Earlier in the year, I treated myself to a DIY gel nail system, which I have been enjoying ever since. I rather like having nice nails, it makes me feel like an adult. Traditional nail varnish barely lasts 24 hours on my nails, so the UV-cured gel varnishes are a huge improvement as, on a good run, they can last up to two weeks.

The downside is getting the damn stuff off. I bought an electric nail file, in the hope that I could grind away the top layers before soaking off with acetone, but that didn’t really save any time. And getting impatient and scraping the half-softened gel off just damages the natural nail underneath.

A friend of mine has been raving about Barry M nail varnishes, and whilst I was in the UK I thought I’d take a look and see if they were any good. Maybe, I thought, I could alternate, so that I’m not constantly battling to get gel varnish off my nails. Whilst I was looking at the Barry M selection, (I bought a metallic gold colour in the end), I spotted that they do a base coat call Peel Off, which, well, you peel off. Had to be worth a shot, I thought. And wow, was it ever worth a shot!

Two coats of Barry M Peel Off, well dried, underneath a normal application of gel foundation, colour and top coat works like a dream. You genuinely can just peel the whole lot off in a matter of seconds, instead of it taking two hours and using up all the acetone you can lay your hands on. It is fantastic.

However — and there’s always a however — if your nail surface is already damaged, as mine are, then the Peel Off base coat will also peel off more of your nail. There is, however, a however to that however: if you prise up a corner, you can get under there with normal nail varnish remover and a cotton bud, and ease the whole lot off gently. No need to try to soften up the gel because the Barry M base coat will dissolve in the remover and come clean away.

A few other things I’ve learnt:

  • Two coats is far better than one. One coat doesn’t seem to have enough strength to peel off neatly.
  • It peels best off fresh, undamaged nail.
  • If your nails get quite wet, say you do the washing up or have a long bath, it will peel off sooner rather than later.
  • If one nail peels, and comes off in one piece, you can just put another layer of base coat on, and glue the gel back on as if it’s a false nail!
  • If it peels of a couple of nails, you can always use normal nail varnish over the gel and on the now bare nails until you’re ready to redo them.
  • It only lasts a week, tops.

Although the gel varnish is supposed to last up to three weeks, it never did for me. On average, I got about 10 days wear out of them, so if Peel Off only lasts a week, that’s no skin off my nose. In fact, it means I can switch up my colours a bit more often.

I am so delighted with the Barry M Peel Off base coat, I really am. I’m sure there are equivalents in the US, as Barry M is UK-only, but I will be stocking up when I go home.

Oh, and the normal Barry M nail varnish is just as marvellous!

 

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Welp, it’s been a while since my last post about my Creative 2017. When I started the year, I had a feeling that I might run aground in the lead up to Ada Lovelace Day, and sure enough, time to blog became scarce. But that didn’t mean that I wasn’t being creative.

Since learning to knit in May, I have become ridiculously addicted. I have been working on a simple ribbed skirt, and have done a pair of wrist-warmers. I had less luck with two hats, one of which was too small, the other too big, and both of which got frogged and are now being turned into a scarf. But it is really lovely to just sit and knit of an evening. Somehow, it’s more soothing than crochet, though I’m not sure why.

There was always an ulterior motive, though, to this whole project, and that was to try to get my authorial juices flowing. In that, the year has been a spectacular success. I started work on my current project in earnest a couple of weeks ago, and am really enjoying myself.

Thanksgiving weekend, we went down to visit friends in Illinois, and on the way stopped off at an antiques mall in Milwaukee to see if a typewriter I’d had my eye on for a while was still there. It was. A Remington Rand Streamliner, well cared for and, along with its case, in beautiful condition. I couldn’t resist.

The serial number tells us that this particular machine was built in May 1941, one of only 21,200 ever made. They were manufactured between February 1941 and May 1942, and cost $49.50. It’s a shame that then didn’t make more, because this is by far and away the most beautiful machine to type on that we own. I now have five typewriters, and Kevin one, and this Streamliner is the easiest and smoothest to use, with the softest action. It’s the most amazing machine to write with, it really is.

I did have to get a new ribbon, which was easily done through Ebay. And I cleaned up the typebars, which were as clogged with ink as you might expect.

The type now is so beautifully crisp and clear. In the photo below, we have example prior to and after cleaning.

Overall, the machine is in great condition, just a little bit of rust on the frame and a bit of dirt underneath that will need removing. I will eventually get the platen recovered, along with the rubber rollers, but it’s ok for now.

I cannot even begin to describe how amazing it is to work on this machine. It feels much more natural than writing on my laptop. My fingers have to move more deliberately, and my brain is slowed down to a much more thoughtful speed. It’s easy for my fingers to get completely carried away with themselves when I’m using modern equipment, and they tend to run off down cul-de-sacs that they can’t get themselves out of. Using a typewriter gives me the time I need to think ahead, to write in a more considered way.

