Friday, February 12, 2016

How it works: day planner / bullet journal hybrid system

I said it earlier this week, my day planner is the most important book in my life, my bible.
It contains everything I need to function day after day, on all fronts and I have a very specific system to keep it and myself organised.
I promised I would tell you all about my system, and the best way to start this talk is to show you a picture:
Welcome to my planner! This, is how every single page look like. And, yes, it looks a lot like a "Bullet Journal"

Except it isn't really one, mostly because the true Bullet Journaling system would really not work for me.
I am way way way too much of an advance planner for the traditional Bullet journaling system which ask you to only really fill you planner with one month at a time. I already have Blog stuff planned for next December people, and months of school events and holidays to log.

But the Bullet system has it's pro, especially for people who like making lists. And I am one of these people too. I love lists, I love ticking off finished tasks (it gives me a certain sense of gratification, list makers will understand).
But instead of pretty much hand writing an entire year planner in an empty notebook, I decided to spare myself the hassle and use a planner that has already been printed and put my little "Bullet lists" in it.

I love colours, and I really function better using a colour coding system for my tasks. I use a combination of Staedtler  and Maped fineliners. I am lucky to be able to buy them individually in just the colours I like from my local stationery shop.

How I go about it is fairly simple really:

All the tasks, appointment and planned events are written on the top of the page, without bullets. They go in days, weeks, or even months in advance. The colour I use for these isn't set EXCEPT for blog posts. For them I always the light green pen. If I happen to have been able to write the blog post in advance and have scheduled it on Blogger, I will add the time at which it will go live in dark green underneath.

Then comes the lists section. For these I use different colours so that I know what is what and I use two shades for each section, it's easier on the eye that way.

The purple section is everything related to the blog and my creative process. I write down what I have to do each day, even if it is something routine like taking time to promote my content. Writing it down makes me accountable and the temptation to skip the task "just for one day" is removed.
This section is also the one I will use to list a craft or DIY project I want to make that day. Again because marking it on the planner makes me accountable, and less likely to just skip it.

The teal/light blue section is for all the things related to household and family. I end up using this section for my meal planning, and chores. And while breakfast and lunch are meals I usually have alone, I still make a point of writing down what's on the menu. That way on a chaotic day I don't have to think about it, and yes it has reminded me to just "eat something already" on particularly hectic days. My non urgent or essential shopping list (aka the stuff I won't be in a pickle if I didn't get the time) make it to that section as well.

The pink section is everything urgent or super important that absolutely must be done today. Things that require my utmost priority. Urgent shopping usually goes in that category, and it is usually because I really lack a specific ingredient to cook dinner.

Every completed task gets ticked off the list with my red pen, if by the end of the day that task hasn't been completed, I strike it off and carry it over to the next day if it still need to be done.

I spend every evenings writing my lists for the next day, with possibly a few tasks spilling to the next to next day or further.

Then, I refer to my planner all through the day. I also have a "black box" section in which I log all my cash expenses. DH like to keep our finance log in a fancy software and I am a bit more old school about that. Since he is manning that task and doesn't do it daily, I keep track of the cash expense for him to fish out of the planner.

Do you keep a day planner? How do you organise it? Share your system in the comments below, I'd love to read all about it. 
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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

All about your side bar

Everything you need to know about your blog side bar
Ah the side bar! This glorious space you can pack with widgets, infos and digital trinket to your heart's content.
This narrow slice of heaven where you can personalise to reflect who you are and what you do (you because just the blog posts won't do).

Stop right there!

The side bar is an area of your blog you should not underestimate in any way and should take care about as much as the rest of your blog.
One upon an early 00's this was the prime spot for the craziest widgets, blinkies (do anybody remember that craze), clipart and GIF gallore.
It was the place were your post archive went, and where you would put a little "About" snippet. And if you really wanted to be cool, add a page view counter of one kind or another.

But back to circa 2016, you might want to rethink that side bar strategy a little, especially if you are running a blog you want people to take seriously.
Gone are the days when it was ok to induce epilepsy seizures in your readers (blinkies overload syndrome).
Your side bar is serious business, and it should be treated as such.

