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Summer Blog Beautification Project #4

Blog Buttons
These are used more and more often and can be a great way to help people find you. If you create a grabbable button, people can add it to their sidebar. I love adding pretty blog buttons to my sidebar because #1, I love sharing great resources with my readers and #2, they're pretty! Make yours something people can share on their blog and you'll be able to enjoy free advertising.

Buttons are also nice for signing linkies. At the bottom of this post is an example of a linky that you should be signing! An attractive blog button is a great image to link to! If you are a review blogger and sharing an image link to your reviews alongside 100 other reviewers, you'll draw more readers by linking to an image of yourself or your blog button (which represents you) than if you link to an image of the product. Stand out. For example, in the following link, which blog posts would you click on? I am drawn toward #32, 33, and 57. They are crisp. They stand out and draw the eye.

There is so much information available online, people are overwhelmed and won't click on just anything. They click on the things that have the appearance of promising to be worth their time. Take the time to make it look nice and they'll take the time to read.

To create my blog button, I used the advice from Musings of a Housewife, except I used Gimp instead of Photoshop. Gimp is a free program that is very similar to Photoshop, but much more on the free side.  Nowadays, you can use picmonkey (another free option), which is even easier.

Gather images for your blog from Shabbyblogs, Canva (also some for purchase), Picmonkey, Wikimedia, and my latest favorite: Photopin. These search results at the top have a fee, but below the dotted line is all free. You can purchase images through iStockPhoto, Shutterstock, or digital scrapbooking sites. Personally, I don't think it gets better than Kay Miller Designs. Her images are very inexpensive and they're just beautiful!

Kevin & Amanda (in my sidebar) is a great place to start collecting great fonts for your button. Picmonkey and Canva offer several selections, as well.

To make my blog button "grabbable", I used the code from  Bloggersentral's advice.

My current button is pretty when it is large, but when I use it to sign linkies, it displays small and the brushstrokes give it a fuzzy appearance. It definitely needs to change.

There are blog buttons all over the interwebs, but you can see some of my review friends' buttons by clicking my "blogging buddies" box, which you can also find in my sidebar.

This leads to gobs of buttons, which can give you an idea of what style you might like. You'll also see which buttons stand out and grab your attention where some fade into the background. 
Personally, I think the buttons with a frame look more sharp. What do you like best? 

  • Browse buttons and figure out what looks nice.
  • Play with a button of your own. Slap some together in picmonkey and see how easy it is.
  • Share your new button! (or share button options and ask for feedback)

Link up to share your blog and what you're up to with the Summer Blog Beautification Project!

I is for Itch

Last year, I shared a remedy for mosquito bites that is insanely simple and chemical-free. I'm sharing again so that no one misses this awesome tip!

It's simple: just draw a circle with an ink pen around the bite. It instantly stops the itch.

You need to press a bit, but no need to bruise the child doing it. The pressure really seems to be part of it though because I've also had success using a knitting needle instead of an ink pen.

Sadly, this does NOT work for tick bites. I would love to hear why that might be, if anyone has any insight. For tick bites, After Bite for Kids is the best stuff we've found. It's amazing! For whatever reason, the Afterbite for adults does not work nearly so well. We all use the stuff for kids.

Ben and Me

H is for Heebie Jeebies

We've been working on cottage renovations during our spare moments and the entire family is eager to be out there, living in the country and running in the woods. To satisfy our itch, we spent the weekend camping at the farm. We traipsed through the woods, picking gooseberries and mullberries, and getting a feel for the land. We swam in the creek and cooked smores. We slept in a tent that offered a view of the stars and a symphony of noises only found in the woods at night. It was beautiful.


We managed to pick up a thousand ticks. 3 days later and we're still finding ticks. Thankfully, Missouri ticks don't commonly carry anything to worry about. We'll keep an eye on the bites, of course, but mostly they are just gross. ~shudder~

We also didn't sleep in the tent for long. Honor is apparently allergic to the woods and campfires and woke us up with an asthma attack after sleeping for about 15 minutes in the tent. We had to go home for breathing treatments.

But the truly Heebie-Jeebie part is.....the "S" word. I just don't even want to talk about it. If you don't want me to talk about it, then you probably don't want to see any pictures, either. I recommend you turn your head while I share. ~shiver~

Last week, I caught a glimpse of this across the road as I drove away:

Then he showed up at the cottage. Right outside my back door.

