Hands Up, Don’t Shoot

This morning, all three of my children had nutella toast.

Two of my three children bit their bread into the shape of guns, and shot me.

My boy said, “Mom, hands up.”

I put my hands up.

“Bang.”

“Michael,” I scolded. “You can’t shoot once someone puts their hands up.”

I can’t believe those words came out of my mouth this morning.

Seems like really basic stuff.

I don’t pretend to understand what white men with guns see when they see black boys. I am stunningly naive about racism. I really have to get over this. So I can talk about it with my children.

So that they don’t shoot when someone has their hands up.

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In lieu of me being able to do anything except cry, I’m sharing this with you.

A Mother’s White Privilege

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I posted this to my Facebook as well, prior to the grand jury decision in Ferguson:

As a mom who has struggles with this, I’m glad someone took the time to write this post.

What I want my children to know about being white in America

The other night, M and I were looking at a picture of something. There was a little African American girl in the image. “I don’t like brown girls,” M said. I was stunned.

We talked about it, as much as you can talk about this kind of thing with an almost 4-year-old.

“Brown children aren’t different than white children.” “Don’t you like Brandon? And your teacher Heavan?” Both “brown” people at M’s daycare. “It’s okay not to like a brown crayon. It’s not okay to not like brown people because they are brown.”

It was calm on both our parts. M agreed that he liked Heavan and Brandon. But, man. Start early. Don’t be colorblind. Color matters.

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And this is the song that happens in my head when this shit goes down.

I know no one cares about my opinion on this. But staying silent doesn’t work for me. Not about this.

An Unsolicited Review of Mockingjay: Part 1

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*No spoilers*

It must stink to be a movie critic.

A couple of the reviews I read about Mockingjay said similar things: “Jennifer Lawrence is good enough to elevate a bad movie.” “Katniss is a drama queen, but I guess she’s allowed to be.”

Do critics get to just enjoy movies? Do they get to be entertained just to be entertained? Or do the movies have to have deeper meaning? Do they have to be based on true stories, or have unlikable characters, or end badly in order to be deemed worthy of a critic’s praise?

I am not a movie critic. I am an unabashed fan of The Hunger Games books and movies. If you want to dismiss the books as YA, that’s fine. Likewise with the movies. You read and watch what you want to, and I’ll read and watch what I want to. Cool? Cool.

I was completely sucked into Mockingjay. Edge of my seat. Chills. Reacting to Katniss’s reactions. And I’ve read the books. I know what happens. And I am still utterly captivated by the films.

Each of the actors — not just Jennifer Lawrence — embodies his or her character. Josh Hutcherson is heartbreaking as a slowly falling apart Peeta. Liam Hemsworth plays the wounded, cynical Gale to a T. Julianne Moore is chilling as the ruthless President Coin.

And Elizabeth Banks. Holy cats, that woman can act. As the ineffable, ever-loyal Effie Trinket, she almost steals the movie from Lawrence as far as I’m concerned.

The movie is not a word-for-word adaptation of the book, but it does a heck of a good job at getting at the meat of the action. Lawrence, as Katniss, brings us a reluctant symbol of rebellion. Her first “propo” is a disaster — awkward, badly acted, completely lacking the conviction that President Coin and her allies want from Katniss.

The way Katniss moves from that passionless symbol to the embodiment of the Mockingjay is convincing, to me. The way her allies — Haymitch, Plutarch, Prim, Finnick — get her to assume the mantel that Coin is obviously so hungry for Katniss to take on… it may be a little better done in the movie, because it doesn’t all take place in Katniss’s head.

Suffice it to say I was completely, utterly captivated. So much so, that when I thought the movie ended, I dropped a hissed curse word into a silent theater.

Sorry about that.

Clearly I will be back for the final installment, secure in the knowledge that they can do it again. I’m buying my tee-shirt now.

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Random Thoughts: The Anywhere But Here Edition

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More than half-way through the week, and here’s some stuff that is going on.

1. I had two posts published this week. Neither of them here. They are over at a site curated by my friend Emily Levenson. Birth Diverse is “a sacred space for mothers and fathers to share their stories of how their little ones entered the world.”

