Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Butter Chex Ice Cream - Annual Wrap-up

Many have commented on how 2016 was a rollercoaster of a year.  Those who have followed the BCI Index know that only one product in that bundle actually produces variation.

I started this silly escapade to data check my perception that Chex cereals never go on sale.  That has proven essentially true at my home supermarket.  In the process, though, I've also seen some other patterns.  I've also verified that Chex are cheaper at Target.  Hold onto your hats.  Deep dive time.

Chex went on sale precisely 3 weeks out of 47 observations, always to 4 for a dollar.  I love Chex but prefer to buy it a lower unit price than $3.99 for 12 ounces.  Butter goes on sale for key holidays - apparently Easter, Father's Day, Bastille Day, Columbus Day and Christmas.  At my particular store, they actually jacked the price just after Christmas.  Ice cream is a wild ride.

The quarterly summary actually shows that ice cream is more expensive in cold weather months in Pennsylvania.  It's cheapest in the early spring.  Buy your Chex in Q1.  They'll keep essentially all year.  Buy your butter in the fall/early winter.  Chest freezer?  Probably worth it.


The cheapest ice cream crown is well-distributed.  Although the store brand has the lowest base price, the name brands are more often the cheapest by a long shot.  Some brand is always on sale.  Don't be a sucker by paying full price.  Mmmm, Breyer's.



 
 

Monday, January 2, 2017

Books of '16: Ann Patchett Recommendations

An alert reader noticed that Ann Patchett books received honorable mentions in both the fiction and non-fiction categories of my 2016 recommendations post.  She requested a full-on Ann Patchett review post.  I'm happy to oblige.  Ann Patchett is a National Treasure.

Best of the Ann Patchett Year: Non-Fiction

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, 2013

Having previously read an Ann Patchett novel (Bel Canto) and being married to a huge A.P. fan, I was intrigued by my friend Cassie Christopher's recommendation of Patchett's collection of essays.  This is one of those books that gets produced after an author has written enough magazine articles to collect them into a bound volume.  Except this may be the best.  One.  Ever.  Reading this book brought me so much pleasure.  It didn't really feel like reading.  It felt like listening to an interview - that's how completely Patchett captures her own voice in simple, straightforward, unguarded writing.  More than that, it felt like sitting in the backyard talking with a good friend one has only just met.  I loved it.  The title essay is terrific (and cagily placed towards the end, its loaded title beckoning the reader).  Also memorable were:  "My Road to Hell was Paved," which starts as a cheesy magazine assignment to rent an RV, drive around for a week and write about it.  That could be a disaster or a bore, but not in Patchett's hands.  Also, "The Mercies" about Patchett's adult relationship with her first grade teacher.  She's such an interesting person and such a fabulous writer.  This book was a joy. 

Best of the Ann Patchett Year: Fiction

Commonwealth, 2016

Paige and I got to see Ann Patchett on her book tour for Commonwealth.  On a rainy autumn Friday night, we joined a crowd of mostly older women in the lecture hall of the Carnegie Library/Museum complex.  In one of Pitttsburgh's more forgotten beautiful auditoriums, we were charmed by one of America's most subtly brilliant novelists.  When reading an Ann Patchett novel, one is in such good hands that one doesn't notice the hands.  In unadorned language, she creates characters you care about in a world that interests you.  She regularly says that she only writes one story a bunch of different ways: two groups of people are put together in one space and forced to make a community.  In Commonwealth, those two groups are family units; broken family units pasted together into a new unit.  Patchett covers a lot of ground in time and in the lives of her characters without creating an epic.  Rather, she covers that ground in a chain of moments - pearls adding up to a shimmering whole.  I was sad when the book ended. 
The author hands Paige her signed copy



Sunday, January 1, 2017

Books of '16: Recommendations

When reading works of any length feels like a pastime in peril, choosing wisely feels more important than ever.  In service of helping you choose wisely, some recommendations from among the books I read this year:

Best of the Year: Non-fiction

Feeding the Mouth that Bites You; A Complete Guide to Parenting Adolescents and Launching Them into the World, Kenneth Wilgus, 2015

Our church's youth pastor, Alex Banfield Hicks, gave us a copy of this book.  My competent wife read it first.  Wilgus provides a framework for "planned emancipation" and points out how what adolescents need from their parents differs from what children need from their parents.  Adolescents are searching for the answer "when will I be an adult?"  He somewhat crankily calls out adults for failing to answer that question for themselves and getting confused in their own immaturity about how to relate to their teenagers.  I crankily agree with him.  Not to give away the store, but Wilgus implores us to get real about what we can't control in our teenager's lives and explicitly cede that control to them. In so doing, we trade control we didn't have for influence we still can have and which our teenagers need.  In one analogy, he says it is easier for a judge to impart moral lessons than a cop.  Because I read this at home while also reading professional books relevant to my new job at work, I found myself slogging through some of this book.  But it's very valuable and gave us a new framework through which to think about parenting adolescents and some useful tactics to put that framework into motion.

