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December, 2012 |

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New Year, New Home… in Five Easy Steps

There’s no better time than a new year to renew your living space. Whether you have a tiny apartment, or a 10,000 square foot house, here’s five simple changes that will make you feel like you’re living in a brand new home.

1. Rearrange your furniture.
I’m a designer, which means I get easily bored with my surroundings, so I rearrange the furniture. I once turned my living room into a dining room. Move that sofa to the opposite wall. Swap out your nightstands with side tables from the living room, or use a floor lamp next to the bed. A dining room sideboard can work just as well in the living room. Hang a mirror above it or put the flatscreen TV on top. You can do it. Really. Even if a decorator has carefully selected and placed each and every piece of furniture. Mix it up. You’ll be amazed at how you feel like you’re in a new home.

2. Edit.
Now that everything is in a new place, clear the clutter. Clear off every knick knack and tchotchke and put it on your kitchen or dining room table. Then edit. Rethink what you had on those side tables and mantle. Put back only what you love, and put it back in different places. Store everything else to swap out at a later time. You might even have holiday gifts to add to the mix.

3. New color scheme.
It’s sale time, so it’s the perfect opportunity to change up the colors in your home. No, I don’t mean going out to buy new furniture, or painting the walls… just change up the accessories. New throw pillows in a different color or pattern will revive that old sofa. If you have colorful cushions, try neutralizing… shades of pale can be just as stunning as a profusion of color. Add a comfy throw blanket for those cold winter nights. In the same vein, replace your bedding. A new duvet cover and shams will transform your bedroom. Make it cozy. Fold up a wool blanket at the foot of the bed, and add a little throw rug next to it.

4. Move your artwork.
Now that you have a new furniture arrangement and color scheme, move your artwork around. If that painting has been on the same wall for so long it’s left a mark, maybe it’s time for a new location. I constantly move my artwork around from wall to wall, room to room, because, frankly, why not? You’ll be surprised at how artwork is given new life when it’s moved to a new wall.

5. Organize your bookshelves.
Books are one of my favorite decorating accessories. Reorganize your bookshelves… try sorting books by color, or by subject, or by type. Separate hard covers from paperbacks. Lay large books flat on the shelves, using them as a bookend for smaller books. Place a few memorable objects on top of the large flat books, or in front of the smaller ones. Remove some books and use them on a side table or coffee table.

That’s it! Prepare to be exhilarated.

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To see where I get my inspiration, check out my blog.


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A Rational Prediction: Why Chobani and Panera, Apple, and Amazon are …

Glasses of champagne await use to toast the ar...

There are predictions based on hocus pocus, on pure hokum, and on sheer chutzpah, and for which a grain of salt, not to mention sheer naiveté, are required. Then, again, there are predictions based on more solid foundation, be it facts, analytical models, or some other rational rationale. It is this category of prediction to which I subscribe, specifically when it comes to making predictions about brands. Given it’s that time of year (and, that I’m as much a traditionalist as a rationalist), I thought I’d pass along my two cents on which brands I believe will keep their edge in 2013.

The rational rationale for my predictions is the general rule of thumb for what gives any brand the best chance for success these days. Or, actually it’s three rules of thumb. First of all, all brands with an edge get the basics right. They deliver as promised down to even the simplest, most overlooked things. Target, for example, doesn’t just keep offering up the latest looks in fashion and household goods for less, the aisles of its stores are wide and clutter-free making cart navigation easy, there are plenty of registers at the front of the store for quick check-out, and there is always a “red shirt” nearby to help you find what you’re looking for. Target takes the table stakes as seriously as the higher level branding factors and it shows.

Second, and closely associated with the first rule of thumb, is that brands with an edge orchestrate the entire brand experience efficiently and effectively. They don’t just do one thing right and assume customers will stand up and cheer , they ensure everything from soup to nuts is done well. Take Zappos, for instance. The stellar reputation of this online store for shoes and more is based on the sum of its parts, from the depth and breadth of its inventory, to its user-friendly web site, to its uber-friendly customer service, including its super-easy return process. Ask anyone who has bought a pair of shoes from Zappos and the word “awesome” will most likely come up in the description of their experience with the brand.

