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A monthly editorial piece of masterful opinionated writing (insert joke here) regarding life and times in the big town of Tuscaloosa coupled with the musings of a guy nicknamed “Oz.” 

 

Safe and Happy Home Vacation Tips (From a Man Who Doesn’t Go On Many Vacations)

 

It’s July! Tuscaloosa translation: It might be time for a family vacation, and football season is not far away.

 

I treasure “Tip Lists,” especially the ones that insult the intelligence of my four-year-old daughter,  even though they do make valid points. You know, like, “Be sure to unplug your curling iron” or, “Don’t leave the lasagna in the oven on 450” if you are going to be gone for a week.

 

Nothing ruins a sabbatical like seeing the charred timbers of your home as you pull in the driveway. 

 

This briefing of tips is contrived by Yours Truly in an attempt to uncover some of the more important suggestions as they relate to our happy community.

 

This list is by no means scientific and/or thorough. The editor limits my shenanigans (as she should).

 

Turn Your Thermostat Up: There is no need to spend money on cooling your house while you’re gone, right? Articles I’ve read on the subject suggest that 85 is a good setting while on summer vacay. But here is the “We live in the south” rebuttal:  Leaving the thermostat on 85 means that after I get finished taking a cramped flight or driving for hours with the Griswold smell coming from the back seat, I will return to my restful abode which has become a sauna. And that sauna won’t get back down to 72 degrees until sometime the next day. That is a problem for weary travelers. Southern suggestion: 79, unless you are lucky enough to have a programmable thermostat.

 

Don’t Socialize Your Sunburn: While I love nothing more than seeing Facebook photos of everyone having the time of their lives basking in the sun and eating crab legs as the rest of us tend to the daily grind, it’s best to not to advertise the fact on social media. “But only my friends see it!” Not true. But even if it was, how well do you know all of your friends on Facebook? Southern suggestion: Post the photos when you get back.

 

“Leaving the Lights on Will Make Others Think I’m Home:” In theory, yes. But when the lights don’t turn off for two or more days, it’s a direct indication that the cat is away. And we all know what happens next. Southern suggestion: Invest in a timer. If it appears that someone is turning the lights off and on, the perception is that the cats are roaming.

 

There are many more potentials, but alas, I have covered my word allotment. In conclusion, don't put your spare key under that cement frog statue in the garden… it’s the first place I’ll look. 

  

I tweet insignificant things @ozborn34.          

 

Derek Osborn is the Executive Director of PRIDE of Tuscaloosa by trade and writer by hobby.  He lives in Tuscaloosa with his wife, Lynn, and daughters Savannah and Anica. 

 

By Tori Linville

 

The South’s fifth season is approaching: football season. Do you have the right tailgating gear? We’ve found the best tailgating coolers for you to add to your arsenal before it’s too late.

 

Coleman 62 Quart Xtreme Wheeled Cooler, $50

(photo: Kmart.com)

 

This puppy can carry all the essentials and then some. Get it on the ground and see it fly with you on your way to keep your tailgating spot on the quad. The wheels make the cooler easy to move before and after the tailgating events. Complete with extended handle and cupholders, there’s no real reason not to invest in this tailgating must.

 

Cooladio Cart, $112

 

(picture: get yourgifthere.com)

 

If you’re really serious about tailgating with some tunes, the Cooladio Cart might be something for you to check out. It’s price pays for the quality speakers that keep  a party going long after your tailgate DJ has checked out. Throw in some beer or soda, add some football and you’ve pretty much got it made.

 

Picnic Time Collegiate Vulcan BBQ Grill, $300

(photo: walmart.com)

 

For the grill master in your family, this cooler will check all the boxes. The insulated cooler comes with a propane grill, along with a three piece barbeque set. Throw in some extra pockets, and you’ve got a small tailgate already going on with just one piece of equipment.

 

Yeti Tundra 45 quart cooler, $350

(picture: academy.com)

 

This line of cooler has long been lauded as THE tailgating cooler, so it’s a no-brainer for our list. With a  dry goods rack and dry ice compatibility, the Yeti cooler offers tons of insulation for all your tailgating hydration needs.

 

Wagan 10.5 Liter Personal Thermo-Fridge/Warmer

 

(picture: walmart.com)

 

If a cooler just doesn’t cut it for you, a personal fridge could be another option for your tailgating needs. It keeps things cold in the summer and warm in the winter, added jealousy from friends at no extra charge.

 

Article sponsored by the following: Nancy and Co., Plus One Tactical, and Russell Lee Flooring.

Find Nancy and Co. on the web at:  http://www.nancyandco.com

Find Plus One Tactical on the web at: http://www.plusonetactical.com

Find Russell Lee Flooring on the web at: http://www.rslee.com

 

By Tori Linville

 

Autumn calls for an explosion of colors. Copper, reds, browns, golds and more. Mother nature’s finest moments can be found in fall foliage. Trees change colors and the summer plants you placed in your beds in May can no longer stand the weather. Replace them with some of our fall plant suggestions we’ve gathered for you here.

 

‘October Glory’ Red Maple

 

(southernliving.com)

 

Producing some of fall’s most breathtaking colors for the South, these trees can be found at most garden centers. September is the best time to plant these beauties for best results. The trees grow upwards from 50 feet.

 

Confederate Rose

 

(southernliving.com)

 

This rose keeps a pop of color going through late summer into the fall. Most times, three colors appear on this shrub as different blooms turn from white to pink to a darker pink. These shrubs can be found online and cuttings do well in water.