Honorable Mentions: Non-fiction
Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates, 2015
This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, Ann Patchett, 2013

Best of the Year: Fiction

Old Filth, Jane Gardam, 2004

My competent wife loved Old Filth.  Her law school classmate, Cassie Christopher, did too.  Perhaps it's because the eponymous protagonist is an English solicitor who makes his career in Hong Kong.  Filth is an acronym for "Failed in London, Try Hong Kong."  This sublime novel beguiles with elliptical storytelling and well-formed characters.  Gardam depicts her various settings with rich detail in sparse language.  The novel covers a long sweep of time - a lifetime - depicted in bits and pieces with flashbacks and foreshadowing.  Certain aspects of the story we never learn.  We just have to take them on faith.  Actually, we apparently don't because Old Filth is the first book of a trilogy.  The competent wife has read the second book - Last Friends - and says that that one fills in the gaps.  This would be a very satisfying novel on its own, but I feel fortunate that there is more to read and discover about this one story arc and set of characters. 

Honorable Mention: Fiction
Commonwealth, Ann Patchett, 2016

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Books of '16: Stay-Aways

In my annual series, I tell you which books I really disliked this year.  Fortunately, I liked a lot of the books that I read in 2016.  In fact, I have no non-fiction books to ward you away from.  My public service will be to recommend that you don't read a Pulitzer Prize winning novel from nearly a hundred years ago.  Also, some honorable mention stinkers.  Dishonorable mentions?

Worst of the Year: Fiction

Alice Adams, Booth Tarkington, 1921

Alice Adams is a bleak book that I would never have read absent my goal of reading all of the Pulitzer Prize winners for fiction.  That project sometimes has me dipping back into the deep past for a title like this.  Tarkington won in 1919 for The Magnificent Ambersons, a story that captured the moment when a family's grip on power in its town gets overwhelmed by the growth and progress of the town and the culture.  That story had shadows but not like the delusional shadows of the striving Alice Adams and family in this book.  Reading about people being deceitful can be stressful.  Reading about people deluding themselves while deceiving others is downright squicky.  I will say that it's no wonder Tarkington won the 1922 prize for this novel.  It both captures a moment in the culture and feels modern enough now that it must have really appeared ahead of its time when it was originally published.  Unfortunately, a depressing and unsettling book is a depressing an unsettling book. Hollywood liked, it too; it's been made into a movie twice - once in the same year it was published and later in a more well-known version with a young, dewy Katherine Hepburn playing the title role.

Honorable Mentions
Bucky F*cking Dent, David Duchovny (whom I love), 2016
Shampoo Planet, Douglas Coupland (whom I adore), 1992

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Butter Chex Ice Cream - Third Quarter

I hope you're sitting down.  In this data update, I shall reveal that the only thing that goes on sale at my grocery store more rarely than butter is Chex cereal.  It's gonna be 'uge.

 Multiple brands attempt to manipulate shoppers into pulling the trigger on ice cream way more frequently than the store does with its own brand.
 

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Pirates Predictions: 2016 Wrap-up

Unlike last season, when the most optimistic among us (Charlie) was closest to the final win prediction, this year, pessimism wins. Paige predicted a solid winning season, but she predicted the least solid winning season among us.  Everyone except Dad has won this contest at least once in our six years of officially competing.  Next year is my year.  I feel it.  Also, the Pirates year.  If, you know, the Cubs decide to stop playing baseball.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Butter Chex Ice Cream - Second Quarter Update

Still tracking prices on a bundle of three items: store-brand butter, Chex cereal and ice cream.  The big excitement in the second quarter was when my main grocery store was reorganizing its products and therefore sold ice cream tubs and novelties for $1.50.  I should maybe not count it in the index, but then I wouldn't get to tell you how exciting it was to buy ice cream sandwiches and Klondike bars and rocket pops for $1.50.

Interestingly, some of the name brand ice creams exceed the store brand in instances in the first half of the year in which they have been the cheapest offering.  Perhaps that's not interesting.  Perhaps I'm writing this only for myself.