Bloggy thoughts & technicalities

Julie / September 28, 2010


The problem with being a certifiable nerd writing on what is mostly a “Mommy blog”¬Ě is that sometimes it’s really hard for me not to break out into talking about blog plugins and hacks and other nerdy things that nobody wants to read about. ūüôā¬† But I’ve just switched back to WordPress–which was a thoroughly frustrating experience since I was using WordPress to begin with–and so it’s a good opportunity to get a little bit geeky, right?


I think Blogger does two things really, really well: it’s simple (to set up, to use, to maintain, and even to design) and it’s reliable (since you don’t host it yourself, you don’t even have to think about hackers, site load, bandwidth, downed servers, etc.).¬† It has a lot of good widgets, built-in statistics, and is fairly forward-facing in that if you use your own domain (which is free to set up on Blogger’s end) you can switch to a different platform (WordPress) and maintain all your links.¬† In short, I like Blogger.¬† I was astounded by how simple it is to develop custom themes for Blogger–from a programming perspective there’s no comparison at all in difficulty level to WordPress or any other CMS I’ve ever coded.¬† I went from layout mockup to completely finished, coded theme in a couple hours, despite having never touched Blogger code before.¬† It’s brilliant.

But. There were some things about Blogger that really drove me batty just in the short time I used it.¬† First, it didn’t play nicely with Live Writer, which is such an essential to me that it’s pretty much the reason I’m using Windows instead of Ubuntu.¬† Every time I opened an entry in Blogger to do some little edits, it would totally screw up my formatting and I’d have to go through the whole article and fix it.¬† Very time-consuming.¬† Secondly, the very simplicity of the system really begins to limit you when you want to use widgets that move beyond snippets of code on the sidebar.¬† You can’t really do different layouts on different pages, and there are some things that you just can’t change–at all.¬† There were a few things I wanted the blog to be able to accomplish, and it just wasn’t possible with the limited access Blogger gives you to the code.¬† One particularly troublesome area is in comments: Blogger’s comment system is very Blogger-y, and kicks your readers back onto Blogger’s site with Blogger’s rules.¬† I had problems with disappearing comments and actual feedback about how confusing it was.

All that said, however, I was incredibly impressed at how much customization and control Blogger does allow, considering that it’s a hosted solution.¬† It’s a very finely-tuned machine, and they’ve done an amazing job of keeping it simple yet considerably powerful.

One tip: if you use Blogger, and you have remote space for images (I think Dropbox would work for this even if you don’t have your own server), store them there instead of via Blogger’s default API.¬† Then if you ever decided to change blogging systems, your images are still all nice and ready to go wherever you are.


But in the end, I was sorry that I’d moved and I went right back to WordPress.¬† (And just to clarify, I’m talking about self-hosted WordPress, not, which is a totally different beast that fails to impress me as much as Blogger.)¬† The great thing about using any self-hosted/open-source solution is that you’re really only limited in what you can do by your own resources.¬† The WordPress folks themselves grabbed an old program called B2, hacked it to death and re-wrote it until WordPress became what it is today.¬† And you or I could do the same.¬† If you want to hack your WordPress install so that it spews spyware onto everyone’s computer, you can do that.¬† Or, more practically, if there’s not a plugin that does what you need done, you can write one.¬† The only real limits are your skills and your time.

That very openness and flexibility is, to me, WordPress’s greatest strength and its greatest weakness.¬† I think it’s really significant that I was so much more comfortable with Blogger after literally a couple of hours of poring over the code than I am with WordPress after literally years and years of using it–I started using WordPress even before version 1 was released in 2004.¬† The sheer bulk and complexity of the system is no small mountain to climb.¬† And so, generally, it easiest just to take WordPress for what it is, use a theme someone else created or build on a theme someone else created, and search high and low for plugins to do what you want instead of even considering making your own.

