Making things new-ish (and how we built this blog)

My writing voice feels a little squeaky and unsure. Hesitant. For the month of March I took a break from writing for the blog, because I felt it was something I needed to do. The drive to publish my words here was something I needed release in order to re-orient myself and re-order my priorities.

Did it "work"? Am I re-oriented. Am I re-ordered?

I think yes, but not in some grand spectacular way. The work of the Spirit in our hearts is subtle and secret, and although we like fresh starts and clean slates we never really get one of those. And almost all the progress, in my life at least, is a two steps forward, one back kind of shuffle.

I couldn't wait to get back to my morning writing routine but during my fast I did a lot of reading, journaling, prayer and contemplation during the time I set aside for writing. (And sleeping-in.) And now I sit here, happy to be back to my regular discipline and routine but wondering how I will keep those other elements going in my life, if it's even possible. Or if the depth of my experience in those practices was for a season.

These are things I don't have an answer for right now. I could be tempted to "make a schedule" to "fit it all in" but I think I'm going to let this one play out according to how I feel led, on any given day. And to trust that things will work out as they are meant to. To keep myself open to the Spirit, regardless of what I am doing: writing, cleaning, cooking, grocery shopping, watching TV with my kids.

That's all I have to say for now on the subject of moving out of a fast and back into my morning writing practice.

Because what I really want to write about is.... I have a new blog!

The timing of this is ironic. Damien and I have been working on my new blog for over a year, and the fact that I'm finally releasing it after a writing fast is simply coincidence.

I don't usually write about the technical back-end of blogging, but now is a good time to indulge my interest in systems and structures, and while doing so, explain in very rudimentary terms, what happens behind-the-scenes to build a blog.

(If you are a programmer/developer and what I explain below doesn't exactly ring true, feel free to clarify in comments. I don't understand the intricacies of web development and programming and I barely understand the broad strokes, but I've tried to explain, in fairly simple terms, the process of building this new blog.)

The platform

A blog is published on a platform. A blog platform is a specific type of content management system. Content management system means exactly as it sounds - a system to manage content. There are a few different blog platforms out there, the most popular being WordPress. And if I was a blogger without a deep-geek web developer husband this is probably the platform I would use.

Many web developers use WordPress, but my husband, who has helped clients solve and find solutions to the mess created by WordPress is not a fan, at all. We've never used WordPress for any of our blogs/websites, and Damien won't support it anymore in working with clients. This is the bias we have in our home. No WordPress. It has its place, just not in our home or in the technology solutions my husband builds or supports.

For a couple years now we've wanted to move my blog from the old platform, Drupal, to Django.

Django (pronounced jango) is a Python-based programming library used to build web applications. Unlike WordPress, Django isn't a CMS but it can build a CMS. It's completely customizable, you can build any kind of website with it, including blogs. You need to be a developer to do this, or hire a developer to do this, or be married to a developer to do this.

The theme

Once you have a platform in place, you need a theme, which is the basic structure for how your blog looks and the different features and functions it will have. Thankfully, themes are customizable so your blog can look quite unique even though it has the same theme as someone else. Some bloggers do this on their own, others will hire designers to help customize the theme.

We custom-built a theme using Bootstrap which is an especially powerful framework for developing mobile responsive applications. So instead of pulling something off the shelf, ready-made, we built what we needed from basic components, kind of like lego.

Neither Damien nor I are designers, so my blog does not have that "designer" look, but Bootstrap enables a developer to create a clean, functional, mobile-friendly interface, and it's good enough for my current needs.

Often when someone's personal blog gets a face lift what they are doing is changing or tweaking the theme. Very rarely are they changing the platform, because that requires a developer/programmer skill set and is costly if you were to pay for that. Many personal bloggers will simply start a new blog if they change platforms.

In this case, we changed the platform. We essentially re-built everything.

Pros/Cons

There are costs and benefits to any content management system a blogger uses.

I'll use a very crude house building analogy to explain the pros and cons for two basic ways you can build a blog/website.

Option 1: You can hire an architect to design and a contractor to then build exactly the kind of house you want.

The architect and contractor will use knowledge, skills and tools they've developed to build that house to your specifications. They don't start from zero every time. They access a "library" of information in the same way a Django developer accesses that library of code to build a web application.

Pro: You get what you want, and it's really well built.

Con: It costs more. And usually takes more time. It's not a DIY project for the hobby builder. If you don't have the skill-set yourself, you have to hire someone.

