June 2014Occasionally Crafty: June 2014

June 25, 2014

Make Your Blog Beautiful: Taking the Fear out of DIY Blog Design

If you're anything like me, after you've been blogging for awhile, you start looking at everyone else's blogs and wishing yours looked like theirs.  How do they get that cute font?  What about those adorable social media buttons?  Why doesn't yours look so clean?  
You could hire a blog designer to give you exactly what you want.  But, if you're cheap frugal like me, you might want to consider doing the design yourself.  
Because blogging is a hobby for me (albeit a time-consuming, slightly profitable one!), I couldn't really justify spending a chunk of change on a blog overhaul.  So I turned to the internet for help.  And, I was also thrilled that this was a topic at last year's Online Blog Conference!  I came across some great tutorials, and I'm going to share some of them with you.  
As a result of my "research", I completely designed this blog by myself, using tips and tutorials from the pros.  All it takes is a test blog, a clear vision of what you want, and a little courage to try new things!

Before we get started- set up a test blog.  I am on Blogger, so I just created a new blog, named it Valerie's Test Blog, and set it to "private".  Now I can try out any coding or HTML there first without screwing up my actual blog.  Super important, right?  And here's a disclaimer:  I've only used these tutorials on Blogger and really have no idea how to personalize Wordpress.  So if you are a WP blogger- you'll have to search elsewhere for help.  Maybe my WP readers can leave some resources in the comments? (hint, hint).  Still, I think everyone can learn something about DIY design from my experience- so please keep reading!
Ok.  Let's get started.  Here are the most important things (according to me, but based on experience and lots of research!) that you need to have when designing your own blog.

1) A CLEAR VISION OF WHAT YOU WANT


If you haven't already done so, take some time to browse your favorite blogs.  What jumps out at you?  What catches your eye?  What do you wish your blog had?  Take notes and figure out how to make those things work for you.

2) A HEADER THAT CATCHES YOUR READER'S ATTENTION

I don't know about you, but most of my traffic these days comes from Pinterest.  That means most of the people coming to my blog are new visitors- and I want to convert them to loyal readers!  A header not only includes the all-important name of your blog, but it shows a little bit of your personality, and ideally gives your visitors a way to find you on their favorite social media platform.
Think about including a tagline.  Let them know what your blog is about, especially if it's not obvious in your name.  If your blog is called 123 Cherry Tree Lane and is all about sewing- well, you might want to explain that somewhere.
As for helping people find you, you'll notice I have my social media buttons in my header, and they are clickable (in my actual header- not this image). 
If, for example, one of your visitors isn't an avid blog reader but loves Twitter, showing them they can you find you there is a huge plus!
Another option is to put the social media buttons in your sidebar.  If you choose to do it that way, make sure they are at or close to the top and easy to find!

Click here to find some really cute social media buttons for your blog.
Click here for a great tutorial for installing them from My Favourite Things
Design your own header with PicMonkey using this tutorial.
Here's how to make any image in your header clickable (Image-Mapping).  Thanks Something Swanky!

3) A CLEAN DESIGN THAT SHOWS YOUR PERSONALITY

I highly recommend that the main part of your blog is a white background with a fairly standard font in black. If I have to struggle to read your font, I'm clicking away and I'm not coming back.
However, it's fun to have some fun or creative fonts for blog post titles and for your sidebar titles.  A GREAT tutorial for installing these on your blog can be found here, as well as some really fun fonts here.
Let the background pattern or image show off your personality.  There are a bunch of sites that offer free blog backgrounds, and those are great when you're starting out.  But since they are free, ANYONE can use them, which means you'll see "your" design on other blogs.  Why not find something completely unique to you for a background?

The Cutest Blog on the Block teaches you how to make a cute scrappy background in Photoshop here.
Something Swanky has a great tutorial to learn how to design your own custom background in PicMonkey.


I wanted diagonal stripes, so I used the stripe generator here, then installed it as a repeating image following this tutorial at Blogger Buster.  You could use that same tutorial for polka dots, chevron, flowers, or really any image you want to continue across your whole background.

