Archive for January, 2012

A Penney for your thoughts

Sunday, January 29th, 2012

I’m sure this happens to a lot of us and not just during the holiday shopping season. You make a purchase of a needed item thinking you’re getting a really good deal because it’s on sale only to go back to the store two days later and find the item discounted even further.

Or another frustrating shopping scenario: there’s something you really would like to buy (for me right now, it’s new running shoes; my house slippers have more support than my current pair) but you can’t make the timing of the coupons and sales fit into your schedule. It goes something like “Jennifer needs to be at the high school from 10:00 to 1:00 but I won’t be driving past Kohl’s until 1:15 and the Early Bird Specials end at 1:00. I could drive across town then back across town and then pick her up, or I could…oh, forget. It’s too much work. I’ll just live with what I’ve got.”

Based on some recent articles in the newspaper, JC Penney’s is hoping to capitalize on exactly my kind of thinking. You may have seen one of their TV commercials with a woman screaming at her mailbox that is spilling out coupons and sale flyers.

Penney’s is instituting a simpler pricing strategy that does away with the constant sales. And that makes a lot of sense to me.

They are permanently marking down all of their merchandise by 40%. There will be some items that go on sale but it will be for the entire month. Clearance items will no be tagged as “Best Value” so customers know that for the item, the price has hit rock bottom.

I also think it’s interesting they are doing away with the “$19.99 sounds cheaper than $20” pricing – that strategy might have worked when a penny was worth something but not now. Instead, Penney’s will sell the item for either $19 or $20.

I think consumers are so jaded these days by constant sales and discounts that giving us a sense that we are paying what an item is really worth will go over well. It seems more authentic which I think will play well against Kohl’s more flashy “Look at us! Big discounts for a short amount of time!” type of promotions.

This is all the brainchild of Ron Johnson who previously ran Apple’s wildly successful retail business. Picture an Apple store – sleek, uncluttered and ultra-hip – compared to a J.C.Penney store – hodge-podgy, cluttered and bad smelling. According to the articles, he plans to carve out small specialty stores for brands like Sephora and turn the high-traffic areas into places to “hang out.”

Hanging out at an Apple store is cool. JC Penney’s…not so much. He has a big job ahead of him and I can’t wait to see how consumers respond.

Sleepy Time?

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012

An article in the Wall Street Journal with the headline “Why not wear pajamas all day?” got my attention. After years of dropping my daughters off at the high school and watching kids shuffle into school in slippers, the trend of wearing sleepwear to school was something that that really didn’t make sense to me.

According to the article, many teenagers like looking like they just rolled out of bed in their flannel pants, camis, and t-shirts because it’s both comfortable and hip. And besides, they’ve been seeing the same group of kids for years, so who do they need to impress with their appearance?

I did a little research with my own teenager and from her perspective, dressing down – which for her means yoga pants, not pajamas – is ok during finals week. It’s sort of a signal that “I’ve been studying so hard (whether she has been or not) and my mind is so totally consumed with finals (ya, sure) that I just can’t be bothered with putting on real clothes.

Of course, putting together an outfit with yoga pants takes every bit as much time as putting on the usual jeans and top – in fact it probably takes even more time because it’s hard to get that perfect balance between “I’ve worked hard to look cute” and “I’m too distracted with studying to care what I look like.”

At the risk of sounding like the tightly-wrapped mom that I am, I don’t think anybody does their best work when wearing something that is really only appropriate for eating Cheetos and watching reruns of “Friends” in the privacy of your family room. I think when you look sloppy you more inclined to do sloppy work.

I have found that to be true. When I used to work entirely from home, if I came home from the gym and immediately got into the day’s work, my attitude was different. My interactions had an edge to them, like I just wasn’t ready to face the day.

I don’t long for returning to the days of girdles and nylons but as my teenage daughter said, there’s something about clothes being just a little constricting that makes a person feel like they are ready to work. And the best part is coming home from work or school is peeling off the skinny jeans (in her case) or the wool slacks with the slightly tight waistband (in my case); it feels so good just to let it hang out. I love knowing I’ve earned the right to look like a slob because I’ve worked hard.

Schools are probably very happy that about this trend. Compared to the super-short shorts, extra-low rise jeans, and tube tops that I’ve seen on many a high school girl, the sweat pants and floppy shirts of the pajama look must make it easier for everyone – teachers included – to focus on their schoolwork.

Sonoma County’s Food Network

Sunday, January 15th, 2012

A few months back, our longtime friend and business associate, Pam Davis, called Steve and asked if he would be willing to design the poster for her 50th birthday party bash called “The Heart of Winter.”

A birthday party requires a poster? In Pam’s case, the answer is yes. It was important to publicize her birthday because turning 50 gave Pam the ideal opportunity to bring the community together to raise money for two of her favorite non-profits: the Sebastopol Community Centerand the Ceres Community Project.

Pam probably knows more about recycling than anyone else in Sonoma County– she previously worked in government relations for the County’s garbage company and is now general manager of Sonoma Compost – and she is all about making the world around her a better place.

