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Opinions wanted!

Hello again friends. I have so many ideas bouncing around in my head, and I need your opinions!

So, as I mentioned earlier this week, I’m dusting off my blog and getting back into the swing of things. I’m working on planning my upcoming blog posts, and I’ve been trying to get a sense for which types of topics and directions I want to focus on with my blog. But, considering I’m not the one who reads this blog, I thought it would be a good idea to get input from those of you who do. :)

The types of topics I cover on my blog are pretty varied, but all have the central theme of things that affect our home and lifestyle. Here are some topics that I’ve done in the past … some of which I intend to include, but some of which I’m on the fence about continuing. So, let me know which types of things sound most interesting to you – and also if you have any ideas/requests that are not here! This is certainly not an exhaustive list, just kind of a sampling of things I’m tossing around…

Topics! In no particular order

DIY: Projects and how-to’s

BIZ: Running a handmade or creative business

OM NOM: Cooking, food, recipes

BIBLE: Verse printables & perspective

HOME: Family, marriage, schooling

APT: Organization & decor

DESIGN: Graphic design & art tips/info

WORDS: Books, reading, writing

PANACHE: Fashion & style

GO: Travel & exploration

So, a couple questions – and feel free to only answer one or answer all! I appreciate any feedback!
Questions:

1. Which of the topics interest you?

2. Are there any topics not listed above that you would enjoy seeing here?

3. Is there a post or topic on my blog that you’ve found particularly helpful in the past?

4. If you remember, what first brought you to my blog?

Leave your thoughts and answers in the comments below! Thanks!

The Last 2 Years & what it means to Flourish

Hello friends!

Well, despite a couple very half-hearted attempts to revive my blog, it has been sitting dormant for almost two years. In some ways I’m rather embarrassed about that, but in other ways, I’m not embarrassed at all. It’s been a difficult couple years, and honestly, there have been more important things that truly needed to take precedent. But as things are rolling into a little easier phase now, I feel I can again pick up blogging — and I’m looking forward to it! As for the last couple years, though, I’d like to share what has been going on … and what it is that I mean by a “flourishing abode”.

There was a time a little over a year ago when I was considering whether I could get back into blogging.
It didn’t end up working out. But I do remember one thing that struck me, as I considered my little online domain … the name of my blog. “The Flourishing Abode”. I looked around at my life – and it struck me that some people might not call it “flourishing”.

In the past few years, there has been a lot of upheaval….

There have been times where we had no idea where our income would come from or where we would be living. We’ve had job changes, and we’ve moved several times in the last few years … the last time was a very sudden move this summer which was not by our own choice, but circumstances outside our control. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise, and we love where we are now — but there were scary moments not knowing what was going to happen. Over and over again, when things were unknown, we were blessed with what we needed and more, even if it was difficult or different than we had planned. But to an observer’s eye, the word “flourishing” probably isn’t what would come to mind to describe our physical situation over the last few years.

In the past few years, our marriage has gone through a time of change….

There was crisis – serious crisis. But we came out of it on the other side with a deeper and happier love than ever before … and it’s because long before either of us took vows to love each other, we each committed to love God more than anything else. It was that first love, and being true to it, that carried us through the hard times, through the tears and heartache, to the other side where we could actually overcome the crisis. And now, we are happier and more in love than I could have imagined, and I am constantly amazed by what a wonderful husband I have. But in the middle of the hard times, it didn’t look like or feel like “flourishing”.

In the past two years, my family has experienced the joy of birth – and ache of death…

In August of last year, our daughter Evangelene was born into this world. A few months later, in November, my brother Adam passed from this world in a tragic drowning accident at the young age of 25. Evangelene and Adam never got to meet. We were going to get to see Adam just a little later in November … but it never happened. My little brother was gone. And yet … not lost. He was first and foremost a child of God. His determination to serve God defined him. He also had an incredibly silly sense of humor, he was a talented musician, and very athletic. But those things are not what defined him. It was his faith in God.

