So many people have told me about the life changing magic that is shopping at Aldi. I have read forum posts in praise of the grocery store chain. I see Pins about the magical budget solution Aldi is. Friends have been aghast that I have never stepped foot inside the place. So, I finally took the plunge. With so many various people telling me about the glory of the store, it was time.
Imogene and I grabbed a quarter and headed to our local Aldi. First, they told me I needed a quarter for the buggy. They told me I would get it back. They did not tell me how to use this magic buggy. It took us a minute or two to figure out where to put the quarter. But we finally figured it out. No thanks to the 3 people than angrily huffed around us getting their own buggies and not letting us in on the secret quarter spot.
We walk toward the door, which is laid out completely backwards. The entrance is on the left, the exit on the right. That isn’t how this works. That is just anarchy. It was maddening to walk through the WRONG right way in. (Have I mentioned I have been diagnosed with mild OCD? I took my therapist’s advice and just made myself do it, despite my discomfort. “Live with the discomfort,” she tells me. And I did. Very much discomfort.)
Entering, it appears they are trying to have an IKEA type system here. All traffic flow moving one direction. No going back. Only this first section looks like a walk through a typical convenience store. Off brand chips and pretzels. Not at all what I am there for. And none are a seemingly good deal.
We get to the dairy case where people have raved about milk and egg prices. I was not at all impressed. $0.10 a gallon cheaper for milk than my beloved Kroger. The doors lead to some abyss that is their dairy cooler. I’m pretty sure the way things are just thrown and stacked around isn’t up to code. I wonder if grocery stores have health inspectors. I worked at a grocery store, you’d think I would know this information. My giant pregnant self has to try to move a cardboard pallet that has a couple squashed and leaking gallons of milk left on it to try to get to the new pallet underneath. The milk on the full pallet barely looks better. But I am squatting and leaning into a grocery cooler and am starting to loose feeling in my toes, so I grab a couple of smashed up gallons and hope for the best. I go to check the eggs. They are the same price as Kroger, but I am here, so I might as well buy these. All smashed. Like someone dropped a milk pallet on top of the eggs this morning smashed. No eggs it is.
We move on to the produce. We’ve heard about the wonderful prices. I supposed paying $0.11 per pound of bananas sounds fabulous, but very few of the bananas appear edible. Every single bag of clementines contains at least one molded clementine. Every single bag of potatoes contains at least one very rotten potato. (Super pregnant nose knows.) The prices are actually higher than Sprouts, but the food is almost inedible. Why pay ANY money for mushy onions?
We scan the canned goods. Dented cans. Prices the same or higher than Kroger. At this point, we decide to just pay for our milk and leave. The store is dirty, poorly organized, and I’m pretty sure I’ll get tetanus from the shelving. We escape before the zombies break out of the back room.
Aldi’s was straight up terrible. It reminded me of the tiny grocery store we had in rural Mississippi, only, if everyone had left the store unattended for a week. The Dollar Store is a better shopping experience, guys. I was told to expect Trader Joe’s. It was nothing like Trader Joe’s. It was like shopping at Mud Tavern grocery, which was located in a single wide trailer. It was super depressing. I asked Imogene her thoughts after. She said she felt like everything was falling in on her and she was sure this was the place of her burial.
So, there. I tried it. I hated it. I won’t be going back. But let me know, is your Aldi this terrible? And if so, how do they even stay in business? But hey, we did return our cart and get that quarter back.
We haven’t yet moved into our next school year, but the planning for next year is coming along. This past year was our 7th homeschooling year. We had 4 official students and 1 who insisted on jumping into the fun with us. (Preschoolers do that from time to time. Sometimes they want to participate. Sometimes they don’t. Before age 6, we let them choose. Play time is learning time for that age, so I’m not comfortable pushing them toward rigorous studies just yet.) I figured I’d let you guys know what worked and what didn’t this school year. But I always like to give an update on what worked and what didn't, since my opinions may change by the time we get closer to the end.
Overall, we have used The Well Trained Mind throughout our schooling days. We’ve been a little more relaxed in the Grammar stage. Some of the suggested resources haven’t worked for us, so we have found alternatives that work.