I like Blogger’s themes better.¬† They clearly have a lot of corporate money fueling them, which is a good thing for the end-user.¬† But WordPress’s plugins just blow Blogger’s out of the water.¬† I don’t think there’s really anything at all that you can do in Blogger that you can’t do, quite easily, with WordPress, and there are certainly many, many things in WordPress that you can’t do in Blogger.¬† WordPress also doesn’t have “rules,”¬Ě in the sense that you’re not limited to X number of pages, you can do whatever you want with monetizing your blog, you don’t have to abide by any terms of use, and so on.¬† There are also practical things that you can do, like nesting categories and subcategories (and pages and subpages), creating drop-down menus and contact forms, polls, RSS feeds, and so on.¬† You’re not limited to the realms of HTML, XML, and Javascript–you can use PHP to import that Twitter feed, for instance, which works a whole lot better than the Twitter widget on Blogger.¬† Where Blogger pairs simplicity with limited power, WordPress represents ultimate power with limited simplicity.¬† Not that you have to be able to code to use WordPress–not at all–but if you’re into hacking things, you can do a lot more with WordPress.¬† It’s just harder to do.

So. Little Sinners

So we’re back to WordPress, which was a fairly smooth transition because WordPress can match Blogger’s permalink structure and my images were all hosted here, anyway.¬† If I’d made the theme the same, I probably could have never mentioned the switch and no one would have noticed.¬† But that would have been a lot more trouble than I wanted to go through, particularly since one of the major things I want to do is to revamp the theme, and it would have been foolish of me to spend a lot of time porting the old one to WordPress when I’m only planning on replacing it in the near future.¬† So right now, it just doesn’t look very much like a Mommy blog!¬† Two major improvements already, however–the (blue) drop-down menus at the top are an easy way to get at all the content on the site organized by subject, and if you leave a link with your comment, the software will look to see what is the latest entry on your blog and append a link to your comment (assuming all this works correctly, that is) free linkiness.¬† And that’s always a good thing.¬† ūüôā¬† The new design, whenever I manage to spit it out, should feature those things as well as dynamic layouts to match your resolutions (more tablet/phone friendly, and also more giant-screen friendly) and hopefully some more Ajaxy goodness to make everything smoother and quicker.¬† And hopefully it’ll look a little more like a SAHM blog and a little less like a corporate blog, too.¬† ūüôā

Linked to Words for Me Wednesday.

Homemaking, Wifehood

This is my job. And it’s a job.

Julie / September 24, 2010

Seth is a little quicker than I am to jump in and proclaim that I do work a “full-time job,”¬Ě which I appreciate, even as I feel a little sheepish about it myself.  Although if I was doing all the cleaning and housework and 24-hour-a-day nannying for any other family but my own, I’d definitely think it was a job!

Part of my problem is that I feel like home-work is a calling and duty in itself.  Outside jobs may be the way husbands fulfill their own duties to provide for their families, but the actual job itself isn’t the duty–it’s the means to the end.  My “job,”¬Ě on the other hand, is the end.  (Not the ultimate end; home-work is just my first line in the grand scheme of serving God, but it’s still a specific and direct calling.)

Anyway, all of this has hindered me a bit from realizing one important truth until it completely hit me upside of the head last week: this is a job.

I mean that in a “negative”¬Ě sense.  This is a job, in the sense that it’s a lot of work.  It’s hours and hours of work, every day.  It’s just like life at the office: some days you watch the clock and die for a break.  Some days you’re exhausted or sick and all you want to do is go back to bed.

Maybe because I used to work outside the home, or maybe because even my inside-the-home work used to be so much simpler, I’ve really struggled with the occasional monotony and unavoidableness of this job of mine.  This is motherhood, after all; noble and divine calling and all that.  This is supposed to be fun!  I’m supposed to be enjoying every second, right?  If it’s not all joy all the time, then either I’m doing something wrong, or somebody’s asking too much of me!

And no.  In all seriousness, I can’t compare working at home-work to the office work I used to do–home-work is much much much much more demanding, but it also has a lot of joys and giggles and very deep rewards that the best office job in the world could never offer.  But sometimes, however rarely or commonly, sometimes it’s hard.  Sometimes I just gotta suck it up and get it done because it is my job.  Just because the delirious joy of changing poopy diapers isn’t happening doesn’t mean I get to stop working.

