The Peachtree


Keeping America (and beyond) running for 50 years

By Susan Baldani

The AJC Peachtree Road Race is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. This annual 10-kilometer run is held on the 4th of July in the heart of Atlanta and is always a big draw for runners worldwide.

“With it being our 50th year, we saw a record interest,” says Jay Holder, Director of Marketing and Communications of the Atlanta Track Club. The club, which opened in 1964, has organized the race since day one.

Limited to 60,000 participants, the Peachtree Road Race has participants from all walks of life and abilities. According to Donna Nail, a 56-year-old wife and mother, “It doesn’t matter if you run fast, slow, walk, run, or crawl, it’s all about the t-shirt and the satisfaction of finishing the largest 10K in the world. I encourage others to run/walk the race so they can understand that we come in all shapes and sizes, but we can all make it to the finish with some training, a good pair of shoes and some encouragement!”

Speaking of a good pair of shoes, Mike Cosentino, owner of Big Peach Running Company who has run over 12 Peachtree races himself, explains why people should get expert advice when it comes to finding the right shoe.

“Different running shoes are designed for different foot types. It depends on your arch profile, how broad your feet are, where you apply pressure, and the different length of stride.” He and his employees, most of whom are runners, assist their customers with finding the right shoe for their particular objectives.

“You’re not going to get that kind of advice or tailored fit by shopping online or just walking into a general sporting goods store,” says Mike.

Hunter Vaughan, the manager of New Balance at Toco Hills, couldn’t agree more. “There’s really no way to know how a shoe will fit your specific foot when you look at it online. Your feet are the foundation of all of your movements and there’s no time that this is more important than when running longer distances,” says Hunter. “Also, most people have a tendency to wear their shoes too tight.

If shoes are too tight, it can cause major problems. Every shoe model fits differently. That’s why it’s important to come by our store so we can, at a minimum, make sure you are in the correct footwear and have enough room in your shoes. From this, you are better equipped for your run and you’ll be more comfortable at the end of the day.”

The right apparel is also critical. Mike stresses that everything from your socks to your shirts have to be tailored towards the conditions. For example, you’ll want to wear moisture wicking apparel to keep you dry and cool. Also, look for items that have UV protection to protect you from the sun’s rays.

Besides the runners, close to 200,00 spectators will be watching and cheering from the sidelines. This year, there will also be entertainment. At each mile, there will be DJ’s and bands playing music from each decade. Mile 1 will have tunes from the 70s, mile 2 will showcase the 80s, mile 3 the 90s and so on.

Many of the runners come back year after year. Although you have to be at least 10 years old to take part, there is no upper age limit. According to Jay, the oldest participants right now are a 94-year-old man and a 94-year-old woman who run the race year after year.

Randy Stroud, 64, from Acworth, Ga., is running his 47th consecutive race. “I started running back in 1968, so I’ve always been a runner. I train year-round, so Peachtree is a race that I always look forward to and prepare for,” says Randy.

There is also a wheelchair race held beforehand. Since 1984, the Atlanta Running Club has partnered with the Shephard Center in Atlanta, one of the most well-know rehabilitation centers in the world. This is strictly an elite race with professional racers and is one of the most prestigious wheelchair races in the world.

To honor the country’s veterans and military who will be participating, Jay says they are issued a commemorative race number design so people will know who they are. He encourages everyone who sees them to shake their hands and thank them for their service.

Another way they are celebrating their 50th anniversary is by awarding $50,000 to anyone breaking the record in their division. The record, held since 1996 in the men’s division, is 27:04; for women, held since 2002, is 30:32.

For the wheelchair contestants, the men’s record since 2004 is 18:38 and for the women, since 2009, is 22:09. If one of the wheelchair racers breaks the record, it will be the highest payday ever for a wheelchair athlete in any race around the world, says Jay.

Custom-made Frabel glass peaches will be awarded to the top three competitors, a tradition dating back to early 80s. The winner will also receives $10,000.

Ty Ragan, from Brentwood, Ga., has run seven races and will be running again this year. “Initially, I signed up back in 1998 as a celebration for losing weight and getting into a healthier lifestyle. I was about 80 pounds overweight and when I first started running, I couldn’t complete a quarter mile. But by 1998, I was able to run more consistently and felt the iconic AJC Peachtree Road Race was the best way to celebrate achieving my goal,” he says.

