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Teens and distracted driving: Adults must be role models for young drivers

By Donna Bayless and Sharon Winter

Have you ever followed a car that was weaving all over the road and thought, “I bet that person has been drinking?” Maybe you pulled up next to them at a red light and realized, instead, they were on their phone.

We know we shouldn’t drive when drinking. Why do we think it’s OK to drive when we’re on our phone?

Maybe because our phones are our lifeline to the outside world. Think of them this way: Our phones are a movie theater, mailbox, library, sports arena, newspaper, GPS, weather guy, calendar and a huge party with all our friends and acquaintances rolled into one tiny little box.

Now, it’s one thing if you miss some dialogue from tonight’s episode of “This is Us” because you’re texting your best friend your plans for the weekend. You can always rewind the DVR, right?

But what if you take that need to look at your phone every five minutes into the car with you and you miss a stop sign? Or the car in front of you that stopped suddenly to avoid hitting the black lab that darted into the road? You can’t hit rewind on a car crash.

Driving = freedom

For most teens, getting their driver licenses equates to freedom.  Jackson, a junior at Hewitt Trussville High School, says he loves having a car and a license because it means he can drive to visit his girlfriend, friends, and even to see his grandparents across town. 

We met Jackson because we teach safe driving to both corporate audiences and at a defensive driving school we operate in Franklin, Tennessee.

Most teenagers that we talk to never want to be responsible for hurting someone, either physically or emotionally. When we’ve talked about the aftermath of a potential crash, where they would be at fault, teenagers consistently go back to the emotion of the event. How would that make my grandmother feel if I was responsible for a crash that hurt someone else? Or my parents?  Or my friends? What would my life be like if I killed my best friend? What would I say to his parents? How could I live with that?

By helping teenagers get in touch with those emotions, we can help them make better decisions when they drive.

We fear that we, as adults, have unknowingly taught our children that you start the ignition, buckle the seatbelt, put the car in gear, and pick up the phone, in that order. Because it’s not just teens on their phones. We adults are addicted to our phones. Is this the behavior we want our young teen drivers to imitate?

Parents must set the example

So, what can parents do? Parents must set the precedent for safe driving. If a dad thinks nothing of going 90 mph down the interstate, then his daughter will think that’s OK, too. If a mom decides to send a quick text from the car, then the son will never see a problem with using his phone when he drives.

Parents must be the first ones to draw the line on distracted driving and put their phones on Do Not Disturb. Only then, will they be able to encourage their kids to hang up and drive.

Secondly, and critically important, parents must not expect their teenagers to answer their phone when they’re driving. This is the number one complaint we hear from teens about their parents: “My mom gets mad at me if I don’t pick up the phone or if I don’t immediately respond to a text. Even when I’m driving.” We suggest you develop a family agreement that there is never an expectation that teens answer a phone call or text when they’re driving.

And lastly, when we learned to drive in the 1980s, our biggest obstacle was learning how to use the clutch when starting from a stop — especially on a hill. We never had to worry about missing a phone call from parents or boyfriends because we were driving our cool cars. Oh, the freedom!

Which brings us to a lost skill set and maybe a great opportunity for parents. Get your teens a standard transmission vehicle. Both hands are busy driving and perhaps there will be more focus on the road.

Research shows it takes around 21 days to make a habit. Your family could make a conscious decision to put the phone out of reach for three weeks when driving. The pull of the ping of a notification or the ring of a phone is powerful, and it takes strong willpower not to give in. So, turn on the Do Not Disturb. Use it only for GPS, letting the verbal directions guide you.

And then when you get to where you’re going, call back those people who love you and want you home tonight. Or even the client or boss who counts on you to be there for them every day. In other words, call back when you can focus on them and not when you are focused on driving.

Be focused.  Be safe.

Sharon Winter and Donna Bayless are founders of RightLane, a training company based in Brentwood, Tenn., that offers seminars on safe driving nationwide. RightLane also operates a defensive driving school in Franklin, Tenn.


