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Learn As I Blog: Highs and Lows of Blogging

It's great to be appreciated and not so great to be criticized.  As a blogger, you get the best {and worst} of both worlds.  Putting out my dirty laundry {virtually} for everyone to see how I clean up takes courage that many non-bloggers don't understand or empathize with.  Nonetheless, it's a passion for most of us and we wouldn't have it any other way.  Explore with me the highs and lows of blogging and share your experience too.

The opportunity to take the change I'm making in my life and turn it into inspiration for others to make their own life changes.

Getting connected with other bloggers who are learning and sharing their life and love through their own blogs.

Knowing that what I blog about is making a difference for others when they comment on my posts.

Feeling like I'm talking to myself most of the time and wondering if my effort is being spent appropriately.

Staring at the computer screen waiting for my pageviews to change 2 minutes after I post.  I try not to do this anymore or get too hung up on this, but it happens.

The fear that my blog is ridiculous.  It's not rational, but still a tiny lingering fear from time to time.

From a host's perspective, I have found that there are people looking for guidance when beginning their blogs and that I was right to start this series.  I've met some beautiful bloggers who are all learning as they blog and I hope to be able to help more bloggers going forward.  I've learned that the best teacher is time and experience and having other bloggers share their experiences has been my favorite part of this series.

I will continue to post as I learn more about blogging and give you an opportunity to share what you've learned with me.  Some future topics to look forward to in the on going series include Link Parties, Monetizing, Blog Development and more!
I hope that this series has given you the gifts you can use to grow your bloggy knowledge, love your own blog and serve your readers through your blog design and content.  It has been a great privilege to share my blog journey with you and am excited to move forward.  For you non-bloggers who have been missing my organization and techy posts, thanks for sticking it out with me and know that I've got some goodness in the works for you too!  I hope you have a new appreciation for bloggers and the time and effort they put in to their blogs.

Next in the series, How to Make a Blog Comment Signature >>>

This post is part of the Learn As I Blog series

Learn As I Blog: My Blogger Resources

In the short time that I've been blogging, I have learned a great deal about blog etiquette, blog design, utilizing social media, and the blog community.  Most bloggers start off learning as they blog and for this blogger, the key to my first year success has been tapping into blogger resources.  Learning from bloggers who are successful and have been through the learnings and come out the other side.  It's their pearls of wisdom that will bring you one step closer to not only bettering your blog, but reaching your bloggy dreams {if you have them}.  I will reveal to you the blogger resources that have helped me take my blog to the next level.

5 Minutes for MomWhat I like most about 5 Minutes for Mom
The way they bring bloggers {specifically Mom Bloggers} together in their annual Ultimate Blog Party.  If ever you wanted to bring new traffic to your blog, this is the blog party to attend!  You'll find Mom bloggers from all walks of life, blogging about everything under the sun.

How I interact
I partied for the first time this year and it was great!  Read my UBP post if you want to get to know me better.  They also have blog directories to point you to other great blogs and list your own blog.  It's a great way to get to know other bloggers and realize that you're not alone in this bloggy blog world.

My biggest learning from them
Venture out of the confines of your own blog and connect with other bloggers.  It helps to know that they are going through the same things you are, and gives you a sense of community in the often isolated work that bloggers do.

What I like most about MomComm
Great blog advice and blog critiques!  I've learned so much about blogging and commenting {did you know there is such a thing a comment vomit!?!}.  It's a great place to learn from other blog critiques and apply them to your own blog.

How I interact
I love commenting on her posts because I always learn something new.  I also had the amazing opportunity of guest posting and getting critiqued on MomComm!  Check out my guest post on How Blogging Has Changed Me and my About Page critique.

My biggest learning
Understanding how to make my blog more marketable, and the ins and outs of blog etiquette.  With all that there is to learn about blogging, this blog has given me the best foundation to understand how to make mine better and how best to interact with other blogs.

What I like most about The SITS Girls
A great community of bloggers who support one another!  With SITS you get the best of community and blog tips all in one place.  They feature bloggers and answer questions and hold a conference called Bloggy Boot Camp {which I'd looooove to go to}!

How I interact
Forums, forums, forums!  They host a great multitude of discussion forums where you can introduce yourself, ask bloggy advice on any platform, and find great link ups and guest post opportunities.  I found my first guest post gig on SITS and had this series' Learn As I Blog: Blog Planner featured as the first community blog tip on their site!