I’ve also got a much better way of organising my notes than I’ve ever had, which I’ll cover in another post. And I realised that I really, really struggle with the whole consecutive numbering of pages thing, so instead of numbering pages, I am giving each scene a serial number (the date, actually, and maybe an alphabetical signifier if I’m writing more than one scene in a day). This means it’s easier for me to move scenes around without triggering whatever part of my brain it is that loathes interrupting logical number sequences.

The cleaner typebars also mean that Google Docs can do a better job of the OCR, although the first 7,000 words contain a lot of OCR errors that I’ll have to sit and fix soon. But overall, my process is working well, I’m enjoying writing, and I’m in no great hurry to have it all done. Which is a much better result than I had ever anticipated when I started this year!

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I don’t think I’ve ever seen quite as many rabbits as I have since moving to Sheboygan. Although our garden is surrounded by a 5ft slatted fence, we frequently see young bunnies in our garden, munching down on the American violets (yay) and my flowers (boo). Sometimes we see bigger bunnies too. There was a big ol’ female cottontail, about the size of Grabbity, who pretty much owned the garden. I think she slipped in under the gate, or round the edge of the fence where it fails to meet our neighbour’s house.

Friday, at about 1.15pm, Kevin left for a meeting. He called me on his way, to let me know that there was half a dead rabbit in the garden. It’s not what I was expecting, I must admit, so I went out to check and sure enough, there was the back half of a rabbit I suspect had been the matronly cottontail. The head, shoulders and front legs had been eaten, leaving just the back haunches. It was a pretty neat job, no mess of entrails, just a few vertebrae scattered about.

I find it hard to imagine that this was the work of a domestic cat, and there aren’t many around us anyway. I think I’ve seen a cat outside maybe twice, in the three and a half years I’ve lived here. But whilst I’ve seen cats catching rabbits, this was a sizeable bunny, and I’ve never seen a cat take down a rabbit of this size.

According to the internet, the list of North American predators that won’t start eating a rabbit head first is far shorter than the ones that will. Fox, coyote, cougar, bobcat, coywolf, racoon… I’ve never seen any of those in the middle of Sheboygan, and feel all are rather unlikely candidates for the award of Creature Most Likely To Take A Quick Snack In Our Back Garden.

Also on the list, though, is the Great Horned Owl. We think there might be one living in a pine tree behind our house as we’ve heard it. Now, Kevin found the rabbit at lunchtime, but whilst it looked relatively fresh, there’s no telling when it was killed. I checked on it throughout the afternoon and evening, and it was still there even when we got home from dinner at 9.30pm. By 10.30pm though, the back half had gone.

I really, really wish that I’d some sort of motion-capture camera trained on the garden. I would have loved to have seen which creature decided on rabbit for dinner.

If anyone can identify a Great Horned Owl kill, here’s a photo. Enclicken to enbiggen.

 

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I haven’t blogged for ages because there’s not been much to say. I’m just embroidering away, trying to get this done before I leave for the UK at the end of the month. I’m not sure if I’ll make it, though the tunic is the bulk of the work so who knows how fast the rest of it will come along. I did have to pick out one bit, because I wasn’t happy with how it came out. Anyway, I’ve been focusing on embroidering rather than blogging!

 

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Two thirds of the vine is done, and it’s looking good!

 

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This line of pale green represents 50 minutes’ work. Hopefully, I’ll get a bit faster as I go along…

 

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I was busy Thursday and Friday evenings, but it was probably a good thing because yesterday and today I spent 1.5 hours getting the silk ground and backing fabrics prepared, transferring the pattern and then getting it all set up on my Millennium Frame. All of that needs to be done carefully and that means setting aside a block of time rather than trying to do 10-15 mins a day.

I had a bit of a moment when my iron spewed water all over the piece of silk that I wanted to use as the ground, leaving a water stain. I dug out another piece of silk but I couldn’t get the creases out so had a look online to see what I could do about the water mark. It’s apparently caused by minerals in the water precipitating out as the water dries, something which you notice on silk because it’s so sheer, whereas you wouldn’t see it on, say, cotton. The lesson here is to either empty your iron before you iron silk, or to replace the water with fresh so that there are fewer minerals to precipitate out.

One treatment seems to be to rub the silk with a clean piece of white silk, which I happened to have on hand (oddly enough) and which seemed to work. My challenge now will be to keep the ground clean whilst I work, which will mean having a piece of fabric with a hole cut in it to drape over the work whilst I embroider so that I’m not transferring oils from my hand on to the silk. That will come tomorrow. For today, I’m just happy to have it framed up and ready to go.

