Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Costco versus BJ's

This post might be useful if you're trying to decide between the two.  

I've been a Costco member for the past 2 years.  In that time, a BJ's warehouse store opened about 5 minutes from my house (right across the street from Fairway).  Now, Costco is not that far away but it is two towns over.  It would be wonderful if I could do all my shopping closer to home, i.e. at Fairway and BJ's (but still driving 3 towns over to get to Trader Joe's every other week).  So when my Costco membership lapsed, I decided to give BJ's a try.  I signed up for the 60-day trial membership to see if I could make a go of it.  

Here are some of the things Costco has but BJ's doesn't:
  • organic brown rice
  • Dr. Praeger's veggie burgers
  • Flax Plus granola
  • old-fashioned rolled oats
  • organic peanut butter
  • organic (low-sugar) strawberry preserves
  • organic frozen corn and mixed vegetables
  • organic soy milk
  • Kirkland signature mesquite seasoning
  • organic dried thyme, oregano and basil
  • fish sticks (which are mostly fish and a very thin layer of breading)
  • Kirkland toilet paper (which is awesome, by the way)
Some thingss that BJ's has going for it:
  • the fruits and veggies are generally fresh (though not the last time I went) and many of the veggies are are sold in smaller quantities (Costco sells, I think, a 7# bag of organic carrots but BJ's carries a reasonable 3# bag)
  • I really liked the layout of BJ's.  The aisles are all clearly marked so you don't have to walk down every aisle to find something.  Costco recently changed the whole store around and you couldn't find anything or anyone to ask--it was quite frustrating.  
  • BJ's has self-checkout lanes which is great for getting in and out quickly. 
  • My kids love the fact that they have those car shopping carts (which drive me insane with their inability to be maneuvered)
The first couple of weeks of the BJs trial membership, I thought I might try to have a membership at both places but I didn't think I could re-coup my membership fee.  Or maybe I could make BJ's work by plugging the holes with Trader Joe's.  I think  I decided against that particular option because:
  • while Trader Joe's carries the Dr. Praeger's veggie burgers, they are smaller than the Costco ones and cost more per burger
  • Trader Joe's fish sticks are smaller and cost almost two times as much as the ones carried at Costco.  
  • Flax Plus is far more expensive at Trader Joe's than Costco
I'm disappointed in my local Costco because they stopped carrying organic quinoa and organic sugar.  I know I really should write a letter and maybe these two items will come back.  Despite my disappointment, it makes more sense to continue as a Costco member.  The fruits are not the worst (I stay away from their bananas though) and they have a nice organic spinach they carry.  Also, I mainly buy fruits and veggies at Fairway and Trader Joe's (only sometimes though because their produce is iffy although I can rely on their celery and lettuce being fresh) since I can get organics there (especially the Dirty Dozen.

I wish BJ's had worked out.  It would have been super-convenient.  I'm going to focus on only having to go far every other week (Trader Joe's and Costco one week and Fairway only the other week).  I don't want to drag the kids to three stores at every shopping excursion.  So I have to be smart about what and how much I buy. 

Do you have a wholesale club membership?  Has it worked out for you? 

Monday, October 25, 2010

Running in the Winter

The time is coming when running outside will not be a matter of simply putting on my sneakers, grabbing my I-pod and heading out the door.  Winter is coming!  Already I have to warm up for 5-10 minutes indoors before I go out for my runs and it's only about 50 degrees in the early morning.   I can see my breath and after about 30 minutes, if I don't have on gloves, I can't feel my fingers.  I've been thinking about what I'm going to do when the temperatures really plummet.  Essentially there are three options:
  1. Invest in some cold weather running gear.   I read this article.  I already have layer one and layer two.  I need to work on layer three which is basically a windbreaker jacket (I can use the hubby's) and windbreaker pants which I'm pretty sure I can get at the thrift store.  I would need some kind of hat (I just wear a regular cotton hat right now which is not too bad), gloves (I wear my fleece gloves lined with Thinsulate which get a little too hot and sweaty), a baklava, and a good pair of socks.  Also, some reflective bands or something since when I go out, it's still quite dark.  So not too, too much of an investment.
  2. Join the local gym for the duration of the winter so I can make use of the treadmill.  I am pretty sure I will not enjoy treadmill running. I like, you know, going somewhere when I run.  But another advantage of joining the gym would be that I could potentially take classes and make use of the weight machines since I would like to start the The New Rules of Lifting for Women this winter. Another advantage is that as long as I could make it to the gym, I could run.  If I'm counting on running outside, snow, sleet and ice could make it impossible. 
  3. Stop running for the winter and invest in some more DVDs.  I really don't want to stop running.  Actually, I can't realistically imagine not running for the entire winter.
So it's really between 1 and 2 and I'm happy I have a little more time to decide.
Meanwhile, I've just completed another round of the Push Circuit in the Chalean Extreme program.  I'm not quite sure where to go next but I think I'm going to mix it up a little.  My goal is:
  • to lift heavy (to build strength) two times a week (I might repeat the Lean Circuit in CE), 
  • to lift lighter weight (to build endurance doing more like in Jari Love's programs or in Jillian Michael's strength program) or use body weight (like these Body Rock workouts) once a week and 
  • to continue with 3+ hours of cardio worked in there somehow.  Currently, 1:30 of my cardio during the week is running so it's a big portion and I am loathe to give it up even for a couple of months!
How do your workouts change in the winter months?

