May 25, 2019

Gardening: America’s New Favorite Pastime

home inspector atlantaMore than 41 million Americans planted vegetable gardens in 2009 – a number expected to increase as food costs climb, according to a recent Gardening Trends Research Report. When you factor in flowers, herbs and fruits, it’s difficult to find a home where people are not working the soil on a warm sunny day.

Aside from the obvious benefits of fresh flowers and produce, gardening provides low-impact, calorie-burning exercise. One hour of gardening burns about 375 calories. While love of gardening has not changed, methods continue to evolve – and one of the top trends is raised-bed gardening.

Tending a raised bed requires less bending and stooping, and is ideal for yards with poor soil. Rather than working to improve heavy clay soil or adding body to sandy soil, you’re starting with a clean slate. Raised beds are particularly useful for community gardens and urban gardens in areas with compacted or root-bound soil.

“Ninety percent of success is the prep work done ahead of planting,” says Mark Dwyer, director of horticulture at Rotary Botanical Gardens in Janesville, Wis.” This includes finding a location that gets six to eight hours of direct sun each day.

Once the site is chosen, determine the size of your garden. A first-timer should start small – don’t overwhelm yourself with a massive plot. Start with one or two raised garden beds measuring 4 feet by 8 feet. Select a location that offers room to grow, should you choose to expand your garden in subsequent years.

No matter what size raised bed you choose, the frame needs to be structurally sound and attractive. Helping to fill this niche is the durable, decorative M Brace raised garden bed bracket from Outdoor Essentials. The patented, corner bracket, sold in sets of four, lets you create an attractive, sturdy raised garden bed in just minutes using common 2-by-6 and 2-by-4 lumber and no tools. The M Brace’s sturdy, recycled metal frame keeps boards seated securely at the corners. It’s available in eight cut-out designs, and two finishes – steel that will rust gracefully over time, or powder-coated in an antique bronze finish.

Once the frame is in place, fill the raised box with quality soil. Garden centers offer bulk and bagged soil mixes. Or create your own blend, using equal parts peat moss, coarse-grade vermiculite and blended compost.

Create pathways to your garden or build an adjacent sitting area with Tiffany-style stepping-stones from Outdoor Essentials (  Serpentine jade or handcrafted Tiffany-style jade stepping stones lend visual appeal to your garden and protect soil and plants from being trampled.

To keep deer, rabbits and other critters at bay, consider a decorative enclosure using end caps and lattice. Fence posts 4-by-4 inches or 6-by-6 inches are ideal. Once fence posts are set, enclose the garden with decorative lattice, leaving a narrow opening or a hinged gate for access.

Make your enclosed garden an eye-catching centerpiece by topping off the end posts with elegant Planter Post Caps. The decorative caps, available in two styles and colors, add dimension and color to the garden. Caps are available in square or round designs, with a black or copper finish. Plant colorful flowers or trailing vines in the post cap planters to create horizontal interest.

The key to a bountiful harvest – be it fruits, vegetables or flowers – is successful pollination. Brightly colored flowers attract bees and hummingbirds, as will fresh water. Add a luminous green birdbath in serpentine jade to attract birds all summer and to provide an architectural focal point inside your garden.

“Think outside the box,” says Dwyer. Add a few herbs – or anything you want – to make the garden uniquely yours. And don’t discount edible landscape ornamentals: “Many fresh herbs and vegetables can contribute their own charm to an informal border or container,” he adds.

Whether for a relaxing hobby or for the desire to grow nutritious fruits and vegetables for you and your neighbors, now is the perfect time to start a garden of your own.

Create Rainy Day Fun With Kids In The Kitchen

atlanta home inspectorThe rainy weather during the spring months can often keep your children cooped up indoors, begging for entertainment. Instead of spending the afternoon watching a movie or playing video games, invite your kids into the kitchen to help whip up a delicious meal that doubles as playtime.

Cooking with your kids is a great way to introduce them to basic math, chemistry, different cultures and foods, and more – no matter how young they are. Best of all, it can be both fun and rewarding, especially when your kids proudly pass around their creative dish to share with friends and family members.

