The Great Bridge Moral Panic of 1899

This was a newspaper clipping I found while searching for Sherlock Holmes parodies in various newspapers. I filed it away, but every once in awhile, as I’m weeding through a folder, I come across it again, and I really don’t know what to do with it.

So I’ll put it online.

I don’t want to go into the history of bridge at this moment, except to say that before contract bridge came along, there was a transition game called bridge-whist. Whist was tremendously popular, so bridge-whist took that game and made two changes: it allowed players to take turns as dummy, and the trump suit would be chosen rather than be left to chance. The first rule allowed players to take a break from the game and socialize (or reflect on their horrible play in the hand just concluded), while the second added another element of strategy, and something for partners to argue about later.

(The reason why I know all this is because I’m deep into finishing “Sherlock Holmes Edwardian Parodies and Pastiches I: 1900-1904”, and bridge-whist appears in one of the stories.)

This story originated in the New York World and was reprinted in the Cranford Citizen of March 4, 1899:

bridge moral panic

LONDON’S LATEST FAD

New Card Game Called “Bridge” Is Now ‘the Thing.”

Society in London has taken up a card game recently introduced and called “Bridge.” It is a very popular method of indulging the taste for speculation. This game has become quite the rage. It resembles whist somewhat with the additional attraction that it gives opportunity for heavy bets, which are quickly decided.

The Prince of Wales has abandoned baccarat for it, and at a party given in his honor recently by Miss Keyser, there were heavy winnings and losings in the anxiety of the guests to be in the movement. Society women with more money than brains and more vanity than both are paying as high as $75 to $100 for a course of six lessons from professors in the art of bridge playing, as skill enters into the game to a considerable extent.

The expert players who introduced it have been reaping a golden harvest from the learners. The losses have already been heavy in the cases of some smart young married women, and the rage cannot fail to end in scandal. The gambling mania is more rampant than ever in London society, which has recovered from the severe lesson it received in the South African and Hooley booms. The gambling in copper shares continues, though that boom has evidently reached its summit. — New York World.

Converting Peschel Press to Themify Review (part 2)

This is the second post in my Themify review. Last time, I reviewed Themify’s Tisa theme by showing you how someone who barely knows his way around WordPress installs the theme. There were a few bumps, due to certain assumptions I was making, but I think it went pretty smoothly.

Now, I want to build a page using Themify’s Builder option, a potentially cool idea that would allow me to build pages easily.

So I go to my Peschel Press site, where there’s a little more green space than I remember from last time.

themify review 2

For some reason, the art from my slideshow vanished. When we left the site last time, this is what we saw.

themify review
This artwork has three problems: 1) it’s way too big; 2) there’s no border around it; 3) there’s an idiot in charge.

Time to poke around in the documentation. Like many people, I don’t read the documentation, but prefer to wing it. Since something happened with the slideshow, so I type “slide” into the search box. This leads me in two links to the “Slideshow Front Page” section. Very efficient.

I used to write documentation for computer games, and one of the most troublesome problems occur when the software is updated, but not the rulebook. That’s what happens here. This sentence is slightly incorrect: “The slideshow mode is set as default index layout. To change the default index pages to something else: go to Themify > Settings > Default Layout and then select a different layout icon.” Instead of “Themify > Settings > Default Layout”, it should say “Theme Name > Themify Settings > Default Layouts.”

The trouble continues on the Default Layout page. The instruction at the top refers to the three types of pages: archive post layout, single post layout, and “the static Page layout.” The options for each section should run the length of the page in order, and it does for the first two. The third section, however, has been renamed “Default Page Layout.”

(Remember: All of this art is smaller on this page. Click to embiggen and press the Back button at the top of the browser to return.)

themify review index page instructions

So which section controls the Index page, which is the word commonly used for the front page of the site? And why does index in the instructions refer to pages that aren’t, such as archive, category and search pages? The only section that has a selection of post layouts to choose from is the top section, which doesn’t seem to refer to the index page.

Now I’m confused, and there’s nowhere obvious to go. Let’s try the front page and see if there’s an option there.

themify tisa review front page post code
The front page code.

Scroll down to the Themify Custom Builder box, which should have layout options there.
04-options

Hmmm. I’m not sure what to choose. Maybe move the Sidebar Option from “Default” to the one with the sidebar on the right. It matches what I have already, but maybe it removes the slideshow.

Click and Update. No change. Let’s look at the Themify Builder tab.

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Let’s try duplicating the page and see what happens. Ah, all it did was to duplicate the page and place it at http://www.peschelpress.com/sample-page-2. I was thinking it might duplicate the layout of the page and place it within the framework of the builder. It would show the slideshow, and I would delete it and save it as the new index page.

My fault (again, my assumptions tripped me up). Trash the page and try again.

So for now, let’s keep the slideshow and figure out how to tell it to display art. Let’s go to a post and see if anything referring to slide shows pop up. Nothing does.

I go back to the documentation page and scroll down. I’m at a loss for what to do next, so I’m hoping something catches my eye. There’s a link to documentation on the Default Layouts, so I go there.

This looks promising.

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So here the Index Layout does refer to the home page. In a bit of circular reasoning, it also tells us that the Static Page Layout “is the static page.” Good to know.

There is a Display Content option with these choices: full content, excerpt, and none. Since the Index page layout is also used to display information pulled from the database, such as search results and posts organized by category, I understand the difference between full content and excerpt. Full content shows you everything, the excerpt just a portion of it. But “none”? What does that mean? Why would you have that option?

I’m sure, once I’m told in simple words, what this means, that it will be blindingly obvious. But until then, I’m confused. That’s a major challenge in writing documentation. The writer have to stuff everything into their head first, and then imagine what it’s like to be the guy in his home office, after a day’s work, flailing his way about to find the answers.

There’s also a niggling thought that, maybe, Tisa doesn’t have a remove slideshow option. That it is designed to work only with a slideshow.