If you’re wondering, the green painter’s tape is just to prevent fraying on the edges of the silk. I’d have used just normal masking tape, but I don’t have any wide enough to fold around the edge. The edges will be trimmed off prior to the finished piece being laced to a board and framed. Also, if you’re wondering why one corner is a bit wonky, it’s because this is an offcut from my wedding dress! Ultimately that will also be trimmed away when it’s framed. If I was going to be super fussy, I’d lace the left- and right-hand edges to the frame, but the design area is taut enough, I think.

So, tomorrow, we get going!

 

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The Welsh Government recently released a strategy, Cymraeg 2050, to increase the number of Welsh speakers to one million by 2050.  The strategy focuses predominantly on children’s education, which is sensible and obvious, and on Welsh speakers in Wales, which is also sensible and obvious. But there are two groups that could do with a little bit more love and attention, and S4C is in the perfect position to do that.

The first group are adult learners or near-fluent speakers who, for whatever reason, aren’t in formal Welsh language education and/or who don’t have easy access to Welsh speakers to practice with, but who need a little extra help reaching fluency.

As it happens, I fall into that group. I started learning Welsh about 20 years ago, and I ought to be fluent by now, but a lack of regular access to the Welsh language, whether regular lessons or people to talk to, has really hampered my progress. I’m now stuck in this kind of linguistic no mans land, where I know too much Welsh for things like Duolingo or Memrise to be enjoyable, but not enough to be able to easily understand the spoken language. I’m a bit better with the written language, but again, not quite good enough to be able to just sit and read a book.

Welsh TV is an essential tool for developing comprehension skills, expanding vocabulary and refining understanding of grammar. For my money, there’s nothing better than watching a documentary on S4C with subtitles to help me marry words and sounds together, and to help me learn more words and improve my grammar. Like all learners, I need regular interaction with the language to help me cement what I learn, and TV is by far the easiest and most interesting way to achieve that.

Rightly, S4C’s subtitles focus on assisting the hearing impaired, which is what they were invented to do and it’s a massively important role. Subtitles for the hearing impaired are written to be easily and swiftly read, and to give the gist of what is said rather than a verbatim transcript, and are far too valuable to mess with.

But subtitles are also an important and valuable tool for intermediate learners, and with a little extra work new types of subtitles for learners could be much more effective. In an ideal world, I would like a selection of subtitle options for learners, in addition to subtitles for the hearing impaired.

Learner subtitles should include:

  • English subtitles, as close to a direction translation as possible, to help learners understand what’s happening and marry Welsh sounds with English meanings.
  • Dual language English/Welsh subtitles, with both languages on screen at once. It’s a bit hard going to read both at once and you really do have to focus, but it helps to improve understanding.
  • Welsh language learner’s subtitles, which would be Welsh language with English prompts for difficult words.
  • Welsh-only subtitles, which should be as close to verbatim as possible.

I quite like watching Welsh-language documentaries multiple times, not only because S4C really does make some fabulous ones, but also because I can positively feel my understanding of Welsh improving as I do so.

The problem is that firstly, the most useful subtitle options, the dual language subtitles and the learner’s subtitles, don’t exist. Sometimes there aren’t even any Welsh subtitles, just English ones*. That seems like an omission that should be at the top of the list of things that S4C could do to support the Welsh language.

Now, I know that the argument against providing these services is that they cost money, but that’s a given for the recommendations of the Cymraeg 2050 report. It’s going to cost money to do this stuff, but if the government wants 1 million Welsh speakers by 2050, they are going to have to reach down the back of the sofa and come up with some cash to spend. That said, subtitling is cheap compared to the cost of making the program in the first place, with online freelance subtitlers charging less than £1000 per hour of video.

The second problem is finding the time to watch and rewatch the same program before it falls off S4c’s catch-up service**. That wouldn’t be an issue if I could buy S4C’s shows, but, despite the fact that it’s 2017, it’s still impossible to buy Welsh TV on iTunes or any other digital service. I know that S4C would, at this point, bang on about rights, but good grief, it’s 2017! Rights issues should have been solved by now, and S4C should be selling shows online to anyone who wants to buy them regardless of where they live***.

Which brings me to the second group of Welsh learners/near-fluent speakers that could do with a little respect and support: Those who do not live in Wales. Welsh learners don’t just live in Wales, they also live across the rest of the UK and, indeed, around the world. You might think that those people are irrelevant to the future of the Welsh language in Wales, but that’s very 20th century thinking.

The world is united by the web, and anyone from anywhere can contribute to the health of a language and culture. Indeed, in many cases it is the internet that is saving languages and cultures. No matter where you or I live, we can use the Welsh language in our everyday life, we can create new cultural artefacts in the Welsh language. Were I fluent enough, I would for sure be providing various Ada Lovelace Day materials in Welsh. I would blog in Welsh. I would write books in Welsh. That would be contributing to Welsh language life, even though I’m not in Wales (and even though I’m not Welsh).