6 ft of heebie jeebies BESIDE MY BACK DOOR!!!!

Chris was my hero and shooed it away with a rake. 

It didn't like the rake.

And it didn't go away. We managed to get it to the driveway, where it hid in the grass until we went inside and then slithered its nasty way right back up to the house. I know, I know, they're beneficial, they have good points. Whatever. They make my spine tingle and give me goosebumps. Just posting these pictures has me so tense, my shoulders are touching ears.

My real fear is that these boogers will find their way inside my house and that I'll step on one in the middle of the night. ~swoon~
Ben and Me

BBP Week #3 - Sidebars, Buttons, and Backgrounds

Last week, we introduced the scary assignment of investigating a new header design. How did you do? I confess, as you've likely noticed, that I didn't work up the nerve to change mine yet. I've had a nasty sinus and gland infection, which made me not want to do ANYTHING. But also, I'm chicken. The header I have is safe. It works. I don't want to mess with a good thing. But what if I'm missing out on a great thing? If you're like me and hesitating to dip in, I highly encourage you to take the plunge. Save your current header. Work up a few options. Create a post sharing those options and asking for input. You can always change your mind and go back to the old header.

This week, keep working on those headers, but also start thinking about your sidebars, buttons, and backgrounds. Be sure to stay consistent with your color theme. Try not to incorporate more than 4 colors into it if possible.

First, before you even start hunting for the perfect background, you need to back up your current template. This is easily done by going into your dashboard and clicking "Template" and then "Edit HTML" Here's the easy part: click on "Save Template". Now, here's the hard part: remember where you save it. You back this up so that when you royally screw up your template, you can always go back to where you started. But there will be no royal screw ups. This is easy stuff. Honest. You'll do fine.

Free Templates
If you want to skip the idea of designing this stuff yourself ( which is very understandable,) here are some sites with free templates for you to consider:
Okay, the last one has nothing to do with templates, but I love that movie. I hit 'stop' when they begin running away together since I can't stand an unhappy ending. I am then able to watch it happily, over and over again. But I digress.

Each website should have some pretty easy to follow directions. Most will likely have you switch your current template to Simple before adding the changes. Change everything without fear because you've already backed up your original. No worries. If you mess it up, you can go back as if it never happened by uploading what you downloaded.

Keep in mind, most free templates have sidebar designs that don't scroll with your blog. They look pretty, but not necessarily professional. Also, you will have very little sidebar options with these templates.

If you have lots of stuff to share in your sidebars, consider using a 3-column blog. Readers don't want to be overwhelmed when they visit your site, so don't do it if you don't need it. But if you have lots of goodies and topics to share with them, a 3rd column can be a great way to organize your content and separate the ads and blogger details from a table-of-contents column. This is easily added by going to "Template", "Customize", and then "Layout". Choose your favorite option.

Go through your sidebar and be sure all of your links work. You might break this into chunks spread over any days so that you aren't overwhelmed all at once. Delete things that aren't relevant to your blog's purpose. Delete things that are ugly. If it is unattractive, but you really want to keep it, find a way to make it attractive.

Blogger labels are often forgotten, but they are extremely helpful to your readers. Imagine a new reader stumbles across your blog and loves a post. They want to find more information on that same topic. Your labels in the sidebar and at the bottom of each post quickly direct them to similar topics. They spend an hour sipping coffee with you and come back for more. Make it easy. Use your labels. Take a look at your label button in your sidebar. Is it pretty? I personally love my cloud label organizer in my sidebar. Do you like what you have? If not, change it.

Look for ways to simplify your sidebar content. Rather than sharing buttons for every blogging friend you have, consider creating a blog post with lots of links and a button to link to that post.

If you have a dark post body with white letters, it's time to stop. It is hard on the eyes and often unattractive. There are some cool exceptions that are worth the eye-strain. If you think you are one of the exceptions, then you should keep it because you like it and that counts for a lot. Otherwise: Stop it. Just stop. Change your post body to a white or light background that is kind to your readers.

