Oh, Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree…….

 


There's something about the experience of cutting down your family's own Christmas tree that starts the holiday season. But did you know there's a lot to know about live trees? From choosing one, to transporting it home and keeping it fresh through the holiday season, there's something we can all learn.

That's why we've called in an expert. Richard Palmer, the third-generation owner of Palmer Christmas Tree Farms in Mount Bethel, Pennsylvania, is an ERIE business insurance customer. The family began selling Christmas trees in 1939. Today, they grow trees on 60 acres of land.

Here are Richard’s top tips for choosing, transporting and caring for a live Christmas tree.

How to Choose a Live Christmas Tree

The first order of business is to decide which kind of tree you want. Richard grows six of the most popular varieties, which include:
•Douglas fir: Douglas firs have soft, blue-green needles. They also have high needle retention compared to other trees, making them a good choice if you’re especially vacuum-averse.
•Fraser fir: Richard reports that the Fraser fir has become his most-sold Christmas tree in recent years. “They have a very good reputation for needle retention and being easy to handle,” he says.
•Colorado blue spruce: This dense, cone-shaped tree derives its name from its unique bluish-gray color. “The blue spruce has sturdy branches and sharp needles,” adds Richard.
•White pine: This tree has soft, flexible needles and is bluish-green in color. Just know they aren’t the best pick if you have heavy ornaments or you want a tree with an aroma.
•Norway spruce: This northern European tree has shiny, dark green needles and dense branches. It does not retain needles very well, so buy it as close to Christmas as possible.
•Concolor fir: If you’re looking for a tree with a beautiful scent, try a concolor fir. In addition to its pleasing citrus scent, this tree has a natural shape and good needle retention.

No matter which tree you choose, it’s important to make sure it’s healthy. “All Christmas trees will shed some needles, but it’s not a good sign if lots of needles are falling off,” says Richard. “It’s also a bad sign if the tree feels light.”

Buy your tree as close to Christmas as possible. “I don’t sell any trees until the day after Thanksgiving,” says Richard. “A tree lasts about five weeks, so you shouldn’t be buying one before Thanksgiving.”


Live Potted Christmas Trees

Want to enjoy your tree after the holiday season has ended? Consider purchasing a living Christmas tree. Compared to a fresh-cut tree, living trees are either potted or have the root ball wrapped in a burlap sack.

You keep the tree alive by caring for it as you would a potted plant. Then, instead of throwing your Christmas tree out in January, you can plant the tree outside. Or, keep it in a pot and use it again next year.

 

How to Transport a Live Christmas Tree

After you’ve picked out the perfect tree, the next step is getting it home. It’s important you give this process the attention it deserves, because a tree that isn’t properly secured can be dangerous for you, your car and other drivers on the road.
•Before you leave, ask to get the tree netted. This will make it more manageable to transport. Then, place a tarp or blanket underneath the tree to prevent any scratches.
•If possible, transport the tree inside your vehicle. Generally speaking, it’s safer and easier to do it that way. If you have a large van, truck or SUV, clear out some room before you head to the lot.
•Use your roof rack. This equipment is specially designed to haul cargo. A rack with crossbars will protect your paint by keeping the tree off the roof, while providing secure mounting points where you can tie down the tree.
•Face the cut end forward. A common mistake is to face the cut end of the tree toward the back of the car. “That blows the branches back, which causes the tree to lose needles,” says Richard. Instead, make the cut end face the front of your vehicle.
•Tie it down at multiple points. After your tree is oriented correctly on top of your vehicle, start tying it down. Nylon ratchet straps offer a quick and easy way to secure your tree, but rope will work fine, too.
•Check your work. Before driving off, give the tree a tug to ensure it’s not going anywhere.
•Drive carefully! It’s wise to drive a little slower than usual. This will protect your tree, and reduce the likelihood of losing your precious Christmas cargo.

 

Caring for a Live Christmas Tree

First, water the tree by filling your tree stand with warm water. “It gets the tree’s circulation going and helps it absorb water,” says Richard. Afterward, you can use room-temperature water in your stand. “Just keep an eye on the water level and never let the water run out,” adds Richard.