I had two fifth graders this year, one third grader, one kindergartener, and one preschooler.
We used Teaching Textbooks 5 and 3 for these guys this year. Teaching Textbooks has been the best math program for these guys. These two started with Singapore Math and then switched to Teaching Textbooks for fourth grade. We no longer buy the workbooks, because my kids only use the computer disc portion of the program. Each lesson is well explained, having them do practice problems as they go. If they don’t do well on a lesson, you can go in and delete the grade and let them try again. They get two tries at each problem, and the program explains how the answer is achieved. It gives immediate gratification, telling them if they are right or wrong on each problem before they move on. The kids do very well with this program. I have read some reviews that say the grade levels are off, but I have not found that to be the case. Each year starts off pretty easy, but builds back to more difficult concepts. So, a student may find it easy at first, but there is more challenge coming. My only issue with the program is the cardboard cases the CDs come in. I feel like for the price, they should come in some durable CD cases for long term use. I’ve had to move all our discs into a zippered CD case. That works, but for $99 a set (higher in the higher levels) they should come with something more durable than paper. The program keeps up with the grades and you can check them at any time. We don’t usually do grades, but since the kids were doing it all on their own, it helped me keep an eye on their progress.
We started the year with Essential Math K. He flew through it. It wasn’t a challenge for him at all. We switched to Life of Fred about halfway through the year. It introduced more complex topics and he liked the storytelling aspect. The preschooler joined us for these lessons, but will likely need to do them again.
I signed the older two up for Wordly Wise Online through Homeschool Buyer’s Co-op. They didn’t like it. I didn’t like it. The program isn’t well laid out. It is very confusing and takes a lot of time per lesson. I also felt like they weren’t really learning much for the effort being put in. We stopped it mid-year and will not be picking it back up.
We also grabbed the new Writer’s In Residence program from Apologia. Each student needs their own book. And the books are hefty. While I like some of the content, overall, the program didn’t work well for us. For one, it isn’t well laid out. The grading rubric is confusing. Everything has to be graded, which is weird for us since we don’t really grade things. Some of the assignments were frivolous. Also, it got really messy. It is a huge workbook, so I expect all the work to be done in the book and fit in the book. But there were several times when things were cut out of the book (which annoys me greatly) or they had to paper clip extra pages into the book. I felt like they could have made it all work, but didn’t. If the kids are needing to use separate paper, I would have just liked it in textbook format with all the work being done on their own paper in a separate notebook. My kids did learn from the program, but it was far too parent intensive and far too convoluted. You will need at least one of the Teacher’s Guides. I won’t be continuing this program. Even if I wanted to, I can’t. They released Volume 1 of 4 last year but haven’t released Volume 2 yet. I have such mixed feelings on this program. Some of it is SO good. But then some of it is SO bad.
I kept my third grader signed up for Explode the Code online. I absolutely love that program. It has worked so unbelievably well for him. He enjoys it. It challenges him. He is finishing up the program now, so he won’t be using it next year. I’ll be looking at buying it again for our rising first grader, though.
Our history years aren’t lining up smoothly because we spent longer than a school year on Ancient history. We use Story of The World. This year, we started a history co-op with some other families in our church. That slowed us down considerably, so we didn’t finish a full year of history this year either. We finished up Story of The World 2 and then moved into Story of the World 3. We tried the audio version of Story of the World 2, but the kids hated it. They did not like listening to the CDs. So, we went back to me reading it to them from the book. When we started Story of The World 3, I added interactive notebooks. It would have worked well for just my kids, but in the co-op setting, it got a little hectic. We will be continuing Story of The World 3 next year, but these two will be moving into the Logic stage, so they will be adjusting how they do history. (Technically, the Logic Stage begins in 5th grade, but my kids needed an extra year of writing and grammar before they could really tackle outlines and summaries.)
We found a really awesome Science curriculum that works alongside Story of The World so well. Berean Builders Science is chronological science, studied by scientist and discovery. That has made so much more sense to my kids and given them a better understanding of how we come to know what we know. I’ll admit, they watched a few too many documentaries that had distorted their view of science. Because each documentary presents everything as fact, not theory. Then the documentaries would contradict one another or come from an atheistic world view. My kids became super skeptical and I was having difficulty drawing them back into the subject. The Berean Science books have been perfect to hook them back in. We started using Science in the Scientific Revolution along with Story of the World 3. There are experiments to better understand the discoveries made. It has been awesome. The kids love it, they are actually engaged, and they better understand the scientific process and how new discoveries change the way we see the world.