My biggest learning
As their tag line says, "The Secret to Success is Support" and it really is!  I find a ton of support and have gained mountains in opportunity and connections with great bloggers.  If you are on your own bloggy island, find your way out and join the SITS girls and gain the support and the means to better your blog!
Blogging can be whatever you want it to be.  Isolated or connected, private or public, stagnant or blooming. It's all up to you and how much effort you put in to it.  I am really grateful to be a part of such an awesome community {virtual as it may be}, but I hope to be able to go to a conference or two to make real lasting connections in the upcoming months and years and really take things up a notch.  It's no secret that it would be a gift to me to make blogging a full time career, but I am really enjoying this season of learning and exploring.

Learn As I Blog: Blogger Time Management

I wear so many hats {figuratively speaking}.  Wife.Mommy.Sister.Daughter.Friend.Maid.Nurse.Blogger.Auntie.Cook.Laundress.Me.
The problem with wearing so many hats is that there are only 24 hours in a day to wear them, and only one head to put it on.  With so many responsibilities and so little time, I need to be strategic and organized about how I spend my time.  Even more so now that I've started this blog.  Let me say this up front...I do NOT have it all figured out {just ask my hubby}.  There are times when he needs to practically pull me away from the computer, but I'm trying to be better about drawing the lines, especially when everyone is home together.  With that, let me tell you how I am trying to draw those lines and create boundaries with my time management.
As a stay at home mom, one might think I have all the time in the world.  If you are {or truly know} a stay at home mom, that is not the case.  The secret I've come to learn is to spread things out over the day or week. Our house is small enough that I can give myself one major chore a day, so if I fall behind a day or two, I'm not totally swamped.

In the days before blogging, naptime was my down time, my time to do nothing.  I usually caught up on my TV shows or scrolled through Facebook.  Now I blog during naptime, but one to two hours hardly seems like enough to run a blog.  It's not.  This is why my hubs needs to pry me from the computer from time to time.  After bedtime is another great time for me to blog.  Hubs and I alternate gym nights, and I do a lot of my blogging then.  Until our little one goes off to school, I have to wait until he's asleep in order to blog.  Other times, I will use his TV time to get some quick emailing done or respond to comments.

How long does it take me to write a post?  Well if you account for the time it takes to write, create graphics, and promote posts, I'd say I average about an hour and a half to two hours per post {and more if I have to take and edit photos}.  Granted, my posts tend to be on the long side, and I'm working on that too.  I just can't seem to stop my fingers from typing away about these topics that I love so much!  For this series, I've had to be very strategic and ahead of the game; so for the past month, I've had to schedule my posts ahead of time.  I actually really like scheduling posts and want to continue to do so after this series.  Now that the bulk of my blog design is done {for now}, scheduling my posts helps keep me off the computer, even if only for a little while.

Being organized, strategic and committed are the areas that I'm striving to improve.  I'd love to be organized enough to have my whole month of topics strategically planned out ahead of time.  This would give me days that I could let the blog run itself.  Doing this will also free up some of the time I spend sitting in front of the computer and help me to be more efficient with the time I am there.  Utilizing my blog planner gets me one step closer to achieving that goal.  I also need to be more committed to getting myself away from the computer.  I am considering setting a timer for myself so that I don't loose track of time.
It looks like spreading things out into manageable pieces helps in blogging as well as in home making.  I really am enjoying the gift of blogging and love that I'm getting better about balancing it with my real life.  My prayer for this blog is to turn it into a career, but until then, I will work hard mastering this craft with the time I am given.  Just know that I'm getting lots of bloggy inspiration and am ready to fill up my calendar, so I hope that you'll stick around and join me!

Learn As I Blog: Blog Planner & Printable

Since the start of the series, I've covered most of the behind the scenes work that goes into blogging.  Today, I will get into planning and brainstorming blog content.  If I neglect my blog content, the fun and pretty stuff I have on my blog doesn't even matter.  Another thing to consider is that I am a wife and mom before I am a blogger, so that means that I need to be organized and strategic when it comes to planning my posts and working on my blog.  I'll show you how I get bloggy inspiration out of my head and onto a calendar, and give you the gift of organizing and planning for your own blog!