So, in addition eating to some really, really good artisan cheese from local creameries (I’m still dreaming about the Roasted Chili Redwood Hill Farm Chevre) and wishing Pam a happy birthday, another great aspect of the event was learning about an organization that meets a need that I had never thought about before.

The Ceres Community Project provides nutritious meals to people with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses. The program makes complete sense: someone going through chemotherapy certainly isn’t going to have energy to shop and cook yet consuming high-quality, whole foods is essential to helping them regain their health.

And the Ceres Project (named after the Roman goddess of agriculture) goes far beyond just delivering food. The healthy meals are prepared by teen chefs working under professional chef mentors. Not only are teens serving people in need, they are also learning culinary and life skills and spreading the word about the connection between food and health. The whole program works beautifully on so many levels.

At the event, we got to enjoy the type of meal that the teen chefs prepare for the Ceres Project clients. And it was fabulous: pork with red cabbage, roasted sweet potatoes and sautéed kale. Organic, delicious and nutritious.

Their goal in 2012 is to provide 45,000 free and nourishing meals – a 50% increase over 2011.

So thank you Pam for turning 50 and introducing me to yet another way that people in Sonoma County come together to support and serve one another.

For more information on the Ceres Community Project go to 


Mitt Happens

Sunday, January 8th, 2012

The other night the conversation shifted to Mitt Romney.

If that sentence doesn’t send chills up your spine, then you’ve either just landed from another planet, or you know who you’re voting for come November. If it does, then you’re in good company, because the subject of Mitt causes a strong visceral reaction in me.

I’m not talking about Governor Mitt, or Mitt the last, best, hope of the Republican party to dethrone the sitting President.

I’m talking about Mitt, the typical starched, upright and smug Mormon. Before I proceed, let me mention that I was raised Mormon, from birth until I was 18 in Salt Lake City,  the seat of the Mormon church and crucible of this particular self-righteous stereotype.

Whether Mormonism is a true Christian faith or a cult is a subject for another time. My beef is with the entire concept that for one to be acceptable among the Latter Day Saints, one must be … well … perfect. Or, at least, be able to give a pretty good impression of Mormon-style perfection.

To begin with, you should be wealthy. Because, as good Mormons know, wealth is sign that you’re right with God. If you’re not well-to-do, then you belong in the back of the church, or perhaps it would be better if you worshipped at some store front.

Let’s not forget physical perfection. Good Mormons are good looking. And speaking of good-looking, one’s children should qualify as models for Crest commercials.

Are there Mormons who love God, and seek to do go in the world. Absolutely. I believe my father was one.

But those who espouse the Gospel of Prosperity, Propriety, Popularity and Perfect cause my stomach to knot up.

Maybe Mitt is not like this at all. If that is the case, then his campaign team had better get to work, because that’s how he comes across to me and, I’ll bet, a whole bunch of other folks.

Bright hope for tomorrow

Sunday, January 1st, 2012

New Year’s day is such a strange day. It’s a combination of relief that the holidays are over. Everything that needed to get done, got done. It’s such a pleasure to go to Target and the grocery store and be able to find a parking place. The stores are quiet and easy to get around in. No more overly stressed shoppers trying to cross one more gift off their list.

But I also have some post holiday letdown. I can no longer use the busyness of the season as a distraction from the pile of bank statements and bills on my desk. It makes me realize that even though there was a lot of work involved in preparing for the holidays, I really enjoyed it. I might just have to bake some more biscotti and savor the experience once again.

However, the bittersweet nature of the day also gives me an opportunity as I look ahead to the new year. I’m the type of person who more easily focuses on the bitter…or at least the less-than-perfect aspects of life. Something improves but I immediately find a way to negate it. We don’t have to pay property tax but the car needs new tires and major service; we reduced our phone bill but we need to start making payments on our Parent Plus loan. Oh, woe is me…we’ll never get ahead.

I can get myself into a total funk where the only thing I have to look forward to is getting through tax day on April 15th. Isn’t that a cheery thought.

Rather than going down that depressing path, I’m going to take a few minutes to reflect on the sweet things in our life. The fact that we got through the sale of our house. It was stressful but we survived with all our limbs intact. A little painful, yes, but it certainly didn’t destroy us. We found a safe and very nice place to live. Is it ideal? No, but neither was our old house.

Everyone in our family is healthy. There is no amount of money in the bank that could take away the deep pit in my stomach if one of my kids were ever to be really, really sick. And how about a husband who looks at least 10 years younger than his age, is always reinventing himself in business, and has an abundance of talents and skills?

I have a job waiting for me to return to on January 3 working with a wonderful group of people. That is a blessing because going into the holidays a year ago, I didn’t have a job. Being in that situation has given me a lot of compassion for all the people looking for work.

So there is good reason for me to be optimistic about 2012. As I see it, the choice is either hope or despair. I’m going with hope. Amen.