Which is fine; I like the slideshow. So how do I get a post to display it?

The Answer

By chance, I clicked my website’s News link, which took me to my blog. See something missing? I mean in general? Don’t bother clicking on it; the answer is right in front of you.

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Where’s my art? Each post had an image attached to it.

That’s the key to figuring out what happened. For some reason, when I activated Tisa, my posts forgot they had art attached to them, even though I could see clearly a Feature Image attached on each post’s page.

So I add a book cover to one post and resaved it. Surprise! The banner reappeared at the top of the page, along with the book cover.

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Click to the front page, and now my front page has banner art. Even better, it was sized correctly and not like the monster from last time!

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So all I had to do was resave all the posts. Breathing thanks for my laziness, for I only had four posts, this was remedied and I had a nice-looking website, only three days after I had promoted the heck out of it at Arts on Chocolate.

And then, as if that wasn’t enough humiliation, I found the options panel and discovered that the slideshow was optional after all.

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So, after more than an hour of fiddling with this, I ran out of time and never got around to setting up a page. That will have to wait until next time.

Grocery Shopping Strategies: Gas Points and Fixing Mistakes

Suburban Stockade Banner

Suburban stockade introductionLast week, we looked at how to use your Sunday grocery flyer and coupons to save money. This week, we’ll look at other ways grocery stores get you to spend more, and how to take advantage of those deals.

As an additional come-on to lure customers into the store, Giant Food offers gas points. Holders of the store’s loyalty card earn one gas point for every dollar spent on anything other than milk, half & half, and some other dairy products. Every 100 points earns a 10-cent-a-gallon discount on gas bought at the Giants that have gas stations, in our case the fancy one on PA39. Because of the way we drive, I redeem my gas points about every three to four weeks and receive a discount of between 40 to 70 cents a gallon. Giant gas is competitively priced to begin with, so this is a real discount.
grocery gas program
How does Giant afford this? First, many people who accrue gas points don’t redeem their points. They pay full price someplace else, rather than fill their gas tank with discounted gas at the grocery store. Grocery store gas isn’t any different than any other gas, and it comes in different octane ratings just like any service station. To which I can only say, thank you for subsidizing me!

Secondly, not every shopper has a loyalty card, so they don’t get the gas points. Again, thank you for subsidizing me!

Loyalty-card programs have one drawback; you’re giving the corporation permission to track your shopping. Does this put me in yet another database? It does, but in this case, it is a small price for me to pay to get the savings that I do. Since I do no social media and I rarely pay with a credit card, I figure my exposure to data-sucking giant squids is narrow. This is a personal choice, but loyalty cards do reward careful shoppers with better savings. I even get coupons in the mail from them, targeted to what I buy. It is your choice. If you want to balance loyalty card data-mining with the need for privacy, use the loyalty card and always pay with cash.

The third way that Giant supports the gas points program is more subtle. They advertise it far and wide: discounted gas! The store knows that plenty of people who might shop elsewhere come to Giant and hope that they’ll promptly turn into the ideal mindless customer. A customer who doesn’t bargain hunt, a customer who leaves one half of a BOGOF (buy one get one free) item on the shelf, a customer who pays full price rather than wait for a sale, a customer who impulse buys, a customer who doesn’t fulfill the requirements to get the lowest price. This person is a valued shopper at Giant; she opens her wallet and lets Giant vacuum the money. This customer subsidizes me, and when she forgets to redeem her gas points, subsidizes me further. Thank you!

Over the years, Giant has changed their gas points program. They used to let you buy up to 30 gallons at the discount price; it is now a maximum purchase of 25 gallons. This encourages people to fill up gas cans that they then top off their tank with later on in the week. I rarely do this, as we don’t use that much gas, so this is a way in which I subsidize those more organized gas users who show up at the pump with their five-gallon gas cans. Many of these people also have massive pickup trucks whilst I have a small sedan. They need to fill 3 five-gallon gas cans every time they buy gas for the tank in those trucks. I don’t have to. But, if we used more gas for commuting, I would fill up a five-gallon gas can or two every time I bought discounted gas.

Giant also has special sales tied into their gas points program. These are not as generous as they used to be. They offer a range of products, some on sale and some not, where if you buy seven items you earn an additional 40 cents off per gallon of gas. The choice of products and number needed to earn points varies from week to week. I check it every week, but since it tends to lean to heavily processed foods, health & beauty, and toxic cleaning products, it doesn’t always work for me. If it does, and the prices are good, I will take advantage of the sale. If not, I don’t worry about it.

Another way that Giant gives extra gas points that other people use to subsidize me is the gas points coupon. They run a coupon in the Sunday paper (home delivery or newsstand edition) whereby you purchase $50 (or more) worth of groceries and they give you 300 gas points (or 30 cents off per gallon) over and above what you would earn without the coupon. Once again, I routinely see customers who spend way more than the required amount and yet they do not have their gas coupon. The sale is there, waiting to be used, and yet people don’t bother.

If you feel particularly aggressive about maximizing your savings and minimizing your costs and you have the time and gas money, you should look at all the supermarket sale fliers. With your trusty price book, you figure out who has the rock-bottom price that week on peanut butter. Does it meet the price book standard? If so, you then go to the Weis supermarket, where you normally never shop, and buy as much of the peanut butter, at the rock bottom price, as you can. This is the only thing you buy.

In the marketing industry, this type of sale is called a loss leader. It is designed to get people to go into the store. Stores lose money on loss leaders but they make it up in spades when shoppers buy the loss leader and everything else. Only buying the loss leader is called cherry picking. Grocery stores hate cherry pickers as they have absolutely no store loyalty whatsoever and move from store to store purchasing only the very best deals. But don’t feel too bad for the stores, they calculate their discounts based on the presence of cherry pickers.