 

Bluestars

 

(pinterest.com)

 

Straying just a little from the normal autumn colors, Bluestars are perfect for those who don’t have green thumbs. While schedules become even more busy during the fall, Bluestars are low-maintenance, so there’s no reason to be worried about wasting money on landscaping.

 

Spanish Bluebell

 

(southernliving.com)

 

These beauties grow up to 20 inches tall and come in white, pink and blue. Perfect for a fall flower bed, they’re sure to surprise as not many people seem to know about the quality of the Spanish Bluebell

 

Pitcher Plants

(southernliving.com)

 

These exotic-looking flowers can be just the pop of different you need to set your bed apart from the neighborhood. Not only are they unique in appearance, they’re unique for a reason. These special plants live on a diet of bugs – perfect for a gardener’s needs. Add some sun, acid and moist soil, you’ll be sure to stun with these plants.

 

Article sponsored by the following: Applico, ERC, and Bradford.  

Find Applico on the web at:http://www.applicoapplianceandlighting.com

Find ERC on the web at:http://alabamaroofingexpert.com

Find Bradford on the web at:http://bradfordhealth.com

By Ben Talmadge

 

The area of prayer can be a tricky one. While the idea of talking to God is thought-provoking, it also feels kind of strange to talk to someone you can’t see, hear, or touch. I have found that the times I pray most consistently is when I am keenly aware of needs in my life which are beyond my ability to figure out on my own. Parenting is a great example of this, for it is an area which can often be frustrating and taxing. Here are three lessons I’ve learned about prayer through my own journey of parenting:

Prayer is illustrated by children. Interestingly, Jesus uses the example of children to help explain what God desires from people. He tells his followers, “unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). So, why does Jesus use children to explain how to best approach God? Most likely, Jesus is expressing his desire for us to come to him in the same way that little children come to their parents. They do not come with everything figured out but rather simply as who they are in each and every moment. As we observe this in our children, Jesus intends for us to assume this posture before him. Ultimately, he desires to be with us through every parenting experience, as we learn to be honest with him through both the good and bad times.

Prayer matters more than principles. If you peruse any bookstore, you will find no shortage of books which contain a plethora of parenting principles. While some of these can be helpful, we need to be careful not to make too much out of principles. Becoming too dependent on good principles can give us the illusion that we are the ones who are in control of the task of parenting. If we are the ones in control, it means that we are not allowing God to be in control. While principles may help in some moments, there are inevitably moments that come when we have no idea what to do or say. If principles alone could produce successful parenting, then God is not needed. May we learn to pray through our parenting as much as we attempt to apply the right parenting principles.

Prayer challenges our view of God. If many of us are honest, it just doesn’t feel like God is very involved in our lives. Accepting the idea that God is far off is dangerous, because it produces a dogged cynicism in our lives. We begin to think that life is up to us, that God is not really doing a whole lot to help us. And there is nothing in life that can feel more like a struggle to simply survive than parenting. Often times, we may feel like we have no idea what we’re doing as a parent, and it is in these moments that it is imperative for us to understand that God actually desires to be intimately involved in our parenting. In fact, I have found the task of parenting to be the birthplace of prayer in my life, realizing that without God’s personal involvement, my best efforts to parent will ultimately fall short.

Admittedly, prayer can be challenging. But if we can learn to view it as an invitation from God to enter into relationship, then it can become an opportunity to experience relational transformation with our children. Perhaps God is wanting us to learn how to relationally pursue our children as we simply experience how he relationally pursues us.

Ben Talmadge serves on staff of Youth For Christ and Grace Church. He and his wife, Anna Grace, have two children, Jem and Hazel Jane. 

 

By Tori Linville

 

Any season can do a number on the hair. Summer and spring humidity causes frizz and sweat. Winter and fall cause dryness and static. So it makes sense to be armed with some of the best hair care available. Here’s just a few options to add to your routine.

 

Herbal Essences Set Me Up Mousse Extra Hold, $3.99

 

This mousse keeps hair in place without getting super crunchy and annoying. It keeps hair in check for the entire day (no touch-ups needed!) and doesn’t break the bank either. What more is there to say?

 

Neutrogena Silk Touch Leave-In Cream, $7.99

 

This fragrant hair cream does some serious work on your do and garners some great results. After a shower, apply the cream for silky, luxurious hair that will have everyone asking which hair salon you use.

 

Dove Nourishing Oil Care Conditioner, $2.99

 

This conditioner makes your hair look salon ready with just one use. Soft, shiny, smooth – you name it, customers are saying it about their hair after using this Dove product. There’s not much to lose here anyways, so why not give it a go?

 

It’s a 10 Miracle Leave-In, $15.49

 

While this leave-in cream is more pricey, it’s worth the bottled miracle. The spray conditioner leaves hair soft and detangled and isn’t phased by the weather changes either.

 

Paul Mitchell Tea Tree Shampoo, $14.99

 

This PM shampoo leaves your hair moisturized and cleansed all while making it smell great as well. It adds a little tingle that wakes up hair roots for body that will leave your hair extra bouncey.

 

OGX Renewing Morrocan Argan Oil Shampoo, $5.74

 

This shampoo (the whole beauty line, really) cares for hair in the best way possible. The Morrocan Argan Oil formula leaves hair soft and shiny and ready for the day. What more could you want?

 

Image credit: OGX.com

 

Article sponsored by Hudson Poole.

Find Hudson Poole on the web at: http://www.hudsonpoole.com

 

 

 

By Amy Poore

 

Now that many of us have a bounty of fresh, juicy tomatoes, I thought it would be an excellent time to highlight a couple of wonderful recipes so we can serve them up! Nothing beats a tomato sandwich, of course, but these are excellent dinner options. The tomato pie is perfect for the peak of the tomato season, and the caprese salad skewers make an excellent (and quick to make) appetizer for pre-dinners or for backyard patio parties this summer.

