Thursday, April 3, 2014

These Animals May Help Your Garden

Planning and maintaining a garden requires a lot of effort, which can result in an aesthetically pleasing addition to the landscape. But that hard work can also fall victim to nature when local wildlife find a garden too mouthwatering to resist.

In an effort to rid a garden of unwanted pests, gardeners may unwittingly scare away animals and insects that might just protect the garden from more ill-intentioned animals. Not every creature that scurries is out to get prized petunias or to devour tomatoes. In fact, many can prove beneficial to gardens.

BATS. Bats have a bad reputation, as people unnecessarily fear bats because they believe them to be carriers of disease. But many bats feed off of insects or fruits and will not harm a human. The average brown bat can eat 1,000 mosquitoes in an hour, so it’s easy to see why bats are good to have around. Mosquitoes are not only a nuisance but also harbor potentially dangerous diseases. Bats also may eat certain rodents, which can cut down on the number of animals burrowing in a yard.

FROGS. Frogs and toads will prey on insects and make the local insect population more manageable. Toads eat mainly slugs, who feed on the leaves and fruits of many plants. Frogs and toads are attracted to water, so including a pond or another water feature in the garden will provide them with a habitat they like. 

BIRDS. While it’s true that some birds can damage crops, many birds are content to feed on insects attracted to the garden, which helps to keep insect numbers in check. Chickadees, for example, will dine on aphid eggs, while larger birds may prey on mice or other rodents or simply scare them out of the garden. Jays and mockingbirds are known to be feisty and can even deter dogs and cats from a yard. Hummingbirds will sip on the nectar of flowers and help pollinate plants.

SNAKES. Snakes in a garden can be disconcerting to some people, but snakes are ideal predators who feed on insects and rodents several times their size. Snakes are the right size and shape to invade the burrows of pest animals.

TIP Many animals and insects can be detrimental to the health of a garden. However, several animals are handy to have around and should be welcomed to the landscape.

BUTTERFLIES & BEES. Butterflies and bees are responsible for pollinating the vast majority of plants. Avoid using pesticides that may diminish butterfly or bee populations. A beehive right next to a garden may not be practical, but don’t make attempts to destroy it. Consult with a professional beekeeper to see what can be done to move the beehive without destroying it.
by Metro Creative Connection

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Home Projects Perfect for Spring

The rejuvenating spirit of spring makes this beloved season an ideal time for homeowners to take stock of their homes and properties and address any issues that arose during the winter. While some homes make it through winter unscathed, the harsh weather of the year’s coldest season can add several tasks to homeowners’ springtime to-do lists.

While some projects are best left to the professionals, others can be tackled even by those homeowners with little or no DIY experience. The following are a handful of projects tailor-made for spring.

Inspect the guttersGutters tend to bear the brunt of harsh winter weather, and come spring gutters are in need of inspection if not repair. Winter winds, snow and heavy rainfall can compromise the effectiveness of gutters, which can easily accumulate debris and detach from homes during winter storms. In addition, gutters sometimes develop leaks over the winter months. As a result, homeowners should conduct a careful inspection of their gutters come the spring, being sure to look for leaks while clearing the gutters of debris and reattaching gutters that might have become detached from the home on windy winter days and nights. When reattaching loose gutters, make sure the downspouts are draining away from the foundation, as gutters that are not draining properly can cause damage to that foundation and possibly lead to flooding.

Take stock of roof shinglesMuch like its gutters and downspouts, a home’s roof can suffer significant damage over the course of a typical winter. Shingles may be lost to harsh winter winds and storms, so homeowners should examine the roof to determine if any shingles were lost (lost shingles might even be lying around the property) or suffered damage that’s considerable enough to require replacement. Summer can be especially brutal on shingles, especially those that suffered significant damage during the winter. If left unchecked or unaddressed, problems with damaged shingles can quickly escalate into larger issues when spring rains and summer sun inevitably arrive, so homeowners should prioritize fixing or replacing damaged shingles as quickly as possible.

Check for freeze damage

Frozen temperatures can be hard on humans and homes alike, but unlike humans who can stay inside when temperatures dip below freezing, homes are forced to withstand the elements throughout the winter. External hose faucets are often susceptible to freeze damage. To inspect such faucets, turn the water on and then place a thumb or finger over the opening of the faucet. If your thumb or finger can completely stop the flow of water, the pipe where the water is coming from is likely damaged and will need to be replaced.

Examine the lawn for low spots

Once a lawn has thawed out, homeowners can patrol their properties looking for low spots in the yard or even low spots within spitting distance of the home’s foundation. Such spots increase the likelihood of flooding. Flooding near a home’s foundation increases the risk of potentially costly damage, while low spots on the lawn that go ignored can make great breeding grounds for insects, including mosquitoes, when the weather warms up. When low spots are detected, fill them in with compacted soil. Compacted soil can prevent spring rains from flooding a yard or damaging a home’s foundation.