Gabriel’s post was published Monday; Flora’s post was put up today.

When Emily had first contacted me, I asked if she wanted to hear about all four labors. She was game. It’s true, I didn’t write much about Gabriel’s labor, per se, but I still wanted his story to be part of my story-telling. His story will always be part of mine.

1b. Dear lord, the photos I found! That’s what labor looks like people. No makeup, no grooming, swollen with IV fluids. I mean, in the image with Flora, at least I’m not in a hospital gown. Look at her little wee face! You can see that she was sunny-side up if you examine her eyes and forehead closely. She had a bruise for the first week of her life.

2. I am naming my left hip Gertrude because it is acting like it’s 75 years old. After a two-week hiatus from regular exercise under orders from my chiropractor, I am testing Gertrude again to find out what she is capable of. I have to modify everything I was doing. No impact, limited range of motion, lighter weights. BUT, it’s mostly working. I worked out last night and while I’m sore today, I am not in pain. And that’s an important distinction.

3. I volunteered to be on the school advisory board at my girls’ school, and I am on the STEM committee of the board as well. When I was explaining to my MIL that I had to run back up to the school one evening (and I took the children with me), she quipped, “Why don’t you get a dog, too?” I know, MIL, I know.

Anyhoo, I’ve been working on curriculum questions for teachers and students. I put out a call on my social media streams about having people in STEM careers come speak at the school. I got a fast and enthusiastic response from many people in diverse fields! I’m currently working with the school to schedule a day or week of talks. Which is exciting! And time consuming.

Children doing experiments

image source

4. Yeah, mom and dad. I’m on the STEM committee of my school’s advisory board. You read that correctly.

5. Last night, the children and I went up to Barnes and Noble for the school’s family night. It was, for me, a little too chaotic. I wanted to watch Flora perform on her violin and with the chorus, and that did not work out at all for me. Kate and M were too eager to shop and too hungry to deal. I caught some of her violin concert on video, but NONE of her chorus performance.

Sorry, babe.

6. This morning was a clusterfuck and I was sincerely wishing for the week to be over. BUT, we are descending Everest now. Starting tomorrow I get to have some fun with friends, children, and Dan — at different times and in different combinations. And then next week is a three-day week.

7. Which reminds me: I need to do my Thanksgiving shopping this weekend. Guess I better figure out what I’m bringing to dinner! Probably something involving squash as I have about six at home from my CSA.

What are you bringing to the Thanksgiving table?

Becoming a Better Baker

Five years ago, if you had asked, I would’ve said that I was a good cook but not a good baker.

What I meant was that I was a confident cook and an insecure baker. Cooking, on top of the stove, or even baking casseroles or pasta dishes, I felt secure in my knowledge of putting together recipes. I wasn’t afraid to experiment or substitute ingredients; I wasn’t afraid to try new things. And after adopting new recipes, after one or two times, I was comfortable making it from memory.

On the other hand, if I was going to bake cookies or muffins, I would obsess over a recipe. I had to double check every step and every ingredient. How much sugar again? How much flour? Baking powder or baking soda? Or both? And how much? I hovered over the oven, worried about cooking something too long and burning it.

Over the years, though, and especially starting about two years ago, I started baking more. A lot more. Currently, I bake almost every weekend.

And I love it.

Part of loving it, of course, is the fact that I know what is going into the baked goods. I’m not a rabid whole-foods, clean-eating kinda mom, but it’s nice to be able to pronounce all the ingredients in the cookies I’m giving my children.

Another factor is cost: almost three dozen chocolate chip cookies are super cheap when I’m baking them from scratch. All they cost is time, and if I can manage that well (not always a given), I’d rather bake the cookies or brownies than buy a giant box of granola bars from Costco.

This is what I’ve learned over the past two years.

1. The formula for baked goods is pretty much the same: butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla; flour and baking soda. Sometimes baking powder, too. Then, just pick the flavor: chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin? Applesauce muffins? Vanilla cupcakes with orange frosting; chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter frosting?