When asked how he prepares for it, he explains that he “started running around mid-day to get the heat and humidity in order to make sure I knew what to expect once the hot July 4th weather arrived!”

The course itself closes at 11:30, but the fun doesn’t end there. There is a party at Piedmont Park where every finisher will receive a Peachtree Road Race t-shirt.

There are also events leading up to the race. For the last 30 years, the Anthem Peachtree Junior, held now on July 3rd, has given kids a chance to cross the iconic finish line. There’s a one mile and a dash which are open to those aged 14 and under. In addition, the Peachtree Health and Fitness Expo takes place on July 2nd and 3rd.

The Atlanta Track Club is a not-for-profit based in Atlanta and their mission is creating a healthier, more active Atlanta through running and walking.

“We are committed to making running and walking an accessible sport for people of all ages and abilities, not just through the more than 30 events programs we put on every year, but also by community engagement and being a running and walking resource for schools, groups and communities across the area,” says Jay.

The registration for the race runs from March 15th to March 31st each year and goes through a lottery, which is a random draw. However, members of the track club are guaranteed entry to the race.

To learn more about the history, people and traditions of the race, go online at and sign up to receive their emails. Hosted by the Atlanta Track Club, they’re posting 50 stories in 50 week.

Written for Midtown Lifestyle magazine in Atlanta, Georgia


The inspiration behind Penley


Honoring our country one painting at a time

By Susan Baldani

You would expect to find paint splatters and drips in an artist’s studio, but walking into Steve Penley’s studio in Atlanta is like walking right into an abstract painting. This is what he actually set out to do upon moving into the new space last August. Nothing is spared a whimsical coating of paint – furniture, instruments, floors, walls, ceilings, and of course, the artist himself. He is literally immersed in his passion.

Born in Chattanooga, Tenn., in 1964, Penley knew he was meant to be an artist from a young age and took art classes while growing up in Athens and then Macon, Ga. Thanks to his middle school industrial arts teacher David Cornelius, he was even able to build his own canvases. Asked if he still does, he responds “I do until the people that work for me make me stop. I love building stuff.”

Later, he studied at the School of Visual Arts in New York and at the University of Georgia. After graduation, he took some odd jobs while continuing to paint, but it wasn’t until Robert Steed, an attorney and art enthusiast, saw his work that his career finally took off.

In talking about Steed, Penley’s quirky and fun sense of humor comes through.

“Robert L. Steed was the first person other than my parents to pick me up out of the gutter, hose me down and give me a check. He was a partner at King & Spalding, which also played a pivotal role in the direction of my career and had it not been for those two factors, I would probably be a piano delivery guy in Macon, Ga. or a convict in hopefully a minimum-security white-collar prison,” says Penley. (His father was a piano salesman.)

The bold strokes and vivid colors of his historical icon paintings are instantly recognizable as Penley’s, and his works are exhibited around the world. George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and the U.S. flag are some of his best-selling subjects, with the Statue of Liberty being number one. The flag painting shown on this magazine cover is quintessential Penley.

When asked how he developed his style, he tells a story about a friend who asked him to cover the walls of his new restaurant with paintings and gave him less than four days to do so. Not having any idea what to paint, he fell back on his second favorite subject – history.

“At that time, my fascination with history, especially WWII and the events surrounding it, was what led me down the road towards painting historical icons. I defined that inspiration more over the years and it has become more about celebrating this country and trying to convince others that this is the greatest nation on earth and what made it that,” says Penley.

This is why his favorite painting is Washington Crossing the Delaware, which hangs in the U.S. Capitol. “I love the original painting that I ripped the subject off from. And, I like large scale paintings. I also like the heroic theme of the painting which reflects my feelings about our founders and this country,” says Penley.

Known the world over, this self-deprecating artist keeps things down to earth.

“I think my popularity stems from the fact, much more than talent, that I share a common bond with my customers in my interest in historical figures. I choose my subjects by how interesting or how non-interesting the subject’s face is and their overall influence in American culture to the point that most anyone would be able to at least recognize and relate to that icon in some way,” says Penley.

Bursting with ideas, Penley believes there is no way he’ll ever be able to get them all down on canvas. He says he has painted practically anything and everything – portraits of kids and pets, including someone’s bird.