You want it to be easy to navigate, clean looking and full of relevant infos that will help your readers.  If you haven't touched up this section of your blog in a while, now is the time to look at it and weed out the widgets that no longer make sense, and keep or add the ones that will help your blog in the long run.

If you find yourself wondering what exactly qualifies as "useful content" here are a few items to get you started:

An about section and picture

You must show who you are somewhere on your blog, and one of the most common place to find a snippet of information is by adding a few lines and a picture to the top of your side bar. Which you noticed I haven't done, but hold these stones will you? Let me explain how I approached it. I have my picture on the header, this is a personal choice I made, and I made sure I have a full "About" section on the nav bar instead. Will that change in the future? Maybe. For now this option works better for me. But if you haven't made up your mind about where to put that essential bit of info, the side bar is the best place to start

Your social media icons

You must offer a way for your reader to follow you on any of your official handles. How many you have is really up to you, but do make it easy for your follower to connect with you. There are plenty of ready to use social icons you can use, or you can design your own. 
Then, open a new HTML/Java Script Gadget on your blogger layout tab and enter the appropriate code for it. The code should roughly look like this : 

<a href=""><img src=""></a>

Replace the red text in the code with the appropriate URLs, for the social media one it means the link to your handle, for example my Instagram URL would be :
The image URL is where the picture you plan to use is hosted. In the case of my social media icon, it would be photobucket. If you have a photobucket account, each picture will have a set of codes you can copy, the one you are looking for is the "direct" URL. 

Email subscription

If you want people to read you, you must offer them many way to follow you. Some will do it exclusively via social medias, some will prefer adding your blog to a feed reader. And there are those who will prefer to get your feeds delivered straight to their mailbox instead. 
An email subscription can either be a subscription to your feedburner feed (like it is the case on my blog) or a Newsletter system you set up and for which you will need to provide a physical address and will remember to write yourself each time you want one to go out to your reader. 

If what you are looking at is just enabling your reader to subscribe to your feeds, here is the link to the tutorial that helped me set up my own widget. Note that for this tutorial to work you must have the official blogger email widget already set up on your side bar, so if you don't have it yet, do so buy going to your "Layout" tab and click Add Gadget and choose the email subscription from the list. 

Popular posts

This one is  MUST have on any blog. It provides an opportunity for your reader to discover more content straight from your blog and have them just hang around a bit longer (and lower your bounce rate). You can add it to your blog in blogger by going to your Layout tab, and select the popular post widget from the list when you click "Add Gadget". This will set you up with the standard default Blogger Popular post widget. 
Once you have this installed, there are ways to prettify it with some coding. I used a code found on this page for mine. 

I set my widget to display the top 5 popular posts of the last 7 days, but you can set it up to display the top best post of forever, or the last month. Keep in mind that the more often the list change, the more people will notice it and feel like clicking on it. 

Blog search tool

In blogger, you have two options: either you keep the official kind of blah looking "Blogger Nav bar" on top of the page and your search feature is covred automatically. Or, you set up a gadget on your side bar. To do so, you again must go to your Layout tab in blogger, and add said gadget from the gadget list blogger provides you when you click "Add Gadget". This widget will again be looking very blah and generic, but once again, you can customize it if you know a little CSS coding, the code I used and tweaked can be found here.

Those elements above are the one your blog absolutely MUST have to make a positive impression. Then there are all the extra add ons,  like ads, sponsors, link party icons, sister sites and image links to seasonal pages you can simply by adding a new "HTML/Java script" Gadget. 

Here are a few things you must keep in mind before I conclude this post: 

1) If you give a title to your HTML Gadget it will appear as such on your side bar. If you don't want each different link party icons to be in their own section, leave the title area blank. 

2) The font and colour of the Gadget title can be changed if you go to your template editor: Template > Customise > Advanced > Gadgets

3) The pretty pink line I added to my Gadget titles is a product of a tutorial that involves using an image and a code. You can find the complete tutorial over here

4) Remember to keep your side bar content up to date, if it never changes, people will stop noticing it. It is a good idea to run seasonal features and mini series often. 