2. Baking soda and baking powder are not interchangeable. I didn’t learn this the hard way, thank goodness, but I was curious at some point, so I looked it up.

3. Keeping a well-stocked baking pantry just takes some attention. Like I said, flour, sugar, vanilla, eggs, baking soda, baking powder. Baking chocolate or cocoa. Confectioner’s sugar for icing and frosting. A hand mixer is great to have.

4. Brown sugar gets rock hard. I haven’t tried this tip yet, but keeping a slice of white bread in a ziploc bag with the open sugar is supposed to keep that from happening. Otherwise, stick it in the microwave with a damp paper towel for a minute or so. It’ll soften up.

5. Butter cream frosting is stupid easy to make. So is whipped cream.

6. Shortbread cookies aren’t stupid easy, but they are probably the easiest cookies to make. Although I’m still working on making them look pretty.

7. Parchment paper.

8. Sometimes I bake with whole wheat flour. The key to this is to not use 100% whole wheat flour. It can be up to 50% of the flour used. After that, it makes things too dense.

I sent homemade chocolate chip cookies to school with Flora for her birthday on Tuesday, and man, I really felt like Super Mom. (It doesn’t take much, people.) She said that everyone really liked them.

I’ve even gotten to the point that I’m willing to experiment a little bit. One of my recent brownie experiments didn’t really work the way I wanted (although they did *taste* good), so I’m going to try version B this weekend.

I never would’ve done that five years ago.

image sourcechocchipcookies

What new skill have you developed over the past five years?

Double Digits

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Dearest Flora,

“Technically,” you said to me as sat on the edge of your bed to say goodnight last night, “I don’t turn 10 until 11:11 p.m.”

You are a precise 10-year-old, concerned about rules and propriety, correct information, facts.

You are independent, intelligent, and inquisitive. You read voraciously and ask questions endlessly. You also like quiet alone time, watching TV and playing on the DS, and making LPS videos. You make lots and lots of LPS videos. And you draw — no blank pad of paper is safe.

You get moody and irritated sometimes — Kate can still get under your skin like no other. You got cranky with me when I made you put on a nicer outfit for school today.

You are doing well in school, academically and socially. You love science and social studies. You have good friends whom you enjoy being with, and you are friendly to everyone. You asked to go back to violin after the summer off, and you joined chorus. You also played soccer again, and you are a good, tenacious defensive player — and you are *fast*.

Zombie Flora

Unless you are being a zombie. Then you drag one foot.

Aside from your inquisitiveness, my favorite thing about you is your goofy joy. You love showing me novelty tee-shirts. “Look, Mom!” you’ll say. “Be Alert. The world needs more lerts.”

And you will laugh and laugh.

Novelty Teeth and Little Brother

Novelty Teeth and Little Brother

Your biggest worry right now is puberty. You have a lot of questions about physical changes, one of the biggest being “WHY?” I’m glad we got The Care and Keeping of You, Part I, because it gave you all the information you wanted, and you came to me with any left over concerns.

Your biggest loves are “weird but true” books, LPS video shoots, Rhett and Link, and (new this year) Nancy Drew. Your biggest hates… well, I don’t know that you hate anything per se. You are not fond of math homework (too bad), noises your sister makes — ironic, since you walk around the house WHISTLING and you sing in the shower — or being told you have to do something. You are slowly adjusting to chores, which I give you credit for. It’s a big change!

All I can say is: stay true to you, my dear Flora. You are totally and completely fantastic. I love the person you are, and the person you are becoming.

Flora in glowstick glasses

My Goofball of Joy

Happy 10th birthday, rainbow baby.

Love,
Mom

Not a Disney Princess

(Stole a writing prompt from here, even though I’m not NaBloPoMo’ing.)

I like vacations, and as my children get older, I am really enjoying being in vacation-y places with them.

But there’s one place — a vacation destination to end all vacation destinations — that I have no desire to experience as a parent. And that’s Disney World.

I don’t understand the attraction of Disney, although I have vague memories of being there as a child. I have not been harboring hopes of returning with my own children. It’s never been a goal.

I’m not going to make fun of people who like Disney. You do you, as they say. The appeal has just never been apparent to me. What is the magic of the Magical Kingdom? (Sincere question.)