The third rule of thumb by which one can (cautiously) predict that a brand will keep its edge is that it remains authentic, or true to its core message in everything it does. Yes, yes, I know this word can be overused, if not misused, by branding people, but when used, well, authentically, it’s a critical factor in what makes for a brand’s success. Consumers are both savvier and more skeptical than ever before. If they sense that something about a brand just doesn’t feel real, they’ll let the world know about real fast. A company that tries for present itself as “cool” simply by aligning itself with cool celebrities, much like Kodak did a couple of years back when it brought in hip-hop stars Pitbull, Rihanna and Trey Songz to tout its new camera, is totally not cool. It’s like a nerdy guy going to a frat party filled with football heroes thinking all the girls will assume he’s a football hero. More than ever before, a brand must stay true to its values and not try to be something it’s not.

So, my predictions for which brands will stay out in front in 2013, in addition to Target and Zappos, based on these three key rules? Here goes:

1. Chobani: One might have thought there was no room left in the yogurt aisle for another Greek-style product. One might have thought that there was no innovative thinking to be had in the food category in general, a pretty slow-growth arena. Those who thought those thoughts haven’t tried Chobani, or haven’t looked at the company’s sales numbers. They also haven’t looked at this brand with respect to my rules of thumb. It’s a great tasting product, which is a pretty basic requirement for any food. Its other branding touch points, from its extra-large cup and fresh, shiny packaging, to the inventive flavors like pomegranate and pineapple, to its line extensions like Chobani Champions for kids and Chobani Bites, small 100-calorie cups perfect for a quick, delicious snack, are consistent with its promise. And, its name (the Greek word for shepherd), along with its rich and creamy texture, hit the authenticity key to the tune of over $1 billion in annual sales. Not bad for a company just going into its sixth year.

2. Panera: One might have thought there was no room left in the fast food category, let alone new thoughts to think about the category, that is until Panera came along. The reason for its success is simple: It has differentiated itself as a fast food restaurant by serving up healthy and very tasty menu choices at an affordable price point, and doing so within a warm and stylish atmosphere. The setting is light and airy, the seating is comfortable, the visual merchandising is artfully done, and the food is served on real dishware, not in paper wrappers or on plastic plates. Basics done right? Check. Consistent experience from menu to venue, not matter where the venue, be it California or Colorado? Check. Authentically fresh-baked bread and artisanal salads and sandwiches? Check. Sales trending upward? Absolutely. Check for yourself.

3. Bond, James Bond: Not sure if you saw Skyfall. Great movie. Not sure if you’re aware that James Bond is a brand. Great brand, even after 50 years. Why? See my three rules of thumb. Every Bond movie gets the basics right, from the iconic 007 logo, to the iconic music, the bulletproof story line, the exotic locations, the foes we love to hate, and, of course, the martinis, shaken not stirred. Every movie is consistently orchestrated and executed from the gripping opening scenes to the boy-gets-girl ending, to meet our highest Bond brand expectations. And, authentic? This solid franchise continues to ensure Bond, be it Connery or Craig, is on-brand from his tuxedos to his technological toys to his lady friends. Can’t wait to see what the Broccoli franchise has in store for us in the coming year.

4. Amazon: What happens when you have more than tens of millions of items – and counting – for sale, you have more than 8 million customers whose individual needs you do your absolute best to meet, and you do whatever it takes to make the sales process as easy and convenient as possible? You keep your edge as a brand. Amazon is one of the greatest brand success stories of all time and for all the right reasons. (See three rules of thumb, above, along with the adage, “The customer is always right.”.) Enough said.

5. Apple: This brand doesn’t have tens of millions of unique things for sale, but it has sold tens of millions of all i-things – and counting. Despite its most recent Apple Maps faux pas, despite the passing of its legendary founder, Steve Jobs, Apple continues to get the formula for leading edge brand right. Its “basics” set the standard for the categories in which it competes. It consistently and beautifully orchestrates the brand experience from product design and functionality, to packaging, to advertising. And there is no doubt that when you use anything Apple, it’s the real deal. And, while the differences between phone and even tablet features continue to shrink from one company to the next, I believe Apple’s future success as a brand will be driven by software and software integration that will make life more fun, easier and more easily shared. Apple, above any other rule of thumb, is about innovation – knowing what people want before they can even tell you. My sixth sense tells me this is not going to change anytime soon.

6. Toyota: Okay, I know about the lawsuit that ended up with Toyota paying out millions over an accelerator issue. But, hear me out. Despite this setback, and despite the enormous setback in 2008 as a result of the horrific tsunami disaster, Toyota will have sold 9.7 million vehicles in 2012, overtaking General Motors and every other automobile manufacturer. More than this, its gas-electric Prius model topped Consumer Reports annual list of Best Values for the first time, stating that the car’s cost to operate is about half that of conventional vehicles. Just as innovation matters in the tech category, it matters in the auto category and Toyota, while buckling down on the basics and every other rule of brand ascendency, is nothing, if not inventive in its thinking. My forecast is that the brand will continue to own the road in 2013.