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Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Give your home some love this Valentine

Yes, yes, the festival of love is coming. This is the time you are supposed to gift your partner something that is either special, or plain old silly (aka stuffed pink teddy bear and balloons).

And, if there is one festival I am the most on the fence about this must be Valentine's day. I explained my feelings about it earlier this month when I was offering my February calendar page for download.
It's not that I am against love, believe me I am all for it and it is isn't the commercial aspect and gift giving that bugs me either (I might as well hate all festivals if that was the case).

No, what bugs me the most about V day is how love is defined. Love that can only be a couple thing. Love that is often to really be expressed in an unilateral way in which the man gifts an expensive looking item to a woman whose job is to look pretty, sexy and melt like snow in the sun at the sight of either chocolate, gold or diamonds.
Last time I checked these items weren't either kryptonite nor radioactive waste, so women having to go weak in the knee over them is really idiotic.

Love is wonderful, and guess what, you can just about love anybody or anything, and yes you should celebrate it. Love of your family, partner, children, pets, life, loving yourself. Those are things to celebrate.

I could have written a standard blog post about my pick for Valentine's gift to gift Her (or Him) and be lost in a mass of shopping guides that recommend you buy something chocolaty, fuzzy and either red or pink. But, this is really not my thing and instead my heart went balancing between putting together a list of gifts you can give yourself, or items to give your home decor some TLC.
I ended up choosing the second option, for many reasons.

Oh, and before I proceed, this is a shopping guide, and I am an Amazon India affiliate, so if you click the links below and happen to make a purchase (any purchase) I paid. If you are against the idea, don't click anything.
1) I spent hours looking at cute home decor items of all kind to make this shopping guide. At one point I entered glass bottles all set on finding a cute drinking water bottle in either pink or red. And this pretty Cherry blossom vase caught my attention instead.

2) Next, I looked at cookie jars, because I love cookies. A little scrolling and browsing later and I found this very ethnic and adorably quirky hand painted cookie jar . Seriously, how cute is that?

3) I was so taken by that cookie jar, that I ended up clicking on the seller's name (Kaushalam), and this is something you HAVE to do because every single one of their items are stunning, colourful and guaranteed to bring some zing into your home. This tea kettle stole my heart, along with all the others, I can't be monogamous when it comes to anything tea. I probably would not use it for tea fearing to ruin the hand painting on it, but how good would it look in your living room or dinning table?

4) I love tea, and a home without tea, isn't a home. This Rose Oolong Tea by Tea trunk is something I can totally picture gifting myself, mostly because the box is absolutely stinking cute and I could re-use it in my decor at some point. Who said a diamond is a girl's best friend? Give me tea in cute tea boxes any day...ha!

5) Last but not least, I had to add a candle holder. And that was a VERY difficult one because I love candles. So I let the voice of reason dictate to me that Valentines is about red and pink and that I should stick to the theme. As a result, I narrowed it down to a few and ended up picking this embossed tea light holder to conclude this shopping guide.

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Monday, February 08, 2016

Bookmark Charm DIY

No comments:
Come October or November, and you will find me starting to hunt for the day planner I'll use the next year.
I absolutely CAN'T live without one, and I usually make a very good use of it (I'll show you how I go about it in another post so stay tuned). My planner contains everything from blog posting, to social events and more. Heck I even keep a log of my cash expenses and meal planning.

Simply put, my planner is my personal bible and it has a place of honour on my desk. With all the technological advancement I haven't found anything else to be as efficient as the good old paper and ink method.

With this in mind, choosing the right planner year after year is something I take seriously. Mostly because with the book being in full view at all time, I want it to look nice. It also has to be big enough    for me to write down everything in it. One page per day is a must as well. Over the years, I found that Nightingale is the brand to go to in India, they have the best quality paper and a fair range of sizes and styles for their planner. This year though, I decided to add more personal touch to it.

To be fair, I think I just needed an excuse to play with beads and buy those cute little metallic charms my local craft supply shop started selling...sue me!
For this project, the only two things I bought were the metallic charms (the leaf and the star) and some small brass rings used for jewellery making. All the other supplies on that charms were things I already had.

