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The Heart of Life

The Heart of Life: September 2012

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Ornate Pack

I promised some backgrounds--free, of course--and they are yours for the taking.  Use them for your blog, or if you're into digital scrapbooking they might work for that as well.

Here's how you use them as a Blogger background:
  1. Click below on the sample of your choice, and a gif file of the background will come up in another window. 
  2. Right click on the background, select, "Save Image As," and determine where you'd like the file to be stored. 
  3. In Blogger go to "Template," click "Customize," and then click "Background."  From there click the little down arrow next to the little background preview box.  The "Select background image" box will come up, and select "Upload Image" at the top of the list on the left.  Click "Browse" and find your previously saved background.  Click "Done" and then the "Apply to Blog" button in the top right corner of the Template Designer.
  4. From there you can go to "Advanced" to change the colors on your blog to fit your background.
A few things to keep in mind:
  • The below samples are scaled to be approximately the same size the design will look on your blog.  The design on the actual background file will look tiny, but it's because the background file is much bigger.
  • Some photo programs might not open gif files.  For the use of your blog a gif is better than a jpg (the more common picture file) because it's smaller.  Your page will load more quickly with a gif.  If you do need to convert it to a jpg for other purposes, open it in MS Paint (or similar--Paint just happens to be something most PC's have) and save it as a jpg.
  • Some templates on Blogger don't have the option to do a background, so you might have to change your template to make the background work.


Thursday, September 20, 2012

End Table Makeover

I mentioned in my last post that decorating in an apartment can be tricky.  The main piece of furniture in our living room is a red futon.  Red isn't my favorite color on the spectrum, but I still like it.  This futon is comfy, adds a nice pop of color, and doubles as a guest bed. 
As you can see, the color scheme in the living room of our old apartment was red, black, and gray with awkward bits of brown.  I know, I know, brown and black... nooooo.  But sometimes it happens.  The black couch at the bottom of the above picture was inherited from an old roommate who inherited it from a relative.  It was originally a greenish plaid, but my roommate did a mock-slipcover job with a couple black sheets.  After I inherited it, I kept the black, as it worked pretty well with the red couch.  But when we moved into our new apartment we definitely couldn't fit two couches in our living room, so we passed the black couch on to someone else.  Our new apartment living room did require an end table, however.
Enter the yellow end table.  I believe my mom picked up this up from a thrift store back when I was a teenager and we were redecorating my bedroom.  The colors in my room were lavender and a soft yellow, so my mom painted the table yellow and white to match my room.  Somehow this end table followed me to college, and up until recently remained yellow and white.  However, as you may recall, my futon is red.  And this table is yellow.  Ewwww.  Just not a great color combination.  I didn't even want to take a picture of them together because it was so awfully ugly.  Thus, I knew a fresh coat of paint was absolutely necessary.  I wasn't sure what color to paint it until I remembered this picture I'd pinned on Pinterest a few months ago.
Normally I would shy away from red, blue, and white since it just seems too patriotically cliche, but red and white with powder blue is a totally different look.  I liked it, so I decided to go with a powder blue for the end table.  Then there was the paint issue.  Spray paint is easy and cheap, but I have no appropriate location to spray said paint.  So that leaves brush-applied paint.  I knew I wouldn't need a whole gallon of paint.  So I perused the Home Depot and Lowe's websites for paint in a smaller size.  I saw on the Lowe's website that Valspar does pre-mixed color samples in half-pints for $3.  It appeared that the color selection kind of depended on the store and the day, so I went to Lowe's crossing my fingers for a powder blue.
Cha ching!  Valspar also does a half-pint of paint that you can get in any color, but I think it was closer to $5.  So if you've got a small project that won't take much paint, check out the samples first because they cost less.  I also picked up a three-pack of paint brushes from the dollar store.  So it cost me about $4 total to paint this table.
Tadaa!  Much more red-futon-friendly.  And I hardly made a dent in that jar of paint.  And I painted two coats!  I'm trying to decide what else I want to paint blue.  I've been wanting to paint our kitchen chairs, but I also have a little table that I'm keeping our microwave on that could use some tender love, but I also want to get a bench to put by the door to create a launch/landing pad and maybe that will need some paint.  Decisions, decisions.
I had a Bob Ross moment while I was painting.  I initially planned to paint the entire table blue, but then I happened to casually run the paint brush along the white circle trim and fell in love with the effect, so I didn't bother filling in the white between the circles.  It adds a little bit of interest to the table and makes the unique trim stand out.  As Bob Ross always said, "We don't make mistakes, just happy little accidents."  It wasn't exactly a mistake to paint the trim, but I'd definitely call it a happy little accident.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Spirit of Change

