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.
Having struggled with infertility, I became one of those crazy pee stick ladies. Not just pregnancy tests! Oh no. Ovulation tests, as well. So, when I had the opportunity to test out a slew of Clear Blue Easy ovulation tests, I was super stoked. If you aren’t aware yet, this post is going to venture way over into the TMI territory. You have my full permission to stop reading now if you aren’t into that sort of thing.
Now, for my family and friends, I have to say that this does not mean we are trying to conceive the seventh. I find tracking my cycles to be helpful, no matter what stage of life we are in. My cycles are on the irregular side, so knowing when I ovulate helps me predict when I can expect my cycle so I’m not caught off guard like a sixth grade girl in gym class.
So, for the past three months, I have been testing various ovulation tests. First, I tried out the Clear Blue Easy Fertility Monitor. It is the coveted doodad among the TTC crowd. I have always wanted to try one, but never really could convince myself about the price tag. (Currently $103.69 on Amazon!) (This is NOT an affiliate link.)
This monitor tells you if your fertility is low, high, or peak. It says low when no surges are detected. It says high when it detects an upswing in your estrogen. And then it tells you peak when it detects the LH surge. Most ovulation tests only test for LH. Since this tests for estrogen, it can tell you that your ovulation day is coming long before the LH surge, which only happens the day (ish) before ovulation. You are most fertile before and during ovulation.
You set up the monitor between days 1 and 4 of your cycle. Buy it on day 6? Too bad! You have to wait until next month (or lie to the computer). It tells you when to test. It may ask you to start testing too soon for a long cycle and you’ll use a lot of unnecessary sticks. It only lets you test once a day in the morning. If it does not ask you to test, you cannot test. It is completely in charge of the tests. So, for me, it tells me to start taking tests on cycle day 6. I obey. On cycle day 13, it gives me a “high” reading. On cycle day 18 and 19, I get a “peak” reading after 5 days of “high” readings. It has me continue testing through cycle day 21. So, that is 16 tests for one month that I needed. You can disobey and not take a test when it tells you to. But you cannot take a test when it doesn’t tell you to. The actual test strips were completely indecipherable to me. From looking at them, I couldn’t tell what the reading should have been. The first day of “high” looked just like the day before of “low”. I couldn’t really track the progress with my eyeballs, only the computer knew. For these reasons, this was actually my LEAST FAVORITE ovulation test I tried. It just took too much of the science out of my hands, which probably appeals to most people, but not to me. However, I can see how it takes so much of the guesswork and the pressure off you as you go through your cycle. So people new to tracking their cycles this way or just tired of staring at lines and thinking about when to test will find this extremely helpful.
The next test I tried was the Clear Blue Easy Advanced Ovulation Test. (Again, I got this item free to review. That link IS NOT an affiliate link.) This one was new to me and I honestly didn’t even know it existed.
So, with this one, you have a handle that comes in a box with 20 sticks. The sticks look super similar to the Fertility Monitor sticks, but they are not, in fact, the same. Believe me, I tried to use them interchangeably, just to see what would happen. It didn’t work.
You put the stick into the handle. It only fits one way with the arrows lining up for you. You pee on the absorbent end (or dip it in a cup of pee). The little stick symbol flashes. A few minutes later, it either has a blank circle for “low”, a flashing smiley for “high”, or a solid smiley for “peak”. It does essentially the same as the Fertility Monitor. Measures your estrogen and LH, giving you a much better idea of those fertile days BEFORE you ovulate. Now, looking at these, I can see peak and not peak. I can’t with my eye detect the high reading. I like these MUCH better than the monitor. For one, they are much more affordable. ($35.98 for a 20 pack and the handle right now on Amazon.) For another, they are smart, but not TOO smart. You can still test whenever you want, however you want. It doesn’t record anything for you. I’m currently on month two with the handle and the battery is still fine. So, if you are wanting to go the super fancy digital route, this would be my recommendation. I just like the control so much better. Now, this is still not my favorite. But it is better than the Monitor, in my opinion.
The third ovulation test I tried was the Clear Blue Easy Digital Ovulation Test. (I received these free to review, so again, this is NOT an affiliate link.) Again, you have a handle that is reusable with test sticks that you change out. It came with one handle and 20 test sticks.
(The pink one is the regular digital. The purple is the advanced digital.) Your confused right now, aren’t you? Don’t be. This one ONLY measures LH. You get a smiley or an empty circle. A simple yes or no. Now, the LH surge happens about a day before you ovulate. So, this is giving you a much smaller window. You only see the surge, much like a traditional OPK.
