SUNTEX Mendoza

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2909 E Arkansas Ln Suite C,

Arlington, TX 76010


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The most Beautiful Lake in Montana + What’s happening to the House now?!

ROAD TRIP UPDATES: Initially, I was a little disappointed to learn that several of the campgrounds inside of Glacier National park were closed for the summer camping season. Our first night camping in Montana, we stayed at a campsite just outside of the national park, called Dickey Lake – and holy cow, it was breathtaking – see Earl in Dickey lake below.

Montana, Earl wading in Dickey Lake

My husband’s parents and Auntie Bengie accompanied us on the trip and helped us set up camp that first day – and even cooked dinner that night according to the pre-made menu:

The inconspicuous “Brisket Sandwiches with Caramalized Onions on Hoagie buns, with Au Ju French dipping sauce and San Pelegrino on the side.” 

It’s safe to say my husband comes from fancy campers, and we were reaping all of the benefits of high society! We ate and talked, taking in the fresh mountain air, until nightfall – when the more mature among us took off to sleep in a motel and not in the tent – and we prepared for our first night in the wild, open, outdoors.

Our first night in the campsite (and we would come to find it wouldn’t be our last), we were not allowed to cook over a campfire, or even make one to keep warm, due to the smoke from nearby forest fires (to learn more, please check out the following article from – and pay close attention to the dates on the ‘Last Update’ in the right-most column). If you’re looking further down the page on this same link (, you’ll find the Air Quality ratings from 1-6; for most of our trip through the West, the air quality ranged from 2-4 (second half of August). It’s safe to say the air quality, and lack of forest fires (no s’mores?!) impacted our camping trip; not to mention the air quality of millions of residents in cities all over the western part of the United States. #ClimateChange

Montana, Grouse

At any rate, the lake itself was serene. My husband were starting to get the idea when we crossed through the mountains ranging from east to west in the entire state of Montana – that this state was absolutely beautiful – but even so, Dickey Lake was truly a gem. Dickey Lake, Montana

On our way in, we saw what we believe to be a Grouse ( — see picture on the left, and during our first hike near the lake, we encountered a bird that resembled the Western Tanager (, see photo on right. Please check out the photos within this post, and let me know what kind of birds you think these were in the comments!

Dickey Lake, Montana

As for the lake, the water was somehow clear and turquoise blue simultaneously (see photo on the left) – and very cold, even the first day we arrived when the high was in the 80s (degrees Fahrenheit). The second day the temperature dropped to a high of 55 degrees Fahrenheit (+/-10 degrees or so), and our lack in fires became a little more dire, so unfortunately we decided not to swim in the lake after all.

HOME IMPROVEMENT PROJECT UPDATES: So, I really didn’t want to tell Ally this, however at some point during the camping trip I had a bad dream about the house. In the dream, we came home and found weird chipped paint and rusty nails everywhere, a room had somehow been added(?), and then I had to sneak out of a new porch that had been added to get out of the back door. At the time, I did not relay this to Ally, because she might be tempted to end the surprise and send me evidence of the work done on the house – and thank God I did not ask her to either, as the surprise was definitely worth the wait.

Especially, since by this time, SUNTEX had completed the installation of:

  • (9) brand new Elevate windows
  • Power washing and Cleaning, the driveway, sidewalk and house; and completed the Exterior Paint including the Trim (, Rosemary Green (SW 6187) and Netsuke (SW 6134))
  • Sims HomeNorandex Gutters surrounding the home, with well-thought out locations for the downspouts
  • Fixing the back door so that it closes (fixing our DIY installation)
  • Fixing our sliding barn-door project, which allows us more space in the primary bedroom, bathroom, and closet (fixing our DIY installation)
  • Fixing the backyard fence which was falling down – including agreeing to fix my neighbors portion for congruence

While there’s certainly plenty to cover, allow me focus on the windows for a moment.

