Navigate / search

Artificial reefs provide extensive habitat for many species

The state welded together a tugboat and a barge to make a reef dedicated to the Alabama Conservation Enforcement Officers Association. To add additional fish habitat, they welded various objects to the barge before sinking it south of Dauphin Island.
Photo Courtesy of the Alabama Marine Resources Division

Since 1953, the state of Alabama has dropped thousands of objects ranging from concrete chunks to military tanks and entire ships into the Gulf of Mexico, Mobile Bay, Mississippi Sound and other waters. These objects now hold numerous fish, leading to some of the best fishing for red snapper and other species in the nation.

“Alabama has the largest artificial reef program in the United States, and we are very proud of that,” says Craig Newton, the Artificial Reef Program coordinator for the Alabama Marine Resources Division (AMRD). “We have well more than 10,000 artificial reefs off the Alabama coast. We have the best red snapper fishery in the United States and it is 100 percent related to our artificial reef program.”

Recently, the AMRD added one more reef to its list. The state sunk a barge and an entire tugboat into 67 feet of water in the Gulf of Mexico about seven miles south of Dauphin Island. The reef top comes up to 42 feet from the surface.

“The barge is about 30 feet wide and 100 feet long,” Newton explains. “The tugboat is about 30 feet long. The barge was welded to the tugboat to make one big reef. We even added some enhancements to the barge using steel and pipe and took an old wheelhouse off another boat. We welded it all together to give the reef more structural complexity.”

The state dedicated this particular reef to the Alabama Conservation Enforcement Officers Association (ACEOA). Among other things, the association helped raise money to establish the reef for the enjoyment of all anglers.

Artificial reefs being deployed.

“Our association focuses on encouraging the use of our fish and wildlife resources,” says Kevin Dodd, ACEOA executive director. “Our association funds numerous public service events annually, but construction of a public reef was a first for us. Anyone who has ever looked at vehicle tags in area boat ramps or marinas will testify to the fact that saltwater angling is a tremendous tourist draw. Our members felt that creating an artificial reef made good sense for the Alabama economy and will serve to motivate other organizations and civic clubs to consider similar projects.”

Reefs create habitat for numerous creatures. Structures offer small organisms places to hide, forage for food and reproduce. Small species feed larger ones, building an entire food web that nourishes everything from algae to giant sharks. Depending upon the location and depth, an artificial reef can hold red snapper, grouper, triggerfish, amberjack, sheepshead and other fish. Roving predators like cobia, king mackerel, wahoo, sailfish and sharks also hunt near reefs.

“We’ve been working with the ACEOA for several months to build a reef to recognize the efforts of our conservation enforcement officers,” Newton says. “It takes years for an artificial reef to mature into a fully functioning reef system, but we expect people to be able to catch red snapper off this reef this summer. It will also produce a variety of other fish including gray triggerfish and other species. In the spring, it will have sheepshead on it. In the fall and winter, it will serve as great habitat for flounder.”

The state established reefs across more than 1,200 square miles off the Orange Beach-Gulf Shores area and Dauphin Island. The reefs extend out to the edge of the continental shelf about 55 miles from land. Some artificial reefs sit in water 300 to 400 feet deep. In addition, the state created more than 30 artificial reefs in Mobile Bay, Mississippi Sound, Perdido Bay and other nearshore or inshore waters to provide habitat for redfish, speckled trout, sheepshead, black drum and other species.

Anglers in private or state-licensed charter vessels can begin fishing for red snapper on June 1 this year. The season will continue on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through July 28. However, anglers can also fish on July 4, which falls on a Thursday this year. Each angler may keep up to two red snapper per day. Each red snapper must measure at least 16 inches long. Federally permitted vessels for hire can fish for red snapper from June 1 through 12:01 a.m. Aug. 2.

For more information on Alabama artificial reefs and reef locations, see

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

Igniting memories: How to be firefly-friendly

fireflies flying around the jar in hand drawing

Turn off the outdoor lights and step into the dark this summer and you may find yourself in an enchanted landscape where hundreds, maybe even thousands, of fireflies — and perhaps a few children carrying Mason jars — streak about in the night.

Or you may not.

Fireflies (or lightning bugs, if you prefer) are the stuff childhood memories are made of, but these bright little beetles, and possibly future memories, are also at risk.

The twinkling that attracts us to fireflies is caused by bioluminescence, a chemical reaction in their bodies that allows them to produce and emit light. Fireflies use that light to ward off predators and attract mates, the opportunity for which is but a spark in time.

