Graduated Learning: Life after College

I got my degree, I got a job…now what?

Our experience with a CSA from Smolak Farms May 25, 2019

Filed under: Boston,Food,Personal Finance — Stephanie @ 10:03 pm
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Smolak Farms Crate

For years, I’ve heard about friends getting weekly fruits and vegetables from a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). It seemed pretty simple: you sign up with a local farm, and every week you get a crate full of fresh produce! We never signed up for one because we didn’t know of any ones that would be close enough to where we lived that had an easy pickup schedule.

Well, once we moved to our new house in the suburbs, we finally had an opportunity! Smolak Farms was just a few miles from our house. And we really needed to get more fruits and veggies in our diet.

We signed up for the “half share”, which is supposed to be enough for two people. But an additional add on available for this CSA was an ice cream CSA! If you followed me on twitter this summer, you probably heard me bragging about all the tasty flavors we picked up each week.

pumpkin-chip-ice-cream.jpg

One of many delicious ice cream flavors: Pumpkin Chocolate Chip

As is typical with these farm shares, we got a variety of fruits and vegetables each week depending on what was in season at the farm. Early on there was an overabundance of summer squash and zucchini. As we entered fall, we got some winter squash like butternut squash, a blue Hubbard squash, some sugar pumpkins, and then lots of potatoes. We also got herbs occasionally (especially earlier on) and at least one bouquet of flowers.

sunflowers

Some sunflowers we got from the CSA!

Overall, I enjoyed doing the CSA. We got fresh produce (and delicious locally made ice cream!) every week. Sometimes it was a little tricky figuring out what to do with all of our food, but luckily we got an email every week listing what we’d get in our share, and they’d include a few recipes to try, especially with unusual vegetables. Over the summer, I ended up collecting a few go to recipes to handle that week’s harvest.

It was a little pricey, but seeing as you’re getting lots of fresh produce, and supporting a local farm, it still felt worth it. Picking up our share was a little tricky; the CSA season started right after I had baby #2 so at least for the first few weeks my husband was off on parental leave and could pick up, and he actually was still able to do pickup once he went back. There were two days you could pick up, but only certain hours, so he ended up going on his lunch break (and the few times he couldn’t, I ended up going on my lunch break).

We were able to make good use of most of the produce; because I was on leave for a few months, once I was recovered enough to stand for longer amounts of time I could experiment with new recipes.

Speaking of recipes, I started compiling my go-to recipes:

For cucumbers:  Thai Cucumber Salad

For lots of the vegetables (summer squash, zucchini, carrots, etc):  Pasta Primavera

For even more zucchini:  Chocolate Zucchini Banana Bread (I usually made a double batch, and also had to bake it a bit longer than indicated)

Chocolate Zucchini Banana Bread

One of many chocolate zucchini banana breads we enjoyed that summer

We signed up again this year for the half share of produce and full share (two pints a week!) of ice cream. Like I said, we found value in participating in this program, even if it was sometimes a little tricky finding ways to use up all the food in time!

Have you ever done a CSA or farm share? Do you have any favorite recipes you’d like to share?

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We skipped past the starter home June 27, 2018

Filed under: Boston,Personal Finance,Uncategorized — Stephanie @ 9:53 pm
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2016 was a big year for us.  We had our first child!  And then later that year, we bought our first house!  We’d been “seriously” house hunting for about a year. At the beginning of our search, we had a vague idea of what we wanted: something closer to work, in a good school district, with a garage, a yard, and enough rooms for a growing family. As we went to more and more open houses, we got a better idea of what we wanted. A family room right off the kitchen so we could entertain guests or have kids play nearby while we were in the kitchen. We also wanted a big enough kitchen to host my famous fondue parties 🙂 After an inspection of one house we almost bought that showed high levels of lead all over the place, we realized we also were only going to look at houses built in or after 1978 to avoid any lead paint issues.

Of course cost was a big factor as well. We were originally pre-qualified for a mortgage WAY more than we ever wanted to spend, just based on credit scores, income, etc. So we pared down choices to a more comfortable price range far below that amount. We had to keep in mind that our monthly payments would include the actual mortgage payment as well as money for escrow to cover property taxes and homeowners insurance.

