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Manic theme creation and why I switched to Genesis

Blomst theme screenshot

Over the last three weeks I have been manically coding up a storm and developed six brand new themes, breathed new life into one and redeveloped a favourite. For all of these I made the conscious decision to embrace and commit to developing using the Genesis Theme Framework (affiliate link). Can I just say I’m glad I persisted?

It may surprise you to know that I had been a very loud naysayer of Genesis until my recent foray. All the reasons I had against it were:

  • It seemed to have a reduced feature set than say WooThemes Canvas, which didn’t seem to justify the very large fan base
  • You want me to pay for it? Why would I do that when Thematic and Underscores is free?
  • It didn’t allow me to develop easily using Sass (compiled CSS) in the same way as Bones – and I just loved Bones

So I removed my bias and took a deep breath and made the plunge. There were some frustrations, a few choice words were muttered (or yelled) but there were also a lot of ah ha moments and by theme six (Blomst theme, which is pictured above) I was really in a Genesis development groove. Here’s why:

  • That big fan base, well they are also a bunch of helpful individuals who are very good at sharing their own triumphs (and code)
  • The cost (US$59.95) is a one off, which makes it cheaper that WooThemes Canvas. Buying it also gives you access to code snippets and documentation, which were so very useful
  • Hooks and filters just seemed to make more sense and once I applied myself I achieved a lot. My greatest success was incorporating a masonry layout (kind of like Pinterest) on my Explore theme

My themes are available for sale in my revamped Etsy store (USD) and on my Crimson Pear web store (AUD). In the process I have retired a few themes and a couple of them are now available for free on my web store.

If you have any feedback, comments, suggestion or questions let me know. I’m off to start another theme.

July 2, 2016 \ design \ 0 comments - be the first

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A maintenance schedule for your WordPress blog

maintenance

Keeping your blog up to date is an easy job but you have to be consistent and it’s never a good idea to set and forget. It pays to have a maintenance schedule for your WordPress blog.

I have had the good fortune to work on many WordPress blogs over the years and I cannot tell you how many times I’ve logged into a blog that hasn’t been updated in months and sometimes more. For many this task can be a little overwhelming and when you login and see you have 17 updates it’s really nerve wrecking to click that update button. If you are like me, you’ll have a moment of asking yourself ‘what if I break something?’.

I’m going to attempt to guide you through the tools and techniques I use to keeping my blog and my clients’ blogs up to date without breaking anything.

Install a good database plugin

There are many plugins out there that will take care of your database for you but my personal favourite is WP-DBManager. Once it’s installed I recommend you do the following

  1. Setup Automatic Scheduling.  I usually have Automatic Backup scheduled for every week and I set Gzip to Yes.  Gzip is just a compression/decompression method and this means that when it’s emailed to me, I get a slightly smaller file.
  2. Set Automatic Optimising to 1 month, which is the recommended.
  3. Make sure the Backup Email Options are filled in with your email address. This will then email you a backup after it is created. I like this because then I know that I have a copy on my hosting server and a copy in my inbox. When I receive the latest one I delete the previous one.
  4. Nominate how many previous backups to keep. I have this set to 5, which means it will only ever keep the last 5.

At any time you can login to your dashboard and email yourself the latest backup or you can manually create a new backup. I only do this if I’m working on a client site and updating something that makes me particularly nervous, like Woocommerce.

Important note: Some database plugins (WP-DB Manager included) only backup the database structure and tables. What this means is your backup does not usually contain a backup of your Posts and Pages. Check the plugin you are using to see what it is backing up for you. WordPress lets you backup your content through it’s export tool (Dashboard > Tools > Export).

Keep your plugins up to date

It’s really important to keep on top of plugin updates. I make sure I do this at least weekly but more often I update if I login and see there are new versions waiting. I even keep a spreadsheet to keep track of the plugins I use, the versions and the date they were last updated, this way I can keep an eye on those that haven’t been updated in a while. This may mean they are no longer being maintained and oftentimes a WordPress conflict is caused by an old plugin. If I notice one that isn’t getting any updates then I might go looking for one that serves a similar purpose.

I had a client who had signed up for a service that could send SMS from her blog. The company who created the service and the plugin went out of business and so the service was switched off. She still had the plugin installed and because the service was gone the plugin actually stopped her from being able to login to her WordPress dashboard. This meant having to go in via FTP to remove the plugin. I know this is an extreme example, but it does happen.