Home-work is a discipline, just like so many other aspects of serving God.  Sometimes we pray because we’re just outflowing with delight to talk to our Creator but sometimes we pray because we’re told to.  Sometimes we open our Bibles with glee and sometimes we open them and read with frustration at our total lack of connection to the text.  I’ve always struggled with doing any of these things that are “supposed”¬Ě to be a joy at times that the joy just isn’t coming, and home-work is another one I’m adding to that list.  Put another way, I’m learning that sometimes, home-work is something I do because I have to, because it glorifies God and serves my family, even when I’d rather be tucked under the covers snoozing away. 

It’s better to enjoy the work, but it’s necessary to do it whether I enjoy it or not.  It is a job, and sometimes you have to go to work and do your best even when you’d much rather be on vacation.  And in that sense, I desperately need to see it as a job, and not just a very busy activity of leisure!

Recommendations, Studying God, Toddlers

Bible books and music

Julie / September 22, 2010

It turns out that it’s really difficult to find good Bibles / Bible books / devotionals for toddlers, especially ones that are reformed! ¬†I just wanted to run through some of the ones we have found and are extremely happy with. ¬†Notably, most of these are by the same author/publisher, which I think is more a sad commentary on what other publishers are up to than anything else.

My 1st Book Of Questions and Answers

This is a catechism book for little ones, based on the Westminister Shorter Catechism but generalized enough on the baptism questions to work for Baptists too. ¬†Endorsed by R.C. Sproul, John and Noel Piper, and some other major people. ¬†It’s not a terribly pretty book, but it’s pocket-sized and in a kid-friendly type. ¬†This is one of a series–the others are books of memory verses, church information, etc. ¬†This one’s a real gem.