Throughout his career, he has developed products for Fox News, Coca-Cola and several U.S. presidents. He has also penned multiple books and has done illustrations for others including those authored by Coach Vince Dooley from the University of Georgia, his alma mater. In fact, in Atlanta, he is also well known for his paintings of the coaches, players, and places of the university.

“I love Atlanta people. It’s my crowd,” says Penley.

He donates scores of paintings to various charities and organizations in and out of Atlanta, and feels it’s a particular honor to support those that assist active members of the military and veterans.

His other joys in life are his talented children – Lyall, Abbey and Parker. “I don’t know where they derive this talent because they really never ask me tips about art. I think they just grew up knowing it was something you do when you are a Penley.”

To see more of Steve Penley’s work, go to

Written for Midtown Lifestyle magazine in Atlanta, Georgia

Photo by: Sikira T Photography

A picnic on the beach


By Susan Baldani

What’s better than sitting on a blanket on the sand, watching the waves roll in on a hot summer day? Not much, but there is one way to make it even better. Bring along some food and drinks to put out on that blanket, and have a picnic.

One of my favorite memories of the beach when I was a little girl, besides splashing in the water and making sand castles, was eating cold fried chicken, sandwiches and other tasty fare. Now that I’m a grown up, I still love those same foods, but these days I add in some other things that my family likes and are healthy for us as well.

Dried and fresh fruits, such as raisins, blueberries, cranberries and apples are great choices, and cheese sticks, sandwich wraps (which help keep fillings contained), raw veggies and hummus are delicious and nutritious. Pack your cooler with foods like these that are easy to eat and travel well, and to keep things simple, try to leave out those that need utensils.

Make sure you also include some yummy snacks. There something about salt air and water that heightens the appetite all day long. Plus, swimming and playing expend a lot of calories, especially for children who are constantly on the move.

Cookies, chips and nuts are quick and simple options, and of course, the kids will love those Goldfish crackers. What could be more appropriate than snacks shaped like fish? Also, be sure to pack some wet hand wipes and napkins for those sticky hands and faces, plus a plastic bag to put your trash in.

So, next time you head to the beach, plan to skip the boardwalk pizza and overly sweet drinks. Bring your own food and beverages, like the strawberry lemonade below, which will be fresh and satisfying, and also save you some money.

Strawberry Lemonade

2 cups fresh strawberries
1 cup fresh lemon juice (squeezed from fresh lemons)
1 cup sugar
5 cups water

In a blender, add strawberries, lemon juice and sugar and blend well. Serve cold.

Written for The Country Register in the U.S. and Canada.

Spotlight on Pelican Shops



By Susan Baldani

Now that the warm weather is here, head on over to Pelican Shops to find all that you’ll need for outdoor entertainment. Everything is in stock and available for immediate delivery.

Andrew Spilatro, who manages the Whitehouse Station, NJ location, said the family-owned business has always been about fun. Founded as a pool store 60 years ago by his father Angelo, it has expanded over the years to include merchandise for all seasons. His brother Stephen now owns the store.

Many of their salespeople are like part of the family, having worked beside them for years. They can guide you in finding exactly what’s right for you and your family.

“You can walk in the door any day, at any time, and get a knowledgeable salesperson to take care of your needs and answer all your questions,” said Andrew.

For example, hot tubs are big sellers, but many people don’t know much about them. Their salespeople can help figure out the size you need and explain how to care for them. Today, instead of using chemicals to sanitize, several of their hot tubs use salt or minerals, the latter being all the rage the last two years. Also, their Cal Spa brands lead the way as the most energy efficient hot tubs in the world.

There are many options when it comes to hot tubs, such as fiber optic lighting, waterfalls, and different types of massages. Some people come in with health issues such as rheumatoid arthritis and are looking not only to relax, but to also get the hydrotherapeutic benefit to ease their pain.

Another hot item these days are swim spas. Since in-ground swimming pools are costly, need a lot of maintenance, and can only be used about three months out of the year in New Jersey, these spas can be a great alternative. Swim spas are like giant hot tubs; they can be used for swimming, but also have jets and seats just like hot tubs. Another great advantage is that they can be used all year long.

Pelican works with contractors who can set up your hot tubs, swim spas and pools. Since they have everything in stock, turnaround time is fast. Also, if something needs to be fixed, it can be done quickly.

For additional fun in the sun, they carry a large assortment of outdoor furniture ranging from simple dining sets to extravagant seating groups, fire pits and tables, above-ground pools and a huge selection of Weber grills.

