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Smallest User’s Swan Song – Congrats to Cooper-Young!

February 10, 2011

by Ashley Akin

Well Smallest Users, it is a bittersweet time here at SU-headquarters (i.e. my couch since the “huge blizzard” that hit Memphis yesterday shut down the university). Our year-long competition has ended, we have celebrated its success with BBQ, buddies and booze, and we have revealed that Cooper-Young emerged victorious to become The Smallest User!

If you’d like to read the final round-up, check out the article by journalism student Brennan Somers in The Daily Helmsman that ran last Tuesday. It shows that “Cooper-Young households finished an average of $19.59 below their 2008 total, while Evergreen’s homes finished $1.36 higher.”

Regardless of the outcome, both neighborhoods put forth valiant effort and enthusiastically participated to make this competition a success. The Smallest User committee cannot thank you enough for all of your curiosity, fervor and, most importantly, action.

As we attempt to take this contest-driven idea further, we will check back in periodically to update all of you who are interested on our progress. We would, however, like to make you an offer: if any members of the Cooper-Young or Evergreen communities would like to take over regular Smallest User blogging duties, we’d be happy to let you take this project and run. We had so many great guest-bloggers over the course of the contest, so please e-mail Ashley if you have any interest in going semi-pro with energy-savings.

Again, we appreciate all the support from the United Way, the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis , the Strengthening Communities Initiative, the U of M journalism department, MLGW, and especially Cooper-Young Community Association and Evergreen Historical District Association. Special thanks to Debbie Sowell who led Cooper-Young to their well-earned victory. She and CYCA will be receiving their handsome cash prize – which amounts to over $3500! – soon. She says they will be looking into putting solar panels and the CYCA headquarters, so she clearly plans to keep up the good work.

And with that we’ll sign off here, but we want to remind you that bigger is not always better, and sometimes it really does pay to be the Smallest User.


The Smallest User Party and Awards Ceremony – Tuesday Feb. 5 at Playhouse at 5:30

January 20, 2011
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Calling all Smallest Users! The energy-saving competition between Cooper-Young and Evergreen has come to an end, and we invite you to come celebrate with us and find out which neighborhood is The Smallest User!

We will have food from Central BBQ, beer and wine, live music, goody bags and giveaways. (We will also have a vegetarian food option available.) You can pick up your free Smallest User T-shirt* and enter the raffle to win the following: 2 In-home energy evaluations, 2 $50 gift certificates from Lowe’s, 4 smart strips, and multiple energy-saving kits and CFL light bulbs. We will also have experts on hand to answer any energy-saving questions you may have.

MLGW’s Tom Chamberlain will give a brief overview of the competition and Dr. David Arant, a representative of The Smallest User committee from the U of M, will announce the contest winner and present the winning neighborhood with their handsome cash prize. It will be a celebration not to be missed, so grab your neighbors, come toast with us and find out which neighborhood is The Smallest User!

$25 Home Depot gift certificate AND free stuff! Easy as that.

January 12, 2011

Message from Tom Chamberlain of MLGW:

We need homeowners to be interviewed for Memphis Energized tomorrow, Jan. 13, about energy saving changes you’ve made in your home. The volunteers will receive GIVEAWAYS and a $25 GIFT CERTIFICATE to Home Depot! We are willing to work around your schedule and will come tape you at your convenience. Please call me at 528-4887 or e-mail

Smart cooking for Smallest Users… and kittens with top hats, too

December 1, 2010

by Ashley Akin

Last night I was watching Tosh.0 and came across this slightly adorable yet fairly upsetting clip of a kitten in a top hat getting smacked by its Mama. I was shopping for Christmas present online at the time – specifically for a Masters bucket hat to replace the one my Dad dropped in the lake this summer – and this brought back a lot of memories.

(For those of you who don’t know this, Paul’s swimming attire consists of the following: a Masters hat, a Kiwanis T-shirt, a really snug life jacket, trunks, shin-high socks, and tennis shoes. This is not what he goes to the lake in; this is what he SWIMS in. It is also, incidentally, what he wears while attempting to rescue sinking hats… despite the fact that his life jacket makes it impossible for him to dive deeper than 2 feet below the surface and in spite of the fact that it seriously makes him look like he’s drowning. It also gives him a super sadface which is unacceptable on Paul because when Paul looks sad or cries we ALL cry. See for evidence: my brother’s wedding.)

