Study notes for The Wish Stealers

(My daughter and I independently read a marvelous book by Tracy Trivas titled, “The Wish Stealers.” To assist my daughter with the review of what she had read I took some notes. While it’s usually easy to find reviews of children’s books, it’s more challenging to find complete summaries. I know. I’ve searched for them. This summary has received little editing but it’s reasonably accurate and may help others who are looking to review what’s happened in a book. This summary is not meant to replace the reading. So read the book first. It’s a good one, which will be enjoyed by young and older alike.)

The Wish Stealers

Griffin Penshine – 6th grader; Griffin’s mom is an astronomer and pregnant. Her turtle is Charlemagne.

Mr. Schmidt Collectibles Shop; his great aunt, Mariah. She gave Griffin Indian-head penny and box of polishing cloths. Under velvet in box were 10 more pennies with people’s wishes. Mariah took pennies from fountain and stole coins and people’s wishes. Three rules to wish stealing: 1) Stealer’s good wishes won’t come true. 2) Stealer’s evil wishes will come true. 3) Stealer will be cursed for life if she tells anyone about curse and those she tells will never have wishes come true.

Griffin’s good wishes weren’t coming true. Back molars would have to be pulled. School didn’t smell like chocolate chip cookies.

Libby is BFF. She wanted to be an artist. Griffin wanted to be a rocket scientist.

Mariah left her a gold key at the office. Griffin went to Mr. Schmidt’s house and tried to return box. Learned that Mariah had died.

Samantha was pretty blonde student who wasn’t very nice. Was chosen to welcome kids to school and went on stage with toilet paper dragging from shoe.

Mrs. Gideon is English teacher. Teaching the play, Macbeth. Three actors dressed as witches. One gave Griffin the spell book with instructions how to steal and return wishes.

Samantha put toilet paper in Griffin’s locker. Handsome boy, Garrett Forrester walked by and noticed photo of Griffin playing bass guitar. Said it was awesome. Griffin blushed.

Griffin wanted to return wishes to people “on same journey.” Nine minutes for rocket to reach outer space. Mr. Luckner (science teacher) gave class no homework after picking up penny. Assigned science project. Garrett was Griffin’s partner.

Griffin went to bakery with dad. She met girl (Kristina) who wanted to be ballerina. Saw Samantha and friends in bakery and wished she looked like a queen lizard with warts.

Griffin gave Kristina penny with “most beautiful” wish. Penny dropped down water fountain. Samantha said Griffin was trying to buy friends. Samantha passed out cookie invitations to her party.

Dentist called and said he didn’t have to pull Griffin’s molars. Garrett suggested they blow something up for science project. Griffin wanted to do project on environment. Libby told Griffin that Samantha didn’t win “fresh face” contest because she broke out in a rash.

Griffin met Garrett as library. Books about alchemy (turning metals into gold). Maybe experiment could turn penny into gold. Mrs. Eve, the librarian, let Griffin and Garrett look at old books in library basement. Four metals – lead, tin, silver and copper  – into gold.  Read about magic mirror to see future. Griffin saw mirror like it in Mr. Schmidt’s shop.

Griffin told street violinist his music was beautiful. Garrett’s mom works late and his dad is fisherman in Alaska. Griffin’s mom took her and Garrett to dinner at Friendly’s. Garrett ordered a double-decker and Reese’s Pieces Sundae. They saw the witches there. Hurlyburly means “everything upside down, lots of confusion.”

Pennies for the Planet project. Kids collecting pennies to help save rainforest. Maybe could help science project.

Griffin’s grandmother to give art lessons to Griffin and Libby. They met Samantha at the art store and she bought all the paints for her birthday sign. Last tube squeezed on Griffin’s sneaker. Griffin wishes Samantha’s party would be a “total bomb.” Grandma told Griffin not to stoop to Samantha’s level. Griffin’s eyes were yellowish. Grandma said wishes are like snowflakes, powerful but fragile. Grandma grasped for breath.