I have never used a proper handwriting program. However, my kids really needed it. They were having a lot of trouble writing clearly enough to communicate their ideas. So, I opted for an actual handwriting book. I chose Patriotic Penmanship. I liked the selected quotes. I decided to keep my third grader in print writing because he was only 7 and he needed some reinforcement on the proper way to make letters. One of my fifth graders did introductory cursive and the other did her proper grade. The workbooks are great. I had them work on a two page spread, one lesson, each week. Day one they would just practice making a letter. Day two they would practice key words. Day three they would work on a full phrase or two. Day four they would write the entire quote. It didn’t take more than a few minutes each day and I simply asked for very hard work for those few minutes. All of them have improved their handwriting significantly with just a little work each day. I will definitely be ordering Patriotic Penmanship workbooks again this year. Each child needs their own workbook as they are consumable.
For our Bible study for the older kids, we used Herein Is Love: Genesis. This one has a lot more lessons in it than the Leviticus book. The kids really enjoyed it and I think they learned a lot. It does a great job of weaving the whole story into the beginning story.
For the Little Guys, we used the Jesus Calling Storybook. I was not as in love with this Storybook Bible as I was with the Jesus Storybook Bible. It has little notes from Jesus, but they are worded oddly and it makes it a little difficult to follow in a read aloud format. But the kids liked it and they did learn.
We used my Operation World geography plan. It went really well. It helped open my kids’ worldview and show them more than what is outside their front door. I was really happy with how it went and will continue it next year.
I purchased Alpha Tales and Phonics Tales at Costco for the little guys. We did not get into the Phonics Tales. It will really be a toss up this year if we do that book or The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Reading. I’m not sure which will work better for these guys.
I also signed them up for ABCMouse.com mid year. They have loved it. They can use their tablets to play. I signed up for the assessments, as well, but found that portion pretty worthless.
I basically let the kids pick what they wanted to read this year instead of using the reading list from Well Trained Mind. Turned out, that was a mistake. Well, the kids really loved reading, but they essentially spent the year reading junk books. I did strongly suggest a few classics that they did read and enjoy. The third grader loved the Roald Dahl books we have and finished all the Magic Treehouse books we own, plus ventured over to the Imagination Station books. The fifth graders read Peter Pan and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. They also read some Judy Bloom. But they did read a bunch of Goosebumps books and other junk type books. Next year, I’ll separate the required reading and the fun reading a bit more.
I kept track of everything in a composition notebook that I used like a bullet journal for schooling. This helped the planning significantly. I’ll be doing the same again because it worked so well. Though I’ll likely opt for a real bullet journal this year. (I’ve been using a bullet journal for a class I am taking and another one for the upcoming 2018 year. I’m liking the customization so much more than a standard planner. I also have one that I’ve been using alongside my 2017 planner for notes and things. I do like having separate planners for each of those areas, since I feel like everything together just gets too cluttered.)
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I get asked a lot of questions about reviewing. I figured I would answer them all in Ask LJ style for you.
How did you get started as a reviewer?
Wanting To Begin
Wanting To Begin,
This is an easy one! I rely really heavily on reviews when I shop. I don’t want the advertisement junk or sales people pitches. I don’t care about all that. I want reviews. What did real people think about the product? That is where the good info is. Since I rely so heavily on reviews, I started feeling like it was my duty to review the things I tried, good or bad, to help others when they were looking to make a purchase. So, I started reviewing everything I bought. I started reviewing mostly on Amazon, because that is where I made the majority of my online purchases. I then started reviewing books on Goodreads. Basically, anywhere I could. I do post some reviews here on my blog. Some get pic reviews on Instagram. But really, I just started reviewing the things I was buying anyway. I didn’t buy things just to review them. I didn’t overspend trying to get enough “good stuff” to review. Just reviewed the things I bought and used.