7. Downton Abbey: Six Emmys. Millions of viewers of every age. Its first season was a phenomenon when it arrived on the American telly. It continues to fascinate as an entertainment vehicle and as a brand for many reasons. It’s nailed the basics, from the superb production values, to the strong story lines that keep our interest week after week with family intrigue and old-fashioned romance. It’s consistent in execution inclusive of its beautifully cast of players and their pitch-perfect dialogue. And, as for authenticity, dare you even ask? The sweeping green lawns, the fresh-cut flowers, the polished dinnerware, and the costumes. Every detail is in place as if attended to by Mr. Bates, the valet, himself. Stay tuned. My prediction is that Downton Abbey will be a ratings favorite for the foreseeable future, whether you catch it on your local PBS station, Netflix or your iPad.

While making predictions about brands is sort of like making predictions about stocks, I do think that there are rational underpinnings that make doing so a bit more realistic than, say, arranging your schedule based on the Mayan calendar. In any event, these are my predictions, not guarantees. Consult with your financial advisor before making any investment decisions. And, Happy New Year!

 

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The Best and Worst Stocks of 2012

As we prepare to invest in the New Year, we can learn from the five best and worst performing stocks of 2012 in the Standard Poor’s 500 Index.

While any investor would have loved to know this list a year ago, it’s a good guide for 2013. Several of the factors that drove these share prices up and down in 2012 haven’t changed.

The best stocks were led by signs of a recovery in housing, a slight return of consumer confidence, and the U.S. Federal Reserve‘s unprecedented monetary easing measures.

“The sector leaders are what one would expect with the [Fed] policy and with continued monetary injections into the economy this year through bond purchases,” Peter Jankovskis, co-chief investment officer at Oakbrook Investments LLC, told The Wall Street Journal. “By pumping money into the economy the Fed boosts consumer confidence-and spending-which one would expect to boost consumer and financial shares.”

While the leaders’ success was tied to central bank actions, the biggest losers simply stumbled from their lack of innovation, inept management, and failed business models.

Best Stocks of 2012

Here are the best performing stocks in the SP 500 for 2012:

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Kraft Launching More Than 40 New Products

Kraft Foods Group is kicking off 2013 by bringing more than 40 new products to the table. Oscar Mayer Selects Chicken Breast Franks, Miracle Whip Dipping Sauces and Crystal Light Liquid are among the new products. This is the first comprehensive new products launch since Kraft became an independent public company in October.

“As culinary trends continue to evolve, one constant is a desire for even more choices,” said Robin Ross, associate director of culinary at Kraft. “Consumers have varying and multiple needs for their food and beverage choices. Some consumers find a healthy balance with less complex ingredient lines is important, while others want bold or ethnically-inspired taste experiences.”

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“We’re seeing an all-out quest for fun, passion and adventure in food and beverages as people embrace a multitude of global and regional flavors,” says Barry Calpino, VP, breakthrough innovation for Kraft. Kraft has grouped the innovations into general areas of focus reflecting the desires of today’s consumers: Bolder flavor, flexible meal choices; simpler ingredients lines; and customization.

The new line combines spice blends with pulled pork that has been slow smoked with natural hardwood to lock in the meat flavors. Cheesy Casseroles in chili cornbread, chicken pot pie and Shepherd’s pie varieties are also introduced. The Velveeta Cheesy Skillets Dinner Kits franchise will introduce three new flavor combinations: Jambalaya, Chicken Parmesan and Ultimate Cheeseburger Mac with 2% milk cheese.

Launches featuring bolder flavors include a Miracle Whip Dipping Sauces line: Spicy Jalapeno Philadelphia Cream Cheese, two new flavors of Philadelphia Indulgence Spreads (Cinnamon and Dulce de Leche Caramel) and new flavors of Kraft and Polly-O String Cheese (Cracked Black Pepper, Italian Style Pizzeria and Sweet BBQ) to name a few.

Launches offering simpler ingredients include a new Chicken Breast Franks flavor within the Oscar Mayer Selects line. Launches focused on customization include a new Cherry Blackberry flavor of MiO and six new flavors of Crystal Light Liquid (Mango Passionfruit, Strawberry Lemonade, Blueberry Raspberry, Iced Tea, Peach Bellini and Pomtini) to name a few.