Griffin worried about Grandma and coughing attack. She slipped “change the world” penny into her loafer. Paintball cartridges exploded at Samantha’s party. Garrett was dragged to party. Griffin and Garrett asked Mr. Blackwell for approval of science project. He wasn’t impressed. Griffin showed Mr. Blackwell “change the world” penny. He asked if they were numismatists.  Mr. Reasoner saw shiny penny and said it was probably worth $150. Dropped in janitor’s bucket. Mr. Blackwell approved project and said, “Let the band play.” Garrett wanted to change band’s name from “Five Cool Guys” to Alchemists. Garrett talked about rock concert “for the planet. Mr. Reasoner gave Griffin box for penny. Freckled-face redhead eavesdropped on conversation between Mr. Reasoner and Griffin.

Garrett read about alchemists turning lead into gold. Griffin tried to give Garrett penny that said, “dad.” He didn’t want it.

Griffin texted Garrett to apologize about penny. He wasn’t mad. Mr. Schmidt gave Griffin box that Mariah had left. It was labeled Mariah W.S. (wish stealer?). Lock was opened using golden key that Mariah had given her. Box contained Topeka Inn guest book register, red garnet ring, skein of old gray yarn and the black obsidian disc (mirror) to see into future.

Guest register had names with wishes written next to them. Next to Florence L. Daniellson was “puppy.” Griffin’s mom had mini-observatory on the roof. She said she would name baby Caelum or Caela after a constellation (means “the heavens” or an old instrument for engraving on copper). Griffin gave her mom the “baby” penny and she made a wish. Griffin put penny in box on high shelf in nursery.

Garrett’s band practiced in his garage. Griffin brought video of herself playing bass guitar but didn’t bring guitar. Garrett thought Griffin didn’t like his band. Another band member, Jason, said they would play for free at the science fair. Garrett’s mom said she couldn’t afford to send him to the music center for lessons.

A wish stealer is someone who makes people afraid to try. Griffin’s mom will forward email to Garrett’s mom about reduced rates at music center for really good students. Griffin listened closely to her mom’s suggestion that there are always a couple of ways to solve a problem.

Griffin Googled Florence Daniellson and Garrett’s dad. She learned Florence’s husband just died and that a story about Garrett’s dad catching a big fish just appeared in the Nome, Alaska, newspaper. She wrote to the funeral home and to the newspaper to contact both people. She wanted Florence to write back if she made the puppy wish. She wanted to tell Garrett’s dad something. Earlier she had learned that Garrett wanted a dog.

Griffin gave the street violinist the penny marked, “success.” He wished to be successful doing what he loved, playing the violin. He threw the penny in the air and it dazzled among the sprinklers. Griffin examined the ring, yarn and disc from the box again and found them creepy. She wondered if she would be a wish stealer like Mariah.

Samantha had invited Libby to her party but Libby told Griffin she wasn’t going. Some of the kids were angry at Griffin because Mr. Luckner used her “no homework” idea and had given them a month-long poster project. Griffin did her project on Marie Curie who discovered radium. Curie never gave up even when people thought she was crazy. Mr. Luckner liked the poster and Griffin’s face turned as red as her hair and the cardboard Mars whirling over her head.

Griffin found a “not invited” sticker on her locker. Kristina was angry at Griffin because her wishes didn’t come true. Griffin hoped Libby was still her BFF and was a little sad.

Griffin met Aurora, harp player, at her music lesson. Griffin wasn’t doing well on her guitar and Mr. Castanara told her to practice. Jason was angry at Griffin because he thought she said their bank stunk. Griffin went home and her mom gave her soup. They looked at constellation Draco (dragon). She dreamt of dragons with faces of kids at school.

Griffin went to school and saw posters about band playing at Science Night. Garrett apologized to Griffin. Libby told Griffin she was invited to her sleepover on Saturday night. Samantha asked Griffin if Garrett was her boyfriend and made fun of their collecting pennies for the earth. Garrett asked Samantha and her friends why they were so nasty.

Griffin went to crowded library and gave her classmates some suggestions for science project topics. Griffin looked for Stanley (violin player) outside library but he wasn’t there. Samantha asked if Stanley was Griffin’s other boyfriend. Kristina apologized to Griffin and said she was taking ballet lessons. Griffin’s mom invited Garrett and his mom over for turkey dinner to celebrate Garrett’s getting music lessons (drum) for free.

Griffin and Garrett broke wishbone and Garrett got bigger half and made a wish. Griffin’s mom gave the kids a tour of her observatory. Learned about Perseus and Andromeda.