-or-

Option 2: You can use ready-made plans, or perhaps a better analogy is pre-fabricated "parts", and get a great house, which can be exactly what you wanted if what you wanted was what was available.

This is usually a cheaper route but can get expensive and complicated when you want to change that design and add other components, not found in "the kit" so to speak. Or if the components you really want to add to the standard design don't quite fit and then you need to hire someone to make it work.

My husband has done a lot of work for clients in which his job is to help adapt pre-fabricated parts to do something they weren't necessarily designed to do, especially in WordPress. Something can probably be hobbled together, but the developer would prefer to build a better system from the ground-up.

Pro: Cheaper and faster (until you want to really customize). Meets the needs of the a lot of people.

Con: It gets messy (and ugly underneath the veneer of nice graphics and fancy fonts) when you need to make some serious changes to the structure.

If I was not married to a developer I'd go with Option 2. But I wouldn't be able to have what we've built here, and I certainly would not have been able to move all my content from one platform to another without the assistance of a developer/programmer. That's a tricky bit of technical wizardry.


Laurent building a house with Papa last fall

Hiring a developer can be expensive (the money people spend on doing so puts food on our table), and I'm blessed I didn't have to pay a developer, but the cost is the time it took for the work to be done. My blog and writing currently doesn't bring money into the household so we couldn't justify my husband taking time away from income-earning work to work on my blog, unlike the last time we upgraded my blog (but that was just a theme upgrade not a wholesale move to another platform).

Last summer, when we were looking at the time this project would take, we briefly toyed with the idea of me taking over my blog entirely. Building it myself on an ready-made platform, thinking it might be a confidence builder and make me feel better about not having to depend or rely on Damien's skills. And I could also have complete control over the process and wouldn't have to wait for him. (Two key themes in that last sentence: control and impatience.)

In the end we remembered that we actually want to help each other achieve personal goals by lending our particular skill set to support our spouse's desires and dreams. It's where two are better than one. We'd have to practice both depending on each other and having grace for one another, but we decided that's ok. That's the gift of marriage.

So we re-built my blog, together, over many months. I "designed" everything you see. Which isn't to say much, I'm not a designer but I was able to move ideas from paper to digital reality. And I'm pleased with that.

What you see now is like custom building a house and moving in before it's finished. The foundation, framing and basic functionality is in place. And it's liveable and even lovely on the outside, but the laundry room isn't done and neither is the basement. And we still want to upgrade the appliances. You get the idea.

It's not done. But everything's in place that needs to be in place.

I still have to move boxes over from the old house and unpack them here. And already I'm thinking about a few tweaks and changes I'd like to make in the coming months. (And this is where the house building analogy breaks down because you can tweak a website much easier than "tweaking" a house.)

No longer FIMBY

The biggest change about this new blog is that it's no longer FIMBY. I've been making this change in my other social media over the past few months, which you may have noticed if you connect with me in those places.

About the time I had the burnout and breakdown I finally realized this is no longer Fun in My Back Yard. This is heartbreaking work, the work of living. And yes, fun and lightheartedness, beauty, and joy still exist in my world, but unlike the early years of blogging, the dark and difficult is a more prominent feature in my writing, because these things have touched my life in a more profound way. I still love to garden, make stuff, homeschool, and have fun adventures with my family - all the "fun" in FIMBY. But what I want to write about is the wholehearted experience of living, which is both/and not either/or.

A few other things to point out:

  • I now have a personal landing page separate from my blog landing page because I am anticipating and planning for projects in my future outside of blogging, and I'd like to have a landing page in place for that.
  • You can comment again. For at least two years my old blog was plagued by commenting problems. We patched things together as best we could but decided not to invest too much time into fixing it, since we needed to put that time into the new blog. When you comment for the first time you'll be asked to complete an easy captcha quiz, after that it will remember you for a time (using cookies), and commenting will be a breeze. If it isn't please let me know, and we'll fix it.
  • My new blog is mobile friendly and responsive. This was huge. My old platform was so behind in this regard, and again, we put energy into the new one instead of upgrading the old. There might be a few kinks to work out in this regard but you can now read and comment and navigate the blog with ease (and with beauty) on a device.
  • Old posts are fixed and pretty again. The photos links were broken on old blog posts, so more than half my content looked ugly, for years. This bothered me to no end, but it is all restored now.

These are some of the visible changes. But what I'm most excited about are the structural changes that allow me to better organize, highlight and share thirteen years worth of posts. And provide a good foundation for future writing and projects.

I'll tell you more about the changes in the coming weeks and months and you'll see for yourself as you visit and navigate the blog.