A year later, I still miss him terribly … I wish he could call me on the phone and do his ridiculously accurate Chewbacca impression or recite random facts on my voice mail about African elephants (yes, he’d done that before).

That won’t happen now.

But there is a much greater hope: “But I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.” 2 Timothy 1:12

And that gets back to what it means to flourish. When I describe our home as a flourishing abode, I don’t mean there are no hard times. I don’t mean we always have tons of money. I don’t mean that there aren’t tears, heartache or sadness. Those things happen.

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. … So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

(2 Corinthians 4:7-10, 16-18 ESV)

A lot of things may crumble around us … but the “inner self” can still be “renewed day by day”. That is how I want to flourish.

When I first started this blog, I initially considered naming it “The Flourishing Home”, but I chose Abode instead, because it sounds more temporary. Where we are right now — this apartment, this body, this life — is just a temporary abode. Sure, there are hard things sometimes. The last few years have been the hardest of my life so far- and I’m sure there will be other hard times ahead. But even in the midst of it, we can flourish, because we are not alone. There is One who will take us to our true home someday, when this temporary life is over. It is that hope and focus that can make a home flourish, whatever comes. It’s not just a catchy title, it’s my goal. To flourish in this temporary abode, because I know what I have believed, and I AM persuaded that He is able to keep me until that last day.

Here is a verse that has long been a favorite of mine … I’ve read it over and over and over again.
This is how and where I want our family to flourish…

That also ties into the verse I have on the banner at the top of my blog: “A merry heart has a continual feast.” (Proverbs 15:15) It’s not, “the one who has a physical feast on the table has a continual feast” or “the one who has an easy time in life has a continual feast.” It’s the one with a merry heart … the one who chooses to see the joy, whatever is on their figurative plate.

And lest this seem like a dreary post about how hard life has been in the last couple years … things are really wonderful right now. I even have enough time to get back into blogging! As my friend Lori Biesecker says, life is full of mountains and valleys. I’ve recently been through some difficult valleys, but right now I’m enjoying a peaceful mountain top. And I’m sure, for as long as the Lord lets me continue in this trek through life, there will be more valleys and more mountains. But He is there through all of it, and that is a blessing beyond words. That is the reason to have a merry heart, and to flourish, whether there are mountains or valleys along the way.

Thanks for sticking around with me. I’d love to hear from you in the comments below, even if it’s just a “hello!”

A happy announcement for our family…

Yes, we are expecting or second child!!

And yes, I am still alive. After almost a year of posting on my blog multiple times every week, even while travelling, or packing, or moving across the country — I suddenly fell off the face of the internet. My last post was at the end of November saying I would be back in a week. Yeaaah, that didn’t happen. There has been a lot of difficult things going on lately, and added on top of that, we just moved into a new apartment, Tim had to start working both an overnight job and a day job, and I have been very sick.

BUT – the good news is … Tim was able to quit both of those draining jobs and is now, for the first time ever, able to put his masters degree to work, and is officially an engineer! So happy for him – and so happy that we get to have more family time now that he only has to work one job. And, super happy news for us, the reason I’ve been so sick is that I’m expecting! I’m due in August, and I’m currently 16 weeks along. Our 5 year old is SO excited to be becoming a big sister. :) And a lot of the other difficult things are simultaneously getting better and making us stronger in the process. We are so thankful to God for his provision and seeing us through some dark days.

And sometimes in life you have to say “good-bye” to things that are, perhaps, nice and fine, in order to make room for something better. And so, I am officially closing down my graphic design business and shutting down my Etsy shop for good. We are no longer dependent on it financially, and while I’m grateful that I was able to help our family while still staying at home with our daughter, I am SO much looking forward to being able to devote more of my energy to our family and to more important things. I was, in fact, also planning to shut down my blog, but various family members and friends (including my husband) really urged me to keep it going. And I think I will – it is nice to have a creative outlet, and one where I can chronicle and look back at later and (perhaps) write something that someone else will enjoy, is worth it to me. I will not plan to post 3 times a week, like before, probably more along the speed of once a week. And the focus will be much more on the home and not on business … which was, after all, my intention in the first place with this blog.

