Monday, October 25, 2010

Best. Cauliflower. Ever.

Yeah, I know.  Unbelievable.  But in continuing to blog about whatever the heck I'm thinking about, I'm sharing another recipe.  We had a fantastic fall menu last night:  pork roast, sweet potatoes, apple pie (that recipe is also on this blog!).  But the best part of dinner was the roasted cauliflower.  This recipe is several years old, torn out of the paper (AJC) way back when we still got the paper.  Here it is:

A head of cauliflower, rinsed
1/4 c. golden raisins
4 garlic cloves
2-3 T olive oil
2-3 whole thyme sprigs (which I usually forget; they aren't critical)
1/4 c. panko crumbs
2 t butter

(Oven at 400.) Cover the raisins in hot tap water and let them sit while you do the other things.  Core the cauliflower and separate it into small flowerets.  You want the cauliflower to be fairly uniform in size.  Crush the garlic and remove the papery husks.

Place the cauliflower and garlic, along with pine nuts, in a 9 x 13 pyrex dish.  Drizzle with olive oil and stir.  Spread it back out, add thyme sprigs, and place in oven.  Roast for about 10 minutes, give the mixture a stir, and pop back in the oven for 10 more minutes.  Add oil if it looks dry.  Stir again, and roast for 5-10 more minutes.  The cauliflower will start to look caramelized around the edges.  Remove the pan from the oven, remove thyme sprigs and garlic cloves, and turn the oven up to broil.  Add the raisins and give things another stir.  Then push it all together so it is touching but still pretty much in a single layer.  Sprinkle with an even layer of panko crumbs and then dot with butter.  Broil for about 2 minutes, about 6 inches from the heating element.

YUM.  Just had some leftovers for lunch.  Enjoy!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Open to Buy

Part of the idea of my blog is to give a view from behind the counter at my shop.  Here goes...

Did you know it's possible for a business to grow itself out of business?  Actually it is, and there's a formula in one of my corporate finance books around here.  The idea is that, in funding your future activity with current dollars, your future sales are so big that you end up going bankrupt even as you have amazing cashflow.

That's not quite my problem, but I've been thinking about that as I deal with my current issue.  In a retail shop, the only source of revenue is the inventory.  You can't make money if it isn't in the shop to sell, flat out.  My method of buying was, I thought, kind of careful, replacing only what I liked as it sold, increasing inventory judiciously.  But I didn't really link it with revenue or actual sales. Part of that was because, when I opened, I had held back a portion of my initial investment to increase inventory later, as I got to know my customer base.  Good idea, but it made me feel like I had money burning a hole in my pocket!

Fast-forward to this summer, as I'm doing my summer/fall buying in preparation for the fall high season.  No "extra" money this year. In addition to replacing my low stock in preparation for fall, I also expanded into several new lines, to the tune of several thousand dollars.  It's not as stupid as it sounds, because I did it in several baby steps:  visits with reps during April, the trade show in June, and rebalancing as I assessed my stock.  (It was kind of stupid.)  BUT I hadn't planned on terrible cash flow in May.  May was awful, and I was unprepared for it.  And then June wasn't much better.  So, I increased inventory while my cash flow was through the floor.  This is bad news!!

Enter Open to Buy.  This is an inventory system based on cash flow and expected sales, a way to put yourself on a diet.  The idea is this:  at the end of the month, total your sales.  Take 50% of that, and that is how much you buy the next month.  Period, with a couple of caveats.  For instance, consider your sales trends.  Low expected sales?  Lay off!  Don't buy as much.  Only buy in anticipation of a good month.  So for me, I should let my inventory dwindle a little during April-July, and then slam the shop full by October.  The method of buying keeps you from having a full shop during months you just know you won't sell anything!

So I had way way WAY overbought this summer.  And my cash flow was terrible, negative actually.  I was glad to be able to give an influx of cash, drawing on my own personal credit line.  (Writing that loan check to the shop was probably my all-time low so far with this business.)

I implemented Open to Buy in August.  Ugh.  I overbought tremendously, but mostly because July was such a low-sales month.  September was better, but again a little over the line, because of deliveries I had had scheduled and just couldn't give up.  Now, I'm only half-way through October and I've hit my limit!  I don't quite know what to do...I'm out of needles to go with my yarn.  This is after TWO purchases of needles this month.

A tightly run shop requires more than a good eye and a great passion for my customers.  This has been a hard lesson to learn, even though it seems like a retired actuary should have this part down cold.  But--ouch!  It is a tightrope.  I don't like seeing some of these empty shelves, but it is better than an empty bank account.

Monday, October 11, 2010

How to Create a Job

It occurs to me that I have more first-hand experience creating jobs than the President.  There seems to be some confusion about where jobs come from.  I would like to explain where private-sector jobs come from.

First, where they DON'T come from:  piles of money just sitting around with nothing to do.  Unselfish rich people do not look at the poor unwashed, have mercy, and throw money at them.