4) A FOCUS ON YOUR CONTENT
Readers come to your blog for your content, be it recipes, crafts, or to read your thoughts.  Make your content the STAR.  You can do that by de-cluttering your sidebar, getting rid of distractions like music playing, and improving your content space.
I made my text area extra wide.  This gives me plenty of room for extra-large photos to catch my reader's eyes.  If you want to do the same, here's the tutorial I used.  

5) SPICE IT UP WITH ATTRACTIVE EXTRAS

There are some things you NEED to have on your blog, like a navigation bar for your different pages, a photo or "About Me" box, and a way for people to get in touch with you.  
I suggest starting here at Something Swanky and see if she has what you're looking for- her tutorials are easy to follow!
Then there are things that add a little something extra to your blog, but aren't technically necessary.  This is where you can really have some fun making your blog look just how you want it.  Get those typing fingers going and search online for tutorials for exactly what you're looking for.  There are many people willing to share their knowledge with you, if you just take the time to search them out.  

6) DO WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPY
In the end, it's your blog.  You have to stare at that thing every day, and things will start to bug you if they're not quite right.  Even if "everyone" says to do something but you just aren't a fan, stay true to yourself and your vision.  There are as many blog designs as there are blogs, and they all have success despite their differences.  
I'm going to close this (rather lengthy) blog post with a list of some of my favorite blog designs so you can get started with some inspiration for yours.  Good luck, and have fun designing!

Visit Vintage Revivals to see how Mandy makes her content the STAR!

Visit Crazy for Crust to see one of my favorite headers (and I love Dorothy's post title font!)
)
Lolly Jane is the epitome of a blog that represents the style of its authors, Kelli and Kristi.  I love everything about it!

June 19, 2014

Charge Your Spirit Printable/Handout

Sometimes I have a difficult time finding balance in my life.

It's hard to be a mom, a bishop's wife, a leader in my church, a piano teacher, a crafter, and a blogger.

Sometimes things get thrown out of whack, and I spend too much time on things that really aren't my top priorities.

As a spiritual person, I believe in reading God's word in the scriptures, and I believe in daily prayer.  We're pretty darn good at doing those things with our family, but you know what?  I have a hard time doing them by myself.

(I'm really good at making excuses though :)

The other day I was sitting by the pool while my kids were swimming, and I was reading a talk by Randall L. Ridd that was given to the youth of our church this past April.  It's mostly about technology and making good choices, but there was a part in the talk that really stood out to me.

He said the following:
     "If you don't regularly recharge your cell phone, it is useless, and you feel lost and out of touch.  You wouldn't think of going a single day without charging your battery.
      As important as it is to leave home every day with a full charge on your cell phone, it is far more important to be fully charged spiritually."  ("The Choice Generation", Conference Report  April 2014).

Then he issued a challenge:
     "Every time you plug in your phone, use it as a reminder to ask yourself if you have plugged in to the most important source of spiritual power-- prayer and scripture study, which will charge you with inspiration through the Holy Ghost." 

Wow.  What a great idea!  I definitely make sure my phone is charged nightly, and that is the perfect opportunity for me to say- wait!  Have I done the things I know I should do?  Did I say a prayer?  Did I take time to read my scriptures?  Did I listen for inspiration?

To help me remember, I made this little printable, and I thought I'd make it available to you too.  If you're spiritually minded like me, I hope this will be helpful to you or to someone you know!  



You can download this here.  It's sized at 4x6 but you could make it smaller for a handout.



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June 16, 2014

Rent Lego Sets? Genius! (Pley Review)


Disclosure:  Affiliate Links are contained in this post.  I am a Pley affilliate and was given a free three month subscription in return for an honest review and promotion of their service.  All opinions are my own.




The Lego Movie comes out tomorrow!  If you have Lego lovers like me, this is cause for rejoicing (at least for them!).  Actually, I loved the movie.  I was laughing out loud throughout the movie, and I wasn't the only adult doing so.