We did consider first buying a “starter home” or a “fixer upper” but realized a few things: we are not super handy, and aren’t good at picturing a hypothetical home based on the current condition of a “fixer upper”. Plus we were already expecting our baby when we started seriously looking for a house, so trying to deal with renovations while pregnant/with a newborn was not something we wanted to do.  And most of the fixer uppers were still quite expensive as-is!  Also, we knew that if we went with a small home to start, we’d probably want to or need to move to a bigger house within a few years. And so a few factors related to buying a new house a few years down the line became clear:

1. The housing market in the Greater Boston Area is so hot that it’s hard to buy a house if you have any sort of contingencies. That could include getting a mortgage, wanting an inspection, or having to sell a house first. We were still renting, and so we were in a much better position than anyone else who might have to sell their house first. So the next time we’d buy a house would be while also already owning a house, which would make us less desirable to sellers.

2. Costs associated with selling/buying/moving are not negligible. And with every move, you inevitably have more stuff you’ll need to move, so it’s more expensive. Closing costs when we bought this house ended up being significant, so trying to sell a house only a few years later means you might lose money even if you sold it for more than you bought it for.

3.  Even with the recent boom in house prices, we had no guarantee that our house would go up in value enough that we’d make money on the sale.  And keeping in mind point #2, it’s possible we’d lose money on the whole deal.  Regardless of if you think a house is an investment or not, this would make a starter home for us a risky short-term investment.

So, we bought this house.  We like it a lot!  We plan on sticking around in this house for a while.  Sure, there are some small fixes our home inspector found that we’ve been working on, and we have plans this summer to upgrade our heat/hot water system (they’re at the end of their useful lives) and add a generator (after dealing with multiple power outages since we’ve moved in, due to various rain/wind/snow storms).  But we don’t have plans to do any major renovations any time soon.

I would have loved to have started with a smaller, cheaper house, but our needs and the housing market meant it didn’t make emotional or financial sense.

How did you decide if/when/what to buy? Or are you still renting (out of choice or necessity)?

 

Trying out cloth diapers May 9, 2017

Filed under: baby,Boston,Environment — Stephanie @ 9:42 pm
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As you may have noticed, my blog has taken a turn towards baby topics. The baby (okay, she’s now a 15 month old toddler) is a big focus in my life.

I figure I should let you guys know about a few things we ended up doing, what worked, and what didn’t for us.

One of the many parenting decisions we went through was “cloth vs disposable diapers”.

We had a few reasons we wanted to try out cloth diapers. The idea of throwing away disposable diapers bothered us on both an environmental and financial level. But we also weren’t 100% sure we could keep up with the routine of cloth diapers. Luckily, we had a few friends who had also tried cloth diapers, and they referred us to Diaper Lab in Davis Square. This store offers a few rental programs to try out cloth diapers. Plus they offer classes to prep you for it and other baby care activities.

We opted for their newborn rental program, which allowed us to try out a bunch of different types of cloth diapers, from the cheaper prefolds through to the fanciest all in ones. Also included was a laundry bag, some special detergent, and a wet bag (for storing dirty diapers on the go). We also took their cloth diapering class to help us understand how to use them (diapering, cleaning, etc.)  The rental program was for 3 months, which was just a bit longer than my maternity leave.

We used disposable diapers in the hospital (since they were provided), and that meant we also got to take home all the ones they provided that we didn’t use.  Which was good to have some as backup.  Which was important for me, because as a shiny new mom, my first few nights home, I found trying to do the cloth diapers completely overwhelming. I may or may not have had a meltdown during my first cloth diapering attempt. But we spoke with the folks at diaper labs, and they gave us some pointers on how to make the diapering process easier.  Plus they offered to exchange some of the bigger diapers they gave us for smaller ones, since part of the problem for us was that she was born so small that a lot of cloth diapers were just too big for her!

After getting used to the diapering, as well as the laundering, it wasn’t too difficult.  When we traveled a few weekends to visit family, we brought disposable diapers because the idea of lugging around a weekend’s worth of dirty diapers did not appeal to us.