I'm a planner to my core and I don't like jumping into things without a plan.  The planner in me is present in many aspects of my life like organizing my home and starting a blog, so it's no surprise that I needed a blog planner to organize my bloggy thoughts.  I tend to think big then work my way into the detail, so the first thing I strive to do to organize my blog is to lay my ideas out on a calendar.  

There are several ways to do this depending on the kind of blog you have and the way you think.  I like to designate categories to days I post, take my Techy Tuesday posts for instance; on those days, I go in whatever direction within that category that I can think of or have stumbled upon.  When creating the Learn As I Blog series, I had to plan the topic progression accordingly and lay out each topic on a calendar in an easy to follow way.

I'm the kind of writer that likes to lay my points out into subheadings and elaborate in my paragraphs.  In the short amount of time that I've been blogging, I've learned that blogging is about more than just writing, but connecting my content to more of my content with links.  Linking to other topics I've blogged about that relate to my current post is a great way for new readers to get to know me.  By using labels, links and social media, my content goes beyond my current topic and extends my reach further.  Link parties are another way of getting my name out in the blogosphere and pointing new readers to my blog.  There are so many things to think about both before and after the post has been published that I needed to put it all together.  Enter my blog planner.

I've looked around for other blog planners and found that most have almost everything I'm looking for in a planner, except maybe one thing.  Because I'm that picky, I decided to create my own blog planner.

The Calendar
I love calendars and I love lists, so when I made my calendar, I also wanted to create the space for ideas, tasks, reminders, whatever my bloggy heart desired.  It's also a great place to write out my favorite link parties and special bloggy events.

The Blog Post Worksheet
Many other planners that I've seen have lots of different things going on in one page.  My planner is different because I dedicate a whole page to one topic from beginning to end {or from brainstorm to link up}.  I set aside a large space for ideas, key points, even drawings; then I complement it with post specific tasks {for creative projects and supplies}, a photo list,  and a post publish checklist to ensure that I get the most exposure possible.

Here it is!  My blog planner gifted forward to you!  This planner consists of two different documents.  The first document is the calendar that includes a page for each month of the year.  I use different colored pens to fill out my calendar so I know what pertains to my blog, special bloggy events, weekly link ups and other tasks for myself.  The second document is the blog post worksheet complete with my must do post publish list with room to add your own tasks. To get this for yourself, just click on the buttons below.

 Click here to download your gift! Click here to download your gift!
Having trouble with the images?  Use these links instead:  Calendar   Worksheet

I hope that getting into my bloggy head gives you the gift of guidance when it comes to working on your own blog.  I find that the more organized I can be with something that can be so fluid {like a blog}, the better chance I have to be the most effective.  I blog not only for myself, but more for you and I want to be a source of encouragement for anyone who thinks organzing, technology and blogging is overwhelming.  If I can do it, anyone can!

**Update!** Recently added a Weekly Goals Printable too! Check it out!

Next in the series, Blogger Time Management >>>

This post is part of the Learn As I Blog series
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Announcement: My 1st Guest Post!

Today, I am taking special time to announce something big in my bloggy world, my first guest post spot!  In my former life before diapers and blogging, I called the Disneyland Resort in California my home away from home.  My summer job turned professional career has come full circle into my current life as blogger and Kristi from Disney Insider Tips will be featuring me on her blog tomorrow {June 19}!

Special thanks to Kristi for giving me the gift of my first guest post!  Tune in to her blog for my post entitled, Disney Tips from a Former Cast Member!  I will give visitors to the Disneyland Resort in California some tips on how to make their trip to the original Magic Kingdom as magical as possible.

Just for the sake of reminiscing, here's a little something from one of the last of my Disney days.  This was my Farewell poster that people could sign and write me a farewell message.  It shows Lilo dressed up in each costume I've worn, representing each role I've held in the eight years I worked at Disneyland.  I loved it so much that I didn't want anyone to sign it, so instead, I got an autograph book for friends to sign instead!  Good times!  Oh to be young again!

Learn As I Blog: Widgets, Gadgets & Graphics

I'm learning that these days, blogging is about more than just content.  Although content is a major piece, some of my favorite blogs keep me close by having useful and cool widgets, gadgets and graphics.  I am here to share my learning and exploration into all things widgetty and hope that it will give you some cool ideas to add to your own blog.
Whether you call them widgets, gadgets or plug-ins, they all add jewels to the crown that is your blog content.  These tiny additions located in my sidebar are all designed to connect me with readers in more ways than just reading my blog on Google reader.

