The ultimate DIY blog kit

If you’re reading the feed for the first time since Friday (you, on Facebook, I’m talking to YOU!) you’ll have to click through to formally admire my fancy new blog design. Did I mention I did it myself? Yay me!

I’ve been looking for a decent theme for WordPress on and off for the last six months at least. I’ve downloaded and tested almost a dozen different themes, but none of them were quite right. Even when I got the custom blog design in May, while it was a lovely design it just wasn’t *me*, yanno? And, more importantly, there was something in the code that caused Internet Explorer to seize up and shut down entirely, and no amount of trolling the interwebs for solutions proved fruitful.

I was about to download the free theme Neoclassical when I stumbled across a link for this theme by the same designer. It’s called Thesis, and although it wasn’t free, it is by miles and miles the most easily customizable theme I’ve ever seen. Worth every penny!

If you’re even pondering a new blog design, I highly endorse Thesis. Even if you have never mucked about in your blog’s code (over the years, I’ve learned to hack the html, the css and even the php just enough to really screw things up!) you can still give Thesis a lot of customization by making changes to the options on your WordPress dashboard. You can choose one, two or three columns, customize the font size and style (there are about two dozen font options), choose a different font for sidebars or headers or whatever, all with the settings panel in your dashboard. Don’t like it? Just choose a new option.

If you’re feeling braver, they’ve created a really unique system for more in-depth customizations, like the drop-cap at the beginning of each post, and the multi-coloured navigation menu across the top, and my favourite, the rotating pictures in the header. And they’ve got a great help forum with people who actually answer your pleas for assistance, like when I could not for the life of me figure out how to activate the code I’d installed for my archives page. Turns out it was hiding in a drop-down menu on the ‘create a page’ page. That was the only time I got really frustrated through the whole customization experience, knowing I was missing something incredibly simple and yet not being able to figure it out.

Anyway, just a little note of thanks to the Thesis community (I love that there is in fact a community of users!), especially the people in the support forum, the guy who wrote these tutorials, and this great post on adding a custom header. I learned a tonne just by reading their stuff.

Oh, and if you’re used to using the blogroll that used to be in the sidebar, it’s just moved to it’s own page now. It’s the “linky love” page, in blue up above the header image. And if you’re not in the blogroll but you should be, drop me a note and let me know!

(Thesis has an affiliate program, so if you click through from my blog a cookie will be added to your browser and if you do decide to buy it I get a small percentage. But that is not why I wrote this post. I wrote this post because I’m blown away by how awesome this theme is, and I’m so so so happy with the result! Best! Theme! EVAH!)

Oooo, pretty shiny new blog…

So here it is! (You, over there on Google Reader — click through and admire the fancy new design please!)

There’s more work to be done, but I’m tired of hacking it on my test site. I would have thought that early Saturday morning was the perfect time to tinker, except there’s thunder in the background and the power keeps flickering and if I don’t have Bob the Builder on DVD as a distraction, no work will be done here today!

So what do you think? The header is a set of rotating images, so every time you refresh or click a new page, it changes. There’s only half a dozen or so now, but I’ll add more for variety as time (snicker) permits.

I love it! The only thing I’m still waffling on is the sidebars. I do want two, and I think they’re a little less cluttered than before, but if I can’t find a way to clean them up a bit I might just go back to one.

And I did it all by myself!! If you are looking for a new blog theme, I am in love with this one. It’s called Thesis, and it is hands down the best WordPress theme I’ve ever found. I’ll write more about that later, too!

(Thesis has an affiliate program, so if you click the link to check it out, my cookie is added to your browser.)

Like I said, I’m still tweaking and tinkering, but it’s mostly done. I think! Do you like how the photos are framed? I thought that was cool. And the colours in the navigation menu above (with home, contact me, etc) are taken from the text in the banners, which in turn is taken from the images themselves. And of course the images are all mine, most from my 365 project. Scroll down, I love how the older posts are displayed near the bottom, too (if you clicked through from a feed, you’ll have to click the header or “home” button to get to the main page and see how older posts are displayed).