As for the whole blog background, which shows on the outer edges of your sidebar, you don't want a wild, distracting background. A nice way to create some texture and richness without distractions is to use a background pattern creator. I like Pattern Cooler, which is insanely easy to use. At first, it took me a minute to see past the colors in the patterns listed. Once you choose your pattern, you can tweak the colors to be exactly what you want with the click of a button. After choosing your favorite pattern and colors, click download and save it to your computer.

To put this on your blog, upload to a free hosting service, such as PhotoBucket. After creating an account, all you have to do is click on the "upload" button and choose the file you downloaded to your computer. Once it is uploaded, you can resize it if you'd like. I click on "resize" and then choose the box that says "percentages". I shrank this pattern to 35% and then saved it. Photobucket gives different linking options, but click on "direct link" to add to your blog code.

To add the new background pattern, go to Template, Customize, and then Background. It will show you right where to upload your new image file.

If you use the Oooooold blogger templates, like Minima, add your new background like this:
Here is the only part that requires "code", but you only need to click and paste. No new nerd languages required! Using Blogger's new Simple Template, go into "Template" and click on "Edit HTML". Click on "Edit Template". A note will pop up telling you that this is a bad idea. It probably is. But you don't have to save anything you don't like. It will be okay. Click "Proceed".

Now, click anywhere inside that gobbledy-gook. Next, on your keyboard, press the Control (Ctrl) button and the "f" key at the same time. Type in: body {background:  (or you can just copy that bit and paste it in the search (find) box. 

Immediately after that part, there should be a color code, such as #ffffff. Leave one space after this and paste in url(http://yourdirectlinkhere.jpg)  Obviously, the part in the parenthesis needs replaced with the REAL direct link that you have waiting for you at photobucket.

Now, click on Preview to see if you screwed it all up or if it's how you like it.  If it's a mess or you change your mind, all you have to do is hit cancel or close the window. Either way, nothing changes unless you click "save".

Next week, we'll discuss having a personal blog button. This week, the buttons we're talking about are actually topic headers. Consider organizing your sidebar by topic. Think about creating simple button headers (keep in mind the width of your sidebar before creating them in picmonkey or Gimp) with titles such as:
About Me
Recommended Sites
Contact Info

These can be organized with text or with buttons that you create in picmonkey. Have at it!

Clean up your sidebar
Share your new header ideas
Play with backgrounds
Organize your sidebar with headers or buttons

Now, let me see what you've been up to! Link up if you're participating in the Summer Blog Beautification Project!

G is for Gifts

The following includes some affiliate links, which help support my book habit.

Have you read about The 5 Love Languages? It's a great book that really helped Chris and I understand each other much better. Basically, it says that we tend to express our affection for others in 5 different ways and helps us recognize ways that our spouse is saying "I love you", that we might have missed before. It also helps us realize how our spouse needs to hear "I love you" in order to really get it.

photo credit: via photopin cc
For instance, Chris' love language is Acts of Service. He says "I love you" when he takes out the trash, brings me coffee, or puts away my laundry. Mine is Gifts. I say "I love you" when I can't resist grabbing his favorite candy bar while waiting in the check-out line or when I secretly save up to buy things on his ThinkGeek wishlist.

For the first several years of our marriage, these different langauges left us both stumped. He rarely bought gifts. He would stop by the store and grab himself a Dr. Pepper and come home with nothing for me. It floored him that this left me feeling unloved. I am a terrible housekeeper and would scurry to clean when company was coming, which left him feeling unloved because I didn't put that much urgency into cleaning for him. One of us was speaking French and one of us was speaking German and neither of us heard the other saying, "I love you" in our language.

Again, it's a great book. I highly recommend it. It is helpful for marriages and any relationship, really. For a quick idea of what your love language might be, try an online quiz.

On a completely different note, Dayspring is having a Customer Appreciation Sale- 25% off! I love this site. I used to think it was an old lady site, good for school fundraisers and little else. Maybe it was once-upon-a-time, but now it is a cute catalogue with lots of goodies that I love. Maybe I'm turning into an old lady; maybe it really is that awesome.

With a love language of gifts, I should be imagining all the people I could buy these things for, but instead, I just keep thinking of how nice these things would look in my house.

For instance, with our house renovation, my new kitchen colors are white, turquoise, and red. Wouldn't these look adorable in my kitchen, sitting on white, open shelves?