Assessing potential property damage is a rite of passage for homeowners in the spring. Though some damage is significant, oftentimes even novice DIYers can work their homes and properties back into shape in time to enjoy spring and summer.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Dale Jarrett’s NASCAR Hall of Fame Credentials Earned As Late Bloomer

1999 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion Won Three Daytona 500s, Twice At Indy

Success often comes for those who wait.

That certainly can be said of Dale Jarrett, who didn’t reach the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series until age 30 and waited another four years for his first victory.

The second generation star, who’ll be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Jan. 29, is among the sport’s ultimate late bloomers, winning the 1999 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship at age 42 after 388 career starts. Only NASCAR Hall of Fame member Bobby Allison was older upon winning his first championship in 1983.

Jarrett, born Nov. 26, 1956, won 32 times – including at least one win every season between 1993 and 2003. He captured the first of three Daytona 500s in 1993, twice won the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and also won Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Coca-Cola 600. Jarrett won three times at Darlington Raceway although the track’s historic Southern 500 eluded him.

In all, Jarrett won races on 13 superspeedways and three short tracks. He also won 11 times in the NASCAR Nationwide Series where he finished no worse than sixth in the points standings in six full seasons of competition.

Jarrett never intended to follow in the tire tracks of his NASCAR Hall of Fame father Ned Jarrett, NASCAR’s premier series champion in 1961 and 1965. In fact, the younger Jarrett was headed for a golf scholarship at the University of South Carolina – and hopefully a PGA professional career – before the friends he hung out with in Hickory, N.C., built a stock car to race at the local NASCAR weekly track.

The group, which included future NASCAR Sprint Cup Series owner, championship crew chief and television analyst Andy Petree, had a car but no engine. Jarrett was able to buy one at a discount from a distant cousin of his mother, Martha. It also gave him the right to replace Petree in the driver’s seat.

“It was the first time he showed an interest in racing,” said the elder Jarrett, inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2011. “Once he drove the thing in the first race that was it.”

Jarrett competed in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, along with his brother Glenn, now an MRN pit reporter and made his first premier series start in 1984 driving a Chevrolet for Emanuel Zervakis at Martinsville Speedway where he finished 14th. He took over Eric Freedlander’s Chevrolet in 1987 replacing Tommy Ellis but success was minimal. Two seasons with NASCAR Hall of Famer Cale Yarborough’s Pontiac team weren’t much better although Jarrett did collect two top-five finishes in 1989.

Neil Bonnett’s injury in 1990 opened up the seat in the fabled Wood Brothers’ No. 21 Ford. Jarrett finally broke through the following summer at Michigan International Speedway where his recorded margin of victory over Davey Allison – pre-electronic scoring – was listed at 10 inches.

“The Michigan race that he won against Davey Allison is still one of the most exciting races to the checkered flag and one of my most memorable races,” said NASCAR Hall of Fame member Glen Wood.

Jarrett spent the next three seasons at Joe Gibbs Racing where he was paired with brother-in-law Jimmy Makar. Their Daytona 500 victory in 1993 was JGR’s first in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

“I remember just being amazed that as a young organization trying to become established in a competitive sport like NASCAR, we were fortunate enough to land Jimmy Makar as our crew chief and Dale Jarrett as our driver,” Gibbs said. “Over the course of those first couple of seasons, we were really hoping for something special to help validate the work we were doing – especially to our sponsors. The win by Dale in the Daytona 500 was so special to us because it was our first win as an organization. I remember how excited we were, not only for JGR, but for Norm Miller and Interstate Batteries too, because like Dale, they took a big chance on us. The win really established us in the sport and we owe a lot to Dale.”

Jarrett finished fourth in the season championship but left the team a year later.

He took the wheel of Robert Yates’ No. 28 Ford in 1995 as the replacement for the injured Ernie Irvan. Things did not immediately go well. In fact, Jarrett expected to be fired after what the owner termed a lackluster season – one win and a 13th-place points showing. But Yates added a second team and put Jarrett in the No. 88 car with crew chief Todd Parrott and the North Carolinian hit his stride winning 18 times over the next four seasons and never finishing outside the top three in the standings.

In his championship season, Jarrett took the points lead with a victory in the 11th race at Richmond and never gave it up. Four wins overall – including Indianapolis – and top-10 finishes in the season’s final eight races secured the championship.

“It’s one of the smartest decisions I’ve ever made,” said Yates of retaining Jarrett.

Three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart won rookie of the year honors in Jarrett’s championship season. He remembers Jarrett as a tough but fair competitor.