Griffin and Libby went to Griffin’s grandma’s house for art lesson. Three witches came to the front door.  Grandma said her favorite quote from Hamlet was “Angels and ministers of grace defend us.” This made the sun burst through the clouds and the witches shielded their eyes and left. Grandma spoke about artist, Giorgione, from the 1400s. He painted clouds. Grandma asked for her shawl and the weather started getting worse. Griffin had made questions, including “why did her grandma have the same yarn as Mariah and why did the three witches come to her grandma’s house?”

Samantha put fake note from Garrett in Griffin’s locker. Griffin got letter from Mrs. Daniellson, who did make a wish for a puppy. She wanted Griffin to contact her. Griffin asked her mom if she could get a puppy for a friend.

Griffin got a FedEx package at her grandma’s. It was from Garrett’s dad who asked Griffin to FedEx him back and enclosed an envelope. Griffin asked her Grandma about helping people too much and her grandma told her about not helping a butterfly escape from a cocoon. It made butterfly stronger.

Griffin wrote Garrett’s dad and said that she gave Garrett a lucky penny. She mailed it at the school office (FedEx box). Griffin told Mrs. Davis that her grandma was writing to Garrett’s dad.

Garrett found out that Griffin wrote to his dad and was furious. He said he didn’t want to be Griffin’s science partner. Samantha and her friends made fun of them and said they were having a fight. Griffin ended up being tardy for class and had to go to detention.

Garrett’s mom told story about letter to Griffin’s mom. Her mom and dad wanted to talk to her. Her parents wanted to know what was going on so Griffin hesitatingly told her about Mariah and the box. He parents understood Griffin’s intentions were good but she shouldn’t have invaded others’ privacy. Griffin’s mom saw Mrs. Daniellson’s name in guest book and guessed that’s what the puppy stuff was all about. Griffin’s parents suggested she apologize and give Garrett time to calm down. They also suggested she sell the ring, which was very valuable, and use funds for Pennies for the Planet.

Griffin took the “popular” penny to school.  Samantha and her friends made fun of the “popular” penny. It burned in Griffin’s hand. Samantha dumped water on the penny and sarcastically wished that Griffin become super-popular. The penny flew through the air and landed in the water jug and the container lit up from within.

Science night at the school. Samantha’s project promoted her dad’s dermatology business although her face still had warts. Her mom was there and seemed nastier than Samantha.  Audrey had project about birds on Galapagos Islands. Griffin’s mom helped her set up her project. Had a moat of pennies surrounding a jar with the ring, which they sold for $1,100.  Garrett’s mom was there and said his dad would be coming to the science fair. Griffin met Garrett’s dad and he thanked her for writing.

Jason told Griffin that Kurt, the bass player, was sick and asked if she could take his place. She agreed if Garrett would help with her science project … deal! All the band member had their faces painted half in gold. The band played well.

Mr. Reasoner introduced the silent boy from the back of the metal shop, Alfred Coombs. He had been collecting pennies since he was five. He donated two full containers of pennies worth $350 to Pennies for the Planet. The Alchemists played one more song … Celebration.

School smelled like chocolate chip cookies the next day. Griffin and Garrett didn’t win the science prize but collected a total of more than $5,000 for Pennies for the Planet, including a anonymous donation of $250 from Nome, Alaska. The newspaper and TV stations were going to do stories. Griffin received a thank-you note from Garrett who said his dad was really cool.

Griffin’s mom arranged for Garrett’s dad to take the two kids to the Humane Society and pick out a two puppies, one for Garrett and one for Mrs. Daniellson. The picked two from a litter. Garrett said he would name his dog Nick (after Nicolas Flamel) or maybe Zosimos.

Garrett’s dad drove the kids and other puppy to Mrs. Daniellson’s rest home. Director Regan welcomed them and the two kids met Mrs. Daniellson in her room. Griffin told her about being given her puppy penny by Mariah. Then Garrett’s dad walked in with puppy. She cried and named the puppy, Penny.

Griffin arrived home to a locked house. She checked her cell phone and had voicemail from her dad that the baby was coming and that he was taking mom to the hospital. He told her to go to Mrs. Jasper’s house next door. Mrs. Jasper told Griffin her grandma was also in the hospital. Griffin worried about the three pennies she still had; “STOP,” “world peace” and the unlabeled one.