$4.99 -25% = $3.75 with coupon code THANKS25

Cute library bags for the kids?
$3.99 -25% = $3 with code THANKS25
$2.47 - 25% off = $1.86 for all 3!!!
Do you see why I love this store? Be sure to check out the clearance items and the sections called Our Favorite Gifts! and Shop New Arrivals!

Ben and Me

Summer Blog Beautification Project

Your blog's header is the first thing readers see. It is your front door, your porch. It sets the tone for the rest of the visit. Last week's assignment hopefully had you thinking about what that visit should feel like and what designs best suit your blog's personality.

photo credit: demandaj via photopin cc 

With those thoughts in mind, it's time to design a header that fits you and your blog. First thing to consider: Do you want it to be a focal point? If you limit your visible posts to only the most recent post, the entire page is more of a living room. A tall header becomes the mantel piece of the room. Or perhaps you'd rather have a small header that doesn't distract much, just an inch or so at the top of the page. It might be more of a screen door that opens easily and invites readers to dig into your content. I prefer a medium height for a header. I also like frequent change, so I want things I can swap out, like a wreath on the front door.

photo credit: Blue Yonder via photopin cc
Before designing anything, you first need to determine your width. This depends on your personal preference, but you do need to be certain that your preferred width is easy to maneuver. Monitors vary and you don't want to leave your readers with a scroll-bar at the bottom in order to see from right to left. They won't stick around long. You can get an idea of what your readers see by entering your blog address at Responsive Design. Don't worry about the squished look on the ipads and cell phones; Blogger let's you alter the look on these devices in your dashboard under "Template", at the very top with the "Mobile" setting.

To set your width, go to Template and then Customize. This takes you to Blogger Template Designer. At the top left, click on Adjust Widths. Mine is set at 1260 with sidebar width set at 280. I like a wide, spacious feel. If you want two sidebars, you'll likely want to decrease that considerably so that your posts are wide enough to feature large photos and your great content! Keep the sidebars at a minimum of 150, 200 if you can work it in.

If someone is viewing your blog on a wide monitor, the background will show more. If someone is viewing it on a narrow monitor, the background might not even be visible. I don't want my background to distract at all. I like a clean, bright, and minimalist look. But perhaps you want a warmer feel with lots of background giving a cuddle-up-to-the-fire feeling. We'll work on colors and patterns for the background later; just keep it in mind when determining how much you want showing. Play with your width. Nothing is permanent and you won't mess anything up. Promise.

This is also the perfect place to start with a fresh canvas. While in Blogger Template Designer, go to Templates and choose a fresh start. I prefer Blogger's Simple Template, which I'm using. It is easy to manipulate and keeps things clean.

To link back to this project, feel free to right-click to copy image location and link back to me.

Now that header!
You can do an internet search for a free (or not free) blogger header template. These will walk you right through the process easy-peasey. You can also create your own and it's not scary. Honest. Whichever method you choose, keep the color scheme in mind. This one is hard for me; my eyes just don't pick up on it all. Your blog will look much nicer if you have consistency in your colors. Design Seeds is a great site for determining a color scheme that works with your header. Your links and sidebars and backgrounds and all mesh nicely if you keep the color scheme in mind. You can find the exact color codes for your blog by uploading a picture (your header) to Pictaculous.

Creating your own
Gimp is a free program, similar to Photoshop, that lets you build some super-cool headers. Layer them up with digital scrapbooking elements and you have a fancy look in no time. Gimp has a learning curve, but there are great tutorials out there on creating blog headers with it. Don't be intimidated.
Picmonkey and Canva are also great free resources for creating your blog header. The hard part is determining the width you like. After that, you just start slapping designs together. Have fun with it! Play with the height. 2-4" are good average heights. Find out what you like best.

Uploading your new header to your blog is a breeze. It used to be a complicated ordeal that involved the dreaded word...Code...but now you just go to your dashboard, click on Layout, and edit the header. At the word "Image", you'll see a spot to upload your newly designed header. You can upload a file from your computer or share the URL of your image. I strongly recommend the URL option. Files get deleted; they disappear when they shouldn't. Your readers will get a little funny box instead of a header if something unexpected happens. Try Photobucket for a safe, free place to store your photos with easy URLs. When uploading your header to blogger, be sure to check the box that says "Instead of title and description".

