OZONE AWARE: Help Take Care of the Summer Air

By: Mary Pat Baldauf

We have another month until it’s official, but it already feels like summer in the Midlands.  Here in the Midlands, summers are known for festivals, homemade ice cream and playing in Lake Murray. But there’s something else that heats up when the Midlands starts getting warmer: ground-level ozone. Here’s the dirt on ground-level ozone:

Good up high. Bad nearby. Unlike the good, protective ozone layer in the stratosphere, ground level ozone is a harmful air pollutant that affects all of us. It’s formed when emissions from everyday items combine with other pollutants and “cook” in the heat and sunlight. (Gasoline-powered cars and trucks are the most common source of emissions in our area.) Weather also plays a key role in ozone formation. The highest ozone levels are usually recorded in summer months when temperatures approach the high 80s and 90s and the wind is stagnant or light.

Ground-Level ozone affects everybody. At ground level, ozone is a health hazard for all of us, especially the young and elderly. Those who are active and exercising outdoors may experience breathing difficulties and eye irritation. Prolonged exposure may result in reduced resistance to lung infections and colds. Ozone can also trigger attacks and symptoms in individuals with pre-existing conditions, like asthma or other respiratory infections like chronic bronchitis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Stay alert all summer. Remember, the highest ozone levels are typically found on days that reach the high 80s and 90s and when the wind is stagnant or light. Stay tuned to your local meteorologists, as they will be notifying the public of Ozone Action Alert days when ozone levels are forecasted to reach unhealthy levels. Or use Enviroflash to sign up for free air quality forecasts.

Don’t just breathe, do something. Fellow breathers, you can become a part of the solution. There are simple, easy steps you can take to reduce harmful emissions during ozone pollution season. Be a clean air warrior and click here to get started. 

For more information on ground-level ozone, visit Clean Air Midlands or SC Department of Health and Environmental Control.

 

The Joy of Pets

By: Stacy Thompson

I’ve been a rescue mom for many years now, and I have brought into my family too many dogs, cats, hermit crabs, fish, gerbils, etc to count. Anyone who has ever had a pet may have multiple reasons for sharing their space with something other than a plant or a human, but know that there are many more reasons to get a pet, beyond the obvious:

  • Pre-wash—No need to rinse a plate when a slobbering tongue can take care of it!
  • Electric blanket—Mounds of fur much warmer and cuddlier than anything requiring a plug!
  • An ear…but no mouth—Pour your heart out with no judgment and no talking back!
  • Alarm clock — Best way to wake up in the morning!
  • Alarm system — To secure the perimeter and warn of impending doom (real or imagined!)
  • Foul weather warning—Retreat to the walk-in closet when the clouds appear!
  • A reminder to take naps—We all should take naps, multiple naps…
  • Validation that sometimes just walking back into a room is an event—Even if you just left two minutes ago.
  • Knowledge that there is pure joy in simply running around a yard…not to reach a destination, but because it’s there.
  • Reminder that even though that squirrel may never be caught, it can still be chased— or, although some goals may never be realized, they can still be chased.
  • Unconditional love

Tailgate Withdrawal

By: Stacy Thompson

For those that may be concerned about my lack of recent posts and a lack of sports-related themes…fear not!! I am merely a victim of TWS (Tailgate Withdrawal Syndrome) — a very real affliction that will likely play itself out in 120 days (or so). If you think someone you know may suffer from this same illness, read the warning signs below and have them contact me to assist in my endeavor to form a meaningful support group…

  1. You watch the sun come up over Williams-Brice Stadium from your tailgating spot and wonder why your friends are running so late…in May.
  1. You sit in your fold-out chair under your Gamecock tent on Saturday morning drinking a cold one and eating chili…at 8:00 a.m.
  1. You begin purchasing family-sized bags of Tostitos scoops during the week…and large quantities of mayo…and jumbo-sized bags of shredded cheese…
  1. You begin to tear up and jump up and down when you hear Sandstorm or cry like a baby and break out in goose-bumps when you hear 2001.
  1. You obsessively troll the food.com, recipes.com and cook.com websites for new ideas to fit with your tailgate theme menus for the upcoming season (which you already have marked on your calendar with the preceding day off to execute your masterpiece of a menu).
  1. You view utensils, food receptacles and serving ware at Target only for their value in terms of tailgate utility and aesthetic.
  1. You pack and unpack your car with tailgate gear, with the same rhythm and grace as a Nascar pit crew…while timing yourself to achieve maximum efficiency and speed.
  1. Your ears perk instantly when you hear the words “tail” and “gate”…even when used in a derogatory fashion to describe your rear-end’s inability to pass through an entryway (you may have to talk this one through, but eventually you’ll get it).
  1. You make large quantities of appetizers and sweets…just because.
  1. You watch and re-watch most every game from the 2011, 2012 and 2013 football seasons…remembering not only the grandeur that is college football but the amazing food and camaraderie that was had by all.

