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A Fall Favorite – Spiced Tea Recipe

I love seasonal foods. Fresh strawberries sliced onto oven pancake in the spring, homemade chocolate ice cream in the summer, rich white chocolate “snowball” cookies in the winter. And in the fall, spiced tea. One of the reasons I love spiced tea is because you get to enjoy it in two different ways. First, as it simmers during the day and fills your home with the delicious aroma of cinnamon, cloves, apples, and a touch of citrus. And then, of course, as you wrap your hands around the steaming mug and get to sip the cozy autumn flavors.

It is very easy to make, and just creates a really nice atmosphere to have simmering as guests arrive for a fall gathering. Basically, it is a matter of throwing a lot of things in a pot, and enjoy the aroma and the taste. I also sometimes put in in the crockpot to keep warm and serve.

Below is the recipe I use. You can click here (or on the image below) to get the printable PDF version. Enjoy! :)

What are you some of your favorite autumn foods? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Which do you prefer – crumbs or feasting?

Crumbs or feasting? Well, it depends on the setting.

It is so easy in our society to get caught up in the material things. More money, more things, bigger houses, newer stuff. And yet, when we get all that, are we happy? If we put more effort into our house than into our home, our family – will it be a happy place?

That is what I love about this verse. It reminds us that it is not what we own that gives us joy and peace and happiness: “Better is a dry morsel with quietness than a house full of feasting with strife.” (Proverbs 17:1) With Thanksgiving approaching, I am always sad when I hear people say they are dreading the holiday due to all the family tension they know they will encounter when everyone gets together. It’s a house full of feasting – but if there is strife, there is little joy in it. On the other hand, when the family relationships are truly happy, loving and peaceful, it is joyful to be together, even if the food is meager and simple.

It’s not that owning nice things, or having large homes, or delicious food is wrong at all – it’s just that if we make the decision to trade off peace and love in our relationships in favor of more things, we’ve made a very short sighted decision that will not be fulfilling in the end. And it’s not like any of us get up in the morning and say, “Hm, I think I’ll skip out on joy today and just try to get stuff.” No, it’s much more subtle – it comes down much more to how we spend the bulk of our time. And I’m saying this to myself as much as anyone!

So here is another 8×10 printable to use as a reminder of what is truly important. I made it to coordinate with last week’s printable, which was also a “Better is…” verse. There are so many encouraging “better is” verses in Proverbs. You can take a look at them here.

Is this topic something that resonated with you? I know it is something I need to think about everyday.
Leave your thoughts and comments below, I love to hear from you. :)

Openness Printable & Family Improvement Game

I just love the following verse. It’s been awhile since I’ve made any more verse printables, and the principle of this verse is something that we, as a family, have been talking about lately, so I decided to make it into a printable. Plus, I’ve been wanting to tell you about the “Family Improvement Game”, and it just ties in so well …

Openness in family communication is just soooo important. And by openness, I don’t mean just-say-the-first-thing-that-comes-into-your-head-who-cares-if-it-is-kind-or-right … I don’t think that is what this verse is talking about, and is directly opposite of being “quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19). No, by openness I mean that any topic is open to be kindly and lovingly talked about in the family.

Especially when it comes to our individual flaws.

Imperfections. We all have them! Me, you, everyone. (Except God, of course.) Admitting that we make mistakes and that we are, in fact, *gasp!* not perfect .. well, it’s no big surprise is it? We already know that – both about ourselves and others. And the thing is, not talking about and trying to mutually improve our flaws isn’t fooling anyone into thinking we are flawless. It’s kind of like someone who refuses to ever say, “I’m sorry”. Why would we do that? Are we afraid of appearing to be “in the wrong”? Let me let you in on a secret – people can already see that we make mistakes. Refusing to apologize or talk about our mistakes, especially within a family, isn’t hiding anything, it is just adding on to it.

I get kind of tickled, I admit, by how blunt Proverbs is about how we should feel about being corrected and reproved. Proverbs 15:5 says, “whoever heeds reproof is prudent.” But Proverbs 12:1 is even more blunt: “he who hates reproof is stupid.” Hard to get around that one!

My dad has often said that the people who know us best are our families, so how foolish are we if we are not seeking their help and correction on things we need to improve in ourselves! It is interesting that we naturally want this in other areas – for instance, as an Etsy shop owner, I and many others seek out “shop critiques”. Basically, this means that you get a fellow seller to come look at your shop, give you advice, and offer pointers on what you could improve – basically, point out what you are doing wrong. And we want that – we value that! Why? Because we want our shop to become even better, and the first step is to look at what we need to fix. How much more so with our character? And who can see what we need to improve better than our family?

This is how the “Family Improvement Game” got invented. It is something that my family (my parents and siblings) do quite often … and while “game” may be a little bit of a stretch, that is just what we always called it, and it actually is something we enjoyed. We have more recently adopted it in our own family (Tim, Leila, and me), and it has already proven beneficial. Basically, everyone comes to the table knowing they are going to get praise and advice on improvement – and by everyone, I mean everyone! From the littlest kid all the way up to the mom and dad.

First make sure everyone understands that nature of this discussion. It is not a time for attacking, insulting, getting defensive, or getting angry. It is a time where we, as a family, can all lovingly try to help one another. Reading some of Proverbs together first might be a good idea (like Proverbs 25:11, Proverbs 15:1, Proverbs 13:18, Proverbs 15:31, or Proverbs 15:12 … there are many proverbs on this!) No one person is being singled out more than any other. Each person will receive both praise and advice. Here is how it works…

You start with the youngest person in the family – in ours, that would be Leila. Then, going around the room from youngest to oldest, all the other members of the family answer this question in a sentence or two: “What has Leila been doing well at lately?” Things like, “I’ve noticed she has really been good about helping out in the kitchen” or “She has done a great job of sharing her toys when friends come to play”. Then, after everyone has given praise, you go back around the room and each person kindly answers this question in a sentence or two, “What is an area Leila could work on improving?”. For instance, “I think you could do a better job about taking care of your things” or “It would be good to work on having a happier heart when something doesn’t go your way”.

