Sunday, June 30, 2013

What-What?! Week of June 30th

So, how about rejection?  It sucks.  This week, I had an op/ed piece rejected from two newspapers, and also heard that I am no longer being considered for what would have been a nice job.  I’m not so upset about the newspapers, but the job is pretty disheartening.  However, from what I was told, they had thousands of applicants; that I got an interview is somewhat an achievement by itself.  I am seriously considering taking a few classes this Fall, and picking up some extra accounting skills, especially in QuickBooks and PeachTree.

Otherwise, this week went pretty well – other than being hot.  I did get more items to list on eBay, some of which have already sold.  I also signed up for iWriter, a place for freelance writers to find work; the reviews for this website are mixed, but it seems like a good way to get some general experience, as well as a greater variety of sample work.  I’ve written about half a dozen short articles for clients on there, and so far, so good; I’ve been rated 5 stars for all my work.


This article is actually pretty hilarious, because this is really old news.  Back when I wrote Trader Joe’s versus Whole Foods Market, I read industry reports discussing how warehouse stores were creeping into the specialty grocery industry.  What’s interesting about this article, however, is the point that Costco’s fresh food offerings are what its using to compete against Whole Foods; I’m more inclined to think that it’s Costco’s increasing selection of natural food brands, as well as its private brand products, many of which are also organic or “all natural”.  I’ve always considered that Costco’s main specialty grocery competitor is actually Trader Joe’s; the private brand offerings are very similar.  Costco, Whole Foods, and Trader Joe’s all have very similar target markets.  Looking at demographics, the customers are very similar; older, married, educated, well-heeled, and interested in quality.  Whole Foods’ customers are more interested in saving the environment, while Costco and TJ’s customers are more interested in saving a buck.
Whole Foods will continue to have convenience, specialty products, and the nice eatery area over Costco.  When you walk into Whole Foods, the store is large, but still not as large as a Costco, and checkout is pretty fast all the time (oh my goodness, the lines at Costco sometimes!).  Whole Foods still has specialty items that are difficult to get anywhere in-person, though that number will dwindle as pharmacies, discount retailers, and conventional grocery stores stock more of these items.  The number one thing that Whole Foods offers is the feel of the place; the stores feel special, like heading to a local market.  Unfortunately, that specialness is expensive to produce.  Whole Foods needs customers who aren’t price sensitive, which has been difficult for them to achieve – this is why the company has added coupons, sales and specials in recent years.  I don’t know how effective that strategy has been for them, but I really think that it undermines the charm of the stores.

What I would like to see is smaller Whole Foods stores with a tighter selection of in-demand items.  This would lower overhead while increasing profit per square foot -- Trader Joe's manages to have  a better profit per square foot, and, as you can see above, their stores are much smaller than a conventional Whole Foods.  I think that sizing down would be an effective strategy for the company, especially in that it would allow them to develop stores in more areas, especially in big cities where space is at a premium.


Look!  A llama in a minivan!  It reminds me of my youth – our alpacas used to ride in the back of our minivan.  I was one of the kids that sat in the back with them, and I can safely say that they had terrible breath.



While I was looking for craft ideas to do with the kids, I came across these adorable kokeshi doll erasers on Amazon.  Kokeshi are Japanese dolls that are distinctive in that they always lack legs, and usually lack arms.  Most kokeshi that I found were kind of expensive, but these erasers are pretty cheap, and very cute.
Until next week!
(images via twitter.com, thechive.com, amazon.com)

Saturday, June 22, 2013

What-What?! Week of June 23rd


This week was pretty good; we’ve had friends over a few times this week, and the weather has just been brilliant.  Oh, I’m also nearly out of things to sell on eBay, so this next week I need to scrounge up some more items to photograph and post.


Funnily enough, now that I’ve talked about Sears still having valuable brands, they’ve just agreed to sell at least 60 of the 91 OSH stores to Lowe’s.  It seems that most analysts and investors view this as a great move for Lowe’s, as it will help them expand into the California market, where competition is fierce with Home Depot.  In order for this to happen, though, the company is being required to file for bankruptcy, on account of its $302 million in short-term debt; it is estimated that, of the $201 million that Lowe’s is offering, nearly $50 million will go to paying off accounts payable.  The stores are to remain a completely separate brand, and depending on the amount of debt wiped out through bankruptcy, the company could end up with more freedom to innovate and take risks.  I think the deal both validates the worth of the OSH brand, and gives the company the opportunity to grow and develop more in the future.