The other day I got the itch to give my blog a face lift.  You see, having lived only in apartments for all of my adult life thus far, there's only so much decorative change you can do.  Changing up furniture, picture frames, etc. is just about all you can do to add some color and character to the white blah-ness of apartments.  Sadly, changing up furniture is expensive.  Soooo expensive.  It's just not too doable on a recent college grad budget.  Plus, adding more furniture to an already cramped space can make it way too busy.  Also, I'm not a huge fan of making picture frames colors that aren't pretty neutral because I want them to jive with just about any paint color when that blessed day comes that I can paint the walls.  I might change my mind in the future when I actually have a location conducive to spray paint application.  It's just not an option right now.

Anyway, the face of my blog is something I can change as often as I desire.  And for free.  It's great.  As I don't have a job right now, I've had plenty of opportunity to crank out a new look that I'm pretty satisfied with.  And it didn't even take me that long!  Here are a few things I did:
  1. I found a color scheme on Pinterest that I liked and used it as a springboard.  Here is my inspiration:
  2. From there I created a background using GIMP.  Let me tell you about GIMP.  A while ago I was reading a post about creating blog backgrounds from the Kevin & Amanda blog, and she highly recommended GIMP.  It's moderately similar to Photoshop, but it's free.  Score!  If you're interested in GIMP, the link to the download is on the K&A post I mentioned earlier.  It's taken some time to get a feel for how to work GIMP (and it helps that my husband is a graphic designer and knows Photoshop well), but I've finally got some basics down solidly enough to create a simple background from scratch.  The hardest part was figuring out which colors to use.  I originally wanted the green to be the main color, but I fell in love with the dark blue with the brown.  But I'm getting a little ahead of myself!  How did I get the exact colors from my inspiration picture to my blog?  This beautiful little browser app for Firefox and Chrome called Colorzilla.  It allows you to pinpoint any color on the internet and it automatically copies the color code to your clipboard so you can paste it into whatever program you're using.  It's so magical.
  3. I also made a banner, but not quite from scratch.  I found these free shapes on Pinterest.  They're for Photoshop, but my husband opened them up on his computer and converted them to a different format that works with GIMP.  Then I found the swirls and went with a symmetric placement.  I added my blog name and voila!
  4. Of course, I went into my blog template and adjusted the colors to work with my color scheme.  I also had to do a little extra work to change the color of my post title and gadget title, as I have something kind of special going on there.  When I started my blog, there weren't very many font options and they were boring.  So I found this tutorial from Kevin & Amanda to put a custom font for the post title, gadget title, and post date.  Plus Kevin & Amanda have tons of super cute free fonts that are easy to put on your computer.  There are a lot more font options now for blogger, but it's kind of fun to have the option of doing any font.  So I've kept my custom font on there, since changing the color and size aren't very hard--just an extra step.
  5. Lastly, I finally caved and got the pages bar.  I didn't really know what to put on there, so I looked at a lot of different blogs to see what other people did with their bars.  A lot of people had post categories on their bars, so I decided to go in that direction.  At first I felt like I my writing was too random to categorize, but as I started tagging my previous posts I found they all fit pretty neatly into a handful of categories.  It's nice to see that after two years my blog actually has some persisting themes!  This gives me a little more direction for the future.
 Even though I always like the outcome of my facelifts, I do get a little sad when I'm done.  Being done and having a good end product means I should wait a while before making any more drastic changes.  So I just anxiously wait around until I get tired of how my blog looks.  While I wait I think I'll make a small repertoire of backgrounds and I think I've got a way to share them on here.  We'll see when that happens, but it's in the future.