Dad called and told Griffin she had baby brother, Caelum. He was almost born in the car. Dad told Griffin grandma wasn’t doing well. She fell and hit her head. Griffin couldn’t stop crying.

Griffin visited mom in hospital and met Caelum. Mom and Caelum would be there two days. Then dad and Griffin went to visit Grandma. Grandma was in intensive care with lots of wires and tubes attached. Grandma told Griffin to find a box on her bureau dresser and look inside it. Grandma said it was almost time to be with grandpa and that all her wishes have already come true. She told Griffin about her dream with two white doves.

Griffin’s mom put baby penny in silver cup. Griffin went to Grandma’s house with her dad and opened box. It contained a penny, yarn, a blue ring and a flat white stone. Grandma’s health had improved and they moved her to the riverside of the hospital (Riviera). Grandma told Griffin about the time she met Mariah. She was young with red hair and saw her stealing coins from the fountain at the Inn in Topeka. Grandma asked her dad for three coins and wished “STOP” so Mariah would stop stealing wishes. Her second wish was for all lost wishes to be returned.  Grandma kept the third penny and decided to make her own luck in life. That was the penny in her box.

Grandma took the STOP and unlabeled pennies and tossed them into the river and made the same exact wishes. Grandma said the ring was given to her by Griffin’s grandpa and the stone was part of a red/blue stone combination that a jeweler had separated. Grandma gave the ring to Griffin. Grandma said a carnival man sold her the yarn and it was supposed to give you a long life. Griffin was going to put the polished stone in Charlemagne’s terrarium for a throne. Grandma was going to take the broken pieces of the black mirror and mix it with the potting mixture for her orchids. Grandma had wished for a long, healthy life full of love with her last penny.

Celebration of pennies for the planet had people eating organic popcorn and licking raspberry clouds of cotton candy. Wristbands were handed out (even to Samantha and her friends). Mrs. Gideon wore a Chinese skirt with good luck symbols and gave Griffin a copy of one of Shakespeare’s sonnets. Stanley had met Aurora and they were now playing music together. His wish had been granted. The bank matched the money collected for a total of $10,000. Alfred, Garrett and Griffin spoke at the ceremony. Griffin tossed the “world peace” penny into the town fountain and everyone in the crowd wished for world peace.

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It’s everyone’s fault; it’s nobody’s fault

The government is open again and my perception is that if all sides spent as much time and effort finding solutions as they did in pinning the blame on someone else, then this crisis may have been over a lot sooner.

I often have a feeling of ambivalence when it comes to the folks who seek and attain elected office. Sometimes I think they’re the scum of the earth whose major function is raising money for the next election while they sleepwalk through the jobs they were elected to perform. I guess there’s a thin line between doing something that is truly the right thing to do and doing something simply because you think it will garner you support and votes.

At other times I have true admiration for those who seek and are elected to public office. Let’s put aside the requisite large ego that is needed for just a minute. At best it is truly a thankless job that will have you making roughly half your constituency angry with you at any particular moment.

Those on the other end of the political spectrum will castigate you for nearly every move you make. Your base will express displeasure when you’re not forceful enough in your words, deeds and votes. Those in the middle will take the pontifical high road as the rest of us wait with bated breath to see what they think. It’s almost a little bit surprising that more progress hasn’t been made on immigration reform because you would think, along with sugar cane cutters, strawberry pickers, hotel housekeepers and minimum-wage manual workers, being elected to office is a job that Americans simply would not do. Only problem with that is most elected offices require citizenship.

I have definite opinions of my own relative to who should be blamed for the recent mess for which we were granted a three-month pass. My reasoning is certainly as logical as someone who has an opinion that is 180 degrees from mine. We could debate for hours and (excuse my triteness) at the end of the day we would go to the scorecards and the battle would be proclaimed a draw. Or it might be like one of those football games where the team who last has the ball wins.

My wish is that all parties could gather up the gumption to put political agendas aside and come up with a plan to accomplish a hierarchy of goals that everyone could agree upon. I might suggest three goals. Really fix ObamaCare, or ditch it. Slow down and eventually reverse the movement of the national debt. Ensure that taxing and spending do not bankrupt the current and future generations.