Here are some great tutorials:
Mummy K offers FABULOUS glimpses of different header options
21 Rosemary Lane shows how to build one and upload it with Picmonkey.
Shabby Blogs offers a tutorial and free design templates and elements.
Mama Whimsy also uses Picmonkey
The Watered Soul shares an intro to Canva and links rather than a tutorial, but it's lovely. Go visit.

Here are some Gimp Tutorials on building your own header:
Blog U
Third Grade in the First State
Beautiful Kayekie - this one specifically shows a great way to implement the new watercolor trend!

Personally, I'm still having trouble deciding on what to do for my header. I want a cheerful and clean design. I think I would like for it to include this picture from last spring, but I can't envision a way to incorporate it into a header.

How about you? Have you completed Assignments #1 and #2? Do you have a good idea about your blog's purpose and an idea about what you'd like your blog to look like? I'd love to hear what you've discovered, so please share in the comments section. Feel free to share your pinterest page of designs as well; I love seeing other people's ideas!

  • Experiment with the width of your blog
  • Consider a new template for a clean, simple design
  • Play with designing a new header
  • Remember, you can always change it if you don't like it!
  • Link up to show what you've been working on over the last couple weeks:

Learning Wrap-ups - a review

We have mastered multiplication! WE DID IT!!!! I've shared before how I had slowed down our math lessons until I was certain that we had mastered the multiplication tables and how we were moving much slower than anticipated. My girls have long understood the concepts of multiplication just fine. They enjoy math and they grasp it well, but the memory work just wasn't sticking and I'm the old-fashioned type that believes it needs completely memorized inside-out before moving on to bigger and brighter things. I've had trouble finding a book to help us buckle down and cement those facts into their brains, but we finally found it through Learning Wrap-ups.

F is for Foster

Today's post is a gift from Kendra, a talented and busy mom, teacher, and author. Enjoy!

In Biblical times, cities were always surrounded by large stone walls to protect it's inhabitants from outside attackers. These walls were massive and intimidating because they were all that stood between the people and the enemy. If the wall was compromised, the entire city would scramble to fix the breach before the enemy could get through. Often times, a warrior would go outside of the wall, stand in the hole, and fight off the enemy while those inside the wall sealed up the opening. This person was essentially signing their own death certificate as there was no way back into the city once the wall was sound again. But they did it because it was necessary. Without their sacrifice, the entire city would perish.

This is where we get the phrase “standing in the gap”, and this is essentially what it means to be a foster parent. We are warriors standing in the gap ensuring that the enemy doesn't get into the city and destroy everything within it. To be a foster parent, you are basically staring Satan in the eye and saying “You can have this one over my dead body”. And of course, you must mean it.

By now you are probably thinking that I am trying to dissuade anyone from ever wanting to become a foster parent. I mean really, I'm likening the job to certain death! And though I would never seek to sugar coat the truth, I don't mean to be overly grim either. This is just the best illustration of what I believe it means to be a foster parent.

As a foster parent you are a lover, a protector, a fighter, an advocate, and a friend. You are the one who shows them love, speaks life into their future, gives direction from confusion, and teaches them how to be brave and free.

The sad truth is that thousands of children in the United States wake up every day to neglect, abuse, and sorrow. Their little lives are filled with things that they should never know about; things like drugs, alcohol, hooking, shoplifting, homelessness, and intense hunger. These kids can curse as well as any sailor, but can't read. They can tell you all about sex, but they don't know what broccoli is. These are kids who know that spilled milk is nothing to cry over, but that you will bleed for it. These are children who fear a bed because they have never had one before, and kids who at the age of five have already raised three others. Whether they come from extreme poverty, abuse (which can be physical, emotional, or sexual), neglect, or drugs, they all have one thing in common: they have been torn from everything that is familiar and cast out into a big scary world where people they don't know make decisions for them.

These children are like any other kid, except that they carry scars. Some of these scars are visible but most of the damage is hidden beneath their sad little eyes. They will distrust you and fear you, like a wounded animal caught in a trap. All they have been through in their life has taught them that big people do bad things. To them you are just another big person and it is your job to prove them wrong. It is an intimidating task to be sure, but one that can be done through prayer and honored promises.

The main excuse I hear (and once said myself) for not fostering is that it is simply too hard to send them home again. Why should you attach to a child only to send them back into an uncertain family situation? It would hurt too much. If you can identify with these feelings you are in good company. Though this is definitely something to prepare yourself for, it should in no way stop you from fostering.