Tuesday, September 18, 2012


Meet Foamy.  He's my husband's beloved pillow.
I learned early on in our marriage that Foamy was not like other pillows.  At first glance Foamy looks fairly normal, but the second I picked Foamy up I knew something was different.  Foamy was skinny. Like severely anorexic skinny.  I tore off the pillowcase and pillow protector, and to my horror I found this.
Foam.  With water-noodle-like cylinders wrapped around two ends.  I snatched Foamy's insides up and went to confront my husband about his "pillow."

"This," I said, shaking the yellow square of foam, "is your pillow?"  He affirmed that it was, in fact, his pillow.  "This isn't a pillow.  This is foam.  Wimpy foam."  My husband shrugged.  I asked, "How long have you been using this as your pillow?"

"Well," he began, "when I went on my mission I needed a pillow that didn't take up much space.  So I used that.  And I've been using it ever since."  According to my calculations, he used Foamy as his main sleeping pillow for about eight years.  Eight years!

"You know, pillows are only about ten bucks.  Less if they're on sale," I told him, completely flabbergasted that he went that long without a real pillow.  He just shrugged.

My husband is somewhat a man of tradition, but not in the traditional fashion.  He has gets oddly attached to things he's had around for a while.  For example, he's gone through several pairs of sunglasses in the past couple years, but he doesn't have the heart to throw them away after they're broken.  So he keeps all of them in his car.  I can only guess, but I think the longer they stay there in his car, the more he sees them as a permanent fixture--like a merit badge.  They've been there for years, so why get rid of them now?  I've come to grips with the fact that there are certain little trophies he will never part with.  Bless his sentimental little heart.

Anyway, to a certain extent I understand his sentimentality about his pillow.  I once had an affair with a pillow.  I loved it for years and years and even brought it to college with me.  The summer after my freshman year I moved home so that I could spend three weeks of the summer touring Poland with a folk dance group.  I left my pillow safely at my parents house, and upon my return home I highly anticipated sleeping on my own pillow.  Due to the time difference and a very long flight, by the time I got home I hadn't slept in about 24 hours, and I was ready to sleep.  However, it was only 7 pm, so I felt that for the sake of getting back into the groove of my time zone I should wait until at least 9 to go to bed.  When 9 pm finally rolled around I realized my pillow was missing.  My body buzzing with sleep deprivation, I searched the house high and low for my pillow.  It had to have been funny to watch my frantic Goldilocks-esque pillow-testing.  Too soft.  Too fat.  Too lumpy.  Too flat.  HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO SLEEP WITHOUT MY PILLOW?  I very nearly had an emotional breakdown.  It's a little hazy now, but I think my mom talked me into sleeping with another pillow.  Which is good, because I never did find that pillow.  I might still be awake had I kept looking.  I haven't bonded with a pillow in quite the same way ever since that heartbreak.

Back to Foamy.  In Foamy's defense, he looks much more uncomfortable than he really is.  I wouldn't want to sleep on him every night for eight years, but it wouldn't be bad for a night or two.  It might actually be the perfect size for a toddler.  However, parts of the foam are kind of disintegrating, so I hesitate to put Foamy under the head of any child of mine.  We'll cross that bridge when we get there.
Thank goodness, I got a two-pack of pillows at my bridal shower, so my husband finally got a legit pillow to sleep on.  But true to my husband's character, he couldn't quite let go of Foamy.  So Foamy still has a place in our home. 


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Learning to Wear the Creeper Goggles

I've always been very conservative when it comes to sharing identifying details on my blog. You may have noticed that I never mention my last name, my address (not even my city), my phone number, where I work, and I even hesitate to mention first names of my family and friends. While not revealing a phone number or specific address is a no-brainer, you might think that everything else is a bit of an overkill. Yeah, I'm a little paranoid. But it's not without a good reason.