Now, where they do come from:  A person has an idea for making more money, some sort of good or service they want to provide.  The sole purpose may not be to make money, but making money--really, creating WEALTH--where there was none previously is the basic building block.  Now, the person may be able to execute the idea all by himself, for example a shopkeeper who works alone in the shop all day long.  But what if the shop gets so busy that customers leave, unhappy that the shopkeeper can't wait on him?  Or what if the shop grows because it is so popular and the shopkeeper is doing a great job?  Both are good problems to have!  Eventually, the shopkeeper may realize that he needs to hire someone so that his vision of his shop can be realized.  The hiring of an assistant will help the shop to sell even more, thereby increasing revenue, or it may free the shopkeeper to have more time off or to start a new venture.

That's the important point right there--the hiring of an employee makes sense ONLY if the shopkeeper realizes a benefit.  Actually, it is the only reason to hire an employee, ever.  And if an employee ceases to return a worthwhile benefit to the company, then the job should not exist.  This isn't because employers are mean; it's because eventually an employee like this, or many, will kill the company.

Since creating a job means hiring an actual person and forming a relationship with a person, most employers take this very seriously.  They realize they are dealing with another person's livelihood, security and stability.  So unless they are very sure of future demand for their good or service, an employer won't hire someone.  Everyone else may work a little harder, even the sole shopkeeper who works longer hours.

In my case, I decided that I could not open my shop unless I had some part-time help.  So employing people was part of my model all along.  Creating a couple of jobs was required if I was going to even open the shop.  But I didn't do it out of the sheer goodness of my heart.  It was to fulfill the ultimate goal of making enough money to pay the kids' tuition.  I wanted to make a profit. I haven't hired more people, as fun as it would be, because that gets in the way of making more profit.

So the next time you hear any government official or journalist discussing the jobs that aren't being created, I hope you think about this post.  Jobs don't just appear because someone is feeling generous.  Those are the worst kind of "make-work" jobs.  REAL jobs create real wealth, both for the employee and the employer.  They are the only ones that are a true benefit to the economy, and an employer can't be bullied into creating them.  They only come from hope and determination and an atmosphere willing to recognize and reward risk.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Toyota v. Honda at My House

We did it.  We joined Minivan Nation last week.  We researched, we drove, we bought.  Here's what and why.

Former vehicle:  our beloved 2001 Chevrolet Suburban.  We purchased this vehicle when the boys were very small and I was expecting DD3.  I emphatically didn't want a minivan because of the image and the room.  I loved the acres of space in the back and the feeling of being the biggest guy on the road.  This is the car we brought our girls home in, the one we took endless road trips and back-and-forths to the lake in. It was our living room on wheels.  After 9 1/2 years it was a smelly dirty living room!  And I had to face the grim reality--a Suburban, while huge, has a pretty small third seat.  No one believes it until you try to sit back there.  We really needed a car that seated six adult-size people.  Enter the minivan.

We (mostly me) looked at all the offerings.  Honda, Toyota, Chrysler, Nissan, Kia...I'm sure I looked at others but I've forgotten.  The single most important criterion was that third row seat.  The choices pretty quickly boiled down to the Honda, Toyota, and Chrysler, based on reliability reports and lots of different web reviews, like  And then I eliminated Chrysler because of numerous reports of uncomfortable chairs--the seating configurations and bells and whistles on the Town and Country are awesome but the chairs weren't too good.  Fine, one less to drive.

I hate to shop for cars.  So the fewer cars we looked at, the better.

I was leaning towards the Toyota Sienna.  Brand new for 2011, the sport model has a really cute commercial about the "swagger wagon."  Not that I'm swayed by advertising.  I've also owned a Toyota and found them as reliable as the day is long.  We went to the dealership on a Friday evening to drive one.  A loaded model just below the Sport was the best they had on the lot, so that's what we tried.

What was good about the Sienna:  Two sunroofs!  Loved that.  It was spacious.  The turning radius was teensy-tiny.  The controls seemed easy to figure out.  The seats were comfortable and easy to move around.

What was less good:  The steering was smooshy, which I guess would be fixed in the Sport model.  It seemed to have some nose dive on a short stop.  But the thing that I really didn't like were the tracks in the floor which are covered by a rubber gasket-type thing.  This is how the seats adjust so much, but it leaves open spaces on the floor.  They looked like trash magnets to me.  And there aren't mats to fit over them.  I mean, I REALLY didn't get this.  But maybe I could get over it, because it looks to me like lots of people do!

So, on to the Honda.  The Odyssey also has a new 2011 model.  The one we drove had just been delivered to the dealership that morning.  It was a Touring model, fully loaded except for a couple of little bells, like the split screen video player.

What was good about the Odyssey:  The look of it from the outside.  It looked sleeker and sportier than earlier models.  I like the "lightning bolt" side that allows for more visibility in the third row.  And that third row--unquestionably bigger than any other vehicle I've been in.  Plenty of room, and even an armrest the kids could flip down in the back.  The controls, of course.  Very easy.  And the steering felt tight and sure, much less floppy than the Toyota.