So, what did we end up doing at the end of the Newborn Rental Program?  We returned all the items, and didn’t end up going forward with cloth diapers.   There were a few reasons:

  • I was going back to work.  This meant less time to do the diaper laundry (on top of all the other laundry).  This also meant daycare, and while they told us they’d be fine with cloth, it really was going to make things a lot trickier, including picking up a bag full of soiled diapers every night.
  • We knew things would change once she was on solids.  Even though we didn’t introduce solids until around the 6 month mark, we’d heard that things got trickier after that….having to spray the “solids” into the toilet before laundering, etc. etc.  YEAH….that was a lot of extra work
  • Overall laziness.  On top of the extra laundry, we just found the disposable diapers easier to deal with, travel with, get onto a squirming child, etc.  Plus it was easier to get family/friends to help with diaper changes since they were all more familiar with disposables.

We definitely were hopeful that cloth would work for us, since, especially if we want to have more kids down the line, we could reuse the cloth diapers, and get more bang for our buck.  I think it was a useful experience, and I’d recommend this type of program if it’s offered in your area (or if you ask a cloth-diapering friend if you could borrow their set of newborn sized cloth diapers).

What have you all done about the cloth vs disposable decision?  What pushed you in one direction vs the other?  Do you have any questions for me on our experience?

[As a note, this is not a sponsored post by Diaper Lab!  They’re just who we went through for this program!]

 

Walk for Hunger: Because it’s not over yet April 9, 2015

Filed under: Boston,Fitness,Food — Stephanie @ 7:42 pm
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CIMG0259 In less than a month, I’ll be joining thousands of others in walking 20 miles throughout Boston and neighboring cities for Walk For Hunger.  The Walk for Hunger is an annual fundraising event run by Project Bread to raise money and awareness to combat hunger.

This will be my 4th year participating in the Walk For Hunger. I’m happy to say that for the past 3 years, I’ve raised more and more money each year. I passed $1k my first year, $2k my second year, and raised over $3k my third year. I’d LOVE if we could raise over $4k this year, but we’re still a ways away.  I believe in this cause, and I love that this program allows me to help people gain access to healthy, nutritious food.

So, again this year, I’m asking for your donations.  Any amount you contribute can help!

As in years past, my blogging friend Joe Taxpayer has put forth challenge funds. This year his challenge is the same as last year: When we raise $1k, he’ll contribute $500, and when we reach $2k, he’ll contribute another $500. It’s a great added incentive to get everyone to donate!

How can your contribution help?  Below are just a few examples:

$25 Provides a nourishing hot meal for 15 people at a community supper program
$50  Helps a low-income family purchase $100 worth of fresh produce at a farmers’ market through double value coupons
$100  Provides grocery gift cards to low-income seniors.

The good news is, any donation, big or small, helps get healthy, nutritious food to those in need!  Even $5 or $10 makes an impact!

And if you donate, you can see if your employer will match your contribution.

Also, if you’re local, you can also help out by volunteering, either before, during, or after the Walk!

Or join me in walking!  You don’t have to walk all 20 miles if that’s too intense for you!  You can sign up as an individual walker or join a team (look to see if your company has a team!)

If you have any questions about how you can help, let me know!

Thanks for all your support!

[Edit:  For those of you wondering, we didn’t hit $4k this year, but we did raise $3016!  Thanks for all your support!]

 

Wedding: Accomplished! July 24, 2014

Filed under: Boston,Food — Stephanie @ 11:01 pm
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We did it!  We got married!

Kiss!(photo credit: my new mother-in-law)

For those of you who follow me on twitter, you may have seen how stressed out and panicked I was getting the closer we got to the wedding day.  I was waking up to stomach aches EVERY morning for months.  It was making me literally sick!  I had so many worries!  Would everyone have fun?  Would everything look right?  Will guests be offended if I don’t make this the most personalized unique magical affair ever?

Well, the good news is, our wedding was AWESOME.  All that worrying for nothing 🙂

 

The Chapel!(Photo credit: Michael Cirelli Photography www.cirelliworks.com)

 

The ceremony was beautiful.  We got married at the MIT Chapel (where my parents were married back in the day!).  That place is really cool inside (see above picture).  My older sister sang all of the music (she’s an amazing singer) and I only cried a tiny bit during the ceremony, when she hit the high note of a beautiful rendition of the Lord’s Prayer.

 Bowling!(Photo credit: Michael Cirelli Photography www.cirelliworks.com)

 

The reception was at Sacco’s Bowl Haven and Flatbread Company (AKA Flatbread Somerville).  Yes.  Our wedding had candlepin bowling and flatbread pizzas.  Remember when I took my sister and brother-in-law to a bunch of our favorite local restaurants?  Well, Flatbreads is definitely one of our favorites, so when we inquired about hosting our reception there, and they said yes, we were overjoyed!