The lifecycle of fireflies starts each summer when females lay eggs in or on top of the soil. The eggs hatch in about three weeks and the larvae then spend another year or two, depending on the species, maturing in the soil or in organic litter on top of the ground.

Beginning in the spring (I saw my first 2019 firefly in March) and continuing through the summer, the larvae pupate and take wing as adults on a tight schedule: They have only a short time, usually two to four weeks, to procreate before their lights go out forever.

The process is much more complicated, and fascinating, than I have space to cover in this column, but suffice it to say that among the more than 2,000 species of fireflies found throughout the world (170-plus of which are found in the United States) there is wide physical, behavioral and bioluminescent diversity — including some species that group together in synchronized light shows.

Fireflies not only delight us visually, they are also important to our ecosystems. Firefly larvae eat — and thus help control — a number of pests such as slugs, snails and worms. Adult fireflies eat very little, if at all, because they are focused on reproduction, but they help pollinate a variety of plants, may be eaten by other animals up the food chain and their bioluminescent chemicals have medical and scientific uses.

Unfortunately, fireflies are also at risk, a problem that was first detected a decade or more ago when scientists and enthusiasts began noticing a decline in firefly populations. The exact causes of this decline are still being studied, but most experts agree that habitat loss, light pollution and over-use of pesticides are the main culprits. Other human activities, changes in hydrology and — believe it or not — predation by earthworms may also contribute to the problem, as does commercial harvesting of fireflies.

Without conservation efforts, there may come a time when firefly lights go out in Alabama (and elsewhere). But luckily fireflies have advocates working to keep their lights shining, including Texas biologist Ben Pfeiffer who founded, a website filled with information on fireflies and how we can help protect them.

Those of us with gardens and lawns can help the effort simply by making our landscapes firefly friendly using Pfeiffer’s simple suggestions.

  • Reduce light pollution by keeping outside lights off as much as possible and closing curtains or blinds to limit escaping interior light.
  • Create firefly larvae habitat by leaving fallen logs, limbs and yard litter in place.
  • Maintain or establish a water feature such as a small pond or stream or a wet or marshy area.
  • Reduce, or better yet avoid, the use of pesticides, especially lawn chemicals, and limit the use of mosquito over-spraying to times when fireflies are least active.
  • Leave areas of tall, uncut grass, a favorite hangout of fireflies during mating season, in parts of the yard.
  • Plant native trees, shrubs and grasses.

These measures, along with many others that can be found through Pfeiffer’s website and other sources listed in the “Illuminating Information” sidebar, may help ensure that we and our children and grandchildren continue to step into enchanted summer landscapes for generations to come.

Illuminating Information

Here are some exceptional resources on fireflies and firefly protection:

Conscientious Catching

Chasing and catching fireflies is an age-old joy of summer, but considering their decline, is it a good idea? Experts say it’s OK if you catch and release conscientiously.

  • Use gentle collection techniques (a butterfly net is best).
  • Keep fireflies no more than two days in a jar with a perforated lid.
  • Add a moist paper towel or coffee filter and a slice of apple to the jar to help keep the jar’s environment firefly-friendly.
  • Set fireflies free at night so they can get back to the hard work of courtship. They only have so long after all.

Firefly Talk

Though flash patterns and behaviors vary among firefly species, typically male fireflies are the ones twinkling in the air and in trees. Females hang out in tall grasses and shrubs near the ground where they can observe the selection of aerial suitors.

When a female spots an appealing fella, she usually emits a single come-hither flash inviting him in for closer inspection. At least one species of firefly, however, mimics mating flashes to lure in other firefly species for dinner — that is, to become dinner.

Watching these visual conversations can help determine which firefly species are in your area. Another great resource can be found at Science Friday radio show’s website,

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

WTD: Seasonal offerings, fresh foods elevate dining at Odette

Odette features a long bar designed for enjoying both cocktails and meals, detailed with a solid-slab concrete top and handmade tiles below.

By Jennifer Crossley Howard

Florence’s Odette restaurant takes a nostalgic approach to food while keeping an eye on tomorrow. Located on downtown’s main vein of Court Street, Odette — open since 2013 — serves as much locally grown food as possible. Its menu rotates each season to serve what’s growing.

“Every season, we change about 70 percent of the menu,” says Chef Josh Quick.

In late April, there were a lot of dishes with asparagus, onion, radishes and peas because that’s what farmers were yielding.

Quick’s menus feature well-produced, quality fare. Chicken breast, for example, is all free range and vegetables are fresh. The idea is to let the food speak for itself.

