Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Asiatic lilies from Aldi - product review

I am a big fan ofr Aldi because despite the low prices, this store manages to sell good quality products. I am regularly buying the produce and meats there and lately have had very good experiences with their plants and bulbs. The vegetable plants I bought earlier this year have turned out great and the Asiatic lily bulbs that were a weekly special earlier this year are now starting to bloom.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - Asiatic lilies from Aldi, some blooming, but every bulb yielded healthy + blooming plant
I bought two or three bags with bulbs earlier this year and every bulb grew into a healthy plant that yielded blooms in various shades. For comparison, about the same time I bought bulbs at Walmart and I am still waiting for a plant (actually, no I am no longer waiting on anything from these bulbs since they clearly will not yield anything this year and anytime in the future).
The picture above shows some of the bulbs with flowers in dark red and yellow. I had fours shades of red, then orange and yellow in the Asiatic lilies so far in my garden  and the plants were all very healthy. When I opened the bags, I could tell that the bulbs were healthy. Every single bulb had started to grow a little stem and once in the dirt, these bulbs just took off.
copyright Durhamonthecheap - some more flowers from my yard. The lilies from Aldi already shed their petals.
So looking back my experience this years. I will definitely consider buying bulbs from Aldi again in coming years, I will certainly approach any bulbs or for that matter plants from Walmart with caution. The prices being similar in both places, Aldi seems to sell a more consistent quality.

P.S I know that some people have the opinion that no one should shop at Walmart because everything there is made in China and the success of Walmart is costing American jobs, I will not go into this argument here or even take any sides. I simply decided to compare bulbs from both stores and report on my experiences. There is a place for politics, but I use my garden to relax and so politics stays out of EVERY aspect associated with my garden, including my flowers and where I buy them.

My vegetable garden for this year

For the last few years I tried to grow fresh herbs as well as vegetables and this year is no exception. I started off fairly small, but last year (I blogged about it) had a huge number of butternut squash in my garden. So this year, I opted for spaghetti squash and only one plant. I also planted tomatoes as well as peppers. My herbs from last year came back and I had some old onions and sweet potatoes that I simply added to the patch since they had started to sprout.
copyright Durhamonthecheap - my little vegetable patch
In the picture above you can see my one tomato plant. They had these and peppers on sale ad Aldi about a month ago for $2.50 and I bought a tomato and pepper plant. Since I will be traveling this summer, I did not want to have a lot of vegetables in my garden as I will not be able to water them regularly. The tomato is about a month old and you can see it has done very well. The one pepper plant from Aldi is right behind it, you cannot see it in the picture. The pepper plant is almost as tall as the tomato plant. Both plants have developed a number of blossoms, so it looks like I will be getting plenty of things to harvest again. The tomato has developed several small green tomatoes already that should be ready to harvest in a couple of weeks.
In the foreground is the spaghetti squash plant that I got from Lowes this past weekend for about $3.00. The back of the vegetable patch has two roses and a couple of Asiatic lilies. The roses were from Aldi as well and were less than $5, while the Asiatic lilies were bought at Lowes on clearance for $3.00. Overall, a fairly small initial investment. And with one more pepper plant from Lowes for $3.00 and both cilantro and chives returning from last years, the garden is set for this year.
I like to add some flowers to my little vegetable garden since the roses and lilies provide some color throughout the year. With the patch visible from the street, I hate to just have green vegetables and herbs in it and the colorful blooms of flowers on the side of the patch facing the road make for a more a friendly entry to the house. Below is a close-up of the roses from Aldi that so far have done very well. The yellow rose was planted about a month before the red one and had already 6 flowers, now starting a second blooming cycle. The red rose just started blooming for the first time.
copyright Durhamonthecheap - my two roses from Aldi that are currently in bloom

I have never grown spaghetti squash and initially had planned to use zucchini, but the spaghetti squash looked really healthy when I was at Lowes and so I decided on this type of squash for this year. I still have plenty of time, but I am already thinking about potential recipes for the spaghetti squash!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Bookreview: All Pro Dad by Mark Merrill (president of Family First)

I chose to review this book through the Booksneeze program because Mark Merrill and his organization Family First have been in the news a lot recently and I figured this book would provide me with some insight about the author and his views on family outside of his appearances in various TV news shows - it proved to be an interesting read and I feel that I learned more about the Family First organization through this book than through the TV shows that mention and cover this organization in headline-type style.
The author makes it clear that this book is intended as an advice / guide book for fathers to become better at their game of being a father. The provides easy to follow, seven basic steps that every dad can follow to become a better person, husband and father. Each step is dealt with in one chapter and the author draws heavily on personal experiences and stories to exemplify what each dad can do to become a better father.
Besides the personal stories, he also includes insights from interviews with celebrities on the subject of fatherhood.  These additional insights make this book informative for everyone because the reader can learn how the author and his philosophy intersect with views of others and can form one comprehensive approach of fatherhood.
This book is a good read for every father and husband and provides an interesting book of collected insights into fatherhood.