The test packs color corresponds to the test stick. Purple are advanced. Pink are regular. (And the third is my internet cheapie pack.) I can actually visually confirm the results on this particular test. You see the result digitally. You see the result on the stick in the way you are used to. Kind of a best of both worlds kind of scenario. Price wise, they are currently the same as the Advanced on Amazon, so I am not sure why you’d go with the digital over the advanced digital UNLESS you are one of those people who gets a “high” reading for like, 10 days of the month. That would be annoying. My first cycle with the Advanced, I got 5 days of “high” before seeing “peak”. My second cycle, I got one day of “high” before seeing “peak”. I like these. I think they are a good, quick option. You can pee on the stick or in a cup and dip. That makes them more convenient than the internet cheapie. Plus, you’re not going to get line eyes, because it reads it for you.
These three tests are all positive OPKs. (A positive OPK is traditionally read as the test line- the first line, which is the right line on the top two and the left line on the bottom one- is as dark or darker than the control line. The top is the advanced stick which said “peak”. The middle test is a regular digital, which had a smiley face. The bottom is a cheap internet test that you use your own eyes to read.)
That brings me to the fourth ovulation test for comparison. The internet cheapie. (That is an affiliate link, because no one gave me these. I paid a whopping $11.99 on Amazon for 50 ovulation test strips PLUS 20 pregnancy test strips.) These are what I started using when taking OPKs. (OPK stands for ovulation predictor kit, which generally applies to any ovulation test these days.) On these, you’re using your own eyeballs and your own judgement on if the test is positive or negative. Again, positive means the test line (line closest to the pee) is as dark OR darker than the control line. You’ll see the line get progressively darker as you get closer to ovulation. I usually stop once I hit peak. But if you were to continue, you’d see them then get lighter.
I am a crazy person and keep these tests, so I can see the test progress. Also, you can see that I bust the digital sticks free from their casing to include them in my monthly record. Now, they say not to do this. So, don’t do this. But I do this. They are difficult to see, and if I were going entirely digital, I wouldn’t do this craziness. Also, the Fertility Monitor does keep track for you. And you can use any number of phone apps to keep track of the results. But I like to see the progress. I’m a crazy pee stick person. I told you that I was.
Because I am a crazy pee stick person, the internet cheapie is my favorite. I like to test ovulation twice a day, especially when I am getting closer to it. I like to see the progress of the lines. Now, for these, you do have to pee in a cup and then dip the stick into the cup. You cannot pee directly on these sticks. You’ll pee on the dye line and mess the whole thing up. I’ve done it. Don’t do it. Now, if you’re sitting there thinking, why in the world would I do this unless I am trying to conceive, maybe you want to read Taking Charge of Your Fertility. (Affiliate link. I enthusiastically recommend this book even though I do NOT agree with all it says about the topic of birth control and such. It is extremely helpful in learning to understand your body.) Tracking your monthly cycles can give you insight into your overall health. I like knowing. I am not a temperature taker. I track signs and pee sticks. You may not be that kind of person, and that is okay, too. All OPK companies will tell you not to use OPKs as a means of trying to avoid pregnancy. They’ll tell you not to use them for NFP or FAM purposes. I don’t see why not. It is just one of the many signs, so taken in context of the whole, it can be useful for that purpose, as well.
This was actually a fun experiment for me. If there was a science fair for moms, this would be mine!
It is finally here! Christmas!
Today, we celebrate the Jesus was indeed born to redeem us. He has come, and He offers us life in Himself. He has come, and He offers us hope in His name.
Our rescue has arrived! Our Redeemer has come!
We lit the candles of expectation, preparation, celebration, and incarnation! Today, we light the last candle, the Christ candle. The Christ candle is traditionally white, and in the center. Our Messiah has come. He is our light. He is our source of hope. He is at the center.
Today, as we celebrate the Savior’s birth, let’s remember that He offers to us the love of the heavenly Father. He who is the delight of the eternal Father came so that we too might be adopted into His eternal family. He wants to make us sons and daughters of His Father. He loves us that much.
While the Gospel compels us to share this message with those who do not yet know it, it also compels us as people who do already realize its wonder to rejoice and shout with gladness. Christ, our Savior, is born!
Christ has indeed come, and Christ will indeed come again! That’s good news!
· Enjoy the day!
· Remember that today is the first day of Christmas. Check back in for personal devotions through the 12 days of Christmas leading to Epiphany.
· Take advantage of the next 12 days to do all the Christmas things you didn’t get around to the previous weeks. It is still Christmas! Bake the cookies. Make the gingerbread houses. Do the crafts. There is still more time in this season.
He is almost here! Each week, we have lit a candle. We lit the candle of expectation, the candle of preparation, and the candle of celebration! This week, we light our fourth candle, the candle of Incarnation. What is Incarnation? It is the Son of God becoming flesh.
