One for the geeks: New Blog Design

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I know, I know, I should be de-cluttering my coat closet instead of tinkering with my perfectly satisfying blog design. What can I say, I’m the ultimate procrastinator.

In my defense, as flimsy an excuse as it is, I discovered a plethora of exciting websites and got distracted from the important stuff of organising my life.

I’ll tell you all about these below but first, a confession. I lied in the first sentence of this post. The old design was not, in fact, perfectly satisfying at all. It was quite clunky and limited and a little bit old-fashioned, and I had been fancying a change for quite some time. I just couldn’t be bothered and couldn’t figure out what I wanted.

But then, as I was saying above, today I discovered a couple of exciting new design websites and couldn’t resist their appeal:

  • Stacey Corrin is the one that sent me down this rabbit hole in one moment of impulse and I’ve already forgotten how I got onto her website, despite that it was like, 5 minutes ago. She has a tutorial for making a blog media kit and I was like ‘who needs a media kit and what is it?’ and then boom, I get introduced to Canva, and I was drooling and thinking ‘I must find a way to use this thing right now even if I must make something up from scratch to do so!’ – and I still fail the geek quizzes, believe it or not.
  • Canva is a fabulous design website; you can use it to create banners for your various social media platforms, posters, invitations and lots more, using your own designs or one of the many options available on the site, including a very generous catalogue of free stuff. The tutorials are fun and interactive, and there is a lot to love there. I usually use PicMonkey for my photo designs but I will definitely incorporate the two from now on.

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  • In another article, Stacey was talking about colour coordination and had some gorgeous swatches (especially on her Pinterest boards). So again, <drooling>, but then it occurred to me that it’s all very well to admire the colour palettes that have been gathered together but how do you know colour names to reproduce on your own designs? A quick search took me to a page full of the HTML colour codes (gorgeous!) so I can adjust the tone more specifically than the point, click and hope for the best method.

Case in point: you can see on my new design that when you hover on the navigation, the buttons turn green. I was able to incorporate the green into the header and pretend that it was planned that way from the start, which make the whole thing a little bit more appealing, don’t you think? Web designers around the world are probably shaking their head muttering ‘amateur’ to themselves, and yes, I’m a real beginner at this but I still love it.

Another deciding factor for the change was the fact that in recent times I’ve tried to improve the look of the posts by systematically including a photo header with a fancy post title. I know I’m not a photographer, but it’s a challenge to myself to make more of an effort, if not with a photo then still with a design element that makes the post stand out more. The new design requires me to do so if I want to keep things pretty.

As to the actual redesign, I know it’s quite a drastic change and I hope you’re not all thrown off by it. For those that care and don’t know where to find the information, I settled on WordPress’ own Twenty Fourteen magazine-style design. It’s a free theme and I’m not spending any extra money on anything so there are some limits to what I can play with, especially with the colour scheme but I personally think that in terms of readability and funkyness, it wins over the old Fadtastic I was using before.

As this is a free blog on wordpress.com, all design changes are completely down to me, from the header with the name of the blog to the order of the widgets, so please bear with me as I spend the next few days testing things out. I would really be grateful for your feedback either in the comments or by email, especially if there is something that you think has either vastly improved or just doesn’t work at all.

In which I discover Washi tape

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My ongoing project for organising the house has officially started. I was forced (forced!) to go buy some stationery. It was all terribly exciting until I discovered that my local stationery shop had run out of storage boxes but for one brown cardboard one. Granted, the fuchsia background and white dots on the inside were pretty enough but that brown was offending my sensibilities.

Badgerman suggested I could decorate it myself, at which point I snorted rather unattractively and raised my eyebrows in a ‘do you even know me’ manner. The very next second I had a brain wave about a product I’d been hearing loads about but had dismissed early on as ‘I’m not a Pinterest soccer mom’ and ‘another fancy newfangled weirdness for craft addicts’ that would die out as quickly as it had trended. I’m talking about Washi tape.

Little did I know I would fall in love with the stuff.

