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