Please let me know if you’re having any troubles with the display or with the page loading, or if anything looks “off” to you, and if you see something, I’d be grateful if you let me know which browser you’re using, too. I’m particularly concerned about the overall size — on one of our computers, the very rightmost edge of the banner and some of the right sidebar text gets lost, and you have to scroll sideways to see it. I’ll have to find a fix for that if it’s more than just our computer that does it.

Ahhhh, it feels good to have a design that I feel is completely “me” again…

A bloggy work in progress

So I’m redesigning the blog again. I know, I know, it’s just been a couple of months since the last one. Even though I really like the design (and frankly love certain elements of it) it’s just not working for me — both metaphorically and literally.

It’s the literally not working problem that’s getting me down — there’s a bug with Internet Explorer 6 that causes the browser window to shut down entirely when you try to scroll sometimes, and though I’ve spent a month or two poking through more code-hacking forums than any self-respecting girl should admit to, I can’t find a fix. (I’ve seen it argued that IE6 itself is a bug, and I’m inclined to agree, but since it’s what I’m stuck with at work, and what some of my favourite readers are using, I’ve got to find a way to make it work. At home, I’m all Firefox all the time.)

Previously, I’ve done a big surprise “ta da” moment with the blog designs, but this time I’m getting you on board at the design phase. The blog is for you as much as it’s for me, so this time you get a say. Well, technically, you get “to” say — I’ll listen, but I don’t promise I’ll take all of your suggestions into account. Think of it like a big bloggy focus group!

After a quite a lot of searching, I found the perfect theme-building kit. I’ll tell you more about that on the reveal (I love it, though, truly and madly) and I have the basic structure in place. There’s lots of variables to play with, though, so let me know what you think. Here’s the kind of things I’m considering:

  • banner: one of the things I’m most excited about with this design is the ability to have rotating banner images across the top, so each time you refresh you get a new header. (Right now, I’ve only got a half a dozen made up, but at least it’s a bit of variety.) They’re made up of some of my favourite photographs, which is way cool, but it’s posing a few design challenges. I’m afraid of photo overkill, for one thing. And it’s difficult to pull a colour scheme for the rest of the blog out of the header because it’s always changing. And finally, I’m worried about consistency in the ‘look’. What do you think?
  • sidebars: one or two? The whole reason I moved to this design was because I coveted two sidebars. Right now, though, the design seems a little cramped. Thoughts?
  • sidebar content: do you even look at all that crap? Back in the day, I loved widgets and whatnot cluttering up the sidebar, and when I visit a new site I still find myself scanning the sidebars to get a feel for the place. But now I wonder if too much clutter doesn’t take away from the content?
  • fonts: do you find the current fonts readable? What do you think about coloured headlines on posts? And, for the design-conscious among you, if I’m using a sans-serif font in the body, which I favour, do I need to use a sans-serif in the post titles? Should I match my fonts across the site?
  • colours: going back to my original blogspot roots, I favour a clean white background. One of the things I wanted from the last redesign was multi-coloured sidebar boxes. I like the way they worked out, with a hint of colour, but they’re still not what I’d envisioned. What do you think of a really colourful site? Does it detract from the content? There’s a fine balance between colourful and cartoonish (or garish) and I see a lot of sites that trip rather spectacularly over that line. Do you have a preference?
  • photographs: are the pictures too big in the posts? I’ve been putting them at 500 pixels across in the new design, but they seem pretty cramped. I’m trying to balance the best way to feature the pictures against having them ‘shout’ and seem crowded
  • .

Anyway, these are just some of the things I’m chewing over. Your comments, observations and random thoughts are greatly apprecaited!!

