black Hawk helicopters. The resulting mission to secure and recover the crews of both helicopters turned into an overnight standoff.

Trapped in a hail of gunfire on the streets of the Bakaara Market, U.S. Army Ranger Keni Thomas had his moment of epiphany. Sgt. 1st Class Earl Fillmore had been shot. Thomas saw that the sergeant needed to be evacuated and went to radio for assistance. When he returned seconds later, Fillmore, a Delta Force operator, was dead.
“When the first guy gets hit, it snaps you into a whole new level of reality,” says Thomas. “Now, I knew what my mission had become. My mission was not about the crash site, or the greater glory of the Ranger regiment, or the medals, or the CNN headline story — my mission became making sure my team survived.”

By the end of the assault that began Oct. 3, 1993, 18 Americans had died, 73 were wounded and one helicopter pilot was captured. The heroic actions of Thomas and his fellow soldiers were immortalized in the book and movie, “Black Hawk Down.”

Today, Thomas can list many titles after his name. Songwriter. Author. Minister. Analyst. Singer. Pilot. Actor. Counselor. Veteran. But the calling keeping him the busiest is gifted motivational speaker.

While some may struggle to move past a horrific experience, Thomas hasn’t let it define him. He describes the battle in speeches across the country. In the 22 years since the bloodshed, Thomas crisscrosses the country, preserving the story of his fellow soldiers and honoring the memory of those who died.

Becoming a ranger

When Thomas graduated from the University of Florida in 1989 with a degree in advertising, tensions between the United States and the Middle East were heightened prior to the Gulf War.

Thomas started visiting recruiters, hoping to become a pilot. But since being a pilot is a coveted position, there was a waiting list. Eventually, Thomas enlisted in the U.S. Army and chose to follow in the footsteps of his father, pursuing a path as a Ranger.

Two years after enlisting, Thomas experienced what became one of the most debated military operations of the 1990s, due in part to conflicting motivations as to why the U.S. was involved, and the resulting military and political fallout.

But regardless of the national ramifications, Thomas focuses on the men who he fought beside for 18 hours. He chooses to emphasize the qualities of character that create leaders. “I think about that battle every day, and I constantly think, ‘Did I do the right thing?’” said Thomas, during a recent speech to educators at Angelo State University in San Angelo, Texas. “Because when it’s your time, you want to know you did everything right. You don’t want to have regrets. And if you sent me back in, given the same circumstances, I promise you, I would do everything exactly the same. Because you train as you fight, and you fight as you train, and you lead by example.”

After the battle, Thomas received several honors, including the Bronze Star for Valor. Before his military career was complete, he totaled more than 400 parachute jumps, earning his Master Parachute wings and the rank of Staff Sgt. But prior to leaving the military, during his time stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia, Thomas began pursuing another passion: music. Thomas had promised himself if he could pay the rent with money from music, he would pursue it full time. By 1997, it was time to get out of the military.

Actor, musician, speaker

Accompanied by his band, Cornbread, Thomas hit the road touring. It wasn’t always glamorous, but he found recognition as a performer, and his music resonated with audiences.

Following the success of the Mark Bowden book “Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War,” Thomas was asked to consult for the film adaptation. The Hollywood script features a conglomeration of actual events and words, melded into the characters viewers see in the 2001 movie. The character playing Thomas in the movie isn’t an accurate portrayal of him on the battlefield, but he doesn’t mind. Turns out, the movie helped set a new course for him as a public speaker.

“The story just kept resonating with people, and I learned how to tell it better,” says Thomas, who often spends time at his small farm near Cato, Tennessee. “Today, the story isn’t about ‘Black Hawk Down’ anymore. It’s just a story of people taking care of each other in extreme situations.”
A charismatic personality with the ability to weave humor, humility and gravity into his speeches, Thomas is a born motivational speaker. Themes like planning, training, leadership and teamwork are repeated in his speeches to thousands of people each year.

In his life outside of speaking, he’s seen success as both a musician and actor. He’s played at the Grand Ole Opry. His song “Not Me” charted on the Billboard 200, and he’s made appearances in a handful of movies and television shows. Yet, despite his success, Thomas remains humble and is aware of his duty to honor those who served.

On Oct. 28, 2009, Thomas was chosen to open the first game of the World Series by singing the National Anthem. He performed flawlessly in front of a sellout crowd of more than 50,000, and millions watching at home.
Then, just a few days after singing in New York, Thomas stood in front of a small gathering of veterans at a bank in Lafayette, speaking about his time in the military.

“The only way I know to help people deal with their service is to speak about my experiences,” says Thomas. “WWII veterans deserve our help. All veterans deserve our help. And the reason why most veterans will never say no is because we know at the drop of a hat, that it could have been us.”

This November, please join NCTC in thanking all the veterans of the community, not only on Nov. 11, but also throughout the year.

