Monday, January 30, 2017

My Honest Review of HelloFresh

First Impression:

I decided to try out HelloFresh when I saw a good deal during Black Friday. I received my first box for $19. I'd been wanting to try one of the dinner boxes but had been hesitating due to the cost. A regular box for two people is $69 for three meals. I planned to receive the box the week between Christmas and New Years. HelloFresh does a great job with branding, from the box, to the literature, to the food packages. The recipes came in a booklet and were made with heavy card stock. I really appreciated the look of this and loved that they included the other recipes for the meals I didn't choose for that week. There were two large ice packs to keep everything cool. Each meal had it's own box while the meat was separate. I had two chicken meals in my box but with different cuts. It wasn't directly obviously at first which meat was supposed to go with which meal. I would have liked to have the meat labeled for each meal as well. I loved that there were bins for the individual meals but I quickly saw how much waste/trash there was.

The Meals:

I chose to start with the Chicken Satay Skewers since Chicken Satay is one of my go to orders at Thai restaurants. I had never thought to roast pea pods as I figured they might be too delicate and burn easily but they roasted up well and I will for sure be making them again. I wasn't crazy about the skewers. The coconut marinade was not very flavorful and the peanut sauce was not to my liking. I typically cook skewers on the grill so I liked having a new way to cook them. (500* for 15-20mins) This probably isn't a recipe I would make again.
Both Errol and I liked the Sizzling Beef Stir fry. We are huge stir fry fans and this is totally something I would make again. The bok choy that they included with the box was less than fresh so I substituted broccoli. 
The Honey Mustard Baked Chicken was another winner. I loved the sauce on the chicken and roasted veggies are a staple in our house. I saved the recipe to make this again but I will double the sauce next time. I had to buy a new zucchini because the one I received was not fresh by the time I made the meal. 

HelloFresh recommends that the meat is used within 4 days of receiving your box. I would much rather see a best by date then just use within 4 days. How do I know how long this meat was sitting at their warehouse before it was sent? 

Overall Thoughts:

It was nice to try but nothing I would continue with. I cancelled my subscription after receiving the first box. HelloFresh does give you the flexibility to skip weeks or even put your membership on hold for a few months but I could not justify the price versus the value. I could have easily purchased the items for these three meals for half of cost of the box. Most of the produce was less than fresh with the exception of the items that keep longer like sweet potatoes. And the waste. I received two large ice packs in my box and they made a mess of my trash. I will say that I was honest in my feedback to HelloFresh when I cancelled my membership and they did call me to get more information. They said they had heard about the produce from other members and were taking steps to improve the quality. I was also offered a credit to try another box. I declined but appreciated the follow up and customer service. 

Have you tried a meal subscription box? What were your thoughts?

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Last of 2016 Reads

December was a slow reading month for me. All my reading was done the week between Christmas and New Years but I've started off strong in January and already have four books under my belt. We leave for our trip in 8 days and I'm looking forward to some serious travel reading. I always get a lot of reading done on flights. 

Loved It:

Holy hell, was this a good book. I wasn't quite ready for it to suck me in and spit me out like a sobbing, blubbering mess. I had heard nothing but good things but I fell in love with every single character and the whole town of Alice. There's books that you read and you know where they are going but the writing and the story just grab you and pull you in such a way that it doesn't matter. I need to know Maya and Amy's story after AJ. 

Liked It:

It took me quite a few pages to get into this story but once I did, it flew by. If you are a fan of fantasy or fairytale retellings, you'll like Bitter Greens. It flipped between several different stories and I found De La Force's my favorite. She had a sad tale and was pretty unlucky in love but she had a strong personality and wit and could hold her own in a time that women were meant to be pretty accessories. 

I thoroughly enjoyed A Little Something Different so I was excited for her newest. Signs Point to Yes was good but almost a little too cutesy for me. It was fun and light which was what I was looking for at the time.

I've been a fan of Kingsolver since I read Prodigal Summer. I've been slowly working my way through her stuff. This one was pretty sluggish for me. I don't know what it was but I couldn't get into it. It was interesting to learn about the butterflies. It kind of reminded me Picoult's Leaving Time in that there was this one main animal that was woven into the book and you gain a lot of knowledge about them. I liked Kingsolver's choice to use the butterflies as a way to segway into global warming.

Love It: The Storied Life of AJ Fikry
Leave It: None!

Life According to Steph

Monday, January 2, 2017

2017 Plans

+ Continue My Passion Search

Last year this was at the very top of my list. I had just transitioned to my new job and feeling the change. I'm happy where I am but I really want to challenge myself this year to step outside my comfort zone & go towards the things I want in life. I know that sounds a little cryptic but it's because I'm not 100% sure what those things are yet but I have ideas. Then figuring out the direction and making the plan and going towards them.