A few months ago I attended a conference in which the city's detective over crimes against children spoke. He told of a recent situation in which an elementary-aged boy set up a Facebook account. Now, he didn't do too much with his account, but he did put up his picture and "liked" his elementary school. A man (a pedophile) who lived in a city several hours away was trolling for little boys on Facebook and came across this particular boy. He did some research and found out where the elementary school was located, printed out the boy's picture, and made the voyage up to the boy's city. He waited outside the elementary school for several days until he identified the boy from Facebook. He followed the boy as he walked home from school and then tried to persuade the boy to get in his vehicle. Fortunately, the boy got away, told his mom, and the police quickly caught up to the Facebook creeper.

This happened in a smallish, safe college town! And all it took was a picture and the name of an elementary school. People who troll Facebook or blogs for victims are so good at putting two and two together. Sometimes I put my creeper goggles on when I look at blogs that are public. No last name, but a link to their Facebook page--full name accomplished along with a handy picture.  Maybe their address is on No address, but I have gathered through several posts that they live in Cody, Wyoming and work at the hospital--location accomplished. Now I just have to camp out at the hospital until I see them come out, then I follow them home. I feel creepy talking like that (because I'm definitely not a creeper), but it's way too easy to gather all the info I'd need to find this person.

I'm not trying to give anyone a guilt trip or discourage people from using Facebook or having a blog. But we all could use a reminder occasionally (myself included) to put on our creeper goggles as we're looking through our own social media to ensure that we aren't an easy target for predators.  Here are a few suggestions:

Facebook used to be fairly straightforward when it came to privacy, but with every update there were changes to privacy.  Most of your settings will carry over, but not all, so check on it periodically.  Currently there are a few places you need to go to ensure your privacy.

1. Go to privacy settings in the drop-down menu in the top right corner of Facebook. 
Set your default privacy settings to friends, or you can also go to custom and pick out specific Facebook friends that you don’t want to see your stuff.  This is good if you felt obligated to accept someone’s friend request, but you don’t really want them knowing where you live or looking at your pictures.  I’ll admit I have a few on there.  Anyway, this is sort of the blanket statement of how private you want things.  It covers most things, but not all.  Also go through the other settings on the privacy setting page to double check that things look good.

2. This part is very important.  Go to your profile and click “Update Info” (it should be to the right of your name). 
Go through all the info categories and make sure they’re set to friends by clicking the edit drop-down that’s usually in the top corner of each section of info.  
If it’s set to public, ANYONE can view this information, and it can put you in a very vulnerable position.  I thought my privacy settings were pretty good, as I set them up pretty tightly a few years ago.  However, I just double checked, and of all things my location was public.

3. It also may be a good idea to make your “likes” something only your friends can see (as illustrated by the above story).  You can do this by clicking on “Likes” which should be pretty close to your “Update Info” button on your profile, and then selecting friends from the edit drop-downs.
 4. Lastly, on your profile page, next to the “Update Info” button and “Activity Log” button is a settings cog.  Click it, and then click “view as…”
 This will show you what a stranger will see when they view your profile.  Put on your creeper goggles and determine if there is any information that you need to make un-public.

It’s also a really good idea to check and other similar websites to see how much info is available on there.  For example, I looked up my mom’s name and it brought up my parents’ address, phone number, and the names of their adult children.  For you can log in with your Facebook account to hide any info you don’t want publically accessible.  It’s easy and took me maybe five minutes.  You could probably leave your phone number on there if you still wanted people to be able to know how to contact you, but it’s probably best to always hide your address info.  It doesn’t do you much good to keep everything on the down-low on Facebook and your blog, when creepers can find everything they need on Whitepages with just your name and the state you live in.

Privacy with blogging is a little less complicated than Facebook.  You can make your blog public or private.  Private blogs are fabulously safe because only people you invite can look at them.  However, the inviting process is a little too inconvenient for my taste, so I go with public.  When your blog is public be so so so so soooo cautious with the information you reveal.  You may not think you are a target for creepers, but you might have children or grandchildren that are.

