Gardening tips & tools for newbies


Whether for the joy of raising your own food and flowers, for increasing your home’s curb appeal, or just for the love of getting close to nature, gardening is a great seasonal pastime. If you are a beginning gardener, the trusty Farmer’s Almanac is a great source for gardening resources, from planners, calendars and videos to gardening tips by month for your location.

Even if you don’t have a lot of space – maybe only a balcony – you might try vertical gardening. The LA Times features a variety of kits and containers designed to help you maximize space and still yield beautiful greenery, flowers and even a crop of veggies.

If you don’t have a garden yourself, New England has a wide range of gardens that make for great seasonal outings. VisitNewEngland.com offers a garden guide, noting:

Public gardens of all types are found from one end of New England another. They range from formal and traditional, like the Elizabeth Park Rose Garden in Hartford, Connecticut, to the wide and whimsical, like the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay, Maine. Rhododendrons bloom wild at a park in southern New Hampshire and butterflies have their own garden habitats in parts of Rhode Island and Massachusetts. In all the warm months, garden clubs host local garden tours of places as private and lavish as the homes of Newport, Rhode Island, and elsewhere.

Beginning gardeners – and even some pros – may find this infographic from TheFix.com on Essential Tools for Beginner Gardeners very helpful. The Be sure to click through for many helpful tips in the accompanying blog post.


Source: Fix.com Blog

What’s “usage-based insurance” all about?



You may have heard the term “usage based insurance” or UBI and wondered if it’s right for you. Essentially, UBI is technology called telematics that monitors your actual driving behavior and experience. It may be a device installed on your car or on your phone. It can measure many variables, including what, when, where, and how you drive. The collected data is used by insurers to help determine the cost of your insurance.

Expect to hear more and more about UBI. Today, availability is limited to some insurers and some states and it is a choice you make as a consumer. Expect it to continue growing as a mechanism for pricing auto insurance. It’s estimated that by 2020, about 70% of all insurers will use telematics, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC).

For a good overview, NAIC offers a one page explainer: Understanding Usage-Based Insurance. Or if you’d like a deeper dive on the topic, you can read their trend report on Usage-Base Insurance and Telematics.

NAIC describes how UBI insurance premiums are determined vs how traditional premiums are determined:

“There are several variations of UBI including pay-as-you-drive, pay-how-you-drive, pay-as-you-go and distance-based insurance. These options are different from how insurers charge for traditional auto insurance. Traditional auto insurance relies on actuarial analysis of data including driving record, credit-based insurance score, personal characteristics, vehicle type, garage location and more. A UBI program adds individual driving behaviors as an additional rating factor.

UBI may have a direct impact on your premium as UBI programs associate costs with individual and current driving behaviors instead of relying on statistics based on past trends and events.”

By tracking data, good or infrequent drivers will pay less and frequent or higher risk drivers will pay more. It’s expected that this could yield significant benefits for businesses in managing fleets. In the one-page article linked above, NAIC discusses the pros and cons of this approach for individuals. One frequently cited downside is the issue of privacy – some drivers just don’t like the idea of being tracked; others worry that collected data could be shared with or sold to third parties. Many state regulators are monitoring the privacy issue and requiring disclosure of tracking practices and devices.

Right now, if you talk about telematics and insurance, it is primarily an issue for auto insurance. But expect that some practices may also make their way into home insurance too. While there are still some barriers to adoption there – privacy being one – “smart technologies” or “the Internet of Things” mean that more and more home systems will be able to be measured and tracked. For more on this, see Smartest house on the block: Home telematics and their window for insurers.

Thank a teacher during National Teacher Appreciation Week


May 7 through 12 is National Teacher Appreciation Week – and the 9th is National Teacher Appreciation Day. If you stop and think who influenced and shaped your life the most beyond your parents, it was probably a teacher! Maybe you are still in touch with a few who had a particular impact on your life – if so, it would be nice to reach out and thank them. But even if you’ve long lost touch with your teachers, you could still offer a thank you to teachers everywhere with a note of appreciation this week on your social media feed.   The National Education Association suggest posting with the hashtag #ThankATeacher and offers some ideas and some graphics – or create your own.

One person who has always been great about encouraging and thanking teachers is Ellen Degeneres. These fun clips from the Ellen Show offer times when she recognized a particularly great teacher.

The first one in our clips is a teacher from Massachusetts …

This is a teacher from Maine …

And we love Mr. Bonner …

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If it’s May, it must be National Bicycle Month! Is your bike road ready?


bicycle month

There are a few sure signs of spring – the swallows return to Capistrano, the trees begin to bud, and you see more bicycles on the road. To kick off the season, May is National Bike Month – time to get your bike tuned up so you can participate in Bike to School Day on May 10, Bike to Work Week from May 15-19 and Bike to Work Day on May 19!

And as part of our spring ritual, we like to gather some good resources for everything you need to know to have bike ship-shape and road-ready for the good weather ahead.

Popular Mechanics offers a handy pictorial guide to 9 things to do to check your bicycle for spring.

Check out our prior post on ensuring you get the right fit on bike helmets — particularly important for kid riders. We sourced some excellent guides to get you up to speed on bike helmet safety.

Don’t let your season be ruined by theft. Check out our posts on protecting your bicycle from bike thieves and get the scoop on what you need to know about insurance for your bike to protect your investment.

It’s also a good idea to brush up on bicycle safety – a 2014 report on biking fatalities shows the high risk groups and problems that can occur. Bike safety is important for everybody but particularly important for kids – check out these handy resources.

See our 2016 Bike Month tool kit post for links to bike clubs in New England and some helpful videos for prepping your bike for the season.

A just-for-fun springtime post: Dancing cows


We didn’t set out to make our blog theme for the spring be “animals on parade” but sometimes on the web, you just have to take advantage of the fun and interesting things that surface. A few weeks ago, we brought you the story of 1,000 working ducks. Today, we can’t resist this story of a group of happy, dancing cows.

In an annual seasonal ritual, a farm in the Netherlands celebrates the springtime with something they call “Koeiendans” which, as near as we can tell, is Dutch for “cow dancing.” It marks the first day after a long winter being cooped up that the cows are let out of the barn to frolic in the fields – and frolic they do. Check out how they express their delight at seeing all that lovely, fresh green grass by kicking up their heels. Who’d have guessed that cows could be quite so light on their feet? I think most of us in New England can relate to the happy feeling that the end of winter and the start of beautiful spring weather inspires!

We’re posting one clip for 2017 and one for 2016 – but if you must have more, you can check out the farm’s YouTube channel for spring cow dancing back to 2012.

And before we share the clips – we can’t resist a little plug for supporting your local family farms this growing season – eat local, eat fresh. And if these clips motivate you, consider a farm or ranch stay for your next vacation: Here’s a regional guide to New England Farm & Ranch Stays.