Tuesday, April 24, 2007

New website went live

I just finished up a website for Jennifer Stumpf, an artist who makes wonderful handmade jewelry:

It's different than anything I've ever done, and I really enjoyed it. She was a delight to work with, and we seemed to click right from the start. I hope she's very successful. She does beautiful work.

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Thursday, April 19, 2007


After I wrote the other day about my income tax filing debacle, I got an email from H&R Block's local product manager. He said that someone had forwarded my blog entry to him, and he apologized for the bad experience I had had, and said that they had already processed a refund of my filing fees back to my credit card.

It was quite a surprise! I hadn't really decided whether I was even going to pursue a refund. I just wasn't sure whether it was worth the hassle. To have it already be accomplished without my having to contact anyone directly was very welcome, and very surprising. And certainly great customer service.

I know that people read what I write, but I consciously try not to write specifically with that in mind, because if I start thinking about it too much, I become too self-conscious. I've been doing this so long that it's ingrained in me not to write personal things about other people, but I sometimes go too far, I think, when I'm talking about something "faceless," like a company that produces a product that I may not be fond of, or that doesn't work for me.

It's a good reminder that we don't write in a vacuum, particularly now, when blogs are so prevalent. I'm sure that companies search all the time for mentions of their names, and just like newspaper-clipping services, there are companies that provide that service for them.

It's worth remembering that even when we don't realize it, our words have power, and we should be mindful of it.

On a separate note, I gave Barbara Bretton permission to publish my creation myth, "Knitting the World," on Romancing the Yarn, but I forgot to go look and see if she had. She had -- a couple of weeks ago -- so I thought I'd link to it here.

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In the comments the other day, Maggie asked how the cell phone charms attach to a cell phone. Most (but not all) cell phones have a little loop somewhere for a strap, usually on the top, where a cord can be threaded through. These photos show how mine looks. The cord of the lanyard is slipped through the loop on the phone, then you slip the charm through the lanyard loop and pull it tight.

And yes, I'll ship anywhere. :)

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I was looking at my photos in iPhoto last night, clearing out the ones that I didn't want to keep, and ran across this one that I'd forgotten. I took it a couple of weeks ago on Saturday, when I was getting ready to take Dinah to the vet. The only way I can get her in the carrier is to put it up on the kitchen counter, where she doesn't have any place to get traction (except on me, unfortunately). It still isn't easy corralling all the legs and shoving her in there, but it's the most efficient way that I've found.

I don't know whether Pyewacket was keeping her company or taunting her, but I thought it was funny to see her sitting there on the floor while Dinah was up in the carrier on the counter.

Pyewacket has a bad habit of intimidating Dinah by staring at her -- if I'm home alone in the evenings, or if Bob has shut himself up in the office, both cats tend to want my lap. If Dinah's on my lap, Pyewacket will come and stand and stare at Dinah until she gets uncomfortable and jumps off, then Pyewacket will take her place (if I let her--sometimes if she's done that, I'll refuse to hold her).

If we notice Pyewacket doing it, we'll shove her away, or if I can't reach her, sometimes I'll try to shield Dinah's eyes so she can't see her. It's funny trying to explain it, but it's really annoying. And it brings up that old childhood taunt of staring: "Mom! She's staring at me!" "I am NOT." "Yes, you are!" Children.

I've jumped on the Moo bandwagon. I've seen them various places on the web--they apparently had a free trial for awhile to get interest, but I missed that, unfortunately. I'd been planning on buying some once I figured out what pictures I wanted on them--I'd been keeping a folder on Flickr--but then I had an idea to make some to send out along with my jewelry.

When someone buys a piece, I put it into a little organza drawstring bag, then write a note on one of my business cards, and wrap them both up in colored tissue paper, which I then seal with a sticker. My business cards are nice, but they're my web design ones, so not really completely appropriate.

I had the thought that the Moo cards would be cool--they wouldn't have to be just photographs, you can put anything you want on them. So I took the banner that I'd made for my store, and resized it and played around with it, and turned it into a Moo card. 100 cards for $19.99, which I didn't think was bad at all, and they're great quality, very nice, heavy stock. You can have any text you want printed on the back, too, so mine have the business name, my name, email, phone, and URL (www.intentionalcharms.com) on them.

They're about half the size of a normal business card, and I think they'll fit into the little bags. I also thought I might punch a hole in one end and tie a narrow ribbon or cord or something through it.