For those who don’t know, it’s a kind of thin decorative masking tape used by craft people to do… well, crafty stuff I know nothing about. Hobbycraft call it ‘embellishment tape’. I’m told it’s Japanese and reusable, biodegradable and tree free, and made out of highly renewable resources. And also kind of a weird thing? That is, until you discover that it can be useful and then . Now I understand a bit better why washi tape sales have exploded in the world of craft-loving middle-class Alison Hendricks lookalikes: yes it’s really pretty but it is also practical; it is removable, it leaves no trace behind, it is not expensive (depending on where you buy it) and there is So Much Choice.

Useful things I’m going to do with Washi tape that aren’t just wacky internet craft person things:

- Label Everything: all you need is a bit of Washi tape and a permanent marker, and there you go!

- Prettify ugly things, like that shocking brown box. I’ve only started but don’t you think it is instantly improved?

washi tape examples

 

And yes, I made my very first batch of all-purpose cleaning product! It’s 500 ml water, 125 ml white vinegar and a few drops of lavender essential oil. You would think the smell of vinegar would be overpowering but the essential oil counteracts that very well. I’m now using it for everything. And look, pretty label!

Where can I buy Washi tape?

It is becoming more widely available nowadays, so that even Wilkinson’s has a couple of rolls. That’s not much choice, but I’ve been able to start my collection, and you get a couple of rolls (16 metres) for just under £2. Not bad really.

If you want to visit an actual UK shop, Hobbycraft and Paperchase also stock it. Otherwise you can go online and there is a great range both at washitapes.co.ukwishywashi and cutetape.

A Beginner's collection
A Beginner’s collection

It Looks Interesting But What More Can You Do With It?

For ideas on what to do with Washi tape, well, there’s always good old Pinterest, although I draw the line at decorating pumpkins with the stuff. See what I mean about ‘wacky internet craft-types’ doing weird craft things?

Successful Sharp Knife Test

Battle of the Sharp Knives
Battle of the Sharp Knives

 

Content Note: people of a nervous disposition should read no further, discussion of blood and body horror below.

For years, I’ve lived without owning any sharp knives. Or, if they once were sharp, that memory has long since been lost in time. Maybe they were sharp when I first bought them, along with the sharpening tool that I’ve never learnt to use properly. I’m thinking I’m not the only one with the not-quite-blunt kitchen knives. They get used everyday, but even cutting a tomato is a double-skills job – first prick the skin with the tip of the knife to break it then cut with the length of the knife, otherwise it’s a bit of a mess.

I never realised how much strength was needed in my cutting activities until I discovered ceramic knives. My mum has one and it was a revelation when I first tried it. Ceramic knives are the Daddy. They are also easy to maintain, you don’t ever need to sharpen them and they come with a cover. The only downside is that they can’t be used on really hard surfaces like glass or marble because the shock might cause them to break.

The main point of them though, is that they are flippin’ sharp. They cut through tomatoes like butter. They cut through broccoli like butter. They cut through human flesh like butter. I speak from experience, as it was my flesh they cut through like butter yesterday afternoon. It was an ugly scene.

The culprit
The culprit

Within minutes (after attempting to stem the blood flow with toilet paper and calling a couple of people), I was doing what comes most naturally to most of us in 2014, making an appeal on Facebook along the lines of ‘my brain has stopped working, what do I do next?’ and within minutes was receiving a fluttering of offers of help from wonderful friends. Seriously, it was amazing.

It also reminded me that I really should have a vague plan for this sort of thing. After the initial shock of ‘OMG my thumb is falling off’ came the ‘idontknowifineedtogotoa&edoineedtogotoa&eandifyesWHATDOIDOWITHTHEKIDS?’ – through this, it has to be said, I wasn’t panicking at all. I could tell it wasn’t life or death and so the kids had no clue for at least 30 minutes that anything was amiss. That is, until a friend came over with her collection of first aid kits and we took the toilet paper off. Poor Little Girl definitely laughed nervously at that point. Despite my reassurance and smiles, she definitely spotted that something was wrong. Like a bit of skin flapping, something like that. Damn.

