Adventures in CSA (year 2 week 8): Weekend challenge well met!

So, as I noted when I listed off what was in this week’s box, I really wanted to see how much of the fruit and veg we could go through in a single weekend. I can’t say we polished off the entire box, but we certainly made a running start at it.

For one thing, the corn, cherry tomatoes, and cucumber made for an excellent set of additions to the pasta salad recipe I’ll post later this week. Second, the peppers went in a flash at the party (and leftovers were quickly gobbled up by the kids at dinner last night). Third, we got to the Melon Sunday (we had so much food out at the party on Saturday that more fruit would’ve been overkill), and it was very tasty and completely too much for us to kick all on our own in a single day. The blueberries are still in the fridge, as well, due to the fact that the grapes (not part of the CSA box) made the bigger impression on everyone. The grapes from our farm are tiny green grapes (sometimes trending towards a slight red), and they have thicker than usual skins encompassing a squishy fleshy orb. They have a tart flavor that I’ve never encountered in other grapes, and ds was eating them by the handful this morning (as was I).

Everything that we put out on the table that derived from our farm, including their pickled garlic and pickled asparagus (also not part of the CSA box), got rave reviews. It was a nice thing to be able to point to more than half the table and say, “That’s local” (even the tzadziki my sister brought was made with tomatoes and cucumbers from her garden, along with locally-produced yogurt). Of course, I’m still not ready to go full-on locavore (I just don’t have the energy to make it my life’s passion), but I love that we’re able to find a balance point between the reality of our busy lives and the hope that we can eat from a more environmentally-palatable, locally-sustaining supply chain.

So, looking at this week’s tally, it’s fantastic to see that the veggie box not only yielded lots of compliments but also yielded a savings. Fantastic!


Year 2 – Summer Week 8
Grocery Store Unit Price
(per lb)
Grocery Store Total Item Cost
Purple Pepper 0.29 $3.49 $1.01
Sweet Green Pepper 0.21 $3.99 $0.84
Purple Potatoes 1.69 $1.49 $2.51
Blueberries (1/2 pint) 1.00 $2.50 $2.50
Cucumbers (each) 2.00 $0.99 $1.98
Cherry Tomatoes (pint) 1.00 $3.99 $3.99
Melon 5.13 $0.99 $5.08
Field Tomatoes 1.09 $2.99 $3.25
Corn (ears) 6.00 $0.60 $3.60
Grocery Store Total Cost $24.76
Year 2 Summer Week 8 Savings (Deficit) $2.76

The melon clearly had a hand in keeping us in the black this week; that sucker weighed over 5lbs, and it’s really yummy stuff. Also, rather randomly, the price of corn is increasing. Since this is LOCALLY produced corn that they offer at our grocery store (although not as local as what we get at the farmstand, which is grown AT that farm), the drought sweeping the nation shouldn’t be affecting the prices that much, eh? Given that it jumped 20%, I’m glad to see that corn is still relatively cheap. A jump of 20% on more expensive items, like peppers, would probably start to hurt. And I remember seeing seasonality and odd price swings last year, especially in things like beets, so I’m curious to see whether the corn price stays up from this point forward.

So far, overall, I’m up nearly $2.50 for the season. Of course, that’s small change…but when you factor in the lack of truck fuel and exhaust to bring the fruits and veggies to the store (since I’m buying instead from the farm where the stuff is grown), the overall financial impact is greater. Additionally, the more my farm sells, the more likely they are to stay in business, and there should be some measure of property tax coming from them back to my town. The grocery store where I tend to do my regular grocery shopping is one town over, so my town gets NO financial benefit from them if I give them more business.

It all adds up…it’s just a matter of how you want to look at it. And, to be frank, the quality of what I get from the farm so vastly outweighs what I get at the grocery store, it’s not even funny. The cherry tomatoes are the perfect example, where what I get at the grocery store is practically cardboard by comparison. When you put together the farm-fresh veggies, the preparation can also be infinitely smaller since you need to do so much less to it in order to get flavor from it.

OK – off the soapbox. I love being a CSA purchaser, but I know it’s not for everyone. But for those on the fence, really – GIVE IT A TRY. If you don’t like it, I get that. But if you DO like it, you’ll just be ever so glad you gave it that shot.

Slimming down the cost of getting fitter

When most people decide they want to get into some sort of exercise routine, their first consideration is often cost. You can start by checking the Sunday newspaper circulars – what’s on sale at Target? Does anybody know of any good workout DVD’s? Does Sears have a decent treadmill that I can put on my credit card?

The good news is that there are even more options than these, some of which are even free.

First things first: start by talking with your primary care physician (PCP) about your specific goals. Your doctor will tell you what they think you’re physically up to doing, and they can often refer you to a nutritionist, physical therapist, or other specialist, if such attention is needed. If your PCP is part of a “patient-centered medical home” (sometimes called a “PCMH”), your health insurance plan may cover visits to your doctor with a reduced (or $0!) co-pay. The key thing here is that you never want to start a new exercise plan without checking in with your doc FIRST.

