Sunday, December 30, 2007

New Year's Resolutions- To Make or Not To Make?

Happy New Year everybody!

As I write this, a feverent version of "Auld Lang Syne" a la "It's A Wonderful Life" is running through my head. With 2008 just two days away, I have been thinking about what I want to accomplish this year, on both a personal and business level. I read somewhere that about half the people that make New Year's resolutions end up abandoning them by June. Ah well, it's the effort that counts, right? For the past couple years, I haven't consciously made resolutions because I think sometimes one can get too ambitious, come up with an unrealistic resolution and then end up feeling crummy because one couldn't make it happen. What I do like about the idea of the New Year's resolution or the end of another year in general, is that it prompts me to look back on what I've done, what I didn't do, and what I hope to do. Right now, 2008 feels like a blank slate and I love it.

Until that apple drops in Time Square at midnight on January 1st, I can scheme all I want about the things I will do over the next 365 days. The results of my scheming included some realistic and ridiculously unrealistic ideas (i.e. would be great to go skydiving this year, but must conquer fear of heights and plummeting to death first). I weeded through and decided that I will try my best to make the following 4 things (in no particular order) happen over the next year:

1) Reteach myself the piano. Would love to play like Diana Krall or Count Basie, but must first figure out how to play "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" and "Hot Cross Buns."

2) Purchase my own place by Sept/Oct 2008. A personal and business goal in one. Because in order for me to invest in property, it means that business with Amandari Co is going well. I'm not thinking anything extravagant- something small, simple and cozy, where I can hang my hat at the end of the day. A fix 'er upper would be lots of fun. Then sometimes I think I watch too many of those Do-It-Yourself shows on HGTV and Fine Living.

3) Learn more about investing. Want to be savvy investor (but not like Gordon Gekko).

4) Get more involved. Would like to participate even more in the local community here in Pittsburgh. There's so much to do, but, it's just a matter of deciding what groups to join. Some more volunteering is definitely in the picture.

I think these are more like goals than resolutions. I think there's a fine line between what constitutes a goal vs. a resolution, but given my track record with resolutions, I'm going to call these goals to avoid jinxing myself.

Cheers to a new year!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Feeding Our Future

It seems that many of us are more charitable during the holiday season. Whether this is because we are reminded of how lucky we are to have what we have, or because of some guilt we feel because we haven't done as much as we would've liked to give back to the community over the year, folks are much more willing to place a dollar in that red kettle or donate a toy for a child in need. The thing is that there are people in need year-round.

There is one non-profit organization that we find particularly admirable, because of its widespread efforts to battle childhood hunger across the U.S.- Share Our Strength. I was suprised to learn that more than 12 million children here in America are at risk of going hungry every year.

Not having enough to eat is often times associated with people living in developing countries. It's not that we forget that there are people in our backyards that are also facing this same problem, but with all the causes out there to support, it sometimes gets lost in the shuffle.

Share Our Strength (SOS) has not only partnered up with large companies and well known chefs to raise funds and increase awareness of this issue, but it has done a great job inspiring individuals throughout the country that they too can make a difference. This sounds cheesy, but when it comes to SOS, it's really true.

Because sometimes, when you are just one person (or in our case a small business), you want to help, but don't know how to get started. If you're interested in finding out more about how you can be a part of the solution, here are links to the main Share Our Strength initiatives:

Taste of the Nation

The Great American Bake Sale
Operation Frontline

We recently donated 10% of our total sales from the Sewickley Farmers' Market to Share Our Strength. We hope that in 2008, we'll be able to do even more- maybe a fundraiser or promotion.

If you think about it, feeding a child means you're feeding the future.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Sweet Seasons Greetings

With Christmas just around the corner, I will admit that I am very much in the holiday spirit! I have a particular affinity for holiday music, and we have been listening to it as we work, since right after Thanksgiving. I know some people who have a pretty low tolerance for this music genre, but I am definitely not one of them.

On a more business related note, sales of our cookies this holiday season have been fairly good, although it's somewhat hard to tell just how well we are doing, since this is our first year of business. I think we'll have a much better idea of how our holiday sales are measuring up at the same time next year, as we'll at least have 2007 sales numbers with which to compare.

The holiday special that we've been running on the eBay store for our Meringue Cookie Sampler Gift Package has been pretty popular. I think it was a good idea to provide a discount (if you place an order for this item by Dec. 25th, you can save $2.00) and offer holiday packaging. I'd like to thank the couple of friends who suggested these ideas- you know who you are!

Another holiday related sale we made was to the Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence at the University of Pittsburgh. We have been working with the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at UPitt and they are part of this larger entrepreneurial organization. Every year, the Institute has a holiday party for its Entrepreneurial Fellows Center. We were asked by one of our contacts at the SBDC if they could purchase about 100 small packages of our cookies to include in the gift bags for the event. We were thrilled with this request! The SBDC is a great organization and has been an indispensable resource for us these past couple of months. After all the help our wonderful SBDC consultants have provided us with, we wanted to give something back. So we donated a portion of the cookies and the SBDC paid for the remainder of the packages. Although our company is small right now and has its limits, it was nice to be able to return the kindness that people have extended to us, even if it was a small gesture. Baby steps, right?

The small card attached to each bag of cookies for the party.

I leave you all with two album recommendations I guarantee will get you into the holiday mood if you still feel like Scrooge. If you're already in the holiday spirit, this music will make you feel like lighting those candles on the menorah or trimming that tree all over again:

December- Chris Botti

Ella Wishes You A Swinging Christmas- Ella Fitzgerald
A Charlie Brown Christmas- Vince Guaraldi

Seasons Eatings....I mean Greetings!

Friday, December 7, 2007

Seperation of burger and school?

I came across an interesting article about a school district in Florida that has been facing a great deal of heat due to a program it has instituted with McDonald's, where by students receive free happy meals for good grades (It's called "Straight A's, with a Burger for As A Prize"- I've posted the article under the Delicious Dishing section of the blog). The article discusses how the McDonald's program brings to the forefront issues such as marketing to kids and encouraging healthy eating habits to students.

The article is a sign of how times have definitely changed. When I was in elementary school, we had a reading program, called Book It that was sponsored by Pizza Hut. It was hugely successful, and I do to a certain extent credit the enthusiasm that I had for reading at that age to this program. The idea was that after you read a certain number of books, you would receive a coupon for a free personal pan pizza and a star on you Book It button. The button was sort of a badge of accomplishment you could show to your friends. The program was very popular at the time and is actually still around today.

From my perspective, rewarding kids with the fast-food that they love for a job well done is not a new concept, but with all the concern around obesity, trans-fats and other healthy issues like high cholesterol and high blood pressure, these are turbulent times for these chains. They have to choose which battles to fight, and anything having to do with kids is an especially touchy subject. Academic incentive programs like those run by McDonald's and Pizza Hut can help improve literacy and develop a love for learning in students, but it is also up to parents/caretakers to ensure that their children have a balanced diet and an active lifestyle.

I think the larger issue that this brings up is whether schools are taking too heavy a hand when it comes to determining what children while classes are in session. I am all for providing healthier lunch and snack options in the cafeteria and limiting the sale of soda and other sugary drinks at school, but completely banning cupcakes? I recently spoke to one mother of two little boys who mentioned that sweets such as cakes and cookies can no longer be brought in for children's birthdays, so parents have taken to bringing pencils and erasers as treats instead. This saddens me! You can't put a candle in a pencil and make a wish. And erasers don't taste very good.

It will be interesting to see how schools continue to try to improve the eating habits of students over the next several years. But I do hope they take the mystery meat off the lunch menu soon.