“In spring and summer it’s so easy,” Quick says. “The colors and flavors are so vibrant.”

Odette features a long bar designed for enjoying both cocktails and meals, detailed with a solid-slab concrete top and handmade tiles below.

Much of it comes from down the road, including Bluewater Creek Farm in nearby Killen and Sunlit Farm in southern Tennessee. Fresh seafood from the Gulf of Mexico arrives by truck a few times a week, resulting in dishes such as the Blackened Mississippi Redfish Sandwich, grilled fish enveloped by pullman bread, red cabbage slaw and avocado.

Switching menus by season keeps things interesting. Cooks and servers must be on their toes, said general manager Kristy Bevis.

“It’s always a fun time in the restaurant, like a reopening,” she says.

Quick typically starts planning new menus a month before their debut. In addition to food, the well-stocked bar will also take a seasonable turn, with six to seven new drinks replacing last season’s favorites.

In the kitchen on a recent weekday, Michael Cuffaro, a roundsman, chops chuck tender for Steak Frites, a constant on Odette’s menu. Hand-cut fries, arugula salad and chimichurri complete the dish. The kitchen conjures a sharp greenhouse aroma coupled with deep savory notes.

Sous chef Ramon Jacobsen rinses a colander full of fresh peas for dinner. The kitchen staff takes their food seriously; themselves, not so much. A photo of young Bill Murray pointing is posted on the side of a refrigerator. “You’re awesome,” it reads.

Now, Jacobsen has another accolade: On May 1, he won the 2019 Alabama Seafood Cook-Off in Bayou La Batre. He will represent Alabama in August at the 16th annual Great American Seafood Cook-Off in New Orleans.

Now offering Sunday brunch

Quick cans spring peas and hot banana peppers to use in winter, a tradition he picked from up as a boy from his stepmother. Every sandwich is served with a seven-day pickle, sold in jars near the front desk.

For spring and summer, Quick has served strawberries from across the river in Tuscumbia. Berries appear in the Strawberry Salad, an arugula pesto and whipped feta goat cheese concoction topped with marcona almonds and fermented dressing. Quick uses the fruit for fresh jam, which will be on the new Sunday brunch menu. Odette opened its doors for Sunday brunch on Easter, previously offering it only on Saturday.

“We think the community will be really receptive to it,” Bevis says.

The inside of Odette reflects its philosophy that good food need not much adornment: upholstered booths and dark wood tables sit on original hardwood floors, and exposed brick remind diners that this place had a life or two before it became a restaurant. For many years, the space housed Kaye’s, a shoe store that was in business until at least the late 1970s. Kaye’s is immortalized in script engraved into the sidewalk in front of Odette.

As for the restaurant’s name, owner and Shoals native Celeste Pillow honored her great-grandmother.

“She wanted a name that had Southern appeal to it,” Bevis says.


120 N. Court St.

Florence, AL 35630



11 a.m.-11 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday

11 a.m.-1 a.m. Friday-Saturday

11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday. (Between lunch and dinner, a reduced menu is offered that includes a classic burger and bar snacks.) 

Safe driving starts with the turn of a key

Philip Lutzenkirchen, during his days at Auburn.

By Allison Law

It’s been five years since Mike Lutzenkirchen lost his son, Philip, the Auburn student-athlete who played on the school’s 2010 national championship team. More than just a standout tight end, Philip had a servant’s heart, was humble to fault and loved spending time with children, especially those fighting cancer or who had special needs.

Philip was 23 when he died, as a passenger in a drunken- and distracted-driving related car accident. The elements involved – drinking during the day, speeding, lack of seat belt use – resulted in a horrific crash that killed Philip and the driver.

Five years later, his dad, Mike, is the voice of the Lutzie 43 Foundation, founded in Philip’s memory to encourage and empower young people to be positive ambassadors for safe driving. Mike travels constantly, speaking to high school and college organizations and sports teams, church groups and others. He estimates he’s spoken to 180,000 people across the country, sharing his story as a grieving father but also of a parent motivated to create change.

He gets “some pretty incredible” emails from young people who are inspired by his talks. Some feel comfortable talking with him about issues they might not bring up with a parent or teacher.

“I get compliments that I don’t come in and lecture and just rattle off a bunch of stats,” Mike says. “This is a real voice of a real father, talking about the loss of a child. I think kids respect that.”

The Lutzie 43 Foundation’s newest initiative will still bring Mike and his message to young people. He will still talk to them about making better decisions, as drivers and friends.

But Mike thinks the new 43 Key Seconds initiative will also resonate with grown-ups, and has started reaching out to corporations, associations and other companies to create new partnerships.