But my Etsy shop … it’s going. I’m planning to close in about a week. So if there’s anything you’ve wanted to buy from my shop, now is the time to grab it. I’ve got some inventory I’m looking to get rid of, so starting today until I close, with any order I will also include 3 more prints for free (of my choosing from my inventory.) But very soon it will be closed for good. It feels a little bitter sweet, but I’m also really looking forward to the first time in 3+ years to not be shipping out orders anymore. :)

Anyway, I know I kind of abandoned my blog for a couple months there, and I’m not sure how many of you are still around. If you ARE still around … thank you for your patience. :) I’m so excited about this new phase of our life, and I’m also looking forward to writing here on the blog again.

Onward!

Stay tuned – we’re getting a new Abode!

We’re getting a new abode! And I don’t mean online – I mean in real life. Many of you know that about 3 months ago, our family moved to Boston. What you may not know is that in that interim time, we haven’t had our own home. Some dear friends of ours let us use their finished basement as our home base while my husband was working on getting a job up here. We’ve felt so blessed to be able to spend this time with our friends, and grow closer to them and learn from their godly examples. Things have been clicking along for Tim and now he does have a job — and this weekend we are at last able to move into our own apartment!

I’ve thought before that it might seem a little odd that I write a blog called “The Flourishing Abode”, at a time when we didn’t have our own home. And even when we have had our own home, I’ll be the first to tell you, I’m no great housekeeper. But, really, the space in which we live is not really what this blog is about. The important thing to me is not the house, but the home. And we constantly have to be working to improve our home and our family, because that is so much more important than a physical building. BUT … it is going to be nice to have our own physical apartment again! (And I do look forward to taking care of our family’s physical space with a new-found respect after being without it – here’s to improving my housekeeping skills!)

I’m really tickled about the apartment we found. It’s definitely going to be very urban living, which I’m excited about – we’ll be a 5 minute walk to the subway station. Bonus points – we live next door to a branch of the Boston Public Library. *fist pump* (On the off chance that you’ve never visited my art print shop, let’s just say a significant part of it is dedicated to my love of books.) We’ll be without a fridge for a short time, and I’m not quite sure how we’re going to get our furniture up the twisty stairs, but I know everything is going to work out just fine. I’m just SO excited! I hope to be able to put up some pictures of our new place before too long.

In the meantime, though, due to the huuuuge number of things I have to do this week, such as shipping all my orders from Black Friday – Cyber Monday, plus moving our things out of the storage unit and into our new place, I’m taking a one week hiatus from blogging. I’ll look forward to be back next Wednesday and pick up where I would have been this week, if we weren’t moving. So, stay tuned for your regularly scheduled programming!

A shout-out of thanks to our hosts who graciously let us live in their basement. And thank you to all of you who have supported my FlourishCafe shop and/or blog over the last few months – that’s been our family’s income! But most of all, I give thanks to God for his provision and care, even in less stable times of life.

See you next week!

“To Live is Christ”: Philippians Study at the Boston Library

I wanted to let any of you in the Boston area know about the Bible study series that I am very excited about coming up on October 20th at the Boston Public Library on Copley Square … below is the PDF with all the details. The theme is “To Live is Christ”, and we’re going to be studying the book of Philippians, which is such an encouraging book of the Bible. There are going to be a couple different speakers, and I am very much looking forward to it. All are invited! We would love to see you there – let me know if you have any questions. :)

And the winning topic for the next challenge is…

Drumroll, please…

So, the winner of the poll I put up for you to be able to vote for the next challenge is finished – and the Handmade Biz challenge is the winner! I think the timing of this is reeeeally good, because if you have a crafty or creative business, right now is is when you should really be putting work into your shop to be ready for the holidays. I’m planning for it to be a 6 week series, which will take us right into the beginning of November. In the last challenge (the blog redesign challenge) I used Lori’s blog throughout the whole thing to demonstrate how to make some changes. I won’t be making direct changes to anyone’s shop in this series … BUT I think it would be a lot of fun to offer this to any of you who have an online handmade business:

I will be giving individual shop/site critiques each week in the series!