It’s a short list, albeit a very challenging one. Unfortunately my best guess is that those in charge will decide that it’s easier to continue pointing fingers at each other. Remember to wear eye protection.

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Khan should make Tebow a Jaguar

There are dozens of good reasons why Tim Tebow shouldn’t be playing quarterback in the NFL. You have heard them before and I don’t plan to relist them. Throwing all of them aside, I think there are two good reasons why Jacksonville Jaguars’ owner, Shad Khan, should sign Tebow. And I think they trump the reasons to the contrary.

First and foremost, the Jaguars seem to be in real danger of going winless this year. If you accept that premise, then there’s no real downside to losing with Tebow instead of losing with Blaine Gabbert or Chad Henne. Which leads me to my second reason. Tebow will put fans in the seats at Everbank Field.

Some Jaguar fans might remember when former owner, Wayne Weaver, dismissed Head Coach Tom Coughlin. At the time a coach by the name of Steven Orr Spurrier was unemployed and available. Instead we got Dolores Del Rio’s little boy, Jack. I know that Dolores and Jack are not related but I couldn’t help myself. Shortly afterwards, the ole ball coach was hired by the Washington Redskins where his tenure was mediocre at best. But does anyone dispute he could have done as well as Del Rio did in Jacksonville while negating the need to cover up several thousand seats that would otherwise go unsold and result in local television blackouts?

I won’t make this any more complicated than needed. And if you disagree with me, fine. I have no problem with that. But the Jaguars are a train wreck in need of a shot in the arm. Tebow could provide that boost. Sign him, Mr. Khan.Tebow-Jaguar

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Goldfish, grapes and ballet tights

A recent news story about a South Florida schoolteacher filing a $5 million class-action lawsuit against Pepperidge Farm for its use of “natural” on a package of Goldfish crackers has gotten me thinking. Perhaps I’m missing out on a pile of litigation and subsequent judgments that will have me living on “easy street” for years to come.

Often times I find myself meandering through the produce department of my favorite supermarket and taking note of the pricing cards for fruits and vegetables. Although most produce is available on a year-round basis, its pricing is still based on seasonal supply. When seedless grapes are being sold for $3.49 per pound, that means the supply is low. When the price of grapes is $1.69 per pound, the supply is abundant.

It insults the intelligence of shoppers for the supermarket to proclaim they are “saving $1.80 per pound” when the grapes are abundant. It makes about as much sense as a price card announcing shoppers are being “price-gouged $1.80 per pound” when the supply is limited, although I don’t think I’ve seen that strategy employed. Anyone want to join me in a $3 million class-action lawsuit to compensate for this misleading point-of-sale advertising?

While we’re in the grocery store, it might be beneficial to call attention to the practice of regularly moving products to new locations. Just recently I reflexively went to grab for a can a dog food while shopping and became quite flummoxed when it wasn’t where it was supposed to be.

Lo and behold I discovered the supermarket chieftains had moved all the animal products from the left side of the aisle over to right side of the aisle, and vice-versa. To add insult to injury, the checkout person parroted the usual, “Did you find everything OK?” Why are checkers programmed to ask that question? I figure the stress caused by my difficulty in locating dog food compounded by the grilling I received at the hands of the cashier is worth another couple of million when my suit is filed.

There are many other litigation-worthy situations encountered in supermarkets (shrinking sheet counts on toilet tissue rolls; non-enforcement of express lane quantity limits; and the 10-count hot dog package versus the 8-count hot dog roll conundrum) but let’s move on.

Recently I went online to purchase some ballet tights for my daughter. I had bought the same style of tights on the same website about a month prior and the price was $10.40 per pair. The most recent listing stated “$11.20 (was $13).” I saw dollar signs and a class-action suit in the making.

I noted the inaccuracy of the listing via an email to a company representative and after a little “back and forth” she finally responded to me by stating, “We do sell our products at a discounted rate for our customers and to help show this, (we) advertise the retail price as the ‘was’ price.”

I’m not entirely sure, but I think the person who told me this used to work in a supermarket produce department. In any event, I’m pretty sure if I call the law firm on the back of our local phone book, I’ll be a few million dollars richer before the end of the year.