If you’re interested in finding a great way to have fun with your kids on the next rainy day, consider some of these creative kitchen cooking activities:

* Plan a menu with a rainbow of colors. This will introduce your kids to a variety of foods and tastes, and also help them creatively incorporate some of the more unusual food colors into a meal plan – and everyone will have fun eating the rainbow of colors.

* Cook family favorites with your kids. There are some simple ways to creatively involve kids into the cooking process. Younger kids can easily find ingredients in the cupboards and help wash vegetables or stir in ingredients. Older kids can help with measuring and mixing ingredients together. Just think about simple tasks that they can accomplish and before you know it, you’ll have an “assistant chef” at your side.

Your kids will love to help make this delicious Ore-Ida Steam n’ Mash mashed potato recipe – they can help measure the ingredients and do the mashing.

Loaded Mashed Potato Casserole

1 package Ore-Ida Steam n’ Mash Cut Russet Potatoes
2/3 cup evaporated milk
2 tablespoons butter
3 ounces cream cheese softened
1/2 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons fresh chives chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper ground
1/4 cup crumbled bacon
1 cup cheddar cheese shredded

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Coat 8-by-8 baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Microwave the potatoes according to the package instructions. In a large bowl, mix together hot potatoes, milk and butter, and mash until smooth. For a smoother consistency, mix with an electric mixer to desired consistency. Add cream cheese, sour cream, chives, salt and pepper, and mix well. Spread evenly into baking dish. Top with bacon crumbles and cheese. Bake uncovered for 25 to 30 minutes, or until heated through.

* Play “name that taste.” Prepare a variety of different food items in your kitchen and, with your kids blindfolded, see if they can name the items in the taste test line up. Just use some simple snacks that they are already familiar with, such as cereals and fruits. Then throw something new into the mix and see if they can guess what it is. You can even offer a fun reward for dessert if they get it right.

* Have imaginative fun with your food. Who doesn’t like pancakes shaped like an animal or cookies that spell out their first name? Let them sculpt and create fun, imaginative displays that will have family members ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing’ at their edible artwork. Mashed potatoes can also be a great canvas for creativity and with Ore-Ida Steam n’ Mash potatoes you can have real homemade mashed potatoes in less than 15 minutes. That’s because the real potatoes are already peeled and chopped. You microwave and mash the way your family likes, then let the kids create their mashed potato masterpiece.

If you are looking for more ways to get creative with your kids in the kitchen, visit the Ore-Ida Steam n’ Mash Mash Destruction contest at The contest is searching for the most creative, fun ways to mash potatoes – from the obvious to the obscure. Simply submit a drawing of your kid’s idea through March 29 and you could win up to $5,000. You can also visit the site from April 5 through April 15 to vote on your favorite potato mashing ideas.

‘Veggin’ Out’ Is So In…

home inspector atlantaTips for starting your own veggie garden!

Vegetable and herb gardening is in and studies indicate it will continue to grow in popularity. If you’re not growing your own yet it’s time to start. Why? The reasons are as varied as the people who garden.

Some do it to save money. Others want to ensure their food is chemical-free, and as safe as possible. Still others grow their own vegetables because fresher is just better. Many do it because gardening is good for you and some because it’s still fun to play in the dirt.

Whatever your reason for opting to join the 7 million Americans who grabbed their gardening gear and grew their own vegetables and herbs last year, your road to success is basically the same as everyone else’s – planting at the right time, making sure your soil’s in shape, weeding and watering responsibly, and feeding and nurturing your plants. This season, you won’t have to buy your fresh herbs and vegetables from a farmer’s market; you can grow them on your own, and you don’t need a farm-sized backyard – or pocketbook – to do it.

Avid gardener Stan Cope, president of Bonnie Plants, the largest producer of vegetable and herb plants in North America, growing locally in 75 locations nationwide, offers some time-saving tips to make the growing easy:

* Survey your soil – Your first step is to decide where you’ll put your vegetable and herb garden. Good soil is key. The best soil is loam, a soft, dark, crumbly dirt. Loamy soil holds water, allows for drainage and is easy to dig. If you encounter clay or sandy soil, add peat moss and bone meal so that these soils can also be productive gardening bases.