Second: look at no-cost options. Make sure you actually LIKE the exercise/plan you’re trying out before you invest cash in it. Consider walking or running in your neighborhood before you buy a treadmill or get a gym membership. Cable TV subscribers can often benefit from “On Demand” services offered through cable providers like Cox, Comcast and Time Warner that allow you to view unlimited quantities of exercise videos as part of your cable subscription. Try before you buy those DVD’s!

Third: Use the discounts that you get through sources OTHER than the paper. Many health insurance plans, especially the national biggies (i.e., Blue Cross Blue Shield, United Healthcare, Aetna and Cigna) offer “wellness” programs that include discounts on everything from gym memberships to equipment to apparel. Some insurers also offer rewards for completing wellness activities, like completing online health assessments or going for an annual physical exam. Go to your insurer’s web site or call the customer service number on the back of your insurance card to get the skinny on these discounts.

Fourth: Look at work! Many workplaces have started to offer wellness programs and rewards, sometimes in addition to those offered through the insurance plan. Rewards can be anything from cash reimbursement for specific activities and memberships to discounts on gym memberships, race registrations, and more. Check with the Human Resources (HR) department, as applicable, for more info on what may be available for you.

I’ve gotten some great deals for myself in the last 12 months, like personal training sessions at my gym paid for by my company, and 15% off my awesome sneakers for the marathon (Brooks Addiction) at the local running store, thanks to our health insurer. I know about these discounts mostly because I read the stuff that’s posted on the HR section of my company’s intranet, and I glance at our health insurer’s newsletter before I toss it in the recycle bin. I also occasionally log in and check our health insurer’s web site for new discounts, since deals are often updated there and not put in the printed material. In other words, there are LOADS of things out there to help reduce the cost of getting fitter, and they’re not always hidden in the most obvious places. Happy hunting! (and if you know of other good, semi-hidden/non-obvious sources, feel free to post them in the comments so others can benefit from your wisdom!)

Why don’t schools support working parents better?

This isn’t the post I’d originally planned to post.

My first draft of this, written two days ago – the evening after I registered dd for Kindergarten – was far more cranky. Now, I’m not sure how I feel. Numb? Frustrated? Resigned to it all?

The long and the short of it is that I’m dealing with the emotional aftermath of realizing how much about our lives will change once dd starts Kindergarten. Of course, there’s a financial toll, but we’ve been paying such enormous sums of money to our day care center for so long that I’m just not as sensitive to that anymore. You could say that I’ve been broken down by it all.

What I’m trying to get past now is the fact that so many things need to be cobbled together in order to ensure that dh and I can continue to work.

Let me say that again: so that dh and I can continue to work.

Why should putting our dd in Kindergarten, in a public school – no less – have any kind of impact on whether or not we have jobs? After all, public schools are free and that should be an enormous help, right?

Well…not quite.

We live in a town with excellent schools, so private schools aren’t a consideration. I’m perfectly at peace with that; the quality of the school district was part of our decision to move here, and we’re both the product of public schools. Of course, our property taxes are through the roof, but that’s a function of the high quality schools and a NIMBY streak a whole town wide.

So, it kinda hurt when we found out that we have to pay for full-time Kindergarten. The half-day is free, because that’s a requirement set by the state, but full-time Kindergarten comes at a cost of nearly $4K before you get to any before and after care.

Why on earth would you need before and after care, you ask? Well, school only runs from about 9am-3pm. With both of us working full-time and still having commutes to contend with, that schedule is impossible to match. We typically leave the house around 7am to get both of us to work on time (with a day care drop-off by *somebody*), and I’m the first one to the kids at 5:15pm, if I’m running on-time. So, that leaves us in the unenviable position of needing both “before-care” and “after-care”. If we’re okay with paying for the before and after care offered at school, we can pay more than $5K on top of the Kindergarten tuition. As it is, we’re only on the hook for an additional $4K because of a before-care arrangement I struck up with a friend who lives up the street.

Now, that’ll cover us from the start of school (around Labor Day) to end of the school year (late June), not including various holidays, Christmas vacation, and two school vacation weeks in the spring term. There’s still a gap of however many weeks (9-12) during the summer where we need to have a better plan than leaving dd in the house with a window cracked. She’s pretty nearly outgrown her daycare, so next summer (and maybe even this summer) we need a camp. That’s another $4K-ish, with hours running from about 9am-3pm/4pm. BUT, you can pay for before- and after-care! Sigh.

I’ve started to price out camps, and the timeframes they offer span anywhere from 6 weeks to 12 weeks, in costs ranging from around $200/week to nearly $500/week. It’s all mind-boggling.

I feel like I have to pull together this patchwork quilt of solutions so that dd will be in an educational and engaging environment year-around, since quitting a job simply isn’t an option. The cost of living in the eastern portion of Massachusetts rivals that of New York City or San Francisco – I know only a handful of families with stay at home parents. I don’t feel like I can take out this frustration on any of the nice people at the school; they are all awfully nice and they could easily tell that most of us were deer in headlights: unsure of what questions to ask because we’re not even sure what all we’re getting ourselves into.

I suppose that, as long as I’m willing to open my checkbook and do far more homework than dd will have to do anytime soon, I can get all of these resources lined up. It’s just more than a bit overwhelming and I only hope that I don’t let anything slip through the cracks. The room for error, when you can’t just spend days at home to cover gaps that you didn’t plan appropriately for, is just miniscule.