Kayaks, paddle boards, and loads of pool toys are on display as well. Customers will be greeted at the door with a smile and pointed in the right direction so they can easily find what they need.

“We don’t waste your time. We want to get you right back to your family since that’s what we’re all about – family fun,” said Andrew.

Besides the Whitehouse Station location, they have stores in East Brunswick, NJ and Morris Plains, NJ, as well as one in Quakertown, PA.

Written for The Showcase Magazine in New Jersey

Round up for animals


By Susan Baldani

Ted and Rosey Varna are huge animal lovers. After volunteering with the Cobb County Animal Services shelter for 3 ½ years, they had to give it up due to the emotional toll it was taking. They had seen too many animals euthanized.

Afterwards, they knew they needed to help these dogs and cats before it was too late. So, they started a RoundUp Program at their family-owned and run restaurant, Hook, Line & Schooner in Smyrna, GA in November of 2018. With this program, their customers can choose to have their bills rounded up, with the additional amount going toward rescuing these animals.

So far, they have raised $1100.00, which has enabled them to save 11 animals from euthanasia. By partnering with no-kill rescues, these animals go from death row to loving and permanent homes. They focus on rescuing the neediest animals that are older, sick or injured since they are usually the first to be euthanized.

When dining at their restaurant, patrons get not only a delicious seafood meal, but also the opportunity to help animals in need. Rosey is heartened to see how many of their customers love the idea and chip in whenever they can. They often donate extra money as well. Pictures and names of the animals they have rescued are tacked onto a board in the restaurant, so diners can see the results of their generosity.

People often want to help, but don’t know how to go about doing so. Ted and Rosey have developed a network of people who work in shelters who help steer the money in the right direction. Most of the funds are used to get the animals out of the shelter, with the remaining going to the rescue group that takes them in.

“If we could get other businesses to do it, we could save a lot more animals’ lives. We encourage others to do it,” said Rosey.

One of their goals is to help spread the RoundUp Program in order to rescue even more animals. Ted and Rosey would be happy to give other business owners advice about getting started with this worthwhile endeavor. With every additional $100.00 raised, another animal can be saved.

They are also planning to hold pet adoption days on their pet-friendly patio so people can see the wonderful dogs and cats that are available. One look into their soulful eyes will “hook” many people who are thinking of bringing a pet into their lives.

The couple, who have six cats and a German shepherd, also want to stress the importance of spaying and neutering. And, when looking for a dog or cat, local shelters have some great animals that are waiting for their forever homes. You don’t have to go to a breeder to find the right pet for you and your family.

To see some of the animals they have rescued and to read their stories, or to get involved, go to and their Facebook and Instagram pages.

Written for Smyrna Vinings Lifestyle magazine in Georgia.


What does volunteering do for a teen?


By Susan Baldani

Teenagers can get so caught up in school, friendships, social media, and everyday responsibilities that they can sometimes forget about the broader world around them. The arrival of summer vacation brings more freedom to explore new interests and is therefore a good time to get them involved in some new and worthwhile opportunities.

One way for teens to do this is through volunteering, which has been shown to increase self-esteem, help them gain understanding of issues impacting their communities, and give them personal satisfaction. To make it more meaningful, encourage them to choose a cause they feel is important.

For example, if your teen loves animals, many animal shelters need people to walk and play with the dogs, clean the cat cages, and provide companionship and love to these homeless pets. Or, if your teen likes being around older people, nursing homes are often looking for volunteers to play games, read, or just spend time with their seniors. Churches and other religious organizations are also always looking for help with fundraisers, serving meals to the poor, and various other outreach activities.

Universities also expect students to have experience with volunteering. New York Time freelance contributor Julie Weed wrote recently that volunteering gives your child an advantage when it comes to college admissions. “Most students who apply to college these days list volunteer experience on their application,” said Paul Seegert, associate director in the admissions office at the University of Washington. “The students who stand out are ones who have taken on leadership roles, shown a long-term commitment to service, or brought innovation or creative solutions to their work.”

Of course, having an edge when it comes to getting into a university is a great additional benefit, but if a teen is only volunteering because it will look good on his or her college application, it won’t be as heartfelt or impactful in their lives. So, be sure your teen picks something he or she is genuinely interested in.

“Volunteering is especially beneficial to low-income teens,” Weed said. “According to a 2007 federal study, disadvantaged teens who volunteer feel empowered and are more likely to become politically engaged and to believe they will graduate from college and make a difference in their communities.”