* Size up your space – When plotting out the size of your garden, you’ll want to be sure it’s big enough to yield a good harvest to make your efforts worthwhile. But if you’re limited on yard space – or have none at all – you can grow vegetables and herbs in containers on a deck, terrace, balcony or even on the windowsill.

* Let the sunshine in – Your plants need plenty of sun – at least six hours a day. A sunny and open location is your best bet for producing a plentiful harvest.

* Pick your plants for your plot – Grow vegetables that are expensive to buy in the grocery store or at the farmer’s market, such as tomatoes and peppers.

A tried-and-true prolific producer, the Bonnie Original Tomato, was developed exclusively for Bonnie Plants in 1967. They come in environmentally friendly, biodegradable pots that you plant right into the soil. Recent trials, planting five of these tomato plants in 25-gallon containers, averaged 100 tomatoes each at an average of 37 pounds per plant. Another tomato that will tip the scales is Bonnie’s Sun Sugar tomato, a yellow cherry type. Trial garden plants averaged 1,228 tomatoes each.

If peppers are your passion, the Yummy Bell Pepper, ripening from green to apricot orange, is a best bet. Trial garden testing of five plants averaged 248 peppers per plant during the summer growing season.

* Time-saving transplants – When you’re ready to begin planting, opt for transplants – seedlings that have already been started – rather than starting from seed. Transplants will buy you lots of time because plants are six weeks or older when you put them in the ground, and you’ll begin harvesting much sooner.

* Feed your food – Your vegetable plants will need food and water to survive and grow. When feeding plants, try to avoid chemical fertilizers that could potentially seep into groundwater. Bonnie Plant Food is a unique, organically based, soybean oilseed extract formula that has demonstrated superior results in the health and vigor of plants.

Give your garden a good watering once or twice a week, although some crops may need more water, especially if your climate is very hot. A thorough soaking, allowing the water to penetrate 4 to 6 inches into the soil, is better for plants than frequent shallow watering.

Gardening is rewarding. It will bring great pleasure as you bring your produce from plot to plate so you can literally enjoy the fruits of your labor. For more information on varieties and gardening advice, visit

Fuzzy, Fun And Family-Friendly: Secrets Of The Amazing Kiwifruit

atlanta home inspectorThe first time you saw a kiwifruit in your grocery store did you think it was a lemon gone wrong? Or perhaps you thought it was a new, smaller, odd-looking variety of pear. The truth is the kiwifruit isn’t just a fruit, it’s one of nature’s most perfect foods – and if your family hasn’t yet discovered the taste, versatility and nutritional punch of kiwifruit, it’s time to give it a try.

Kiwifruit has a history every bit as unusual as its appearance. Discovered in ancient China, the berry (which grows on vines like grapes) was known as Chinese gooseberry by the mid 1800s. The kiwi arrived in California in the early 1960s and was nicknamed “kiwifruit” because it was imported from New Zealand. Today, fewer than 300 family farms produce more than 98 percent of all the kiwifruit grown in the U.S. You can view a video about kiwifruit, how it’s grown and how to select, ripen and eat it at

Nutritionally, kiwifruit packs a powerful wallop. Low in calories and naturally fat free, kiwifruit offers:

* Two and a half times the recommended daily allowance of immune system booster vitamin C.

* More fiber (in two kiwis) than a bowl of bran cereal.

* More potassium than a banana.

* Nearly 10 percent of the recommended daily allowance of folate, a nutrient vital to fetal development and maternal health before, during and after pregnancy.

* Vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant that is found in just a handful of fat-free sources like kiwifruit.

The California Kiwifruit Commission offers a few helpful hints for enjoying kiwi:

* Kiwifruit should be smooth-skinned (but slightly prickly), without wrinkles, bruises or blemishes.

* Like many fruits and vegetables sold in supermarkets, kiwifruit come in varying stages of ripeness. When you plan to eat your kiwifruit will determine what degree of ripeness you choose. If you’ll be eating your kiwifruit after three or more days, choose fruit that are firm to the touch. If you plan to eat them in just a day or two, select softer fruit. If you want to eat your kiwifruit right away, choose ones that give easily when gently pressed.