Have you ever bought a house that hasn’t been built yet? Not only do you have to find the layout that’s right for you, but you have to make sure the paint in the kitchen matches the paint in the dining room while going with the new countertops, and the countertops have to match the fancy tiles on the backsplash, which can’t clash with the drawer pulls and cupboard hardware. But the dining room looks onto the hallway, which opens onto the bedrooms, and so you have to coordinate those colours as well.

That’s what I’m feeling like with this blog design. I’m giddy with the opportunity to build EXACTLY the blog design I wanted from the ground up, but am currently paralyzed by all the potential and possibilities. So please, save me from myself and talk to me about blog design!


After I published my last post, the formatting on the blog got all farked up. Is it displaying properly for you? For me, the post about Papa Lou’s 65th appears in the sidebar and the sidebar is down below.

Not sure what happened, let alone how to fix it… gah! I wasn’t even in the template, just published an ordinary post. Might be IE6 problem. It’s the 365 post that seems to be causing the problem, doesn’t quite display right on the individual post page, either. I’d appreciate your comments — is it displaying correctly and what browswer are you using? Thanks!

Edited to add: Aha!! Found an errant div tag and I think that’s what was messing up the display. Sheesh, what a lot of fuss from one little tag. But, I’m still fussing over the display and am curious — do you see one sidebar or two and what browser are you using?

The Family Photographer?

So I had this idea while I was in the shower. (Some people do their best thinking on the commode. Me, it’s on the shower. Something about cleanliness and fresh starts, maybe?)

Actually, it’s the evolution of an idea I’ve been toying with for a while.

You guys seem to like my pictures and be at least marginally interested in the processes involved in taking them. I was talking to a friend on the weekend who has a really nice camera that she thinks might be busted because it keeps taking crappy pictures and she doesn’t know what to do about it. I offered to start teaching her a little bit about what I’ve learned to help her improve her pictures.

What do you think of a new series of posts on Photography 101, specifically, about taking better pictures of your family and everyday life? There are tonnes and tonnes and tonnes of sites out there that will teach you about photography writ large, but I haven’t seen too many that specifically talk about what I wanted when I set out on my 365: how to improve your skills as the family photographer. (The Pioneer Woman’s photography feed is about the closest thing I’ve found.)

I’m far from a professional photographer and don’t really aspire to be one, but I have taken courses in photography and I’ve got a pretty good grasp of the basics that I’d like to share. Even moreso, I think I would learn a lot by sharing the process with you guys!

And because I never do anything half way I was even thinking about setting up a whole separate blog for this and calling it “The Family Photographer.” It would have a regular “topic of the week” post, and then if you guys were really keen, we could have a group on Flickr where we could post photos and discuss them and have a little learning critique going on. No fancy gear required, just a camera and an Internet connection.

Topics would include all the basics, from exposure to composition, always in the context of improving your everyday photos of your family, pets, vacations and special occasions… the pictures that really matter!

What do you think? Would you be interested in something like this? If so, take a second and let me know in the comments whether you personally would prefer (a) I keep it as a part of this blog or (b) on a separate blog. Would you join a Flickr group and upload pictures occassionally to make it a really interactive group? Any thoughts, comments and observations are welcome! (And if you know something like this that’s already out there, do let me know!)

And don’t forget, you only have until 5 pm tomorrow (Tuesday May 26) to enter the contest to win the HP Photosmart Wireless Premium Fax All-in-One!


So???? What do you think? (If you’re reading through a feed reader, you MUST click through — I’ve done a massive blog reno.)

Mad props to Nikki at Design Coyote (and also at who managed to give me what I wanted instead of what I asked for.

I was originally going to upload the Evening Stars theme from her free themes page when, on a lark, I sent her a query on the cost of a custom design. She was very reasonable, both in the rate she charged and in tolerating endless requests for minute adjustments (“Oh, but what if we tried the font in this colour? And what if we moved this over here just 15 pixels or so…”) and after a bit of back-and-forth and a bit more tinkering on my part, I’m thrilled to present it to you!

It’s a big change, I know, but I really wanted something with two sidebars, something that was playful and yet not childish, something that was fluid width instead of fixed-width, and something that gave props to my 365 project. I think she did a great job!

