Saturday, January 31, 2015

How To Beat the FroYo Bar

Apparently I haven't had enough to do this week ---or, more likely, I am just choosing to ignore the chaos going on around me.  (I really don't feel like dealing with the kids on roller blades and longboards who keep zipping through the kitchen.)

So, I decided to finally answer a nagging question I've had for some time now:
 "Which toppings are the best deal at the Frozen Yogurt places?"

When I find myself in front of the lovely line-up at Sweet Frog or TCBY, I am overjoyed by the possibilities, but, because my tendency is to interject at least a small amount of angst into every possible situation, I also end up being slightly concerned by the fact that I don't know how best to stretch my money!  Since it's a fixed price per ounce, should I load up on yogurt and get fewer toppings, or is it the other way around?  And among the toppings which ones are the best deal?  Obviously I should get coconut flakes because they're nice and light.... right??

A few years ago my friend Trey* wrote about "Salad Bar Arbitrage" showing how certain grocery store salad bar offerings were more of a better deal than others, when you consider that you could walk over to the produce aisle and purchase them individually.  THIS is the kind of information I find to be very helpful and soothing to know when I am at Harris Teeter's salad bar.

I had hoped Trey had parlayed this concept into the realm of FroYo, but as he has a real job that actually keeps him occupied, he has not.  So it was up to me.

I announced this project to the kids yesterday, and since it had the words "frozen yogurt" and "toppings" in it, they were all on-board.  Off we went to the grocery store to price the various toppings.  My thinking in this is:   If I wanted to make my own frozen yogurt sundae and went to the local grocery store to get the ingredients, how would the costs break down?**

After a quick lesson, which none of the kids listened to, about how we would find all of the prices per pound and then divide by 16 to get ounces, we went through the aisles with our trusty notepad and wrote everything down.

Now for the resulting spreadsheet... drum roll.....

Sorted by cost, from high to low, here are cost breakdowns, at the grocery store, for the various toppings we could find***:

After all the spreadsheet fun, I began to realize that this information really ranged from the slightly useless to the largely useless.

Here is why it's slightly useless:

1.)  We all could have probably figured out that berries and nuts would be the most expensive.

2. )This does not account for volume.  For example, whipped cream looks like it's not all that cheap, and it's not per ounce, but when you think about how much whipped cream makes up a whole ounce (12 tablespoons), you start to realize it is a good deal by volume.

Here is why it's largely useless:

1.  I am going to continue to get the toppings I like, regardless of cost.  Even though almonds are a great deal from the consumer's standpoint, I'm still going to choose Reese's peanut butter cups instead.

BUT STILL, here are my takeaways from all of this useless activity:

1.) Now I know.

2.) If I want some berries or nuts, regardless or whether or not I want some frozen yogurt, they are cheaper per ounce at Sweet Frog than they are at Food Lion.****  So I could go load up a big dish of them and bring them home.....  No, not really.  I can still hear my dad's voice in my head saying, "Now, Amy, don't take advantage of the system!"

3.) If they are smart, and I found evidence that they are, the FroYo shops are well aware of how the costs break down.  They know that the actual yogurt is much cheaper than the toppings, so they want consumers to load up on that first.  Then, they may be strategically placing the more expensive toppings at the end of the line or in the harder-to-reach back row, so you will have already filled your cup with the cheaper ones.  They may also be putting smaller spoons in the more expensive toppings....

4.) Yes, the lighter toppings are still a good way to go!

5.)  Anyone who puts bananas on their yogurt is crazy.

And with that I have now alleviated, or perhaps added to, my angst at the FroYo bar.  I will now return my attention to the young hooligans in my home.

Asterisk notes:

* In college Trey and I wrote a paper on Frank Gilbreth, of "Cheaper By the Dozen" fame, because we loved his ability to maximize efficiency. I think Frank would approve of our desires to maximize the value of our dollar in salad/yogurt bar settings.

** I realize there are other, cheaper sources for these toppings, and surely the FroYo franchises are sourcing them much less expensively.  But, if I as a consumer wanted to replicate a similar sundae at home, I would likely just go to the local store (as opposed to going to Costco to buy 12 lbs of blackberries, etc).

*** Not included on this list are those goofy little popper ball things.  We could not find them at the grocery store, but even if we had procured a cost for them, I am pretty sure no one would care.  They seem to be a pretty polarizing item on the FroYo bar:  you either love them or hate them.  No cost analysis will get the haters to include them or the lovers to abandon them.

**** Our local Sweet Frog store charges $.45 per ounce.  So, by my analysis, consumers are actually getting cheaper pecans, blackberries, raspberries, walnuts and almonds there than they could at the grocery store!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Wild Birds

We've had a hawk in the backyard lately -- Colsen says it's a Cooper's Hawk.  He (she?) has been fun to watch but I never manage to have the camera nearby when we see him/her.  (Inevitably the boys run outside and try to talk to it and scare it away.)

Colsen did catch a few images on the camera one morning, though, while I was upstairs...

Of course Colsen announced soon thereafter that he wanted his future career to be a "nature photographer."  He still plans his careers pretty much hourly.  (Today's included being on a SWAT team and lawyer.)

Another day, the hawk was here (out our window):

Then, today, as we were out on a walk, we spotted this guy:
 And then when we had passed the house, Colsen looked back and noticed there were actually 2 up there -- one on the back part of the roof!

Meanwhile, inside the house...  Some BIRD-BRAIN did this to my wall last week:
He put this little sign over it....
 .... which, I have to admit, made me smile.

But he's still learning how to patch walls this weekend!