* To eat your kiwifruit, practice “slooping.” First, slice the kiwi in half lengthwise, and then scoop out the sweet flesh with a spoon – slooping. You can receive a free slooper from the California Kiwifruit Commission by visiting their website.

* Kiwifruit are great in a wide variety of recipes and dishes, from delectable summer smoothies and fresh salads to pies, puddings and even cocktails.

Try this kiwifruit recipe to introduce your family to this fuzzy, fun, family-friendly fruit:

California Kiwifruit Squares


1 1/4 cups flour
1/3 cup powdered sugar, divided
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1 cup sugar
2 California kiwifruit, pared and pureed
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon lime juice
1/2 teaspoon grated lime peel
1/2 teaspoon baking powder


Combine flour and 1/4 cup powdered sugar. Cut butter into flour mixture until mixture looks like cornmeal. Pat into 9-inch square pan. Bake at 350F for 15 minutes. Combine sugar, kiwifruit, eggs, lime juice, lime peel and baking powder. Pour over baked crust. Return to oven. Bake for 25 more minutes. Cool and sprinkle with remaining powdered sugar. Cut into 16 squares.

For more interesting facts, nutritional information and recipes, and to view the video, visit

How To Make Dining Out Fresh, Healthy And Affordable For Families

There are times when pulling together a meal at home isn’t in the cards; and finding time to cook a meal and gather everyone around the table is just too hard. The easiest time-saving solution is going out to eat, but that too can seem daunting when looking  for a family meal that has both good nutrition and comes at a reasonable cost. Not to fear, menus and prices are changing.

Greater emphasis has been placed on eating fresh, and, when possible, local foods in recent years. And, as the demand for healthier menu options has grown across a wider audience, more restaurants at a variety of price points have responded by offering foods made with fresh ingredients, at prices that won’t hurt the family budget.

This trend also means that consumers have to be savvy about where – and what – they’re eating. What’s presented as healthy isn’t always the best choice. The best defense here is a good offense. Becoming informed about the dishes you’re likely to pick and the restaurants you frequently visit will allow you to make the right choices.

There are a few key things to look for when taking the family out for a meal:

* Fresh ingredients. These can be particularly hard to come by in a restaurant setting, so it’s good to find restaurants that have a mission to serve fresh foods. Some restaurants, like Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes, make the effort to ensure that the food they offer on their salad bar and the ingredients in their freshly prepared foods come straight from the farm to the restaurant kitchen, with as little transit time as possible in between. That means that the food not only tastes better, it’s also in optimal condition for healthy eating.

* A wide variety of options. Families have to cater to a lot of very different taste preferences, which can make dining out a challenge. And we all know it can be a challenge to get kids to choose healthy foods over junk food. By going out together to a restaurant that has a buffet format coupled with freshly-made wholesome foods, you’ll be able to let everyone pick out what’s to their taste with the peace of mind that they’re eating well.

* Know nutrition. Make it a point to talk to your family about healthy ingredients and how they make a difference in their lives. It’s also useful to explain calories – how many go into a healthy diet, what’s too little and what’s too much – and give kids examples of how many calories are in a variety of prepared foods. Some restaurant websites, like that of Souplantation, make it easy to find out exactly what the nutritional values are in each item they serve. Having a realistic view of what goes into the food you eat plays a big role in making healthy choices when eating out.

By knowing what to look for, it’s easier to make smart choices at restaurants that are wallet-friendly, disproving the myth that it costs a lot to eat the healthiest foods. And when you find a place that meets the requirements of healthy, affordable and fresh, spread the word to friends. Whether you go out on a multi-family lunch date or give restaurant gift cards, you’ll be sharing smart ways to stay healthy with your family and friends.

A Guide To Seafood For Every Taste And Any Budget

home inspector atlantaSome diners are often intimidated to try seafood or may think it’s too expensive to enjoy regularly. But with the wide assortment of types and dishes available today, there is an option out there for every taste and any budget. It’s easy to find fresh, delicious, affordable seafood meals the whole family will enjoy.

Seafood expert and Red Lobster Executive Chef Michael LaDuke offers tips for navigating your way to a perfect seafood meal.