Our home was built in the early 2000’s, so it’s not very old – however the windows were certainly sub-par, and a couple had cracks from even before the winter storm tested their durability.

We initially requested the basic, Picture-style Elevate windows (inn white) – check out the features shown below:

Elevate Window Features

For more information about the type of products SUNTEX offers for windows and window repair, please check out former Blog post on SUNTEX Window Products, here:

Earlier in our search, we entertained one or two other window bids to see just exactly how window products compared. As new home owners, we had no idea what we were looking for at first.

The best windows we saw had a thick, five-layer custom design to trap heat and filter UV light. They allowed you to open the window pane in the middle of the window, so that you could lean it towards yourself and clean it, without removing the screen or going outside. Of course, there were likely tons of other features that I’m leaving out here – but the one thing I won’t forget was the price, which we unfortunately could not afford at the time. Thankfully, some time later, SUNTEX was able to step in and work with our budget, and find windows of incredible quality. The elevate windows Ally pitched me even had the key features I was hoping for: environmentally sustainable (thicker, more durable window panes), with the ability to open the window in the middle and fold it up to clean (admittedly, I am irrationally drawn to this feature).

That said, when Ally brought one to my house to familiarize myself with the look and feel, I knew these were the ones we were dreaming of! I couldn’t believe she could find them within our budget. It’s no surprise, well-knowing their work ethic and attention to quality, that SUNTEX would do an incredible job. What did surprise me however, was the amount of love in the work they did. You could see it in every detail of each project. In addition to the long list of completed projects above, Jose and his team added sealant around all of the doors – which we hadn’t even discussed – to help us out with energy costs, and mitigating pests coming in. Wood trim was also added to the garage door frame (unobtrusively) to mitigate light and air coming through, again leading to lower energy bills. Ally made sure that the team cleaned up both inside and outside after the work was done – to make sure that everything looked perfect for our arrival home. We weren’t sure what to expect when coming home, so this granted a breath of fresh air, and a warm welcome home – but more on that to come later.

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Let the Camping Commence!

Camping MontanaROAD TRIP UPDATES: This weekend, we’ll leave Washington to go east towards Idaho and then onto Montana, and will not be staying in room with four walls again until we get back to Colorado in two weeks. It’s safe to say we’re anxiously awaiting the Great Outdoors, and all that we will see and learn while we venture off the beaten path. For months leading up to the trip, my mother-in-law strategized the menu for the trip, and after arriving in Seattle she let me in on the plan – or, rather, she relayed me the items she’d already cooked and I entered them into our itinerary in excel. We later packed them into the cooler adding the things we would eat last according to the schedule at the bottom of the cooler, and the things we would eat the first night at the top, as per an online blog post recommendation she had found at some point in her extensive camping research. We packed two cars full of coolers, tents, and cookware and set off east. There was a brief stint in Spokane, WA, and then onward to Dickey Lake, Montana! Please do enjoy the photos from this part of the trip – this lake ended up being one of the most beautiful spots we would visit in all of Montana, which is an extremely high bar already.

SUNTEX logoHOME IMPROVEMENT PROJECT UPDATES: While I still haven’t seen any official pictures of the updates to our house yet, my appetite for them is growing. Alejandra tells me the paint, windows, gutters, and back door repair projects have all been completed! I still cannot believe the pace they’ve been able to keep these past couple of weeks, particularly with the rain delays, but it’s safe to say I’m very pleased with the effort and the communication SUNTEX has provided thus far! Even without being completely plugged in all week she’s kept me up to speed on everything happening at the project site, and has kept her word on the overall schedule of repairs. This week there are only a few projects left, and given their speed so far, I have no doubt that Ally and Jose will be completely wrapped up this week:

  • Repair the Fence
  • Repair the Sliding Barn Doors in closet & bathroom
  • Clean up!

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Idaho, Oregon, Washington – Oh my!