Each Friday, I’ll be addressing one particular aspect of running a your own biz – and also offering a critique of one shop/site, addressing that topic specifically. And I’ll pick a different shop/site each week. The tips, just like in the last series, will be directed at that site in particular, but I’ll also be writing it for others’ benefit as well.

Soooo – if you have your own creative biz (such as an online handmade goods shop, or vintage clothing shop, or website where you offer services, etc.), fill out this simple form and I may pick your shop for the critique one week! And, of course, I’ll give a shout out to your site to send you some traffic, as well. Just copy + paste this into your comment:

My name is:
My business’ name is:
My business is about:
My Website is:
One or two particular areas I would like to learn how to improve in my biz are:

Leave your comments below, I can’t wait to check out your sites! :)

Vote for what the next weekly challenge will be!!

Ok! So it’s time to start a new weekly challenge. I’m excited! This has become a feature here on my blog, that Fridays are the day I post my “weekly challenge” post. Basically, I set a goal of something I have to do every week for about 10 weeks, and then post about it here on Fridays. I’ve done three challenges so far…

The first challenge was the Adventure-a-Week challenge, where each week I had to come up with a new family-friendly out-of-the-house under-$10 activity each week. Next was the “Hack Challenge”, where each week I had to take some random object and upcycle it into something new. And the most recent, which we just finished last week, was the “DIY Blog Redesign” challenge, where I took one reader’s blog and did a complete makeover in 10 weeks, each week offering tips and tricks on how you can do you own redesign as well.

But now it’s time for a new challenge! And I’m going to let you choose which challenge I’ll take. Maybe this one I’ll make into a link-up challenge too, so that if you want to take on the same weekly challenge on your blog, you can post your links here each week. We’ll see – let me know in the comments if that is something you would like. :) But firstly, here are the challenge options on the table:

What should be the next weekly challenge on The Flourishing Abode?
  
pollcode.com free polls 

Alright, start voting! If you like the idea for the last one, you don’t have to leave your individual ideas today, I’ll do a separate post for that if it wins. I can’t wait to see what you decide! I’ll leave this post up for a week, and announce the official new challenge next Friday. So vote for which one you’d like to see!

7 Ways to Promote and Market Your Blog

Well, this is the last week of the blog redesign challenge! Next week I’ll be putting up a poll so you can vote on the next challenge … always fun to start a new project. :)

It was really interesting on Monday’s post how many of you mentioned marketing and promoting as being something you have questions about – because that happened to be related to what I was planning to write about for the last post of this series! Now, this is by no means a comprehensive look at the subject … these are just a few tips, primarily related to promoting your blog. Because, now that we’ve reached the end of this series and you may have a fabulous and newly redesigned blog, you want people to see it! I hope these tips and tools will be helpful in getting in touch with your target audience. The “7 ways” are 7 external websites that you can harness to help promote and/or market your blog, and I’ll be offering tips on how to use each one to benefit your own site.

Ok, so #1: Pinterest! On my blog, Pinterest is a HUGE source of traffic for me. And I feel the best way to use Pinterest to help your blog grow is less about getting your own followers on Pinterest than it is about making your posts as share-able for your readers as possible, because Pinterest is like visual word-of-mouth. Here are some tips on how to make your posts very Pinterest-friendly … and, as is only fitting, I included all the Pinterest tips in a very pin-able image. :)

On to tip #2! Blog-following sites. There are sites out there that are specifically made to help people discover and follow new blogs. One such site is HelloCotton. It specifically is for women bloggers, and if you are one, I highly recommend submitting your blog to their site so that people can follow you there. I’m a big fan. And there are other blog-following sites out there as well. Make sure your blog is there to find! And one thing I love about HelloCotton (as well as some of the others), is that followers are notified there of new posts, but are actually directed back to your blog to read the posts. Spiffy! :)

Now for #3: Monitor your site’s stats with Google Analytics. Now, this one is less about how to *directly* promote your site, because Google Analytics is just a tool to use to keep track of statistics for your blog, but it *does* relate to marketing, because it can help you find out information about how to promote and market your blog more effectively.