* Start simple. When eating seafood for the first time, or introducing seafood to kids, start with something simple. Try shrimp as a topping on a salad or your favorite pizza. Shrimp is great seafood for beginners because it is widely available and very reasonably priced.

* Try it grilled. Seafood is often prepared oven broiled or sauteed, but why not try your next piece of fresh fish, such as salmon, grilled over an open flame? “Wood-fire grilling sears in the natural juices of fresh fish while adding subtle flavor,” says LaDuke. “Not to mention, grilling is a healthful way to prepare protein-rich seafood.”

* Find comfort in familiar flavors. Broadening your seafood horizons is easy when you start with a sauce or topping you already know and love. A well-known seasoning, like Parmesan cheese, or a common crusted topping, like pecans, can be paired with your favorite fresh fish and add a new dimension to your meal. A good fish for seafood beginners is tilapia, because of its mild taste and light texture. Chef LaDuke recommends Red Lobster’s new Parmesan-Crusted Tilapia, an affordable selection, that features a creamy blend of cheese and breadcrumbs that is then baked until crispy and golden. This dish is one of several new menu items offered at Red Lobster for less than $20.

* Create your own combination. Next time you’re dining at a seafood restaurant, order a combination plate, which allows you to savor multiple flavors and try different preparations at the same time. This lets you discover the type of seafood you enjoy the most. “Red Lobster serves several dishes that pair seafood varieties and preparations together – like our Maple-Glazed Salmon and Shrimp or Wood-Grilled Lobster, Shrimp and Scallops,” notes Chef LaDuke. “It’s a delicious way to try something new.”

* Discover daily specials. A special or standalone menu is a great place to find new or unique dishes to try. “Ask a seafood expert about daily specials and promotions,” says LaDuke. “This is often where the chef can get a little more creative with tastes.” It also allows you to rely on the advice of a trusted resource to find new seafood varieties like rainbow trout, mahi-mahi or halibut.

* Get great seafood at a great value. Quality seafood doesn’t have to cost a pretty penny. Instead, try premium seafood like lobster in a more approachable dish like soup or a sandwich. Lobster Bisque and New England Lobster Rolls are both new menu items offered at Red Lobster, illustrating that top-quality seafood dishes can be affordable.

As you decide what your next seafood meal will be, consider Chef LaDuke’s advice and know that even with so many options to choose from, there are a host of great tasting dishes for every taste and any budget. For more information about selecting fresh, delicious, affordable seafood dishes and to learn more from Chef LaDuke, visit

Grilling Tips To Keep Home Fires Burning Safely

atlanta home inspectorGrilling season will arrive before you know it. Before firing up the grill  for spring festivities or tailgating, however, weekend warriors should  observe a few simple precautions to ensure that backyard barbecue bashes don’t go up in flames.

Casual cookouts can turn dangerous – and sometimes deadly – if safety is ignored, according to leading home insurer MetLife Auto & Home. “Every year, we see dozens of fire-related claims reported throughout the year because of simple carelessness,” says Mike Convery, vice president and chief claim officer at MetLife Auto & Home. “Keeping safety basics top-of-mind can help prevent losses from occurring and help you avoid needless hassle and property damage – and in some situations, injury to you or your loved ones.”

Follow these easy pointers to make grilling safer:

* Keep barbecue grills on a level surface away from the house, garage and, most importantly, children and pets. When grilling on your patio, make sure that all furniture and accessories are far from the grill. On balconies, it is always safer to move festivities to available lawn space. Never grill inside the home or garage, even if it is raining.

* For gas grills, always store gas cylinders outside and away from your house, and be sure the valves are turned off when not in use. Check the tubes regularly for cracking, brittleness, and leaks in the connections. To determine if there is a leak, simply pour soapy water over the line with the gas valve turned open. If gas is escaping, bubbles will appear. Should you detect a leak, immediately turn off the gas and don’t use the grill until the leak is repaired.

* Your grill generates high temperatures, so keep it covered whenever possible. Keep lighted cigarettes, matches and open flames away from the grill, and move gas hoses as far away as possible from hot surfaces and grease. Use a can to catch excess grease.