ROAD TRIP UPDATES: After our evening arrival in Salt Lake City, we were happy for the easy check-in, delicious dinner, and good night’s sleep at the Radisson Hotel downtown ( The city itself was warm and vibrant – and nestled in between the glorious mountains of Utah, the views are hard to beat no matter where in the city you stood. We also noticed some of the temples on our way in, which were certainly spectacular views to behold – with the stark white architecture which contrasted perfectly with the green fields and blue mountains surrounding them (featured right). The next part of the journey would take us through Idaho, Oregon, and Washington as well – so in this post and later this week we’ll focus on the PNW energy profiles, and the vast beauty that comprises this part of the country.

Idaho Energy Profile

IdahoBefore traveling through Idaho, I’ll admit I didn’t know much about it beyond some faint idea that they grew potatoes (see Idaho Potatoes, Naturally, my imagination led me to believe the state was covered in potato farms and not much else, and while there is certainly farm-land to be found in Idaho, we saw plenty of other vegetation as well! For one, there were tons of streams and rivers throughout – and we even stopped at dog park for Benny and Earl while we were outside of Boise, that was covered in green grass and weeping willows. It was just beautiful, and very peaceful I might add!

Checking out their energy profile on (, we immediately learn that Idaho is a much greener state than anticipated:

  • “In 2019, 76% of the electricity generated in Idaho at utility-scale power plants was produced from renewable energy sources, the third-highest share for any state after Vermont and Maine.”
  • “Idaho is among the five states with the lowest average electricity price, in part because of the large amount of electricity that comes from relatively inexpensive hydro-power, which accounted for 56% of the state’s generation in 2019.”
  • “Idaho’s small population contributes to it being among the 10 states with the lowest total petroleum consumption, but Idaho’s per capita petroleum use is near the national average.”

Perhaps it’s obvious that with a lower total population, (roughly 1.78 M,, Idaho has lower overall petroleum consumption rates, however I think it’s still pretty impressive that so much of their state grid is dominated by renewable energy and hydro-power.

Oregon Energy Profile

OregonIt’s no secret that Oregon has a diverse landscape – home to some of the tallest mountains in North America, including Mount Hood (, as well as counting numerous rivers and waterfalls within it’s vast territory – such as Multnomah Falls ( – it’s no wonder that this state is such a sought-after travel destination for skiers and hikers. Our journey through Oregon this time was short however, and we would only be spending a brief moment passing through the grassy hills and into the pine-forests before arriving in Washington later that same day.

It’s easy to think of Oregon as “just another Pacific Northwest State,” if you’re not from the area, and while there are some regional differences between Oregonians and Washingtonians or Californians, the western-most states do have a lot in common when it comes to energy. Just check out what has to say about their devotion to green energy (

  • “In 2019, 49% of Oregon’s utility-scale electricity net generation came from hydroelectric power, and 62% came from conventional hydroelectric power plants and other renewable energy resources combined.”
  • “In 2019, wind farms produced 11% of Oregon’s electricity net generation from more than 1,900 turbines with more than 3,400 megawatts of installed generating capacity.”
  • “Oregon is a partner in the West Coast Electric Highway along with California, Washington, and British Columbia, Canada. As of December 2020, there were more than 670 public electric vehicle charging stations with a total of more than 1,800 charging outlets in service across Oregon.”

While other states are still trying to build wind farms, Oregon leads the way in wind and hydro-power, and has already begun construction on the electric car infrastructure needed for battery-powered cars to charge and continue to operate on longer trips.

I also found this Quick Fact about Oregon energy interesting ( “Oregon receives more than 90% of the refined products it uses from the Puget Sound refineries in the state of Washington.”

To find out more about Oregon’s energy profile, check out the following links – or share your own insights within the comments section below!

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Check Out Utah’s Energy Profile


In addition to the large, majestic rocky mountains and valleys throughout the state, not to mention the beautiful ranches and pastures everywhere, I was very excited to see a few large-scale solar farms during my time in Utah. Looking at the climate, which is certainly consistent with what we experienced, it’s not hard to see why (check out the following to see what I mean: There is plenty of sunshine in Utah, and while the temperature may fluctuate greatly throughout the year, or even throughout the day, because humidity is low, the climate can be fairly arid.