 Another mistake is resting your tree over a heat vent before you put it in the stand. “Trees can get burn marks this way,” says Richard. Place your tree in an area away from heating vents, fireplaces and candles.

 

To prevent fires, inspect your lights to make sure there are no frayed wires, weird kinks or cracked sockets. Decorations should be non-flammable or flame-retardant.

A healthy tree will last about five weeks. One sure sign your tree is spent is when it starts dropping more needles than normal. By following these tips, you will be able to safely enjoy a beautiful and healthy Christmas tree during the holiday season.

Tips for Hosting Thanksgiving Dinner

 

The Thanksgiving holiday is the kick off to the United States’ holiday season. The holiday focuses on spending time with family and friends and, of course, having a delicious meal.  If you’re hosting the holiday gathering this year, here are a few tips to keep in mind and to hopefully make it an even more enjoyable holiday:

Plan Ahead

One of the first items on your list is the guest list. Decide who you’re inviting, what the grand total is and how many kids are included. Make sure you give your guests notice about when to arrive and what time they will eat. It’s also the time to take them up on any offers of bringing a dish or beverage for everyone to enjoy. Just make sure you add that to the second item on your prep list — your menu plan.

Having a menu plan will help you prioritize what ingredients you have (and still need) and what dishes you can expect from guests. Once you have the menu plan, you can create your holiday grocery list and make sure you have what you need prior to the big day.

A final step in your planning should be your budget for food and serving supplies (yes, a budget will be helpful especially as the holiday shopping season approaches).

Getting Your Kitchen Ready

Thankfully, we have an entire list of things to do to prepare your kitchen for Thanksgiving, but here are the main items:
•Clean the oven and make sure it’s working properly. Or if you’re deep frying a turkey, make sure you follow safety tips.
•Clean out the fridge to make space for food prep and leftovers.
•Make sure the dishwasher is empty and ready to load after you eat.

Dining Space

Not only do you need to account for the number of tables and chairs you need, but you’ll need to make sure you know how you’re going to serve food. Will you set up a buffet or do a sit-down dinner? It’s important to plan ahead to make sure your guests are comfortable and you have space for your spread.

The Kid Table

Whether it’s actually a separate kid’s table, or just an area of your table that is designated for the younger generations, there are plenty of ideas on Pinterest to decorate surprise and hold the attention of kids attending your celebration. Also think of ways to include your youngest members in the festivities. Whether it’s helping to place items on the table or helping to collect coats, they will appreciate being able to help.

‘Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving…

While there will be things that can only be completed on Thanksgiving Day, there are a few suggestions from Better Homes and Gardens about what to do the night before Thanksgiving to give yourself a (turkey) leg up on the to-do list.  Here are few of the top suggestions:
•Peel potatoes and keep in a cold pot of water in the refrigerator (you’ll have space since you recently cleaned it out).
•Have your family help set the table.
•Prepare stuffing.
•Plan where you will have coffee and desserts and set the area.
•Designate a place in your house for guest coats and bags.
•Plan your dinner music playlist (or assign that task to a family member).

Safety

According to the National Fire Protection Association, Thanksgiving is the peak day for home cooking fires. In 2015, there were 1,760 home fires on Thanksgiving Day.

Some easy tips to remember include:
•Checking food regularly.
•Keep children and pets away from the cooking area.
•Keep a fire extinguisher in the kitchen.
•Always check to make sure the stove, oven and small appliances are turned off before going to bed or leaving home.

 

Whether you follow these suggestions to a “t” or take a few and put them in your back pocket, we wish you and your family a very, safe and Happy Thanksgiving and stress-free start to the holiday season.

Make sure everything in your home is covered this holiday season and beyond. Check out the ERIE Difference and see what we’re all about.

Should I Loan My Car to a Friend?

If you own a car, chances are you’ve let a friend or family member borrow it at least once.

After all, there are plenty of reasons to hand over the keys. Maybe you needed a relative to pick up your kids from school. Or you’re helping someone get to work after their car broke down.