Cherry-picking requires time to read all the ads and more time and gas to travel back and forth between the various stores. You have to be very disciplined to do this successfully as the minute you start impulse buying on things you don’t normally see in your main store, you spent more money than the cherry picking saved you. You have to factor in your time and gas as well. If you live in a dense area, with many highly competitive supermarket chains, cherry picking can work really well. I don’t bother to cherry pick anymore as it isn’t worth my time or gas. I am so far along on the pantry principle that I can afford to wait until that item goes on sale at my price at my local store.

There is one final step that you take prior to leaving the grocery store. I keep track of my prices and write down the dollar value of each item I buy as I put it into the buggy. I round up or round down to the nearest whole dollar. This makes the adding easier, and I’m not usually off by too much. I subtract out any coupons as I go. This does two things.

First, I know approximately what I’m going to pay at the checkout. This is critical if I have limited dollars. I’m perfectly willing to put things back if I can’t afford them. A limited budget means I have to prioritize what I need the most, with the wants (like, *sigh*, mint Oreos) being left behind.

Secondly, if the cash register amount is way off, then I know that there is a mistake. As I’ve gotten better at this, the mistake nearly always turns out to be on the part of the grocery store cash register. Not every item is correctly rung up at the marked price. Not every coupon gets taken off like it should.

So after paying, I pause before leaving alongside the canned artificial baby milk display counter (formula is primarily made from discarded whey from the cheese industry with added vitamins) and I go over my receipt, item by item. This takes me about five minutes as I know what I bought and I know, thanks to writing down the prices, about what I paid for each item. I know what coupons I gave to the cashier. If there is a mistake, and there often is one, I get it fixed right away at the service counter.

Face it, if the cash register refused to ring up the 50-cents off coupon on any CareOne product (which happened to me recently), you are the only person who cares. And if you don’t get it fixed, while it is fresh in your mind and you have the receipt handy, you never will. You won’t remember to bring back the receipt the next time you shop. So I spend five minutes at the end of each shopping trip going over my receipt. Over the years, it has paid off in cash. I can prove my claim with the receipt and the service desk clerk has never, ever had a problem with giving me the money.

So pay attention when your groceries are being rung up! Now is not the time to get distracted. The cashiers don’t intend to make mistakes. In fact, it is very rarely the cashier’s fault unless she rings up an item twice. It is the computerized cash register system that is automatically making the error because the item’s price wasn’t entered correctly back at corporate. The cash register can only charge the price it was programmed with. With 50,000 items in a standard supermarket, it is a wonder that more things don’t get rung up wrong at the checkout.

So that’s how to maximize your food dollar at the grocery store: use the Pantry Principle, learn the store’s policies, read the ads, develop a price book, and stand up (politely!) when you’re being overcharged.

I’ll Be in the Same Bookstore as Craig Johnson on Sunday, If That Matters To you

This is not really about me, but about someone whose books I like.

craig johnson mechanicsburg

I first heard about Craig Johnson and his “Longmire” series through Deb Beamer of the Mechanicsburg Mystery Bookshop. Although he lives out in Wyoming, he has family in Philadelphia, and through diligent string-pulling, Deb invited him to the store to chat and sign books.

Much to her surprise, and I’m sure to Craig as well, a lot of people turned out. So many that the fire marshal would have pitched a fit and fell in it if he had seen how many people were crowding the store.

I saw Johnson for myself after reviewing “Any Other Name,” and learned a great lesson in how to handle yourself before a crowd (which I wrote about). I even picked up “Wait for Signs,” his collection of short stories, and loved it so much I wrote a review of it.

(Yes, I am late to the game. Because I don’t have cable, I didn’t know that there was a “Longmire” TV show. A&E cancelled it because its high ratings skewed too old for them, but Netflix picked it up, and fans can expect 10 episodes showing up in August or September.)

craig johnson mechanicsburg dry bones book coverSo I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that he’ll be back at the bookstore on Sunday, 2 to 4 p.m., at the Mechanicsburg Mystery Bookshop, to promote his new Longmire book “Dry Bones”. The event is free, but Deb would like it if you made a reservation for this event by calling 717-795-7470 or by email to MysteryBooksRSVP@comcast.net. At least so she’ll know how many chairs to set out.

I’ll be there to, where I’ll pay Craig the highest compliment any book reviewer can pay an author: by buying a copy of his new book.

Converting Peschel Press to Themify Review

Website design and I have had a long, contentious relationship. It’s not quite so bad as love-hate. More like love-fear-terror.

I love the idea of creating a cool-looking website.

I fear I can’t do it.

And when I try, I break the site and that creates a sense of terror.

I’ve done everything. When I started PlanetPeschel in the late ’90s, I was building web pages using Dreamweaver 3 from Adobe, typing in HTML code. When blogs came along, I joined Blogger, but making changes was like clearing a minefield using a pogo stick. Movable Type and Blogger were in their early stages, but I liked having more control over my code and chose pmachine (now called Expression Engine).

That’s when I learned that the one thing I shouldn’t be responsible for is coding. I loved doing it, but learning how involved dealing with documentation written by coders. I picked up what I could and filled in the holes using the “insert a piece of code and see what it looked like live.” Which is a lot like building a parachute by jumping off the Empire State Building with a bed sheet and four ropes.

Finally, WordPress. Pretty stable. Pretty easy to test things without destroying your website. The plugins were good, when they worked. Documentation was still wonky, but I had at least something I can build from.

Now we come to themes. WordPress’s free themes are adequate for the task, but basic. Perhaps they don’t want to compete too much with designer themes. Or I could be cheap. Or, I didn’t want to sink money into a theme when I wasn’t comfortable with my ability to manipulate it.

There were a couple of companies that I looked at. Elegant Themes, DIY themes, and Studio Press looked appealing. In fact, if you search for WordPress themes, you’ll find tons of possibilities. I couldn’t decide, and rather than sink money into a potentially losing proposition, I chose to wait.