God Never Changes (Learn about God)God Is Faithful (Learn about God)God Is Everywhere (Learn about God)
This is a series of board books exploring God’s attributes. ¬†I think these are my favorite little board books–they’re very simple and give concrete examples of how, for instance, God is everywhere. ¬†These are the only books on this list that aren’t strictly Bible stories, but I actually like them better for younger children because they’re very basic and simple to follow.
Missing Sheep, The (Stories Jesus Told) Selfish Servant, The (Stories Jesus Told) Lost Coin, The (Stories Jesus Told)
These are also board books. ¬†Each one very simply retells one of Jesus’s parables. ¬†They do leave out things, obviously for the sake of space (they are board books), but stay accurately to the text otherwise.
These are part of a series called “Biblewise.” ¬†The next three sections feature very similar books–they’re all the same size (which is kind of like a large, full-color booklet–they’re stapled instead of having a perfect-bound spine), all very inexpensive ($3 or less), all well-illustrated, all strictly Bible-based, and all avoid depicting Christ, which I find an interesting choice (and a fairly good one, considering that children tend to believe what they see exactly). ¬†These ones seem to be geared, very slightly, to the oldest audience. ¬†There is quite a bit of text on each page–although certainly not beyond the attention span of, say, a four-year-old. ¬†I expect that with all of these books, we would read them aloud to our children and then when they are older, have them read them by themselves, or even incorporate them into schoolwork.
These are a series called “Bibletime.” ¬†They are VERY similar to the “Biblewise” books, except perhaps geared to a slightly younger audience. ¬†But the difference is minute. ¬†They are very thorough–the “Ruth” book, for instance, pretty much goes through the entire book of Ruth.
Jesus The Teacher (Bible Alive) Jesus The Storyteller (Bible Alive)Jesus The Miracle Worker (Bible Alive)Moses the Leader: Used by God (Bible Alive)David the King: True Repentance (Bible Alive David) Moses the Child: Kept by God (Bible Alive) David the Shepherd: A Man of Courage (Bible Alive: David) David the Soldier: A Man OF Patience(Bible Alive David)
And the last series we have is called “Bible Alive.” ¬†As far as I can tell, this series only covers Jesus, Moses, and David, with quite a few books devoted to each. ¬†I really like this configuration, though, because it breaks each story down into¬†manageable¬†segments that you can actually read in one sitting, but with all the books together they provide a fairly thorough outline of each life. ¬†All three of these Bible series seem to be geared to a similar-aged audience, but these ones seem to be slightly more appropriate for the little ones. ¬†The pictures are still full-color, but don’t stretch to the very edges of the page (less distracting) the way they do in the other two sets, the illustrations are a little more simplified, and there are fewer words to a page. ¬†I believe, though, that this is the only one of the sets that devotes more than one book to each person.
My Bible Story Book
And at last we come to the book that we’ve settled on so far for our family reading time. ¬†This is a hardcover book with stories from all throughout the Bible–a very standard storybook in that respect. ¬†It tells the stories fairly simply and accurately, with an extra kind of “food for thought” question on almost every page (out from the main text). ¬†We’ve really been enjoying it. ¬†The biggest downside, in my opinion, is that the illustrations aren’t terribly good compared to many other Bible storybooks (or, indeed, the books by the same author that I’ve mentioned above). ¬†They’re very cartoony. ¬†One positive, though, is that there’s been a¬†noticeable¬†decrease in “What is that?” questions about the illustrations, because there aren’t very many extraneous, irrelevant things in the pictures. ¬†And that’s a very good thing if you have a two-year-old.
The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name Jesus Storybook Bible Deluxe Edition
Finally, a different author! ¬†ūüėÄ ¬†This book is also reformed, and its primary emphasis is to show how the entire Bible tells the story of Christ, so each story comes back to Christ whether in looking forward or in looking back. ¬†The illustrations are gorgeous, and the theology is sound. ¬†I think I first heard of this from Al Mohler, but it’s quite popular in general amongst the reformed crowd. ¬†It’s a beautiful, sound book. ¬†It just has way too much text per page to hold the attention of our toddler, and I actually appreciate the simplicity of Carine MacKenzie’s books a little bit more, although I know we’ll be reading this one too as our kids get older. ¬†I will say that E loved it when she was a newborn–the artwork really is amazing.
Seeds of Courage 1Seeds Family Worship: Power of Encouragement, Vol. 5Seeds of Faith 2Seeds of Purpose 4Seeds of Praise 3
These CDs are fantastic. They’re just Bible verses. ¬†Nothing else. ¬†Just Scripture, and references, made into cheery kids music. ¬†Musically, they’re more along the lines of Sovereign Grace kids or Absolute Worship kids than, say, Maranatha Kids–they’re not annoying or embarrassing to listen to. ¬†They repeat a lot, obviously, because the whole point is to learn the verses and¬†repetition¬†goes along with that, but they’re really quite brilliantly done and fun to listen to. ¬†More importantly, though, they WILL change your day if you have them going in the background! ¬†It’s great to listen to worship music at all, but there’s really something significantly different about listening to straight Scripture and having the lyrics of the Word wind their way into your heart. ¬†The only negative thing I can think to say about this wonderful series is that it isn’t free, because I wish everyone could own a copy!
So, as far as Bible learning goes, this is some of what works in our house!  Linked to Works for Me Wednesday.

One thousand pictures of your sister.

Julie / September 20, 2010

Dear R, and I’m sure L, and any other little siblings you might have one day:

I hope that you don’t see the massive photography collection we have of your older sister and feel left out.¬† We have pictures of her from practically every hour of those first days, practically every day of those first weeks, and practically every week of that first year.¬† We have pictures of her sleeping.¬† Hundreds of them.¬† The lighting is different in some of them, although she mostly looks the same.¬† We have pictures of her smiling.¬† Some of them are blurry, but you never know when we might have needed that perfect little shot so much that we wouldn’t have minded the blurriness.
And then there’s the baby box.¬† The baby footprints.¬† The gimmicky birth certificate, the first meconium-stained hat, the basket, the insane assortment of items with her name emblazoned on them, the silver spoon, the albums that actually have photos in them am I forgetting anything?