 

Bon appétit!

 

Old Fashioned Tomato Pie

1 cup grated mozzarella
1 cup grated cheddar
9-inch prebaked deep dish pie shell
1/4 cup green onion (chopped)
10 fresh basil leaves (chopped)
4 tomatoes, sliced and drained of excess water (a strainer works well for this), divided
1/2 cup mayonnaise
Salt and pepper to taste
Pinch of dry basil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine mayonnaise, cheddar cheese, mozzarella cheese, salt and pepper in a medium bowl

Layer half of the sliced tomatoes over the pie shell (reserving a few slices for top of pie). Next, spread half of the mayonnaise mixture on top of tomatoes. Finally, layer all of the chopped basil and onions.

Repeat with remaining tomato slices and cheese layer.

Place the reserved slices on top and sprinkle with dried basil.

Bake for 30 minutes or until top is golden brown.

Serve hot or at room temperature.

 

Caprese Salad Skewers

Cherry tomatoes, whole or halved for size and arrangement
Fresh Basil Leaves
Fresh mini mozzarella balls
Good quality extra virgin olive oil
Good quality balsamic vinegar
Toothpicks or small bamboo skewers

On each skewer, slide on mozzarella ball(s), a folded basil leaf, followed by the tomato.

Arrange on serving platter and drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, to taste.

Amy Poore is a new mom, a wife and a foodie. To see more of Amy's delicious recipes, visit her blog, Poore Amy, at www.pooreamy.com 

Photos: Amy Poore

 

Is what you are buying worth the hours you spent working for it?

 

Budgeting has a bad rep in many households. It feels like there is never enough to go around. Not surprisingly, most families don't take the time to budget their expenditures and income. According to a 2013 Gallup poll, less than 1/3 of American households prepare a detailed budget.

 

Why budget when the end result is that it shows that you should probably never go have fun? If you already know that there is not enough, what's the point of writing it down?

 

The traditional way to budget is to make a list of the bills and expenditures and then list your income. Which is depressing for most of us as they may not match and there is probably not enough leftover for the fun stuff.

 

What if the traditional way is not the only way to budget? What if there was a method of budgeting that focuses on your enjoyment and satisfaction?

 

Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin developed a method of budgeting in Your Money or Your Life that does just that. The steps are:

 

1)Write down what you make per hour

2)List your expenditures (preferably by category like food/eating out, household expenses, car, entertainment, etc)

3)Divide your expenditures by your hourly rate

4)Put a plus if you are satisfied with what you received for that level of work or a minus if it wasn't worth it

5)Adjust your expenditures to more closely align with what you feel is truly worth it

 

For example, if you make $15 per hour and you spent $100 on concert tickets, that means you worked almost 7 hours for those tickets. If it was a great show, it may have been well worth the hours worked. And you have the bonus of noticing that you work time was spent paying for something worthwhile.

 

What this does is change the focus on budgeting from deprivation to satisfaction.

 

Writing your expenditures is much easier these days with online banking, debit/credit cards and the fact that you can print out your expenditures any time, day or night, from the internet. Start by printing out your most recent statement. Some banks have an option that will automatically group your expenditures into a category for you, like food or entertainment.

 

The plus or minus process makes it abundantly clear what areas you would be most comfortable changing.

 

So you worked 16 hours this month to support your Starbucks habit? Was that worth it? Or 60 hours to pay for the car that was a real stretch for you? Maybe you worked 6 hours to pay for the gym membership where you enjoy your afternoon yoga class and weekend swimming. Or maybe you worked 6 hours to pay for a gym membership where you didn't actually go even once.

 

What about the 22 hours spent working for the new clothes you purchased? For the fashionista, this may be totally worth it. For someone who views clothes a necessary evil, not so much. These are just examples.

 

How we spend our money is an incredibly individual exercise. Yes, we all have to pay for shelter, food and clothes. But there are a thousand, personal decisions every day about how we decide to shelter, feed and clothes ourselves. What if budgeting was focused on helping you design your life for your maximum enjoyment?

 

For more information on this method of budgeting, check out Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez. Available at most Birmingham area libraries and bookstores. Additional information and discussion on this method of budgeting and financial independence is available through www.reddit/r/financialindependence and www.simpledollar.com.

By Tori Linville

 

1.     Make a roommate agreement immediately

While taking time to get to know your roommate can be fun, drawing some clear and concise boundaries ahead of time will save some heartache if you’re out a pot and pan set because said roommate can’t cook. After you both know what each other likes and doesn’t like, you can face the semester together with less to worry about.

 

 

2.     Don’t over-commit…

The famed interest fairs with free t-shirt giveaways can have you slingin’ your email at every honor society and club that throws you a complimentary cup. The best thing to do? Take the shirt, but only leave your email and contact information at the clubs that really strike your interests. That way, you’ll be able to spend your time on things you actually care about, instead of spreading yourself too thin!

 

 

 

3.     But don’t be a hermit!

On the other hand, staying inside your dorm room while binge-watching Netflix isn’t too healthy either. So either add some friends to your binge spree, or get out and about. Just don’t end up stuck to your bed to where you’re in a daze and don’t know what day it is.

 

 

4.     Get to know campus (and the city) before classes begin

This is where the whole ‘out and about’ thing comes in. Knowing the campus cuts down on the stopping-staring-you’re-definitely-a-freshman-move. It also saves time and keeps you from getting lost. Once you’re familiar with campus, branch out to the remaining town around you in order to know the best places for shopping, coffee and more.

