outdoor life

A few months ago, I was in the mood to organize my patio a bit and just update the look a little. With having a very small patio, and it being my only outdoor space, I started itching to have a place to hide all of my miscellaneous items.

I made a trip to Lowe's and looked around at the organization options, but didn't see anything that really caught my eye. I'd found a display of recycled material outdoor cabinets, but the only one I saw at the time was a bit more money than I wanted to spend. But luckily, I wandered back to the display and discovered a slightly smaller cabinet for a perfect price. I picked up an enviro elements resin cabinet, put it together for myself, and immediately crammed it full of my things. It was very easy to put together and has held up well the past few months.

While I was there, I looked at the welcome mats and found a few recycled ones, but nothing that really struck my style. Then I came across the cutest owl mat, made of recycled rubber and other materials. I still smile every time I step over the owl to enter or exit my house. 

And of course I had to get new outdoor pillows for my chairs. While they aren't technically recycled, they still show off my love of birds and trees and bring a cute natural element to my patio. 

What I love the most about my patio redesign was the simplicity and ease of being green without having to spend money or find an obscure store or rely on the Internet. One simple trip to Lowe's found everything I needed to solve my storage problem and freshen up my outdoor style.

The only problem now is that it's just a little too hot to actually SIT outside on my patio. Oh well, I'll look forward to September. 


hot hot hot!

Louisiana summers are always brutal, and this week is no exception. Today's high in Lafayette is 100, with a heat index of 108, and heat precautions are plentiful.

Energy conservation is always important, but moreso in the summer. When the days are hot and the sun is brutal, energy grids take on extra stress from people cranking air conditioners on top of regular electrical use. Conserving energy helps you, your electrical bill, and the energy grid. You can help relieve some of the strain on the grid. A few summers ago, Lafayette Utilities System warned everyone of possible rolling blackouts if electrical use wasn't conserved. If the system gets too strained, then everyone loses power until the grid can come back up - and no one wants that when it's 100 outside!

So, here are some of my easy suggestions (and practices I use) for energy conservation in the summertime:

  1. Turn your thermostat up while you're at work during the day. Energy demand is at a peak when the sun is the hottest, and that's during the day, while you most likely aren't home. Turn up your thermostat so the air conditioner won't run as often while you aren't there to enjoy its benefits. In the evenings, the energy demand is not as high because the sun isn't as strong. 
  2. Wash your clothes in cold water, and only use the dryer at night, when the energy demand is not as high.
  3. Use CFL lightbulbs. Not only do they use less energy, but they give off less heat, helping your air conditioner have to work a little less.
  4. Use thermal curtains if possible. If you don't have thermal curtains, just keep your windows closed and regular curtains drawn tight. Anything that helps to block out the sun will help keep your home cooler, and help reduce the work of your air conditioner.
  5. When cooking, try to use the oven as little as possible. It helps keep extra heat out of your kitchen and your home. Plus, eating food you don't have to cook helps to keep YOU cool! This past weekend I made a delicious summer salad with corn, tomatoes, avocado and a cilantro dressing. It didn't require any stove, oven or microwave use. 
  6. Give your hair and hair appliances a break! Skip the blowdryer and other appliances sometimes. I have very thick, naturally curly hair, and in my blow-drying and straightening process, my bathroom heats up quite a bit. But I've decided to forget to even attempt to straighten my hair - because my hair and Louisiana humidity do not get along, and because I can keep my apartment cooler by not using heat products. It's so much easier to let my hair go natural than spend time and use nonessential electricity trying to straighten it.
  7. While vehicles aren't on the energy grid, another way to stay (more) comfortable in the summer is to invest in a windshield sun shade. If you have to park your car in the sun during the day (like I do), the sun shade helps to keep the inside of your car from being ridiculously hot. The other day, my car was outside for 3 hours in the afternoon. When I got back in, my thermometer said it was 117 degrees outside, but it wasn't impossible to breathe thanks to my sunshade, and the air conditioner helped cool off the interior quicker.