That’s why I jumped at the chance to review Themify’s themes I came across their blog post. I had visited their site several times after coming across MelJean Brooks’ site (my wife loves most of her books, she’s reading “The Kraken King” now). In addition to offering the usual nifty themes, they had something called Builder that seems to imply that you can build individual pages in different ways. In the Venn diagram, I had found a company with appealing offerings with a price point that can’t be beat. I asked to join their review program and they accepted.

The only problem I had was that they wanted a review within a month. I was in the middle of preparing for Art on Chocolate, so I had to delay starting this one until that was done.

Not a Review

So instead of writing one review, I want to write several that give a running commentary of my attempts to work with Themify, sort of looking over my shoulder and cringing in places.

There’s a few things that I want you to understand before I begin:

First, just so you know my skill level, I know something about computers, something about software, something about programming, but I’m self-taught. I’m sure there are amazing gaps in my knowledge.

Second, I’ll be writing this in real time. I’ve had one session with Themify, so here’s the post about it. When I work with it again, I’ll write another one.

Third, I’ll try to highlight the assumptions I’m making about this software. I’ll probably make a lot of mistakes (I’m good at that). Don’t assume it’s Themify’s fault.

Fourth, all of these screengrabs are bigger, so click on them if you need the larger version. Use the Back Arrow key at the top of your browser to return to the post.

Let’s begin.

After getting the confirmation e-mail with the code to buy the theme, I visited their website and learned that I could pick up two themes. If you buy one, you get another one free. Cool! I have two websites to overhaul, so I’ll get one for each. For Peschel Press, I chose Tisa, which is MelJean’s theme. After a long look at the options, I chose ThemeMin for the blog.

Here’s what I didn’t know until now: Themify also offers three of their themes for free: Basic, Koi, and iTheme2. It would have been silly to pick them for my second theme if there was another one I wanted just as much, but I didn’t realize that until I bought the themes (see what I said above about my making assumptions?).

Next, I went into my WordPress dashboard and uploaded Tisa’s ZIP file, just like I would any other theme. It ground away for awhile, a little longer than usual, but I was patient and it loaded successfully.

The quick starter guide mentioned that it has an auto update feature. Which you get to if you activate the theme.

Except I don’t want to activate it yet, since I have no idea what will happen. So lets look at the live demo.

001-live-preview-top

EEEEK! Too big! Scroll down a tad.

themify tisa theme

At least that looks better. Seriously, that’s not bad at all. The odd positioning of the book covers below the “Peschel Press’ Offerings” headline is a problem with the TablePress plugin and not Themify. The menu bar at the top of the page has all of my links displayed, but that has happened with every theme I’ve loaded. You have to change the navigation menu, which . . .

I can’t find the option. It doesn’t appear to be there [I was wrong, as you will see]. If I choose the “Advanced (More Options)” tab, it kicks me out to my website design. Fortunately, the back arrow saves my bacon by bringing me back.

So, let’s activate the theme instead and go down the settings. Pretty obvious; until we get to “Welcome Text”. Huh? Type in “What is the Welcome Text?” and see. Scroll down, see Footer Text 1 and Footer Text 2, with a note underneath: “Enter your text to replace the copyright and credit links in the footer. HTML tags allowed. Enter an empty space will remove the text.” Nice to see full sentences to clue us in.

Let’s see what we got.

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Oooo. The illustration is still way too big (and it’s out of date; the craft show was in November). Gotta fix that.

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So that’s the welcome text at the very top of the page. I’ll take that out, but in the meantime, I need to fix that navigation menu. So where is it?

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where is it!

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where is it?

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there it is!

OK, now I see why it’s there. It’s at the bottom because you probably only want to set it once. What I missed (and you don’t see it in the screen grabs, is that when I was looking for it, the “select” option wasn’t in the box. The box was blank. I was looking hastily, and missed the “Main Navigation” title.

Next, I’ll add the social media links. Wish I knew for sure what they want. Easy for Twitter and Facebook, but Google+? I assume it’s my posts page. https://plus.google.com/u/0/+BillPeschel/posts.

They make getting there easy, there’s a link already in place once you open the “Social Widget” window below (which I didn’t, which is why you don’t see them there).

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I used the drop-down menu (not shown) and typed in all the links.

So where do they appear and what do they look like?

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A line of pretty small icons at the bottom of the page. I’m not happy with their location. I’ll look into fixing that later. For now, it doesn’t look bad, so I can live with it.

I think that’s a pretty good part of the experience. I understand that a page has to be tweaked, but if the individual elements look terrible, then I have to fix it right now, not later once I’m more familiar with the process.

So let’s fix that map. I would guess I can scale it down from 730 x 730 to 360 x 360 pixels. In WordPress, you see the code for your art in HTML. It can look like this:

[img src=”http://planetpeschel.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/011-winter-arts-show-300×188.jpg” alt=”011-winter arts show” width=”300″ height=”188″ class=”aligncenter size-medium wp-image-9323″ /]

Usually, I can change the “width” and “height” numbers and that changes the size of the picture. That works here, right?

011-winter arts show

EEEEEEEEK! Fixitfixitfixitfixit. This is live, going out across the internet!

Trash it. I call up the post and stab it like I’m killing a zombie.

How does the page look now?

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At least the news story is current.

Eventually, I figure out part of the problem. I was using WordPress’ 2014 theme, where choose a piece of art and tag it so that it would appear in the slideshow. Under Tisa, that option vanishes. I have no idea yet how to fix this.

So I’m scrolling down the Quick Start Guide and I come across a reference to featured images. One click and here I find:

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Then I remembered, from seeing a video about the Themify Custom Panel, that each post had one. So I pull the page out of the trash and scroll down and find this.

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No image. So where does Themify pull this out? All right, I’ll attach it, update page, and find this:

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AHHHHHHH! KILLKILLKILLKILLKILLKILLKILLKILLKILLKILLKILL.