Volunteering has many other rewards, as well. It can help teens learn about the world outside of their own environment by enabling them to come into contact with people they may not normally interact with, such as those from different backgrounds or cultures. It can even lead to a desire to travel and explore new places.

In addition, it can also help teens improve their social skills and form meaningful friendships based on shared goals and commitments. They can also acquire skills that will serve them well in the future, such as planning, organizing, and customer service.

Volunteering can allow teens to try out different careers and help them decide what they want to do in the future. For example, if they are interested in medicine, they can join a local ambulance squad or volunteer at a hospital to see if it’s something that may be right for them. Or, it may make them realize they need to pick another career, without wasting years and money on an academic path that isn’t right for them.

Volunteering is also something wonderful that families can do together. Working for a common goal is a great way to do something good for your community while strengthening family bonds and making memories. Your children may not remember that trip to an amusement park, but you can bet they’ll remember someone thanking them for providing some much-needed assistance.

Finding places to volunteer in your area is fairly easy since there are so many worthwhile causes out there. While some require a volunteer to be at least 18, many others do not. One site,, can help teens find a cause that’s right for them, like taking part in a fundraiser for Goodwill or tutoring a child at Presbyterian Community Center.

Open up a new world for your teens by encouraging them to volunteer their time to help others. It may turn out to be one of the greatest gifts you’ll ever give them.

Written for Roanoke Valley Family Magazine in Virginia





How to choose the right assisted living facility for your parent


Helping a parent make the decision to move into an assisted living facility can be difficult. Knowing the questions to ask and what to look for can make the process easier.

Assisted living facilities vary greatly. Some are made up of actual apartments with small kitchens while others are private single rooms with a common dining area. There are also various levels of care offered. Seniors who can cook and clean for themselves need a much lower level of care than those who have mobility issues and/or memory impairment.

There are many benefits for senior citizens in an assistance living facility. Depending on the type of place chosen, most offer three healthy meals per day so you know your loved one is getting the proper nutrition they need. Laundry and cleaning services are available to ensure that the senior is living in a hygienic environment and has access to clean clothing. Help with prescriptions, such as reminders to take medications at the right time and at the correct dosage, can keep conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure under control. Activities such as crafts, games and dancing, and outings to museums and plays are also planned to avoid boredom and keep seniors’ minds and bodies actively engaged. Social interaction is greatly encouraged to ward off loneliness and deter isolation. For those with more limiting health issues such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, assisted living communities can offer a high level of care in order to keep your loved one safe and comfortable.

Before getting started, help your mother or father set a budget. Make a list of priorities from necessary to desirable and try to find a place that fits their needs and wants. The facility you and your parent choose will be determined by many variables, including location and cost. Seniors should be involved, if possible, in the entire decision-making process.

Once you know the financial situation, the next step is to find some facilities to visit. You can look online, speak with family and friends who have experience with those nearby, and check with your state or area agency on aging. In Fairfax County, Virginia, you can use the following link for information on senior living facilities in the area: After you locate a few possible choices, you can then call and find out information about what they offer and price ranges, and to request brochures.

Once you have this information, decide which ones you would like to visit and make appointments to see them. Before you go, put together a list of questions that you and your parent would like answered. For example, can residents have a pet, bring their own furniture, and can they come and go as they please?

For the tour, bring your parent with you if at all possible, since it is a priority for your mother or father to feel comfortable with the facility and also give him or her a sense of control. Besides meeting with the sales person, also meet with staff and residents. Ask the residents what they like and don’t like about the center, and get their personal feelings about the place.

As recommended in the article, “Choosing the Right Assisted Living Facility,” on, “After a successful tour, drop by the facility at least once during the day and once at night. During the day, observe the social atmosphere, including activities and meals. A night visit gives you a feel for the atmosphere during quiet hours, and it allows you to evaluate the night staff.”

When you find a facility you both like, be sure to review the material received and have all the answers to your questions. Before signing a contract, take it home and look it over carefully. If there is anything you don’t understand, ask for clarification. If you’re still not sure, you can have a lawyer review it. The contract should specify all fees, services, level of care, discharge policies, and anything else you may have requested.

With the right information, you can be secure in the fact that you’re making the right decision. And your parent can be happy and well cared for in their new home.