Broadband may be the greatest health care innovation for rural America

NTCA Logo

By Shirley Bloomfield, CEO
NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association

When we talk about the impact of broadband Internet access, we often focus on its importance to economic development, business growth and such. While it is absolutely an economic driver, broadband may also be just what the doctor ordered for rural America.

You will sometimes hear it referred to as telemedicine; other times, telehealth. Whatever you call it, the use of broadband technology is changing the way health care is delivered. And I believe we are only seeing the beginning.

For example, electronic medical records are allowing doctors to streamline care, especially for patients in rural areas. A patient who normally visits a rural clinic can be confident that their health information is accurate and up-to-date when they visit a regional hospital.

I wrote in the previous issue of this magazine about aging in place, noting that technologies such as videoconferencing, remote health monitoring and X-ray transmission are helping rural seniors stay at home longer. But the aging population is just one segment that can benefit from broadband-enabled applications.

Recently, I attended a technology showcase that focused on the interconnection between technology providers, health care providers and innovation in telemedicine. It was a fascinating conference that left my mind spinning with the possibilities for rural health care delivery.

We heard from a rural telecommunications provider who said small telcos are often too small to get the main contracts from the base hospitals, but that they have an important role in providing the local infrastructure and having the construction team on the ground. This has helped build the case for having a role in the large clinic and university hospital contracts in the future.

Hugh Cathey of the innovative company HealthSpot provided a real glimpse into what broadband can mean to all segments of society. His company has kiosks in several Rite Aid drug stores in Ohio where patients can walk in and be face-to-face with a healthcare professional via a video screen. These stations come outfitted with everything you need to receive a wide variety of remote treatments. The HealthSpot network has seen thousands of patients since May, for ailments such as allergies, cold and flu, bronchitis, cough, rashes, sore throat and fever.

With applications such as these, it’s easy to get excited about what the future holds for telemedicine. And with the great work being done by your telco and others like it who are building world-class broadband networks, we can know that rural America will not be left behind in this evolution.

Easy steps to help stop telemarketing calls!

If you are like most consumers, you are tired of being disturbed by telemarketing calls. There is help.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) have established a National Do Not Call Registry. Joining this registry can drastically reduce the number of telemarketing calls you receive.

Here are some important facts about the list:

  • Once registered, telemarketers have 31 days to stop calling your number.
  • You can register up to three non-business telephone numbers. You can register cell phone numbers; there is not a separate registry for cell phones.
  • Your number will remain on the list permanently unless you disconnect the number or you choose to remove it.
  • Some businesses are exempt from the Do Not Call Registry and may still be able to call your number. These include political organizations, charities, telephone surveyors and businesses that you already have a relationship with.

Strict Federal Trade Commission rules for telemarketers make it illegal to do any of the following regardless of whether or not your number is listed on the National Do Not Call Registry:

  • Call before 8 a.m.
  • Call after 9 p.m.
  • Misrepresent what is being offered
  • Threaten, intimidate or harass you
  • Call again after you’ve asked them
    not to

Adding your number to the Do Not Call Registry is easy!
Register online at www.donotcall.gov or call 888-382-1222
For TTY, call 866-290-4236
You must call from the telephone number you wish to register.

Attention local business owners: You can be penalized for not following these FCC rules

When people think of telemarketing phone calls, they usually imagine them coming from distant call centers. But local businesses that make phone calls to customers or potential customers should be aware that the same National Do Not Call Registry rules and regulations apply to them.
The Do Not Call initiative, regulated by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), requires telephone service providers to notify customers of the National Do Not Call rules and regulations.

If you are a company, individual or organization that places telemarketing calls, it is very important that you familiarize yourself with the operations of the National Do Not Call Registry. Unless you fall under one of the established exceptions, such as telemarketing by charitable organizations or for prior business relationships, you may not make telemarketing calls to numbers included in the National Do Not Call Registry.

For information regarding National Do Not Call regulations, visit the National Do Not Call registry at www.telemarketing.donotcall.gov. You can find the Federal Communications Commission and Federal Trade Commission rules governing telemarketing and telephone solicitation at 47 C.F.R. § 64.1200 and 16 C.F.R. Part 310, respectively.

Beware of sales calls disguised as surveys

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says they have received numerous complaints from individuals who report receiving deceptive sales calls. The callers identify themselves with Political Opinions of America and ask you to participate in a brief survey, usually consisting of about three questions. After answering the questions, the individual is transferred to someone offering them a bonus for participating in the survey — usually a sales pitch for a time-share disguised as a “free vacation.”

The FTC warns that if the purpose of the call is to try to sell something — even if it includes a survey — it is telemarketing and all Do Not Call Registry rules apply.

If you believe a call violates the FTC rules against telemarketing, you can file a complaint by calling 888-382-1222 or go to donotcall.gov.

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 … plainchicken.com.

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 plainchicken.com. 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:

www.brittanyspantry.com
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.

www.iamafoodblog.com
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.

www.southernbite.com
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.”