First of all, you need to install the tracking code on your blog, which Google explains here. Don’t get overwhelmed by the sheer abundance of stats and facts. You don’t necessarily need all that info – I certainly don’t mull over every little bit. Here are some of the tidbits, though, that I find especially helpful to know:

Tool #4 is FeedBurner. If, like Lori, you’re moving from Blogger to WordPress, you will want to make sure you create a new feed for your new site, and update your old feed so that your previous subscribers will still be kept in touch on your new blog. But, regardless of whether you have moved or not here are some tips I have on how to use FeedBurner more effectively – after all, gaining and keeping in touch with your subscribers is a huge part of this whole process! Here are some tips:

Tools #5 and #6 are very related: Twitter and Facebook. These social networking sites can help SO much in promoting and growing your own website. Probably at some point in the future I’ll do a more in-depth post just on these two sites and how they are different from each other, and how to use the effectively in their own distinct ways, but for today, I’m just going to share some tips the apply to both.

#7 is interesting, because it is the least specific (as far as what I can describe), but is probably the most important. This is the category that sends me the MOST traffic, and then Pinterest is a fairly close #2. But the reason I can’t be completely specific here is because it depends on what your target audience is. The basic premise, though, is that you need to find out where your target audience is hanging out online looking for what you have to offer. For instance, if you have a crafty blog, a good site in this category for you would be CraftGawker. If you have a foodie blog, then TasteSpotting or FoodGawker would be good places to look into getting featured. If you blog about handmade business, then try submitting your posts to Handmadeology. The list goes on and on – but it all depends on your target audience. Find out where they hang out, and promote and market there. Take out an ad on a site that your target audience loves. Offer to do a guest post on a site your target audience visits. This is how you really get in touch with your target audience – by finding them in the places they are looking for you.

Well, that’s it for the blog redesign series! It has been a LOT of fun for me … and also some sleepless nights writing and designing. But I’ve loved it, and I hope it’s been helpful for you. If you missed any of the previous posts from the 10-week series, here they are:

Part 1: Discover your branding with “The Drawing Board” Printable
Part 2: WordPress vs. Blogger
Part 3: Design Tips + Design Worksheet
Part 4: Themes, Coding and Stylesheets
Part 5: Making your own graphics
Part 6: 7 Blog Layout Tips to Engage your Reader
Part 7: Blog Page: The Must-haves and the Panache
Part 8: 25 WordPress Tips
Part 9: The Big Reveal
Part 10: 7 Ways to Promote and Market Your Blog (that’s today’s post!)

Leave your thoughts and comments below … for instance, if you have any ideas or suggestions for the next challenge! (And be sure to come back next Friday to vote!) Or even just to say hi … I love to hear from you!

The Big Reveal!

This is it! If you’ve been following this 10 week blog redesign series, this is week 9, and it’s time for the big reveal! (As well as a question I am hoping to get your thoughts on … ) I’ve been redesigning Lori’s blog, In My Kitchen, In My Life throughout the series and giving tips on how you can get set up with a whole new design of your own as well. Lori already had great content, and this redesign was intended to get her set up on WordPress and give her posts the proper garnish and setting that they deserved. So now her blog has officially been moved to WordPress, and here is the before and after:

So what do you think of Lori’s completed site? It’s kind of small in the preview above, but you can check it out more fully here on her new site: www.InMyKitchenInMyLife.com

I considered writing my own tutorial for how to move from Blogger to WordPress – but it’s already been written far better than I could write it! It is on WPBeginner and I encourage you to check out her tutorial, just click here. She takes you through clearly, step by step.