Besides the pizza and salads, we also had lots of delicious appetizers for the guests, and they could enjoy all of the tasty beers and cocktails that Flatbread offers.  And instead of a champagne toast (because, really, who needs a champagne toast?) we had a Bantam Cider toast!  Everyone got a champagne flute of Wunderkind to toast to us after my new brother-in-law gave a fun toast to us!

I loved how everyone at the reception interacted and met each other.  Our different friends from all different times in our life, our own extended families, all got to dance and bowl with each other!  So much fun!

 

The Cake!(Photo credit: Michael Cirelli Photography www.cirelliworks.com)

We cut the cake, but decided not shove it into each other’s faces.  It was still insanely delicious!  (in case you were wondering, it was carrot cake from Modern Pastry in Boston.  Also, we bought way too much.  We still have that entire 8″ diameter top piece sitting in our freezer!  And had most of the 8″ diameter remaining underneath that we had to eat post-wedding, too).

The whole time, we got so many compliments from friends.  We were told this was the most fun/best/awesomest wedding ever.  I’d like to think so 🙂

After the reception was over, we headed back to the hotel to regroup, before we and a smaller group of guests went on a bar crawl.  Do you know how fun it is to go on a bar crawl in a wedding dress with your new husband?  It’s awesome.  Everyone congratulates you.  And you look super amazing.  We left the hotel bar, then  made stops at The Asgard, The Field, The People’s Republik, and ended the night at Dumpling House near Harvard Square.

It was a long day (setting my alarm before 6am, then my body deciding that 4:50am was a good time to wake up) but it was definitely one of the most fun and happy days of my life.  It was great to have all my family and friends there to share in our day, and I got to marry a pretty awesome guy.

So, what did I miss?  Any questions for this newly married lady?

For more photos, check out our photographer’s blog!

 

For those of you curious, here’s a list of the vendors we used to make our wedding a success.  We could have gone super DIY for this wedding, but I think all of these people were worth it!

Hair and Makeup:  My usual hairdresser from Mario’s Salon plus her two sisters (let me know if you want contact info for them)
Ceremony location:  MIT Chapel (must be MIT affiliate to use their chapel for weddings)
Transportation:  Shuttles from the MIT Parking office (for fellow MIT folks, they were the Saferide/Tech Shuttle buses!)
Reception (food and location):  Flatbread Company at Sacco’s Bowl Haven (AKA Flatbread Somerville)
Photographer:  Michael Cirelli Photography
DJ:  Chad Priest
Flowers:  Central Square Florist
Cake:  Modern Pastry
Invitations:  Digital rights to use Genevieve Santos“Clink” illustration and VistaPrint

 

 

Walk for Hunger: Nutrition is Important April 27, 2014

Filed under: Boston,Fitness,Food — Stephanie @ 5:11 pm
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The opposite of hungry isn't full, it's healthy

This is my third year doing the Walk for Hunger.  The first year, I raised over $1000.  The next year, I raised over $2000.  This year?  I’d love to hit $3000.

I know it’s an ambitious goal.  But I figure, as long as I keep getting donations (both small and large) I can hit this goal!

As of this posting, I have raised $2721.87.  With special thanks to everyone who donated, especially JoeTaxpayer for his Feed The People matching challenge: $500 when I raised $1000:  complete!  And another $500 when I hit $2000!  Also completed!

Wait.  If you’re new to the blog, you might be asking “What is the Walk for Hunger?”  GREAT QUESTION!

The Walk for Hunger is an annual fundraising event from Project Bread.  It’s a 20-mile walk beginning and ending in the Boston Common, weaving through Boston, Brookline, Newton, Watertown, and Cambridge before heading across the Harvard Bridge back to Boston.  The money raised from the Walk for Hunger goes on to fund many initiatives that feed the hungry with healthy and nutritious food!

This is a really important topic to me.  Besides personal finance, some other topics I care a lot about are STEM Education and Fitness.  When it comes to education, good nutrition is incredibly important.  Without enough good food, children’s brain development is hindered, they can’t concentrate on their schoolwork, and they are set up for all sorts of future problems.

And an important part of being physically fit is having the right nutrition!  You can’t stay in shape, maintain your muscle mass, or really be healthy if you don’t have the proper fuel!