From the sound of it, and by the appearance of it, solar energy should be pretty wide-spread in Utah, right? Well, they’re certainly improving in the area of bio fuels anyway – check out the full report from, here: According to the report, “Renewable energy has historically been dominated by hydroelectric power, but geothermal and wind have grown in significance over the past two decades. Nearly 1 gigawatt of utility-scale solar was built in 2015 and 2016, more capacity than hydroelectric, geothermal, and wind combined, creating a large spike in renewable energy production in recent years (but still only enough to increase renewables’ share from about 2% to 6%).”

For like comparisons from previous state energy profile blogs however (Texas,; New Mexico; Colorado), let’s also check out the following link and see what we can find:

  • “Utah accounts for 1 in every 10 barrels of crude oil produced in the Rocky Mountain region. The state’s five oil refineries, all located in the Salt Lake City area, can process nearly 200,000 barrels of crude oil per calendar day.”
  • “In 2020, 61% of Utah’s electricity net generation came from coal-fired power plants, down from 75% five years earlier, while natural gas-fired and solar power generation increased.”
  • “Utah’s per capita energy consumption in the residential sector is the third-lowest among the states, after Hawaii and California.”


Looking at the full picture, it seems as though Utah has a pretty healthy energy system, particularly given their lower demand for energy overall in comparison with the other 49 U.S. states, and has rapidly begun to increase the use of renewable energy sources. Given the state’s particular climate, and wide-open mountain views, it’s easy to see that while they’re not the large drivers of climate change, we would be remiss not to consider the land here a vital environment worth protecting. As for me, I can’t wait to go back and see it someday in the near future! Feel free to add your favorite destinations in Utah in the comments below.

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Just like that, Gutters are Up!

Gutters - Front of House

The suspense was killing me, but Ally ensured me at every step of the way that the gutter installation was going smoothly, and reminded me that she wouldn’t be sending me any photos until the finished product was complete (though I made her promise to document the journey for the blog, and she delivered! Please see photos throughout the August blog posts – including those found here – for the full installation/upgrade).

Having done some work together in the area previously, SUNTEX consulted with their partners at Norandex (see here for product details:, and were able to fit a one-day custom installation for our new gutters, which I might add, matched the new trim of the house perfectly.

With the Gutter install complete, it’s finally time for Issacs’s birthday party! This week we celebrate a SUNTEX family holiday as the youngest Mendoza turns four! Though they’ve enjoyed exploring some of the local parks and hikes around Austin, the kids had been looking forward to Friday all week when their youngest brother will turn four and everyone gets to go to Chuck-E-Cheese ( for dinner!

With seamless effort, Alejandra and team had orchestrated the whole week – including the rain delays, 95% of the exterior paint (with the final 5% intentionally being saved for post window-installation), the first half of the window installations, the third-party installation of Gutters, thanks to our friends at Norandex (see here for gutter/rain product details: – as well as a birthday party with the whole family at Chuck-E-Cheese to cap off the week!

While I had little service in the mountains, she coordinated with me to let me know of their progress, and I was stunned to see the coordinated effort that went into completing each project on time, and in perfect step with the rest of the team. She wouldn’t dare send me any of the photos mid-way through to hold the surprise and suspense until the end, so please enjoy the sneak peaks above into this week’s progress! The exterior paint has already transformed our home, but the gutters blend in perfectly. Of course, I wouldn’t know any of this for three more weeks since we were still on the road.

Gutters - Front, Left side of House    Gutters - Front, Right side of House

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View Colorado Energy Profile, plus our first Hiking Pics!