One thing that I want to point out, though, is that Sear’s isn’t losing here; by selling the company off to a larger rival, Sears is no longer responsible for a company that has debt equal to 46 percent of its revenue.  This is also probably a great deal for shareholders, as Lowe’s has been experiencing growth recently.  This deal makes me think of venture capitalist funding; one of the goals for venture capitalists is to have their start-up company bought by a larger one, thus instantly getting a return on their investment.

Cooking:  Homemade Peanut Butter Granola Bars

Making granola bars is actually a lot of fun; like the pirate code, there aren’t so much recipes as guidelines.  When I went to make these, I couldn’t actually find my book with the recipe, so I went by memory.  Either way, they came out tasty, if a bit crumbly, because I used leftover bits of Kashi’s version of Frosted Mini Wheats.  The mini wheats bits gave it a finer crumb than it would have if it were made with more oats, so I think this recipe would be okay otherwise.
Ingredients
  • 2 to 2-1/4  cups dry mix (I recommend 1 cup rolled or instant oats, and another cup mix of chocolate chips, shredded coconut, nuts, or leftover bits of cereal)
  • 1/4 cup wheat germ (can be left out)
  • 1 cup peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup (could probably be subbed for brown sugar or other syrups, like agave)
  • 1/2 stick butter

Line a cookie sheet with wax paper or parchment paper.  Mix dry goods together in a mixing bowl – if using chocolate, leave it out until after the mix has cooled some if you want chocolate bits, or mix the chocolate in now if you want a more uniform chocolate flavor (or if you’re lazy, like me).  In a separate saucepan or pot, mix peanut butter, maple syrup and butter on medium heat until well blended.  Either add syrup to the mixing bowl, or add the dry goods to the saucepan, whichever is large enough to fit everything in together.  Mix well, try hard not to eat it with a spoon, then spread on cookie sheet.  Allow to cool, then cut into bars.


On Thursday, ThredUp, which acts as an online consignment store, announced that they will no longer accept clothes with an MSRP of less than $12.99; this includes clothes from Target, the Gap, Old Navy, and probably The Children’s Place and Gymboree as well.  They announced this change because they’d been receiving complaints about the “cheap” brands, and had also been losing money on those brands, because they can only be sold for around $4.  ThredUp expects to implement a new minimum price of $6.49, a full $2.50 increase – though the brands will all be boutique brands.  However, I personally have never bought an item costing more than $4-5 from ThredUp, and I’m not interested in spending more than that, even for boutique brands.  I’m very interested to see if this new strategy works for ThredUp, or if it backfires because they’re redlined too many of their core customers.
'Til next week!
(imgs from kcoy.com, foodsmarty.com, harbus.org)

Saturday, June 15, 2013

What-What?! Week of June 16th

Firstly, happy father’s day to all the daddies out there!  You are wonderful and important.

We took the kids to Chuck E. Cheese’s this week.  I have a love/hate relationship with that place.  It’s close and inexpensive, which means we can afford to go there more often than Happy Hollow, the aquarium or any of the children’s museums.  On the other hand, it’s a dark pit of electronic games with little learning value.  Granted, the children’s museum in Monterey has little learning value as well, but at least the kids are running around and getting exercise there.  Either way, the kids have a good time.


I love me some Pioneer Woman; she has the correct application of butter and cream, whilst still having dishes that also include vegetables and other good-for-you stuff.  So when she posted this past week about eating Migas again, I decided that it was time to try them out.  Mine were more the “poor man’s” migas, on account of not having peppers, or much of anything besides cabbage.  So mine were toasted corn tortillas, salsa, half-and-half, and eggs, topped with guacamole and sour cream.  These were pretty good, though not as utterly delicious as Ree makes them out to be.  Migas are pretty easy to make, though, so I’ll most likely be making them again.