Alabama law restricts the youngest drivers from using any handheld communication device. The state law also restricts all drivers from texting and driving.

The Hands-Free Georgia Act took effect July 1. The law requires drivers to use hands-free technology when using cell phones and other electronic devices while driving.

Beautiful, hardy, adaptable and local: Ten native plants that feel like home

Passionflower vines can provide stunning blooms and a sense of place to our home landscapes. The purple passionflower (Passiflora incarnata), commonly known as the maypop, suggested by Kaul Wildflower Garden curator John Manion, is native to Alabama. It is among a number of passionflower species readily available in a variety of colors, such as this red one, at garden centers in the state. Passionflowers are magnets for butterflies and can be grown on trellises or other structures, but also look fabulous climbing up a tree or scrambling across rocks and stones.

Native plants, those denizens of Alabama’s natural terrain, are increasingly popular choices for Alabama’s cultivated landscapes. And well they should be, because they are as necessary to our wellbeing as they are beautiful to our eyes.

Alabama is home to some 4,000 different species of native plants, 28 of which grow only in our state, and we are ranked fifth in the nation for plant biodiversity. While some of these plants are endangered and protected, many are readily available for use in our gardens. So many, in fact, that it may be hard to choose which ones to plant.

To get some advice on making those selections, I turned to John Manion, curator of the Birmingham Botanical Gardens’ Kaul Wildflower Garden. As curator, Manion tends the largest collection of native plants in the state — about 900 at last count — but he also tends to the education of others by sharing his knowledge as often as possible, and sharing it with delightful and compelling enthusiasm.

Manion’s enthusiasm stems from several factors, chief among them the roles native plants play in our ecosystem. “Until a few decades ago, the image of native plants was sort of kumbaya and peasant shirts,” Manion says. “But they have really come to the fore now as people have begun to understand that native plants are essential to our survival.”

According to Manion, the book Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants by Doug Tallamy, which eloquently explains humankind’s interconnectedness with native plants and the other animals they support, was a major catalyst for this growing appreciation of native plants.

It doesn’t hurt their popularity, though, that native plants can also make the hard work of gardening easier. Manion noted that this doesn’t mean natives are easier to establish than other plants, but once they are established, natives requires less attention because they tend to be drought and pest tolerant and longer lived, among many other fine attributes.

“They have evolved here over thousands of years, so they are well adapted to Alabama’s growing conditions,” Manion explained. “Natives just know what to do.”

But natives have another huge plus for Manion — they feel like home. “These plants are part of where we are,” he says. “I have nothing against other plants, but I personally want plants that feel and look like I am in Alabama.”

So how can you begin to surround yourself with plants that feel like home? Start with a few native plants that are as adaptable as they are beautiful, for which Manion offered suggestions. He actually offered lots of suggestions, and sang the praises of each, but in this limited space here are simply the names (common and scientific) of 10 plants he adores, all of which tolerate a variety of growing conditions, are easy to find in retail outlets and, best of all, are gorgeous.

In the groundcover category, Manion recommended green-and-gold (Chrysogonum virginianum), pussytoes (Antennaria plantaginifolia) and yellowroot (Xanthorhiza simplicissima). If you’re interested in flowering perennials, try an herbaceous native such as lance-leafed coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolate), Stokes aster (Stokesia laevis) and ironweed (Vernonia fasciculata).

Looking for a native vine? Manion suggested coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirus), passion flower (Passiflora incarnata) and climbing hydrangea (Decumaria barbara). Ferns, such as the Christmas (Polystichum acrostichoides) and southern shield (Thelypteris kunthii) ferns, and grasses, such as woodoats (Chasmanthium sessiliflorum), are also great choices for a variety of uses and environments.

The Kaul Wildflower Garden, which has more than six acres of native plants to wander among. Or if you’re interested in growing your knowledge of native plants, consider signing up for Manion’s Certificate in Native Plant Studies program. You can learn more at bbgardens.org.