Hiking in Colorado

We arrived at last to our very first stop on our summer trip! While the drive was breathtaking, 14 hours on the road and we were all ready to stretch out our legs. Not to mention, there were plenty of mountains to hike within sight! So, on our first morning in Colorado, after checking my emails of course, and getting in a decent breakfast, we set out on the misty morning with Earl and my parents dog, Gracie, trekking along in front of us. Being that they’re both fairly high-energy and nimble dogs, it’s safe to say they kept a healthy lead too.


I worked with a woman once who lived in Colorado on an off-grid system – including a well, a small home-garden, and solar panels – and I thought, “Wow! I wonder if everyone lives that green in Colorado.”


Of course, it didn’t take long when researching the Colorado state energy profile to navigate to – for like comparisons with the Texas and New Mexico energy profiles from prior blog posts (Texas on 08/02/2021,, and New Mexico on 08/03/2021,, respectively) – to find while no other state even comes close to the Texas natural gas consumption rates, Colorado did rank higher in Natural gas consumption than New Mexico (in Trillion BTU: TX, 4,779.5; CO, 559.8; NM, 305.1; While Colorado also has impressive supplies of oil and natural gas, what I did find pretty remarkable were the renewable energy Quick Facts (pasted below for reference,

  • “Since 2010, Colorado’s renewable electricity net generation has more than tripled, led by increased wind and solar, and accounted for 30% of the state’s total generation in 2020.”
  • “In 2020, coal-fired power plants provided 36% of Colorado’s net generation, down from 68% in 2010, while electricity from natural gas and renewable energy sources increased.”
  • “Colorado ranked seventh among the states in installed wind power capacity in 2020.”

While you’ve likely heard the saying, “Colorado gets 300 days of sunshine per year,” some debate whether or not that claim is valid depending upon how you define a sunny day, however it’s safe to say that there is a lot of sunshine to capture in that state during the spring and summer months. You’re welcome to check it out for yourself (, but at least for now I’d say they’re making positive steps in the direction towards increasing their usage of renewable energy – be it wind, solar, or rain-water capture, Colorado is steps ahead of the game.

For more details on Colorado’s Energy Profile, check out the following links:

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View New Mexico’s Energy Profile

So, while on our summer trip through the mountains, I must give credit to my wonderful husband for driving most of the way — though because I did drive through most of New Mexico, Utah, and Idaho — you will unfortunately not see many photos from these areas of the country from our trip! Yet, there are a ton of beautiful cities and mountainous views in each of these states worth sharing! That said, we only drove through a small section of the north-eastern part of New Mexico and up through Raton pass this time around, and thus, instead of the beautiful, snowboard-laden mountains or adobe houses in Santa Fe, Red River, or Taos which the state is well-known for, we were able to explore the lesser-traveled plateaus of eastern New Mexico. It was absolutely stunning.

New Mexico

Photo Credit:

Welcome to New Mexico

We did however manage to come away with a picture of the “Welcome” sign to New Mexico (see left). The photo on the right is from (and please do visit their site to check out all of the incredible projects they’ve undertaken in NM) — however this photo looks similar to the plateaus, green pastures, and deep blue skies we witnessed driving through this beautiful state on our way to Colorado.

Admittedly, I cannot say I’ve studied the New Mexico energy grid extensively, nor worked in the area, and thus would greatly appreciate a peer-review of this content – please post any relevant comments below! That said, I was surprised to find that the main source of energy in New Mexico is natural gas – and that NM is the third largest producer of oil in the U.S.. According to a familiar source,

  • “New Mexico is the nation’s third-largest oil-producing state, after Texas and North Dakota, and is one of only three states that saw an increase in production from 2019 to 2020, when New Mexico accounted for more than 9% of U.S. crude oil production”.

I also found it interesting to read on that same page, that they have a significant portion of energy produced by wind-power:

  • “In 2020, wind energy accounted for 21% of New Mexico’s utility-scale electricity net generation. and by the end of the year the state had about 2,558 megawatts of wind-powered electricity generating capacity.”