Then, move onto the next youngest. And again, all the other members of the family from youngest to oldest first answer, “What has this person been doing well at lately?” and then “What is an area this person could work on improving?” Then move on to the next person – all the way up to the oldest. Yes, even the youngest child gets to offer what they think the oldest person could improve. It is all to be done in love and respect.

There is one major rule: you are not allowed to defend, get angry or argue with the critiques that are offered to you. You simply take them in and consider what your family has to say. And, if you are wise, you will find plenty to improve in yourself.

A couple little side notes – yes, it can be very humbling when it becomes apparent that everyone, even the smallest child, has noticed your flaw of, for instance, losing your temper. BUT it is very rewarding experience when as you are working on improving, if you play the game a couple weeks later, that same area is mentioned, but this time as an area people are noticed that you are better about. Seeing progress like that is very encouraging. The whole goal of the game is to help each other and improve ourselves. It is about love.

“Better is open rebuke than hidden love.” Proverbs 27:5.
(You can get the printable by clicking the image at the top or by just clicking here.)

How do you encourage openness in your family?

25 WordPress Tips: Printables, Scheduling, Avatars…

Well, we’re preparing for the big move! And I don’t mean our move to Boston, although we are leaving for that TOMORROW! (WOOHOO!) But actually, in the context of blogging, I’m talking about how to move from Blogger to WordPress. This series is now in week 8 and we’ve been making great progress working on Lori’s blog redesign (and hopefully you’ve been making progress on your blog too!) as we’ve been going through this series. The goal was to use Lori’s blog, In My Kitchen, In My Life as a demonstration on how to create a new fully branded look, to move from Blogger to WordPress, and use WordPress tools to best benefit your blog.

So far, we’ve mostly been working on the branding and design aspect. Next week, I’m excited to say, is when we will move her blog from Blogger to WordPress! But one of the things about switching to a new blogging platform is learning how to use it. Lori is, of course, completely new to WordPress, and I’ve heard several of you mention in the comments that you tried WordPress but just were not sure how to use it. So for today’s post, I have 25 WordPress how-to’s, ranging from more simple things such as how to schedule a post to publish later, to things that might be a little more advanced, like how to make printables available on your site, or how to make a custom default avatar for your blog. So hopefully by the end of the post you’ll feel much more at home in WordPress – or even if you’re already on WordPress, that some of the more advanced tips will still be helpful to you! :)

All the tips assume that you are using on your own domain (some may apply to as well, but I’m just not familiar with it), and that you are logged in to your WordPress dashboard. If you’re not sure how to get there, just go to and sign in there to get to your dashboard. This is your dashboard – and the menu over on the left side is how you navigate around to different tasks:

So let’s jump right in! We’ll start off with the simpler tips. The first eight tips all have to do with something that is obviously very important – creating new blog posts:

1. Visual vs. HTML.
So the place to put the post title is pretty obvious, as is the large white area where you actually type the post. BUT — there are actually a couple different options on what format you want to use to write you blog post. One is visual and one is HTML. The tabs for these two options are shown at point “1”. Basically, if when you change the appearance of your post (like, if you add an image, make text bold, etc.) and you actually want to see the result of the change in the editing box, then use the “Visual” mode. If when you make a change to the appearance of the post, you don’t want to see the result, but instead you want to see and be able to write the actual HTML, then use the HTML mode. I personally always write in the HTML mode. Depending on which mode you choose, the options along the gray bar at the top of the edit box will look a little different. Heads up, though – while working on one post, don’t keep toggling back and forth between the two, as it can cause some hiccups. Just pick the one you want and stick with it.

2. Inserting images.
So, you’ve titled your post, and you’re writing it, but you want to add an image. This is super simple. Just click the little button by “Upload/Insert” (shown at point 2 in the image above). A box will pop up – click the “Select Files” button, then get the image you’re wanting to use from your computer. Once it has uploaded, scroll down the pop up box … there will be various options in the box you can choose if you want, such as resizing the image, making it centered, or “Link URL” (if you want the image to be a link to somewhere, then put the address as the link URL). Click the “Insert into post” button at the bottom, and now it is in your post!

3. Creating links.
Maybe you want to link to another website in your post. Use your mouse to select/highlight the text you want to turn into a link. Then click the “link” button (shown at point 3) and paste the address you want the text to lead to into the box that open. If you want, check the box that says “open this link in a new window”, so that when people click the link they won’t leave your blog but instead the link will open in a new window. Click “OK”. Now your text is a link like this: this text is a link.

4. Adding video from another website.
This may not be something you use all the time, but it’s handy to know. If you want to upload a video straight from your computer, you would just add it the same way you add an image. But if you want to include a video from another website in your post (for instance, a YouTube video), you might think you should try to use the “embed” code YouTube offers – but you’ll find it doesn’t work on WordPress. Actually, it’s simpler than that, anyway. For this, make sure you’re editing in the “HTML” mode, and just paste the link to the video right into the box. You don’t need any code, just the video address. Make sure the address is on its own line, without any spaces before or after the address, and you should be good to go!

5. Put posts in categories.
Categories are really helpful on a blog. For instance, this post I’m writing is part of a 10 part series, so I put each post for this series in the category “DIY Blog Redesign“. Then if you click on that category, it takes you to a page that has all the posts from that category. It’s pretty helpful for navigating around the site. So when you write a blog post, choose which categories it goes in. You get to make up your own categories, and add them with the link at the bottom of the category box. You can also edit your categories in greater detail by choosing the “Categories” option under “Posts” on your dashboard sidebar.

6. Preview before publishing.
Want to see how your post is looking? Just click the preview button. If you’re using “visual” mode, this may not seem as necessary, but I still encourage you to preview your post before publishing. Then you can check, for instance, that your post’s title fits on one line, that your images aren’t too large, etc.