Katie Jackson is a freelance writer and editor based in Opelika, Alabama. Contact her at katielamarjackson@gmail.com.

Understanding appliance energy use

By Pat Keegan and Brad Thiessen

Q: Several of my appliances are getting old and will need to be replaced soon. Will the appliance choices I make have much impact on my energy bill?

A: Your energy use varies month to month, so it can be difficult to see how much difference an appliance purchase makes. It’s best to view the purchase over the lifetime of the equipment. Think about the up-front cost and the lifetime energy cost. In a Consumer Reports test, the most efficient refrigerator used $68/year less electricity than the least efficient model. Multiply that difference over a decade or two, and the lifetime energy savings could be greater than the up-front cost. All it takes to get the best appliance for your needs is some initial research.

Appliance energy use is usually less, on average, than home heating and cooling bills, but can be several hundred dollars each year. Your appliance use depends on factors like the model, how often you use it, the settings you use for its particular function and even the time of day it is most used.

Over the last few decades, new appliances became more energy efficient, driven partly by minimum government standards. These standards, created by the U.S. Department of Energy, save consumers over $60 billion each year. Appliances are required to include an Energy Guide label that shows estimated energy use and operating cost per year. These labels help you compare different models and calculate the initial cost against the long-term savings.

Some appliances will also have an ENERGY STAR label. This indicates the appliance is substantially more efficient than the minimum standard. Your greatest energy savings opportunities can come from replacing an old appliance with an ENERGY STAR-rated appliance. Removing a refrigerator that’s 20 years old and replacing it with a new ENERGY STAR model can lower the monthly electricity cost by 75 percent, from $16.50 to less than $4.

In some cases, the configuration of the appliance can also make a substantial difference. For example, a side-by-side refrigerator/freezer uses about 70 percent more energy than other configurations, with all the most efficient models having the refrigerator stacked on top of the freezer. All 36 of the most efficient clothes washers of 2018 were frontloading models.

Consider how much you use the appliance. The more you use the appliance the greater your savings will be from choosing a more efficient model. If you use the appliance less or have a small household, you may get by with a smaller refrigerator or freezer, which will save you money.

How you operate appliances can also make a difference. Here are some easy ways to save:

Refrigerator/Freezer:

• Set your refrigerator at 35 to 38 degrees and your freezer at 0 degrees.

• Make sure there is adequate air flow between the wall and the back of the unit.

• Keep the refrigerator relatively full when possible.

• Replace the seals around the doors if they appear to be leaking air.

• Defrost the refrigerator and freezer regularly.

A new ENERGY STAR fridge/freezer can use 70 percent less energy than a model that’s 10+ years old. Models with the fridge stacked over the freezer are also 2/3 more efficient than side-by-side models. PHOTOS Source: Pixabay, Creative Commons

Stove/Oven

• Use the correct size of burner to fit the pan.

• Use smaller appliances like a microwave or slow cooker instead of the oven when possible.

To maximize energy savings when using your stovetop, be sure to match the size of the pot to the burner.

Dishwasher

• Use the most energy-efficient and shortest setting that gets your dishes clean.

• Air dry rather than using the heated dry function.

• Wait to run a load until the dishwasher is full.

All the most efficient 2018 models of washers and dryers were front-loading.

Make the most out of your appliance energy use with a little research before buying a new model and a few easy adjustments to the way you use them.

This column was co-written by Pat Keegan and Brad Thiessen of Collaborative Efficiency. For more information on saving energy on your appliances, please visit: www.collaborativeefficiency.com/energytips.

Patrick Keegan writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington, Va.-based service arm of the nation’s 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives. Write to energytips@collaborativeefficiency.com for more information.

Fishing for bass in the grass? Throw a frog!

Rigged with the hook inserted into the plastic, a buzzing frog like this Stanley Ribbit works well for tempting largemouth bass in extremely weedy areas. Photos by John N. Felsher

By John N. Felsher

Even on the hottest summer days, many giant largemouth bass stay in extremely shallow water if they can find cooling, well-oxygenated cover.