Then I started thinking about other paper products, and created some custom return address labels and round stickers at Colorful Images. I got the address labels last night, and they turned out nice, too. I haven't gotten the labels yet, but they'll probably come tonight. I think the labels and stickers were eight or nine dollars per set, so getting the whole set of three pieces for under $40 is a pretty good deal, I think.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Customer (dis)satisfaction

I know all I've been talking about lately is making jewelry, but apart from going to work, that's pretty much all I've been doing. Well, and taxes and some freelance web design stuff. I guess what I mean is that all my leisure time, what there is of it, has been taken up with making stuff. Which I love.

Last night I made cell phone charms with gargoyles!

Over the weekend I made mostly earrings, with a few cell phone charms. I really loved the silver bee/dragonfly one at upper left -- it sold almost immediately, and I had to track down a new silver charm on eBay so I could make one for myself.

As for what I've been doing the rest of the time the last few days, I'm really annoyed at TaxCut. That's the tax program I've been using for years. Last year, they stopped producing the Mac version, and I had to use the online service. This year, responding to customer request, they started making a Mac version again. It had a couple of glitches, but nothing major, and I finished up on Sunday and tried to e-file.

Like most of the tax programs, when you buy it, the e-file fee is included in the purchase price, either as a rebate (which is what they've done in the past, as I recall), or a coupon code that you enter when you file (which is what they did this year).

I went through the question-and-answer "interview," but when I pressed the "file" button, it acted like it was going to send, then just did . . . nothing. It flipped me back to the first question. At first I thought maybe I'd done something wrong, or pressed the wrong button, so I tried it again, with the same result. I still thought I must be doing something wrong, but when I did it very carefully for the third time, and nothing happened, I went to the support section of their website.

I fairly quickly found a "FAQ" about the Mac version describing exactly what had happened to me. It said that this occurred in the Mac version when trying to file using the coupon code. The "solution" was to double-check the coupon code and be sure you were entering it correctly, which I had, of course, done, but I did it again. It was exactly the code that had been sent to to me in the email.

So I called the support desk on Monday morning and got someone who told me I needed to have a browser window open. This made no sense to me, since the program isn't running in a browser, so I called back again, getting a different person, and the same answer. I ran it by one of the programmers here, who said it didn't really make sense that it would need to be done that way, but it was theoretically possible that by opening a browser window you were allowing the program to use the browser to make the server connection.

So when I got home that night, I tried it, to no avail. I tried opening Safari, Firefox and IE, and nothing worked. So, seeing that one of the circumstances causing the problem was the coupon code, I removed the code and put in my credit number, and then it worked. It cost me $30.00 for the federal and state returns, but it worked.

But I shortly got an email message that my return had been rejected. When you e-file, in order to prove you are who you say you are, you have to plug in your AGI from the previous year, which I had gotten from my TaxCut records (the line in last year's report that said "AGI" -- I thought that was safe) was wrong. I dug out the actual copy of the tax return, and the AGI was different. So I fixed it, e-filed again, and, apparently, had to PAY again.

I haven't even bothered trying to call them yet. I figure maybe I will in a couple of days. And I'll watch for my American Express bill, and if they did charge me twice, I'll dispute it.

The only good thing out of the experience (besides getting a refund) was that after I called tech support, they sent me a customer satisfaction survey. I gave them zeros all the way down. It felt good.

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Dream bigger

I've been reminded lately of several times when I've wanted to do something, but believed that I couldn't do it, so I didn't try.

I remember when I got back into knitting, thinking that knitting socks was way beyond me. I'd look at a pattern and be completely intimidated by the tiny needles, the fine yarn, and all the fiddly bits -- the heel, obviously, is the big one. And knitting with doublepointed needles in the round . . . I just never even entertained the possibility. Every time I saw a pattern that I would have liked to make, I looked at the size needles required, and if they were really small, or doublepointed, I just didn't even consider it.

Then I went to the yarn store one day and saw self-patterning sock yarn for the first time, and was completely blown away by its wonderfulness. I wasn't convinced that I could do it, but I had to try. So I bought some needles and a ball of the yarn (Regia) and searched out instructions on the web. It was awkward trying to wrestle a handful of needles, and I wasn't used to using such tiny ones, or such fine yarn, but I kept at it and it wasn't long at all before I had a whole drawerful of beautiful socks, and one (or more) on the needles at all times.

I started out with No. 2 needles and quickly moved down to 1's, and now I'm using zeros to get a finer, smoother fabric. The heels are still the most problematic part -- I need to sit down in a quiet place with good light and no distractions to turn one -- but I can knit in the round practically with my eyes closed.