 

 

5.     Avoid the freshman fifteen

One of the best things you can do is to remember to take care of your body. While unlimited fried foods at the dining halls will always be tempting, exercise can give you more energy for class, studying and friend time.

 

6.     Hunt for textbook bargains    
Be aware that the campus bookstore might not have the best prices for your textbooks. Shop around and spend the extra time comparing prices in order to save your wallet some pain.

 

 

7.     Find a study space that fits you
It might be the campus library, or it could be the coffee shop clear across town. You won’t know it until you find it and when you find it, it can make all the difference.

 

8.     Don’t forget to breathe (and have fun!)
College is a time to learn, grow and have fun. Don’t let the stress get to you

 

 

Article sponsored by DCH and First South Farm Credit.

Find DCH on the web at: www.dchsystem.com

Find First South Farm Credit on the web at: www.firstsouthfarmcredit.com/home.aspx

By Tori Linville

 

A five star experience doesn’t mean a bad bed in a gross hotel and it doesn’t mean bad food. Even if you’re not on vacation, no one wants to deal with subpar experiences, regardless of the establishment. So wherever you’re going, whatever you’re doing – whether you’re a native or a visitor, we’ve hit up Trip Advisor in the area to help you have a top-rated time.

 

TUSCALOOSA

 

Top Hotel: Embassy Suites by Hilton

 

This Tuscaloosa hotel gets nothing but praise for its staff and amenities. One reviewer labels it a “southern gem,” while another says “Tuscaloosa got exactly what was desperately needed” while describing their stay.  Most visitors really enjoy the location of the Embassy Suites, as it’s next to plenty of restaurants and shopping opportunities. And if you don’t like it, be sure to say so on Trip Advisor – the general manager, Steven, makes sure to reply to most reviews and digs deeper into why a customer didn’t enjoy his or her stay.

 

Top Restaurant: The Ave Pub

 

Great burgers, great fish tacos, great drink selection. Trip Advisor has spoken and The Ave Pub is one of the best places to fill a stomach. One review by added, “I am glad that they offer healthier foods with real substance, such as their greens in their salad; it's not just your average iceburg lettuce.” From the service to the food presentation to the drink selection, people are raving about all the good things happening down at The Ave.

 

#2 Thing to Do: Paul W. Bryant Museum

 

Why the second? Because in a town like Tuscaloosa, the obvious first choice is Bryant-Denny Stadium. No need to explain. Since it’s off-season, the second choice is Paul W. Bryant Museum. Just down the street from the stadium, the museum is the perfect off-season stop to help all your Alabama football yearnings. As one reviewer said, “Bear will love to see you stop in and visit.”

 

BIRMINGHAM

 

Top Hotel: Hampton Inn & Suites Birmingham/280 East-Eagle Point

 

If you’re in the mood for some comfortable beds, clean rooms and some above-average complimentary breakfast (seriously, who isn’t?) then Trip Advisor says the Hampton Inn is for you. The location and hotel basics are a shoe-in at this place and the staff seems to be on top of their game. As one reviewer put it, a stay at this Birmingham hotel is “always a great stay.”

 

Top Restaurant: Highlands Bar and Grill

 

Trip Advisor has 834 restaurants listed for the Birmingham area and Highlands Bar and Grill lands at number one. Highlands offers a fine dining experience that can’t be missed. The menu changes frequently and the wine is not to be missed. It is a more high-end place though, which threw some reviewers off. That’s not to say you won’t be welcomed regardless – it’s still true to its Southern hospitality.

 

#1 Thing to Do: Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum

 

The top-ranked thing to do in Birmingham lies with Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum. Why? The Trip Advisor consensus is that there’s just so much to see, one trip is only the tip of the motorcycle iceberg. The museum boasts the largest collection of Lotus cars in the U.S. and as one reviewer said, “This is a one of a kind museum for everyone to see. You don't have to be interested in motorcycles or a 'gear head' to appreciate this spectacle.”

 

DESTIN

 

Top Hotel: Henderson Park Inn

 

Not only is it the number one hotel for Destin on Trip Advisor, Henderson Park Inn is also Destin’s 2015 Travelers’ Choice for the website. Number one thing to know? It has a no children policy – this is for the adults who need time away! The staff is more than accommodating and the beach location definitely doesn’t hurt. Dinner reservations are a must, but freebies abound in the form of water, candy bars and other treats. Take it from the guy who flew from New York City on a whim: “We were very impressed. It's got excellent location, a solid restaurant, friendly staff - everything we wanted for a getaway. Highly recommend. We will be back.”

 

#2 Restaurant: Buck’s Smokehouse

 

Since the top rated restaurant was Beach Walk at – you guessed it – Henderson Park Inn, we decided to switch the scenery and check up on the number two. Buck’s Smokehouse is home to some of Destin’s best barbeque. Though some reviewers were disappointed in comparing it to Texas barbeque, the brisket is still a crowd favorite. Add it to a clean atmosphere, friendly staff and an array of sauces that’ll have you coming back for more, it’s no wonder it’s dubbed the “best BBQ on the beach” by one reviewer.

 

#2 Thing to Do: Crystal Sands Beach

 

In a coastal town like Destin, obviously the main thing to do is to veg out on the beach and get some well-deserved sun. The number one beach was back to the Henderson Beach State Park, so we again saw what number two had to offer. Crystal Sands Beach stands on its own (not literally), with “sugary white sand” and “gorgeous blue water” that has reviewers handing out five stars all around. The best parts? It’s great for children, but not too crowded.

 

Article sponsored by Tuscaloosa Tourism Black Warrior and Tuscaloosa Tourism Veterans.

