Planning ahead and taking appropriate steps can help save your home from a fire disaster.

Don’t let a chimney fire cancel out savings on heat

More than one-third of Americans use fireplaces, wood-burning stoves or other fuel-fired appliances as a primary heat source in their homes.

Wood-burning is a popular way to save money and effectively heat your home when the cost of fuel continues to increase.

But with more people burning wood, the risks of home fires are expected to increase as well.

‘Never leave a space heater unattended or with unsupervised children. Never sleep while a heater is on.’ (Click to Tweet)

Planning ahead and taking appropriate steps can make all the difference.

If you haven’t seen a chimney sweep on your roof recently, you should give one a call and request a chimney inspection. That’s a lot cheaper than having a home fire as a result of a poorly maintained chimney.

Have the chimney cleaned and inspected by a reputable service, and clear the area around the hearth of debris, decorations and flammable materials. The same goes for wood stoves.

Space heaters often are used to provide additional heating in rooms that remain cold despite the home heating system and a wood stove or fireplace. The heaters have their own set of safety risks and should be used with caution.

Read more fire safety tips.

Fight illness by cooking with healthful foods

Healthy eating can lead to a healthier life.

There are plenty of immune-boosting, infection-fighting, symptom-relieving foods to prevent illness. And when those foods are prepared in delicious recipes, you don’t need a spoonful of sugar to take your medicine.

Certain foods are high in nutrients that boost your health, said Stephanie Diehl, a Family Nutrition Program Area Coordinator for the Virginia Cooperative Extension. And there are foods that can help alleviate symptoms when you’re sick.

Take, for example, the recipe for Fruited Irish Oatmeal that Diehl has used for local nutrition programs.

“It’s particularly good for winter and has whole grains from the oats, lots of vitamins and antioxidants from the fruits and juice, and good fat from the nuts,” she said. “And for the maple syrup, I use only local syrup from Highland County.”

Steel-cut oats listed in the recipe are whole- grain oats that have been cut into only two or three pieces, Diehl said. They also are known as coarse-cut oats, pinhead oats or Irish oats.

Whole grains are loaded with zinc, which is necessary to maintain a healthy immune system, Diehl said.

Fruited Irish Oatmeal

This hearty winter breakfast has whole grains from the oats, lots of vitamins and antioxidants from the fruits and good fat from the nuts. It's not only healthy. It's tasty, too!

Source: Virginia Cooperative Extension

See Recipe

Peonies: enough scent and color to share

The first peony arrived in Virginia in 1757, according to horticulturalist Mark Viette.

Peonies are herbaceous shrubs that die back to the ground each year. There are several varieties, including garden, tree and hybrid peonies.

The garden peony is an heirloom variety that loves the full sun. “It won’t bloom if there isn’t at least afternoon sun,” Viette said.

Tree peonies, he said, should not be cut back. “The branches will grow back without flowers if you cut them down. If you cut the tree peony too far you can kill it.”

Hybrid peonies are a cross between the garden and tree varieties.

‘Peonies make great cut flowers and should be cut in the morning before the flowers have bloomed, so they will last longer indoors.’ (Click to Tweet)

Peonies do not require much care, Viette said, just full sun and some fertilizer. And if you find ants on your peonies, it’s OK, he said. “The ants like to feed on the sugary substance on the buds. It just means you have a nice, healthy garden.”

Peonies make great cut flowers and should be cut in the morning before the flowers have bloomed, so they will last longer indoors.

They also make great hand-me-down plants, Viette said.

“You can dig a quarter or third of the plant and give it to someone else.”