Keys to success

Mike Lutzenkirchen speaks at the press conference unveiling the new 43 Key Seconds initiative.

Last year, an acquaintance who was familiar with the Lutzie 43 Foundation and its work asked Mike about the future goals of the Foundation. He pointed out that each new day is one more day past Philip’s time on earth. Mike realized that today’s high school seniors weren’t even in high school when Philip died; how could they continue the relevancy of the message, and of Philip’s legacy?

Mike showed the acquaintance information about a program for which Mike has been a keynote speaker – an interactive teen driving summit called URKEYS2DRV (your keys to drive). The acquaintance seized on the symbol of a key, with the idea of pairing it with the number 43 (Philip’s Auburn jersey number) and the words “distraction free.”

They were aware of the successful, catchy safety slogans, such as “click it or ticket” and “drive sober or get pulled over.” But the Foundation wanted to create a campaign based around a tangible reminder – something that will be visible for drivers and easy to keep up with.

The result: a safe driving checklist placard, clipped to a replica of a key and attached to a lanyard. The idea is that the driver will take 43 seconds before starting the vehicle to go through the checklist: “clear head, clear hands, clear eyes, click it; now turn the key.” The driver keeps the lanyard and key on the rearview mirror, or as a keychain.

The lanyard, decorative key and checklist placard that are the symbols of the new initiative.

The tangible items have another benefit: The ability for co-branding. The key and lanyard have the 43 Key Seconds emblem and colors, and there’s room on the back of the key for a company logo or a team’s mascot. So far, the initiative has partnered with the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA), Georgia State Police, the University of Montevallo and Baldwin Electric Membership Corporation, among others.

“I believe, because of the epidemic nature of distracted and impaired driving, all these companies, regardless of what kind of business they’re in, have an element of safe driving,” Mike says.

He thinks the co-branding will add a level of buy-in to the campaign. “Opelika High School, for example. For those kids to walk out with a 43 Key Seconds key on one side, their logo and their colors on the other, and their logo intermingled on the lanyard. They buy it, that’s my school, that’s part of me.”

Wind power on the rise

The answer to what’s new with electricity is, as Bob Dylan first sang 57 years ago, “Blowin’ in the Wind.”

Technology brings history-making updates to the old windmill

This year, wind power will replace hydro for fourth place on the list of fuels used to generate electricity (behind natural gas, coal and nuclear.)

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration projects the growth of wind power will continue into 2020, when it is expected to generate 9 percent of the nation’s electricity.

Wind’s popularity is propelled by the rising interest in renewable energy and improving technology, which has reduced the cost of wind power to about the same price as electricity generated from coal power plants. The federal Production Tax Credit has also driven wind development, and its pending expiration has led to a rush of new projects that will come online over the next few years.

Today’s wind turbines are a lot more high-tech than the old windmills that cranked water up from under farms.

Wind turbine blades are huge, and they’re getting bigger to capture more wind. Over the last 20 years, the diameter of a typical wind rotor assembly has increased from about 75 feet to almost 180 feet. And turbine towers are getting taller, from almost 200 feet to nearly 300 feet since 1999.

Behind each of those rotors is a much smaller turbine, kind of like a miniature version of those that spin to make electricity in a coal-powered plant. The rotors turn 30 to 60 revolutions per minute, and gears inside the turbine ratchet that up to more than 1,000 rpm, which is fast enough to generate electricity. Computerized sensors keep the rotors pointed at the wind.

A large wind turbine can generate enough electricity to power about 500 homes—if the wind blew all the time. But it doesn’t, and that makes wind a tricky power source. Developers hope improvements in large battery technology might store power for use during calm days, but for now, for wind to provide reliable electricity, it needs the help of coal, natural gas and other energy sources that can run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Paul Wesslund writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the national trade association representing more than 900 local electric cooperatives. From growing suburbs to remote farming communities, electric co-ops serve as engines of economic development for 42 million Americans across 56 percent of the nation’s landscape.

Take control of high summer bills

Energy-intensive activities like doing laundry can increase heat and humidity inside your home. Try time-shifting these types of chores to off-peak hours, when energy demand is lower. Photo courtesy Steve Buissinne

By Derrill Holly

We expect summers to be hot, but most of us do all we can to keep our homes as comfortable as possible, even as outdoor temperatures edge thermometers upward.

When it comes to electricity, each of us has the power to help control our costs – we just have to make thoughtful choices to make energy savings pay off in dollars and cents.