So that’s where I’m at. I have the theme loaded and that’s about it for the moment.

At this point, I don’t know how to deal with the slider at the top of the page. I really wish I knew how it worked and what photo dimensions it prefers.

But on the whole, I like the way the site looks right out of the box. That gives me enough room to breath as I figure out what to do next. I’m looking forward especially to using the Themify Custom Panel.

Next, I’ll make a short punch list and dive back into Themify for another round.

Peschel Press at Art on Chocolate

It took the purchase of a canopy and the acquisition of a screen, a week’s worth of preparation and the soothing of rumbley nerves with portions of alcohol, but we made an appearance at Art on Chocolate in downtown Hershey on Saturday.

Art on Chocolate Booth

The event, which attracted more than 130 vendors, marked a promising beginning for what the sponsors hoped will become a regional event. There were juried and non-juried artists, food vendors, musicians, and plenty of attendees.

Issac Moyer
Guitarist Isaac Moyer provided beautiful music twice near us.
The organizers had a brainwave when they spread the booths out among several locations. We were in the middle, in Chocolatetown Square (actually a small park with a brick patio for the musicians). On one side, across the street, was a field with booths and food vendors, and on the other side in the blocked-off street were two lines of tents where the juried artists hung out. We easily had a couple thousand people walk through, but it never seemed crowded.

Spreading out the vendors spread out the crowds as well.
Spreading out the vendors spread out the crowds as well.

Art on Chocolate also marked another milestone for Peschel Press. It’s the first event where we had a proper booth set-up. For the Derry Twp. Historical Society’s Artisan and Authors Fair in 2013, we made do with a cardboard table, three books, and a patio umbrella. Now, we’re up to seven books, a line of tote bags, and professional-looking banners.

Fortunately, we sold enough books and bags to make our booth rental and pay some of the expenses. It wasn’t much, but events like these are valuable in other ways:

* We got to talk to potential readers, not just to spread the word about our offerings, but about their reading habits, what they liked, and in general anything that might be of interest. If nothing else, readers love to talk about books, and that’s always a worthwhile chat.

* We spread the word that we’re a Hershey business. People like to see something interesting that’s local, and we can provide that.

The duo the Jayplayers showed how to collect emails for a mailing list, and distribute cards and stickers, and sell their CD.
The duo the Jayplayers showed how to collect emails for a mailing list, and distribute cards and stickers, and sell their CD.

* We also got to see how other artists set up their booths, handled themselves, and sold their works. We’ve been to several of these shows, and vendors — when they had time to talk — were incredibly generous with their advice.

Art on Chocolate Everlasting Images
Photo by everlasting images of Hershey.
We also discovered Everlasting Images, local photographers who were taking free photos of the attendees. Fortunately, they were willing to risk their camera on myself as well.

* We got to meet and talk with people who love Hershey and work to make like here better: the board of supervisors, the volunteers (some recruited from the First United Methodist Church) who helped keep the festival going smoothly, the sponsors such as the historical society and the downtown association. We get to learn more about Hershey, and they can see us as valuable partners.

Finally, it was just plain fun to talk to the customers. There was the woman who has visited the William Gillette Castle twice up in Connecticut. She described the beautiful house, with its door handles all handmade, all different, and the little devices here and there that the “Sherlock Holmes” stage actor used to entertain himself. Then there was the South African who looked through the Agatha Christie books, and the BBC Sherlock fan who was happy to talk about shipping and JohnLock stories. I’m now happily into reading “Light of Pure Reason,” a popular pastiche she recommended at Fanfiction.net.

And I think that was the most important lesson to take away from the event: worrying about your sales is fruitless (that’s for after the event). What’s important is to make your booth look the way you want it, make sure everything’s there, and then once the customers come in, focus on enjoying the moment. If you can do that, then you’ve won.

Even Gmail Nods Sometime

I route all of my email through Gmail, which, for the price of them “reading” at my dull messages for marketing purposes, they do an effective job on spam. When I was using Thunderbird years ago, I had to install anti-spam software and teach it to filter messages, and then I had to go through and weed out easily a hundred emails a week. Nowadays, I may get 3-5 messages in the spam folder.

google spam dilbertExcept for one email from Navy Federal Credit Union, which it apparently nuked as spam — I received a letter from them recently about it — Google has been incredible at hashing my spam. Which makes seeing this in my Inbox today a rare occasion:

Nice to contact you,and actually if you don’t mind I am placing a trial order for the items.This order will help me to evaluate your product(s) quality and if I am satisfied I will place a bigger order soon.

The quantity for this first order will not be much because I have to check the quality of your product(s) and if it passes our quality test be sure to receive more orders, I hope it is possible to make arrangement to ship the product(s) to United States before ending this month?

NOTE: we have added your email to our server list and database please log -in the trade portal with your email and password to complete downloading.

I don’t know how Google let this one through, but it’s now reported as spam. With luck, Google will nuke it as well as its account: amina.jalloud58@gmail.com.

Coupon Shopping at the Grocery Store

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Good grocery shopping habits, however, like the price book, the Pantry Principle, shopping and cooking only from sales, sticking to a list, staying out of the grocery store other than once a week or less, and knowing exactly how your stores sales policies work will always save you money. You don’t have to buy specific brands for these policies to work. You just have to be paying attention.

So let’s open up the Giant Foods circular that appears in the Sunday Patriot-News and see how we can cut our grocery bill using coupon shopping.
snapple grocery coupon

We see that Snapple Iced Tea 12 Pack is on sale, BOGOF (that’s “Buy One Get One Free” if you read last week’s post). Personally, I would never buy this. The day I can’t make iced tea from scratch for pennies is the day my children put me in the nursing home. This product can be made at home for far less money. It’s like buying bothered water in bottles. Unless your tap water is contaminated, it will always cost you far less money to use tap water and put it into your own reusable bottle than buying it. And, this is far better for the environment as manufacturing bottles, filling bottles, shipping bottles, and throwing away bottles all have their costs.