If the Welsh Government wants 1 million Welsh speakers, it has to not just teach them Welsh, it needs to give them a reason to use their Welsh, and that’s not just about the Eisteddfod and cynghanedd and calling up the local council in Welsh, it’s about just doing whatever you fancy in Welsh. Science. Chatting to your mates. The latest tech reviews. Music. Reading about women in STEM. Writing comics. Talking to people in a totally different country.

There’s a whole blog post to write about the position of digital in the Cymraeg 2050 strategy, but that’s for another day. The point is that if you want 1 million Welsh people in Wales to use Welsh, help Welsh people outside of Wales to do so too, because often, those people outside of Wales are related to or friends with those people inside Wales and they use the internet to keep in touch. In Welsh.

The web helps the Welsh diaspora and Welsh learners retain and expand their language, and S4C should be a fundamental part of that process.

 

* I am not familiar enough with Welsh language service provision for the hearing impaired to make a judgement on how well S4C does, but logic dictates that more Welsh language subtitles would be a good thing, assuming other provisions remain the same.

** It would also be super helpful if S4C Digidol’s subtitles didn’t routinely stop working when I’m watching online, and if they’d actually work in all browsers. For some reason, S4C’s video player is incompatible with Chrome on my Macs. And in Safari, the subtitles tend to crap out halfway through, so I keep having to reload the page.

*** And whilst I’m at it, S4C needs to do whatever it is required to get rid of geoblocking. Yes, yes, rights, yes, yes. Please explain to me which large secondary Welsh-language market are they holding their rights over for? If I need to buy access to S4C, I will, I’m absolutely happy to pay my way, but the current geoblocking without the option to pay for access is ridiculous. Ultimately, though, if S4C is about supporting the Welsh language and Welsh culture in a web-enabled age, geoblocking makes no sense at all, because they should be supporting Welsh learners and speakers wherever in the world they are. The language is far more important than geographical boundaries.

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The crochetpocalypse is over, as last night was the Women in STEM Amigurumi workshop I’d agreed to do and had been working towards. In the end, we had a fun evening, although most of the attendees were beginners so I spent the time teaching the magic ring and double crochet (single in USian). Mead Library did an amazing job of putting together the kits, and I’m looking forward to running a beginners course with them next year.

But tonight I had a chance to do the last test for the embroidered knight and snail, which was a mixed colour leaf. I just wanted to check that it would work the way I expected it to.

So, soon I shall be ready to do the real thing!

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Last year, Kevin and I cleared a parasitic vine off our concord grape, and in August ended up with more grapes than we knew what to do with. So we froze them.

Concord grapes

Having pruned our vine, this year it’s looking like a bumper crop so I thought we had better take the 2.7kg of grapes we’d frozen and do something with them. Like turn them into jam.

Well, it seems like the internet is not in agreement with regards to how to make jam, so I averaged out some recipes, included the lemon juice for acidity and the butter for reducing foam and spent the afternoon boiling jars and simmering grapes.

The result is ten (and a half) jars of the most fabulous grape jelly I think I’ve ever tasted.

It’s currently cooling, and then I’ll test for airtightness. But oh my word, it tastes amazing! I never really understood the whole making jam thing, but now I really do!

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C17: Days 211-218 – More emergency crochet, building computers, finally some embroidery

August 6, 2017

Welp, it’s been another one of those weeks. The emergency crochet continued until I had four reliable patterns ready for Tuesday’s workshop. The third figure is Dr Anandibai Joshi, who is also my favourite: The fourth will be published next month. Interrupting all that was the arrival of parts for my new Hackintosh, which has […]

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C17: Days 204-210 – Emergency crochet week

July 29, 2017

So, I haven’t blogged for nearly a week, primarily because I haven’t embroidered since Sunday last, and then I didn’t finish the particular test I wanted to do, so there was nothing to blog about. I have, however, been creative. Very creative. I’m running a workshop at Mead Public Library here in Sheboygan on 8 […]

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C17: Day 203 – The sword

July 22, 2017

I had three goals for today’s work: Find out of a single strand stem stitch for the edge of the sword works as well as the double strand, and I have to say that I don’t think it does. It just doesn’t really stand out. Find out if I should fill the whole sword. I […]

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C17: Days 201 & 202: The back of the shield

July 21, 2017

Green and Bayeux stitch or green and satin stitch? With stem stitch edge or not?

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C17: Day 200 – Shield front

July 19, 2017

I really changed my mind about front of the shield. I thought about doing a vertical long and short stitch, but it just didn’t feel right, so instead I went for a satin stitch in a radial pattern. I didn’t mark out the directions, which I will do when I do it for real so […]

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