I want free stuff. How do I get free stuff to “review”?
Make It Worth It
Make It Worth It,
This is the most often asked question. Honestly, the answer is that I don’t know. This reviewing thing just kind of landed in my lap. I didn’t really seek it out, so I don’t know how someone seeking it out would go about it. For me, I wrote reviews because I like reviews. I did that for years before I was sent my first item free for review. It started with books. Advanced Reading Copies that I read quickly and reviewed promptly. Then it branched out into other stuff. I also have quite a span of kids here, so reviewing some things is easier here because many ages can try the same thing in the same environment. If you dislike writing and don’t personally see value in reviews, this probably isn’t for you and that is okay.
What is the craziest thing you have ever reviewed?
Curiosity Killed The Cat
I think reviewing vitamins felt the weirdest. I know that seems strange, but it feels a little like being a human guinea pig. I also reviewed a slew of ovulation tests and pregnancy tests. Reviewing things you pee on is a little strange. Underwear. But honestly, those are the things you WANT reviews on! As far as just, weirdest, I guess that would be… I don’t know. There are literally years worth of options. Weird rug that felt like a wet cat, home microderm abrasion machine that felt like I was sanding and vacuuming my skin at the same time, knives that The Pastor then cut the tip of his finger off with, a clarinet, a faucet, a loveseat- maybe I should just say they were unusual.
Reviewing seems like it’d be the best! Are there any bad parts?
Certainly Only Good
It isn’t only good. It takes a lot of time. There are times I have to extremely limit what I will review because I know I am just too busy. I can only review so many books at a time. I have read so many bad books. Books that make me think, do they really just publish any old thing these days? So much time spent on bad books. And mediocre books. I mean, with so much wonderful literature in the world, and only so many pages that can be read in a lifetime, and I have voluntarily spent many of those on horrible or “eh” books. Really, it is sad.
And then there is having to write negative reviews. I don’t like that. But I feel obligated to honest reviews, so negative reviews are inevitable.
Time lines. When you are reviewing for fun, because you love reviews, and you are reviewing what you want, you can have whatever timeline you want. You can use it for 3 months, then review it once you really see what you think. But with most reviews that are given to you, they have a tighter timeline. And that isn’t always long enough to maybe test the product as much as you’d like. The ability to edit reviews does help this a bit, since I can go back after 3, 6, or 12 months or whatever and add to or change my initial review. Some timelines are even tighter. I, no joke, had a supplement company request a review in 3 days. 3 days for a supplement that literally would take 3-6 months to really give any information beyond what the bottle looked like.
And then you have the issue of stuff. Stuff accumulates. A person can only own so many vacuums. Some of my agreements state that I have to keep it or destroy it. Some say I have to keep it for a certain amount of time. Some don’t care who I pass it off to when I am done, I guess thinking maybe they’ll get a second bonus review from the product. But you accumulate stuff. And that stuff has to be dealt with in some way or another. And I have to remember which things have to be dealt with in which ways. Then you have the times when you try the thing, abuse the thing a little, and then the company wants the thing back because it broke or in some way performed in a way they didn’t expect. Then you have to get the thing out of your stuff storage system and send it back. It just all takes time and organization.
Do you make money on reviewing?
The Question Everyone Wants To Know
As much as The Pastor wishes that reviews generated income, they do not. My reviews do not pay a dime. In fact, the reviewed items themselves are now considered income by the IRS. So, really this could only cost me money at this point. I also never generate an affiliate link for items I received for review. (I do provide affiliate links for items I paid my money for. Affiliate links give me a few cents or whatever if a reader uses them to purchase something. So, if you want to support your favorite blogger, use their affiliate links!) So, no, this is not a lucrative hobby. More of a barter system type transaction. Again, I do this because I love reviews. I am a big fan of giving my opinion.
What is the best part of reviewing? Why do you like it so much? It seems like a lot of trouble.
Tell Me Why
Tell Me Why,
First, I value reviews when I buy something, so I like to think that I am helping build that type of consumer community where we all share our honest experiences in order to make things easier and better.
Second, I like to write and it gives me an outlet. Clearly, I do so in other ways, but in my early reviewing days, this and mom forums were where I did the majority of my writing. And mom forums are awful. So, reviewing it is.