Looking at the same charts as we did in yesterday’s post (, from regarding solar energy production in the state of Texas, we can also find the numbers for New Mexico solar energy production (see image on right, which can also be found in better detail at the following link: At a quick glance, we can see that the utility scale solar energy production is making nice progress, however residential solar hasn’t quite made it’s big break into the market yet.

For a more detailed study in New Mexico’s Energy Industry, particularly the renewable sector, be sure to check out the following links as well:

Although I would have loved to have seen a utility-solar farm in New Mexico while we drove through, sadly I cannot say that I did – however it would appear they’re definitely there, somewhere among the mountains and plateaus.

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Travel Prep: Preparing for Home Repairs

Given our tendencies towards a more nomadic lifestyle, when we moved into our first home back in 2018, I made my husband promise me we wouldn’t sell it for at least 10 years. The market has fluctuated wildly since then, and even though we’ve mulled over the idea of renting it out from time to time, we are still just really grateful to have a place we call home. We have come to love our neighborhood haunts, and have made some good friends here as well.

As you might have guessed however, there are still a few things we would like to change about the place, and have even done a few DIY projects to get some practice. The first thing we changed about the home were the doors — there were several that opened into a room, drastically cutting down the space by almost half. We knew that if we put sliding barn doors in the main bedroom we would gain tons of space in our bathroom and closet; we also decided on a glass door that opened outwards from the kitchen, instead of the solid brown door that open inward originally. While we did a pretty good job for beginners, it was clear there were a few details we were desperately lacking in our construction projects, and we had waited over a year to finish them!

The next item I was desperate to change on our home was the outdoor paint, and if you take a look at the picture below, I think it’s easy to see why.

House: Before

When we first moved into the home, I remember asking the inspector what type of energy qualifications homes needed to meet in order to be ready for sale. He nearly laughed, and simply said, “None?” Since our house was built in the early 2000s, there wasn’t anything too outdated to be a major red flag, however we knew the thin window panes might not hold up for much longer. We had been gathering quotes for some time, however after the winter freeze when our windows started to fog up on a sunny day, we knew it was time: we needed to replace our windows.

Windows: Before

The final and likely most significant piece to all of the changes we wanted to make to the home was adding gutters. If you’ve ever been in Texas during a rainstorm, you know just how quickly a light rain can turn into a flash flood, and our home had started to show some of the tell-tale signs of the rain. See photos below for greater detail, however we had water stains on the brick in the front where water would flow off of the rooftop, and the foundation for the back yard porch had started to move slightly — something we were told would continue to happen with the heavy rains each spring. In order to protect our house, we knew it was time to add gutters — and of course I knew just who to call to help me out.

With just a few phone calls, a down payment on the project, and some carefully coordinated planning, we hired SUNTEX to help us out with all of the repairs.


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Energy Preparedness: Does your house miss you when you’re gone?

Even though my mind is consumed by the possibility of seeing bears, moose, and geese (oh my!) very soon, there is still plenty to do to prepare our house for being vacant for at least a short time while we’re away. Lucky for us, we’ll have some very dear friends of ours staying in our home for the first few weeks, but after that it will be left to the demise of August and the ravaging heat that ensues at this time of year. Since I’m sure I’m not alone in this activity, I’ve created a short list of what to do when you’re leaving your home for an extended time, and want to make sure you don’t come home to a giant energy bill!

To reduce your energy usage inside the home while you’re gone, you can:

  • Close the curtains and blinds (if you have plants, make sure to leave the blinds open slightly so they’re still getting plenty of sunlight while you’re gone)
  • Seal up any large cracks or crevices in your door-ways with a towel or blanket for some added insulation
  • Turn your thermostat to 78+ degrees (or off, if you’re not concerned about plants or humidity levels indoors)
  • Close all of your doors inside, and make sure you turn off all overhead lights/fans
  • Unplug any devices you won’t need access to while you’re gone (except for your refrigerator since your food will spoil while you’re gone, even if you don’t open it!)
  • Don’t forget to lock up!