7. Save drafts.
WordPress automatically saves a draft of the post you are working on writing, but even so, if you’re not ready to publish, be sure to hit “save draft” before closing the post.

8. Scheduling a post to publish in the future.
At point 8 in the image above, you’ll see where it says “Publish immediately”. That means if you hit the “publish” button, the post will go live right away. But what if you want it to wait and not publish until tomorrow? Or next week? Just click the “edit” button next to it, and select the date/time you want. Make sure you hit “ok” once you’ve made your choice. Now the publish button says “schedule” instead, and when you click it, that means the post will be published on your blog at the time you selected. Very helpful. For instance, if I was smart, considering that we are moving tomorrow, I should have written this post two weeks ago and scheduled it for today. Buuuuut I’m not that ahead of the curve, so instead I’m staying up late to write. ;)

And, as we mentioned last week, you edit stand-alone pages and posts in the same way, so those first 8 tips apply to both. The difference is just that to start you would choose either the “Posts” or “Pages” option on the navigation bar on your dashboard. You can click here to see last week’s post all about pages.

The next three have to do with handling your media:

1. Adding new media.
So, I mentioned before how to insert an image (or other media) directly into a blog post. Sometimes, though, you want to upload a file without just inserting it directly into your post. Just click the “add new” button in your media library, and then you can either browse for the file, or drag and drop into the box.

2. Making printables available on your site.
A good example of a time you might want to upload something on your site without directly inserting it into a post would be if you want to have a PDF printable file available on your site. So, first you would upload it, as stated above. Then, you need to get the URL of the file. To get to the URL of any media you have uploaded, hover your mouse over that item in your media library. A few options will pop up, as you can see by point #2 in the image above. Click “edit”, then scroll down to “File URL”. Copy the address you see there. Now, when you write your post, you can use that URL to create a link, either by using the link button (as described in tip 3 above) or by adding the link to an image (as described in tip 2 above). Now when your readers click that link, it will open the printable!

3. Always upload image at the width of your blog post.
There really isn’t much point to uploading giant sized images to your site. You still want it to display only as wide as your post, and it just makes your site run slower. Also, I highly recommend not using images less wide than your blog post, because then you start having all sorts of different width images in your posts and it just looks messy. I have a few old posts like this and they drive me crazy. It looks so much better to always have your images the same width – no wider and no more narrow than your post. I recommend that before you upload an image you make sure it is that width. For instance, I only upload images to my site that are 640px wide. It keeps it nice and easy, because you don’t have to resize in your blog, keeps your posts attractive, and doesn’t bog down your site.

The next 7 tips are about plugins…

1. Adding a new plugin.
Plugins are a great way to add new tools and functions to your blog. If there is something you wish your blog could do, chances are you can find a plugin that can make it happen. To add a new plugin, first click the “add new” button. (yeah, surprise!) Then, search for the name of the plugin you want. Once you’ve found it, click the “install now” link. Once it finishes install *make sure* you click the activate button. Easy! :)

2. Finding new plugins.
Ok, so step one sounds easy enough – but how do I know what the name of the plugin is that I’m looking for? You can always search keywords, but the plugin search is only so good, so personally I like to Google “wordpress plugin (and whatever use I’m looking for)” to find the names of plugins I might be interested in. I’ll share a few types you might find helpful in some of the other tips.

3. Changing the plugin settings.
Some plugins have settings that you might want to change. For instance, if you have a plugin that lets people follow you on Twitter, you will need to set it to know what your Twitter username is. Some plugins will add options/settings to your sidebar, but you can also find if there are settings in the menu of your installed plugins, as shown at point 3.

4. Anti-spam plugins.
As I mentioned, I’ll give a few categories of plugins you might be interested in – one of which is an anti-spam plugin. We’ve talked before about the evils of CAPTCHA, and you definitely want to avoid that, but some sort of anti-spam tool will most likely be needed. Preferably, though, you want one that will be invisible to your readers. Akismet is what I use, and I’m very pleased with it, although it does cost a few dollars a month.

5. Social media sharing buttons.
In one form or another, you certainly want social media sharing buttons so that your readers can easily share your posts with their friends and followers. The three biggest, at least for me personally, are Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, although there are many more. A plugin that automatically includes sharing buttons at the end of your posts is a must have in my book.

6. Editorial Calendar.
Having an editorial calendar can be SO helpful in scheduling posts ahead of time. I already mentioned earlier how to schedule a post for the future … but looking at your list of posts/drafts/scheduled posts does not make it very easy to visually see what you have coming up on various dates. Installing an editorial calendar (which can then be accessed on your dashboard sidebar under “Posts” -> “Editorial Calendar”) makes it easy to have a visual sweep of upcoming posts, and lets you easily create drafts for future dates that you can then write later. Love. it.

7. SEO tools.
There is a lot to SEO (SEO = Search Engine Optimization) and how it works. Showing up well in search engines can be very important to a blog, or any website. A plugin that helps SEO won’t really be a fix all … but it can definitely help. I personally love Yoast. Once you install it, on the edit page of each post there will be a box at the bottom where you can input keywords, search engine titles and descriptions, and lots of other helpful SEO stuff. It isn’t all you need to have good SEO, but it does help. If you’re serious about SEO, there is a ton of great info out there on the web to help you.

The last 7 tips are on settings options:

The menu shown above is what you would see in your navigation sidebar if you click on “Settings”. There are lots of settings you can explore under each option, but here are a few you might want to check on…

1. Time/date settings.
Under “general” options, you will find the time and date settings. Make sure these are set according to your time zone and such – it can be very frustrating to schedule a post and expect it to publish at a certain time, only to discover that your blog is on an entirely different time zone!

2. Unconvert emoticons.
I don’t know why, but the default setting in WordPress is that if you make a :) face, it automatically turns it into a cartoon smiley face. Personally, I think it looks kind of … odd, especially if it is on a professional blog. You can turn off this option under the “writing” settings.