Find them on the web at: http://visittuscaloosa.com

 

By Mike Green

 

Business management guru Stephen Covey identified “seeking first to understand” as one of his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The principle is that when you are facing conflict with someone, the best approach is not to make a case for your perspective, but to try hard to understand why the other person has a different perspective. Now, I can surely see the incredible benefits of this approach in a work environment, but if I could give only one piece of advice to the parent of a teenager this would be it…

  

How different would your relationship with your child be if you had the power to read their mind? If you not only knew what your teenage son or daughter thought, but why they thought it. Unfortunately, we have not been given such mystical abilities, but we have been given the amazing ability to ask questions and listen. Now this, as you know, is not as easy to do as those without teenage children might assume that it is. Listening to ideas and opinions that we don’t agree with, where we can easily see the illogical conclusions that are being drawn, takes superb patience. But the goal here is not to listen to your child’s ideas so you can correct them. No, the goal is to listen so you can understand your teenager. 

 

So, let give me you an example of how this might work, and I will use an analogy from my work environment. A colleague and I had a significant disagreement over an issue. Neither of us was willing to budge. But then, my work associate began to work hard at understanding why I was so adamant about my perspective. The harder he worked to understand the more willing I became to give a little. Eventually, we chose a compromise that looked very much like his original idea. Why? I felt like he valued my opinion. He valued me as a person, so I worked harder to find a solution with which we could both live. 

 

Does this always work? Of course not. Not every strategy for growing healthy and happy teenagers works every time. But I hope this new twist on Mr. Covey’s habit gives you another tool in your tool belt. I think you would agree that we need every tool we can find as our youth navigate their teen years. 

 

Mike Green is Executive Director of Tuscaloosa Youth For Christ. He and his wife, Laura, have two grown children.

 

By Tori Linville

 

So you want a convertible? Before you imagine the whole wind in your hair thing, you have to get the wheels first. We’ve listed a few options for you to consider, along with some tips to matching you with your ideal vehicle.

 

Obviously, a budget needs to be decided before moving ahead with the purchase. So imagining the perfect convertible for you involves some visualization and creativity. Another helpful way to determine what you’re willing to invest your money in would be to make a list of what you want in a convertible.

 

Here are a few things to consider, according to Consumer Reports:

 

·      The biggest priority – the price

The lowest price for convertibles sits at $20,000. If your budget is limited, the best advice would be to save until it isn’t, unless you plan to purchase a used convertible.

 

While a new car offers the latest technology, the used car market can be a more sensible option for many. Testing the reliability is the obvious action when looking at used convertibles.

 

·      Safety

This concern pretty much explains itself, but we’ll still make a few points. You’ll of course want to ensure antilock brakes, electronic stability control, standard dual front air bags and three-point safety belts just to start.

 

·      Fuel Economy

Convertibles are known to be zippy little suckers, so vehicles can range in size. Some models might require premium fuel, adding to operation costs.

 

·      Hard Top vs. Soft Top and Manual vs. Auto Top

Soft tops are known for allowing things to slip by it, so a multi-layered headliner will help where the soft top doesn’t. Hard tops obviously protect the car better but are pricier.

 

A manual top has a downside of needing to be stored after being removed, while an auto top is quick and efficient, but needs a big trunk to collapse into.

 

Consumer Reports’ favorites included Lexus, Mazda, Toyota, Audi and Subaru for 2015. Check out the pricings for the latest models of some of the mentioned manufacturers.

 

·      2015 Lexus IS

Up to 30 miles per gallon (highway)

Starting at $43,000

 

·      2015 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Up to 28 miles per gallon (highway

Starting at $23,000

 

·      2015 Audi A5

Up to 29 miles per gallon (highway)

Starting at $47,000



Of course, factors will all depend on what you plan to use the convertible for. To see more info. and selection, check out this article to guide you to your perfect fit.

 

Article sponsored by Townsend Auto.

Find them on the web at: http://www.townsendautofamily.com

A summer past time everybody remembers is taking a huge, refreshing swig of water from the water hose while playing outside. Nowadays, there’s more than one way to catch that refreshing swig all over again. We’ve listed some virtually inexpensive water games that don’t even require you leaving the driveway to cure the summertime boredom we all face. Other than slip ‘n slides and water balloon fights, these fast and easy games will offer a quick way to cool off without breaking the bank.

 

Cold Potato

Unlike hot potato, cold potato is considerate of the summer heat. Using a pin to poke a small hole in a water balloon, the ‘cold potato’ is passed around in a circle before it runs out of water. The idea is that every one cools off, but not too much.

Add a twist: The player who catches the balloon as it runs out of water gets an entire leaky water balloon squirted at them.

 

Marco Polo – without the pool

The idea is the same but instead of treading water, the infamous Marco is blinded and strapped with a water gun to seek out his or her Polos. Mixed with a bit of hide and seek, Marco counts to ten with his or her back turned, and then calls Marco. When a Polo is successfully drenched, switch roles.

Add a twist: Add some water balloons to the Marco’s arsenal.

 

Splat

Maybe one of the easiest water games ever. The goal? To make the biggest splat with water balloons. Just throw them in the air. The higher the throw, the bigger the splat. Winner is the player with the biggest splat.

Add a twist: Challenge players to create a shape from their splats.

 

Bobbing for Apples

A carnival tradition, bobbing for apples is a perfect way to chill down. Just stick your face in the water and try your best for a fruity prize.

Add a twist: Switch up fruits and turn the edible prizes into smoothies.

 

Article sponsored by Alabama Power and Tuscaloosa Environmental.  