Look toward the west. If you don’t have trees, a porch overhang or awnings shading windows exposed to afternoon sun, there’s a good chance radiant heat could be driving up indoor temperatures and adding to your overall cooling costs.

Window coverings can help. Blinds or shades can deflect intense sunlight, and draperies lined with a thermal radiant barrier can block up to 95 percent of sunlight and 100 percent of ultraviolet rays.

Comfort and cooling are easier to maintain when we take advantage of air flow. A ceiling fan can pull warm air up above your living zone, making a difference during summer months. The evaporative effect of circulating air blowing across our skin makes us more comfortable, but that benefit completely disappears when we leave the room, so turning fans off in unoccupied rooms will save energy.

HVAC filters have a lot to do with airflow through your heating and cooling systems. Dirty filters restrict circulation through your returns, requiring your cooling system to work harder. If you can see dirt in a filter, it’s likely 50 percent clogged. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations on replacing disposable filters or cleaning permanent ones. If you’ve got pets, consider checking them more frequently.

Ceiling fans help keep us cool during the summer, but that benefit completely disappears when we leave the room. Turn fans off in unoccupied rooms to save energy. Photo courtesy Stefan Schweihofer

You can save money and electricity by time-shifting some of the most energy-intensive activities away from peak energy use periods that normally occur during the hottest hours of the day. Cooking, doing laundry and using power tools can increase both heat and humidity inside your home, making it harder to reach or maintain a comfortable temperature.

Remember, controlling energy costs will always work better with buy-in from everyone in the household.

One open window anywhere can be like an uncapped chimney, pulling the conditioned air you pay to cool outside.

A gaming system, computer or big screen television left on but unwatched produces nearly as much heat as it does when it’s in use.

Lighting and ventilation fans add convenience and provide benefits when they are needed but when left on and unattended, they use energy.

A bag of ice poured into a cooler will chill summer beverages as effectively and less expensively than an aging refrigerator in a hot garage.

Check with your local electric cooperative for details on programs that can help you control energy costs and avoid seasonal billing challenges.

Your co-op may also offer energy audits or additional information that can help you identify and correct problems that might be contributing to higher bills and increased energy use in your home.

Alabama’s own Captain Marvel

If you watched Saturday morning television in the mid-1970s, you likely remember the CBS children’s series, “Shazam!” based on DC Comics’ Captain Marvel. In the series, a young boy traveled around the country in a motor home solving problems by uttering the word, “Shazam!” and turning into superhero Captain Marvel. The captain was played by Jackson Bostwick, who grew up in Montgomery, where his father was a neurosurgeon. He graduated from Lanier High School and studied pre-med at the University of Alabama, where he lettered in rifle before he decided to pursue an acting career in California. He earned an MFA in acting at the University of Southern California. His role on “Shazam!” in 1974-75 endeared him to many fans, who still enjoy seeing him at Comic-Cons around the country. He was gracious enough to answer a few questions for Alabama Living. – Lenore Vickrey

What was the hardest thing about playing Captain Marvel for the TV show? Getting into the costume? Staying in shape?

I didn’t have much of a problem with anything playing the Good Captain, other than a couple of the stunts (I did all my own stunts except one – wrestling with a lion). I kept in very good shape participating in judo and kick boxing. I did run my own dailies at the studio with no sound, just to watch how I carried myself and to make sure the costume was presented with as little wrinkles as possible. I never put my hands on my hips, as I felt this would be preaching to the kids, except in one scene when it demanded an authoritative presentation.

Why do superhero characters like yours have such an enduring popularity?

Captain Marvel was my favorite hero when I was growing up, along with The Lone Ranger, Tarzan, The Phantom, and Sgt. Preston of the Yukon. From the time of the Greek and Roman gods and heroes, to the biblical heroes, most everybody has a role model that they can identify with and dream about, even though they could never accomplish the feats of these icons. Superheroes, not just heroes, are the hardest to portray believably. If an actor can pull it off, a superhero can be very effective role model for generations to come.

Do you have a favorite, or most memorable episode of “Shazam!”?

“The Athlete” episode stands out as one. It is the one where I pulled off my best stunt. I had to, as Captain Marvel, pull the stunt lady, Patty Eldege, from a running horse as she galloped past me at full speed and I was running as fast I could alongside her. We did it, as with most of the show’s stunts, in one take. There were other good gags that were done during my time on the show, but this one stands out as my favorite.

What do you think of the new movies, “Shazam” and “Captain Marvel”?