Here are a few reasons why your fear of pain is worth overcoming:
Most foster kids have a very skewed image of love. You showing up in the midst of their torment and being there for them shows them what love in a family is supposed to look like. You have the unique privilege of changing how a child views parents. But more importantly, you have the unique opportunity to change how a child views God. We all view God based on our parents, particularly our fathers. If we have abusive or checked-out parents, we tend to view God that way. When these children understand that someone can be interested, invested, and proud of their existence, they tend to see that God views them the same way. This can change nations.

If you can unselfishly and unreservedly love the foster children that you bring into your home you will be blessed beyond your wildest dreams! You will get to see first hand how a child blossoms under the influence of love. You will get to watch the cold exterior crack and crumble away. This is honestly my favorite part of fostering. This is the thing that makes it all worth while. Yes, you will fall in love and it will kill you to say good bye. They become your babies. after all, and it is hard to imagine your life without them. But seeing them come to life before your eyes is worth every single tear you will ever shed. I can't really explain the beauty of this transformation, but those moments break up the monotonous dredge of daily life. These moments make all the hard things seem manageable. These moments teach you more about love than anything else in the world.

Here is what I have learned about love from my foster children:
Love is hearing my seventeen year old girl laugh for the first time and seeing the smile spread all the way to her eyes, igniting a spark which had burnt out long ago. Love is seeing my five year old boy try to wink at me because that is my secret way of telling him that everything is ok, and now he believes it. Love is crawling into a closet to hold a sixteen year old girl as she sobs because she thinks she is too dirty and shameful to be loved, only to see it click with her because I wasn't afraid to touch her and crawl into her misery. Love is watching both of my girls graduate from high school and head for college, something they didn't think would be possible. Love is driving my two toddlers to daycare as they giggle and and carry on, when before they both stared out the window blankly as they wondered if they would see me again tonight. Love is only being able to listen to one song, “Set a Fire” by Jesus Culture, in the car because those toddlers sing it over and over, sometimes closing their eyes or raising their hands when they think I'm not looking. Love is hearing my four year old boy exclaim, “I'm your Little Duck and he (his brother) is your Goose!”. Love is picking up the phone to hear my now nineteen year old say “Momom, I love you.”

I could go on for pages, but I think you are getting the picture. Those moments make it worth it. I have had to say good bye to kids, and even now as I type this, I am preparing to say goodbye to another. It will hurt, it always does, and there will be a hole in the family for weeks. However, I do it because it is the only thing that I can do. I have to show up and make a difference while I can in the hopes that God will use my efforts to change their life from this moment forward.

Anyone can do this. You don't have to be a perfect saint. You don't have to be a millionaire. All you have to do is be ready to love a child who is not naturally yours. The process to become licensed is not that difficult and it will cost you nothing but time. If God has laid it on your heart to be a foster mom or dad, take the risk! I promise you won't regret it. Not sure about fostering? You can be licensed to do respite by simply having a background check and signing some forms. Respite workers do overnights and short term care for kids. This is a great way to get to know some of the types of kids you could meet as a foster parent.

The need is great. In my small county alone, one hundred and three children have been taken into care in the last three months. In less than three months the amount of children in care has more than doubled. If you have been wrestling with God over the decision to foster, now is the time to say yes.

If you are interested in learning more, you can visit Family Matters or contact your local Family Services. Kendra is happy to answer questions if you would like to send her a message on facebook.

Kinder Cottage - a Review

Sarah has been sick this week, so we've done some nice cuddling on the couch. We've done some snuggling and some reading and have enjoyed these adorable classics from Kinder Cottage Publishing. They sent us two books: The Tale of Peter Rabbit and When Peter Rabbit Went to School. There were 20 books originally written about Peter Rabbit and his antics. There are 10 books currently available in the series, and I would love to read every one of them.

These books were originally written by Duff Graham for the Henry Altemus company back in 1917! They have been edited to modernize the text somewhat. For example - the word velocipede was used in the original texts to mean bicycle.  The edits did not detract from the beautiful language of the original stories; they only removed confusing impediments that might have distracted from the flow of the words.

Summer Blog Beautification Project!