Find Alabama Power on the web at: http://www.alabamapower.com

 

Find Tuscaloosa Environmental on the web at: http://www.tuscaloosa.com/recycle

By Tori Linville

 

Headphones are in and the world is blocked temporarily. In your head, you’re dancing all-out to your favorite artist. No one can stop you. Really, you’re probably doing dishes. Or yard work. So why not actually live your dream for one night? Narrowing down the best live music options in your area is always a toughie. So much music, so little time! Now there’s no need to worry because we’ve got you covered right here.

 

Tuscaloosa

 

Great music is known to find its way to Tuscaloosa and this August is no different. While there isn’t much floating around now, keep your ear to the ground and more acts will line up soon.

 

August 20: Alabama Shakes with Drive-By Truckers – 8 p.m.

 

Birmingham

 

Birmingham’s centers and arenas always attract big names. Country, alternative and pop have all made a name for themselves in the Birmingham area.

  

August 10: My Morning Jacket at the Legacy Arena in the BJCC – 7 p.m.

 

August 14: Tim McGraw, Billy Currington and Chase Bryant at the Oak Mountain Amphitheatre – 7 p.m.

 

Mobile

 

With a music scene that’s been growing rapidly over the years, Mobile isn’t short of a variety of acts to hear around the city. New and upcoming acts are spread all around and artists from rap to rock to EDM find different venues to showcase their talent.

 

August 13: SoMo at Vinyl Music Hall – 7 p.m.

 

August 29: The Molly Ringwalds at the Soul Kitchen Music Hall – 11 p.m.

 

Article sponsored by the Pants Store and Lakeside Dental. 

Find the Pants Store on the web at: http://www.pantsstore.com

 

Find Lakeside Dental on the web at: http://www.lakesidedentalsmiles.com

 

Dorm Decor Tips

04 Aug 2015

By Tori Linville

 

College dorms are a home away from home, so it’s only natural to make it more comfortable. Some go the full nine yards and hire an interior decorator, but there are some easy and affordable decorating hacks that don’t break the bank. Check out what tips we picked up from Pinterest and add them to your room this semester!

 

Utilize as much wall space as possible

 

Use the walls around you as the built-in space savers they were meant to be:

 

·      Use clear command hooks, staggered down the wall to hang up festive jewelry for eye-popping color. Another option would to decorate a bulletin board with colorful jewelry pieces that dry the eye.

·      Create a simple shape out of pictures for a collage that doubles as a focal point on the wall.

·      Hang some strings of lights around your room to offset the harsh fluorescence of the dorm light.

·      Using some cheap twine string, command hooks and clothespins, create a picture collage by stringing the twine along in a random shape. Attach photos to the string with the clothespins

 

Optimize storage space wherever possible

 

·      Hang a refrigerator caddy over your mini fridge to store utensils and dishes

·      Use hollow ottomans for multi-purpose seating and storage

·      Hang storage racks inside closets and use hangers that can be staggered in closets

·      Cut up old cereal boxes for desk organizers

·      Repurpose a shower caddy for above-the-desk organization

·      If you don’t have a side table, use a bedside caddy for storage

·      If you aren’t using an over-the-door shoe rack for actual shoes, make the a storage hub for crafts, make up, hats, etc.

 

Most importantly, have fun!

 

Photo Credit: hercampus.com

 

Article sponsored by Spiller Furniture and Mattresses

Find them on the web at: http://spillerfurniture.com

Sponsored by: 

By Tori Linville

 

If your deck or patio has seen more dried up leaves, stray grass and weeds this summer than actual activity, you might be in need of an outdoor living space overhaul. Or maybe you just don’t feel like you’re getting enough out of your outdoor space. Well, we’ve gathered three of outdoor entertainment’s go-to and top trends to help you fix your outdoor woes in order to reach your seasonal escape.

 

First things first – start with an ideal outdoor room.

 

The classic outdoor room not only establishes an outdoor area, but also makes for a welcoming environment that guests will enjoy. The experts at bobvila.com have some great tips and tricks that make this seemingly overwhelming task a pretty easy fix.

 

·      Start with a roof that frames your outdoor area – a pergola with some vine potential or even an awning are some options to check out. After dealing with the roof, go to the ground: lay out an outdoor rug that compliments your color scheme and/or outdoor furniture.

 

·      Speaking of color schemes and what not, go for bulky(ish) furniture and earth tones that will obviously compliment the surroundings. Furniture pieces that allow for a guest to kick back and relax are almost always preferred over a dainty lawn chair (if those even exist). Easy care fabrics are an obvious choice for weather-wear.

 

·      Lastly, add some lighting. String lights here are a popular craze, but anything you prefer will do. Just as long as you have some to illuminate the area when it’s dark out.

 

Check out more info. here on how to get the perfect backyard escape.

 

Next up: an unforgettable grill

 

If there’s one trend that will never go out of style, it’s the outdoor stovetop otherwise known as a grill.

 

High-tech grills with tons of features can be found virtually everywhere. For example, the Saber Smart Edge Grill was Consumer Reports’ favored grill with infrared top and optional ceramic glass lid. If watching the food slowly cook wasn’t enough, the grill hooks up to WiFi so a phone can keep track of when to cook, when to clean and when to fuel up.

 

If you’re looking for a more straightforward number, other Consumer Reports grills included the Weber Spirit E-220, the Weber Spirit SP-320 and a Kenmore grill. See them (and other cooking gadgets) here.

 

 

Lastly, throw in a fire pit for a multipurpose focal point

 

Don’t actually throw one, but you get the point. Fire pits have been all the rage for a while and for good reason. As a center point for décor arrangements, the fire pit isn’t just for show. It’s also warmth, light and even serves as a Smores maker.