3. Default post category.
I mentioned categories earlier in this post. If on a particular post you forget to put it in any category, WordPress just goes ahead and puts in the default category, “uncategorized”. However, you can change what the default category is under the “writing” settings. My default category is “blogging”. :)

4. Disable pingbacks and trackbacks.
Under the “discussion” settings you will find lots of options for how people can interact with you blog. One of these options is “pingbacks and trackbacks”. I would strongly recommend disabling these. Unlike comments, which allow for discussion, pingbacks and trackbacks are just a breeding ground for spammers.

5. Comment settings.
There are lots of other comment options you can choose from in the “disussion” settings, as well. Comments are a HUGE part of blogging, so look through here and make sure the settings are set to the way you want – for instance, make sure threaded/nested comments are enabled, that people don’t have to be members of your site to comment, that you will be emailed when there are new comments, etc.

6. Custom default blog avatar.
This is a more advanced tip, but if you really want to take your branding to the next level, you can create a custom avatar just for your site that shows up if people don’t have a Gravatar. For instance, I have my illustrated typewriter than shows up as the avatar – although, of course, Gravatar trumps that, naturally. (If you don’t have a Gravatar, it is a universal avatar associated with your email, and anytime you comment, that avatar automatically shows up – I definitely recommend setting up your own at But what I’m talking about for blog design is the avatar that shows up as default if people DON’T have a gravatar. There are a few rather blah options that WordPress offers, but you can really brand-up your blog with a personalized one. Using the instruction above about plugins, add the plugin “Add New Default Avatar”. Then, using the instructions from my previous post on making your own graphics, create a branded avatar .. 80×80 is a safe size in Thematic. Then using the instruction in today’s post about media, upload your image to your media library and get the URL. Then go to the “discussion” section of your settings, and scroll down to the avatars. Paste the URL in the custom avatar box, then save changes. Now, along with the other options for avatars, there should be your new custom avatar image. Choose that option, and click “save changes” again. Your blog now has its own custom branded default avatar! WooT!

7. Default image settings.
Under the “media” settings, make sure that the auto embed is enabled, so that you can just paste YouTube addresses in (as mentioned before) … and it can also be a good idea to adjust the auto sizes of your media to fit the width of your blog posts. That way images you upload (if they’re not already the right size) will adjust to the width of your blog, and embedded videos will also fit your blog properly. Keeps things nice and neat!

Well, that makes 25 total! I hope these tips have been helpful for you. Did you learn anything new, or is it all old hat to you? Do you have some tips of your own to share? Leave your thoughts and comments below, I love to hear from you!

If you’ve missed the other posts in this series on DIY blog redesign, 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 (This is today’s post!)
Part 9: The Big Reveal
Part 10: 7 Ways to Promote and Market Your Blog

DIY Blog Redesign: Design Tips

I guess there are basically two sides to this blog redesign series … the artistic side, and the more tech related side. We’ll be kind of jumping back and forth week to week from one to another – this week it’s the artistic. You know, the fun stuff! ;) I have six blog tips to share plus a worksheet to start making some design choices.

So far in this series, we’ve talked about getting a vision for your branding so you can know what you’re aiming for, and then the next week we covered where to blog and how to get set up, and this week we’re going to be getting into design tips. Then over the next couple weeks we’ll start combining your branding and these tips to start really building your site.

All of the tips today are going to be with one aim in mind: Distracting vs Enhancing. We want all the aspects of our design to enhance our content, not detract or distract. Also, bear in mind that these are tips, not rules. I hope you’ll enjoy them and find them useful – I definitely had fun writing it!


1 ‣‣‣ The garnish shouldn’t be larger than the food

So, if you’ve been following this weekly series all along, then you’ll remember that your blog is like a dish: the content (your posts) is the food, and the design of your blog is the plating/garnish. Garnish can’t make up for lack of actual food … but it makes a huge difference in how the food is presented – and received by the eater/reader.

I don’t know if any of you are FoodNetwork fans, but I simply loooove watching “The Next Food Network Star”. It combines a couple of things I love – cooking and branding. Each contestant is their own brand, trying to win a spot for their own new show on FoodNetwork. Anyway, on a recent episode Alton Brown cautioned one of the contestants, “Watch out, you’re about to put a garnish on that plate that is bigger than the food.” And, as we continue to think of your blog as a meal, that is the exact same caution I want to give you.

Your blog’s design shouldn’t distract or overwhelm your content. If your design is so busy/cluttered/overwhelming/eye-catching (and I don’t mean that last one in a good way) that it is difficult to focus on the actual content of your posts, then your design is doing the exact OPPOSITE of what it should be doing. A few examples of some easy ways to overwhelm your blog with “garnish”:
– music that starts playing as soon as you load the page (trust me, a huge % of people will leave right away)
– busy/jarring/dark/overwhelming backgrounds
– lots of random font color/size changes throughout your writing
– so many sidebars, each full of ads and widgets, than your content is slimmed down to a tiny sliver
– etc.

“Garnishes” should be tasteful, and should be the supporting actors – not upstaging the lead role.

On to tip 2!

2 ‣‣‣ White space is your friend

White space can make a huuuuuge difference on your blog. Imagine the difference in looking at a busy/cluttered blog, where your eyes narrow as you try to find your way through all the busy-ness to find the content … vs. a blog where your face relaxes when you look at it, the content itself catches your eye, and you are drawn into reading. The amount of white space is often directly related to making the difference between these two. And, as was mentioned earlier, it comes back to the difference between distracting and enhancing. Which blog are you going to linger on longer?