Not only be careful about what you blog about yourself, but also what you reveal about your friends and family.  If you talk about visiting your sister, all you have to do to put her and her family in a vulnerable position is to say, “We visited Lucy and her kids who live in Boise.  They took us to a park a few blocks away from their house and it was so fun.  I can see why they go there almost every day,” along with a picture of the kids at the park.  This may seem pretty innocent, but a creeper familiar with Boise could probably identify the park and know that this family lives nearby and comes very often.  Is that not terrifying?!  Be so careful with what you say and the pictures you post.  When posting pictures of the front of your house (or someone else's house) make sure street numbers aren't visible or are photoshopped out.

The same goes with commenting on other people’s blogs.  Even if you’re pretty liberal with what you reveal on your own blog, be conservative to the nth power when commenting on a friend or family member’s blog.  Pretend like they’re part of the witness protection program—don’t blow their cover.  Don’t mention any names, cities, states, workplaces, local landmarks, etc. that they haven’t mentioned themselves.  Also, if someone makes a comment on your blog that gives too much info, go ahead and delete it.  Avoiding offending someone isn't worth compromising your safety.  Send them an email or Facebook message explaining why you deleted their comment, and emphasize that the comment wasn't offensive, just unsafe.  I've done it before and still feel a little bad about being the internet safety nazi, but it was the right thing to do.

Is this all an overkill?  Maybe.  But it’s always better to be safe than sorry.  Did I miss anything?


Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Saga Continues

Unfortunately, the story of me and the Blog Boss didn't end after my last post.  You see, at my last post I was completely convinced that I'd been scammed, so in my mind I was done with the Blog Boss.  Little did I know, I was not.

To make a long and emotionally-charged story short, the Blog Boss made a reappearance a few days after my last post (a ten day absence).  He emailed me (and his other writers) telling us that he'd been in the midst of a big move, and that things should be back to normal.  So I put my posts back up on his site, and he paid me for them.  I was going to write another post on here explaining what had happened, but then I got busy with moving, so I didn't get around to it.

However, a few days ago he sent me an email saying that he'd come across my post on here where I assumed him to be a scammer, and he was incredibly offended.  He accused me of unprofessional conduct and terminated our working relationship.  He said my negative review of him and his site was inappropriate, and that my portraying the site as "not worth much" was highly contemptible.  He said he'd emailed all his writers beforehand to warn them that he was moving and wouldn't be able to respond to emails for a while, so I shouldn't have been surprised by his absence.

At first I felt guilty about it.  I felt like maybe it had been a mistake to write about the whole ordeal.  I felt like I had shot myself in the foot for writing it in the first place, and then again for not correcting it after things had been cleared up.

However, after a few days of pondering over the situation, I've realized that I really did nothing unprofessional.  I legitimately thought I had been scammed, so I wrote about it on my personal blog.  Assuming my side job was a bust after not hearing from my boss for ten days doesn't make me unprofessional--any rational person would come to that conclusion.  And I wasn't wrong to write about it.  As any nine-year-old could tell you, "It's a free country."  As long as I'm not writing maliciously or dishonestly, I have every right to write about whatever I want on my blog.  I experienced it, so I can write about it.  If I have a negative experience, there's nothing that says I can't write about it.

Yes, maybe I should have been a little more quick to update all my "readers" (who are mostly my friends and family) about how I found out he didn't drop off the face of the earth.  However, he left me hanging for 10 days, and he knew he left me hanging--I wrote him a handful of emails throughout the disappearance, so he should have known right away that I did not receive prior notice of his absence.  For being so concerned about professionalism, he sure didn't show me much.  Thus, I really don't feel bad for taking my time to update my personal blog.

I wrote an email back to him defending myself and my situation, but in the event that he realizes how idiotic it was to "fire" me for being upset with his unprofessionalism, I still don't plan to write for him again.  Or anyone else, really.  If this is what writing for a blog boss is like, I'm not in.  Too much drama.  So ends my saga.