In many Alabama lakes, grass grows extremely thick and matted by late summer. Lunker largemouths often burrow into the thickest vegetation they can find. Thick weeds block the broiling sun and provide shade, which drops water temperatures. Also, aquatic grasses give bass a much needed oxygen boost. In addition, the grass attracts not only bass, but sunfish, minnows, frogs and many other creatures that largemouths love to eat.

When faced with impenetrable vegetation mats, some anglers fish around the edges with various lures. They catch fish, but many of the biggest bass lurk under the thickest growth where most lures cannot reach. But buzzing a frog across the grass tops can provoke adrenaline-pumping strikes. Sometimes, giant bass erupt through the vegetation, engulfing the bait, weeds and everything else with explosive strikes on top.

“Nothing is more exciting than a big fish blowing up on a topwater bait – except two big bass blowing up on a topwater bait,” says Jake Davis with Mid-South Bass Guide Service who fishes Lake Guntersville.

“When grass gets too thick, I go to a frog. In many places on Lake Guntersville, weeds get so thick that it’s impossible to get any other bait through it. Bass will eat about anything that moves over the grass tops.”

Rich in protein, frogs create prime forage for largemouth bass in most Alabama waters. The bucket-mouthed predators routinely hunt in the thickest weeds or lily pads they can find. Usually rigged without a weight, soft-plastic frogs look like natural prey as they skitter across dense salads. Bass see these lures silhouetted against the sky and slobber to attack them.

“Frogs are one of the primary forage species for bass,” says Lonnie Stanley, a five-time Bassmaster Classic veteran and legendary lure designer. “If a bass could order its food off a menu, it would probably pick crawfish first, frogs second and shad or bream third. Frogs give bass plenty of protein.”

Some frogs float and some sink. Some come with upturned hooks that glide over the grass tops. With others, anglers insert the hook points into the plastic bodies to make them weedless. Anglers can fish either type with a steady buzzing retrieve over the grass mats. The kicking legs and feet create a sputtering commotion on the surface where most other lures would quickly snag.

Toss a sinking frog to thick cover. Hold the rod tip high and crank the reel just fast enough to make the legs kick. When the frog hits a patch of open water, let it sink a few seconds like a stunned or injured amphibian before pulling it back to the surface and resuming the retrieve. Bass frequently slurp frogs as they sink.

Work floating frogs more like traditional topwater baits. Anglers can make a steady retrieve, pausing occasionally, or use the “hop and pop” method. Toss a floating frog to a good spot and let it sit on the surface until the concentric rings dissipate. Then, pop it vigorously. The commotion simulates a live frog jumping across the surface. Let the frog sit idle again for a few seconds before popping it again.

“Throwing a frog is a tremendous way to fish grass throughout the year,” says Shaw Grigsby, a professional bass fisherman. “A buzzing frog is like a buzzbait that you can throw anywhere in the middle of the thickest vegetation. It comes through cover like a four-wheel drive truck. It’s a very simple bait to use, but it’s a bait that can produce really big fish. Bass come out from under the lily pads or grass beds to eat it. When a big bass explodes on a frog, there’s nothing more exciting.”

Anglers can entice bass in any Alabama lakes, ponds or with thick vegetation and big fish. Some better lakes for buzzing a frog include Guntersville, Pickwick, Wheeler, Jordan, Logan Martin, Lay and Eufaula. Frogs can also entice bass in the weedy backwaters of many Alabama rivers and the marshy flats of the Mobile-Tensaw Delta. In the brackish parts of the Mobile-Tensaw Delta, anglers might tangle with a few tackle-busting redfish who also want to gulp down a succulent frog.

This month, when even the air seems to sweat, catch the buzz. Work a frog across the thickest cover around and hold on!

John N. Felsher lives in Semmes, Ala. Contact him through Facebook.

A bass fights for freedom after hitting a frog worked through lily pads.