Anywho, when I thought about Christmas and kittens and gifts and crying, I remembered the Christmas when I was five and I asked Santa for a kitten. As it turns out, Santa and Mother Nature were conspiring against me because there was NO kitten in my stocking Christmas morning… there was, however, a note explaining that kittens aren’t born until spring or some such nonsense, so I had to suck it up and wait 5 months before we went and picked out a kitten we named Rocky Top… who turned out the be pure evil and clawed my ankles for years, but that only made me like him more.

In any case, I was left to deal with a truly unprecedented swell of emotions that Christmas, so I turned to the massive amounts of food we had in the kitchen for comfort. Look, Oprah can tell you that emotional eating is not the answer a thousand times over, but my pie-stuffed, dressing-filled, ham-covered, over-sugared 5-year-old self would beg to differ. Sometimes a good old-fashioned gut-out is just what you need.

What, you may ask, does this have to do with saving energy? Well, for one thing I was in much too deep a food coma that Christmas to watch TV, so that surely saved us some kilowatts, but the real point here is the food. Between bundt cakes and turkey and that green bean casserole that’s EVERYWHERE, the U.S. wastes a boatload of energy cooking for the holidays (as we learned here in our turkey-cooking post).

So we at The Smallest User would like to share with you some holiday energy-saving tips from our friends at Wisconsin Public Service. No, that’s not a joke – Wisconsin does have something to offer aside from Chris Farley, Liberace and cheese. Here goes:

  1. Use a slow cooker. For 17 cents worth of electricity, you can make a whole meal.
  2. When checking on food in the oven, look through the window. Opening the door for even a second lowers the temperature by as much as 25°.
  3. Turn off your oven several minutes before your food is fully cooked. As long as the door remains closed, there will be enough heat to finish cooking your meal.
  4. If you use glass or ceramic pans, turn your oven temp down 25°. Your dish will probably cook just as quickly.
  5. Keep your refrigerator and freezer well stocked. A full refrigerator or freezer saves energy by reducing the recovery time when the door is opened.

Who knew, Smallest Users? Being a face-stuffing hoarder with a full fridge actually SAVES you energy. Score one for the fat kids! And speaking of kids and fat things and animals we’d like to see under the tree Christmas morning, I’d like to end with a little jingle my boss in Nashville introduced me to a few Christmases ago: I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas. It’s amazing. It will make you want to off yourself at first but will totally grow on you. Kinda like Martha Stewart or Bobby Flay. Or babies. Happy feasting!


Lazyman’s List – Tip No. 4: A little bit of venting and a lot of hot air

November 30, 2010

by Ashley Akin

I am officially stuck somewhere between turkey-coma and fury-shopping, and I don’t wanna. I don’t wanna go to work, I don’t wanna leave my house, I don’t wanna do anything. It’s cold and yucky and I left my rain jacket at The Green Beetle 5 months ago and now it’s closed so I have nowhere to play darts or eat bone-in pork chops sandwiches or get my girl Sherri to make me squirrel juice AND I have to walk to my car in the rain.

Hmphhh. You better believe my face is so wrenched up in pout mode that I look like a monkey. And not a cute one. A cranky one. (OK, the one in that picture’s still cute, but I assure you, I am not.)

A day like this makes me want to chug coffee, eat soup (which I guess I always want to do), wear fuzzy pajama pants to work and do the absolute minimum while I’m here (which I guess I also always want to do, but shut up and don’t judge me). In light of my mood, I don’t want to charge you with anything that would require even a moderate amount of effort, so I’ve come up with a task so easy that even Wayne from The Wonder Years wouldn’t bother forcing Kevin to do it.

OK, that reference is random, even for me. I’ve recently become addicted to the HUB Network (yes, I know it’s for children), and The Wonder Years is still fan-freaking-tastic. Wayne, I’ve also learned from my friend Dunny, is alive and well and living in Nashville with his well-endowed wife, trimmed-down waistline and quite the tequila fetish. (He’s also apparently lost the blonde “mushroom-hairdo” as Dunny so aptly put it, so that automatically makes me want to punch him in the face less.) In short, he’s not the Wayne of the olden days, but he sounds kind of awesome nonetheless.