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Go green in 2013

TORONTO — Long before everyone else prepared to turn the page on 2012, trend forecasters have been on the fast track to 2013 with projections of the hot hues expected to make a colourful splash in the months ahead.

Burgundy and wine-coloured shades like bordeaux, merlot and oxblood emerged among the popular hues of the past year, popping up in everything from boots and bags. But the days of one lone “it” shade eclipsing all others are likely over.

Fortunately, there are several options for those seeking a colour infusion for their walls or their wardrobe to suit their tastes heading into the New Year.

Among the collection of earthy tones, cool colours and bold hues featured in its 2013 Colour Trends Guide, paint manufacturer Benjamin Moore singled out lemon sorbet as its standout shade for the year ahead.

In settling on its colour of the year, they’re trying to decipher which paint colours will work for the backdrop and pair well with other shades within the space, said Benjamin Moore colour and design spokeswoman Sharon Grech.

“Whether it’s pastels or even golds and sort of stronger yellows, you’re seeing a lot of it in accessories like handbags and fashion jewelry and accessories and clothes,” said Grech. “We went to the lemon sorbet as a nice light pastel that can handle accessorizing with any other pastels, whether it’s baby blue, that Tiffany blue, corals and mint green.

“Even if you’ve got a real neutral (environment) with greys and camels, a hint of lemon sort of spices things up a bit. It’s a little more exciting than grey or beige on the wall.”

Consumers can also expect to be seeing plenty more green in 2013.

Emerald was already cropping up on spring fashion runways in September as well as surfacing in cosmetics when Pantone LLC announced the vibrant green shade as its colour of the year for 2013 in December.

Kitchen appliances are already being seen saturated in the shade, and consumers can anticipate bedding and dishware among the range of emerald-hued items, said Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of Pantone Color Institute. The institute is Pantone’s research division, which creates colour standards for the fashion, beauty and home industries.

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Newly Opened Your Kitchenware Needs Features The Best Cookware Sets Online – Virtual

Your Kitchenware Needs is the resource shoppers need when searching for quality stainless steel cookware and more.

San Jose, CA (PRWEB) December 31, 2012

A well-stocked kitchen is a necessity for any home. That starts with the most basic of items, like pots and pans. To make tasty and nutritious meals at home, it’s important to have a quality stainless steel cookware set. One new store currently celebrating its grand opening is the go-to place for the very best stainless steel cookware sets. Your Kitchenware Needs, an Internet store recently established by entrepreneur Gennevieve Lindell, is stocked with quality stainless steel cookware and plenty of other handy kitchenware, too.

Your Kitchenware Needs is now available to shoppers at anytime via the web at http://www.yourkitchenwareneeds.com. That’s where shoppers will find a user-friendly store that is stocked with stainless steel pot sets. Even for those shoppers who don’t usually make purchases on the Internet, this new store provides the ideal way to shop for stainless steel cookware.

Your Kitchenware Needs features stainless steel cookware sets because these items are durable and make it easy to cook. Cleaning a stainless steel cookware set is easy, as well. Shoppers will appreciate the store’s selection of the best cookware sets on the market, in addition to the low prices on stainless steel pot sets. To see all that Your Kitchenware Needs has to offer, visit http://www.yourkitchenwareneeds.com.

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For the original version on PRWeb visit: http://www.prweb.com/releases/prweb2012/12/prweb10280113.htm

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Ode to My Pantry: Ten Time Hacks

Learning to feed yourself can be one of the most terrifying things. Am I about to give myself food poisoning? If I eat this too often will I end up with scurvy? How can I get the most nutritional bang for my buck? Why does this still taste like ass?

With Ode to My Pantry, learn to navigate a grocery store without having a meltdown in aisle three. Give a man a fish and feed him for a day, teach a queer to cook and stave off malnutrition for another semester.

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Sometimes you don’t have the patience to cook. Sure, it will leave your stomach filled and your creative side fulfilled, but sometimes you just don’t want to. There are warm horizontal surfaces and  adorable fuzzy animals/people beckoning you towards them! How can you make it through an hour in the kitchen when there are so many distracting and/or enticing things in your way? Well sorry, but part of you will just have to learn to suck it up and deal with Life as an Adult. But that doesn’t mean you have to be a slave to your kitchen. Learn work-arounds and simple tricks that make dinner hit the plate faster.