So, how can you help?

There are lots of options!

*You can donate on my fundraising page (click the Donate To Stephanie link on that page) Thanks in advance for your support!

(you can also search for other people to donate to, or donate to the walk in general)

*You can sign up to walk!  It’s not too late!

*You can sign up to volunteer!  They need lots of people to help out along the 20-mile walk route!

*You can help spread the word about the Walk for Hunger!  Facebook, twitter, in-person!  This is an important issue we should be talking about!

If you have any questions about the Walk for Hunger, or want to share any fundraising ideas or your own insights on food insecurity and feeding our hungry neighbors, please leave a comment!

THANK YOU!

[Edit:  THANKS SO MUCH FOR ALL YOUR SUPPORT!  This year, I raised $3,318.87!  AMAZING!]

Every $ Every Mile Makes a Difference

 

End of September, time to recap September 28, 2013

I promise I’m still here.  I’ve got a few updates.

Fitness:

Last Sunday was the Tavern to Tavern 5k.  I ran it last year, but it was a different route this year.  I wasn’t sure I was ready, because I’d been traveling, then sick, so I wasn’t fully in tip-top training.

Major upside of this race:  I have a new personal record for my 5k time!  I’ve got a pace just over 10-minute miles.  Next goal, get the pace under 10-minute miles!

Downside of the race:  I’ve become a bit of a road race connoisseur (read: snob).  I was disappointed they didn’t have a water stop (I found out afterward that the person in charge of the water stop got stuck in traffic).  Also, there were no signs saying how far we were (1 mile, 2 mile, etc.)  Luckily, I did have a general idea of where I was based on the voice-over on my iPod (it has Nike+ and reports approximately how far I’ve gone).  Another weird thing, they had blocked out an area across the street from the Tavern for the race, but then didn’t use it for the post-run party, and instead had a crowded, long line leading into the Tavern.  It seemed like a waste of blocked off space!  Lastly, and most importantly, there wasn’t quite enough police coverage.  I understand that local residents HATE when road races get in the way of Sunday morning traffic.  But there were plenty of intersections along the route where cars were just going right ahead and nearly running over runners.  SCARY!

Wedding:

In case you missed my last post, I’m engaged!  I’m trying to not let the whole planning process stress me out.  The good news is I have some stuff nailed down.  I’ve got the date blocked off, the ceremony and reception locations reserved, the wedding dress (I still need to get it altered), I’ve asked my bridesmaids to be my bridesmaids (and they’ve picked out dresses), and I have a vague guest list made.  The next steps near term are to make a few phone calls with some local photographers, and actually get serious about our guest list.  And then we can meet with the manager of the reception location to nail down our food and drink options.  Yes, this wedding seems to actually be taking shape.  Still in the works long-term will include finding a florist (or identify alternative options for getting flowers), and calling hotels to get them to put aside a block of rooms.  But I’m not worrying about these just yet.  Anything else I should think about? (Besides our registry and our honeymoon, both of which I’m not even close to planning out yet)

Careers:

My sorority (yes, I was in a sorority) at MIT hosted a “career night” where local alums were invited to come chat with current students about resumes, interviews, job fairs, etc.  They had a panel where alums could give more advice.  I was proud to be able to share the gospel of personal finance to the ladies there:  Save your money.  Take advantage of the 401(k) plans and matches at your new jobs.  Spend less than you earn.  You know, the usual.  But it got me thinking, I’d love it if my sorority hosted another event focused solely on personal finance.  I think I’ll ping the alumni relations chair and suggest it.

Random blogger meetup:

Leslie is in town for the Massachusetts Indie Comics Expo.  And Deena already lives in Boston.  So it’s a perfect chance for the 3 of us to meet up!  My expectations for tonight is that I will find out that Leslie’s last name is Freslie.  Stay tuned.

Well, that’s the latest from me.  Up ahead will be Birthday Fondue (just like last year, and the 4 years before that) and I’ll try to get back on the blogging train with more posts for the Graduates Guide to Being a Grownup series.

So, what have you been up to?  Have you become a road race snob like me?  Have any new running or fitness accomplishments to share?  Any advice for my wedding planning (what am I not thinking of that I should be)?  Had any opportunities to spread the word on personal finance to unsuspecting friends?

 

 
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