There are whole weeks of your life, even your earliest little life, that are completely unrecorded by any camera.¬† You don’t have a birth box, and I’m pretty sure I threw away the record of labor from your birth.¬† You don’t even have a box of those “special outfits”¬Ě that I set aside because they were so clearly yours and not to be handed down.¬† You don’t even have one outfit that is “yours.”¬Ě¬† You don’t have a doll that we bought to match your eyes.¬† We’re really struggling to think of birthday or Christmas presents for you, because your sister already has everything.¬† You should probably have the experience of opening presents, though–maybe we could wrap up some of her old toys?

But here’s the important part, dear younger children: none of this has anything to do with how much we love you.¬† No, wait, maybe it does: maybe we’ve learned how to love better, in fact, and so we spend more time actually with you and less time accumulating proof for later.¬† Look at the bright side: there are fewer pictures of you crying than there are of her; more times that Mommy put the camera away and picked you up instead!¬† And those missing birth records?¬† They got lost in the struggle to juggle a one-year-old and a newborn.¬† And we learned, too, that it’s better to keep just the really important things, and let them be the important things, than to try to keep everything and have it end up on a shelf in the basement or hidden inside deeply nested folders on a remote hard drive.

So don’t mind that those early minutes of your sister’s life are so much more recorded than yours.¬† We held you sooner, and longer, and there were more arms here to welcome you when you arrived.

Musings, Toddlers

He who answers.

Julie / September 20, 2010

I stumbled onto a post on Reddit last week where a dad was really struggling with how to teach his four-year-old about death.  She had just really begun to understand the concept, and now was understandably worried that she was going to die, that her parents were going to die, and so on.  Lots of other Redditors chimed in sharing very similar experiences with their own children–and a similar lack of words to say to soothe their children’s fears–and one thoughtful commenter remarked that adults don’t really know how to deal with death, either, and thus we have religion.

And in that moment I felt a whole new level of appreciation for belief in God: we have answers.

Every question mentioned on the thread, every fear the children voiced–we have answers.  God is good: this is a truth that as an adult I have certainly known, but hadn’t appreciated in its fullness.  God is sovereign.  God is involved.  All these things, and so many more that trickle out of these basic premises, mean that as parents, there aren’t many questions that we don’t have the answers to.  If we don’t know, God does; and we surely know that all things are under His control and that all things He does are good.  Romans 8:28 is an awesome verse to take to your children!

I have recently begun doing a catechism with E (more on that in a later post), and it begins by going through the basics of creation: Who made you? (God.)  What else did He make?  (Everything.)  Why did He make you?  (For His glory.)  And, just like that, we teach a toddler why she exists–how many twenty-year-olds, thirty-year-olds, eighty-year-olds still struggle with that question?  Granted, she doesn’t know what “glory”¬Ě means, but she knows and understands that she was made by God, and that there is a reason He made her, and once her vocabulary grows to encompass such terms, she’ll know what that reason is.  That doesn’t mean that she’ll continue to believe it–that comes only by God’s grace–but the answer will always be the same, whether she believes it or not.

It doesn’t occur to me to prevaricate in talking to our kids.  I have no fear of the death question–E will cheerfully tell you that lions eat zebras for lunch (although she still doesn’t like to actually watch it), and I somewhat purposefully use the word “died”¬Ě in regular conversation with her, like toys that break have “died,”¬Ě and we had at least one conversation about people dying (which ended up deviating into a discussion of whether or not people have batteries) and we talk a lot about heaven and Jesus, and she asks a million questions about heaven and Jesus.  She’s very concerned, for some reason, about what things are in heaven, and how to get there, and whether Jesus has a nose and arms and hands.  I’ve learned a new appreciation for the incarnation, to know that Jesus does have those things, because of her questions.  Jesus is so non-abstract and graspable to a two-year-old.