In celebration of this, I have two exciting announcements for you.  First of all, I am now a Pley affiliate!  If you are a mom of Lego-lovers, you need to check this company out.  This video I made (awkwardly) tells you exactly what it is and shows you what you get.

(You can click here if you're having trouble loading the video)

Sound interesting?  You can get a FREE Trial by clicking here or by clicking the ad in my below.
Pley - Rent LEGO Sets!



 Some quick FAQ's answered:

 1.  You can lose up to 15 pieces without being penalized- which is essential if your kids are playing with them.
2.  The sets are cleaned and sanitized between rentals.
3.  It takes 2-3 days to get a new set.
4.  Yes the Lego sets are sometimes incomplete, but so far ours have only been missing pieces that were not essential to building the set.
5.  As I said in the video, shipping is included in your monthly rate, so you don't have to pay to ship it back!

My kids have put together two sets from Pley and it has been awesome!  We were missing two small pieces, which we reported online, but neither was essential to the construction of the set.

You can see they were very deep in concentration.



These keep my kids busy for several hours building, and then I let them play with it over the weekend.  This morning we took it apart, bagged it up, and I dropped it off at the post office.  Soon, our next set will be on its way!  We are all thrilled with this so far!


 Here's two small things I don't love about our experience.
1.  I can't always report the missing pieces.  I think there may be a bug on their website, but according to a rep of the company they are trying to figure it out, so I hope it will be fixed soon.

 2.  Do you remember the old Netflix days, when you would put DVD's you wanted to see in your queue, and then when it was available, they sent it to you?  Your Pley "pleylist" is the same thing.  It tells you to put your Lego sets in the order you want to get them, but it doesn't necessarily ship you your #1 choice, but rather the first that's available in your desired order.  So, when we were hoping for a "Creator" Lego set and got a "Chima" one instead, my oldest son was a little disappointed.  He still enjoyed putting the set together, but the language on the website isn't really clear that that will happen.

In spite of these small problems, we've LOVED having a new Lego set each week!  I hope you'll try it out or tell your Lego-loving friends about it!  This leads me to my second announcement:

If you follow me on Instagram, you've seen this already, but I want to put out a reminder that tomorrow Pley will be holding a Lego Movie DVD Release Twitter party, hosted by Ellie of Creative Geekery and Fadra from All Things Fadra.


Prizes include LEGO DVDs, The LEGO Ideas Book, two Superfan Pley Subscriptions and a Grand Prize Package that includes one 3-month Mega Fan Pley subscription, LEGO Movie Set, and LEGO Movie DVD! (Open only to U.S. residents).

RSVP by clicking here .  Anyone who RSVP's will receive a SPECIAL OFFER for Pley.com after the party!  Awesome!


Would you rent Lego's?  Does this sound as awesome to you as it is to us, or do you have reservations?  Let me know if you have any questions!
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June 13, 2014

DIY Patriotic Sign!


I don't have very many patriotic decorations. I made this wreath last year, and that's pretty much it! Considering my husband has been in the Army 7 years now, you'd think I'd have a little more of that around the house. 

I found this blank board at Michael's and knew it would be perfect to fit one of my favorite patriotic phrases on, and and hang on my new door post




This isn't a full tutorial, but I will share the basic steps for making something like this too. You will need:
  • Some sort of electronic cutter like a Silhouette or Cricut 
  • Wood to place your phrase on
  • Vinyl
  • Transfer tape/contact paper
  • Paint
  • Painters tape
  • Stars
  • Glitter!
  • Twine
I also found this fun type of glitter. Have you used this before? Tiny little metallic beads! It's messy, but created a really fun metal finish for my sign!

 

I measured my board and cut vinyl lettering to use as a stencil. I painted the board white since I wanted the lettering to end up white. By placing vinyl letters over the white paint, and then painting red and blue over the vinyl it would leave the areas under the vinyl white!Then I don't have to worry about vinyl peeling off in the outdoors, and it creates a nice smooth finish.