+ Ring in My 30's 

I've been dreading turning 30 since I turned 29. I need to stop being afraid of getting older so I'm challenging myself to make my 30's spectacular and full of new things.This year we'll arrive at the Grand Canyon on my birthday and I can't think of a better way to celebrate a new decade then being on a road trip with the bff.

+ Get a Piercing

I'd like to pierce my nose but I'm not sure how professional that is and if it's something I should do. Part of me says fuck it but the other cares. If not that then my tragus which I've always wanted done.

+ Take a Project Management Course

At my current job I'm an account manager but I want to eventually be in a project management role. I know taking a specific course in this will help me get to this goal.

 + Plan Another Long Weekend in Acadia

I fell in love with Bar Harbor and Acadia on our anniversary trip and there was so much that we didn't get to see. We missed going on any of the hikes I had planned and I'd like to plan another long weekend there.

+ Homeownership

Our goal is to buy a house this year but if for some reason it doesn't happen, I want to make sure we have all the boxes checked so that we can pull the trigger when we find the right place.

+ Make Hiking a Priority

I've not hiked regularly in two years and I miss it, a lot. I want to make time for it. It's healthy for my mind and body.

+ Trade in My Car

I have a year left on my lease but I'm ready for an upgrade. I like my Impreza and it goes so good in the snow but we have a privately maintained dirt road and it's just too low to the ground. I'm really wanting a Toyota 4Runner.

+ Teach Chitty to Walk on a Leash

I'd like to take Chitty on some outdoor walks (that's a crasy cat lady statement if I ever heard one) but to do that, he needs to be able to walk on a leash and currently he just flops down and rolls over when he's on it. 

+ Blog Consistently

I only wrote 60 posts in 2016 with many intentions of more. I would have a schedule all planned out but then when it came to writing the actual posts, I fell flat. My goal for 2017 is 100 posts.

My Word for 2017:

I really want to focus on getting healthy this year and not just physically. I want to do the things that make my soul happy like hiking, reading, spending time with people I like and going on adventures. I also really  need to get my eating in check. Both Errol and I need to eat better and stop snacking. Our group at work likes to eat out a lot and get treats and I need to say no. I don't exercise like I should so I'm working towards a routine. I feel like if I don't put the effort in now, it's never going to happen. I'm not exactly happy with how I feel right now and I need to change that. It needs to be a priority.

What's your 2017 word?

Friday, December 30, 2016

2016 Ambitions ll Revisited

I wrote this post at the beginning of 2016 and didn't really think much of it since. Every once and while  it would pop into my thoughts but I wanted to revisit my goals and see how I did and where I want to go in 2017. All in all, 2016 was a good year. I traveled, Errol and I celebrated our 10 year anniversary and I marked my first full year at my new job.

+ Find My Passion

I don't know what this looks like or where to start but it's at the very top of my list. I want to focus on things that make me feel alive.  I have a group of things in life (books, hiking, adventures) that I love doing and that stir my soul so I want to spend more time doing them. But I also want to find my work passion.
Still working on this one. How do people find their passions? I kinda feel like it's something you fall into or just know, which I don't. 

+ Travel More

On Truly Living:
I did well with this one. I went to Orlando, Chicago and Phoenix all for work related events. Errol and I took a long weekend and went to Acadia/Bar Harbor for our anniversary weekend and visited Boston twice for the weekend.

+Contemplate a Tattoo

Don't quote me on this but something small with either significant person meaning or something bookish.
Still contemplating this one. I'm almost leaning more towards getting my nose pierced...

+ Get Healthy

Eat better and be more active. Regularly. Also hike more.  This year was pitiful. 
LOL....let's just say this was a failure. I will be making this my number one priority in 2017 as I'll be starting my 30's and would really like to be more healthy. I need to make it a priority now or it never will be.

+ Save Lots of $$ to Buy a House  in 2017 

This is right below "find my passion" but more likely to happen. While I love the non-responsibility of repairs and taxes of renting, I want my own place and I need DIY home projects in my life. And I want that adventure with Errol.
We opened our joint house savings account and have done well adding to it. We did better when we first opened it but I have a plan outlined for us in 2017 to save more, just in general, as I'm hoping 2017 is the year we buy our first house.