But if you love Snapple, you’ll want to take advantage of this sale. When something is BOGOF, that means you get the second item free. It does not mean that you pay 50% off on the first item and 50% off on the second. People seem to believe that BOGOF is equivalent to a 50% off sale. It isn’t. A 50% off sale means you only have to take ONE item home. BOGOF only gives you the discount when you throw the second item into the cart.

Do people routinely only get one half of a BOGOF sale? Sadly, according to the cashiers I ask, they do. My favorite cashier, Evelyn, has told me that she tells customers to go back and get another whatever as it is free and the customer shrugs and says, “eh, too much trouble.” Are these people made out of money or are they bone lazy and stupid? Either way, they subsidize my shopping.

Here’s another trick: Coupons can be used with BOGOF purchases. The mechanics of this vary from store to store so you have to find out what your store’s policies are. Some stores let you redeem only one coupon per pair; other stores let you attach one coupon per item. If you buy the Snapple BOGOF at, say, $6 for the set and you redeem two dollar-off coupons, one for each 12-pack, you pay $4 for two 12-packs, or 17 cents a bottle. It is still cheaper to make ice tea and put it into a bottle of your own, but if you lovvvvvve Snapple, it means you can buy more.

grocery-coupon-bacon

On the same page, we see that Giant brand bacon is on sale at 3 for $10. Since it does not say we must buy three packages, the true price is $3.33 per package. This is the price that will ring up per package regardless of whether we buy one, two, three or ten packages of store-brand bacon.

Let me repeat this, as I have had this exact conversation many times in the aisles of the store. Ten for ten dollars does not, unless stated otherwise, mean you have to buy ten items to get the sale price. It means a dollar each. Grocery stores use this kind of pricing information to get you to buy more than you might otherwise. 10 items for 10 dollars is a good chance to use coupons that ask you to buy four, five, or six of one thing to get an additional dollar off. Match the sale to the coupon and only buy what you need to to redeem the coupon, unless you are stocking up because, coupon or not, the sale is great, you use the product all the time, and you’d buy as many as you could anyway. Coupon usage will improve the Pantry Principle’s cost per item a little, but only if you routinely buy and use the product.

Now, the bacon at $3.33 turned out to be an even better deal. I have a loyalty card with Giant, and they sometimes send me coupons for products in the mail. Lo and behold, just in time for the sale, the mailer included an additional dollar-off coupon for store-brand bacon. So my final price for a one-pound package of store brand bacon was $2.33. The regular price is $4.99 a package, so I was happy with my deal.

When you study the sales flier, look carefully at the tiny print alongside each picture and its description. Sometimes, but not always, the store will tell you how much you saved. There was one with the bacon ad. See it? Let me blow it up for you.

These prices are so bright, you gotta wear bifocals.
Prices so bright, you gotta wear bifocals.

For the bacon, Giant tells me that I will save $4.97 on three packages or $1.66 per package. Not a bad savings, about one-third off the original price.

grocery-coupon-soda

But other times, the savings are miniscule. On page five, we see Giant-brand soda in a 12-pack for $2.77. In tiny print, we see that the savings are 22 cents. That isn’t very much, less than 10% off the original price. Soda can and does regularly get better sales than this, so if you must buy overpriced sugar water, then get a better deal. This is where your price book and recognizing a good sale pay off. When this soda is 40% off, you buy lots, enough to wait it out until the next 40%-off sale.

The only reason for buying soda in cans is so you can put a much cheaper can in you child’s lunch and keep them from hitting the $1.50 vending machine soda. The Giant-brand soda at $2.77 for twelve works out to 23 cents a can. If you have to have soda, buy it at the grocery store and not from a vending machine. Remember: if you consume it, wherever you are, it counts as part of your food budget. Food-like substances from vending machines still count.

Looking further into the flier we see an advertised item that isn’t on sale at all.

grocery-coupon-finish

On page five is Finish Dishwasher Tabs, $5.99 for a 20- to 32-count package. It appears to be a sale. It is not. I thought it was, but I checked the item at the store and the regular price is $5.99. The item is not on sale and is being used in the ad to fill out space. I should have realized this because if I look closely at the ad, there is not a BonusBuy arrow next to it, and no “Save xx cents” in tiny type. Sometimes, Giant gives you a slogan next to a sales item rather than an exact amount. Then the ad will read “Save with BonusCard.” I don’t know why they do this; I suppose because it is easier than calculating the savings weeks in advance. But in any case, the Finish Dishwasher Tabs are not on sale at all, despite what the ad implies.

Lately Giant has been doing another kind of promotion, one that rewards you for buying a mix-and-match minimum of food items from the same manufacturer. A good example is on the back page.

grocery-coupon-group-purchases

If you spend ten dollars (or more) buying from an assortment of products you will receive, in addition to the sale price, another $3 off of your total price. The way to maximize this opportunity is to buy as close to $10 as you can without going under. Sometimes, but not always, any manufacturer’s coupons will be subtracted from the minimum spend so read the fine print in the ad to account for this. In this case, coupons weren’t counted.

So if you choose Hamburger Helper at 10 for $10, and you buy ten boxes, Giant will take another $3 off at the register, bringing your final price for 10 boxes to $7, or 70 cents a box. The tiny print tells us that we save $4.90 if we buy ten boxes or 49 cents a box. If you make Hamburger Helper once a week, ten boxes will last ten weeks and cost you 70 cents a week plus the cost of whatever else you add. If you pay full price of 1.49 per box and you buy one box a week as you use it, you will spend a final price of $14.90 for the ten boxes. $7 bucks is less than half of $14.90 and your savings can be put to use elsewhere, like the hamburger. So you save $7.90 by buying in advance, and storing the Hamburger Helper in your cupboard as opposed to storing it at Giant on their shelf. If you don’t want ten boxes of Hamburger Helper, there are other items to choose from that you may use regularly. Redeem a coupon or two and you will pay even less upfront.