But did you know that in the event of an accident… it’s your auto insurance policy that typically would have to pay?

“By far, the number one misconception about loaning out your vehicle is that if you let your neighbor borrow your car, an accident should go on his insurance because he was the one driving,” said Dave Freeman, vice president and regional underwriting officer at Erie Insurance. “But in private passenger auto insurance, the coverage typically follows the vehicle, not the driver.”

~~DOES MY CAR INSURANCE COVER OTHER DRIVERS?

If you’re an ERIE customer, insured drivers include:
◾Resident relatives: Most ERIE personal auto policies provide coverage to the named insured, their spouse or domestic partner and any other resident relatives. So if someone is a member of your family and lives in your home, they’re automatically an insured under your policy unless excluded.
 
◾Domestic partners: If someone lives with you but isn’t a relative, they are not named insureds under your policy. However, if you’re living with a domestic partner, they can be added to your policy as a named insured but only if your relationship is the long-term, committed type – you share domestic responsibilities and have joint financial obligations. All you have to do is call your agent and let them know. They’ll send out a short driver questionnaire and check your partner’s driving record to determine eligibility. 

◾Someone with permissive use: If you loaned out your car to a friend or neighbor, your ERIE policy generally will cover them – as long as you gave your permission. If they are a regular and repeated user of the car, they should also have coverage. The only exception is if a driver has been specifically excluded on your policy.

Finally: If someone else is regularly driving your car, it’s important to let your agent know.

Chances are, anyone you let borrow your car will fall into one of these three categories. But just because someone is covered doesn’t mean loaning your car is risk-free.
 

LOANING YOUR CAR: CONSIDER THE PROS AND CONS

Here’s the good news: If the driver falls into one of the three categories above, and the loss is covered under the terms of your policy, your insurance can help pay for the damage – even if you weren’t the one driving.

But here’s the tricky part: Depending on the situation – and the specifics of your policy – you might get stuck paying a surcharge on your auto insurance premium for an at-fault accident, even if you weren’t the one driving at the time. (Every policy is different, so ask your agent if this applies to you.)

According to Freeman, most people don’t think about these ‘what if’ scenarios before lending their car.

“When you loan someone your car, you’re putting your name out there as a responsible party,” he explains. “You’ll be protected within the limits of your auto policy, but there’s always a chance of something happening that exceeds them.”

For instance, if your neighbor runs a stop sign and causes significant injuries and property damage, you could be responsible for paying any amounts owed above the limits on your policy. That means you could be sued for your neighbor’s negligent actions because they were using your vehicle. Liability in these situations varies by state, so check with your agent if you have specific questions.

And then, there’s the question of what actually constitutes “permissive use.” For example, maybe your daughter goes off to college and lets her friend borrow a car that’s in your name – but you, as the named insured, didn’t give permission. Is her accident covered? The answer could vary based on case law in each state.

If you do have to file a claim, rest easy. Your ERIE agent can help you understand the ins and outs of your policy, and our award-winning claims service gives you prompt and personal attention to get back to normal.

“At ERIE we look for a reason to pay a claim, not a reason to turn one down,” said Freeman. “We want to find a way to pay your claim if the coverage is available. After all, that’s why you bought a policy.”

So here’s the moral of the story: Always make sure you understand your liability before loaning out a vehicle.
 
 

Fresh Ideas for a Fun Family Dinner

Sometimes, family dinners can start to feel like a chore.

With poor planning, picky eaters and hectic schedules, it’s easy to feel like you’re serving the same meals over and over again.

But with a little creativity, family meals can be an opportunity for both parents and children to build stronger relationships while trying something new. Because meals are about more than just feeding your children. They’re also about the time you spend together – whether you’re finding new ways to have fun or just talking about your day.

To bring some excitement back into your dinners, check out some of these ways to bring the family together:
◾Plan a movie night: Turn on your favorite film and try making a dinner inspired by the story itself. You might cook chili and cornbread for a Western or get creative by mimicking a meal you see on the screen. Read more in our list of creative ideas for family movie night.