I don’t like misleading, deceptive, confusing or annoying marketing techniques any more than most folks do. But, for the most part, they’re easy to recognize and easy to live with. Call out the merchants or manufacturers if the mood hits you, but let’s put a lid on the frivolous lawsuits. And use the time you save to enjoy some inexpensive Georgia peaches.

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Someone left the cake out in the rain

Customer service, reputation management and building goodwill: Some businesses get it and some don’t.

Just recently I’ve experienced examples of both. My daughter inadvertently (that’s a nice way of putting it) purchased nearly $25 worth of in-app enhancements using an iTunes gift card that was available on her iPod. When I discovered this, I contacted the Apple Store and informed “Jodi” of my predicament. To make a longer story short, Jodi issued a one-time credit for the amount back to my account. Jodi gets it.

Someone who apparently does not get it is Mr. Tom Mahoney, manager of MacArthur Park Restaurant and Pub in Rockville Centre, N.Y. The establishment is within walking distance of where I attended high school, although the school relocated in 1984. Events during my graduating class’s 30th and 40th reunions were held at MacArthur Park, bringing in several thousand dollars of income. This past January my sister and I held a family/friends gathering at MacArthur Park following private services at nearby St. Agnes Cathedral. The amount spent was in the four-figure category. I’m convinced my former classmates – their families, their friends, all of them – could point out instances of their patronizing MacArthur Park. Which brings us to earlier this year.

My friend and former classmate, Angela, who always has had a big part in organizing our class reunions contracted with Mr. Mahoney for our 45th reunion to be held at MacArthur Park. She paid him $250 of her own money as a deposit. The contract stipulated that the deposit be forfeited if the event was canceled less than three months out. Events beyond Angela’s control forced her to cancel the reunion two months and two weeks before the scheduled event.

When Angela first contacted Mr. Mahoney about the cancelation, he indicated that he hadn’t had to turn away any business because it conflicted with the class reunion. A short time later Angela asked Mr. Mahoney if he would consider refunding her deposit and that’s when his story changed. He lamented that he turned away potential customers during the 11th and 12th week out from the reunion and he needed to keep her deposit as compensation. When I respectfully asked him to return Angela’s deposit he told me,

When other customers came in they were told the room was booked because of the deposit. Now that (Angela) cancelled the room is not being used. I told her if I rebook the room I would give her the deposit back. It is not fair to me to lose the business. She is asking for her deposit back and for me to lose any revenue that would have come from booking another party that night.”

I tried to explain to Mr. Mahoney that the deposit he wanted to keep might be the most expensive $250 he ever “earned.” He would be alienating at least 75 of Angela’s classmates, many of whom had family and friends in the area and were likely current and potential customers for his pub. I indicated that there would probably be other high school reunions in the future. Mr. Mahoney declined to communicate further.

Let me make one thing clear: All of us understand that Mr. Mahoney is legally within his rights to keep Angela’s deposit. He can take the money and run and, barring his acceptance of replacement business for the canceled event, that’s apparently what he has decided to do. Most of us find it curious, at the very least, that Mr. Mahoney allegedly turned away business during the short, two-week window that would have allowed him to keep the deposit. If Angela canceled the event before that time period, she gets her deposit back. That, coupled with his changed story, adds perspective to this tale.

In the absence of a change of heart by Mr. Mahoney (or surprise, last-minute replacement business), I know that I will never set foot in MacArthur Park Restaurant and Pub again. I suspect I have 75 former classmates who feel the same way. And this quickly written piece is my first attempt at gaining additional support for this decision.

My suggestion to Mr. Mahoney is that he contact Jodi at the Apple Store and ask her why she refunded my $25. He might learn something.

(Author’s note: If you’re perplexed about the title of this piece, I envy your youth.)

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Airlines, don’t do us a favor

Read a newspaper article a few days ago about how the airlines are actually doing consumers a favor by charging extra for items that used to be included in the cost of a ticket. The theory is consumers appreciate an “a la carte” approach to paying for extras that are not critical to the flying experience. Not checking a bag. Why pay to have some baggage handler tear or dent it? Not bringing a carry-on that will require overhead storage. Why deny the airline the opportunity to enhance revenues and keep fares low by renting out your overhead space?

Here’s a news flash for the airline spin-doctors. Consumers do not want to pay extra for anything that was formerly included in the price of a ticket. And you insult our collective intelligence when you suggest charging for things like an assigned seat, early boarding and extra legroom are magically, mystically keeping fares down.