I'm looking forward to this Fourth of July because not only do I get to hear my husband play with the band (1812 overture with artillery!), but my sister is coming into town to visit that weekend too! Love summer!
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June 11, 2014

HOME Interchangeable Letters


I have a slight fear of power tools, one I really need to get over!  I make my husband cut my wood for me.  But we still don't own a scroll saw, or jig saw, or whatever they are called.  We don't have anything to make shaped cut-outs.  So, I order mine instead!

One website I love is Fingersnapper- they have fun projects for a big discount a few times a week.  One of their ongoing projects are unfinished "HME" letters, with different shapes for all the seasons and holidays to use in place of the "O".

I have been meaning to buy them for awhile, and finally ordered them, plus an unfinished ladybug for summer.

I painted my letters with DecoArt's new Americana Decor Chalky Finish paint in Relic, which is a really dark gray.  I love it!  It went on with great coverage, so smoothly, and then I sanded the edges slightly.

Then I Mod-Podged some cute Bazzil dotted cardstock on the body of the ladybug, and finished up with this cute Ladybug paper for the wings.  Ladybugs on the ladybug- is that too cheesy?  I think it looks so cute!


This has a place on my mantel for the summer.  I can't wait to pick up another cute shape for fall!

Do you have a favorite place to order projects from?  Let me know in the comments!


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June 8, 2014

Fun in the Summertime Series: ASL Fingerspelling Activities from KidCourses.com

Welcome to our Fun in the Summertime blog series!  You can catch the rest of the posts here!


Today we welcome Jessika from KidCourses.com!  Their mission is to provide 

"Creative experiences to motivate children to be lifelong learners, express their creativity, think critically, spread positivity, and just plain have fun"!

ASL Fingerspelling Activity



Most kids enjoy learning ASL (American Sign Language), and you can look at the photo below to learn the 26 letters of the alphabet:

  

We’ve created a fun fingerspelling activity, whereby you can cut and paste the pictures of the animals and the ASL letters to spell out the animal’s name.
  

Click below to download the 2 handouts needed for this game:


You can also enter to win a free 26-page eBook that contains ASL rhymes for all the letters of the alphabet by clicking here.

For more fun ASL activities, pop by kidCourses. com  
Thanks so much Jessika!  I know my kids will have a blast playing this game and learning a new skill!  I'm all about learning while playing, especially in the summer!  
Don't forget to click on the giveaway link above- this is your last chance to enter the giveaway!  It's been an awesome summer series: don't forget to catch up on any posts you missed.  We'll see you back here Tuesday with our regular OC posts!  Have a great day!
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June 7, 2014

Father's Day Card

I was asked to review the card-making process at Cardstore.com, and was given one free credit to do so.  I was not compensated in any other way, and all opinions are my own.

Laura really loves to make handmade cards.

I'm not quite that industrious.  I usually pick up a card at the store, or if I plan ahead enough, will order something cute online.

I was excited to try out Cardstore.com .  It is exactly what the name implies: an online card store!  They have cards for all occasions and holidays, both photo cards and standard greeting cards.

I decided to send my dad a photo card for Father's Day.  He lives in Illinois, and since we live in Arizona, we don't get to see each other that often.  I thought he might like to see his grandkids' smiling faces a little more often, and a photo card accomplishes that!

The customization process is simple- maybe even the easiest I've found on some of these sites.  There are lots of designs available.


I picked a pretty classic design that would showcase a great picture of my kids.  I love how there are so many options of where you can upload a photo from.  With technology today, a lot of us have pictures stored on our phone or in our social media accounts, so using those is brilliant!



Once you add your photos you can customize your text. There are some really cute options available, and even different colors of ink!  It was so easy to make it look just the way I wanted!


Once I had my card designed, I got to preview and approve all sides of the card before I had to enter any payment information.  Creating a free account was simple, and the checkout process could not have been easier.


I highly recommend Cardstore.com next time you need a card.  The prices are competitive, the options are many, and the process was really simple.  What more do you need?