◾Build your own meal: Give your family the option to create their own dishes – think “Taco Tuesday” or build your own pizza night. Kids will love making their own culinary creations and learning something new. Meanwhile, you’ll benefit from some extra sets of hands.

◾Fake take-out: A stop at the drive-thru makes picking up dinner easy. But what if you gave fast food a home-cooked twist? Take your family’s usual order and try to recreate it at home. What started as a No. 5 can become a burger with your own family flair.

◾Teach a cooking class: Teach your kids a valuable life skill. Letting children help cook a meal can get them more excited about eating it, while being involved in the process. The more you do this, the better they’ll be at cooking for themselves when they get older.

◾Try new cuisine: With an endless amount of recipes online, there are plenty of new meals to choose from if you want to try a different style of food. Opt for stir-fry instead of spaghetti; make breakfast for dinner; or try cooking that meal you love ordering at a restaurant, but have never been brave enough to make at home.

◾Host a cooking competition: Give every family member the same ingredients and split them into teams. You’ll get a chance to try something new and bring competitive energy into the kitchen. Just make sure everyone is involved in the cleanup process, too!

A new approach can be all it takes to liven up your family dinner. The themes and meals don’t have to be extravagant for everyone to enjoy spending time together.

Making dinner is part of what makes your home a home. And knowing that your home is secure with the right homeowners insurance gives you more time to focus on building memories.
Erie Insurance understands how important “home” is, and we’re here to help protect it.  Contact your local Erie Insurance agent to make sure your home and everything it stands for is protected.

How Named Storms Affect Your Insurance Coverage

 

Ready or not… when a hurricane is on the way, you have to act fast.

While you’re making an evacuation plan or stocking up on bottled water, the last thing you want to be thinking is, “Will my insurance cover what happens after this?”

Yes, hurricanes can be devastating – personally and financially. But anxiety can keep you from being present to what matters most. At Erie Insurance, we want you to feel confident that your insurance can go the distance when disaster strikes.

For coverage questions about your specific policy, contact your Erie Insurance agent.

 

Hurricanes and Insurance: 4 Common Coverage Questions

Q: A hurricane is on the way. Can I buy a new policy or make a last-minute change?
A:
Typically, a hurricane watch is called about 48 hours ahead of tropical storm force winds, according to the National Hurricane Center. Once that happens, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to get a new policy or make a policy change at the last minute. 

It varies by state, but in most places, state regulations prohibit anyone from purchasing insurance coverage (or changing their current coverage) once an official hurricane watch or warning is called.

Flood insurance, which is purchased as a separate policy, has a mandatory 30-day waiting period before it goes into effect. That’s because flood insurance is federally regulated through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Flood Insurance Program.

Q: Does my homeowners insurance cover damage from hurricanes?
A:
Always check your specific policy (or check with your agent) to know what it does and doesn’t include. The big thing to remember is that coverage for flood and water is typically purchased separately.

Wind damage: Generally speaking, wind damage – including wind from hurricanes – is already included under a standard homeowners policy, since it’s considered a covered peril. (Learn more about homeowners insurance.)

Water damage: Damage from flooding or water is excluded in your homeowners policy. Water-related damage, like flooding or storm surges, has to be purchased separately – and there’s a 30-day waiting period before your policy will go into effect. ERIE offers flood coverage through a partnership with American Bankers Insurance Company, a federally funded flood carrier. (Learn more about flood insurance.)

Q: Does my auto insurance cover damages from hurricanes?
A:
In most cases, your auto policy can cover hurricane-related damages to your vehicle if you have collision and comprehensive coverage.

Collision can pay for damage to your car when it’s on the road or in motion – for example, if you collide with another car, or a fixed object like a guard rail or telephone pole. It can also cover damage that results from your car flipping over. (Road conditions can be extremely dangerous before, during and after a hurricane. For your own safety, please avoid driving unless it’s an emergency.)

Comprehensive coverage can pay for damage “other than collisions” – for example, if your car gets flooded or the wind snaps a tree limb that falls on your car. Comprehensive coverage is optional, so if you live in a hurricane-prone area, you might want to consider adding it to your auto policy.