Instead, now that we’ve finished the overall site redesign, I want to offer a few do-and-don’t design tips to bear in mind when writing your actual posts themselves:

o Left align your text. Unless it is poetry, keep your text left aligned. Reading center-justified text just feels weird and does not make it easy to read.

o No crazy fonts in your post. Keep the font of your actual post simple and clean. No handwriting type fonts. When it comes to paragraphs of text, your goal is to make them easily readable, not distract people with individual letters.

o Keep text one color, preferrably black. There are better ways to emphasize and add interest to your writing than to make random words different colors.

o At least one image per post. Obviously, this may not always happen — for instance, my post on Wednesday when I lost my computer charger in the midst of our move and my battery was about to die! (Which, by the way, has been resolved, and thus, today’s post.;) But if it is a post with highly valuable and shareable content, I consider including an image to be a must. For one thing, Pinterest can be a HUGE source of traffic to your blog – and having a picture in the post makes it that much easier to pin.

o ALL images the max width. Figure out what the maximum width of your post is, and only upload images of that width – it keeps your blog’s photos looking beautiful and consistent.

o Take photos in natural light, if possible. Avoid using flash, it makes for much less attractive photos.

o A quick adjust in brightness/contrast can make a big difference. I’d say it’s much better to have a so-so photo in your post than none at all – but if you’ve taken your photo in natural light, often just a little tweak of brightness/contrast can really make it pop even more.

o Break up long paragraphs. Now, this will depend some on your target audience. If they are long readers, you probably don’t have to worry about this. But in general on the internet, people’s reading attention span is fairly short. This doesn’t mean you only have to write short posts (I definitely don’t, haha!), but it helps if you break up long paragraphs into shorter chunks – and injecting photos every few paragraphs can help, too.

Well, next week is the LAST post in this series – now that your blog is set up and finished, I’ll be showing how to use 6 powerful tools that are OUTSIDE of your blog to help promote and publicize your site.

And as we are nearing the end of this series – I’d be very curious for your feedback on something. Several of you have written me expressing interest in having me do one-on-one consultations with you to look at your site, while others have expressed an interest in having me do design work for their blog, while others are interested in how to redesign and optimize an online business, while others talk about the value of writing e-books. I know many of you have commented that you’re surprised I’ve been blogging even while in the process of a cross-country move … but the fact is we are very dependent on my online income right now at this stage of our lives, both from my Etsy shop and from my blog. I’d love to get your feedback on whether the things mentioned above would be helpful if I offered them, or if there is something else you would be interested in. I’ve been astounded by the great responses I have received from you throughout this series, and I’d be very interested to hear your feedback on this. And I can’t believe we are almost at the end of these 10 weeks! Crazy. I hope it’s been beneficial for you.

Please leave your thoughts and comments below, I love hearing from you!

Part 1: Discover your branding with “The Drawing Board” Printable
Part 2: WordPress vs. Blogger
Part 3: Design Tips + Design Worksheet
Part 4: Themes, Coding and Stylesheets
Part 5: Making your own graphics
Part 6: 7 Blog Layout Tips to Engage your Reader
Part 7: Blog Page: The Must-haves and the Panache
Part 8: 25 WordPress Tips
Part 9: The Big Reveal (That’s this week’s post!)
Part 10: 7 Ways to Promote and Market Your Blog

Oops, that was dumb…

Well, tonight I needed to write the next blog post for the every-other-Wednesday series … buuuut I just realized I left my laptop charger at someone’s house. And our other charger is packed somewhere. And my battery is about to die. Oops. Plus we are still getting settled and it’s been almost a week since we’ve had a good night’s sleep. One night we got a full 45 minutes of sleep. Yeaaaah, that doesn’t quite cut it. ;) So I’m bowing out for today, but I leave you a couple fun quotes our 4 year old said today while we driving around Boston:

“This is infinity cool and infinity fun!” (while driving through the “Big Dig”)
“This is a cool Boston!”
“I’m so glad we’ve moved here.”

Yeah, me too. :)

Anyway, since I don’t have a great post to offer, please feel free to leave a link to a post of yours or someone else’s that you want to share, and we can find some fun blogs in the comments. I always enjoy hearing from you! :)