Badgerman came home at this point and after a bit of faffing about deciding what to do with kids and dinner time and all the bleeding, I did eventually make it to A&E where I waited for a couple of hours feeling dizzy and ravenous, but in good spirits and with the engrossing companionship of A Dance With Dragons (Part 1).

Turns out, it might have looked like I was going to have to live with a chunk of thumb missing and it wasn’t even deep enough to need stitches. So now, I’ve got to keep the finger away from water for the next five days, which means I can’t do any washing up or bath time with the kids, or cleaning of my own hair. What fun that’s going to be!

thumb cut
the surviving hero

 

One thing I can guarantee: these are good knives. They know their business and they take no prisoners. Other advice I may offer: it’s good to have a plan; and be careful with knives. They cut and make you bleed, and then you end up with no dinner.

Passport woes and a miracle

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French expats blogs all have at least one thing in common. Actually, strike that, blogs from French expats AND from expats living in France, all have one thing in common. They all contain at least one post bemoaning French bureaucracy, be it the post office, the embassy, the social security people; whatever the problem, if you need official paperwork done, you are a little bit in the merde.

At least, it strikes indiscriminately, so don’t go thinking that being French is in any way a protection against uptight bureaucrats, convoluted paperwork and red tape. Hells no! Now I can add my own story (another one!) to the long list of disgruntled blog posts that festers within the depths of the internet.

Instant French Failure

Last April, I sent out Luciole’s British birth certificate to the French Consulate to be transcribed into French so she would officially exist on their records. I thought I would be clever and also sort out her passport in time for our August holiday. I had all the documents at the ready; all I needed to do was to book an appointment with the Consulate to deposit the paperwork. Let’s just say I failed at the first hurdle.

I absolutely do not understand the thinking behind it but you cannot just post the bundle of paperwork over to them; you have to present yourself in person at the French Consulate to give it to them. As Luciole is a baby, I didn’t have to bring her (small mercies indeed), but I did need to go myself and represent her as her parent and carer. So far so, well, as good as it was going to get; there was not a single appointment to be had until mid-August. That’s right, you could not get a Consulate appointment between April and August, so that pretty much not just closed that door but slammed it right in our faces. I’ll spare you the exact words that came out of my mouth at that point.

UK Passport Delays

The next best thing was to get Luciole a British passport. The UK might have its bureaucratic nightmares but its nothing compared to the French system; you can send things in the post! As Badgerman is British, there was no issue of eligibility to cause any trouble, we just needed to get it all out in time. I posted the forms at the beginning of May using the special Post Office passport delivery service. About two weeks later, I received a text message saying that the paperwork had been received and that as it was a first passport (as opposed to a renewal) it would take a minimum of 6 weeks for it to be created and sent out. This gave us a deadline of 31st July at the earliest. As we were due to go away on 4th August with a weekend in between, you can imagine my state of mind…

All the while, the Passport Office was making the national news’ headlines because there were huge processing delays due to a surge in passport requests. Throughout June and July, the subject cropped up every week, doing nothing for my heart rate. There was only a small chance that we would get this passport on time, and I was already thinking about our options if we had to delay our holiday departure.

So I got together with some friends and we prayed about it. I rarely talk about my faith on here because it’s not what the blog is about but hey, that’s what we did. Can I just say at this point that my expectation about getting this stressful thing resolved was pretty much nil and the content of the prayer itself was not remotely spiritual. It was very much a case of ‘God, I don’t know if you can do anything about this, but if you could put Luciole’s application at the top of the pile, I would be really grateful, thanks’. It was mid-July, we’d heard nothing for a month and I was preparing to face the inevitable.

On the Friday (we are talking 2 days later), I got a surprise text telling me they were processing her application and that we would receive her passport within the next 7 days. This was confirmed the following Monday morning when my counter-signatory ‘person of good standing’ friend texted to say she’d just had the Passport Office on the phone checking things were in order and they confirmed it would be on its way within a day or two. And so it did, it turned up on 24th July, a whole week ahead of schedule! And exhale…

I’m happy for people to put it down to coincidence or good karma, whilst I am really on the cusp of calling it a bit of a miracle. In any case, I’m immensely grateful to God and to whomever put my girl’s application at the top of the pile, when 30,000 others were delayed. There was even a Passport Office workers strike over staffing and pay on 28th July, and they were still talking about it on 11th August. Whereas I was able to relax and celebrate birthday parties without a dark cloud of uncertainty hanging over my head.