This is an interesting article about Sears/Kmart, suggesting that the sum of the parts are actually worth more than the whole.  In studying the grocery industry, I’ve also had to research the discount retail industry because of the huge effect that it’s had on the sales of food.  Sears/Kmart is pretty universally viewed as the dog of the industry; declining sales and stores, offering low quality and high prices.  Kmart has been stuck in unfortunate locations, unable to get the financing to update their stores, and so on.  Wal-Mart and Target basically eat the company for breakfast.

But, this article points out that the company still retains some very valuable brands; Craftsman, Kenmore, Die Hard (car batteries) and Lands’ End.  These are brands that, in my mind, are somewhat detached from Sears/Kmart; I own a Kenmore microwave that is high quality, and I really like the clothing from Lands’ End.  I would gladly buy Craftsman tools.  But I hate stepping into the Kmart here in town, with its high prices, dirty, outdated store, and slow-as-molasses checkout.  Edward Lampert, the CEO and chairman of Kmart, has successfully spun off Orchard Supply Hardware stores, as well as Sears Outlet stores; if the company were to do the same with these other brands, it might be quite profitable.
And, of course the other news this week is the PS4 stomping all over the Xbox One.  I really can't get over how Microsoft has alienated all the military guys stationed overseas.  I expect all those guys will be buying PS4s, and will not be going back to an Xbox when (and if) Microsoft decides to backtrack.
That's it for this week! :D

(images via thepioneerwoman.com, wikimedia.org)

Saturday, June 8, 2013

What-What?! Week of June 9th

This week was pretty uneventful, though my littlest is almost saying “dada” to refer to the husband.  I went ahead and reworked my feedback on World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria into an article for Squidoo.  I’m thinking I may go back through my blog and start doing this with other posts as well; that way, my writing will become more searchable through Google.

I did get a call from one company that I’d applied to.  Applying there turned out to be a horrible mistake.  Normally, before applying, I Google the company to see what comes up.  This time, I had obviously neglected this.  So when I looked up the company to get a quick background before calling them back, I was surprised by the multitude of poor reviews left by employees.  The pay is commission-based, the hours are long, and you’re expected to sell to your family and friends; in other words, exactly what I don’t want to do.  This experience reminds me how crucial Googling is before investing any time into applying for a position.


About a year and a half ago, I made the choice to cut soybean oil out of my household’s diet.  This has been an on-going process, but one of the first foods to go was boxed crackers, as nearly all varieties of commercially made crackers have soybean oil in them.  I’ve found that some varieties of Pepperidge Farms’ graham cracker goldfish are made without it, as well as some of Annie’s cheddar bunnies; these are quite expensive, though, and my kids don’t particularly care for Annie’s brand crackers.

I have had the worst craving for Cheeze-Its, so I made these.  With just 6 ingredients, these crackers go together very quickly, though the hard part is rolling the dough out thin enough.  I only had mozzarella cheese, so I subbed that in, along with about a tablespoon of basil to make some Italian-style cheese crackers.  The kids and I thought these were delicious; next time I plan on making a double batch!

Movie Review:  Rango

My mom checked this out of the library, thought it was very funny, and was excited for my kids to watch it.  In retrospect, I was quite happy that I was able to sit down and watch it with them, rather than letting them watch it with just my parents.  This film is a western, about a lizard that goes on an existential journey, ultimately becoming the hero he so wishes to be.
The Story
I really did not like this film; I feel that, though it was marketed towards kids, isn’t really suitable for them.  The characters are colorful and lively, but the story was weak and not accessible to children.

The PG Rating
This film is rated PG, and one of the things that always surprises me is how some PG rated films are perfectly okay for young children, while some are utterly not appropriate.  Unfortunately, Rango tends towards the inappropriate; I knew it had been rated PG due to language, but it’s not until you get 2/3rds of the way through the film that it crops up, and it was really surprising, given how earlier in the movie, offensive terms are carefully avoided.  Overall, there was a lot of graphic violence; while I am okay with a certain amount of violence, this was too much.  My husband agreed with this.