From time to time do a plugin inventory. Which ones are really doing a great job for you? Which ones have not been activated? Remove any that you simply don’t use.

Keep your WordPress core files up to date

Like your plugins, it’s so important that WordPress is current. New releases are not only for new features they are also for bug fixes. If vulnerabilities become know then hackers target systems with know vulnerabilities, so keep on top of it. Your WordPress setup can be configured to update automatically and I have and maintain systems that do both; manual and automatic. From my perspective it doesn’t seem to make a difference to me but there are many passionate people out there in WordPress land who think of automatic updates as bad juju, so I’ll leave that up to you.

Comments and spam

At least once a week I reply to comments, although I usually reply as soon as I receive them. Some people like comments but never reply to them, whereas I see comments as a dialogue so I will always reply. Again, I’ll leave that up to your personal preference.

Delete your spam at least weekly. Plugins like Akismet (totally worth the cost) do a great job of catching spam but there will still be a few that get through. So go into the Spam folder and delete any that Akismet has caught and look through your comments to mark any spam message as such and then delete them.

To conclude

I hope this will assist you with your own self-hosted blog. Ask me a question or leave me a comment if you want to know more. I have encountered and triumphed over many Wordpress issues (including having this blog hacked) so feel free to ask.

Image by Luis Llerana via StockSnap – free high resolution stock photos

May 2, 2016 \ Web DIY \ 0 comments - be the first

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Kuro Premium WordPress theme from Crimson Pear

Screen shot of my latest WordPress theme

I can’t believe I haven’t shared this with you yet! This is my latest premium WordPress theme from Crimson Pear. It’s called Kuro (means black in Japanese) and the original inspiration came from a ribbon I had seen and wanted to incorporate into a design somehow. I scoured so many image sources for the perfect ribbon and nothing really worked so I ended up creating it myself. I also incorporated those cute birds from a Graphics Fairy image, learned how to create a semi realistic watercolour effect in Photoshop and did lots of layering.

It really goes against my nature to avoid colour in my work and you’ll see an ever so subtle use of green. I do love the simplicity of the post layout and it’s really designed to be secondary to the visuals and content – the way it should be.

You can preview it over on the Crimson Pear demo site (without the social media icons displaying). It’s available for purchase on the Crimson Pear Etsy store.

I may design another colour inspired theme but for the moment I’m working on a series of mobile-first fully responsive WordPress themes. I’ll share the first one with you soon.

P.S. The butterfly image is my own with a small edit in Photoshop.

January 11, 2013 \ design \ 1 comment

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Just lauched :: Haberdashery Fun blog

Screen shot of Haberdashery Fun blog home page

I’m so pleased to show you what else I’ve been working on over the last few weeks. This is the blog of Haberdashery Fun and this time I can claim responsibility for the design.

Marni is a girl with a passion for sewing combined with the ability to explain how and she has some wonderful DIY projects on her blog. I have been working with her for the past few months on a few projects. At first I did some custom ‘how to’ manuals to help her navigate and understand her WordPress space. Let me tell you this girl is not afraid to get into the depths of WordPress and it was such a fun project.

After she’d lived with her blog for a while she approached me to develop her logo so I worked with her to develop the one you see here. She really knew what she wanted but also what she didn’t want and when I found this handwritten font I knew we had a winner – luckily she agreed.

Finally we’ve had our heads down for the last few weeks coming up with the blog design. Marni was quite definite about the look and feel she was after but she also let me have fun with it. I must have tried 7 different header designs before I got to this one. She wanted to incorporate the stitching and since I am a big fan of dashed lines I didn’t take much convincing.

I chose to use WooThemes Canvas for the base of this project. It’s a great starter theme if you’re not confident with code, and while I am I was also mindful that Marni wanted to be able to edit colours if necessary and so it was a good place to start. It makes some tasks, like moving the meta information (date, tags, categories), really simple. I especially like the comment area on each post and the very cool category magazine style layout template (let me tell you that took a little code wrangling). I’ve also crafted for her a really nice and prominent Print this Project link style and I can’t wait to see her use it.

Go check it out and say hi, you’ll probably come away inspired to sew something wonderful.

December 7, 2012 \ design \ 1 comment

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Just Launched :: Rose and Lula blog

Rose and Lula blog screenshot

It’s been a busy time in my Crimson Pear space lately, which may explain my once a week blogging schedule.