And here are some other sources with tips:
By putting some of these tips into practice, you can help make your summer a little less unbearable!

the independent 'green issue'

I always appreciate when environmentalism gets a publicity boost, especially with a focus on the local movement.

Lafayette newspaper The Independent put out their annual Green Issue this week, and it's full of great articles specific to the area. I learned that the local business Great Harvest Bread Company is Lafayette's first certified green restaurant. They worked with the Green Restaurant Association to achieve the status, and take part in Lafayette's commercial recycling program. (Quick shoutout to the Recycling Foundation, since they help us save a lot of our office paper, cans and cardboard from the dumpster! After almost five years in my office, setting up a recycling system might be one of the top things I'm proud of.)

There's an article about a local business owner who lives in a 120 square-foot home and is very comfortable. If only I had the discipline for something that extreme. But I suppose 650 square feet for myself isn't the worst it could be.

There's also a feature on the Bayou Vermilion District and the work they do to keep the Bayou Vermilion clean. The Vermilion is such an integral part of Lafayette and the surrounding areas, and it really is a shame how much trash ends up in it. Cajuns have always lived off the land, and the Vermilion is something that should stay natural to stay a part of our culture.

The local farmers markets and farm-to-table movement also get a write-up.

Peruse this week's Independent Green Issue with the flip page format - and bonus points! Reading it this way saves paper! (If you're in the future, look for the 6/20 issue in the archives.)

While Louisiana may be behind other states in environmentalism, it's inspiring to see the steps Lafayette is taking toward being green.

shopping time

When it's time to shop for a gift for whatever occasion, I like to focus on two sources: shopping locally and shopping eco-friendly websites.

Especially when it comes to Christmas and those seemingly countless random gifts you have to get, eco-friendly websites are a great option. One year, I got the majority of my miscellaneous gifts from eBay's World of Good shop, and I felt great about giving gifts that also helped other people.

  • World of Good is a huge online store that categorizes every item by the good it provides - from supporting artisans around the world, to being eco-friendly, to being animal-friendly, to supporting causes. They sell clothes, jewelry, accessories and home items. Around the holidays, there are a lot of great unique and handmade ornaments and decorations.
  • Buy Green is another site that has a great selection of recycled and eco-friendly items. I bought my first Klean Kanteen from the site and I was thrilled when it arrived in a used Verizon cell phone box with newspapers for stuffing.
  • TerraCycle is an amazing company that collects materials from everyone and makes upcycled products. You can participate in the project by sending in your waste! They make purses out of candy wrappers, and clocks and coasters out of vinyl, for example. They also make items out of old advertising billboards. They've worked with major retailers to distribute some items. I got a set of coasters made out of vinyl from TerraCycle at Target.
  • While I've never used HipCycle, I've perused the site and found so many things I'd love to buy myself. They've got unique and classy upcycled products.
 So when the shopping bug hits you, whether for yourself, or for some gift-giving occasion, think green! You can easily find something different, awesome and recycled that is sure to spark a conversation.

reducing junk mail

Junk mail is a part of every homeowner and renter's life. And in my life, it's a part that conflicts with two major areas. I work in advertising, where the term is direct mail. Although we've steered more toward email in the past few years, sometimes we still send out direct mail. When we do send postal direct mail, we make sure it's something useful and it's sent to the right people. As a consumer, I work to reduce the amount of junk mail I get. The main culprits are phone books and the weekly sale papers. But there's also constant marketing from my cell phone company and former cable company.

There are websites that provide easy, free ways to opt out of direct mail lists. The FTC has a list of who to contact to opt out of credit/insurance offers, telemarketers, direct mail and email.

The link they provide for opting out of direct mail lists is to DMAChoice. You sign up for free, then enter your address. Once your account is open, you can manage your mail by category, or opt out of all lists.