There are plenty of other things besides death, of course.  Fear of the dark.  Thunder.  Why the sun comes up every morning.  There are so many answers and reassurances that we have because of Christ, and it is such a blessing to pass those answers on to our children!


Weighing outside activities.

Julie / September 17, 2010

I really like this blog post: When It’s Time to Just Say No

I recently joined a morning Bible study–biweekly–and it was a really big decision for me, one I’d never had to make before because we didn’t have a car and so I was “stuck”¬Ě at home.  And I struggled pretty deeply over what this two-hours-every-other-week would mean for my kids.  I don’t like putting them in nursery; I’d be much happier if everyone met in a giant room and the kids could play in the background while the moms fellowshipped and studied.  Since that isn’t the format, though, I had to think though the implications of putting them in the nursery, away from Mommy (and Mommy away from her first job as homemaker).

After talking to Seth, I decided to give it a shot.  I hope it will be good for the girls to have some exposure to kids near their age, and two hours every other week doesn’t sound like an unreasonable amount of time.  Maybe they’ll start learning about social expectations and obeying adults other than us!  At any rate, E seemed to enjoy it, and R clearly wasn’t traumatized–although when I came back after the study, the girls were standing (just standing), right next to each other, doing absolutely nothing besides silently watching the other kids!

And for me, it’s mainly about trying to be involved with church.  I feel like there are a lot of activities that I can’t be a part of, because of our home responsibilities, and so I’m sure it seems to many people that we’re “fringe”¬Ě people.  But our biggest problem is that our kids go to bed waaaay early and everything goes haywire if they can’t.  So when the study came up, and it’s during the day and minimally disruptive to our home, it seemed good to participate.

But my point here is that it wasn’t a decision I made lightly.  I was really concerned about the impact it would have on my first responsibility as a homemaker and mother, which is the whole point of the post I linked above, although for her family and home, she decided it wasn’t good to do a very similar outside activity.  I think our morning starts very early, comparatively, and so it is neither hard to get out the door on time, nor does it blow our whole day–we have a nice long morning far before 9:30 ever rolls around!

I couldn’t agree more with the author, though, that it all boils down to making intentional choices about the ways we spend our time, especially our time outside the home.  I’m learning that a lot of life in general, actually, boils down to being intentional and purposeful–this is just one more little area.

Homeschooling, Printables

Another pre-k printable.

Julie / September 15, 2010
(Note that the pages are out of order on the PDF so that they will print in order after they’re folded.)

So this is probably becoming obvious, but I really like putting together my own little bits of curriculum to use in school with E.  First there was the Twinkle Twinkle Totbook, and now I’m putting together a little series of books to use with sight-words to help E get the general idea of “reading.”¬Ě  I have the A Beka sets (which both Seth and I learned from as wee ones ourselves!), and while I like them and will definitely use them once we’ve moved on to phonetics, right now they’re too phonics-oriented.  I’m kind of on board with the whole sight-words-first theory–right now I just want her to understand what words are, that they’re composed of letters, and that they tell stories.  Because the A Beka books are oriented towards teaching groups of sounds (and sometimes only sounds), their stories are less cohesive and story-like than E is really interested in, and because they’re aimed at older kids (the ones with real, whole words are K5), they throw a lot of words at you at once.

So I’m making my own, since little books are a very simple project, and this way I can custom-tailor them to E’s interests!  This is the first book.  It’s eight pages, all with illustrations and a “word list”¬Ě that points out the new words on each page.  If you have a double-sided printer (or a way to figure out which way to flip the pages and when!) then this prints up very nicely on just two pieces of letter-sized paper, plus one for the flashcards.  There are sixteen words, which I think is a very graspable amount for a preschooler.  In future minibooks, I’ll try to keep as many of these words as possible (mainly by keeping the same tenses and sentence constructions) so that the total number of new words will not be as high.

So, that’s my Works for Me Wednesday: I like resorting to my computer instead of combing the homeschool curriculum catalogs!  (And WFMW visitors, please check out the totbook!)  I’m planning to continue making totbooks and obviously to continue my little series of preschool sight-word reading books as well.