Forget that you’re cookingIt goes without saying that you should have something to distract you. Music? Podcasts? Hilarious and attractive sous chefs? Shitty drama (scripted or lived) works too. Either way, if you have something to focus on instead of the 10lbs of potatoes that need peeling, all of your tasks will go by much faster. Maybe this isn’t as much of a time hack as a time warp hack.

Make your Masons work for you. If you subscribe to the Mason jar aesthetic for your pantry needs, you’ve probably noticed how annoying it is to constantly screw and unscrew and screw and unscrew and screw and unscrew lids. Make sure you have easy access to your most used ingredients by investing in sifter lids or easy-flip spouts. You won’t have to sacrifice the look or your patience! You could also DIY that shit by reusing the spouts from your old salt containers.

Get an electric kettle (at least 60oz) with an automatic shut-off. It’ll free up valuable stovetop real estate and save you a bit of money while it’s at it. Sure, no hassle prep for coffee or tea is obvious, but did you realize you could use it to wilt and blanche small quantities of food too? Simply load up a colander with your desired veggies and slowly empty a kettle of boiling water over them. Continuously toss throughout the process and  rinse under cool running water to halt cooking. Your spinach or bean sprouts will be wilted in less time than it takes to clean another pot.

Rethink your rituals. Maybe I’m just clumsier than most, but I can’t really dice onions properly. The old school (ie. “proper”) way of dicing onions calls for you to slice an onion into a grid like shape before chopping into pieces. I find that I’ll spend half of my day trying to make the parallel slices and holding the damn thing together. Why not cut across it radially so every sliver is still attached to the root end?

It calls for fewer cuts through the onion and through your fingers (at least for me). The pieces won’t be perfect cubes, but what can you really expect from a round vegetable?

Call in back up. If your knife skills aren’t up to par, you may want to invest in a tool to help you out. Just make sure that the unitasker does its job well and saves you time in prep and clean up. Slap chop? Useless. Mandoline with eight billion parts? You’ll never use it. Banana slicer? Fuck that shit. Slicing attachment on a food processor? A living hell unless you were going to grate borscht for forty. Try a hand-held food slicer or a V-slicer that has minimal parts to clean. They may not be ridiculously attractive, but if they work who gives a shit? The world doesn’t need more chindogu.

The peeler isn’t your best friend. Some veggies don’t need peeling and some only need a little bit. Do right by your rhizome and use a spoon to peel your ginger. You can also clean your veggies up by doing a once-over with a scrubby pad instead of a peeler.

Hold onto your old credit cards. If they have embossed numbers and text, they belong in your kitchen cupboard instead of your trash. Simply rub a clove of garlic or a knob of ginger against the ridges to create a perfect puree. In the case of ginger, it’ll keep your ginger fiber-free too. It’s cheaper than a microplane grater and less redundant than the garlic card. Make sure to stash a few extra cards by the sink to scrape off baked on food gunk.

You don’t need to keep a credit card just for your garlic needs

No shame in frozen. When it comes to peas, berries and other ingredients that don’t need to stay super crisp, might as well trek to the tundra. Who has time to shell peas? Produce that is picked at the peak of its season and flash frozen is almost as nutritious as its fresh counterpart. Keep bags of frozen peas in the chill chest for last-minute meal additions. Simply chuck the frozen orbs into your simmering sauce and the peas will thaw as it cooks. If you really want them to taste farm fresh produce, freeze your own goods when they’re in season. Congratulations Martha! The rest of us will be in the freezer section.

Minimize your mess. I know it’s tempting, but you really don’t need to try out every single pot and pan in your new cookware set when you’re making dinner. Try to economize your cookware so you’re washing less and spending less. Next time you cook rice, quinoa or other grains, wait until they’re almost ready and throw your veggies on top to steam. You won’t pay to heat another element and you won’t have to wash additional pots/steamer baskets/colanders. Plus all of the veggie juices will drip back into your meal. Win-win! The same theory applies when boiling veggies and pasta simultaneously, although I rarely advocate boiling vegetables.

Clean as you go. It probably sounds like your mom/roomie bribed me to include this, but it’s true! Whenever you have some down time, just throw something into the sink to soak. Waiting for your pasta water to come to a boil? Wash your cutting board and knives. Stirring your pasta sauce? Pack away your spices. Garlic bread still toasting? Might as well rinse your recycling. If you have less work to do at the end of your meal, it’ll seem like you have less to do over all. No one likes a counter full of dirty dishes for dessert.

So get cooking l’il lady. There are cocktails to be had when you’re done.

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