ETA: I am also intimidated by the planning and cost that go into a Disney vacation. I don’t want to do it. I’d rather stay within a small budget, and rely on my Fodor’s guidebook.

One of my favorite family vacations was our trip to Cape Cod. Kate was still in diapers, which means M wasn’t even around yet. We had a great week, the four of us, in a little cabin up there, wandering around the little town. I mean, we found a trampoline park!

(OMG, I just took a few minutes to check out my blog posts from that 2009 vacation and LOOK HOW LITTLE MY GIRLS ARE. WTH? HOW IS FLORA TURNING 10 ON TUESDAY? *sob*)

We love weekends in the woods. Those might be my current favorites, too.

We take an annual trip to Seven Springs each summer for the extended Patton family clan vacation. That’s always a great time. Two words: pool time.

This summer, I am hoping we have the disposable income to travel to Chicago in June with the children for the Blues Festival. It’s just a city I’ve always loved, and I’d like to go there with them (and Dan, of course).

And I suppose that’s the thing: I like vacationing in cities, not theme parks. I like hotel suites with kitchens so we’re not going out to dinner all the time. I like zoos and museums and the possibility of an amusement park. I like buying tour guides and looking up family-friendly activities.

Again, I don’t have anything bad to say about Disney. I went as a child, and I know we went to Epcot, which was still new. It’s just not imprinted on me. Disney with the family isn’t a goal. Chicago, 2015, though. Definitely.

Oh, and IRELAND 2016.

More this:
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Less this:
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What’s a vacation destination other people seem to love that holds no interest for you? Where do you love to vacation with your family?

Breaking Bad Ruined My Sex Life: Addendum, The Good Stuff

I realize that my last post may not have been persuasive in terms of convincing someone to actually decide to watch Breaking Bad.

For as brutal as it could be it had some lighter moments. The chemistry between Walt and Jesse is electric. They could not be less alike (unless one had not been white): teacher and student, partners, foils. Their interplay is the center of the show, and drives much of the action.

Watching Aaron Paul inhibit Jesse Pinkman’s face was revelatory.

And it had some dead on humor. It was hard to laugh, because you knew something terrible was bound to happen sooner or later in the episode. For example, “The Fly” was fall-off-the-couch hilarious. The verbal play between Jesse and his friends, and Jesse and Walt could startle a laugh out of me, even when the humor was dark.

And it was almost always dark.

Bob Odenkirk as Saul Goodman brought much-needed levity to the show as a flashy TV lawyer who knew a lot of guys.

I do wish one of the women characters had been more outstanding or upstanding. Lydia was an uptight, neurotic mess; Jane, while delightfully quirky, ultimately chose her addiction; Marie was also neurotic and a meddling busy body. The much-reviled Skyler was too ambiguous in her loyalty and morality to be someone to root for.

Breaking Bad Ruined My Sex Life

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Dan and I reached the end of Breaking Bad last night.

Thank God.

I will admit, the last season was an exercise in watching to get to the end. Don’t get me wrong: if you like amazingly compelling television, Breaking Bad fits the bill. The writing and acting are amazing, the best television I’ve ever experienced. Did Aaron Paul ever win an Emmy for that show? Because he should’ve. Jesse Pinkman was by far the most layered, complicated character Breaking Bad gave us. He broke my heart — or, conversely, my heart broke for him — again and again.

I would recommend Breaking Bad if you asked me. Sure, go ahead and watch it.

Just don’t count on making it part of time with your spouse that will leave you with any desire to do a thing once it’s over.

Even when Dan and I were snuggled up together on one of our couches to watch Bryan Cranston’s decent into ego maniacal, obsessive ruthlessness, it was less about any kind of physical intimacy than clinging comfort. It’s not a sexy show — it’s the antithesis of sexy. It is almost completely devoid of sex, first of all. Second, Bryan Cranston in his tightie whities is not Channing Tatum in Magic Mike.

Sorry, Bryan.

As Dan pointed out last night, “It’s almost a joke by now how often we see Walt in his underpants.” That would be a supercut to avoid.