Always remember that the part of your blog that you want people to really take note of and remember is your content. It’s the heart and soul of your blog. Give the eye space to relax. Don’t crowd your blog. White space in the background, white space around text, around pictures, around design elements – it helps to let these things really stand out on the page. Now, there is definitely a spectrum of how much white space you may choose to have on your blog. I’m going to put a few screenshots below of blogs that use white space well to make sure they don’t detract from their content. (You can click any image to be taken to their blog). Each has it’s own unique style and branding, but note the common thread of white space:

Bearing in mind the importance of white space, think carefully about backgrounds. I would encourage you to do one of the following to help highlight your posts:
1 – Have no background (white space only)
2 – Have a background that includes a lot of white + one neutral (like mine)
3 – Have a background that uses color only very subtly (probably best for blogs with a muted palette)

Now, my fellow bright color lovers, don’t despair. This does not mean you are doomed to a boring blog. It just means there are probably better ways to show those bright colors than in your background. In fact, those colors will jump off the page best if you stick with no background. Obviously there are blogs that have designs that don’t follow any of these guidelines. But the thing is … it’s a lot easier to come up with a good design that highlights your content following these. And it’s a lot easier to create a design that competes and overshadows your content if you don’t follow these.

For instance, on Lori’s blog, In My Kitchen, In My Life, which is the “guinea pig” example for this series as we go through and redesign her blog, she has a dark blue kind of marbled background. Observe, below, the difference it makes simply by removing the background, and how much more the gorgeous photo in her post jumps off the page:

See how much more the content of the post catches your eye in the on with the white background? Now, you may be saying, “But a white background looks boring!” Fear not! There are many, many ways to put interest in your design — ways that won’t compete with your content the way a busy background easily can. We’ll be getting into those in future posts. :)

On to tip 3!

3 ‣‣‣ Do your own thing – don’t copy someone else’s style.

I want to mention this one specifically here since I just showed some screenshots of others’ blogs. The key to a good blog design is not in finding a blog you like by someone else and trying to mimic their style. Remember that the goal of your design is to highlight YOUR content. Their blog is designed to highlight their content. You wouldn’t want to copy someone else’s posts and claim them as your own – so don’t copy someone else’s design either. And anyway, knock-offs just aren’t as good. Your final product will be so much better if you discover your own style rather than trying to mimic someone else’s. Ok, ’nuff said on that.

4 ‣‣‣ Limit your choices: colors, fonts, mediums

It’s a really good idea to limit your design choices. Now, keep in mind, this is limiting your design, not limiting your posts! If you want to have photos in one post, and your paintings in the next, that is fine. But your design itself should have choice limits. I recommend the following limits in your design choices:

‣ Fonts: Up to three: one serif, one sans-serif, and one script. (Serif means a font with those little extra lines that poke out on the end of the letters. Sans-serif means the letters don’t have those extra details. Script means it’s more like handwriting/novelty fonts… examples are below.)

One more note on fonts. Just because a font is free, does not necessarily mean it is free for commercial use. Make sure you have the proper licence for the fonts you use. For example, Kimberley Gershwein has a lot of fun fonts available here on dafont – they are free downloads for personal use, but for commercial use you must purchase the license. Happily, it is just $5! One of the fonts that is going to be a part of Lori’s branding is by Kimberley. So make sure you have the proper license on your fonts.

‣ Colors: Up to three. (You can get away with a little more if you’re counting black/white, or if you have multiple shades of the same color.)

‣ Mediums: Choose one main medium for your design. (Again, this is for design, not for post content. If you’re going to have a photography banner, don’t have buttons that are pen and ink illustrations. Or if you want watercolor paint sidebar images, use that in your banner as well. Have one major medium you’re using in your design, rather than mixing and matching. By the way, mixed media counts as one medium. For instance, collage of vintage images and graphic design. Just make sure you make the mixture consistent throughout your graphics.)

These limits will help to keep your look branded, recognizable and unique – as well as giving a clean look to allow your content to stand out.

On to tip 5!

5 ‣‣‣ You’re not trying to appeal to everyone

I’ll be honest. My FlourishCafe creative biz & blog are never going to catch on with a huge following in the teen goth skater guy community. Yeah, surprise, surprise, huh? I remember when I first launched … I was also designing some jewelry and accessories at that time. I went to a downtown park with some friends to do a photo shoot of a scarf-wrap that I had made. While we were taking the photos some goth/skater guys walked by and called out something about my “ghetto scarf”. And while it never feels great to have something you’ve made ridiculed by others – it really didn’t both me. Why? They weren’t my target audience. Frankly, I would have been disturbed if those teen guys had wanted to wear my ruffled and be-ribonned scarf. I wasn’t trying to appeal to them. So the fact that my product didn’t appeal to them was no big cause for concern.

The same is true for your blog. You’re trying to reach out to your target audience. If that target audience is middle aged women who are interested in yoga, then don’t worry whether 20-something men who play hockey will love your site. This applies to your content, to your design, to everything. Now, I’m not talking about being rude or bashing other audiences on your blog – I’m just saying that you should write and design your blog for YOUR target audience … and if it’s not someone else’s cup of tea, don’t worry about it, they are the target audience somewhere else. If your readership isn’t particularly trendy, don’t worry about having to change your blog’s color scheme to fit Pantone’s color guidelines each season. If your readership isn’t into cats, then maybe don’t put LOLCats all over your blog. If your readership is on a tight budget, don’t worry whether millionaires will find your money saving tips useful.

Now, some things apply to practically all target audiences – like the ability to read/see your content, which is why tips like having plenty of white space and not overwhelming with garnish are fairly universal. But many options, like which colors to choose, what style to go for, etc. will depend on your taste, and your target audience. If you just try to broadly appeal to everyone you won’t be as successful at getting in touch with that niche target audience that you want. Look back at your branding printable and read your description of your target audience. Think about them in your blog’s design, and in your posts. In fact, a good way to come up with valuable content is to think about the problems your target audience faces – and offer solutions in your posts. Is your target audience knitters? Offer tips on keeping yarn organized. Is you target audience gamers? Review your favorite little-known games and tell people where they can find them. Is your target audience creative women? Offer them tips on how to re-design their blogs. (Wait, that’s what I’m doing!;) Because in the end, a blog is about the reader, not about the writer. Yes, be authentic and be yourself. But it’s the difference between blogging about how hungry you felt at work today vs. blogging a recipe you made that really hit the spot after a long day at work. Both are “about” you, but one is for you, and one is for your readership. Think about your readers, both in your content and in your design, and don’t worry about whether it appeals to everyone else.