The Christian message is not one of escaping this life so that we can get a better one. The Christian hope is not that we can rid ourselves of our bodies. The Christian story is not of a God who from afar decreed that everything’s okay and we’re forgiven.
No, the Christian message, hope, and story are rooted in the fact that Christ became one of us to redeem us. He really did.
Does that stir you? It should.
The eternal Son of the triune God became a human person, a man, to rescue us. He really did enter the womb of a virgin and cloth Himself in our flesh. He really was born. Forget about what the hymn says; He really did cry when He woke up in the night when the cattle were lowing. He really did get hungry. And when he did, He also really did nurse.
Why? Because He loved you so much that He wanted to become like you so that you would love Him so much that you would want to become like Him.
As we go through this last week before Christmas, let us not let our eyes fill with the desires of this world, on the gifts and the glitter. Let us focus our attention on God made flesh dwelling among us. A baby who would rescue us all.
2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26
· Make a nativity. Draw it. Paint it. Use popsicle sticks. I’m sure Pinterest is full of ideas. Just focus on there being real people, a real stable, a real manger, real animals, and real baby Jesus there.
· Immerse yourself and your family in the songs of the season.
· Discuss the reality of what Mary would have been going through this week before her son, Jesus, was born. The travel. The hardship. Extend the discussion further and discuss the reality of His humanity. He was really potty trained. He really learned to walk and read and talk. He was really taught Scripture.
· Watch a Christmas movie about Jesus. The Nativity Story is a great one that really highlights the realness of it all.
“Why the pink candle? The rest of them have been purple.” If your Advent candles are traditional colors, you might have noticed that there are 3 purple candles, 1 pink candle, and 1 white candle. You also may be wondering why purple and pink at all. Why not red and green? Historically, purple and pink, along with white and gold, are the colors of Advent. Purple is a color that represents royalty and preparation. It is dark and serious. Pink, on the other hand, isn’t so serious. It is a color of celebration and festivity. A color of love and youth. (And if your candles aren’t purple and pink, that is okay, too.)
The first week, we lit the candle reminding us to Expect the Savior’s coming. Last week, we lit another purple candle (maybe) to remind us to Prepare for the Savior’s coming. This week, we light the pink candle (maybe) to remind us to Celebrate His coming!
The Advent of Christ is cause for celebration. Yes, we prepare ourselves. Yes, this is a serious season. Yes, we need to search ourselves for any need of repentance. However, we also recognize that our Redeemer offers us life and hope, joy and peace! He has come, and He will surely come again to put things aright.
And so, in the midst of the preparation, in the midst of our busyness, in the midst of our reflection and contemplation, we take pause and remember that Christmas is almost here and Christ’s return could be any day.
This is no call to weep and panic; this is the promise of the One who longs to put things back together. As His people, we look longingly for the return of Jesus, and we celebrate His presence in our hearts, in our lives, and in our midst.
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
John 1:6-8, 19-28
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
· During this week of Celebration, my family likes to do an act of kindness for our neighbors. We bake cookies, lots and lots of cookies, and we deliver them to our neighbors with our warmest wishes. Some of our neighbors know us really well. Some know us as those Christmas cookie people. We just like to spread some joy during this week. Some people might think it is weird. Some cookies may go in the trash. That doesn’t bother me at all. We are joyfully giving.
· Have a Christmas party! You could invite some friends, or you can have it just for your family. A special meal, a special dessert, maybe even some balloons. Celebrate the Savior this week!
· Make cards for people. Send out some cards, not necessarily Christmas cards, though you could include the kids in sending those out. But just make some cards to spread the joy and happiness of the week.
· Have a Christmas dance party! Crank up the Christmas songs and dance and sing an evening (or afternoon) away! Joy! Joy! Joy!
· Do something that brings you joy. You can ask each member of the family for one special Christmas thing they love and try to make that happen. Or you can take your list from week one, the expectations, and see if you can achieve any of those. Some ideas to get you started, drink hot cocoa and watch a Christmas movie, drive around and look at lights, grab a peppermint latte from a coffee shop, visit a friend or family member, drop off some toys for Toys for Tots. Just something that makes you happy.
· Remember yourself and your spouse. Do something for you. Do something just for them. They love chess pie, though you hate it? Make a chess pie this week. You love fancy nail polish? Go get a manicure! This is a week of celebration! Not just for kids, but for adults, as well.
Advent is a season of preparation, so we shouldn’t be surprised to find this popping up as the focus of this week. Just as a family expecting a new baby finds itself in need to prepare, so also does the Church find Herself in need to prepare for the return of Her Redeemer.
Last week, we lit the first candle of Advent, the candle of Expectation. This week, we light the candle of Preparation. We expect His coming, now let’s prepare for His coming.