Welcome to my new blog.

Renee Tougas participates in affiliate marketing, including the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. Whenever you buy something on Amazon from a link you clicked here, I get a (very) small percentage of that sale. See disclosure for further explanation.

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  • Rana

    Rana on April 5, 2017, 2:57 p.m.

    I love the new look and I'm happy you are in a new space that makes you feel good about writing. I have loved your blog and have used it as a guide for homeschooling for a very long time. Not just homeschooling but for life schooling. You have always been one of my favorite mommy mentors. I will miss FIMBY, but I"m looking forward to the new you. I can't wait to read more!!

    reply

  • Krista

    Krista on April 5, 2017, 3:31 p.m.

    I have feelings of nostalgia saying goodbye to FIMBY - it was a light for me for many years. But... the new look is beautiful and I am excited to watch your next season of life and writing unfold. xo

    reply

  • Jennifer

    Jennifer on April 5, 2017, 4:26 p.m.

    It's lovely! I think it's great that you and your husband worked together on it, even if it meant it took more time. Enjoy your new "home"!

    reply

    • Renee

      Renee on April 6, 2017, 12:48 a.m.

      Thanks Jennifer. I do appreciate having done this with Damien. And I could never have built something like this without him (and that's kind of the point of a partnership).

      reply

  • Desiree

    Desiree on April 5, 2017, 6:13 p.m.

    Renee, I absolutely adore your new blog! My husband has a similar opinion of WordPress, and loves all things Python, so what you shared here really rang true at my house as well. Your words are like a hot cup of my favorite tea, and I've been so blessed to follow the adventures of your family for several years. I'm looking forward to following your journey on this new blog as well. LLAP.

    reply

    • Renee

      Renee on April 6, 2017, 12:52 a.m.

      Oh, thanks Desiree :)

      I am delighted that you could share in the geek part of this post and understood what I was talking about from similar experience.

      reply

  • LYNDSAY

    LYNDSAY on April 5, 2017, 8:22 p.m.

    Love the new look! Do we need to resubscribe to keep up with new posts? Or did all of that transfer over as well?

    reply

    • Renee

      Renee on April 6, 2017, 12:37 a.m.

      Lyndsay, No, you don't need to resubscribe to keep up with new posts. If you are subscribed to my blog via email you should still get those messages.

      reply

  • Carmen

    Carmen on April 6, 2017, 1:27 p.m.

    I am so glad you are writing again. Many of the things you say speaks to my heart. Did you take the picture for your landing page? Beautiful!

    reply

    • Renee

      Renee on April 6, 2017, 2:51 p.m.

      Carmen, yes, all the photos on my blog are my own, unless otherwise indicated (which is very rare.)

      I love the dark and light of that photo, almost like a motif for my writing, and certainly a motif for one's life experience. Thank you for commenting. I was delighted to "hear" you here. xo

      reply

  • Amy

    Amy on April 6, 2017, 11:47 p.m.

    I really like the look of this new space. The flower photo on the intro page is beautiful. I only read a handful of blogs now and yours is one of my favorites. I relate so much to your struggles with anxiety and homeschooling kids in high school. Looking forward to what the future has to hold for your blog as I follow along.

    reply

    • Renee

      Renee on April 7, 2017, 11:54 a.m.

      Thank you Amy. It seems that writing about anxiety has overshadowed the homeschool writing a bit. I have so many "I gotta write about this" experiences with homeschooling but my personal growth writing has overshadowed this for a time. I have so many things I want to write :)

      reply

  • Nicola

    Nicola on April 7, 2017, 5:42 a.m.

    Congratulations on your new online space. So much of what you have been sharing in recent months (well, for years now) resonates with me, but I will feel sentimental for a moment saying goodbye to FIMBY. I am glad you are not closing the door on blogging, though!

    reply

  • Susan

    Susan on Nov. 28, 2017, 8:36 p.m.

    I followed FIMBY via Bloglovin. I realized today that I hadn't seen a post from you in many months and went searching and updated my Bloglovin feed to your new platform. I'm not sure if there is a way for you to notify other users that may have a similar issue.

    reply

  • Renee

    Renee on Dec. 4, 2017, 8:31 p.m.

    Hi Susan,

    I'm glad you found me again and I'm sorry we lost you there for a few months. I suspect that may have happened to a few people. Not sure what to do about it at this point so I'm hoping that if people notice my writing missing from their RSS feeds they'll come find me. I'm not too hard to find. Glad to have you reading again!

    reply

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