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Giving them all the bird, solar style.

November 18, 2010

by Ashley Akin

We are officially one week away from Thanksgiving, Smallest Users – that fatty, lazy, utterly American holiday on which you must commit to one or all of the following: stuffing your face to the point of being equal parts disgusted and satisfied with yourself, watching a bunch of football games and/or parades that 80% of the people in the room don’t really care about (floats are scary – they’re like mascots that can fly), and taking family pictures in which half of your relatives will have their eyes closed, your Uncle Mel will still be wearing that damn Cosby sweater from ’82, and your Stepford cousin Marcy will be telling you all to sit up straight so she can get “one good shot” to include in her self-important Christmas update letter. No, Marcy, we will NOT all wear matching snowflake sweaters. Yes, Marcy, we all live to make you deeply unhappy.

And we all know what the main event will be: the bird. (You thought I was gonna say that bourbon-soaked cat fight your Mom and Aunt Kathy always have about who’s gonna get Meemaw’s good teacups when she passes, didn’t you? Well not this year. We put Post-It notes on the back of everything after that brawl last Easter, so now Meemaw can have her daiquiris in peace while she slowly marches toward “the sweet release of death” – her words, not mine.)

Now the question becomes how to prepare that Butterball. If you wanna go full-out Southern fatfest, you know what to do: deep fry that sucker. I know, I know, that’s not exactly kind to your waistband or the environment. Gah, you are such a buzzkill. OK, how about we go traditional and bake the bird? Sure, that’s better, but a little research reveals that America will expend 792 million kilowatt-hours cooking turkeys on Thanksgiving. That’s all well and good, you say, but wha-tha-frick is a kilowatt-hour? To put it in perspective, 56 countries in the world use less energy than that in a whole dimly-lit-but-energy-friendly YEAR. Uh-huh. You can thank your fancy friends at GoGreenSolar.com for that fresh batch of infoguilt.

So what, you ask, can we do to ensure we kill ourselves slowly with cholesterol (like we want) without killing the environmental goodness we’ve been doing? The answer is about as tree-hugger as it gets: a solar cooker. Solar cookers are handy little devices that use only the sun as an energy source, meaning they require no fuel or money. And the best part is that they look like this: a mix between your 5th-grade science project and a prop from the set of Roswell, the fabulously terrible WB show that launched a bunch of teenage girls’ alien fantasies and Katherine Heigl’s career. Thanks WB! Sure Kathy H. is a witch on the set, but that girl can deliver a joke.

If you decide you want to go full-on granola and purchase one of these bad boys, it will cost you. Around $250 to be exact-ish. Or you can go the Ikea route and build it yourself – here’s one of many websites that can tell you how. And it’s as (somewhat) simple as that! Trust me, you haven’t had so much fun with tin foil, cardboard and rubber cement since elementary school. Oh OK, go ahead and paint your palm with that rubber cement and peel it off. You know you want to. Just don’t be the kid that sniffs the glue. Because I know that kid, and he turned out real special… and not in the good way.

Heating & Cooling the Evergreen way: Because Bill O’Reilly’s not the only person who knows about being full of hot air

November 11, 2010

by Ashley Akin

This year has been a year of extremes, Smallest Users, and I don’t just mean the extreme ridiculousness of my breaking two feet in one year. (Yup – click on over here and read that story if you want to feel better about your crappy life.) Our resident MLGW experts tell me that this was the warmest year since the 1850’s. On top of that, Mother Nature – that finicky little trick – went ahead and threw us a pretty bone-chilling winter as well.

That resulted in more than a few totally cray-cray utility bills. You know how it goes – you brave the sweltering 105 degree heat to go to the mailbox, you calmly open your bill and then you scream like a little girl… well, a little girl with a dirty mouth because cussing is definitely involved, at least at my house. And then you implement some sort of insane plan under which no one is allowed to set the thermostat below 78 degrees, you only let the dog out once a day because you don’t want to let cool air escape, and bathing suits become the house uniform. And that is an ugly, sticky hot mess. Especially if your Dad owns a Speedo.

Anywho, I bring up this unfortunate trend because enterprising Evergreener Jessie Marshall came up with a truly inspired solution: if you have a house with a central stair (as many midtown houses do), you can turn on only the upstairs air conditioning and it will cool the whole house. I know – pretty unbelievable. It’s like magic or voodoo or some other imaginary thing like science.

Really, though, this does make sense: since cold air falls, you’re essentially benefiting from gravity by using your cold air to cool two floors instead of one. And speaking of gravity, I made a pretty serious pact with myself that I would mention The Best Song In The World from The Best Musical In The World whenever the word “gravity” comes up, so if you haven’t heard the song “Defying Gravity” from the magical musical experience Wicked, click on over. No really. Listening to one song from one musical doesn’t automatically make you a pansy, despite what all those football players told you in high school.