“He was one of those guys that would race you hard when it was time to race hard and when it was early in the race and it didn’t mean much, then he knew how to be patient,” said Stewart. “He raced you the way your raced him. If you learned to be patient and race him with respect, he would do the same.

“He was a great champion; he was a great winner and a great ambassador for this sport. He was one of the first guys [to congratulate me] when I won my first race at Richmond. He made you feel welcomed and you appreciated his friendship.”

Jarrett retired from competition in 2008 at the age of 51. He shares his father’s passion for broadcasting and currently is a NASCAR commentator for ESPN and ABC.

The Jarretts are the third father and son duo to be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame joining Lee and Richard Petty and NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. and Bill France Jr., the organization’s late chairman.

“This is very, very meaningful to be written about in the same paragraph as the Pettys and the Frances,” said Ned Jarrett. “I felt Dale had the credentials to make it one day but I didn’t think it would be this early and I wasn’t sure I’d be here when it happened.”

Courtesy of  Nascar media

Monday, February 17, 2014

Tips for Buying a Used Car

Buying a used car can be a great deal.  You can get a car that's almost as good as a brand-new one without paying for the depreciation that hits as soon as you drive a new car off the lot. New car values usually drop 20-30 percent within the first year.  That can mean big savings for you. But there are other good reasons to buy a used car:

  • Insurance may be cheaper.
  • Late model used cars can be as reliable as a new car.
  • Some used cars are still covered by the factory warranty.
  • Most new carmakers now sell certified pre-owned (CPO) cars, which include warranties.
  • You can easily access a vehicle history report with the VIN number.

1. Choosing the right car
Although you may have a good idea of what type of car you want, when it comes to used cars, availability may vary.  Make a list of three car models in the same class that you would like to shop for.  Look beyond the popular car models.  If you are shopping for the same car as everyone else, you will pay a premium for it. How much difference in price separates popular cars from their good but overlooked counterparts? More than you think. Popular vehicles like a Honda or Toyota can cost a few thousand dollars more than a comparable Chevrolet or Mazda. It pays to be flexible.

2. Research your prospective car
Check out prices, standard features, reliability and safety, fuel economy, photos, videos, known weak points, typical repair costs and resale values.  Make sure you run a vehicle history report on any used car you are considering buying. You can purchase reports from a company such as for about $40.  That’s a small price to pay for extra peace of mind.

3. How much can you afford and how will you pay?
Consider how you will pay for your car before you start shopping.  You typically have three ways to pay for your used car: cash, bank loan, or dealer financing (if buying through a car dealer). Whatever payment method you choose, make an informed decision that fits your budget. If you decide to finance your purchase, make sure you’re clear on the cost of the monthly payments and be careful not to get in over your head.

4. How much will insurance cost?
You should also consider the price of insurance for your new car. Contact your insurance agent for a quote before you purchase the car.  Vehicles with more safety features (ABS, the number of airbags, ESC, TCS, etc) can often lower your premium.  While vehicles which are more expensive to repair or more prone to theft will have a higher premium.

5. Where to shop?
The most common places to buy a used car are:
  • Private parties - You can usually get the best price if you buy a car directly from its previous owner. But an owner may not be aware of trouble signs that a dealership or service station would recognize.
  • The used-car section of new-car dealerships - Nearly all franchised dealers have a used-car department that sells vehicles they have taken as trade-ins, bought at auction or from another dealer, or that have come back at the end of a lease. Many dealerships offer CPO cars that have been thoroughly inspected and are backed by strong warranties.
  • Independent used car lots - These dealerships are apt to handle any car make, and the vehicles can run the gamut from the almost-new to several years old. If the dealership has been around for a long time and has a good reputation locally, that’s a good sign.
  • Used car auctions - You likely won't be able to do a pre-vehicle inspection with your mechanic, but you will have a good opportunity to save a lot of money. Although the car may require some repairs, you could still come out on top.  This option is best for people with more car knowledge.

 6. Shop around and compare options
There are lots of resources for finding used cars. Check the classifieds, which have thousands of vehicles from private parties and local dealerships, including the complete inventories of more than 30 dealerships.  Many times you can also search the used car inventory of new car dealerships right on their website.  Ask friends and relatives if they are selling any used cars and keep your eyes peeled for “For Sale” signs in car windows.

7. Save time
Once you find a prospective car, call the seller before you go to see the vehicle. Over the phone, you can ask questions about the car to eliminate cars that have problems and verify the asking price in the ad. While talking to the seller, set up an appointment for a test-drive. Also, ask for the VIN so you can run a vehicle history report.

Here is a list of some questions to ask the seller:
“How many miles has it been driven?”
“What are the features?”
“What is the car’s condition?”
“How about the body and interior?”
“Has it been in an accident?”
“Do you have service records?”
“Have you owned it since it was new?”
“Why are you selling the car?”