It’s Been Done Better
The opening scene of this film begins with Rango pretending to be an actor, using inanimate objects as other actors in his play.  It was very similar to the beginning of the film Flushed Away.  Overall, the basic premise of the film (man finding himself, fish out of water, strong heroine working to help her family) is exactly like Flushed Away, just replace lizards with mice.  With the other issues present in the film, this lack of originality becomes unforgivable.
Overall, I give it two out of five stars; if you ever feel like picking up this movie, just go watch Flushed Away instead.  You’ll be better off.

‘Til next week!
(imgs via heavenlyhomemakers.com, teaser-trailer.com)

Sunday, June 2, 2013

What-What?! Week of June 2nd


Whee!  I have survived my birthday.  This week has been pretty busy, but I still managed to get over $130 in items listed on eBay, and have already had $42 worth of items sell.  I’m pretty excited to be eBaying again; last year, over the course of two months, I made about $500 selling outgrown baby clothes and hard to find My Little Pony toys.
Saturday, the apartment managers here decided to have a community yard sale, which they promise in the lease to do twice a year.  However, this would be the first time in the three and a half years that we’ve lived here that a yard sale has actually happened; even then, it seems like it was a spur of the moment thing, as residents were given less than two days notice.  And they put on no signs.  And didn't even post on Craigstlist.  But enough complaining, because...


I can complain about these, too.  I believe I first saw this technique on Pinterest, and tracked it down to this blog (link above).  Rather than using the more conventional method of filling the cones with batter and baking that way, you instead fill a muffin pan, and place the cups on top.  This was much easier and less fiddly than filling the cups.  The downside is that the bottoms of the cones are empty, which makes them top-heavy.  To transport them, I put aluminum foil over the top of a 9 x 13 pan and cut holes for each cone to go in.  This part worked pretty well.  Unfortunately, while the cupcakes were cooling overnight, the cones softened and slumped; the bottoms were still in flat, but the tops were all tilted.  I would up having to ice them as they were served, and the softened cones were chewy and unappatizing.  I plan on trying these again, but I'm thinking I'll either have to bake and serve them the same day, which limits topping options (frosting has to go on cool cakes), or develop some other method.  I saw a post somewhere about baking the cupcakes separately, then cutting them up and putting the pieces into cones.


(Shown: Small disaster.  This was easily fixed, unlike the slumping.)

Either way, my kids were still over the moon for these – especially after I added the sprinkles!  I expect that I'll have at least one child asking for more for their birthday, so I better figure these out.



According to a press release from Disney, they have mapped out dates for films for the next two years.  I’m interested in a film due out in November, titled Frozen.  This film will be set in the arctic north, with a surprisingly Rapunzel-like heroine, who goes on an adventure to find her sister and stop the everlasting winter.  The concept art for this is positively beautiful.  Some of the art that I’ve seen, like that above, is nothing like what will appear in the film, but is beautiful to look at nonetheless.

World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria Review Continued


After playing for another week, I had the opportunity to look a bit more at the new high-level quests, as well as the starting quests and area for the panda people.  As far as high-level quests, what Blizzard has done with this expansion is move away from the main quest lines; where Cataclysm and Wrath of the Lich King were almost entirely focused on moving the main storyline along, Mists of Pandaria touches on the main storyline, but stills gives you plenty to do that is much smaller in nature.  In many ways, it makes the game more manageable, because you’re not going to have some huge twist or boss fight every time you get on.  For a casual player like myself, this change really works for the kind of time and effort I’m interested in putting into the game.

This past week, the husband and I also started new panda characters, and leveled them up through 11th level.  That was a pretty fun experience; much easier and straight-forward than the starting area for the goblins and worgen (the two new races from Cataclysm).  Where it falls flat, though, is that at level 10, you are dumped into Stormwind, and have to figure out where you should place yourself; Pete and I went on to Westfall, because most of the quests there in Elwynn forest were too low a level.  There was very little done to transition characters out of Pandaria and into the mainland, which is really disappointing, and is probably quite confusing for those new to the game.
 
News:  JC Penney's Hitler Tea Kettle via Yahoo! News
This is hilarious.  Not only did JC Penney accidently make a tea kettle that looks like Hitler, the internet bought them all.  Check out the link for the photo and more information.

That's it for this week. :D

(images via stephsbitebybite.com, disneyfandom.net, wowwiki.com)