Like most bloggers who have been blogging for a while, I want to connect with my readers in several different ways.  Adding social media buttons near the top of my sidebar makes it simple to connect with me outside of the blog.  I found these free social media buttons on Pinterest and created my own custom widget!
Here's a list of other gadgety widgets that I use to connect readers to my blog
  • Subscribe via RSS feed or via email boxes
  • Follow Blog - so readers can add my blog to their Google reader via Google Friend Connect for Blogger
  •  Like Box - a Facebook widget that makes it easy for readers to like my Facebook fan page without leaving the blog.  Click here to get your own like box!
  • NetworkedBlog Box -  similar to the Facebook like box, the NetworkedBlog follow box connects me with other bloggers who are members of the NetworkedBlog community.
Pin with me
By far my favorite widget would have to be my Pinterest pin feed!  It's something I spied on a Wordpress blog many moons ago.  I have been a bit consumed with Pinterest as of late {wink}, and this widget only fuels my love and gives readers a peek into my other interests, connecting us in yet another way.  Because I saw the plugin on a Wordpress blog, I wondered if there was something similar for us Blogger blogs.  There had to be smart techies out there that have figured out how to get a Pinterest widget onto Blogger, so I searched.  In a few clicks I found Code it Pretty and she figured out how to get Pinterest on your Blogger blog!  I also added my own "follow me on Pinterest" button to the end of the feed as another easy way of connecting.

Bloggers love comments, I know I sure do {hint}!  It tells me that I'm not talking to myself, but that someone is listening.  In my very early blogging days, it was hard for me to know if a blogger has responded to my comment because everyone is on different platforms and I rarely remember to go back to a blog that I've commented on.  There are times when I'd get the occasional email response to a comment, but I always wondered, "Will her response be posted on the blog?"  I've wondered that about my own blog as well.  When someone comments, should I respond via email, directly on the blog or both?  What a terrible dilemma! Once again, those smarty techy angels have thought of everything and were 100 steps ahead of me!  I now use Intense Debate to power my comments.

What I love about Intense Debate is that is has everything I've ever wanted in my commenting.  For bloggers, there is a feature called CommentLuv that instantly feeds a blogger's latest post {or post of their choosing} directly into the end of the comment, so no need to code it in yourself!  Another great feature I love about Intense Debate is that anyone who comments can subscribe to replies which notifies them the moment I do respond to a comment.  But my favorite thing is that I when I get a comment notification in my email, I can respond directly through email and it will not only post my response on the blog, but it will also send the reply to the commenter {if they subscribed to replies}!  Genius!!!  If you don't have this on your blog, get it here now!!!  It has changed my commenting life!

Graphics is the last jewel in the blog crown that I will cover.  We are visual creatures and graphics adds visual interest to our {my} wordy blog posts.  My graphics are what visitors will associate with me and my blog.  If you are clever enough to have thought up a blog name that lends itself to an obvious graphic choice then your graphic options are easy peesy lemon squeezy!  Take my blog for example, Gifts We Use {to grow, love and serve}.  What better graphic to incorporate than a gift box!  So cute and so simple!  Take a look at how I use graphics to add some sugar and spice to my blog space.

Basic Blog graphics
My own personal must haves for my blog.
  • Blog header - tells a visitor where they've landed on the blogosphere
  • Blog buttons - to share with other bloggers
  • Post thumbnail - to mark my posts distinctly
  • Post sub-headers - to break up the post and add some spice
  • Post Signature - to end each post with a bang
  • Self portrait - to connect readers to me
Advanced Blog graphics
Getting a little fancy and technical because I was always the one who wanted extra credit.
  • Favicon for web - displays my icon in a reader's web browser and on a blogger's blogroll

  • Favicons for iPhone and iPad - so anyone can add my blog to their home screen, and it will look just like an app!

  • Download button - An image hyperlink that I use for my printables {NOTE: image below is not a hyperlink}
Widgets, gadgets and graphics are the ribbons, bows and gift tags to the gift that is my blog.  They make a great gift even better.  I hope that this post has given you inspiration to think intentionally about what you add to your blog's side bar and maybe even your posts.  I will post links to my favorite resources on my Blogging page created especially for bloggers looking for direction, inspiration and support.  It's my way of gifting my learning forward.  I pray that as you follow along with me, that you would take your gifts and gift them forward as well.