See you all soon!

Viva Las Vegas

By: Ashley Whisonant 

Las Vegas is known for excess in almost everything! On my most recent work conference trip, I decided to do my Vegas trip a little differently. I wanted to enjoy myself, but see some of the other sights. I enjoyed a glass of wine or two, but I also ate some amazing food and saw some gorgeous attractions that were FREE!

Let’s start with the food, shall we?

After I arrived from the long flight, I was craving a juicy burger. Gordon Ramsay has a fun burger joint in the Planet Hollywood hotel. The wait staff was attentive, the décor feisty, and the food delicious. My Hell’s Kitchen Burger was moist and full of flavor.

For breakfast one morning, I ventured over to the Paris hotel for a French crepe. My crepe was filled with creamy lemon curd and fresh strawberries, and was topped with lemon pound cake and homemade whipped crème. This was a breakfast for champions!

What Vegas trip is complete without some pool time?! I found a few hours to lounge in the sun at the Bally Hotel and Casino pool. Freezing cold water, but great views!

Looking for some free exploring and fun?

The hotels and casinos are themed to the max. They remind me of the theming Disney World resorts take on. Obviously there are adult twists mixed in!

I visited the gondolas at the Venetian, admired the ceilings, and toured the gardens in the Bellagio.

Can Las Vegas be done differently? Yes! You can leave without gambling or drinking to excess and still enjoy yourself. Travel away!

If Change Is Good for You, Why Is It So Hard?

By: Jeanne Reynolds

Ever since we got married, my husband and I have shared a dream for our retirement that would combine our love of the North Carolina mountains and the South Carolina lowcountry. We’d have two small homes — one in the Asheville area and one near the coast — and split our time between them. We’d have the best of both worlds.

We searched for months and years and eventually bought lovely lots in beautiful areas: one in Mills River, between Hendersonville and Asheville, and one on Cat Island, minutes from Beaufort. Toward the end of the recession, thinking construction costs were about as low as they were going to get, we started building the first of these homes. If you’ve read any of my earlier posts, you know it’s right on the marsh and immediately became my happy place. We planned to build the mountain home several years later, when we retired and sold our home in the Midlands.

Everything is going according to plan, right? Well … yes and no. We soon found owning and maintaining two homes is a bigger challenge than we expected. And the final price tag of the new home was significantly higher than we originally anticipated. On top of that, the taxes, homeowners’ dues and road assessments on the other lot meant we were writing checks every year for the privilege of owning something we wouldn’t benefit from for many years.

So we made the difficult decision to let the mountain property go, and satisfy our summer cravings for cooler, leafy surroundings by renting from time to time. But during more than a year on the market, we didn’t get even the tiniest nibble of interest. It was so long, the listing agreement lapsed and we didn’t even remember our agent’s name.

That was until a couple of weeks ago, when out of the blue he called to tell us someone wanted to look at our lot. Within days we had a signed contract, with a closing rapidly approaching.

And now, suddenly, I’m sad. Relieved, but sad.

It’s hard to let go of a dream, even when you know it’s the right thing to do. It’s hard when your head and your heart are in different places. Sometimes it’s hard to admit when your dreams themselves have changed — that might mean admitting you yourself have changed, in a way you didn’t plan.

However, I’m making a conscious decision not to second-guess our decision. That means separating sadness from regret, because regret is a waste of time. Learning from past mistakes is one thing, but wallowing in the “what ifs” and “should haves” is unproductive, and constantly looking backward instead of forward can be dangerous (remember what happened to Lot’s wife).

Change may be good for us, but sometimes it’s just hard. And that’s OK.

Partnership Transforms Plastic Bags to Help Those in Need

By: Mary Pat Baldauf

If you’re like me, you start off with the best of intentions when it comes to using reusable shopping bags. You have a cute set conveniently tucked into your cargo area or trunk – my favorites are Queen of Green bags from Lilly Pulitzer. But if you’re like me, those great bags don’t always make it back into the car. Then, in a moment of eco-embarrassment, you end up using the plastic bags from the store, only to get home and find they seem to multiply tenfold in a matter of days.

Plastic bags may be “free” at the grocery store, but they have a huge cost for the environment. They:

  1. Litter our landscapes, clog waterways and jam expensive equipment at the recycling recovery facilities.
  2. Migrate to the ocean via local waterways, where some 100,000 marine animals ingest them and die each year.
  3. Waste energy and create greenhouse gas emissions during the manufacturing process.
  4. Jam expensive sorting machines at the recycling recovery and sorting facility.