 

Also, it’s probably one of the biggest draws for winter outdoor entertainment (if you’re brave enough). That being said, a fire pit practically pays for itself.

 

Consumer Reports likes the Alfresco Fire N Table, Forshaw and Waterstone for a variety of reliable and quality fire pits.

 

Honorable Mention: outdoor movies, anyone?

 

A new, refreshing entertainment piece is the re-emergence of the outdoor screen for at-home enjoyment (in place of drive-thru movies, of course).

 

While a projector would be necessary, a screen could just as easily be made with some bed sheets and nails. If you’re feeling the outdoor movie vibe like we were, all you need is a blank wall (or screen) to get started!

 

Full outdoor entertainment systems are available on sites like Amazon but first, check out this article to see what it takes to blow away your guests with your outdoor film.

Photo Credit: HGTV.com

 

Article sponsored by Bama Exterminating and the Geoffrey Shook Agency of State Farm.

Find Bama Exterminating on the web at: http://bamaexterminating.com

 

 

Find the Shook Agency of State Farm on the web at: http://insurewithshook.com

By Tori Linville

 

Back to school isn’t just about backpacks and new classes. It’s the one time of year that a student’s immune system is re-exposed to millions of germs after a three month break. It’s back to the cafeteria for school lunches instead of food at home. It’s back absent-mindedly touching doorknobs and noses. If you’re not too grossed out, here are some reminders and tips to helping the transition from home to school easier on the whole family.

 

Stress the importance of common sense when spreading germs, meaning:

 

·      Washing hands after using the restroom to reduce the spread of sickness. For little ones, reminding them to wash their hands through the duration of the Happy Birthday song two times in their heads can be a helpful tip.

 

·      Cover mouths and noses when coughing or sneezing

 

·      Keep hands away from eyes and mouth

 

·      Regularly use hand sanitizers and disinfectants, especially after touching eyes, mouth, keyboards, community tools such as scissors, etc.

 

·      Don’t share food, drink or personal items with classmates in order to reduce illness and other possible contagions

 

·      Double check for possible sicknesses before arranging any play dates or sleepovers

 

·      Pack a lunch complete with more whole grains, fruits and veggies. Low-fat dairy products and low-sodium and low-fat choices are best along with portion control to make a healthy meal

 

·      Ensure plenty of exercise and sleep for a healthy body

 

 

Some products that are backpack and pocket-friendly and can help slow down sickness include:

 

·      Pocket sized Germ-X

·      Personal Tissue Packs

·      Tea Tree Oil (to prevent lice)

·      Sanitizing Wipes

·      Vitamin C Drink (or drink mix)

 

Photo Credit: Barterco.com

 

Article sponsored by Med Center Urgent Care.

Find them on the web: http://www.medcenterurgentcare.com

Secret Stages, the little festival that could, achieved another success this weekend. Now in its fifth year, the festival has become increasingly carefully curated. 2015’s Secret Stages’ lineup had 60 bands, 19 of which were from Alabama; the others came from states as far away as Maryland and Oklahoma.

 

It’s clear the festival organizers have become well-versed in the needs of festival-goers. Amenities like a cell phone charging station and an Ono Ice cart were added perks for attendees, and the bands went on and off like clockwork. The only flaw in Secret Stages’ planning was that many out-of-state bands that were scheduled before 9:00 p.m. suffered from a low turnout. Despite this, it appears Secret Stages is becoming a more streamlined and high profile festival.

 

Secret Stages also added an artistic dimension to this years activities, in the form of collaborative street art pieces, and the “Instrumenthead” installation near Urban Standard. “Instrumenthead” is a photography project by Michael Weintrob. It features musicians posing with instruments placed in front of their faces, and his subjects include names such as Matisyahu and Scott Avett.

 

This year’s Secret Stages had only six venues and a VIP lounge, giving the festival a close-knit atmosphere. Several venues, including Michael’s, The M Lounge, and Easy Street were clustered together on Morris Avenue and 1st Avenue. These venues had an unpolished feel, and were perfect for punk, rock, and hip hop shows.  

 

A three minute walk away on 2nd Avenue were Pale Eddie’s, Rogue Tavern, and Das Haus. With exception of the Das Haus, a German heritage hall, these venues were geared toward professionals and had an abundance of exposed brick and craft beers. All of the venues, with the exception of Pale Eddie’s, were large enough to hold big crowds, and it was easy to see four bands play within the span of ten minutes because the venues were nestled so closely together.

 

The continued success of Secret Stages demonstrates the passion many Birmingham residents have for new music. Unlike a traditional music festival, where concert-goers rush from big name act to big name act, Secret Stages is about discovery. It’s a festival where you go to see bands you’ve never heard of and listen to music that can’t be pinned to a genre. This festival allows concert-goers to see a band that will be featured on SNL in a few months with fifteen other people.

 

Here are four such standouts:

 

Buke & Gase

Named after the baritone ukulele played by Arone Dyer and the guitar/bass combo played by Aron Sanchez, this Brooklyn-based musical duo sounds like a seven-piece band. They achieve countless layers of sound by using all of their limbs to play DIY instruments like the “toeborine.” Their sound is difficult to categorize and effortlessly hypnotic. Dyer’s unearthly vocals tie together their complex melodies.

To find out more: http://www.bukeandgase.com/

 

The Burning Peppermints

A well-loved Birmingham band whose chief prerogative seems to be to make as much noise and have as much fun as possible. A combination of garage rock and punk, this young band has a burgeoning local following drawn to their raucous energy and never-ending guitar riffs.