No one I’ve ever met has been able to explain or decipher the systems the airlines use to determine airfares. I suspect there is a link to supply and demand and there are formulas, algorithms and models used to determine prices. But consumers are basically left with the option of asking a travel agent to find the best price or jumping on a site such as expedia.com and wading through the prices offered by multiple carriers. Just recently travel sites began including fare taxes and fees in their listings, which cleared things up a little. But be aware if you use expedia or another site like travelocity.com, you will have to independently check Southwest prices, because they’re not included in the price searches. And Southwest doesn’t charge for checked luggage. So its price can be a little higher but still be lower. Understand?

I don’t think many of us minded when the airlines stopped serving those “delicious” meals on board. And, to be honest, it wouldn’t bother me much if they suspended cabin service altogether, provided they didn’t follow the movie-theater model and prohibit the carrying-on of food or drink and then charge you five bucks for a soft drink. Come to think of it, there might be a carrier or two that already does that. Of course, some modifications to my plan would be needed for transatlantic and other longer flights.

I’m not convinced costs to consumer are any lower than they would have been had airlines not gone to varied a la carte systems. Perhaps it has allowed some of them to operate in the black, but where does it all end?

You want a no-overbook, bump guarantee? That’ll cost you $20. You want a fast-pass to the rest room? Yours for only $15 more. You want to sit behind someone who didn’t pay the extra $10 for a reclining seat? You can keep the guy in front of you out of your lap for a mere $5. Want a red tag for priority deplaning? Ante up your $10 and increase the chances you’ll make your connection.

Flying will never be what it used to be. We consumers understand that. It’s a quick bus trip and a necessary inconvenience in today’s shrinking world. If we want to make it more tolerable and have the resources to make it happen we can always fly first class. Otherwise we’re looking to get through it as painlessly as possible and without having to hire an accountant/psychologist to find us the best mix of price and service.

My message to the airlines: Do us a favor by not doing us a favor. Keep it simple. Help us compare apples and apples and let your overall, consistent service earn you a profit.

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Almost an exclusive: Food prices rising faster

Even before I became Mr. Mom, I accepted the responsibility for grocery shopping in our household. It’s the one kind of shopping I almost enjoy. I see it as a contest between the store and me. I want the best quality food products for the least amount of money. I usually win.

During the past few years, and especially in recent months, it seems to me the price of food is going up faster than the price of most other things. However, this is hard for me to gauge because I don’t keep track of the price of most other things. I know for sure the price of food has seen a meteoric rise when compared to the interest rates my bank and credit union are paying on deposits. So I thought I’d do a little research.

In a previous life (1998-2012) I was editor of FloridAgriculture magazine, the official member publication of Florida Farm Bureau. For seven consecutive years (2002-2008) I conducted a supermarket survey and compared prices on 25 randomly chosen items in five different Florida supermarkets. These supermarkets were Publix, Winn-Dixie, Albertson’s, Food Lion and Walmart. The results from year to year were consistent. Walmart always had the cheapest prices; Albertson’s usually had the highest prices; and the other three stores traded places each year, usually because luck had them running sales on some of the surveyed items. The feature was popular with our readers and many of them complained when we stopped running the annual feature in 2009 – which is another quick story in itself.

The primary reason we put an end to the feature was because of the consistent results. I pretty much knew how the stores would finish before the surveys were conducted. But there was another, less legitimate reason.

One of our members, an otherwise nice fellow and capable dairy farmer, didn’t like the good publicity we were giving to Walmart because the big box store was a very tough negotiator when deciding what is was going to pay for dairy products. My guess is Walmart didn’t single out dairy but it is a very tough negotiator with every entity in buys from. This member complained to then Florida Farm Bureau President Carl B. Loop Jr. who very politely listened and then told him (I’m paraphrasing here) he liked the job his employees were doing and would leave the decision up to the staff producing the magazine. This happened during the last year or two of Loop’s presidency and serves as an excellent example of why I continue to have so much respect for this man.

A few years later the dairy farmer was serving on the board of directors under a new president and I decided to throw in the towel. There was a legitimate reason for ending the annual survey and I further looked at this as a battle not worth fighting in the larger scheme of things. But I’ve digressed.