Anyway, the simple task I’m assigning is this: walk around your house and make sure you don’t have any drapes or furniture blocking heating vents or your radiator. That’s it. I would go into some grand explanation (that I just learned from Googling the Interwebs), but, as I’ve mentioned every other sentence in this post, I don’t wanna. It’s good old common sense – You block the heat, the heat won’t come out. And then you’ll be cold and have to pay more money because you’re pumping more heat and that will give you the pouty monkeyface. And yours won’t be cute either.

Plus, I’d imagine it’s a pretty big freaking hazard to have blankets or drapes or your fuzzy pajama pants or whatever slopped all on top of your heating vents (that’s why I never take mine off). I think it’s probably as stupid as leaving Christmas lights on while you’re sleeeping, which, incidentally, I used to do ALL the time.

I don’t do this anymore because I have a dog and am terrified of killing her in our sleep. Let’s Dr. Phil that for a moment, shall we? I’m terrified of killing her. I have never been concerned about losing all of my personal belongings in a fire, burning myself to a crisp, or single-handedly becoming the demise of any of the various apartment complexes I’ve lived in.

But one tiny smush-faced animal? I sleep with my (one good) eye open, fully ready to fight off murderers or fires, whichever attacks us first. To be fair, she is the laziest animal in the world (my mother calls her a “stuffed animal with a heartbeat”) and would undoubtedly just lie there while the flames engulfed her, so I have reason to be overly concerned, but still. I think my priorities may be slightly off.

So that’s it for me. I’m off to caffeine my way through the rest of this day and then return home to my fuzzy pants and my fuzzy dog. And if you’d like to waste the rest of your day looking for some fuzzies of your own, I can help… With the pants, not the dog – she came from a shelter in Viola, TN that makes Deliverance look like Club Med, so you’re on your own with that. Check out all kinds of fuzzy bottoms here. Ugh, that sounded gross. Monkeyface.

A bear, a bird, a bunny & a squirrel: Our furry friends teach us why fire is fun

November 24, 2010

by Ashley Akin

I think we can all agree that fires are awesome. I should probably qualify: Fires that you control are awesome. I don’t want y’all running off over Thanksgiving and telling everyone that The Smallest User blog is waging war against poor Smokey the Bear. After all, only YOU can prevent forest fires.

Incidentally, I think I took that phrase wrong when I was little and felt a lot of pressure to single-handedly prevent all fires. But then I saw that litter commercial with the crying Indian, and I figured not throwing my McDonald’s wrapper out on the highway was enough to make me a good person.

Nevertheless, fires can be fun. You can use them for anything: making s’mores, cooking steaks, having seances, burning incriminating evidence… ya know, your everyday needs. But did you know, Smallest Users, that fires can be good for saving energy as well? It’s true – fires can help significantly reduce your heating bill as long as you know how to manage the heat they produce correctly.

And thanks to our friends at Home Tips, we do:

1) Close your doors and crack a window. This will trap the heat in the room you’re in while still giving the fire enough air to burn. This will also give everything in the room a serious bonfire smell for a few days, which I happen to love – it makes me feel like I live in a cabin and wear button-down sweaters and write mystery novels. Some people, however, complain about the smell yet still end up at Bed, Bath & Beyond buying a candle called something ridiculous like “Starry nights, fiery flames” and make me think: MORON. You’re paying $29.95 to make your den smell like a campsite when a fire could do that for free. To each his own and all that crap I guess.

2) Use the right grate. Make sure you have one that “maximizes heat flow to your room or has C-shaped parallel tubes that point toward the room.” This will recycle the air back into the room once it has been heated.

3) Always use the damper. Closing off your fireplace when not in use will keep cold air out and save you up to 15% of your energy bill. It will also, it turns out, keep critters such as birds or squirrels from coming down your fireplace and scampering through the living room Christmas morning, causing Mom to throw her coffee in Dad’s eyes and your brother to stand on top of the couch screaming like a little girl. Trust me – trying to catch a squirrel with a butterfly net is much easier if you take your brand new bunny slippers off before you start running across the wood floor.