I’m not a fan of what has been done to the classic icon, Captain Marvel. To me this is a spoof of the character, like Adam West did with Batman. Made him a buffoon. When is the last time you’ve seen a superhero talk about, or for that matter, even going to the bathroom? That’s Jim Carrey stuff. There will be an audience for it, yes, as there is an audience for “Sponge Bob, Squarepants,” but in no way is it the original Captain Marvel. C.C. Beck, a good friend of mine and the original artist of the Golden Age comic, is rolling over in his grave. He once told me “Jackson, the way you portrayed Captain Marvel is exactly the way I envisioned him to be.” Some people say it needed to be brought up to date. That’s like saying let’s bring the Bible up to date and modernize it. Or, let’s put a crayon mark on the Mona Lisa. All I can say is thank God they didn’t use the character’s real name.

Do you ever get back to Alabama?

I no longer have our family’s cabin on Lake Martin, but that is a place I go back to visit along with the graves of my mother and father in Montgomery.

Got any new projects in the works?

I’m mainly doing Comic-Cons (check out my appearances at and enjoying meeting the fans. I’m also finishing up my book Myth, Magic, and a Mortal, along with wrapping up a movie I wrote, produced and directed called “Bloody Mary-Lite.”

Get smart! Energy-saving apps and devices

More-advanced (and more-expensive) smart thermostats like the Ecobee4 can work with sensors that detect when someone is in a room and adjust the temperature accordingly. Photo Courtesy Ecobee

Q: It seems like I’m always hearing about some new device or app that will save energy, but I wonder if they’re worth the time and money. I want to learn about simple ways I can use technology to save energy. Any advice on where I should start looking?

A: Every new piece of technology seems to come with a lot of promise, doesn’t it? Then we have to find out for ourselves if it lives up to the hype. Here are a few products we recommend.

Smart Phone Apps

There are several energy apps available today, but two stand out. They’re free, easy to use, effective and available for both Android and iOS devices.

JouleBug is a fun app that helps you save energy. You collect points for each energy efficient move you make inside the home, on your daily commute and in daily life. The app helps you make changes and build ongoing energy-saving habits. It’s designed as a competition among friends and can help you and your family create an energy efficient household together. The app also includes fun, educational videos and links to helpful articles.

There are several energy cost calculator apps that help you identify where you use the energy most in your home. You can enter how many hours a day you use each appliance or electronic device (some have a dropdown of typical household items) and the rate you’re paying for power, which you can find on your energy bill. The app creates a total operating cost for that specific device.

How much is that hallway chandelier costing you every month, and how much would you save by turning it off for an additional hour each day? How about that second freezer or the big-screen TV? The answers aren’t exact, but they will give you a better idea of your overall energy use and help you focus your efforts on the opportunities that will save the most energy.

Smart Thermostats

A smart thermostat connects to the internet and your computer and/or smart phone through your home’s Wi-Fi and could shave $50 off your energy bill every year. Most fall within the $100 to $250 range. If the price for a feature-rich model is more than you’re comfortable spending, ask yourself if it’s worth buying a lower-cost model, or if your current thermostat is doing the job.

Here are some features to keep in mind if you’re considering a smart thermostat:

  • Learning: A learning thermostat will figure out your habits and adapt––this is probably the best way to make the most of a smart thermostat’s energy-saving potential.
  • Geofencing: This will detect when you leave home and return, and adjust the temperature up or down so energy isn’t being wasted.
  • Additional features include remote room sensors and voice control.

Before you buy, learn what you can about the functionality of the smart thermostat’s app.  And take a look at how easy it is to program the thermostat unit directly. Finally, consider the installation. Some models are more difficult to install and may require re-wiring.

Smart Power Plugs and Switches

Smart outlets and light switches are still considered a relatively new technology, and we think there are improvements that will be made over time. That said, if this is a technology you’re interested in, there are a couple of options that consumers seem to like.

Hub-based systems like the Currant Dual Smart Outlet and Philips Hue smart lighting systems are highly rated and cost about $200 or more for eight to 10 smart outlets or light switches. That’s a pretty big investment, so we recommend using an energy cost calculator app first to decide if it’s worth the additional cost.

We hope you these reviews will be helpful as you consider smart technology that promotes energy efficiency. Don’t forget to check with your local electric cooperative on additional programs and services designed to help you save on your energy bills.

This column was co-written by Pat Keegan and Brad Thiessen of Collaborative Efficiency.

For more information on energy-saving apps and devices, please visit:

“Will I marry me?”

Illustration by Dennis Auth

The “Marrying Season” is upon us.

Have you heard of the growing popularity of “Marriage for one”?