Still have questions? Read our ultimate guide to understanding auto insurance or learn about the built-in extras that come with every ERIE auto policy.

Q: What’s a named-storm deductible? And does ERIE have one?
A:
The deductible is the out-of-pocket amount you pay to your insurance company after a covered loss. If you live in a hurricane-prone area, some insurance carriers have deductibles that only apply to damages from natural disasters – for example, named storms or windstorms.

Many named-storm deductibles are set up as a percentage of a home’s value – usually from 1 to 10 percent – instead of a fixed dollar amount. That means a homeowner with a home insured for $161,100 would shell out $16,100 if their named-storm deductible was 10 percent.

If you’re not financially prepared, it can be a big sticker shock. Some insurance companies make the percentage deductible mandatory for homes in high-risk coastal areas.

Other storm deductibles may be set on an actual dollar amount. At Erie Insurance, storm deductibles are optional, and we let you choose an actual dollar amount for your named storm deductible – from $250 to $10,000 – based on your budget and how much risk you’re willing to retain. Learn more about how naming your own deductible works, or ask an ERIE agent.

We’re here when you need us.
When you’re with ERIE, our policy is a promise to do the right thing. If a hurricane hits and you have to file a claim, know that we’re here for you from first question to final follow-up.

We value your time, energy, schedule and commitments. That’s why we do everything we can to make our claims process convenient and fast. Learn more about how to file a claim.
 

Stay safe this hurricane season. Our local ERIE agents are here to help answer your questions and help you feel confident about your coverage.

 

Ultimate Guide to Understanding Auto Insurance

When it comes to auto insurance, there are a lot of companies and coverage choices. How do you know who to trust and what’s essential? Some of the insurance terms like endorsements or comprehensive and collision coverage may also be a bit confusing. And what about those extras you can add on? Which ones do you need?

 

We’ve pulled together some of our best resources to make the experience of shopping for auto insurance easier. We’ll explore the ins and outs of coverage and what you should consider when buying or renewing your auto insurance policy.

 

Finding the auto insurance coverage that’s best for you

Whether you’re buying your first set of used wheels or a brand new car, you’ll need protection and service. Auto insurance kicks in for those unexpected mishaps—from a minor dent to a more serious crash. It also helps protect you, your passengers and your pets as well as some of the prized possessions being transported in your car.

 

​​Understanding auto insurance terminology

With coverage, you may wonder about some of the terminology used in your policy. Here are four common auto insurance terms and what they mean.

​​Exploring coverage options and additional protection worth considering

Almost in the same way that you could customize your car or truck, you can customize your auto insurance coverage. For instance, you may want to add emergency road service or rental car reimbursement coverage to your auto policy. The extra services do not cost a lot, and you’ll be glad to have them when you need them. Here’s more information about some of the options.

To review your current coverage, get in touch with an insurance advisor. Every Erie Insurance auto policy comes with a local insurance agent who will give you that personal touchcoverages you need and nothing you don’t, all at a great price. To get an insurance experience that’s personal, fair and affordable, contact an ERIE agent today.

 

Pet Safety during the Holidays…Part 1

~~The holidays are an exciting time of year full of get togethers, gifts and delicious food. While we’re focused on a season full of parties and fun times, a pet might think differently. Extra noise and visitors can leave pets feeling stressed. As we keep holiday and winter tips in mind for people, there are holiday and winter tips for our furry friends, too.

Here’s what to you need to know to keep pets safe this holiday season.

 

Food
We all know there’s an overabundance of food during the holidays. From sweet treats, to delicious meals, it’s easy to give in to the begging eyes of a four-legged companion. However, it’s important to note that just because food and drinks are people-friendly; it’s not the same for pets. Here’s a list of what foods to avoid giving your pet.

Say no to sweets. We’ve all heard that dark chocolate is dangerous for dogs, however, bread dough and cookie batter are just as dangerous. Dough can actually rise in your pet’s stomach, causing bloating and severe pain. Plus, just like their owners, pets can get salmonella poisoning from raw eggs in cookie batter.