It was like that with jewelry making, too. I had always wanted to do it, I'd always loved beads, but I was intimidated by the thought of using tools to cut and turn wire, and I thought I probably couldn't do it. I looked longingly at handmade jewelry, and thought I'd love to make things myself, but just didn't think I could do it. When I wanted to make stitch markers for my knitting, I used either beads that were already attached to loops, or charms that could just be hung on rings without any other work.

I would look at other people's work and think how cool it was -- stitch markers with freshwater pearls or semi-precious stones were the ones that I loved, but in order to make those myself, I'd have to learn how to use tools and wire. I finally went to the craft store and bought an inexpensive jewelry kit and some inexpensive tools and sat down and figured it out.

I'm far from perfect -- I still struggle with turning a perfect loop, and I'm always dropping beads, but I'm getting there. I've sold 15 pieces--plus a wholesale order of 12 sets of stitch markers--so I'm beginning to believe that it is something that I can do, that I can be good at, and that I can do successfully. I originally typed "I'm beginning to think that it might be . . ." but I changed it. I'm trying to dream bigger.

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

What's for lunch?

I got an email this morning from someone who said she missed me talking about what I was eating! I know that I do enjoy reading about the meals that other people fix, but I always feel a little self-conscious about it because that's the thing that critics write about when they talk about personal journaling/blogging. But I guess I'm pretty much past the point of caring what other people think.

It was apropos because as I was fixing my lunch this morning I was thinking that it was kind of a cool lunch, and I should take a picture of it. Which I didn't, but anyway . . .

Since Bob's away from home now all day, I make his lunch for him to take to work. It's usually a sandwich--either tuna salad, ham or chicken, with something crunchy--either Cheetos or potato chips--and some fruit. Yesterday I also sent him some baby carrots and a little Ranch dip, because I was having some.

I've been trying to do low-carb again, so the main thing in my lunch this week has been roll-ups: a low-carb tortilla spread with chive cream cheese, and a slice of deli chicken, then rolled up and sliced into pinwheels. I also have some zucchini, fresh mushrooms and baby carrots with ranch dip, and some cup-up cantaloupe. I know carrots and cantaloupe aren't low-carb, but although I know the low-carb gurus would disagree, I find it hard to believe I can gain weight eating carrots.

Oh, and I have a low-carb dessert, too, which I invented. A spoonful of plain cream cheese, a dollop of sour cream, and some Splenda brown sugar. I don't measure anything, I just dump it all into one of the small Gladware containers and mix it all up. I always want a little something sweet after a meal, and if I do this, it keeps me from eating the Hershey's kisses that I keep on my desk for the guys.

Dinners are a little more problematic, and have been since Bob's been working at the store. Well, I suppose that's because he's not at home in the early evening to make me dinner every night. My default dinner, if I'm making it myself, is two low-carb tortillas with grated cheddar in between, melted in the microwave, then served with Pace Picante Sauce and sour cream. Bob's default dinner when he gets home is chicken flavor ramen noodles with a can of tuna mixed in. Neither of which are terribly nutritious, I know.

I had asked him if there was anything I could get for him, or anything I could make that he could re-heat when he comes home, and he said he missed me making casseroles. So this weekend I made one with macaroni, ground beef, onions, mushrooms and spaghetti sauce, topped with mozzarella, and he loved it. He made it last for about three days, I think. I'll probably do that again, maybe tonight -- he's working 'til close.

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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Dream big

I made earrings this weekend. After practicing for awhile, I decided I was ready to move to sterling silver wires, so I went out and bought some, and made four pair of earrings, all very different. I'm having a really good time with it. I have a couple of partitioned boxes that I've gradually filled with beads and crystals and metal findings and beads. I sit down with the boxes and start pulling out things and trying them out to see what looks nice together.

It's also a nice change of pace from sitting in front of the computer all evening after having done the same thing all day. Last night I called up a new episode of Raines (my new favorite television show, although I've yet to see it on television, having only watched episodes on iTunes and NBC.com) on the computer, and sat down at the dining room table with my beads and tools and made a couple of cell phone charms.

It also gives me something different to do in the evenings now that Bob is working a lot of nights. I don't tend to fall asleep over them like I do over a book or my knitting.

I sold this one yesterday:

They're all up for sale at my Etsy shop; I'm thinking about building a store here at the site sometime soon. I haven't sold a lot of stuff, but enough to build my confidence. I've been told before that I need to dream bigger, so I'm kind of trying that this time, albeit tentatively. Worst case, I've got Christmas well in hand.

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