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Sunday, October 24, 2010

What about charter schools?

Sometimes when I say that we're homeschooling, people ask me, "What about charter schools?"  It's sometimes assumed that I'm homeschooling because I'm not pleased with public school options.

For many families, charter schools have been a great alternative to traditional (and often low-performing) public schools.  There's an emphasis on discipline and academic excellence.  Since admission to these schools is not automatically guaranteed (usually there's a lottery or a test to gain entrance), there's an atmosphere of gratitude amongst parents and children because they know it's not their right to be in the school.  That there cuts down on some of the disciplinary issues found in traditional public schools:  you can be kicked out.  People wait anxiously to hear if their children will be accepted and really rejoice if their kids are.  I don't blame them at all and I'm glad they exist as an alternative but charter schools do not represent an acceptable option to me. 

When applying for teaching positions, I carefully avoided applying to charter schools.  The work day for a teacher at one of these schools typically started at 7 and ended at 4--two hours longer than a teacher's day at a traditional public school.  In addition, teachers were often expected to be accessible to students after school hours for homework help.  To me, these schools were asking too much from me as a teacher and definitely not compensating me enough.  With my own young family, I wasn't willing to make that kind of sacrifice although the philosophies and track records of these schools were definitely appealing.   So from a teacher's perspective, I didn't want to go the charter school route.  And as a parent, I don't want to either.  

Now, I will say that most of my knowledge of charter schools comes from charter schools in the South Bronx, a generally economically depressed area that exhibits many of the symptoms of these kinds of areas.  It's possible that things are vastly different elsewhere.  The (eery) feeling I got from these schools was that  they were trying as hard as they could to keep the kids in school (and out of their homes) as much as possible.  This way, they could "work" on the kids, providing an alternative to what was implicitly assumed to be less than ideal home situations.  Here the kids could be exposed to much better than anything they could receive from their families.  This feeling of mine was reinforced by the fact that many of the teachers at these charter schools were White, middle-to-upper class, well-educated young men and women with the goal of "doing good" for those "terribly disadvantaged children."  Essentially, charity work (especially in light of the pay and hours).  It reminded me of the boarding schools set up by churches in colonial Africa that would separate the children from their parents in order to inculcate them with a whole new set of "righteous" ideals and "correct" ways of thinking.  I can't get with it. 

Paulo Freire, anyone?  You can never divorce education from politics.   There is always an agenda.   There's the obvious fact that charter schools are still public schools funded by the state (although some are also funded privately).  They still have certain standards to meet.  All that changes, really, is how these schools go about achieving those standards.  Charter schools do not question the status quo.  They affirm the status quo.  And devise more effective and innovative ways of maintaining the status quo.  Which is great if you as a parent don't mind the status quo. 

Do children really need more time in the classroom to learn well and do better academically?  (This is one of my biggest pet peeves!)  Children, in my opinion, need much more free time to explore on their own and opportunities to learn how to learn.  Most charter schools are still not addressing the fundamental issues:  the foundation on which the school system was built does not serve the needs of children.  They are still working on a shaky framework although what they're building is more elaborate and simply cooler than what we had before.

I'm not naive.  If it came down to it and my children needed to attend public school, I wouldn't overlook charter schools.  But honestly, I'd be more likely to find the best performing school in my area and fight to send them there.  

As a homeschooler, for some odd reason, parents feel the need to vent to me about their school situations: where they wish their kids could be, what they wish their schools could look like, what they like and don't like about the whole situation.  I'm not sure why I come off as the person to talk to.  Most recently, a parent was gushing to me about a charter school in a neighboring town started by Bill Gates.  I could not have cared less but there I was, subjected to it.  I generally keep my feelings about controversial things to myself and so I let her talk.  I also let her show me how much her 4 year old daughter knows.  She was very (and I mean very) adamant that she's way advanced for a 4 year old.  Wonderful.  

So, no, I'm not homeschooling because I don't know about charter schools.  I'm homeschooling in spite of charter schools. 

Interesting articles here and here.
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