Musical-theater rant aside, my extremely underdeveloped scientific ability leads me to believe this system might also work in the winter with heating. If my 5th grade science teacher is to be believed (and I’m not entirely sure she should be – that woman had a scary wart and a seriously heinous attitude), heat rises, so using the heat only on the ground floor should allow it to rise and heat the second floor. Put that in your pipe, nerds.

Now go give that a try and report back, Smallest Users. I would hate to learn that my in-depth scientific study on heat rising (i.e. a whole minute of Google-verification) was flawed. I don’t want this blog to turn into my own A Million Little Pieces scandal. Because I honestly think disappointing Oprah should be a capital offense. She’s FLIPPIN’ Oprah, dude. And you’re still not.

Because one post on twinkly lights is simply not enough.

November 4, 2010

by Ashley Akin

Well, Smallest Users, winter is upon us. I know this because I spent the better part of yesterday in the Take Care Clinic at your friendly neighborhood Walgreens getting my throat poked with a sharp stick to make sure I don’t have strep. (I don’t.)

First of all, I love the Take Care Clinic. The ladies who work at the McLean & Union clinic manage to make even the taking of blood pressure sassy, and that takes some doing.

Secondly, I got to sit next to a lovely older woman (Pearleetha – no lie) who kept trying to read People magazine over my shoulder because she didn’t need to “go buying a whole one for herself.” Like we were splitting a candy bar or something.

Now this led me to think: OK, times are tough, I get it. But we are at Walgreens, and I’m not sure if this is morally reprehensible, but I do not plan on purchasing this magazine after I read it. Am I the only person who uses the Walgreens magazine aisle like my personal public library? I mean, between toilet paper runs and airport delays, I think Walgreen’s and People magazine have made enough cash off of me, okay? Don’t you judge me.

Anyway, on to the third reason I ♥ Walgreens: RIDICULOUSLY discounted decorations. I got a Thanksgiving wreath, 2 mini-scarecrows, and a whole mess of tiny candles for under $10. Basically I am now equipped to outfit the crap out of a munchkin cottage if necessary. Now that’s holiday cheer.

So, Smallest Users, my point is that there are deals afoot, and we want to help you take advantage of them. Especially the ones that will help you use less energy and spread more cheer.

For instance, Home Depot is holding a Holiday Light Exchange until November 14. You bring in your old string of lights (working or broken) to trade in, and they will give you a coupon for $3 off the energy-saving LED lights. These lights are up to 95% more energy-efficient than their traditional counterparts, and they don’t break as easily.

Which means no one has to spend 10 hours sitting in the living room floor going bulb-by-bulb trying to find the cracked one so that Meemaw doesn’t have to unwrap the whole tree and re-string it. She doesn’t have time for that. A turkey doesn’t baste itself, y’ungrateful little wretch.

So get yourself to the Home Depot, Users. There are ten days left to cash in, and – while you may not be as thrifty as my ole lady Pearleetha who second-hand-reads gossip mags over sick people’s shoulders – everyone likes to save a buck. Especially when it saves energy.

Foil: It’s not just for protecting geeks’ brains from aliens anymore.

November 2, 2010

by Ashley Akin

I recently had a dream in which my grandmother covered everything in her house with aluminum foil. I realize this is weird and makes me appear quite crazy. But lately I have also heard ghosts singing gospel tunes at 4:00 a.m., so “weird” is a relative term for me.

Anyway, this dream is bizarre three times over because 1) as far as I know, my grandmother has a pretty healthy relationship with foil and only uses it to take home extra dinner rolls from The Bobcat (“Nah look Roy, we paid for those too, dadgummit.”); 2) she doesn’t like to leave her recliner long enough to do anything as time-consuming as fully papering a room in foil; and 3) she is deceased. [You see what I did there with the verb tenses? Making you think she was alive and such until right there at the end. English majors are tricky.]

Despite all of this, the dream did get me to thinking… [And yes, I realize I just typed “get me to thinking.” Going down memory lane drudges up so many East Tennessee accents that I am sure I’ll spend the rest of the day talking about what I’m “fixin’ ta do.”] I think the elderly really like foil. Aside from the obvious uses such as getting your hair colored blue at the salon or fixing the TV antenna (because “Cable is Communist!”), those in the octogenarian set can make anything happen with the help of foil. Or Polident. Or, according to my grandfather, purple cow medicine. But that’s another story for another time, Smallest Users…

So what, you may ask, can foil do for you? As it turns out, plenty: One sheet can save you both money and energy by way of heat reflection. If your house has a radiator, placing one piece of foil between the radiator and the wall will allow heat to bounce back into a room rather than just heating up the wall from the outside, which my inner fireman tells me isn’t all that safe anyway. [And yes, my inner fireman wears suspenders, slides down poles and rescues kittens. He’s very busy, but he still makes time to answer heating questions in between trips to the gym.]