Ok, are you ready to finally start making some design decisions??? Here we go!

6 ‣‣‣ Make decisions that fit your branding statement

I’ve designed a little worksheet to help you keep track of your design choices – in particular, your fonts, your colors and your medium. I tried to keep the worksheet simple and plain to not interfere with your own design process. Unlike printables, which I have offered before, this one is a jpeg to be used in your image editting software, so you can type with different fonts, and get your exact colors and such, rather than hand writing it. I tell you what, it is SO handy to have a file with your specific hues saved so that you don’t have to try to find “that blue” on the color wheel each time.

I put a place to write out your branding statement, which you crafted from the first part of this series (if you haven’t seen that yet, it’s an important step! You can click here to go back to that post) because all of your choices should reflect your branding statement. Look back at your branding printable, at the colors that resonated with you, the answers you gave, and start there to make your design choices. For instance, looking at Lori’s answers from her branding printable, here is the sheet I filled out for her blog, In My Kitchen, In My Life, which I am redesigning in this series:

Do you start to get a flavor for her site, looking at that? Her serif font is more classical looking, it almost reminds me of columns. Her script font looks like what you might see in a neatly hand-written letter. I think this fits her branding statement “classic and cultured done simply and down to earth” well. As for her medium – I decided not to illustrate her blog, like I illustrated mine, because that sketchy almost-cartoonish feel of my illustrations definitely doesn’t fit her branding statement. As I looked back through her posts, I saw that she had lots of great photos. Some of them I believe she took herself, and some of them her son, who is a budding photographer, took. I started compiling these photos, and fixing up the lighting in my photo editting software – and the colors for her blog that she had mentioned just jumped right out at me! You can see the images, though small, at the bottom of the worksheet. Since she has so many nice photos that reflect her style so well, I thought it would be good continue that and use photography as the medium for her blog. And on the colors … yeah, you can see I cheated a little and used four instead of three. This is because the navy blue is so close to black, and as I mentioned black and white can be “givens”. In general, though, I recommend sticking with 3 colors.

So, here is your own design board to fill out. Make sure you put your branding statement at the top – and have fun playing around to decide on your new design choices! Just right-click the image below and save it to your computer so you can edit it.

I hope that these tips and worksheet have been helpful for you!
I’d be very curious to hear about some of your design choices.
Leave any questions, comments or thoughts below, I love to hear from you!

You can also check out the rest of the posts from this series, here:
Part 1: Discover your branding with “The Drawing Board” Printable
Part 2: WordPress vs. Blogger
Part 3: Design Tips + Design Worksheet (That’s today’s post!)
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

Summer-Thyme Pita: Coleslaw meets Waldorf Salad

I don’t know about you, but when we’re in the middle of a summer heat wave I don’t feel like turning on the oven and eating a hot and heavy meal. Something cool and refreshing sounds soooo much better. This meal idea is something my sister-in-law served one summer while I was visiting, and it fit the bill for a delicious meal on a hot summer day so perfectly. It’s kind of a coleslaw-meets-Waldorf-Salad-meets-chicken-salad dish, with a refreshing flavor mix of lime and thyme that my family has nicknamed Summer Thyme Salad. I’m including a printable of the recipe at the end of the post.

The base of the salad is cabbage, like coleslaw, which makes it quite economical as well. We don’t have a garden at our apartment, but a friend with a garden recently gave us a HUGE head of cabbage. I knew right away that we would be having some Summer Thyme Salad! But it was more cabbage than would even reasonably fit in my big serving bowl. If you have more cabbage than you want to use in this salad, go ahead and shred it all up, and put the extra in a bag – now it’s handy and prepped for another meal later.

You can chill the entire salad together, but I like to make the salad part of it ahead of time, and let it chill and marinate together, and add the chicken and herbed butter right at the last minute, so that the salad is cold but the chicken is warm. It makes a nice contrast – just like the tangy lime sauce contrasts nicely with the mellow savoriness of the thyme. That is partly why there is a fair amount of butter with the chicken … the thyme and herbs infuse the butter and send all those earthy flavors throughout the salad. The fruit in the dressing is reminiscent of Waldorf Salad … usually I do apples and grapes, but you can substitute the grapes with other fruits, especially if it’s something tart like dried cranberries. Which is handy if, like me, you forget to buy grapes. ;)

Just click the recipe below to get the PDF file. If you trim the recipe out of the page after printing, it comes to a handy 5×7 size:

What are your favorite cold meals for hot days? Leave your thoughts and comments below, I love to hear from you!

DIY Blog Design: The Drawing Board Printable!

I’m soooo excited! This is the beginning of the DIY blog design makeover series (which I’ve really been looking forward to!) where I’ll be taking one person’s blog and doing a 10-part complete redesign, makeover and transfer to WordPress — and giving tutorials and tips, as a graphic designer, on how to do your own blog makeover as well. I hope that any of you who are bloggers as well will find it helpful- at the end of this post there is a free printable worksheet, as pictured above, which I have made to help you start down this road. And I have to say I am very excited about the project myself – this type of thing is my cup of tea!

So that you know what to expect, in today’s post here is what we’ll cover:
– introducing the blog I will be redesigning
– meat and potatoes vs. garnish and plating
– what branding is
– my free Branding 101 printable and tips on how to use it to establish your own branding.