Written for Viva Tysons magazine in Tysons, VA

Enjoy the beauty and peace of the outdoors with your own private patio garden

By Susan Baldani
Homes with outdoor living areas are in high demand, especially in cities where space is at a premium. This is where patios can make a big difference by adding useful, livable space for entertaining or just relaxing.
Many new builds take this into account, such as the J5 condo development in Midtown. “J5’s entire building design is centered around outdoor living for the homeowners,” said Pauline Miller, founder of Brightstar | Compass, which is handling the sales of J5. These condos have oversized terraces ranging in size from 100 square feet to 400 square feet, which provide plenty of space for furniture and gardens.
“We are finding our home buyers are coming from other condos where terraces and green space is not available or limited. These terraces and green spaces also appeal to homebuyers that are leaving single family homes who want the ability to spend time in the garden, and have the opportunity to ‘play in the dirt’ during the many beautiful seasons in Atlanta,” said Pauline.
Incorporating natural, living elements can create an oasis away from the fast pace of city life and bring color and style to this private outdoor space. However, knowing the right elements to use is key.
Matthew Klyn, a landscape designer and owner of Garden, a boutique landscape & garden design firm. He is well known for his designs in and beyond Atlanta and designs beautiful and interesting garden patios of all shapes and sizes.
When planning a patio garden, he stresses that many variables have to be taken into account. The right amounts of sun and water are paramount for maintaining a healthy and vibrant garden, and choosing the right plantings is essential. Since you want the garden to look good year-round, he recommends staying away from annuals and most blooming flowers. These take a lot of work and need to be replaced continually. It’s fine to have some, but he prefers to add colors with textures and containers.
“Lighting is also critical since you don’t just want to enjoy your garden during the day,” said Matt. Evenings are a great time to spend on your patio, especially once the weather gets hot. To enjoy the cooler temperatures and great city views, make sure you have the right illumination.
Gardening is in Matt’s blood. His grandfather owned 600 acres of nursery land in Ohio and had over 1600 varieties of plants. As a kid growing up in a Frank Lloyd Wright inspired house (an understudy of Wright’s actually built the house), his mom gave him the opportunity to create an appealing landscape for the front of the house. Matt took up the challenge, went to the nursery and filled the garden for her. When he was done, he decided that that was what he wanted to do with the rest of his life.
To find out more from Matt Klyn and Garden, go to or for information about the J5 condos, go to
Matt’s tips:

Tip 1: Know the weight allowance of the patio. Use lighter containers like fiber clay or fiber stone instead of ceramic, terra cotta or concrete. The latter may last longer, but they also add a lot of weight. Cover the base of the planters with gravel for drainage, use packing peanuts for fill and then add soil.
Tip 2: The sun dictates everything. When thinking about a patio garden, first figure out if it has an Eastern or Western exposure in order to calculate how much sun it gets. Evergreens and perennials, such as butterhead black pine and Japanese black pine, work great, as well as boxwoods since these can handle even the strongest sun.
Tip 3: The right amount of watering is crucial. Adding moist polymer to the soil helps hold water and prevents overwatering. To keep things simple, have watering systems with automated timers. Built in planters with irrigation are already integrated into the design of the patios in the J5 building to ensure the sustainability of gardens.

Written for Midtown Lifestyle in Atlanta, GA

Teens Behind the Wheel – Staying Safe on the Road

By Susan Baldani

A rite of passage for most teens is getting their driver’s license. It’s something that they’ve usually dreamed of for years. For parents, however, giving their kids those car keys can fill them with dread. And they have a right to be concerned. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens.”

Instead of living in fear when your teen is out driving, there are things you can do to keep them safe. And parents need to start before the child takes his first drive around the block.

“My biggest concern was obviously their safety,” said Christine Scally, a mother of two sons, ages 16 and 18, who lives in New Jersey. “We have spent a lot of time teaching them defensive driving. Also, we had to have conversations with them about who they let in their car. This became more of an issue once Sean turned 18 and the restriction regarding how many kids he was allowed in the car was lifted.”

Fortunately, laws are in place to make sure teens gain the necessary experience while curtailing how late they can drive, how many people they can have in the car, and in some cases, requiring that a licensed adult is in the car with them. These are called Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) Systems and exist in every state in the U.S. as well as in Washington, DC. And these laws do work. As stated on the CDC website, “Research suggests that the more comprehensive GDL programs are associated with reductions of 26% to 41% in fatal crashes and reductions of 16% to 22% in overall crashes, among 16-year-old drivers.”