Summer TravelAs for outdoor plants, your approach can vary based on 1) how much you’re willing to spend on an irrigation system, 2) how friendly your neighbor’s kid is, or 3) how many plants you’re willing to replace if needed. We tend to be pretty laissez faire when it comes to our lawn — long story short, we use a local ground-cover that requires very little water to survive: horse herb, so we are okay just letting it bake under the Texas sun while we’re gone. Of course if you have a lawn full of grass you’ll need to decide whether or not you want to water it, and if so, how much. There are tons of garden watering timer systems you can buy online, or at your local hardware store, so just be sure to set it up a week before you leave so you can test it out before you go. We do however also have a few plants that like a lot of sunlight, but may not fair so well under 8+ hours of Texas sun. Since these plants are potted, and are often indoors during the winter months, we can either move them inside to a southern-facing window and hope for the best, or we can set up watering timers for those plants as well (see garden irrigation systems online, or ask your local hardware store rep for details). I generally opt for the cheaper, and more sustainable option — and so far replacing my very temperamental gardenia each year is winning out, though I fear that won’t be true for too much longer. The rest of the yard should be just fine since we were careful to only plant native, drought-resistant species in the back yard, and while I’ll miss my tomato plants while we’re in the woods, I know they’re going to love that August sunshine until we get home!

There are plenty of additional blogs to check out on this subject that contain some useful tips on summer travel, so don’t take my word for it — check out Toucan Smart Home to hear what they have to say as well:

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Energy Preparedness: Summer Travel

One of my favorite things about traveling — besides the views and the food, of course — is learning about local weather patterns. Perhaps this seems dull, but I’ve been surprised on more than one occasion by the weather, and in the worst case scenarios, it can be quite uncomfortable to say the least. A funny example of this was when I visited the Oregon coast a few years ago for Independence Day weekend. My husband and our dog, Benny, packed up the car and drove to the beach for the weekend! Naturally, as I was going to the beach in the summer-time, I packed all of the beach-essentials: two swim suits, breezy cover-ups, a couple of maxi dresses, and some flip flops — only to find once we got there that I couldn’t wear anything I packed. It was freezing cold! The only people that were in the water (all 2 of them or so), were in full-length wet suits, and most people just hung out on the sand all day long. I don’t believe the temperature rose above the sixties (Fahrenheit), and it’s safe to say I was lucky there were stores open in town where I could buy sweat pants and fleece jackets. While I was a little disheartened that we wouldn’t be doing any swimming this trip, the entire thing felt like a great adventure — and certainly a learning experience. Word to the wise: check the weather before you go!

This year, since we’re planning to go camping all over the country, diversity in packing will be crucial to surviving the trip. One thing we learned while researching the National Parks websites was that almost none of these areas allow open-pit fires anymore. There might be another time during the year when this is more feasible, but with the August fires from Colorado to Montana, we won’t be taking any chances. Instead, we read that only propane-fueled stove-tops are allowed — and since some of the areas we’ll be staying in might be 40 degrees Fahrenheit at night, it’s important we don’t forget the fuel!

Now that we’ve got clothing and cooking in any condition out of the way, another important part of planning ahead for the trip will be deciding which tools to bring to set up our campsite and really enjoy the outdoors. One of my personal favorites includes our solar-powered flashlight and usb charger. Even though a full day of sunshine isn’t always guaranteed, generally these flashlights will last us days and days, and can charge fairly quickly in the early morning sunlight. Even though I usually go to bed pretty early when camping, they’re certainly nice to have out during dinner, or on trips to the restroom and back. Mostly we use them to illuminate our card or domino games, but no matter what you use it for I would always recommend having at least two flashlights on-hand when camping (and extra batteries as well). Then, all we have to pack is the bedding and the tent and we’re all set! Just two more weeks before we’re off — please add your favorite camping hacks in the comments section — since you never can have too many survival tips.

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