The other way Breaking Bad left no room for intimacy with my spouse is because we kept staying up late to watch it, making me too tired to get down. Not to mention that… well, Breaking Bad episodes often end with a stunning event that sucks all the energy out of the viewer in a big, rushing whoosh.

Here’s the part where I issue my *SPOILER ALERT*. If you haven’t watched Breaking Bad yet, and think you are interested — and, again, I do recommend it — you should stop reading now, and come back in a couple of days when I’ve posted something else.


My Thoughts on Breaking Bad, In No Particular Order

It’s hard to rank Breaking Bad characters in terms of likability. It’s actually nearly impossible. Excepting Walt Jr. and Holly, all of the characters were deeply, fatally flawed men and women whose motives and decisions were questionable at best. The majority of the characters exist on a sliding scale from sociopath to full-blown psychopath.

The levels of tragedy in Breaking Bad are nearly Shakespearean. I mean, no one survives, not really, even if they are still alive at the end of the show. Most people die. Even if a character doesn’t bite it by “Felina”, their lives are irrevocably ruined. It’s rather breathtaking.

I will confess: I never did get the hate for Skyler. As far as the flawed characters on this show goes, she was kind of a lightweight. I think maybe because of her greed? Her attempts to control the situation and her husband? I don’t know. Maybe I’ll see if Twitter can enlighten me.

Watching a television show that is on Netflix with one’s spouse is an interesting exercise. Because of our schedules, Dan and I didn’t get to binge watch Breaking Bad. I think the most episodes we watched in one night together was three. And that probably only happened twice.

Now, Dan did go on a couple of watching binges at a couple of points. It’s very compelling television, and I only got through one or two episodes at night before I went to bed. At one point in Season 3, he asked me to let me know when I was watching because even though he had gotten ahead, he wanted to start watching with me again. He especially wanted to watch the end of “Half-Measure” in Season 3 with me because he wanted to see my reaction. Which I believe was, “HOLY FUCK!… Walt is in so much trouble.”

While the character Jesse Pinkman was a champion of protecting children from the fallout of the drug trade, the writers of Breaking Bad didn’t hesitate to kill them off. I fully expected Holly to die (she doesn’t). I think I cried the most over the children, just like Jesse. The little boy in Spooge’s house, Brock’s brush with death, the boy on the dirt bike. Those situations were wrenching.

I think the thing I said the most in Season 5 while watching was, “I hate this show.” It never occurred to me to stop watching though, not when we’d come this far.

The finale was, I admit, a little too neat for me. Walter ties up his loose ends; he gets to tell Skyler where Hank’s body is; he gets to tell Lydia he’s killed her; and he gets to off the gang of psychopathic felons who stole his money and killed Hank. Seriously, why doesn’t Kenny look in the fucking trunk? Although I totally cheered when Jesse strangled Todd (“that Opie dead-eye piece of shit”). That death I was just fine with.

And, still, even with the too-neat ending where Walter both wins and dies, I’d recommend it. Fantastic television, compelling storytelling, and the acting was off the charts.

Breaking Bad

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Thinking Aloud: About Street Harassment

If you haven’t been under a rock this week, you’ve probably seen the video of the young woman walking in New York City. They recorded 10 hours of her walking, and edited it down to showcase men speaking at her.

I will say upfront that I do find the video problematic because the majority of men trying to engage with the women are black or Latino. Many people are glomming onto that fact.

I’ll tell you right now: White men do it too.

As a young woman, I lived on the South Side of Pittsburgh. As a young woman, I was regularly harassed on the the street: yells from cars, greetings from men I didn’t know, cat-called, followed, etc. etc. The majority of these men were white. Some were saying, “Hello! How are you?” Some were commenting on my assets (usually my legs). I can’t remember it being welcome. Even on the days when I was feeling attractive and flirty and had on a cute skirt. Random comments from men I didn’t know were not validating.

I’ve seen a lot of men on Twitter, on Facebook, in the comment of articles talking about this video protesting. “Saying ‘hello’ is harassment?” “My mother taught me to be polite.” “Asking someone how they are doing is wrong?”