+ Focus on my Blog & Get a Custom Blog Design

I started this blog in March of 2015 on a whim. And I've grown to love this space I've created.  I want to grow it and not monetarily but post and content-wise.  I'm still trying to find my voice and figure it out but I want to put a better effort into it.  I decided early on that once I reached a year of blogging, I would invest in a custom blog design and I can't wait.
Nope. I wrote 60 posts this year which is laughable. I'd really like to focus more on this space and if I do well at that, reward myself with a new custom blog design.

+ Go on More Weekend Adventures This Summer & Plan Our 2017 10th Anniversary/Rose's 30th Trip

My big weekend adventure goal is a long weekend in Acadia National Park. Our winter trip this year was delayed because of my job change so Winter 2017 it is. Any thoughts?
See above. We went on some weekend adventures and I completed the goal of making it to Acadia. We have booked our combined Christmas/my 30th birthday trip in January and will be flying to Vegas and driving to the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley and Zion National Park which I am extremely excited for.

+ Read 5 Classics in 2016 & Re-read His Dark Materials Series

I'm not setting a reading number goal this year.  I'm just going to read as much as I can, same as any year.  I thought I would switch things up and I have a whole shelf of classics waiting to be read so maybe I'll discover a new favorite.
Well, I read three classics but did not read the Dark Materials trilogy. I'd like to continue reading some more classics even though the ones I read this year were not my favorites.
And my one word for this year?
When I think about this year and all the things I want out of it, most of all I want to just have fun. I want to be carefree and enjoy life. I want to enjoy loving and being with Errol. After all, this is the last year of my 20's and no, this is not the last you'll hear about it.
I think I did a good job with that this year and honestly, having fun is really one of my mottos in life. You only have one life and I want to have fun living it. I want to have experiences and go on adventures and laugh. 

What is one of your goals for 2017?

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Best Books of 2016

My reading was slightly down from last years 86 but I'm on my 74th book of 2016 and I'll probably end it with either 75 or 76 books. I listened to 13 audiobooks and read 61 books including three classics. I fell short of my five book goal for this year.  I'm thinking about my reading goals for 2017 and want to continue reading a few more classics as well as revisiting one or two favorites. I like to check in with books I've read before and see if they still feel the same. I also want to read a few more larger books. I always skip over them on my bookshelf but I truly love big sweeping stories that tell a whole history.

I love looking back on the books I read this year and remembering some favorites that I may have forgotten about. I narrowed my list down to ten for this years Show Us Your Books Special Edition.

In no particular order and maybe not necessarily all 5 star books, these are my best books of 2016:

Life According to Steph

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

What I Read: November

How is it December already?! I can't believe we are in the last month of 2016. I have the week after Christmas off and I'm counting down the days. Also, we just booked our Christmas/my 30th birthday trip in January and I'm anxiously waiting for that to roll around. I'm excited to go on a new adventure with Errol. We're flying into Vegas and then road tripping to the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Zion and Bryce Canyon. If you have any recs, send them my way!

On to the books!

Loved It:

I didn't know what to expect with this book and I loved it. It had the perfect mix of nerdy linguistics and action. Imagine if you could control people just by saying a word; that certain words contained enough power to kill someone. The story wasn't linear but it also didn't flip back and forth between time periods. It unfolded in a way that told you bits of the story and it wasn't until the end that it all connected. Some people might not like that but I didn't mind it and thought it added to the story. I totally loved Emily and wanted more.
A short but interesting book. I was shocked by the ending. I thought I had it figured out. Historical fiction is my jam and this did not disappoint. I know basic Russian history so I enjoyed learning more about the Tsar and his family. 
Alice is one of my very favorites. I will admit I was disappointed upon opening my Amazon package and seeing how slim the book was. I knew it would be over too quick. But I was happy to see that she was back to her old storytelling. Her latest books have been more historical fiction based but Faithful reminded me so much of her "original" works. I fell in love with Shelby and the evolution of her character. Something about her just resonated with me and it didn't hurt that she was an animal lover. The postcards and how everything happens for a reason.
Gamache #9 - Audio
I'm just so in love with this series. I listened to Beautiful Mystery earlier in the month and that was just so-so for me but this one, ugh! It was just so good. I don't want to say too many things but Rosa, Ruth, Beauvoir and the awesome-ness that is Gamache.