What if you could use your plastic bags for good?  Thanks to Operation Bed Roll, you can. Operation Bed Roll is a local collaboration designed to keep non-recyclable materials out of our landfills, engage our citizens in a community-wide maker project and provide the chronically homeless with a better place to sleep. They transform thousands of plastic grocery bags into plastic yarn aka plarn to create crocheted sleeping mats that provide an insulated barrier for those whose circumstances result in sleeping on the ground.

Operation Bed Roll consists of ten partners: Sonoco Recycling, Environmental Education Association of SC (EEASC), United Way of the Midlands, Sustainable Midlands, City of Columbia, EdVenture Children’s Museum, Art Ecologie Group and countless community volunteers: schools, retirement communities, churches, artists, Scout troops and more.  They adopted the project from a similar one in Greensboro, North Carolina.

The average American uses 500-700 plastic grocery bags each year, and that’s about the same number it takes to create a bed roll. And while a recycled bag might not be your idea of luxury, they are lightweight, easy to carry, dry quickly and don’t attract bed bugs and provide insulation for those who sleep on the ground. (A bed roll has been found to keep users 10 to 20 degrees warmer than sleeping on the bare ground.)

I participate in Operation Bed Roll as a bag collector and plarn maker. I love the diversity of volunteers and partners involved as well as the simple sustainability of the project. It takes something that’s designed to be used for a mere 12 minutes and creates something practical and lasting for those less fortunate. And when the bed rolls wear out, they can be recycled with other plastic bags at grocery store plastic bag recycling containers.

Since beginning in January of this year, Operation Bed Roll volunteers have created over twenty “plarn” sleeping mats, saving approximately 15,000 plastic shopping bags from the landfill. Those mats are being distributed to the chronically homeless by United Way of the Midlands.

Operation Bed Roll’s goal is to produce another 80 mats between now and the fall, when the weather will get cooler again. You can help in many ways:

  1. Donating your plastic bags (used only, please; getting new ones defeats the purpose).
  2. Cutting plastic bags into strips.
  3. Linking strips together to create plarn.
  4. Donating plarn to knitters.
  5. Using your crocheting skills to create bed rolls.

For more information, visit OBR’s Facebook page or email the group at operationbedrollsc@gmail.com.

When Are You Getting Married?

By: Chaunte McClure 

Single ladies, if you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times. When are you getting married? By now, the words rolling off someone’s tongue sounds like fingernails across chalkboards in your elementary school classrooms. Like those chalkboards, you want the age-old question to be a thing of the past. While I’m a married woman, I can totally relate. It’s like when people would often ask: When are you having a baby? Are y’all going to have kids? What are y’all waiting on? Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah! I’m sure many of you want to marry one day; some more than others, and you’d appreciate if family, friends, and colleagues would just wait for the day when you’ll announce that you’re getting married. Better yet, they should just mind their marriage, right?

Why are we so interested in other people’s womb and marital status? Is it merely just a way to strike up a conversation? Just a hello will do and sometimes that is enough.

With the high divorce rate in the United States, people have the right to remain single until they find the right mate. If you matter, you’ll know when they do.

Most of my friends are single and I took some time to chat with one of them about this subject. Here’s what my 42-year-old single friend, “Karen,” had to say about her experience with the dreadful question from inquiring minds.

Q: What annoys you most about being asked when you’re getting married?
A: I feel like the person asking me thinks I am lonely, I am unhappy, I am of age and should be married by now. Perhaps they’re thinking I should be trying to find someone because my time is winding down.

Q: How often would you say you’re asked?
A: I would say that I am asked this question by one person in particular every time we talk and that is the reason I do not talk to her that often, because I get exhausted trying to explain my “singleness.”

Q: Who usually asks?
A: My friends normally ask me this question and they are not married themselves, so go figure. I have older friends in their 50’s that also ask me. ‘Girl, you’re not married yet?’ ‘What are you waiting on?’ ‘You’re going to be too old after a while.’ Well, I have never heard or read anywhere where it states a particular age range when not to get married.

Q: What is your typical response?
A: I am happy exactly where I am in life. I don’t need marriage to complete me and make me happy. Where I am in my life right now is where I need to be for me.

Q: Tell us about a time when it made you sad or mad?
A: I was at a point when I was going through some major changes in my life and at the time I thought I needed a man to complete me and make me happy, so I became anxious. I found someone and it was the worst thing I could have ever done to myself. I did not allow him to find me. In Proverbs when a man finds a wife he finds a treasure, so I am waiting.

Q: Why do you think it’s inappropriate to ask?
A: I think that it is inappropriate to be questioned about it because it is the same as asking someone who does not have children when they are going to have a baby. It is none of your business and it is not in my control.

Q: I have to ask, why are you still single?
A: I am single because I know for a fact I am not ready to date yet…when I am ready, He will send him.

Are you guilty of asking your friends when he’s gonna put a ring on it? Are you the friend who is tired of being asked? Let me hear from you.