‣ ‣ ‣ Meet Lori

The lovely blog I’ll be reworking is by a reader and dear friend of mine, Lori, and it is called “In My Kitchen, In My Life“. I’ve known Lori for years- she taught me Bible classes as a child, cooking classes in high school, and has been a great source for advice now that I am a married woman – and I’m tickled to get to work on her design. Her blog is perfect for this type of makeover, because she has a distinct voice in her posts, and writes highly valuable content for her audience (I definitely recommend checking it out!) – but her blog’s design, while not bad, could be doing a lot more to highlight her content and give her better features, which is why she volunteered for me to use her blog. Here is a screen shot of her blog as it is currently:

‣ ‣ ‣ Meat and potatoes vs. plating and garnish

Lori’s blog is an excellent example of having what’s really important in a blog: great content. The content of your posts is the core and essence of your blog. It’s the meat and potatoes, the entree. The design, on the other hand, is the plating and the garnish. You can have the most beautiful plating and garnish – but if the real substance of the food is missing, the plating and garnish won’t make up for that. However, once you do have the meat and potatoes, the plating and garnish can make a big difference in the presentation and how your content is received. A delicious meal can be a delicious meal even on a paper plate – but it can also be taken up to the next level by being served on beautiful plating with tasteful garnishing. As they say, “content is king” and we will be addressing content somewhat in this series, but largely it will be about taking the great content you have, like Lori does on her blog, and presenting it in the best possible light – adding that next level of plating and garnish.

‣ ‣ ‣ What is branding?

(And do I need it, even if my blog is not a business?)

So we’re going to be starting at the “drawing board”: establishing your blog’s branding, which personally I find can be a really fun project. Now, you may think of branding as just being connected to businesses and shops and so forth, and your blog may or may not be a business blog. Or, like I used to think, you might think that branding just means a logo. But the concept of branding can certainly apply to blogs whether they are businesses or not, and is much broader than a logo. Blog branding is the unique style and experience that your readers will have and see in all aspects of what you are offering. Here is one way to see branding in general … imagine you are at the mall and are planning to buy a white t-shirt there. You could buy a white t-shirt at any number of places in the mall – but it’s going to be a different person who chooses to buy the shirt from Coldwater Creek as opposed to American Eagle, or from Hot Topic – and this is because even though the white t-shirts might not vary that greatly, the branding extends beyond just the simple items themselves, but covers the entire experience from going there, to buying the item, to how you feel about the item – and those different types of branding appeal to different people. The same is true for your blog. Your blog branding covers the entire experience of someone coming on your site, not just the content itself, and applies whether you have a business blog or not, because even if you’re not selling anything, you’re still trying to win the eye of your target readership. The branding you want to have on your blog will impact all of your design choices in a makeover, and branding will vary widely from blog to blog depending on why you are blogging, your target audience, and your own style and personality. So to start out this series I’ve made a branding questionnaire printable to help walk you through how to narrow down to what you want that branding on your blog to be.

‣ ‣ ‣ Branding 101 Printable & How-To Tips

As we move forward in this series (which will continue here on Fridays) a lot of the things we will be doing in future posts will be based on the answers you give to questions on this printable. I sent these questions to Lori ahead of time so that I could base her blog’s design on her answers. These questions don’t really require very long answers, and for the most part are pretty straightforward, but there are a few that I wanted to give some additional explanation for here.

The first section is just the basics, and things that you probably already have established: your blog name, tagline, etc. One question on there, though, that I want to point out is “Why do you blog?” You don’t really need to get very deep on this answer unless you want to – this is largely to establish the purpose for your blog. Is it to promote your business? Is it to offer advice or support on a certain topic? Is it to get feedback on your writing skills? The one answer I would avoid putting here is anything along the lines of “for fun” or “for a creative outlet”, because that doesn’t shed any light on why you are writing on a publicly viewable website as opposed to a personal journal at home. This question has to do with why you a seeking an audience for your writing – you want to be upfront with your audience with what they can expect. If it’s a business related blog, you want to make that clear in your design so your readers aren’t taken aback or surprised when you start talking about selling to them. Or if you are wanting build a online support community with your blog, you want make sure your design offers easy ways to join and participate. And so forth, depending on why you are blogging.

The rest of the questions of the 2-page printable are what I call “The Brass Tacks”. They are questions to help you think through and define what kind of style and look you want to go for on your blog, and help lead up to the last question: to come up with a branding and design statement. What is a branding and design statement, you ask? It is not a tagline or something that describes your blog to other people, it is simply a succinct phrase that describes the feel you want in your branding and design, for your own use as a guideline while you design your blog. It doesn’t have to make a lot of sense to other people, as long as it is crystal clear in your own mind – but it should be short. As an example, my own branding statement that encompasses all of my sites (my blog, my shop, my website, etc.) is “cozy urban cafe”. That may or may not make perfect sense to you as you look at my sites – for instance, urban style can mean a more hip-hop and grafitti type style, but I mean it more in a downtown kind of way – but in my own mind it is clear, and as a result, all of my sites have a similar feel that reflects my original design goals.

If you’re easily able to answer the questions asking for just a couple specific style terms and such, you’ll probably have a fairly easy time coming up with your branding statement. But if, as you’re trying to answer the style and adjective questions, you can’t think of how to describe it, try imagining your blog was an actual physical location, like a shop or a house, and see if that helps you describe the look you want. Even then, though, it may feel a little nebulous or scattered. In helping people with blog design in the past, I think this is one of the things that people have a lot of trouble with – defining exactly what they want on their blog. When Lori gave me her answers, they were a little more general than the questions asked for, which I was actually glad to see, because I think this is common issue and gave me the opportunity to demonstrate (since I’m the one doing the designing in this case) on how to take these general types of ideas and narrow down to a branding and design statement.

Here were Lori’s answers to the two questions that asked for a few style terms and adjectives:
“This is where I just get overwhelmed. Is there such a thing as the modern side of Lands’ End clothing meets Italian Renaissance art meets old books meets straw garden hat and good hand tools meets artful cheese plate? That’s my style. Good luck.”
“Ai, yai, yai… Pick for me, please! Ok, one of those great looking rooms where the furniture is very comfy, very functional, with few useless objects except a very few of sentimental value which are also lovely to look at — like my pottery bowl of river rocks picked up from a Swiss alpine stream and my basket of postcards from our travels and field trips.”

Her answers really made me smile – I think this feeling of “this-meets-this-meets-this … what is that?” is very common. So, if you’re in this boat, know you’re not alone! I can understand why it seems overwhelming – it would be very difficult to design anything trying to juggle all these different aspects. But here is what I did to filter Lori’s description down to a single style description, and I hope you’ll find the process can be fun, not daunting.