Bones and beyond.  It’s tempting to offer your dog a special holiday “bone” right from the turkey your family just enjoyed. However, bones can get stuck in their intestines if they are brittle. On that note, make sure you dispose of bones carefully, just in case a sensitive nose goes sniffing where it shouldn’t.

Skin from a turkey is also a no-no. The skin is full of fatty juices and butter, and can be difficult for your pet to digest. High-fat foods can also lead to pancreatitis.

H2O only. While we know pets shouldn’t consume anything other than water, you may find your pet taking a sip or two from an unattended glass, filled with an adult beverage. While dogs love the smell of beer, the hops in beer are toxic to a dog’s system.

Spice is not so nice. On your pet’s digestive system that is. Sage is a popular seasoning used at Thanksgiving, and while it’s delicious for pet owners, it can cause pets to have upset stomachs or even more serious digestive trouble.

Nutmeg is another culprit that can wreak havoc on your pet. The popular spice used in pumpkin pie can cause seizures and central nervous system problems if your pet digests it. Pumpkin on its own is a safe treat for pets. Just avoid anything that is seasoned with nutmeg.

The best bet is to maintain your pet's usual meal time routine. Being stressed with the additional activity may decrease their appetites, but giving different treats and foods will likely make them feel worse.

Regular or Premium? Which fuel should you use?

Most people are clear on which type of gas their car needs. But not as many are clear on the differences between regular and premium gas.

What is the difference?

One obvious difference is the price—premium fuel typically costs about 20 cents more per gallon than regular gas. Premium fuel also comes with a higher octane level—92 or 93 compared to 87 for regular gas. (You may also see a midgrade gas with an octane of 89, which is less commonly used than 87 and 93.)

Octane is how much compression a fuel can withstand before igniting. A higher octane gas won’t pre-ignite or explode as quickly, which explains why high-performance cars with higher compression engines often require higher octane gas. Engines that take higher octane fuel tend to work more efficiently and emit less emissions and exhaust.

Why the right fuel matters

Cars are designed to run best with a specific type of fuel, and your owner’s manual will let you know what that is.

Still, you may be tempted to fill your car up with a different type of fuel. This is often the case when you have to fill up with more expensive 93 octane gas.

If you use a lower than recommended level, the gas may combust too fast for your engine. That can cause the engine to make a knocking noise. In addition to this unwanted noise, a lower than recommended gas can also reduce your car’s power and fuel economy and cause engine damage.

When it comes to the opposite—using a higher octane fuel than recommended—the risk of danger is lower. The general consensus is that using premium gas when your car can run on regular gas doesn’t deliver any extra benefits when it comes to engine life, fuel economy or reduced emissions. So save your money and fill up with regular gas.

Snow, snow go away…. or, advise on dealing with it when it comes

~~In addition to staying off the roads when snow is falling, residents should take the following actions:

• Keep devices charged so you will have a way follow weather forecasts and local emergency information.
• Be cautious shoveling snow to avoid overexertion. Take frequent breaks and keep hydrated.
• If you must travel, make sure to have a car chargers, kitty litter or sand for traction, and extra drinks and snacks in case you get stuck in traffic.
• Let friends or family know of your travel route and expected arrival times.
• Make sure pets are not kept outside without shelter in cold and snowy weather and be aware that salt and other ice melting materials may hurt animal’s paws.
• Dress in layers, taking care to keep your hands covered.
• Know who to contact in the case of a power outage.

For more information about winter weather preparedness, please visit the following websites:

MEMA: www.mema.maryland.gov
 DHMH: http://dhmh.maryland.gov/winterrpts/SitePages/Home.aspx
 FEMA: www.ready.gov and click on the Winter Storms link
 American Red Cross: www.redcross.org/prepare/disaster and click on Winter Storm.

Oh, that groundhog…..

Yes, he saw his shadow, and six more weeks of winter are coming our way.  We knew that, though, just a peek at the calendar tells us. However, the days are getting a bit longer each day with a few minutes of sunshine after work. Driving home in the dark after work is nearly over, for some of us anyway.  Still waking up in the dark, but it won't be long and we'll see a difference there, too.  Now, if the thermometer would just start creeping upwards!