Sabotage!

I’ve been searching for something worth blogging about all week, and it only just happened.

Several of my coworkers and I were in the marketing director’s (CW’s) office a few minutes ago chatting about campus events, and her phone rang. She answered, and a panicked expression immediately came over her face. “This is… this… ma’am… this is the university of… this is a business line…” she tried to say. Finally, she held the phone away from her ear and we could hear a woman screaming on the other end. CW looked at all of us in panic before saying, “I’m sorry, I have no idea what you’re talking about” and moving to hang up the phone. Just before the receiver hit the base, we heard the line say “You’ve been called by prankdial.com!”

We cracked up. The woman’s voice on the phone had been screaming “I know you called my husband! How dare you!” and other such related phrases. No wonder CW was shocked! We tried to figure out if the call was made purposefully to her, on accident, or if it was an advertisement for the website itself.

Minutes later, after we had all dispersed to our desks, RH’s phone rang. After listening for a few moments and hanging up, he came out and told us all, “I just got one too. Some lady wanting help finding her cat.” We determined it must be either an advertisement call or someone intentionally targeting our office – but we couldn’t think of anyone who might be responsible.

Then it was my turn. But my phone is different from the others — I have caller ID.

I answered my ring and a frantic woman’s voice asked, “Is this county animal control?” I didn’t answer, having caught on by this point, and waited for the tape to continue. “You have to come quick, there’s a raccoon in my living room! My children are home and it’s running everywhere. How did it get in? I need help now or it’s going to bite them. Please come! Hurry!”

I wrote down the number on the caller ID and realized it was an on-campus phone line. At that moment, DD, who’s office is right next to my desk, started laughing.

We descended on his office, but it’s hard to deny your prank when you’re laughing too hard to defend yourself.

Except when I searched the caller ID number on the campus website it turned out to be an assistant professor’s office line in health and human performance… so who knows how¬†that came through the switchboard. But DD got his laughs and we got a little excitement at the end of a slow day.

Whoever thought we’d be sabotaged by the quiet little assistant in the side office. But you know what they say, it’s the quiet ones you’ve got to watch out for.

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Meera and the disappearing fluff balls

The Mister and I woke up yesterday morning to a scene most of you have seen at your own houses – a world covered in glittering fairy dust (aka – the snow that’s keeping us all out of school this week). I had actually seen it at 3:15 a.m. – and again at 5:30 a.m. – because Meera was sick all night and wouldn’t let us get any sleep. The first time I took her outside, the snow was so bright I didn’t need a flashlight. She plowed right in, hardly seeming to take notice except to look around in confusion because she couldn’t find the grass. That expedition was a potty-break failure. The second trip out worked though, because she was at the point that she didn’t care where the grass had gone, she had to go and she was going to go wherever she wanted.

After that she slept. Finally. And we slept. Sort of.

Good thing we didn’t have class or work yesterday because neither one of us would have been able to stay awake to write full sentences. Meera was very quiet and slept most of the day – she was as exhausted as we were – but we woke her up around lunchtime to see what she would do when confronted with a white-washed world in the daytime.

Now remember, she was born and spent the first year and a half of her life on a Caribbean island. She’d never experienced cold until we came home and the seasons started to change. We live in Tennessee, so she’d certainly never seen snow beyond a few flurry flakes. We expected her to be hesitant, or to flat-out refuse to leave the stairwell.

We did not expect her to dash out the door, snow flying, skidding on the ice, sticking her head into the drifts and completely, totally loving every second of it.

But that’s what she did. She dug into drifts and was delighted to find grass at the bottom! She chased her ball and dug it out when we covered it up. And, it seems mean, but she LOVED when we would get great armfuls of powdered snow and dump them on top of her! She wanted to be covered in it, and then shake it off in a cloud of powder. She wanted to jump and leap and catch it all and eat huge mouthfuls off the sidewalk. She would get up to top speed on the smooth part and then stop suddenly – I think purely for the purpose of sliding and sending up sprays of snow. Just like a child! It was so much fun to watch her experience this new thing.