Next in the series, Blog Planner & Printable >>>

This post is part of the Learn As I Blog series

Learn As I Blog: HTML Coding for Bloggers

For those of you that have been blogging for more than a month, you know that there's one thing a blogger needs to know.  HTML codes.  Those funny looking brackets with the abbreviations and codes and symbols {oh my!}.  For many, they can be intimidating, but they don't have to be if you can grasp the basic syntax for coding and understand where you can play and where you shouldn't play.  Another exciting {yawn} installment of technical jargon!  Grab your coffee and pin those eye lids open because the techy in you is about to be unleashed!  I promise I'll be gentle as speak plain English as much as possible.

My earlier series post, Blog Glossary, provides a high level definition of what HTML is and it's history.  I will spare you the lengthy explanation and simply say that HTML is the language used to tell your blog how to function and what to look like.  In my research on HTML syntax, I found that even summaries may be a bit too technical, so here is my attempt to water down this techy language by examining a snippet of code bloggers use most, the hyperlink.
Code for a text hyperlink
Code:       <a href="Website URL">Text to display</a> 
Example:   <a href="http://GiftsWeUse.blogspot.com">Gifts We Use</a>
Displayed on site as: Gifts We Use 
The tags <a>...</a> {in the beginning and end} makes this piece of code a hyperlink.
The attribute href is where the hyperlink will reference, hence the abbreviation href, followed by the desired URL enclosed in quotes.
The bookmark Gifts We Use is the text that will be displayed for the hyperlink.
One of the most fundamental concepts to understanding coding is the concept of bookending.  If there is an opening {like the tag <a> above}, there must be a closing {</a>}.  Without these bookends, your code will not work properly.  I once tried to insert a hyperlink to my blog in a comment I was making, and forgot to close my url with the ending quotation marks, and I ended up with a funny looking mess of a comment and had myself a "DOH!" moment.  But don't let that stop you from diving in.  When it comes to coding, copy and paste will be your best friends!

Most popular blogging platforms like Blogger and Wordpress are intuitive enough to insert code for you when writing a blog post.  I use coding most when I'm commenting on anther blog or adding something extra {embellishment if you will} to my own blog.

Commenting on another blog
Bloggers love when readers comment on their posts.  Bloggers also love connecting with other bloggers and usually take the time visit a blogger that leaves a comment.  The problem is that a blogger doesn't always know if someone who leaves a comment is, in fact, a blogger.  When I leave a comment on another blog, I always end with a signature that includes a link to my blog {and lately I've also included a link to my latest post}.

Adding Gadgets to my blog
I love embellishments and my blog is no different.  This blog has all kinds of fun gadgets in the side bar, some are preset by Blogger and others I hunted for myself and inserted code into different boxes.  I talk more about gadgets here!  One tip for adding code to your blog without worry is to make sure that your source is a trusted one and that you back up your blog before inserting new code.

Even though I consider myself to be somewhat techy, I do not know codes by heart.  When I need a certain code, I usually ask my friend Google and find what I'm looking for.  What I have found is that I end up at the same site over and over again, so I'd like to save you the extra time and give you my most frequented coding resources.  Gift!

To find any HTML code you may need, visit W3Schools
For a list of code tags and their definitions and functions, visit Your HTML Source
Extensive list of the most common HTML tags, visit WebMonkey

A blog all about coding, Code it Pretty, was a great resource for me when I was looking for a certain gadget.  She was really helpful, great to talk to, and even featured me on her blog!  Read my featured question here!
For rookie bloggers like myself, coding is probably the most intimidating thing to learn and become accustomed to.  Take heart friends, like anything, it all gets easier with time.  Be patient with yourself and know where to find answers to your questions.  It helped me a lot to try and understand the anatomy of some of the common codes so that I wasn't just staring at random letters and symbols.  It also helps to take a scroll through your blogs code {making sure you don't change anything you don't understand}.  Coding is usually logical and consistent and as you scroll down, you will notice patterns in the code and it may even start to make some sense {how ever vague}.  But there's no need to reinvent the wheel, so again, take advantage of copy and paste and edit only what pertains to your blog.  Happy coding bloggers!

Next in the series, Widgets, Gadgets & Graphics >>>

This post is part of the Learn As I Blog series
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