There are two things to remember: 1) make sure the shiny side of the foil is facing the radiator – the dull side won’t reflect heat as well; and 2) cut the piece of foil slightly smaller than radiator. That has nothing to do with science, but my inner interior decorator tells me that a shiny half-foiled wall might make your decor look a little like a Jerry Springer guest’s dining-room-trailer. [And yes, my inner interior decorator is the perfect blend of Julia Sugarbaker, with her sarcasm and take-charge attitude, and Suzanne Sugarbaker, with her big hair and sequins. Oh I feel so late-80’s Atlanta businesswoman just thinking about it! But it is making me want to wear shoulder pads, so perhaps we should leave it there.]

And it’s as simple (and cheap and easy) as that, Smallest Users. And that’s all she wrote. Which, coupled with our late-80’s TV references, makes me think of Murder, She Wrote which makes me think of detectives which makes me think of Colombo which makes me think of Peter Falk which makes me think of The Princess Bride. And boom. That’s how you get a Princess Bride reference in every post. It’s good to have goals.

Slap happy holidays: How Smallest Users beat the seasonal energy-suck

October 28, 2010

by Ashley Akin

The holiday season is upon us, and I have one thing on my mind: sparkles. Well, sparkles and booze, but we’ll get to that later. While that is not a particularly professional confession, it is a fact. My mother swears I didn’t grow up in a trailer park or participate in any sort of Toddlers & Tiaras experiment, but I’m simply not convinced. Because there is a voice in my head that constantly whispers, “Put on that electric blue eyeshadow and bedazzled jean jacket. It’s a totally valid look. Sequins are in again, didn’t you know?”

And I fight that urge, in the solitude of my closet, with only my dog’s disapproving looks to convince me that pleather is not appropriate for class, even if it is raining outside. But you know what? The holidays are the perfect excuse to blow off conventional taste and let your inner drag queen out for a while, and we at The Smallest User want to encourage that kind of expression.

You want to cover your house with giant spiders and put witch faces in every window? Have at it. You want to spray paint helpless vegetables ridiculous metallic colors in the name of celebrating the pilgrims? You go girl. You want to wrap every tree in your yard with a thousand little lights and smother all your plants in tinsel? Mazeltov. You want to do all of this with a seasonal cocktail in your hand? YES, honey, yes.

But we, Smallest Users, have one thing to consider this year that we might have overlooked in the past: how much energy are we willing to waste in order to spread all this holiday cheer? To be honest, my usual answer would have been ALL OF IT, but that’s just because my inner redneck – we’ll call her Krystal – usually takes over my body from October 1 to January 2. In reality, though, there are plenty of energy-efficient decorations you can use to minimize your contribution to global warming and still warm everyone with the holiday spirit…. or is that just the whiskey? Well whichever.

For example, swap out your old light strings for some LED Christmas lights. They are energy-efficient, they last much longer than traditional bulbs, and they don’t get as hot. Which means you can tell Peepaw he’s got nothing to worry about when y’all leave the tree lit while you go to the Cracker Barrel. [Also, if you buy new ones, you don’t have to watch your Dad go all Clark Griswold while trying to undo the knotted-up crazypile of last year’s lights.]

And speaking of fire hazards, candles are a decorator’s best friend when trying to reduce energy use but still keep things festive and bright. Plus everyone looks more attractive in candlelight, so even that weird guy from Accounting will have a shot at some inappropriate office action at your next holiday gathering.

And finally, in the spirit of the most hallowed of holidays – The ‘Ween – remember that simple is good. Carve a pumpkin, you old fart! They’re easy, pretty, dim yet attractive – pretty much like any (insert-your-rival sorority-here) girl that you knew during your college days. C’mon, you remember how much fun they were…

The point is that a little time and ingenuity can be better than the energy-sucking glitz and glam that Target throws at you. So get your knife, your spoon and your garbage bag and get to carving. And remember all that bluster your mom used to spew about how gawh-geous your pumpkins were because you’ll need that shot of confidence after you take a look at these. And perhaps that shot of whiskey too.

Getting this blog out of the toilet

October 26, 2010

by Ashley Akin

Well, Smallest Users, it’s been a while. Due to a seriously hectic fall schedule that has required my Smallest User efforts be more out-in-the-world than online, I have been an absentee blogger. Which I hate. As many of you know, I would much prefer to sit on my broken behind and figure out how to connect Lady Gaga’s latest fugfreak outfit to energy-saving light switches or something; however it simply was not to be.