Liked It:

 What a totally fucked up book. I'm just totally shocked and appalled that no one, especially a medical professional, caught on to what was going on. The author was completely alone. If the foster kids get taken away because the place is not fit to live, how can you allow the biological children to stay there? Mothers like Gregory's make my skin boil and the bad part is they don't even know they are doing anything wrong. Part of the book reminded me a lot of Glass Castle in the way the mom and dad were so self involved that the kids were just bystanders. 
Gamache #8 - Audio
This is one of the series that took place away from Three Pines and those ones tend to not be my favorite. I miss everyone in Three Pines. This one took place in a remote monastery and it was really hard for me to keep all the monks straight while listening. It's also where things start to come to a head between Beauvoir, Gamache and Francuir (no idea if I am even remotely close on that spelling!). The whole thing with Beauvoir and Gamache is just breaking my heart. It's hard not to want to just shake Beauvoir and be like wtf are you doing?!
I don't typically gravitate toward essays or short stories but this has been on my list for awhile. Keegan's writing is good and I loved the title essay. Some of the stories were depressing but it could also be because you know the writers fate. I liked that it was split up between fiction and non. I enjoyed Cold Pastoral, Stability in Motion and I Kill for Money.

Leave It:

 I was disappointed with this book. I know it was made into a tv series and I've enjoyed some of Perrotta's other books but man, did this book drag on and on. I do like his writing but the story lost me. The whole book was pretty lack luster and pointless. 
Another personal development book assigned at work. I didn't think much of what Tracy said was inventive. Parts of the book were contradictory. Some of the tricks I already implement because they seem like common sense, like prioritizing your to-do list. It did make for good discussions at work. 

Poll: when you make a to-do list, do you write it down or use an electronic version either an app or something like Excel or Outlook?

Love It:Faithful & Lexicon and always Gamache
Leave It: The Leftovers

Life According to Steph

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

5 Reasons You Should Support Local Small Business

Tucked between the craziness of Black Friday and Cyber Monday is Small Business Saturday. American Express started it back in 2010 as an initiative to support small, local businesses. I think it can sometimes get lost by its bigger cousins to the right and left. Not all small businesses can support the deep discounts that large box stores can offer nor might they have the extensive selection but what they lack, they make up for in customer service, a personal shopping experience and supporting the community you live. Last year 95 million people supported small businesses as part of Small Business Saturday and there is estimated to be a 10% increase this year.

I know many support small businesses either through their local community or online communities such as Etsy. Right now is a really great time to have a small business. More emphasis is being put on shopping local and supporting "real" people than ever before.  Here's five reasons you should be supporting local, small businesses.

Product Diversity

While box stores have their place, small businesses have the flexibility to offer a wider range of unique offerings. I especially like to shop local for gifts. Often times, these items could be local sourced or crafted. You might find a new company you've never heard of or find up and coming trends before they hit the big chains. Products will often be of a better quality than what you would find in box stores.

Small Businesses Give Back

More money stays within the community when you buy local vs large corporations. Small businesses are also more willing to give money to the community to support local causes.

"Small businesses deliver community character and economic advantages to the town they are positioned in, but also strengthen partnerships among neighbors, residents, other small business owners, community leaders and even schools by offering social and economic relationships. Many also support local causes, creating even more good within a community." (source)

Personalized Shopping Experience

Chain stores are great for when you want to pop in a get that one item that you need but if you're looking for something special or maybe you want some advice on something, small businesses offer personalized service that you just won't find at a big box store. Also, if you do happen to have a problem with a product, you're more likely to get a more personal response. Small business employees tend to be more knowledgeable about their product offerings. If you wanted to know advice on gardening, would you head to Home Depot or your local gardening shop? Your business matters to small businesses.

Environmental Impacts

"Local stores help to sustain vibrant, compact, walkable town centers-which in turn are essential to reducing sprawl, automobile use, habitat loss, and air and water pollution." (source) Small businesses help keep communities unique and one of a kind. Small businesses can also improve your health when you buy foods from local farmers and co-ops. The produce has traveled less distance and is usually farmed without pesticides.

Create Jobs

Small businesses are the largest employer nationally.
  • Make up more than 99.7% of all employers.
  • Create more than 50% of the non-farm private gross domestic product (GDP).
  • Make up 97% of exporters and produce 29 percent of all export value. (source)
"Fundera is helping to support the growth of small businesses by providing capitol. Visit their post about supporting Small Business Saturday to learn more. If you own a small business or are thinking of starting one, check out Fundera for their small business loans.

Some of my favorite local small businesses:

-Bella Funk, a small boutique owned by two sisters with a great mix of national brands and local artisans.
-Just L, the cutest store with a focus on mid-century modern furniture and goods.
-Baliwicks, for a good drink and great dining atmosphere.
-Littleton Food Coop has a great mix of grocery store items and speciality foods. All produce and many other items are locally sourced. They are in the process of expanding too!
-Pentimento is the place to go for that special gift. They have a great selection of jewelry and cards.

How do you support small businesses?