It is always worth carefully studying this type of ad, to see if the items are ones you use. You don’t want to go too far over the minimum spend as spending twice as much (i.e., $20 instead of $10) will not get you another three dollars off for each increment of ten. You only ever get the first 3 bucks. The best shopping strategy here is meeting their requirements exactly. Should you buy more stuff from this particular deal? Only if your price book says the prices are terrific deals without the additional $3 off.

Whenever you have a question about what, exactly, is on sale or trouble interpreting the ad, ask at the service desk. The staff can be quite helpful and they’d rather explain how an ad works in advance rather than void a purchase at the cash register after you bought something because you misinterpreted the sale.

The service desk is also where you get rain checks. Often, a store will run a great sale and then they will run out of merchandise. This does not mean that you can’t still take advantage of the sale. You go to the desk and ask for a rain check so when the merchandise comes in, two weeks later, you still get the sale price. Staple the ad with the sale item to the rain check so you have a picture of the ad, if any questions arise. Get as many items as you want or that the ad allows. Rain checks are usually good for 60 days, so you should have plenty of time to redeem it. I keep my rain checks in the front of my coupon box, where I won’t forget them. You can use manufacturer’s coupons with rain checks just like you do with any other sale item. You do want to tell the cashier that you have a rain check when she starts ringing up your groceries. That makes it easier for him and thus easier for you.

Next week, we’ll look at other ways grocery stores get you to spend more, and how to take advantage of those deals.

I’ll Be Talking Books ‘n’ Sherlock at Art on Chocolate in Hershey Saturday

I haven’t talked much about being publisher of a small press. I should. It’s been a constant education as we try new things, publish more books, and see everything grow.

How to identify Peschel Press in the wild. We'll be under the canopy in Chocolatetown Square.
How to identify Peschel Press in the wild. We’ll be under the canopy in Chocolatetown Square.
This time, we’ll be appearing at the first Art on Chocolate in Hershey today, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. There’s going to be about 150 craft booths, some juried, music, food, and entertainment.

It’s a new project started by the Hershey Derry Township Historical Society and the Downtown Hershey Association. They hope to make it grow from year to year until it becomes a regional destination for people who like to spend the day in the sweetest place on Earth.

Peschel Press will be in Chocolatetown Square Park, across from the Hershey Press Building. We’ll be selling all of our books, including the latest in the 223B Casebook Series, “Sherlock Holmes Victorian Parodies and Pastiches 1888-1899.”

I’ll be there, talking about Sherlock Holmes, writing, publishing, and answering any questions, including “what is that hat made from?”

I hope you’ll come out and see us, or just to spend a nice day seeing the art exhibits and listening to the music. If you’re looking for a parking lot, we suggest going to the lot at Chocolate Avenue and Homestead Road and walking the block down to the site.

Grocery Shopping and Coupons

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Suburban stockade introductionLast week, we talked about how to use a price book and the Pantry Principle to save money grocery shopping. This week, we’ll move on to using grocery coupons in the store.

Double-check the sales price. When you buy a product that’s on sale, make sure before you leave the store that you were charged that price. You would think that with computers, price changes would be handled automatically. But nine times out of 10, I’ve found that the sale price did not ring up at the register.

To handle this problem right, you’ll need to know the store’s policy regarding sales, coupons, rain checks, and how they handle overcharges. Ask at the service desk. They should have handouts for you to take home, and this information might also be available on your grocery store’s website. Do not expect the cashiers or stockers to know the fine print. The manager should know as part of her job, but the part-time teenage cashier may not know or care. You have to know.

Buy the Sunday newspaper. Every week, all the grocery stores in your area will advertise that week’s best buys. Most, but not all, of them will advertise in the biggest regional paper. If you don’t see weekly ads for the supermarket you like best, ask at the service desk where they do advertise. For example, Karns rarely puts its entire week’s worth of ads in our local paper (the Patriot-News) but they advertise their very best sales in the Sunday Patriot and also in The Sun, our local weekly. To get their full ad, we have to go to the store or find the complete sale listing in our area’s Community Courier.

It is always better to study the food circulars at home, with your list and coupon box. You need to be intimate and familiar with your stores ads to get the most from the store. The first things to look for is what is on super sale this week. These items will usually, but not always, be prominently displayed on the front page of the multi-page flier.

This is where money-saving shopping strategy directly conflicts with what we are taught to do by home economists. Never plan a week’s worth of menus, then try to match up what you want to cook with the week’s sales. Do it the other way around: study the sales first, then plan the menus around them.

Menu planning can make cooking meals more straight forward and less haphazard. I’ll be honest, I don’t plan menus a week in advance. At best, I’ll decide the night before what I’m cooking the next day so I can take the meat out of the freezer. But that’s because I’m a very good cook, I rarely use recipes, and I’m used to looking over what needs to be used up and then making do. I have a fully stocked pantry and all the cookware and seasonings I want to make this easier for me. But in order to do this successfully, you need to be able to walk into a kitchen cold and produce, using only what is on hand, a meal for five. And then those five people have to eat it without carrying on. This demands a high skill level. If you aren’t that good a cook, making up menus in advance may work better for you.

So, we study the ads, look at the sales and the prices, and determine what we stock up on and what we are eating for dinner this week. Does this take time? It does, but I earn a high hourly rate for this. If it takes me two hours (which is generous) to go through the grocery ad and coupon inserts and match them up with my list and my needs, I can easily save more than $20 on my bill. At the minimum, this is an hourly, tax-free rate of $10 an hour. That’s worth my time.