Her favorite trick though was Daddy’s amazing ability to create white balls with his hands and then throw them — AND THEY DISAPPEARED!! Rather than getting frustrated when she couldn’t find the snowball, she would run back to us at full speed and jump around until we threw another for her to chase. I’ve included some short video clips below.

It’s the little things in life. ūüôā

How is your snow week going? Are you off work? Have you tried to drive? Let us know what it looks like in your area.

dc, dc, dc, dec2tog, dec2tog… and other mumbo jumbo

I wish I could put “fluent in crochet” on my resume. It really is like translating another language.

1sc, (1hdc in next st then put a sc in the top of the hdc and a sc in the bottom of the hdc), 1sc in next 3st, 2sc in next st, 2hdc next 2st, 1sc in next st, sl st next 2st, 1sc in next st, 2hdc in next 2st, 2sc in next st and 1sc in next 3st…..

The above creates the beginnings of a heart shape, by the way. Can’t you tell?

Anyway, if I could spend my days writing and my evenings crocheting I would be a happy camper. I’ve never had a strong creative outlet before, but now that I’ve really gotten into this, I can’t seem to stop! I’ve got a list half a mile long of “upcoming projects” — dragons, dinosaurs, bunnies, Easter chicks, baby photo props, elephants, baby blankets, king sized afghans… the ideas go on and on. If I started at the top of my pinterest board and methodically worked my way down, I couldn’t make everything in five years. And that would be if I could STOP ADDING THINGS TO IT!

Here are a few of my most recent creations:

Baby owl in orange. 4" high and fits in the palm of your hand.

Baby owl in orange. 4″ high and fits in the palm of your hand.

All the eyes are colored by hand to match the owl.

All the eyes are colored by hand to match the owl.

This is Harold, Hedwig's cousin.

This is Harold, Hedwig’s cousin.

The blue one looks a bit like a superhero wearing a mask!

The blue one looks a bit like a superhero wearing a mask!

He loves you "beary much!" (That was terrible, I know. I can't help it.)

He loves you “beary much!” (That was terrible, I know. I can’t help it.)

Look at his little heart feet!

Look at his little heart feet!

I have three primary problems though, since moving back to the States. First: In St. Kitts, I had a focused, “captive” (almost literally) audience and I kept up a physical, visual presence on campus. Customers picked up their items in person and carried them to their classes, thus creating more business from friends that wanted their own cuddly friends. I did well. Here, I haven’t found a way to drum up that kind of word-of-mouth business, so I am still struggling with how to really let people know I am here. Facebook posts only go so far, after all. Second: My photography is not professional-looking, and I know that. We’re working on a very limited budget here, and my iPad camera can only do so much. I’m trying to work on using neutral backgrounds and natural light to make my products look as good as they can. And Third: Pricing. This is my hardest struggle, I think. How do I price my items to be attractive to customers, but still make a little money from my efforts?

The teddy bear above is listed for $34, plus shipping. Here is how I arrive at that number:

  • I used about $4 in yarn, stuffing, safety eyes and embroidery floss. Materials: $4
  • I use a timeclock app on my iPad to keep up with how long I work on a particular project. This teddy bear took just over 5 hours and 30 minutes to create and assemble. At $5/hour, that comes to $28.¬†Labor: $28
  • Materials + labor = $32
  • Etsy.com charges a flat $0.20 fee to post an item, and 3.5% of the item’s list price to display it. If my math is correct, 3.5% of $32 is $1.12, plus $0.20 is $1.32.
  • Listing fees =$1.32
  • Item price ($32) + listing fees ($1.32) = $33.32, rounded to $34
  • Now I have to ship it. Let’s say shipping for this size box is usually about $8.
  • Item ($33.32) + shipping ($8) = $41.32
  • If a customer uses direct checkout (pays directly with debit or credit card), there is a flat $0.25 transaction fee plus 3% of the item price INCLUDING SHIPPING. So 3% of $41.32 is $1.24, plus the quarter brings¬†payment transaction fees to $1.49. (If a customer uses paypal, the fees are slightly different. But I can’t predict this so I always use the direct checkout formula.)
  • Shipping ($8) + payment transaction fees + ($1.49) = $9.49 ($9.50)
  • So I have to list the item at $34, and then charge $9.50 shipping in order to cover fees and shipping and material costs. And that’s without a profit markup. All I’m getting paid for is my material investment and $5/hour for my time.