Please do let me know if you have any trouble with the design or the pages loading. For some reason, my previous design started loading really slowly recently, so another one of my criteria was a faster load. And, on our desktop there’s a scrollbar across the bottom because the display is a little bit too wide, but I don’t have that on the laptop and it doesn’t seem to interfere with the display of any of the content. I’ve checked it in IE, Firefox and Safari.

So, really — what do you think????

Blogroll and linky love

I’m doing some spring cleaning around the blog, and realized that my blogroll is embarrassingly, dreadfully out of date. So many of you who visit here regularly should be on it — and there are blogs on it that haven’t posted new material since 2007 or earlier! While it makes me terribly sad to visit old friends and realize they’ve closed up shop (pause for nostalgic sigh) I do have a lot of new friends these days.

The blogroll in the sidebar is being migrated to its own page soon. If you’d like to be on it and you aren’t already, please leave a comment and let me know!


So you know I hate change. Really, I do. It took me four years to finally change my gravatar photo, for goodness sake, and it pained me to do so. Even when I know I’m going to like the new thing better, I’m still reluctant to let go of the old thing. (I was going to make a cheeky comment here about my marriage, but maybe we shouldn’t go there! *smooches to Beloved*)

Ahem, anyway, about change. I’ve been wanting to update the blog for quite some time now. I’ve spent hours scouring the interwebs for new WordPress themes, and, well — meh. I’ve found some that I *almost* like. Design Disease has some good ones (Andrea has a great one on her blog) and BlogOhBlog comes pretty darn close to what I want with a few of their themes… but not quite. I’ve downloaded more than a dozen different themes to play with, but they either don’t work properly, or I can’t figure out how to customize them to suit my needs. I even downloaded a little DIY theme designer program, but after toying with it a bit I’ve figured out that I have exactly the wrong amount of knowledge — just enough to know exactly what I want, but not enough to make it so. Sigh.

So here’s what I’m hoping. Either you know this really great site with just the perfect theme for me that I can download and use out of the box with breathtaking results, or you have this friend who does sensational custom blog designs and is just itching for a new, low-cost/high-affection client to add to his portfolio. Not too much to hope for, eh?

Here’s what I want:

  • Three-column (two sidebar) non-fixed format (do they call that “fluid”?) I’m not sure what the terminology is, but I don’t want it the way it is now, with a box around the text and sidebar. I want it more open – but boxes around the sidebar widgets is okay.
  • The design should tend toward the minimalistic — not a lot of graphics.
  • Must be colourful: I like the idea of multicoloured tabs across the top, and multicoloured sidebar boxes with rounded corners (or, at least, multicoloured title boxes.)
  • If you haven’t noticed (ha!) I’m all about teh Flickr lately, so I’d like a design that showcases my pictures either in the banner or the sidebar – or both!
  • It has to be fully widgetized, because I like the stuff in the sidebar and would probably add even more stuff. (Thus the need for two sidebars.)

Talk to me about blog design. How did you pick yours? What should I do with mine? What do you love and hate about blog designs you’ve seen? What should I make sure to do and what should I avoid at all costs? And speaking of costs – premium themes are not out of the question, but they have to be pretty damn good to get me to fork out any cash, so if you know of a good site, do let me know!

From captcha oracle to captcha syndrome

I’ve spent idle moments in the last week re-reading and thoroughly enjoying our bloggy adventures this time last year. Remember these post about liveblogging the labour? Your comments are more fun that the posts themselves! (*coughasusualcough*) And reading your congratulatory notes on the post about Lucas’s arrival and naming the “Player to be Named Later” brought tears to my eyes.

Throughout reading them, I laughed and laughed at your various “captcha oracle” observations. Which made me laugh even harder when I saw this search query in the referral logs: apparently, we’re the number one search return for “captcha syndrome.” And you know what? I’d be okay with this one being an incurable disease. *grin*