Third, it really pushes me out of my comfort zone. I never would have tried paddle boarding if I hadn’t been sent a paddle board for review. I never would have cooked soup for weeks straight and found some amazing recipes had I not been sent a soup cookbook to review. Every review gives me the opportunity to experience and try something new. In the world of reviewing for free items, that often means trying things I might not have otherwise tried.
Fourth, I like giving my opinion. I like the satisfaction of being heard. I mean, I don’t necessarily think companies use my reviews to make their products better. But they could. And that is enough for me.
What kind of products do you review?
What, What, What, What
I really review anything I use. I started with books and baby items, since that is what I used most. It extended to toys, since I have kids from 19 months -10 years old. Household items were added to the mix. Clothes. Shoes. Soap. Vitamins. Electronics. Makeup. Beauty Products. Really, there isn’t much I won’t review. I’m more selective these days about what I will review, since there is only so much time to review things. But really, I review it all.
How do you write a good review?
You write your experience. Really, that is about it. Do you like it? Do you hate it? What bothered you? How could it be better? What was particularly enjoyable about it? You’re just giving your opinion on the item in your hand.
I do take price point into consideration. I do take my expectations into consideration. I do take the opinions of my family into consideration. (An example of that would be a Korean lip peel that I hated but my 10 year old daughter loved. I would have rated it terribly, but she liked it, so I saw it did have some appeal and use to her age group.)
I find long reviews too cumbersome to get through. For book reviews, I don’t want the back of the book jacket when I am reading the reviews. I don’t need the entire plot.
My new favorite feature is pictures. I want pictures of the item from real people, not the professionally taken and photo shopped pictures. Real pictures. Even phone pictures. In fact, using your phone for reviews with pictures is the easiest in the world to do.
I recently had the opportunity to test out the Danu Enigma Beaufort wrap. I’ve been wearing my babies, well, since the one that is 9 was born, so I’ve used quite a variety of carriers over the years, but have only recently gotten into using woven wraps. I was very excited to be chosen as a tester and even more excited when the cozy Enigma came into our home for a couple weeks.
The Enigma Beaufort is 62% Irish Linen and 38% cotton. It came to me after being well broken in. It was floppy and so easy to wrap with. This is a workhorse wrap. It is a great beginners wrap because it wraps so easily and securely without any work or wiggle. Soft, but strong. I sound like a toilet paper commercial, here.
I wasn’t sure Topher, who is 2 now, would let me send the wrap off to the next tester. He was constantly asking to be in “pig backs” (see picture) with this wrap. It looks like a big dish towel, and honestly, that is how it feels. And while that might sound like a slight against the wrap, it is actually amazing. The thickness was perfect. It tied easily without any bulk. I tried a dozen different carries and each was so simple and easy with this wrap.
This red and white wrap was so comfortable and so supportive. In the above picture, The Pastor is getting ready to begin a wedding rehearsal. Topher was quite upset and not being able to go jump in the lake with an alligator (yes, there was an alligator watching the entire wedding rehearsal). The Pastor wrapped him up on his back, and there he stayed for THE ENTIRE REHEARSAL. You know how long those are.
And while he was initially upset about not being able to go pet the alligator, he quickly got over it and remained Daddy’s side-kick for the rest of the evening.
And no, The Pastor usually doesn’t dress so casually for weddings. Upon arriving into town for this one, he realized he forgot all his hanging clothes, so he had to just go to the rehearsal as he was and then we hit up Target the next day for appropriate wedding attire. It happens.
The Linen/Cotton blend was perfect for the weather. Not too hot at all. (September in Georgia can be pretty warm, if you aren’t familiar with the weather down here.) It really is a lovely, unintimidating wrap. It was a size 6, which concerned me a little since I consider a 7 my base size, but found this just as easy to do any and all wraps I use my 7 for. It tied so securely. The fabric is just the right amount of grip. I did wrap Pip in it, too, when Topher would let me. At 5 months old, he was a breeze to wrap in this, too.
If you haven’t checked out Danu Slings, you totally should. They even have some Narnia inspired wraps to check out!