Hardy Jackson’s Alabama: My cousin Benny and the snake: Or, yes, we can all get along

If you pay any attention to the news today, you are getting a belly full of stories of how divided we are.  It is as if everyone is bound and determine to take the “united” out of United States.

Well, friends, I am here to offer you a ray of hope.

My cousin Benny.

Now Benny doesn’t talk politics much. He once observed, “I’m not what you call a liberal,” but that was as far as he went.

Benny spent his life in law enforcement, and he tends to see issues in that context. Break the law and you go down. Not much gray area there.

If you have an urge to go someplace you shouldn’t, and want to come out alive, take Benny. Well over six feet tall and carrying 250-plus pounds, he is much a man. Curly blond hair going gray, matching mustache and goatee, he has an affinity for black t-shirts embossed with slogans like “kill ‘em all and let God sort ‘em out” and “careful, contents under pressure.”

Like me, he is getting up in years, but in his younger days, when he got home from work, he’d go out riding on his bicycle.  Helped him unwind.

Now Benny likes snakes. Well, actually, he likes to kill snakes, skin them, and cure the hides. Don’t ask why, just keep up with me.

One day, late summer, Benny was pedaling along when he saw a rattlesnake in the road. Naturally Benny took out his derringer (if Benny has on clothes he has a gun) and shoots at the snake. He misses. So, he tries to run over it. The snake takes this none too kindly and bites the tire, hangs a fang, and is caught fast.

Picture the scene (visuals are important here). A massive man who looks like a fugitive from rednecks-R-us rolling a bike back and forth over a snake with its fangs hung on the tire.

Up drives this black couple. They see the situation and the man, like any good Southerner would, asks Benny, “You need any help?”

“Got a gun?” Benny asked. (Not a dumb question, down in Dixie. ‘Course he does.)

The black man pulls out a .40-caliber automatic, hands it to good ‘ol boy personified, who takes it and shoots the snake — a head shot. Impressed, the black man asks the white man if he’d like a drink.

‘Course he would.

Snake killing is hot work.

So, the black man reaches in his cooler, and pulls out a “Big Orange” for each of them.  Then the black man, the black woman, and the white man kick back, cool off, and talk about snakes and guns and stuff.

Now that, dear hearts, is how to get along.

Find a common ground, celebrate, enjoy.

We need more of that.

Harvey H. (Hardy) Jackson is Professor Emeritus at Jacksonville State University and a regular contributor to Alabama Living. He can be reached at hjackson@cableone.net.

Snapshots: First Day of School

The Holmes Family. Dad is a full-time firefighter going to law school and mom homeschools all 5 children. SUBMITTED BY David W. Philpott, Jackson’s Gap.

Bailey and her Daddy dropping off for her first day of 4th grade. SUBMITTED BY Tara Woods, Montgomery.

Honee’s first day of doggy daycare. She is a liver dalmation and the first deaf dog accepted to Whitesburg’s daycare program. SUBMITTED BY Patricia Davis, Lacey’s Spring.

Our sweet grandson Kyle’s first day of pre-school. His parents are PJ and Jamie Alexander. SUBMITTED BY Kathy Walker, Arab.

Kensley Robinson with her JoJo on her first day of Pre-K SUBMITTED BY Joey Robinson, Prattville.

Piercen’s 1st Day of Kindergarten. SUBMITTED BY Holly Saint, Section.

6 year old twins, Savannah and Shyann Daszczuk, on their first day of 1st grade. SUBMITTED BY Danielle Daszczuk, Deer Park.

Submit Your Images! October Theme: “Pumpkin Patch” Deadline for October: August 31. Submit photos online:www.alabamaliving.coop/submit-photo/ or send color photos with a self-addressed stamped envelope to: Photos, Alabama Living, P.O. Box 244014 Montgomery, AL 36124. Rules: Alabama Living will pay $10 for photos that best match our theme of the month. Photos may also be published on our website at www.alabamaliving.coop and on our Facebook page. Alabama Living is not responsible for lost or damaged photos.