Nobody ever said you could get rich selling handmade.

I do this because I love it, because it makes me happy, because it allows me to be creative, and because it relieves stress. I don’t do it to make money, but it would be nice if I didn’t lose money either.

Any ideas? Tips from pros? I’m always looking for better ways to do things.

As always, all items pictured above are available Under the Chesnut Tree. The patterns for the little owls and the teddy bear are found at those respective links; I did not create them and I sell them with the permission of the pattern creator.

CONFIDENTIAL

Everyone should be aware of what type and how much of their personal information is publicly accessible. In this age of high-tech identity theft, one must be especially careful to guard information such as telephone numbers, addresses, bank information and other obvious identifiers. However, when does concern for personal safety start to have a negative impact on your future?

The university where I work publishes a student directory at least once per year which¬†lists students’ names, mailing addresses and campus telephone numbers, and is distributed on campus and made¬†available at the campus information desk for anyone who might want one. This is not a new practice, but for some reason a few semesters ago the distribution of the directory led to wide-spread student and parent panic about the release of personal information. Phone calls flooded¬†in from everywhere, demanding that students be taken out of the public directory and their information sealed.

Setting aside the fact that the campus directory gives no more information than a city telephone book, there is another important factor at play of which a vast majority of students and parents are not aware: the idea Рand the consequences Рof confidentiality.

Institutions of higher education that receive certain types of federal funding are bound by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA, in regards to student educational information. When a student begins their time at a university, they fill out an information disclosure form that gives them a set of choices regarding how and to whom they want their personal information to be made available. [“Personal information” in this sense includes¬†name, address, telephone number, dates of¬†enrollment, GPA , field of study and details about their degree.]

The choices are (in shortened form):

  • I, the undersigned, authorize full disclosure of my personal information by mail or telephone to eligible parties.
  • I, the undersigned, authorize limited disclosure of my personal information by mail or telephone to eligible parties. (You indicate which details can be released and which cannot.)
  • I, the undersigned, do not authorize disclosure of any personal information.

Let’s talk about that last option. When you refuse to authorize the disclosure of any personal information, whether at the time of signing this form or by choice in the future, you are, in essence – requesting that your files be marked “confidential.” This sounds like a good idea, right? Well, not entirely.

Under the laws of FERPA, if an educational file is marked “confidential,” that means you do not exist. If someone were to call the Office of Academic Records (or my office, for that matter) to verify your dates of enrollment, or your scholarship eligibility, or your GPA, the official on the phone would see the “confidential” mark and immediately tell the caller, “I’m sorry. I have no record of that student.”

No record. At all. That means that now, in the caller’s mind, you never attended said university, you do not hold the degrees you say you hold, or¬†you do not qualify for whatever award you’re trying to receive.

See how that could be a problem?

What parents and students often don’t realize is that graduate schools trying to verify your eligibility for their programs, employers trying to verify your credentials, and outside scholarships trying to verify your academic standing all receive the same answer: “I have no record of that student.”

A confidential file also means your name will not be included in publications, which includes the honor roll and the commencement lists that appear at the end of each semester. Mom and Grandma won’t be able to cut your name out of the local newspaper and paste it into the scrapbook. Neighbors won’t be able to see that award you won¬†in their morning edition and excitedly call your parents to congratulate you. You don’t exist, and neither do your accomplishments.

So back when dozens of students and parents rushed to have their names removed from the campus directory and their files marked “confidential,” they not only prevented an annoying classmate from finding their phone number, they also prevented a host of legitimate educational and professional sources from finding out anything about them as a student, potential employee or award recipient. And now many of them call my office wanting to know why their friends appeared on the local honor roll and they didn’t.

Often, it’s because you – and your outstanding 4.0 in biochemistry and nuclear engineering – don’t exist.

So next time you feel the urge to keep so tight a hold on common information like your name and phone number, weigh the benefits and think about what else you’re sealing off and who you’re keeping it from. Someday, you might need somebody to say, “Yes, NASA, she received that degree from us.”