All Pro Dad: Seven Essentials to Be a Hero to Your Kids
The book is available through amazon.com - direct link here

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book through booksneeze.com in exchange for an honest review. The opinion expressed in this review are my own and have not been influenced by either booksneeze or the author.

EBAY in Germany - name is the same, but boy, is it different!

One of reasons I traveled to Germany was to help my mother empty out the attic. Barbie dolls, smurf figurines, matchbox cars - all was supposed to be sold. I figured without garage sales, EBAY was the next best option. Especially with the rainy weather making flea markets and standing outside, trying to sell toys out of the back of the car rather unattractive, using the internet to reach a large number of people and selling items fairly anonymous seemed the way to go.
So off we were, getting fast internet was not an issue. We had a choice between cable through Kabel Deutschland and DSL through Telecom, we opted for DSL. I picked a catchy name and was ready to start selling. I had previously used EBAY in the USA and consider myself an experienced EBAY seller.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - starting page for EBAY.de

When I logged on to EBAY.de, everything looked familiar and I happily generated my first item for auction since we were given a number of free, no fee auction items, as long as we did not exceed the 1 Euro minimum starting amount.
As I was ready to publish the item, I was prompted for payment information. I had been hesitant to use Paypal since I did not want my mother to have to deal with online payments and electronic transfers. I had therefore advised her to open up a separate bank account to maintain an air gap as much as possible between EBAY and the rest of her financial information. We also limited transactions as much as possible to Germany to simplify shipping costs and potential legal issues. I am not an expert on German law, but looking over other EBAY ads scared me. Commercial sellers usually include legalese covering at least a page about retracting bids, not following through on payments, buyers rights etc. Based on that alone, we opted for private selling, included some basic protective language and (by now) cautiously approached the EBAY.de adventure. I set up payment through the new checking account, advised my mother again to never mix this account with other accounts and we completed our first item for auction.
At the same time, we sold some old stamps locally and were informed about changes to EBAY.de regarding payment options. It seems that the lack of credit cards being used in Germany, have now made EBAY.de decide that all payments somehow must go through EBAY.de directly. This means that the buyer will pay EBAY.de and once the seller has notified EBAY.de that the item has been shipped, EBAY.de will then disburse funds to the seller. Why all payments have to go through this intermediary step of EBAY.de, I am not certain, but to me this seems like an over-regulation that is not necessary.  I remember from using EBAY in the USA getting checks for sale price and postage that I was able to deposit in the bank, then shipped the item. Any delay in shipping or issues with the items were addressed through the rating system, which is also available in Germany at EBAY.de. Anyway, fine with us to have this delay going through EBAY.de since our choice is really selling for any amount or paying someone to empty the attic.
copyright Durhamonthecheap - one of the items we offered and IT SOLD!                                                               
One lesson from EBAY.de, certain items are universally liked. Anything Barbie will sell as do toys involving cowboys and indians. The figures above fetched a good price to my surprise, I later on learned that the company that used to produce them went out of business years ago and the figures seemingly remained popular with collectors. I am happy that after 20 years in the attic, the figures will make someone happy. I used to play with them decades ago and figured that any price would be nice, having little hope of them fetching more than 1 Euro, they grossed almost 20 Euro!
Now came the experience of shipping items. The most headache I had placing the item up for auction was the tightly regulated amounts that you can charge for shipping. In the USA, I had picked whatever shipping method was most convenient and cheapest. Books were sent media rate through USPS, the rest regular package rate through USPS since I do not have a Fed-Ex or UPS location close by, but a post office within 10 minutes of my house. I usually added $1 or $2 for packaging to allow some money for tape and boxes as needed. I had planned to proceed in a similar manner for EBAY.de. No dice! EBAY.de will provide you a list of about 20 options for shipping items and include maximum amounts for each shipping mode - leaving at times less than 1 Euro space for shipping costs. Not sure why they call this an assist with transparency. As long as you include a shipping cost with your item any buyer knows what to expect. I never had arguments about the stated shipping costs in the USA since, as in Germany, the shipping cost was listed as an itemized cost with the minimum bid amount when the item was offered.
In Germany, people seem to routinely argue about shipping cost, not sure why. To some degree, I blame the over-regulation of EBAY.de that seems to entice people to seek more freedom by doing out of band discussions via email and outside of the EBAY.de control. I know we have lost some bids because of the shipping costs we have charged and our unwillingness to alter the costs later on. But if you bid on an item that had shipping costs clearly stated, do not argue with the seller after you win the auction. It's like ordering something at amazon.com and calling up Amazon to get cheaper shipping rates. Guess what, it will not work with Amazon and, at least for the items we sell, it will not work on EBAY.de.

If anyone in Germany is reading this blog and using EBAY.de, I would be curious to hear your experiences with shipping charges as well as EBAY.de in general.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - a nice length discussion on why shipping costs are so tightly regulated on EBAY.de