Check it out here: https://theburningpeppermints.bandcamp.com/

 

Landlady

Landlady, out of Brooklyn, captivated their audience and delivered an energizing and outstanding performance. Frontman Adam Schatz’s distinctive, aching voice makes each song feel like a forgotten classic.The band flawlessly jumps between countless melodies so every song is a collection of auditory surprises. Landlady’s music falls between pop and rock and something entirely new.

For more info: http://www.landladyland.com/

 

Swampbird

From Little Rock, Arkansas, this was a band that no one saw coming. Photographers began to linger with their cameras, reluctantly to dash to the next band as a crowd gathered. Swampbird performed atmospheric alternative country, with a hint of the blues. With heartrending, skillfully composed lyrics, their songs are an invigorating take on classic country themes.

Check them out at: https://swampbird.bandcamp.com/

By Tori Linville

 

Being at college, let alone paying for college, can be a completely nerve-wracking experience. The game has changed and so have the finances. There are so many different avenues to financing a college education that it can easily be overwhelming and confusing. While there’s a never-ending amount of information about student loans and other ways to pay for college, the first step isn’t what you might think.

 

Organize your thoughts and prep mentally for the Financial Aid Jungle.


Doubt and assumptions are your worst enemies when looking to apply for a loan or scholarship. Believe it or not, many people assume they’re not good enough in some type of way to qualify for the various types of aid. It’s never too soon or too late for investigating which loans and scholarships you can apply for.

 

The best tools to use are perseverance, tenacity and self-control. Just getting started with the search for the correct aid is an extremely large step to finding the best aid possible. Taking on a controlled money-saving plan to supplement whatever aid you receive is also a big battle, as cutting corners is something that isn’t taught in a college course but picked up along the way.

 

Lastly, every bit counts. If that means writing a five page essay for a $50 scholarship that you won’t have to owe later plus interest, why wouldn’t you do it?

 

Exhaust all avenues of securing aid

 

To figure out what kind of funding you can secure, you need to know all the different ways to get some moolah. See rachelcruze.com for further info. about what types of aid to look out for.

 

·      College-Specific Aid – colleges are sneaky sometimes. Scholarships aren’t always published and to see what you could be missing out on requires some dedication and legwork. While a phone call is okay, the ideal would be to visit the financial aid office to check for any and all opportunities you could be eligible for.

 

·      Federal Aid – this is where your FAFSA comes in. While federal aid does have the largest amount of aid available, it’s mostly based on financial need that is reflected by the household income. A.k.a. don’t rely on just your FAFSA to get you to the finish line.

 

·      State Aid – this kind of help is usually financial need + achievements = money. This is where the hard work and studying pays off.

 

·      Military Aid – if you or a family plan on serving or have served the country, military aid is a definite possibility.

 

·      Personal – obviously, this comes from your wallet. Last resort only.

 

Use loans as a last option for funding your experience and remember that debt is NOT a requirement for a college education.

 

Focus on Federal loans first: Known as federally guaranteed Stafford loans, these are usually offered as part of financial aid awards and have lower-than-market interest rates. Unsubsidized loans begin accruing interest immediately, while subsidized loans don’t start until you graduate.

 

After that, consider a PLUS Loan: Federal Direct PLUS loans are open to parents of dependent undergrads and graduate students. They’re based on your credit rating and FAFSA. The government insures the loan and sets the interest rate and benefits. Parents have to apply for this loan and an application can be found at a financial aid office. You can defer the repayment until six months after no longer being enrolled.

 

Finally, consider private loans as a last resort of the last resort. (College financial aid offices occasionally give private loans. These don’t have to be accepted.)

 

Research other secure and stable strategies to help generate funds

 

Look into 529 College Savings Plans: These come in two different breeds, but can help a ton.

 

A 529 college savings plan simply helps save for college. These are usually managed by an investment company and are state-sponsored. You can enroll in a plan from any state – eligibility isn’t determined by residency.

 

A 529 prepaid tuition plan cover future tuition at today’s prices.


To enroll in a 529, there are additional requirements. See collegedata.com for tons of free and useful information to get started with your financial aid journey.

 

Article sponsored by Belle Chambre.

Find them on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/BelleChambreTuscaloosa

Secret Stages, Birmingham’s music discovery festival, begins its fifth year this weekend. The festival is located in the loft district downtown, and most of the seven stages are inside local bars and restaurants clustered together on both 2nd Avenue and Morris Street. The venues range from the rustic Rogue Tavern to Michael’s, a biker-friendly bar.

 

Secret Stages has carefully curated 60 diverse bands. Lovers of hip hop set to Nintendo beats can overhear psychedelic folk playing above them. The festival offers music lovers a chance to truly explore, and disdains the usual frenzied rush at festivals to dash from band to band on a tight schedule.

 

Most of the bands at Secret Stages are relative unknowns from places like Arkansas or New York. These bands, like Landlady from Brooklyn, NY, have conquered their local and regional scene and are ready for national exposure. Secret Stages also includes many emerging local bands, like The Burning Peppermints, a young rock band who has discovered an entirely new way to make a hell of a lot of noise in their parent’s garages.

 

Secret Stages is aptly named,  with secret performers appearing throughout the festival. These range from local bands like The Steel City Jug Slammers picking their banjos on the sidewalk to an internationally renowned group, The Roots, playing at the VIP Lounge.


Day passes for Saturday are $20, and passes for single venues are $15. Passes will be available at the festival box office between Pale Eddie's and Rogue Tavern, on Second Avenue North near 23rd Street, and all venues. Lineup information and a venue map can be found at http://www.secretstages.net/.

 

Azalea City Living is Mobile, Alabama's premier community newspaper, covering the great people, places and activities of the area.

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