If a person walking along greets every person he passes, or who passes him, I would say that’s not necessarily harassment. As long as one is greeting every Tom, Dick, and Harriet that he sees — fine. He’s just trying to be a nice guy.

But if I have walked 10 blocks, and twice on every block — or even once on each block — have heard some man I don’t know trying to engage with me, whether it was “hi” or “Smile!” or “What are you doing later, baby?” By the time I get to an innocent “how are you today?” I’m annoyed and feeling harassed.

Here’s the line: Is it about her or is it about the speaker? When a woman is walking along, lost in thought, by herself, why does someone feel the need to speak to her? Because it’s not about her. It’s about the speaker. He wants her attention, even for an instant. He wants to snap her out of her self-introspection for a second of feedback from her. Not necessarily harassment, but definitely irritating.

I can’t believe that street harassment works as a method to meet women or get a date. If that is the defense of the strategy — I’m not buying it. Has that ever happened? Does saying, “hey, baby,” to random women on the street score the caller a phone number? A hook up?

It is also about what happens after the attempted engagement. Does the speaker call after her again? “Hey, I said hi!” “Don’t you want to look pretty?” “Bitch!” That clearly crosses the line into harassment.

Does he follow her for any amount of time? That’s full-blown creep. (Did you see the alarm on that woman’s face when that man walked beside her for five minutes? I was scared for her.)

Here’s the thing. If you don’t think the way you engage with women in public spaces is a problem, please check yourself. Do you engage with everyone the same way? Why are you going to engage with someone you don’t know? Is it about you, and seeking validation?

Because if it is, you’re part of the problem.

If you have no expectations from the encounter, it may be okay, and the problem may be with the woman, who has probably been spoken to several times already. Just keep that in mind, too, next time you want to say hi to a pretty stranger. You’re probably not the first.

ETA: Think about the woman being your wife or daughter or sister. Is it still okay with you?

Hollaback!

image source

My Love Affair with Aldi’s

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It started out innocently enough. I was coming out of Costco, thinking of the five other things I needed for the week’s menu. And I realized an Aldi’s was right there, and that I didn’t need anything obscure. I was pretty sure Aldi’s didn’t do obscure.

So I popped in. I didn’t even need a quarter for a cart. I grabbed flour, orange juice, and one or two other things.

I decided next time I needed a grocery run, I was going to try Aldi’s again. I went the Friday before we went to the woods and got a lot of snacks (chips, crackers, peanut butter wafers, and fruit snacks), trail mix, orange juice, almond milk, coffee, half and half, dish soap, plastic wear, and paper bowls. That run cost me about $40. I know it would’ve cost me more at Giant Eagle.

Last night, I ran to Aldi’s again. Because I hadn’t shopped over the weekend, the stuff I needed for lunches and dinners were in short supply. On this run, I discovered Aldi’s weakness: no vegetarian options. No tofu, no vegetarian baked beans, no meat substitutes (nuggets, soy crumbles).

This will be a problem if I continue to shop there.

Last night, I spent $64.86 at Aldi’s (including three bags of candy to hand out at Halloween), and then ran to GE for another six items that added up to $20.

My Aldi’s shopping list would’ve added up to $101.33 at Giant Eagle (plus the $20 I did spend there last night). I determined this by filling a cart online because I was curious to see if I was really saving money. Line by line, I saved between $1 and $2.50 per item. This is even with several of the GE items on sale.

That’s not insignificant.

There are other things I like about Aldi’s. It forces me to use my canvas bags (no free bags at Aldi’s). I mean to use my canvas bags more, anyway. I don’t mind bagging, at all. I don’t mind putting my cart back myself. The Aldi’s I’ve shopped is very small. Four or five aisles of products — that’s it. Because the options are limited, no decision fatigue sets in. A shopping trip at Aldi’s takes me 20-30 minutes, tops. I can’t even walk from one end of the Market District to the other in 30 minutes. Aldi’s has organic options for most products.

This clearly will need further analysis going forward. I don’t know if this affair will last.

Aldi's Store Sign

image source, and another take on Aldi’s shopping

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