This is when a woman marries herself.

Brides who do that call themselves “Sologamists.”

They do everything they would do for a traditional wedding.

They go shopping and “say yes to the dress.”

They have bridesmaids.

And a reception with a cake, finger food, a bar and dancing – or some combination thereof.

They have music and flowers and toss the bouquet.

The only thing missing is the groom.

Now why is this happening?  What is behind the rise of the Sologamist?

Although there are more women than men in America today, the difference in number is not so great as to cause women to give up the husband hunt.  Yet, there are more single women in the country than married ones.

Today, women between the ages of 25 and 44 are five times more likely to be single than they were in 1973.

So why are so many women content, even happy, to remain unmarried?

Now single guys, here is where it gets, well, personal.

I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but though there are enough of you to go around, a lot of you just ain’t what the single ladies call “husband material.”  Given the option of you or living alone, they strike out on their own.

Today, marriage-age women are better educated than marriage-age men.  Just look at the ratio when schools and colleges hand out diplomas.

Moreover, where in the past women might have been under pressure to marry for economic reasons, today fewer are.  Women in their twenties earn as much or more than their male counterparts, so why take on the extra baggage of a husband with a beer gut sacked out in his recliner?

Besides, with so many other single women out there, “Sologamists” have a broad support group – co-workers and friends – with whom to share life experiences.

So they plight their troth to the one person they can count on to love, honor, and cherish them forever – themselves.

So what about the guys?

Though I have heard nothing about men going the Sologamistic way, for some time men have been marrying later, and often not at all.


Personally, I think the reason men are not going the Sologamistic route is the whole wedding “thing.”

When was the last time you heard a guy go on and on about selecting the tux, outfitting the groomsmen, choosing the music and the flowers, and all those things that sends brides-to-be into spasms of joy?

Like, never.

If men were to plan their Sologamistic ceremony, it would be like this.

The groom-to-be and his friends would gather at a local barbecue joint, in the back room where Kiwanis meets.  Members of the wedding party would be instructed not to wear anything that shows stains. The ceremony would be conducted by a married buddy who wishes he had done it this way, and when it was over there would be ribs and beer for all.

The honeymoon would be a solo-trip to the Gulf Coast where the single groom would try to pick up a single bride at the FloraBama.

They would live happily ever after.

Harvey H. (Hardy) Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University and a columnist for Alabama Living. He can be reached at

Alabama offers a wealth of sites to teach children about history

The U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville chronicles Alabama’s contributions to historic, current and future space exploration. Photos courtesy U.S. Space and Rocket Center

By Marilyn Jones

Travel to a time when Native Americans lived in a sprawling city, when European explorers mapped out the wilderness and when Alabama’s finest scientists helped make the race for space a reality. Time travel becomes a possibility at historic sites throughout Alabama and a journey you can take your children on.

Come along on as we “travel” to a few places of discovery and understanding.

Costumed interpreters engage in daily activities at Fort Gaines.
Photo by Marilyn Jones

The first Alabamians

Centuries before the first Europeans set foot in what would become Alabama, Native Americans lived here. One place to discover this historic chapter is at Moundville Archaeological Site in Moundville. Dating to 1000 AD it grew to become what National Geographic coined as “The Big Apple of the 14th Century.”

Moundville is the second largest prehistoric archaeological site of its kind in North America, representing the best preserved Mississippian Indian ceremonial mound center.

The first European to arrive in the area was Spanish explorer Alonso Alvarez de Pineda in 1519 followed by Hernando de Soto and his forces in 1540. From the mid-16th century to the end of the 18th century, Spain, France and England vied for control of the region.

A settlement was founded by the French at Fort Louis de la Mobile in 1702. Soon after, the fort was destroyed by flooding and the location was moved to the current site in Mobile. Soon after, French and Canadian settlers began to arrive to farm the land.

Visit the Fort of Colonial Mobile for a better understanding of the establishment of European control. Costumed interpreters offer insight into military and civilian life during this time period.

Two other nearby forts protecting Mobile Bay were Fort Morgan and Fort Gaines.

Fort Morgan, built between 1819 and 1833, offers a visual history of a fortification that was active during four major wars. The Battle of Mobile Bay during the Civil War occurred just offshore. It was in those waters that Union Adm. David Farragut bellowed one of the more famous quotes in U.S. Naval history, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.”

From here take the Mobile Bay Ferry across the mouth of the bay to Dauphin Island to Fort Gaines.

The Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery commemorates those who died during the civil rights movement. Photo by Marilyn Jones

Nearly completed in 1861, Southern troops seized the fort during the Civil War and completed its construction in 1862. The prospect of facing the powerful guns in Forts Gaines and Morgan kept Union forces at bay until August of 1864 and the infamous Battle of Mobile Bay.

Today costumed interpreters are outfitted in Confederate uniforms and civilian dress of the mid-1800s as they go about protecting the fort, and doing the day’s work in the blacksmith shop, bakery and homes.

Mooresville is the first town incorporated by the Alabama Territorial Legislature in 1818. The entire town is on the National Register of Historic Places. Centuries-old homes and buildings, gracious gardens and tree-shaded streets make this community of less than 60 residents an enjoyable place to visit.

The best way to experience Mooresville is on a guided tour which offers access to 1821 Stagecoach Tavern, 1839 Brick Church and 1854 Church of Christ. The 1840 Mooresville Post Office is open 7 to 9 a.m., Monday through Friday.

Gaineswood Plantation in Demopolis was completed just before the Civil War. It is considered one of the most significant remaining examples of Greek Revival Architecture in the state.

Designed by owner and architect Nathan Bryan Whitfield, it features exceptional features including domed ceilings, elaborate plasterwork and many original Whitfield family furnishings and objects. The five-acre site includes a formal gardens and plantation office.

The 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham is the site of a bombing that killed four children in 1963.
Photo by Marilyn Jones

Civil War and beyond

The Civil War plays an important role in Alabama history. On Jan. 11, 1861, the State of Alabama seceded from the Union. The Alabama secession convention invited delegates of the other seceded states to meet in Montgomery to form the new Confederate nation. Delegates wrote a constitution for the Confederate States of America and Jefferson Davis was elected the Confederacy’s president. In late February 1861, Davis took the oath of office while standing on the portico of the State Capitol.

The First White House of the Confederacy was the executive residence of President Jefferson Davis and his family while the capitol of the Confederacy was in Montgomery until late May 1861. It was then moved to Richmond, Virginia. The house is completely furnished with original period pieces from the 1850s and 1860s.

Birmingham was born following the Civil War. With the area’s rich mineral resources (iron ore, coal, limestone) needed to make iron, industrialists built facilities. Sloss Furnace, a National Historic Landmark, is a relic of the industrial revolution. The pig iron producing blast furnaces operated from 1882 to 1971.

Today visitors can wander around the labyrinth of brick buildings, massive pipes and valves, stack pipes and stairways for a better understanding of the industry.

Sloss Furnace, a national historic landmark, is a reminder of why Birmingham was created as a center of industry. Photo by Marilyn Jones

A new century

Moored in Mobile Bay, the USS Alabama is open daily for tours in Mobile.

During WWII, a crew of 2,500 men served on the 45,000-ton ship. The ship is famous for its role in leading the American Fleet into Tokyo Bay on Sept. 5, 1945. Nine Battle Stars for meritorious service were awarded the “Mighty A” during her brief three-year tenure as the “Heroine of the Pacific.”

Another important chapter in American history is the civil rights movement. In Montgomery, the Civil Rights Memorial commemorates those who died during the movement. Nearby, the Rosa Parks Museum remembers the brave actions of a young woman who was arrested for refusing to surrender her seat to a white person. A bus boycott resulted and lasted from December 1955 to December 1956. A United States Supreme Court decision declared the Alabama and Montgomery laws that segregated buses were unconstitutional.

Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and District is another excellent destination to start a conversation with children about civil rights. In addition to the museum, take a tour of the 16th Street Baptist Church where four members of the Ku Klux Klan planted a bomb under the church steps. Four little girls died in the blast.

The USS Alabama is moored in Mobile Bay. The WWII ship is open for tours. Photo courtesy Visit Mobile

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice and The Legacy Museum in Montgomery chronicles slave trade, racial terrorism, the Jim Crow South and the world’s largest prison system.

A proud part of Alabama’s history is its part in the space race. A visit to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville is a favorite with anyone who ever dreamed of space exploration.

Visit a national historic landmark — an authentic Saturn V rocket, one of only three in the world — located in the Saturn V Hall. The hall showcases NASA and Marshall Space Flight Center’s contributions to historic, current and future space exploration.

Learn about America’s Space Race and NASA’s plan to put man on the moon, the development of the space shuttle program and the International Space Station; get a glimpse of the future in commercial space ventures and the latest technological innovations.

Alabama has a lot to reflect on, be proud of and learn about. Make the state your weekend getaway or vacation destination.

For more information, visit; or call 800-252-2262.