What was less good:  No second sunroof.  Um, that's it.

Obviously, we got the Honda!  And now I've driven it for a week, and...shhhhhh...I like it.  The fuel efficiency is awesome.  The kids can get in and out so easily, and it really has a ton of space for everyone.  DD3 and I are spending the weekend in North Georgia, so we have gotten to take it on some of the twisty mountain roads, and it has been great.  Not my husband's Porsche, but really good.  And no crumb-catchers in the floor of the car!

So we'll have to wait and see for a real road trip with everyone, but I've migrated to the state of Honda in Minivan Nation and it's not a bad place to be.  (RIP, Suburban.  You were great.)

Friday, October 8, 2010

A dress for Friday

And probably every other day, too.  Oh, Anthropologie, why do you taunt me?  You make the perfect little dress and then only in one color.

Every fall, I mull the fashion offerings.  It's getting harder!  I've done the 80s thing already, back in the actual 80s, so much of this year's stuff is out.  I feel stupid in leggings, and I've hit an age where, while I've still got a pretty good figure, maybe I just don't feel like showing it all the time.  (Thanks, Spanx!)  And, honestly, owning a yarn shop isn't great for feeling young and stylish.  I'm just saying there's high frump potential, that's all.

Enter this dress.  Short, but not too, and comfy with soft corduroy, and just right for showing off my cute Daisy Duke boots* and any of a gazillion scarves at my disposal.  In other words, really perfect.  I'll take one in every color.  So, exactly ONE.

*My Frye Daisy Dukes, brown and cream.  Kind of like the ones in the link except for the color.  The only thing I can wear named after Daisy!

EDITED:  HEY!  They've added two more colors.  Yes, please.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Howdy from Dallas

Blogging today from Dallas.  I'm going to try to blog about travel on Tuesdays, so this works.

Texas is just so darn big.  Lyle Lovett has a terrific song, "That's Right," in which he tells someone not from Texas that it's okay, you can be a Texan, because "Texas wants you anyway."  And it's true.  Everyone I talked to just loves Texas, and they wanted me to love it, too.

I spent the larger part of yesterday shopping.  I visited the Galleria, where I found exactly the same stores that we have in Atlanta.  *yawn*  The Galleria is immense, and it does have an ice skating rink.  I guess I wasn't in the right mood, because I left after about an hour of strolling around and never even got motivated to try on a pair of shoes or some jeans.

I had better luck when I headed down to McKinney Street, in what I think is the "Uptown" neighborhood. One great store was all it took:  Cowboy Cool.  I only bought a belt but also had a great conversation with the owner and staff.  And that is really the point of this post.

Dallas is booming.  It's obvious by the low vacancy rate you see when driving around a shopping district, by the few houses you'll see for sale, and the vibrant restaurant scene.  Not like Atlanta at all.  So when the friendly Cowboy Cool staff asked me where I was from, we launched into a comparison of Dallas and Atlanta.  Georgia's unemployment and foreclosure rates are quite high compared to the national average; Texas' rates are much lower.  The owner said that things were a little tighter this year than last, but really they were doing just fine.  Where last year a customer might have bought TWO pairs of custom-made boots, this year they'd buy just one pair, but they were still buying.

A friend of the owner's had relocated in the last year or so to Atlanta, from a position at the Mansion on Turtle Creek to a similar position at a new property in Atlanta.  The friend is now trying "everything" to get back to Dallas.  Seems the economy in Atlanta isn't supporting the new property.  More than that, though, the friend's experience of Atlanta was that so much of life revolved around race.  The city "too busy to hate" apparently is not too busy to keep careful track of what is fair and what isn't.  Much of this person's professional experience in Atlanta was taken up with placating employees, showing fairness and  dealing with hurt feelings and worse.

Now, this is one person's experience, related to me third-hand.  But this is how a reputation grows.  Why would any company want to locate to a city where they automatically have to prove their good intentions, where a large part of the population is looking for resolutions to grievances, real OR perceived?  Now, I also don't know the state of relations here in Dallas.  But these people were plainly shocked that it "really is like that" in Atlanta, and it was obvious that the level of racial tension--yes, tension, much more than mere awareness--was remarkable to a Dallas transplant.

I wanted to post about this because it was striking--these new acquaintances were looking for verification that the atmosphere in Atlanta "really is like that."  And I had to agree that it is, because even the recent mayoral election bears that out.  While we don't see it out in the suburbs as much, Atlanta spends so much time worrying about black versus white.  It is sad to see a city that helped give birth to the civil rights movement be unable to move beyond it.  I wonder if Atlanta will ever move on.

Well, that was kind of a downer.  So now I'm off to check out Highland Park, GWB's neighborhood, and then I think it'll be time to head home.  One last day to pretend to be a Texan: big hair and big wallet.  At least the hair.