And that’s really all there is to it. A little common sense and a lot of lighter fluid are a surefire way to put a spark in the holidays. And I should know. When I was 7-years-old, the neighbors were shooting bottle-rockets a little too close to our kitchen window when our TV exploded. We found out later that it was faulty wiring, but I will never forget Mrs. Keese herding her family inside and screaming “Leave the deviled eggs! The cops are coming!” while we calmly called the fire department. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that Germantown is boring.

$creen$aver$: How my hatred of pointless dollar $ign$ can save you money

November 23, 2010

by Ashley Akin

I realized today that I am officially old, and I’m OK with that. I know this to be true for two reasons. #1: I started the day by telling my dog “Dadgummit, I hate it when it rains. Makes m’bones ache.” (I realize this is due in no small part to the ridiculous amounts of foot-breakage I’ve had in the past year, but I point you to the fact that I actually used the word “dadgummit.” I’m pretty sure that’s reserved for the over-80 set, so I’m clearly on my way to The Home.)

#2: I passed an (I’m assuming) freshman this morning whose computer had a Ke$ha screensaver on it, and I muttered “Ugh, kids these days don’t know jack about music.” OK, I may have said something stronger than “jack,” but only real old people can cuss and shout about their opinions in public and still be adorable rather than offensive, so I’m gonna hold off on that one for a few years.

Anyway, my reaction was hilarious to me because I am the person who once saw Britney Spears twice in one year and wore a homemade shirt to a Backstreet Boys concert. My friends and I, no lie, wore shirts that spelled out W-E-L-O-V-E-B-S-B. Yep. So that happened.

To be honest, that no longer embarrasses me after having watched the BSB/NKOTB performance on the AMAs. I don’t care if they are 40-year-old men bopping around in a synchronized dance, desperately trying to channel Justin Bieber. If I still (or ever) looked good in just a sports bra and a pleated skirt, you better believe we’d be staging “Baby, One More Time” in a high school gym while the kids were on Thanksgiving break. So have at it, boys.

All of this is to say that this screensaver helped me realize I am no longer the pop music industry’s target demographic. I know this because Ke$ha, dear, you kinda make me want to poke my (one good) eye out. First of all, the dollar sign is nonsense. If Prince wants us to write his name as some whacked-out symbol, we will. He’s Diamonds-and-Pearls, for the 90’s sake. You are not.

Secondly, why so angry, Keh-dollarsign-ha? You are a (theoretically) hot young blonde who is making millions for stomping around and yelling. You should have a beauty-pageant permasmile. Third, if you took all that goth warpaint off, I’m pretty sure we’d find you are Mayim Bialik underneath. Seriously, you two could be twins. And Blossom was so happy all the time. It was probably because she wore that flower on her head. Perhaps you should consider that.

As Joey Lawrence would say, “WOAH!” – I have, as usual, gotten way off topic here. There is a point, Smallest Users, no matter how thinly-connected it may be. And it is this: screensavers are eeee-ville. And not just the ones with soon-to-be-washed-up pop stars who fake-smash guitars. The whole lot of them.

In terms of energy-saving, screensavers are a giant waste of power. Not only do they not save you energy, they actually require your computer to run using the same amount of energy it does when you’re using it. Most laptops, for example, use between 15-45 watts of electricity when active, but they only use 6 watts when you put them in standby mode.

Now I know what some of you are thinking: I like my family-picture-slideshow/snow-falling/holiday-themed/scrolling-marquee screensaver, dern it, and you can’t take it away from me. Look – as the kids say – I feel you. I’d like nothing more than to have a fuzzy Coke-drinking polar bear or scantily-clad pop star running to and fro across my computer screen at all times.

But there is another way – if you switch from screensavers to standby, you’ll not only save energy but also money. Enough money to, say, paper your bedroom in posters of frolicking animals, pop singers or whatever weirdness your heart desires. After all, nothing says “‘Tis the season” like a room covered in penguins or Katy Perry posters. Whatever floats your boat, dude. As long as I don’t have to be in it.