I’m so happy to share with you one of the projects I’ve been working on over the last few weeks. This is a design cutup and WordPress implementation for Rose & Lula blog and store based in France. I would love to take credit for the design but it is all the work of owner Micala, who was a recent graduate of the Your Darling Blog Design Workshop by the lovely Jo at The Darling Tree. I think she did a fabulous job and it was such a great design to work with. As with most projects there was one element that challenged me in a good way, for this one it was the social media buttons, which made me realise I could do it without plugins and code it myself – so liberating.

Micala was such a pleasure to work with and made the process so enjoyable. Her blog is up and running and the Rose & Lula store will be live soon. Her handmade treasures are so lovely that you’ll definitely want to pay a visit when it’s live so watch that space.

November 30, 2012 \ projects \ 4 comments

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Web tip :: my fav 5 wordpress plugins

Cog with WordPress logo on it

My love of WordPress began a few years ago and one of the things that makes it stand out is the community and the seemingly endless number of plugins that enhance the core functionality. When working on projects I will often go in search of a plugin if I have an immediate need that requires a quick solution. Chances are there’s a plugin that can help me. I have installed, tested, embraced and sometimes abandoned too many to count but there are some that I always install in a new project. When compiling my top 5 I discovered that each of them are what I would call behind the scenes plugins, those that keep the cogs turning.

1. Akismet – Let’s face it spam is annoying and prolific on our blogs. Enter Akismet the spam buster. It’s gone from being a free plugin to a paid but it is so very good at capturing spam. I used to use Mollom, which is equally as effective but unfortunately Mollom didn’t put as much energy into their WordPress plugin as they did into their enterprise systems. So if spam is a thorn in your side you can’t go past Akismet.
2. All in one SEO pack – if you don’t use a theme that takes care of SEO for you, for example a Genesis theme, then you really need to consider adding an SEO plugin. I have been using this one for years and it’s so easy to use and effective. You can add SEO information to individual posts, pages and your entire blog or site.
3. Login Lockdown – as someone who has had their blog hacked this has been an added level of security for my blog and sites I develop. It monitors failed login attempts by IP addresses and locks out attempts from that address or range for 1 hour if more than 3 failed attempts happen within 5 minutes. Nothing is perfect but it can safeguard your blog against brute force password discovery.
4. Captcha – This little plugin is my second safe guard against spam. Everyone knows captcha as that series of letters and/or numbers that are designed to prove you are not a machine. These types of captchas have their issues when it comes to accessibility and a lot of people find them frustrating. This plugin simply asks the user to solve a super simple maths equation like 3 + 9 = ? . I have installed this on my comments and even my login screen. It can beat robots and still be usable.
5. WP-DBManager – This has been my lifesaver for backing up, restoring and generally keeping my database in working order. You can schedule backups to happen at regular intervals and it will even email you a copy of your backup.

What are your favourite plugins?

February 25, 2012 \ blogging \ 2 comments

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I’m Moving…

Well not literally, this is a cyber move. I have decided to take the plunge and enter the world of a self-hosted WordPress blog. Thanks to the lovely Tara at Scoutie Girl I’m setup and good to go. I would like to think that everything will go swimmingly but, well, that would be too Pollyanna of me. I hope you can put up with me while I’m ironing out my technology teething issues and moving my domain name, posts, images and comments. I will be reverting this blog back to theheasmans.blogspot.com and reclaiming current-observations for the new one. Wish me luck and I’ll meet you on the other side.

{image via wehearit and treated to a little Poladroid by me}
{P.S. I found the photographer… I love it when that happens…. you can see this photo and more}

April 13, 2010 \ blogging \ 0 comments - be the first

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Mmmm Koko Black

About two weeks ago after stumbling home from a doctor visit nursing the worst flu I have ever had there was this on my doorstep. The biggest box of Koko Black chocolates I have ever seen. They were a present from my gorgeous friend Mel by way of thanks for finally finishing her website, which I should plug here – www. excelaustralia.com.au . And about a week ago I regained my appetite enough to taste them – an indication of just how sick I was. 64 chocolates in all and if I pace myself they may last at least 2 months. Oh… and about 4 days after the chocolates half a dozen bottles of wine arrived. So there you have it… if you need a website done I happily take payment in chocolates and alcohol.

September 26, 2009 \ friends \ 0 comments - be the first

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Custom Wordpress child theme by Crimson Pear