It takes time to become familiar with a grocery ad if you’ve never studied one. Looking at this week’s Giant Circular, we see many of the typical grocery store traps. These traps reward the careful shopper (that’s me!) by penalizing the careless, random shopper (not you, at least not anymore).

grocery coupons
Giant Foods flyer from 4/2015

How does any grocery store get away with giving great deals? By counting on the fact that your typical shopper doesn’t pay any attention at all. “Oh, it’s not worth my time. It’s too hard. No matter what I do, the store will win.” This is loser talk and guarantees that you will be subsidizing me. Like Vegas casinos, the occasional grocery store big winner is more than made up for by the large herd of losers. Every time you don’t pick up both items of a Buy One Get One Free pair, (we’ll shorten that to BOGOF) you subsidize my shopping trip. Do people do this all the time? Yes, they do. I make a point of talking to my cashiers and when I can, I choose the same ones (Hi, Evelyn!). It fits me into the community and the cashier is more likely to chat with me about store policy and how customers don’t seem to see the sale staring at them.

So back to this week’s circular. At the very top, we see the banner of Pack Your Pantry. I didn’t buy most of this stuff as they aren’t products I use or I already did way better last year, and I’m still using stuff up.

Do the Math

grocery coupons

First, we see Campbell’s tomato or chicken noodle soup at 50 cents a can. But, you must buy ten of them and only ten of them to get the sale. Additional or lesser quantities will be rung up at 80 cents a can. Buy nine cans, it will cost 80 cents each for a total of $7.20. Buy the tenth can, your total drops to $5. That’s right. It cost you $2.20 less to buy ten cans rather than nine. If you buy 12 cans, it is $5 plus an additional $1.80 for the two spares for a total of $6.80! Still less than buying nine cans! You have to buy thirteen (!) cans for your purchase price to cost more than buying nine cans ($7.60 vs.e $7.20, a 40 cents difference for four more cans). Many, many people make this mistake.

If you regularly use this soup, you might as well get ten heavily discounted cans. Otherwise, you buy two cans this week and then again next week and pay full price since the sale is over. This is the Pantry Principle in action and demonstrates how much you can save over time by buying ahead. This also lets you stockpile until you end up with several weeks of food on hand at all times.

The other common mistake people make with this kind of a sale is forgetting that you can apply manufacturers’ coupons to the sale. If you have a coupon for Campbell’s chicken noodle or tomato soup for $1.00 off of eight cans, they subtract this at the register for a final price of $4 for ten cans of soup or 40 cents a can. They aren’t giving you the soup, but you aren’t paying anywhere near full price either.

giant foods circular grocery coupons

On the same page we see Kellogg’s cereal for sale at $1.49 cents a box, but you must buy 4 boxes to get this price. As with the soup, smaller or larger quantities raise the price per box to @2.50 each. I had a pair of coupons for $1 off of two boxes so I bought 4 boxes of 18.7 ounce Raisin Bran for 1.49 cents a box for a final price of $3.96 for four boxes or 99 cents a box. ((1.49 x 4) – (2 x 1) = $3.96).

This is how I routinely spend about $150 per week total for a family of five for groceries. And yes, this includes personal care, paper goods, laundry soap, cleaning products, pet food and anything else you would normally buy at a grocery store. I could not do this without the Pantry Principle, excellent shopping skills, and being able to cook well from scratch.

I don’t do a lot of couponing as most coupons are for processed foods which I don’t use very much. But whenever possible, I do clip coupons and I do use them. I keep my coupons in a small index card box, filed in a number of categories. I don’t obsess over it but I do save enough money using my coupons to make it worth my while.

Back when people were doing super couponing, I looked into what was being done to get those amazing three buggies of groceries for 10 bucks. These women traded coupons over the Internet, subscribed to various coupon sites, printed out Internet coupons (I tried this and it wasn’t worth my time or paper at all), and sometimes indulged in fraud when they stole coupon inserts from newspapers in honor boxes and at the newsstand. Super couponers and fraud are the reason why so many coupons these days limit how many you can use in an individual shopping trip; i.e., no more than four of any given specific coupon in one visit, carefully matched to the items purchased.

Most coupons are for products I don’t buy. But if you do buy a heavily advertised product like Dove shampoo, you’d be a fool not to clip out those high-value coupons and save them to match up with the shampoo when it goes on sale. The key here is being organized enough to save your coupons in a file box, where you can easily retrieve them, and then matching them to an item, when the item is on sale.

This is not a high level of organization, certainly not on par with being a lawyer, but it still seems to be beyond many people. My answer to this is: would you pick up a five dollar bill in the street? How many five dollar bills do you see in the street? I routinely save five to ten bucks off of my receipt using coupons. It’s rare for me to go over this amount. I never see five-dollar bills in the gutter, week after week. Coupon money is free money, but not huge amounts. It is enough to be worth my time.

Coupon inserts are the other reason to subscribe to the Sunday newspaper, as this is the easiest way to get them. I sometimes get Catalina coupons at the checkout counter, Giant regularly puts out free magazines of recipes and coupons, I sometimes get them from my neighbors, and I pick them up off the ground in the parking lot. When I am finished with my inserts, I pass them along to my neighbors. I use less than 20% of the coupons that pass through my hands but I still save enough money to make it worth my while.

If you want to know more about super couponing, a book I liked was How to Shop for Free: Shopping Secrets for Smart Women Who Love to Get Something for Nothing by Kathy Spencer. This woman makes couponing and shopping strategies into a full time job and it pays off hugely for her. I was amazed. I also know I would never do this much work as I have other things I feel are more important. In addition to this book, there are dozens more how to coupon books available at any library. Read before you buy! Remember that if you don’t use products that are routinely couponed, and you don’t put in the time and effort needed, you will never save the money a coupon queen will.

Coupons only save you money when the coupon applies to a product that you are going to buy anyway. If you buy a product just to redeem the coupon (because it saved you money), then you just spent some cash that could have gone to something else. Only use coupons for what you use routinely and always stack them with sales. This gives you the biggest discount.

Author, Editor, Anthologist, and Owner of Peschel Press, the Publisher of Histories Behind the Mysteries