In trying to decide whether food prices have risen faster than prices in general I decided to compare the results of the survey I conducted in 2003 with prices today. I picked Publix since it is where I do most of my shopping. And based on the results of this limited research, my suspicions have been confirmed.

For a baseline, I went to http://www.usinflationcalculator.com/ and discovered the cumulative rate of inflation between 2003 and 2013 was 26.9 percent. Then I went back to the July 2003 issue of FloridAgriculture and copied down the items and prices surveyed at Publix that year. I took the list with me when I went grocery shopping this past Saturday. The cumulative total for the 25 items in 2003 was $81. On Saturday these same items would have cost me $108.41, an increase of 33.8 percent. The food cost increase was about 7 percentage points higher than the cumulative rate of inflation.

Some increases were quite dramatic. Two pounds of ground beef would have cost you $3.98 in 2003. Ten years later the price more than doubled to $7.98. A dozen eggs went from $1.09 to $1.89. A pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream increased from $2.50 to $3.99 and an 8-pound bag of Purina One dog food rocketed from $9.99 up to $14.29. There was one bright spot on the price front with the cost of one surveyed item actually going down. In 2003 you would have paid $2.15 for a box of Hamburger Helper. On Saturday you could have gotten a box for $1.89 and Publix was running a BOGO sale to boot. Usually Publix has inflated prices on its BOGOs so this particular item didn’t fit the mold. But we’ll save that story for another day.

Here’s a list of the 25 items and the 10-year price comparisons (one disclaimer – the 2003 price for the Charmin tissue was modified because a four-pack was not available at Publix in 2013):

Year                                                      2003                                    2013

2 pounds green peppers                                $3.38                                                  $3.98

Head iceberg lettuce                                        $1.29                                                  $1.79

2 lb. Red delicious apples                              $2.98                                                  $3.98

2 lb. Chicken breasts                                        $4.98                                                  $6.19

2 lb. Ground beef                                              $3.98                                                  $7.98

24. oz. Breakstone cottage cheese             $2.39                                                  $3.71

Gallon store brand milk                                 $2.89                                                  $3.79

3 containers Yoplait Yogurt                         $1.80                                                  $2.25

1 lb. Kraft Deluxe American cheese          $3.79                                                  $5.99

1 dozen large eggs                                            $1.09                                                  $1.89

1 pint Ben and Jerry’s ice cream                $2.50                                                  $3.99

1 Lean Cuisine Frozen Dinner                    $2.79                                                  $3.49

Gorton’s Crunchy Fish Fillets                    $3.39                                                  $3.99

Freschetta Pepperoni Pizza                       $6.29                                                  $6.69

1 box Hamburger Helper                            $2.15                                                   $1.89

Splenda sweetener (100 packets)           $3.49                                                  $4.49

1 lb. Oscar Meyer bologna                         $1.67                                                   $2.99

1 lb. Ballpark Franks                                    $2.99                                                  $3.00

6-pack double roll Charmin tissue         $4.45                                                  $4.99

Reynolds Wrap 75 sq. ft.                           $2.93                                                  $3.99

Wisk liquid detergent                                 $5.00                                                  $6.49

Dial 3-pack bar soap                                    $1.50                                                  $2.19

Energizer 4-pack AA batteries                $3.29                                                  $4.39

Purina One dog food 8 lbs.                      $9.99                                                  $14.29

Total                                                $81.00                                  $108.41

Personally, I visit Walmart to buy selected items our family uses on a regular basis and where the price differential is substantial. One such item is a quart of half-and-half where the Walmart price is $1.94 and Publix charges about one dollar more. But don’t think all the prices at Walmart are lower. As the FloridAgriculture surveys consistently demonstrated, Walmart sneaks in higher prices on selected items and leaves it to the buyer to beware.

Also Publix still has a policy that gives you one item for free if it scans incorrectly or for more than the advertised or shelf price. Walmart will simply refund the difference after a lot of hoop jumping.

One final note: Food prices may be rising faster than other prices but the phenomenon in not making farmers rich. I’ll leave it to organizations such as Farm Bureau and others to ensure agriculture’s story continues to be told, thus enabling our nation’s farmers to continue supplying the rest of us with a healthy and abundant supply of food.

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