Before the birth of Jesus, the whole world had been prepared for the coming of its Redeemer just as Israel had been prepared for the coming of Her Messiah. Christ came as the fulfillment of prophesy and the hope of the nations.
Well His arrival certainly caught some well off guard (*cough* Herod), it was anticipated by those who took His Advent seriously (the Magi from the East).
As we prepare this holiday season for the coming of Christmas day, we should be sure to prepare our hearts and lives for the return of our King and prepare ourselves each day for His “surprise” visits in and through others.
What would it mean to prepare for the second coming? How can we see Jesus in others?
Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
2 Peter 3:8-15a
· In our house, the second week of Advent is the decoration week. We wait to set up our tree and hang our lights until this week. We prepare our house to remind us to prepare for our Savior.
· Make ornaments! They can be simple. They can be complex. Make ornaments to prepare for the season.
· Set up a tree in your kid’s bedroom. It doesn’t have to be big. Just a small tree they can decorate (prepare) themselves. A reminder in their personal space to make room for Jesus.
· Continue discussing the second coming of Jesus. How do we prepare ourselves for that?
· Discuss the way you prepared for your children to be born. For some, you may have had to buy things. For others, it may have just been retrieving things from storage. Share with your kids that preparation process.
We begin Advent with Expectation. Christ entered the world as Israel’s long-awaited Messiah and the long-dreamed-of Redeemer of humanity. After the visit from the angel, Mary, “the maidservant of the Lord” (Luke 1:38), found herself expecting a son who she was to name Jesus (literally translated is “Yahweh saves”), for He would be the world’s Savior.
This week, we are lighting the first Advent candle. This first candle is the first. The time we’ve been waiting for is here! We light this candle with the expectation of what is to come. Advent is here! Jesus is coming! We can expect great things this season.
God has always shown Himself to be more than capable to meet the needs of man. Physical needs, spiritual needs, relational needs, financial needs- He is able to meet them all. What needs do you have right now? Can you remember a time when God met your needs? When we look back and remember the faithfulness He has shown in meeting our needs, it gives us the hope and expectation to look forward to Him meeting our current need.
Someone once said quite simply, “Faith is expecting God.” This Advent season, what are you expecting?
As we await Christ’s return, we do so expectantly. As we live our lives till then, however, we should expect to find Him in the middle of them. If we don’t, we should pray that He would walk into our days and help us to have eyes to see Him.
This week’s Scripture reading is as follows. Remember to look the verses up and read them aloud as a family. If you are personally journaling through this Advent, these are also the verses for you to read, write, and journal.
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Optional Activities or Ways to celebrate the week of Expectation.
· Give a small gift. I like to give my family a small gift at the beginning of Advent. Looking forward in the expectation of the Gift to come. But also, something to help them embrace the season. A child’s nativity playset, a book about Christmas, a Christmas movie, a new set of hot cocoa mugs for the family, a special Christmas doll, a Christmas sweater or socks. Just something to kick off this season with joy and expectation.
· This is the week we break out all manner of Christmas things in our house. The Christmas music comes out. The Christmas movies reappear on the shelves. The Christmas books adorn the coffee table. The play nativity is set out. The Advent candles appear on the mantle. We don’t yet decorate, but we do break out the fun stuff. Just a taste of what is to come.
· Make a list of what you expect this Advent. For kids, this can easily turn into a wish list. Try to steer them toward the more intangible aspects of the season. Time with family. Reading stories by the tree. Making cookies with Mom.
· Have a discussion about Christ’s coming. I put this in the optional activities for two reasons. One being that smaller kids might not be able to really discuss. The other being that you yourself might not know what to say. We are not all well versed of prepared when it comes to eschatology. So, perhaps you want to wrap you head around it yourself this week. Or maybe you want to open the discussion with the whole family. My kids tend to surprise me when it comes to theological discussions. Sometimes they are heretics and need to be “smacked down” (that was a joke, I don’t actually smack them) when it comes to heresy. But they often bring up good points and questions. Look into it together. Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.” Feel free to write your questions down and e-mail The Pastor or your pastor about questions you and your family might have. No one has all the answers. We don’t know all the ins and outs of the second coming. But that doesn’t mean we have to avoid discussing it. This week of Expectation is about expecting the coming baby in a manger and expecting that baby’s second coming on a cloud.
· Write a story about your favorite Christmas memory. Share them with one another. You could do this on your own in a journal, or have everyone write about their favorite Christmas memory. I am always surprised with my kids’ responses to questions like this and they seem to enjoy hearing Mom and Dad sharing about their memories. You could also make a list of your top 10 or something if you’d rather not write every detail of one specific memory out.
· Make a picture (draw, paint, color, cut out, art in some way) of you favorite part of Christmas. And I do this right along with my kids. We art together. The Pastor usually skips it, but I love it too much to let the kids have all the fun.