8. Test drive
By test driving the car, you can determine if it is a good fit for you physically and if it seems in good condition.  You should always arrange your test drive during the day, so you can get a good look at the car.  Keep the radio off during your test drive so you can hear the engine. Take your time and be sure to simulate the conditions of your normal driving patterns. If you do a lot of highway driving, be sure to go on the highway. If you go into the mountains, test the car on a steep slope. You don't want to find out after you've bought the car that it doesn't perform as needed.

On the test-drive, evaluate these additional points:
  • Should start without hesitation
  • Acceleration from a stop
  • Visibility (Check for blind spots)
  • Engine noise
  • Transmission shifts smoothly (should not jolt forward, hesitate while shifting, grind, clunk or whine)
  • Passing acceleration
  • Signs of smoke with hard acceleration (A little bit of white smoke is normal. Blue smoke means you're burning oil. Black smoke means the engine is clogged with carbon)
  • Hill-climbing power
  • Braking (No squealing or grinding)
  • Cornering
  • Suspension (How does it ride?)
  • Steering (If you point the car straight, does it go straight?)
  • Rattles and squeaks
  • Test all lights, signals, radio/CD, GPS.
  • Cargo space
  • Headspace and legroom

After the test-drive, ask the owner if you can see the service records. See if the car has had the scheduled maintenance performed on time. Avoid buying a car that has been in a serious accident or has had major repairs such as transmission rebuilds, valve jobs or engine overhauls. If you like the way the car drives, you should still take it to a mechanic for a thorough inspection. A private party will probably allow you to do this without much resistance. But at a dealership, it might be more difficult.

9. Negotiating the price
It is much easier to negotiate successfully when you have done your homework.

Follow these guidelines when negotiating:
  • Only enter into negotiations with a seller with whom you feel comfortable.
  • Make an opening offer that is low, but in the ballpark.
  • Decide ahead of time how high you will go and be prepared to walk away when your limit is reached. This is your strongest negotiating tool.
  • Be patient. Plan to spend an hour negotiating in a dealership, less for private parties.
  • Leave the dealership if you get tired or hungry.

Once you have a deal, make sure the transaction is completed according to the agreed upon terms.

10. Close the deal
When you buy a car from a private party, you will probably be asked to pay with a cashier's check or in cash. Before money changes hands, make sure the seller signs over the title to you in front of a notary (most banks have one).

If you are at a dealership, you still have to go through the finance and insurance (F&I) process. If any repair work is required and has been promised by the dealer, get it in writing in a "Due Bill."  

In either case, you need to make sure you have insurance for the car you just bought.  Contact your insurance agent as soon as possible to make sure the new car is added to your policy.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Fun Ways to Play with your Cat

If you’re a cat owner, there’s no better enjoyment than playing games with your cat. Whether they are kittens or adults, watching them chase, flip, run and jump can provide hours of entertainment for the both of you. It’s also healthy as they get lots of exercise and it keeps them happy while you get bonding time with them. There are lots of games you can play together but here are some all time favorites.

Pouncing games give your cat a chance to seek and catch. Move an object, like their favorite toy or something else that grabs their attention, along the floor or up and around the furniture and they will try to catch it. To make it more challenging, just as they are about to get the toy, move it away really fast and they’ll try again and again. Also whenever you change your bedsheets, be prepared for playtime. Your cat will jump all around the bed pouncing as you fluff the sheets.

These games give your cat a chance to use their natural instincts for catching prey. Once the toy is caught,  they pull it towards their belly and kick furiously with their back legs while shaking and biting their catch. Good toys for this game are catnip filled mice or a stuffed animal around their size. Sometimes when you rub a cat’s belly they go into bunny kick mode but they’re not necessarily being aggressive – they see it as playtime and normally wind up licking your hand while kicking.

These are the most fun. Kitty loves to wait and pounce.  This is why you wind up with a cat attached to your foot unexpectedly when you walk by.  Try getting down on their level and peek around the corner and you’ll notice each time you do they get closer and closer until you’re nose to whiskers with your furry friend. And yes, kitty will pounce from above too. So if you have high shelves be assured you could have a cat land on you from above.

These games involve waving a toy or a feather wand that requires your cat to leap high into the air and capture it with their front paws. You will be amazed how agile they are and how high they can actually jump.

For indoor cats, playtime is very important. They not only need it but they enjoy it. They only require maybe ten minutes a day, but playtime can last as long as you want it to. The best time to play is around dusk because you will tucker them out and they’ll sleep through the night instead of waking you early in the morning.  For hilarious playtime videos, check out YouTube and see how much fun playtime with your cat can be.

by Scott Goodblatt