I am not an expert by any means, but I've spent the last several years toying with the basics of blog design and the world of social media. I'm ready to renovate my own blog and I thought it would make a fun project to share. I've spoken with several others who want a new look to their blog, but are intimidated by the idea of doing it themselves. The word "code" can sound a bit scary at first, but trust me, you can do it! In fact, blogger has simplified a lot in the last year or so, making it possible to do plenty of impressive changes without even touching your code.

For the next 8 weeks, we're going to tackle projects that include:
  • Creating a blog header
  • Designing a footer signature
  • Creating Pages under your header
  • Fonts and readability
  • Tools of the Trade (design, Photo Storage, and more)
  • Social Media Platforms and benefits
  • Creating a blog button
  • Pinterest
I would also like to work on projects that you are curious about, so be sure to leave a comment if you think of something else you'd like to see!

Blog Beautification Project
Assignment #1

Determine the purpose of your room.

The foundational step for interior design is to determine what a room will be used for. This is necessary before ever starting to shop for curtains or paint walls. Is it for recreation? For work? Does it need to be comfortable or inspiring? Who will use it? Will they find cluttter comforting or distracting?

Your blog is your space. You invite people in to visit every morning over coffee. They aren't visiting your blog, they are visiting you. What will it feel like to settle in and visit? Why are they there?

First things first; determine the purpose of your blog. I lose sight of this frequently. My purpose is to encourage wives and moms. My most frequent readers are homeschool mamas and I like sharing curriculum reviews with them, but not all of my readers homeschool. Reviews are not my primary purpose. If they were, I would likely choose a sleek design with easy readability. Utilitarian. Moms planning out their curricula want to get down to business and stick to the facts. But that's not why I blog.

I blog because I love writing and I love teaching. Somehow I've found myself in the camp of "older women" who are first cautioned on how they should live and then told to

 urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.

I blog to encourage wives and moms to live simple, happy lives that glorify God.

Why do you blog? What is the purpose of your room?

Blog Beautification Project
Assignment #2

Find your muse.

You may already know exactly what you like. You know your style and are ready to go. I still recommend this assignment; it will just be especially easy for you. You may be more like me. Your styles are very ecclectic. You have a hard time imagining where to start, and the idea of labeling any specific style for your design sounds too constricting. Perhaps you have a very consistent style...for a season,ut moods change and you are ready for frequent change.

This assignment is easy and helps you begin to see a pattern to the things you like. Perhaps you know what you like when you see it, but can't put your finger on the specifics that you would like to implement for yourself. This is perfect for you.

As an example, I love a cottage porch. I love the porch swing and the railings and the columns. I really love some, but I really can't stand others. I could not figure out why for the longest time. My husband wants to build me this dream porch, but was having a hard time understanding why I loved one and hated another when they were almost identical. We started looking at porches while on evening walks in town and after several weeks and dozens of porches, a pattern emerged. It's the tiniest thing and I'm embarassed to tell you how picky this makes me sound: It's the way the railing spindles attach to the top bar. All seem to have a bar going across the top, but many also attach at another board going behind the bars, at the top. I don't like these. At. All. It's 2" of board, but it makes all the difference in the look, for me.

Figure out what you like.

Begin bookmarking pages or pinning blogs to a pinterest board (here's mine) that you create just for blogs you like the look of. Over the course of the next week, try to pin or bookmark at least 50 blogs. Do not intentionally look for a certain style; just pin what looks good to you. You don't have to know why you like it or have any intention of designing your blog to look like it. Just pin it. Eventually, a pattern will emerge and you will know what to incorporate into your own design.

Link Up

Now, it's your turn to introduce yourself. The link-up below is not to link up this week's assignments. This is for your blog home page, so we can see who else is joining this project. We can encourage each other and offer ideas. We can show off our progress as we continue through the summer. If you are interested in reading through the assignments with me, please link up below so I can see who I'm sipping tea with.

Progeny Press - a Review

Progeny Press Review
 It is exciting to see a child's face light up with the pleasure of reading. The delight, the trepidation, the frustration, the hope...they are all on display on the brow of little readers. I love it. 

They begin sharing what they've read, what they've loved and what they've hated, and all fears for their education evaporate. Parents know that once a child loves reading, they can't help but love learning. Once they can narrate back what they have read, you know that they are processing their reading. Sharing with mom about their favorite part of the story in The Littles is the exact skill that yields them high scores on the SAT. 