Friday, January 16, 2015

A moment in time

Once in awhile I feel like time is flying by and I just want to capture these little folks before they completely change.  So a couple days ago I set up little 1-minute photo shoots so I can remember them just as they are right now!

He had "enough" after about 20 seconds

Does mothering get any better than this stage??  I love it right now.

And I'm having one of those moments to savor even this afternoon:

Strider and 3 of his friends are playing pickleball and tetherball; Rayna is doing homework at the dining room table without me nagging her; Colsen and Miles are out in the garage "organizing" their tools and workbench; and the house even smells good because I'm making molasses cookies.  Yes, savoring this afternoon.

 (I had to take pictures through the window so Strider wouldn't be embarrassed!)

 (But I can't sit here enjoying it too long... I'm off to tutor a student at the library for the SAT.... but I enjoy that, too.  :)  )

Monday, January 12, 2015

Some NC representatives of the Buckeye Nation

So tonight is the championship football game between Ohio State and some other team.  If you lived in my house, you wouldn't be able to forget that fact for longer than 3 seconds in a row.  The kids are PUMPED about this game.... 75% of them are mostly just excited about the game-watching party at Jo and Wayne's house, but they're pretending they're intense fans anyway.

This is how each of them came down for dinner tonight -- ensembles completely created by themselves.

The OSU fight song has been playing in the background, the red marker is being passed around for some skin writing, and everyone is counting down the moments until we can go over and have some snacks celebrate the Buckeyes.

Pete is also VERY excited.  He's wearing ALL 3 of his OSU shirts at the same time (good thing it's a cold day).  Unfortunately he ducked ran out for a meeting this evening first so I didn't get a picture of him.  This one, which one of the kids took of him the other day, will have to suffice.  It's the appropriate facial expression if not the exact outfit.

Strider, of course, is over the moon about this game, and he won't even be distracted by the snacks tonight.  He keeps begging me to let him go to the party without a shirt on, but even though it IS right next door, I'm insisting upon a little decorum.  He's now experimenting with wearing a crop shirt and writing an emblem on his stomach.

This has actually been quite a big weekend for him, since his other favorite team had a big playoff game yesterday.  I came down yesterday morning to find our living room looking like this:

Let's hope the team tonight fares better than yesterday's did!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

I think I found the secret for getting kids to play the piano...

Here's the method:

Step 1:  Nag them to practice their violins.
Step 2:  When they ignore you and play around on the piano instead to procrastinate, let them.
Step 3:  Don't try to teach them at all (because then they won't want to do it).

And, as Miles would say, "VOILA!"

They've been experimenting (completely by ear) with how to make their 2 hands sound good together.  I like what they've come up with so far.

Miles' adaptations of a couple of his violin songs:

Colsen's original composition (edited for length):

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Annual "year box" tradition

Nine years running now we have painted a box to hold our memories and scraps from the year.  The kids always love this -- both the painting, and the looking through of old mementos.

Strider pulled out a few of the boxes from several years ago, and that was fun, too -- to see all the things that seem so far away and yet so yesterday.

This tradition is providing a fun way for me to see the kids growing, too, as I take the same pictures from year to year.  Here are a few from former years:

And now look at them!

Time flies!

Friday, January 2, 2015

Hello 2015!

 We started the day off with time with COUSINS.  I tried to get them all to chant, "Cousins play on New Year's Day," but none of them joined in.

They did, however, join in on plenty of games!  Since we met in the parking lot of Karin's school, we had plenty of space for riding things, so the first few games were things like, "Careen-down-the-hill-and-around-the-turns-without-helmets-and-without-dying," and other roller derby-ish contests.  So then we switched to some ball sports, including Ga-Ga ball which young and old enjoyed together.

I love Kai's face in this picture.  And the fact that Colsen is mid-fall.
Afterwards we all headed over to Mom and Dad's where we met up with Mor-Mor, Uncle Pete, Aunt Lisa, and cousins Linsey, Josh, Colton and Amelia for a nice afternoon of chaos and conversation.

The cousins enjoyed each other so much that we decided to continue the playtime through today as well.  Right now 5 boys are on our driveway playing Pickleball and 3 girls are playing upstairs in Rayna's room.  I tried to take some pictures but my camera is on "timer" mode for some reason and I don't know how to turn it off and Pete's not home.  Oh well -- they're cute anyway.

Now while they play, I'm off to tackle the mountain of laundry that accumulated during our last 2 days of fun....

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Goodbye 2014

The sad thing seems to be that just when I finally got to the point where I think spending New Year's Eve with just my family is actually not lame -- they are fun people now and can play games that are interesting and have conversations that make me laugh -- our oldest child has now decided that spending time with just his family is too lame.  Did we miss the "sweet spot" as a family?

Anyway, most of us had a good night.  We had a wonderful dinner, cooked again by Pete, and had discussions about things like purchasing "part" of a donkey for some poor people through the World Vision catalog.  The boys started talking about which part they wanted to buy -- the legs? the head? Eventually they came to the conclusion that they actually needed all of the parts of the donkey wouldn't really function well -- except maybe the tail.

Afterwards we played a rousing game of "American Trivia" -- and Miles won.  Which is good because he is the one who would have been devastated if he lost.

But before all that, we had a nice brunch with this gang:
It was a fun reunion with 2 families we have walked with for many years now.

We also had a good time playing some Pickleball on the driveway.

So, 2014 went out in the midst of loud celebrating, a full house, and some interpersonal (parent-child) conflict...  which is a good representation of the whole year.  Thankful for a wonderful 2014!

p.s. While we may have missed the Family New Year's Eve Sweet Spot, I take comfort that we have at least found a small sweet spot for board-game-playing.  I enjoyed walking in to this scene a couple days ago -- all 4 of them involved and loving it.