Just a reminder- I was given credit to make one free card so I could review the card-making process, but I was not compensated in any other way.  I really, actually, truly madly deeply do recommend Cardstore.com

(You're welcome for the song that is now stuck in your head!) 
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June 6, 2014

Fun in the Summertime Series: Summertime Activities Book and Rewards from Just Rhonda

Welcome to our Fun in the Summertime series!  We've got another great blogger visiting today!  If you missed any of the posts, you can catch up with them here!


Hellllllooooo Occasionally Crafty readers!! I'm super excited about doing a guest post here today! I'm Rhonda from Just Rhonda where I blog about my family (hubby, Alden (11), Lucy (8), Eli (5), Oliver (2) and Norah (1))  in a small southern Albertan town. I love sharing foodphotography, some crafts, and every Friday I share my progress in project life album or free downloads of PL cards. I also really love throwing parties and celebrating life.  You can find me at my blogPinterest, or Instagram.
I love the freedom of summer and how we can just veg one day and do fun outside activities. But I also want my kids to accomplish something during the 2 months we have off school. I was talking to a mom of older kids who I admire a lot and she was telling me what she did with her kids when they were small and I thought it was a great idea!! So I've adapted her idea a bit and that's what I'm sharing with you today! 
Summer is a great time to do lots of fun things and it's also a time to learn new life skills. For this year I wanted to teach my kids and motivate them with something fun. So I've made a little booklet that we will print out for each one.  
RLS_1122
It has different sections or areas that I thought the kids could use work or set goals in. The different sections are 
  • Physical and Outdoor Skills
  • Spiritual
  • Education
  • Life Skills
  • Talents and Creativity
  • Family Relations and Kindness
Some of the items can be done every day (so they are worth 5 - 10 points) but some will take more time and commitment (read a 100-120 page book) or are a one time deal (like running in a race).  Each night they will add up their points in the booklet. When they reach 200 points they get a prize from the summertime fun box. 

Up high in my closet is this basket. I filled it with things my kids will love. Things to do, books to read, some treats, etc. Some from the dollar store and some books from Costco.  
RLS_1124
You can come on over to my blog and download the booklet for your own kids.   -Rhonda

Awesome!  Go NOW and download that awesome book!  What a great idea!  And when you're done, don't forget to enter our giveaway!  We'll see you back here tomorrow for another awesome summer project from My Knotted Life

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June 5, 2014

Fun in the Summertime Series: Cajun Burger from Confessions of a Cooking Diva

Welcome back to our Fun in the Summertime Series!  You can catch up on the rest of the posts in the series here!

cajun burger


Hi. I’m Julie from Confessions of a Cooking Diva and I’m excited to be joining Occasionally Crafty’s Fun in the Summertime series. I love to try new recipes and sharing them with my readers. My goal is to show that cooking doesn’t have to be hard or time-consuming to be good.

I’m so excited that it’s summertime. I love the warm weather, being outside till late at night and grilling burgers. My Cajun Burgers are a spicy twist on your traditional burger and are a must-try this summer.
These Cajun Burgers have a spicy kick to them and then are nicely cooled down with green peppers and onions. I’ve never had a burger with a pepper on it until I made this burger and it’s fantastic. I love the crunch it adds to the burger.

June 4, 2014

Fun in the Summertime Series: Bright Summer Wreath from Creative Ramblings

Welcome to our Fun in the Summertime Series!  You can find the rest of the posts here!


Hi, I'm Sarah and I blog over at Creative Ramblings. There I post projects from simple crafts to furniture and room revamps and everything in between. I am a sucker for a thrifty easy craft and love adding my own creative touch to my home. If you like what you see here I'd love for you to stop by and connect with me.
Today I am sharing a bright and bold summer wreath with you.

bright summer wreath

I always have a wreath, or something like it, on my front door. It adds to my front porch and welcomes guests into my home. I try to keep up with the seasons and holidays without going overboard. Last summer I had a burlap wreath with red white and blue medallions. Patriotic yes, but not so much that I couldn't leave it up all summer.