My youngest is my first child to struggle with this part of reading. She has always enjoyed it, but she has trouble staying focused. History is a favorite subject, but at the end of each history lesson, she was in tears with frustration that she couldn't remember what I had read to her. I needed a gauge to see how well she comprehended when reading independently and something to help her start to notice more details to stories. My older daughter loves reading and was in need of a good challenge. Enter Progeny Press.

Progeny Press offers literary analysis studies for all ages of readers. With Gracie in need of some help in reading comprehension and with Honor in need of more reading challenge than I had previously offered her, this came at a perfect time for us. Gracie is now working on Little House in the Big Woods ($16.99), a book for upper elementary students in grades 3-5. Honor is working on Anne of Green Gables ($18.99), a book for middle school students in 5-8 grade.

52 in 52 for May

We met our May movie goal! We also managed to squeeze in 4-square, badminton, softball (really soft) and drywall a living room at the cottage. Am I bragging? Yes! I'm bragging on my dear husband who has worked an inordinate amount of overtime and still somehow made time for family and a house renovation. 

Here are the movies we enjoyed this past month:

That Darn Cat

This was loved by all but the 16 year old. He thought it was okay. I seriously love this movie. It was a favorite of mine as a kid. We named our cat D.C. There is a bit of intensity that younger children might find to be too much. Two bank robbers repeatedly threaten to kill the teller that they kidnapped and even discuss disposing of her body. She isn't killed and everything turns out happy in the end, but mine didn't handle intense scenes well when they were younger, so I wanted to give a heads-up to any parents still in that stage. My youngest are now 8 and 10 years old and this new stage has allowed us to watch a lot of things we wouldn't have been able to just a year ago.

While searching for a video snippet to share, I saw that there is a new version of the movie available, though I have no idea if it is any good or not.

Kid Histories
Not a movie, but we've watched these for hours. Hilarious! They're the laugh till you cry and wet your pants kind of hilarious. Apparently these brothers recorded their children telling stories of their parents' childhood. And then they acted it out while lip-syncing to the children's voices. They've gone on to random videos under the name Bored Shorts and they are just fabulous.

Arsenic and Old Lace

This was recommended to us by a friend. I wasn't sure how my kids would react to a black and white story of murder and intrigue, but she's a honey of a friend and I took her word for it. She was right; it was an absolute hit. I was surprised at how well they all liked it. I discussed looking for the DVD in front of my sons' friends and the room gasped with exclamations of glee. Teen boys raptured over what a great movie it is. And one had a copy to loan us.

It his a hilarious story and we all loved it. I worried my girls might be frightened at the threats of the older brother (he's beyond creepy), but it didn't seem to bother them at all. No nightmares followed and it's been over a week now. Mine are rather sensitive to that kind of thing, but I can only assume that part of it went over their heads. Being older, with a better picture of what evil, is made it creepier for me than them, I think.

We all laughed throughout and loved the movie. Go watch it!

Saving Mr. Banks

The previews tend to give the idea that the movie is about Walt Disney's efforts to convince the author of Mary Poppins to let him turn her story into a movie. Instead, it is about the journey the author went through as she resisted the idea and the journey that led to her ever writing it in the first place.

There were many flashbacks to the author's childhood, which involved an adoring and imaginative father. It was well done, resisting the urge to tell us things outright, but to let readers realize on their own what was happening. The father was an alcoholic and his family suffered the tragic consequences of it throughout the movie, but the father loved his family very much and presented the hardships as new adventures. It was rather impressive actually, though very sad.

One line in particular really stuck with me. The left a beautiful house in the city to live in a broken down farmhouse. As they approached the new house, the father announced (as if it were the most exciting news), "Guess what? In this house, you girls get to share a bedroom!" What a beautiful way to approach life with your children, helping them see the bright side and wonder of life.

There were disturbing scenes, which we researched ahead of time so we knew to skip and have girls turn their heads. One scene involved the mom attempting to drown herself in a pond at night. In another, the dad gives a drunken speech at a fair. And finally, the father coughs up blood while bedridden and dying.

Emma Thompson is incredible in this movie, as always. Though the character is impossible to like or understand, we fell in love with her. Regardless of her odd ways and meanness, it is HER story and she didn't have to share it with anyone.