Seat belt laws also save lives. The website goes on to state that,” Of the teens (aged 16-19) who died in passenger vehicle crashes in 2016, at least 48% were not wearing a seat belt at the time of the crash. Research shows that seat belts reduce serious crash-related injuries and deaths by about half.”

Teens today also have the more distractions than ever. Cell phones are a huge problem with kids talking and texting while driving. According to, “Multiple studies indicate using a cell phone while driving is the equivalent of driving drunk―that’s even when using a hands-free phone.”

Texting can be even worse. “Research shows texting―on average―causes a loss of focus on the road for 4.6 seconds. You can drive the length of a full football field in that time. A lot can go wrong while you drive the length of a football field without your eyes on the road.”

Sometimes technology can be an asset, if used the right way. “One of the rules that we have is that they need to enable their GPS function on their phone so we can find them at all times,” said Scally. “If they do use Google Maps or Waze, we require them to use the voice activated feature so that way they don’t have to look at the phone while driving.”

Speeding, of course, is another major cause of crashes. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports, “In 2017, speed was a contributing factor in 26% of all fatal crashes – and 9,717 people died in those speeding-related crashes. Speeders account for every 3 out of 10 drivers, or about 63.6 million drivers. It’s not just aggressive driving, it’s deadly driving.”

The higher the speed, the more severe the crash and injuries will be. There’s an increase in stopping distance and a greater potential to lose control of the vehicle.

Speed should also be adjusted according to the weather and road conditions, such as snow, rain, and fog, traffic congestion, construction, sun glare and darkness. All of these variables, and not just speed limits, should determine how fast or slow people should go. It’s better to arrive late than to not arrive at all.

Parents can also make defense driving courses a requirement for obtaining a license and getting behind the wheel. According to, “With defensive driving classes, students learn to improve their driving skills by reducing their driving risks by anticipating situations and making safe well-informed decisions.”

Some states even offer an insurance discount of up to 10% and a reduction of points on your license, which is a great incentive for all drivers. But learning to drive safely with a high level of skill is the biggest reason to take these courses.

Parents also have to be aware of their own driving habits when their kids are in the car. If they see you speeding, using your phone, not wearing your seat belt and driving aggressively, then they might think that it’s okay for them to do those things as well.

Give your teens the tools they need to be safe on the roads. It will give you peace of mind and make it much easier to hand over those car keys when the time comes.

Written for Roanoke Valley Family Magazine published in Virgina


Mother’s Day Blessings

Mother's Day pic

What I have learned from my mother

By Susan Baldani

What qualities does one need to be a wonderful mother? Well, let’s see. Kindness, selflessness, a loving heart, a caring personality, an abundance of patience, acceptance and wisdom are just a few necessary qualities. Fortunately for me, my mother has all of these and more.

Even though I never had children of my own, I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to be a stepmother and, in the last few years, a grandmother, or in my case, a MeMa. I fell into these roles rather easily, I believe, because I had such a great role model in my mother (and grandmothers). Not that the men in my life haven’t influenced me positively as well, but this article is, after all, to celebrate Mother’s Day.

I learned that my needs have to sometimes be overlooked in order to make others happy. That sacrifice is a form of love and not something to begrudge. I learned that giving to others makes me much happier than any gift I could give myself. I learned how to bring comfort, even when I feel like I’m the one who needs comforting, and that it’s better to get up to help when all I want is to do is lie down. These are traits I have tried to carry over into all of my relationships.

My mom is also one of my very best friends. I can talk to her about anything and she will never judge me, criticize me, or try to make decisions for me and my future. She will give me advice, but knows that I need to make some mistakes to find my own true path in life, and hitting a few speed bumps along the journey is the only way to really find the right destination.

My life has been filled with many successes, both personally and professionally. My mother has encouraged me to take advantage of opportunities that have arisen and has been my tireless cheerleader. I couldn’t have accomplished what I have without the belief instilled in me to trust in my own decisions.

I know I am so very fortunate to still have my mom. Some of my friends have already had to say goodbye to theirs, and my heart truly breaks for them since I know what a hole I would have in my life without my mother. No matter how old I get, I will always need my mommy. Happy Mother’s Day!

Written for The Country Register published across the U.S. and Canada.