Treehugger lists some other sources for opting out of junk mail as well.

And what about those weekly salepapers, known as RedPlum? Their website allows you to opt-out, which I'm sure works great for actual homes. Apartments...not so much. In my previous apartment, I opted out, and waited the few weeks it said to. I never stopped receiving the salepapers. One day I looked at the address on them, and the apartment number was scratched out. Another day, there was no apartment number printed. I caught the mail man delivering the salepapers one day and told him not to put one in my box. He informed me that he had to put one in every box. In my current apartment, I've noticed that I don't receive one every week, but when I do, the apartment number is never correct. I suppose once a month is better than once a week, but RedPlum should be more receptive to apartment-dwellers who want to reduce the amount of junk mail they receive.

One day, I was perusing the options in my ATT account, and I noticed there was a place where you could choose how you wanted to receive marketing messages - postal mail or email. Unfortunately, not all companies provide this - I'm looking at you, Cox Communications.

The Ecological Mail Coalition focuses on junk mail in the office. I registered with them with my company a few years ago and set out to reduce duplicate catalogs or marketing pieces. It works when you enter names of former employees and the office address - they stop delivery of all mail with the former employee's name listed.

There's also a website that allows you to opt out of automatic phone book delivery. And I can vouch that it works. When it was time for one phone book's delivery, I actually received a small postcard reminding me that I chose to opt out, and if I changed my mind, I could contact the company to receive a copy. I surely didn't change my mind, since I grew up in the Internet generation and I instantly Google anything I need to know. I also keep the phone books that do make their way to my door step, and either use them in crafting projects (phone book pages do well in basket-weave items), or bring them to the recycling dump.


reusable water bottles

Oh, hey! How are you? It's been a little while. You look fabulous! Hope you've been recycling.

One of my favorite and one of the easiest ways to be more earth-friendly is to have a reusable water bottle. And there are plenty of those available. And many of them are plastic. While they do help cut down on disposable water bottles, they're still not the best solution. It's known that BPA is a harmful substance and is present in a lot of plastic packaging. According to the Mayo Clinic, the harmful effects of BPA aren't proven, but DHH says the substance is concerning and can have an effect on our brains. So many people switched over to steel reusable water bottles from plastic ones. But even some steel bottles can contain BPA in the interior bottle lining, still exposing you. And one popular "custom logo" product these days is a steel mug. But, if you are paying a few dollars a bottle, you can kind of guess that you're not getting a BPA-free steel water bottle.

Even if BPA's effects aren't proven, would you really want to expose yourself to it when there are alternatives?

My favorite green products are my two Klean Kanteens. Kanteens come in so many different sizes and colors, and they're all BPA-free. (Side note: I recently noticed Kanteen makes a cup now and I think they're pretty fantastic.) I've had one orange bottle for almost four years now and one silver insulated one for a little over two years. My orange bottle has seen better days, and many different tops. I broke one sports top and lost the other (still upset about that) and I've got a regular flat top at the moment. The bottle itself is dented and losing paint in a few places, but it's still functional and it comes with me almost everywhere. I take it to work almost every day, and I take it to the gym every time I go. I wouldn't even be able to estimate how many plastic bottles this thing has saved me over the years. My insulated Kanteen has worked well for transporting coffee, tea, beer and margaritas - but not all at once, of course!

I wasn't sure what I really wanted my parents to get me for my birthday this year (selfish shoutout, it's tomorrow!), but I realized that another Klean Kanteen would be perfect. I chose one that's larger than my orange one with a new sport top. This way I can make myself drink more water and be healthier, and that sport top will help me not look like a moron on the treadmill at the gym. (Try drinking out of the wide opening while walking 3.8 miles an hour. You WILL spill. Or maybe that is only me.)

I almost feel like getting a new Kanteen is like getting a new member of my little family. I'm excited to have a little more variation and convenience while having something safe to drink out of and something that helps cut down on trash. 

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