But you know what? I’m just gonna go ahead and tell all these people who’ve been requiring me to run around with fliers and T-shirts that they’re not my real parents anyway, and I’m gonna get back to my well-cushioned bloggy existence. In the spirit of melodramatic oaths (I watched The Princess Bride last night, so Inigo Mantoya is reverberating through my brain right now), I promise you readers – on the sword of my father – that I will  post this inane chatter at least twice a week for the foreseeable future.

I know, I know; it’s quite a commitment. In general the only things I like to do twice a week are watch The Vampire Diaries (brood, Stefan, brood!) and drink margaritas, but this is what I’m prepared to do for you, Smallest Users. And you’re welcome for that. Now take a minute to let the relief wash over you, and we’ll get started.

Last week I stayed with one of my friends in Nashville, and a small toilet issue arose. Now I grew up with brothers, so usually that would be a euphemism for some Taco-Bell-related incident, but what I’m actually talking about here is the incessant running of water.

I think we’re all familiar with the chain of events: you hear the water running an hour after you flush the toilet, you go in the bathroom, stare at it, huff around, do the professional plumber handle-jiggle, use some choice language, and then you call your landlord. [Or, if you’re a person like me who grew up in a house that had toilets from what must have been the early 1800s, you get out your coat-hanger and safety-pin and you Macgyver around in the tank until it stops. Just like your Daddy taught you.]

One thing is for sure: you are right to get (what seems like) irrationally angry about this little trickle for two reasons: 1) some of us have a bladder the size of a 90-year-old woman’s and will have to go 10 times as much with that waterfall noise in the background, and 2) “toilet leaks can waste as much as four to five gallons of water per minute and cost up to $100 per month in increased water and wastewater bills.”

Uhuh. One HUNDRED dollars. And oh right, the energy-saving part: a leak of this magnitude would waste 7200 gallons of water in just 24 hours. If you need a visual, picture 7200 gallons of milk (because frankly I have neither the time nor inclination to Photoshop that mess), and you’ll get the picture. (No pun intended. Seriously – I hate puns.)

So here are your options when your bathroom starts to sounds like Adventure River (which was just as sweet in the early 90’s as the picture to the left suggests it was):

1) Call your landlord. If you’re still one of us who is burning money by way of rent, take advantage of that, and demand a plumber. You’re probably the one paying the utilities anyway, and a leak will most likely affect your bottom line instead of theirs.

2) Call a plumber. If you own your home, you’d probably like to make sure your indoor plumbing lasts a lifetime (or at least until you sell that sucker off), and even most Amish people aren’t allowed to use outhouses anymore. Toilets are the easiest thing to screw up in a house if you don’t know what you’re doing, so there’s no shame in getting the job outsourced. [This is in contrast to the truly horrendous”Outsourced” that is the new NBC sitcom which is about as funny as Rush Limbaugh and even less politically correct.]

3) Do it yourself. Now HOLD UP. We are not all Bob Villa. If you do not already have a working knowledge of the words like “flapper/tank ball” or “float cup fill valve,” this may be out of your depth. But if you have spent time honing your skills, there’s no sense in paying Roto-Rooter to do your dirty work for you. There are hundreds of (legitimate) websites that can help you plumb like a pro, so if being elbow-deep in toilet water makes you feel like a man, go for it.

And, as Mister Roger’s would say, that’s all for today kids. I think we’ve accomplished a lot: we’ve reestablished trust, we’ve talked about toilets, we’ve made our required mention of vampires. I’m not sure there’s much more you could want out of a Tuesday. Except perhaps a trip to the Neighborhood of Make Believe. And on that note, I’m out.

What you need is a cold shower…

October 5, 2010

This one is not for the faint of heart… That’s right people – the Evergreen residents have gotten serious to the point of foregoing a hot shower in the name of saving energy! Thanks to Dan Case for this (literally) cool energy-saving tip.

by Dan Case

One way in which I save energy comes from my memories of the two semesters spent living in a student dorm in Muenster, Germany from 1955 to 1956. The shower facilities in our dorm gave only cold water unless you stuck a few coins into a slot, in which case you got a few minutes of hot water. Most or all of us showered much of the time with just the cold water.

I find that during the warm season, when my thermostat is at 76 (or higher, on the hotter days), a cold shower is refreshing and seems to contribute OK to cleanliness. Accordingly, I take one or more cold showers in between the hot ones. When I do take a hot shower, I do it right after getting up in the morning, when the air brought into the house by the exhaust fan isn’t hot.

Now I plan to experiment with cold showers in the cold season, when my thermostat is at 65 (or lower, on the coldest days). With the temperature in my house having dropped to around 70 degrees, everything so far is going well. Wish me luck as the temperature drops further!

Another way I save energy is by washing some of my clothes in cold water, using a laundry detergent labeled as being designed for cold water. This, too, seems to work well for me.

If you have any comments or questions for Dan, e-mail Ashley and she will pass them along. Thanks so much to this extremely dedicated Evergreen residents for sharing his story!