* Make certain your grill is kept at least 2 to 3 feet away from wood or vinyl siding. Placing the grill too close to your home, especially one with vinyl siding, can result in melting or burning, or even a fire. Also, keep in mind that while vinyl siding and composite decking have a higher “burn point” than wood, it’s also easier for these materials to melt and discolor, which can result in a costly claim for property damage.

* For charcoal grills, use only starter fluids designed for your grill and never use gasoline. Limit the amount of fluid used. If the fire is too low, use dry kindling and add more charcoal, if necessary. To avoid a flash fire – a fire that spreads rapidly through the vapors of an ignitable liquid – never add more liquid fuel to a lighted grill.

* When using bamboo or wood skewers, soak them in cool water prior to use so they won’t ignite on the grill.

* Keep a fire extinguisher accessible and never leave a grill unattended once it has been lit. If an extinguisher isn’t available, consider keeping a bucket of sand or a garden hose nearby.

* Never allow burned coals to smolder in any container on a wooden deck and make sure to soak your coals before disposing of them by wrapping them in heavy-duty aluminum foil and putting them in a non-combustible container away from the house.

“These precautions should be used for all outdoor cooking devices, including propane turkey fryers and outdoor fire pits,” Convery says.”Above all, remember that whatever you’re cooking with outdoors will remain hot for hours and that wooden surfaces, such as decks, can present fire hazards, so never place cooking devices directly upon them. We have received serious home insurance fire damage claims, some involving loss of life, that started because cooks forgot that the party isn’t over until the last flame has been extinguished.”

For a comprehensive look at fire safety protection, MetLife Auto & Home offers a free brochure on “Fire Safety,” featuring useful information about fire-related subjects, including how to plan an escape route, seasonal safety tips and safety information related to heating your home. A coloring and activity book is also available for children, titled “Learn About Fire Safety with the PEANUTS Gang,” that helps children learn critical emergency information, the steps to fire safety and how to develop escape routes to use in the event of a fire. The brochure and coloring book are available free from (800) 608-0190.

S’mores Is The Right Activity For More Than Just Camping

home inspector atlantaAmericans have a love affair with that classic campfire treat, S’mores. The good news – S’mores are no longer reserved just for campfire cooking. Did you know you can enjoy the chocolate, marshmallow and graham cracker goodness every day, inside and out?

S’mores have been helping families create memories since the delicious campfire recipe was first published in the Girl Scouts handbook in 1927. According to recent research, 79 percent of consumers polled believe S’mores are as much fun to make as they are to eat.

To help families make everyday S’mores moments this summer, Hershey’s and Kraft Foods offer the following S’mores “snacktivity” ideas.

* S’mores time, any time – S’mores are the perfect summer campfire companion, and they offer a great “snacktivity” for after school, a ball game or family dinner. Incorporating S’mores into your regular summer activities allows you to create a memorable Monday or tasty Tuesday that the family will all enjoy.

* Turn your backyard into a fun get-together – Get the family, friends or neighbors together for an impromptu backyard party at the fire pit. Tell them all they need to bring is their appetite – you’ll be serving S’mores.

* Grilling up sweet treats – Sweeten your next backyard barbecue by adding S’mores to the menu. As an alternative to toasting a marshmallow on a skewer, simply preheat the grill to medium-hot. Build the S’mores to your liking and wrap in aluminum foil. Place the wrapped S’mores on the grill and cook one to two minutes on each side or until the marshmallow is gooey and the chocolate is slightly melted between the graham crackers. In other words, build it, wrap it and grill it. Grilled S’mores are also always a win at tailgate parties.

* Tasty play for a rainy day – When bad weather strikes, keep the fun going by making S’mores in the microwave. Top each of four graham squares with one chocolate piece and one marshmallow. Place on microwaveable plate. Microwave on high 15 to 20 seconds or until marshmallows puff and chocolate begins to melt. Carefully remove plate from the microwave and then cover each S’mores with a remaining graham cracker square. Microwaved S’mores are also perfect for family game nights, sleepovers and afterschool treats.

You can visit to create more S’mores and more smiles and for a chance to win one of more than 1,000 family fun prizes including fire pits, indoor S’mores kits, backyard game sets and much more. No purchase necessary, game ends Sept. 7. See the website for official rules.

Courtesy of ARA