And so now, we are a truly bi-national family. Badgerman holds both nationalities, I am French, Little Girl is French and Luciole is British; not complicated at all!

What I’m Into – August 2014 Edition

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My artistic landscape gardener of a brother’s gorgeous garden

Ah, Summer. I loved you whilst you were here. But it looks like you’ve gone and aren’t coming back! We’ve had a great summer, full of parties and a long holiday feasting and sadly for August, not a lot of sun! So let’s join in with Leigh Kramer and recap this busy month.

What I’m Watching

Regular shows: I’ve caught up with The 100 and the Great British Bake-Off (oh the drama…) since coming back from holiday, and of course, Dr Who has just started again, yay!

Emma Approved concluded, and I have no plan to start watching another online show at present, and that’s it for tv and films. We watched a fair amount of Tinkerbell at my parents but little else.

I’ve also not watched any Friends over the last month however so I’ll be getting back on it in September.

What I’m Reading

To my astonishment, I won a couple of books at the end of July, and so whilst on holiday I had the pleasure of reading The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert. It was an enjoyable read, and you can take a look at my short review on goodreads.

I spent a lot of time reading Tsh Oxenreiders’ Organized Simplicity: A Clutter-Free Approach to Intentional Living in order to get in the right frame of mind to tackle the bottomless pit of clutter that is my house. I’ve not finished it, but I’ve started putting its recommendations into action. (as an aside, I’m embarrassed to confess that I have no idea how to pronounce ‘Tsh'; is it like Tish? If anyone knows, please leave a comment, thanks!)

I also read What Type am I?: Discover Who You Really are by Renee Baron, which is an easy-to read MBTI Personality Types for Dummies – style book, and confirmed that I am indeed an ISTJ. Hello, me!

What I’m Listening To

I had the music video channel on a lot this month and it was an interesting experience. Whenever I visit France, there’s always a typically French wispy-voiced waif earnestly simpering a ballad in duet with an equally smarmy bloke; and there was certainly a bit of that going on. But there were also a few catchy offerings, like the number one from Black M ‘Sur Ma Route‘, and Cats On Trees ‘Siren Call‘.

Favourite Picture

all the blingWhat happens when you buy new shoes for your child? All the bling comes out!

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Le Pont St Etienne, Limoges, France

What I’ve been doing (and notable feasts)

  • We kicked off the month with Badgerman’s 40th birthday party, which was just a big excuse to eat lot of barbecued meat, including the delicious Moroccan merguez below. I was witness to some amazing physical prowess from one of the guests, who managed to take a bite out of an enormous sandwich comprising of skirt steak, a whole flat mushroom and blue cheese sauce. I was too busy doing the same to take a picture.

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  • Two days later, we left behind a rather large amount of trifle, banoffee pie and a freezer full of skirt steak to our lovely house-sitters, who helped us keep the flies at bay by eating all the leftovers and leaving the place way cleaner than we’d left it.
  • I am officially not a fan of long car journeys with kids. But we survived the two days it took us to get to the middle of Nowheresville, France. After that it was all fun and frolics (minus the sun), mostly eating cheese and dry sausage and drinking Belgian beer.
  • Badgerman ate this thing:

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It’s salmon on a bed of cucumber and apple and 5 berry cream, served with a Piquillo pepper sorbet. I had a bite (I was only allowed one :-p ) and yeah, it was really quite amazing, especially that initially weird sorbet.

At Home on the Blog

  • August was a light month. I had minimal interaction with the internet and focused on having fun with the girls and reading. I only gave in and posted after visiting a French doctor, which was an odd affair.
  • Since I got back home last week, I shared my new-found resolution to keep my house tidy, and this time, I have a cunning plan.

And so that’s it for August! I should have plenty to report in September once I get back into the swing of things.

Please note this post contains affiliate links.

 

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