The first step is that you want to think about what the different aspects have in common – what ties them together. Personally, I went and found pictures of the things she mentioned in her description … a piece of Italian Renaissance art, some old books, hand tools, artisinal cheese plate, etc., and lined them all up to be able to make some visual comparisons. Another way to look at this came up as I was explaining to Tim the process of narrowing down to the similarities; a light bulb turned on in his head and he said, “Yeah, it’s like finding the common denominator of the different styles!”, and he started kind of mind-mapping attributes of the different items to find common ground. I thought that was a interesting way to think of it – especially if you’re more of an abstract/math brained person like Tim. Or the visual comparison might work better for you if you are more artsy-brained, like me. But in whatever method works best for you, try to think of what the common cord is that ties the different elements together.

Secondly, you might think I’m going to say find what is different between the elements- but that’s not quite the case. It would be a pretty endless list! Instead, ask yourself, “How do these things comment on each other?” In other words, why didn’t Lori answer with JUST the Italian Renaissance for her look? What is it about garden tools that fills something that was missing in the Italian Renaissance? What is it about Lands’ End that fills a style need missing in having old books alone? Contrast to try to find how and why these different pieces comment on each other. You may find that some aspects are actually very overlapping, where as some introduce a whole missing, but vital, piece of the puzzle.

After going through this process, here is the design statement I came up with from Lori’s description:
“Classic and cultured, done simply and down to earth.”

I feel that encompasses what she was trying to portray in her descriptions. Now the last (but very important)
step in crafting your design statement is this: once you have your design statement, forget about all those nebulous descriptions. Now, I don’t mean forget about the other questions you answered on the printable, we’ll still be using a lot of those answers in the future. But those fuzzy nebulous thoughts of Renaissance-meets-cheese-plate-meets-gardening-tools — let those go. You want to design and plan you blog look based on your branding statement. If you try to design with all of those other things in mind, you’re going to end up with some parts of your blog looking like the Renaissance, and some parts looking like garden tools, but it’s not going to all tie together. Your branding statement should encompass everything you need from those nebulous thoughts, anyway. If you feel you can’t let go of those because it feels like something will be missing, then that is probably a sign that your branding statement is not complete. Once you have a branding statement finished, it will make your job of designing SO much easier in the rest of the process.

I hope this has been helpful! You can get the free printable by clicking the photo, below.
Let me know how it goes answering these questions – and if you are having trouble narrowing down to a design statement, talk about it in the comments below, and let’s see if we can help each other out! :)

Please leave your thoughts and comments below – I love to hear from you!

You can check out the rest of the posts in the series here:
Part 1: Discover your branding with “The Drawing Board” Printable (That is today’s post!)
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

Well, since I’m bad at clues- here’s the answer!

So, last week I tried to post some clues to see if anyone could guess what the next weekly challenge would be … buuuuut apparently I’m pretty bad at clues, haha! But the hack-challenge ends this week and next week is the start of the new challenge … so instead we’ll just skip to the announcement. :) It’s one that was suggested by one of you when I asked for challenge ideas a while back – and I’m very excited about it!

It’s a DIY blog redesign series! Basically, as a graphic designer I will be demonstrating how to do a complete blog makeove by taking a reader’s blog, overhauling it, and each week showing tips, how-to’s and instructions to also be able to conduct your own blog redesign. We’ll start from scratch on how to establish the look and branding you want to go for on your blog, and work all the way through to setting up or transferring a blog to WordPress, designing your blog to highlight rather than distract from your content, create a layout to encourage reader interaction, tools that can help boost your blog, and more. I’ll be posting each Friday for the 10 part series, Lord willing – it starts July 6th, and I’m so excited! If you’re a blogger, be sure to subscribe so that you won’t miss out on all the blog design tips.

UPDATE: Here are the posts in the series…
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

Until then, though, if you haven’t already gotten it, here is my free blog planner printable. I hope you’ll find it useful in organizing your blog posts! Just click the image below to open the PDF file.

Do you have a blog? Tell me a little about your blog in the comments below, and if you have any particular design questions you would like to see covered in the series, I’d love to hear them!

Seek the things above: Being Thankful

Hello all!

Still blogging from New England at this time, we will be here through the end of the week, Lord willing. We have really been enjoying the time here, and today we are out exploring Boston, Tim is job hunting, and I am apartment hunting and so forth. :)

So far on Wednesdays we’ve been doing the “Seek the things above” series, and within the next couple of weeks I want to start taking that in a little bit of a new direction. There are several different topics related to the Bible that I would like to delve into here on my blog, and I’ve been trying to figure out which to go with first. For instance, maybe do a series on a specific book of the Bible, or on the overall theme and “story” (using the word story here not to mean that it was a story in the sense it was untrue, but a story in the sense that that it is one continuing set of events that all tie together, not just a hodge-podge of various happenings), or how study to the Bible, or a number of other things. And while I do want to get into those at some point in the future, there has been some interest expressed in a topic that seems like the most natural place to start:

Can we know if there is truth?
Is there a God?
And if so, how do we know who he is?

I am really looking forward to this! I think it is a fascinating study, and important to consider, whether you already believe or whether you do not. For those who do believe, while, yes, we are called to have faith, we are not called to have a blind faith – God has told us to “seek”, as in Matthew 7:7 – there is evidence to look at, and on which to base our faith. So I hope to be starting that new series soon on Wednesdays, but I didn’t feel that while we were travelling and on the road was the best time to begin, so I’ll look forward to that beginning that very soon, Lord willing.

For today, though, as we are enjoying time with family and seeing so many amazing things and spending time as a family, I just want to share the following verse of thankfulness:

What are you thankful for today?
Also, I’d be curious to know which of the topics I mentioned might be something you would be interested in – and also if there is another topic you’d be interested in discussing here. As always, I love to hear from you, whether in the comments below or by email!