All in all you will need a small brass ring to tie the various strings and ribbons to, a collection of beads and charms in different sizes, some bead necklace string (the transparent nylon kind is what I used), some ribbon bits (I used some I saved from a gift wrap) and a hot glue gun (or fabric glue, but it takes more time to dry).

How you go about it is really up to you. I decided to tie one of the charms to the brown ribbon and  a big wooden bead at the other end. Since that length of ribbon was quite short I needed the hot glue gun to glue the bead into place. I then used a small bit of purple wire to secure the ribbon near the brass ring, a thing you can do with a thiner piece of ribbon if you have it.
I then took a length of necklace thread and folded it in half and strung glass beads on each length.

How many dangling strings you have on your charm depends on the size of the brass ring and what your personal taste is. I went for 4, because this seemed just right to me.
Once the charm is done, all you need to do is use the planner's bookmark ribbon. Tie the bookmark around the brass ring of the charm, as close to the  base as possible and keep on using said bookmark the same old way.

Alternatively, you can make a smaller charm and tie it at the loose end of the planner's bookmark ribbon for a different look. At the end of the current year, you can just cut that bookmark charm free and use it again on the next planner.

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Thursday, February 04, 2016

Pasta and creamy mushroom sauce

pasta and mushroom cream sauce, it doesn't get any simpler than this
In the world of Pinterests and blogs, it is easy to forget that there are plenty of super easy, recipes out there and that no, not all our meals need to look like a gourmet feast straight out of a Masterchef episode.

Sometimes, (ok most of the time), the simplest things rule the world (well my world).

This dish might not be the epitome of healthy food, but it is as comforting as it can be, and one of these that will usually initiate no protests from kids (provided they like mushroom, and mine LOVES them).

If you live in a region where you have access to a wide variety of mushrooms, feel free to experiment using different types. This dish would just taste about divine with fragrant Portobello mushrooms or morels, or Chanterelles or a mix of wild mushrooms.
Over here, I had to make do with button mushrooms, that's the only thing that is available without costing you an arm and leg in India. It's not that button mushrooms are bad, but when you are used to mushrooms that have a rich woodsy flavour, you can feel a bit let down these.

What you'll need:

- Your choice of pasta, any will do really. 
- 400 ml of Fresh cream (I use 2 small pack of Amul)
- 3-4 cups of sliced button mushroom
- 2tsp corn starch 
- Salt and pepper to taste. 

How to do it:

1) Boil water and cook your pasta until they are soft and tender.

2)While the pasta is cooking, wash and slice your mushroom and heat a little oil in a sauce pan.

3) Toss your sliced mushrooms in the sauce pan and stir, add a little salt to help the mushrooms "sweat". Cook until they shrunk to nearly half their original size and pour the cream.

4) As soon as the cream starts boiling, dilute your corn starch in a little water and pour it in. The sauce will thicken in seconds. Once that is done, remove from the heat.

5) By the time your sauce is ready your pasta should be done, drain the water and transfer to your plates. Pour the sauce on top and season with freshly ground black pepper.

6) Serve hot. If you enjoy parmesan cheese and have some, you can totally sprinkle some on your pasta as well.

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Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Mind your blog pictures

There is no denying it, a blog post with pictures has more chances to catch the attention of people on social medias. It can also make readers come back for more, provided the pictures are quality.

Pictures can nowadays make or break a blog and if you are lifestyle blogger, you just CAN'T afford to be picture less. Your blog posts must have catchy pictures that represent you, your brand and the topic of your blog. These pictures also need to be formatted and sized to fit your blog. The task of getting your pictures ready to be published on a blog is big and can be a bit time consuming (which is why I get angry when mine get stolen)

I put a step by step guide to get the best out of your blog picture, from picture taking, to publishing, follow my tips and tricks, and you'll never have an odd picture again.

Picture taking and choosing

There is that idea that you absolutely need a digital SLR to take good pictures for your blog. And while, true, it comes in handy for a lot of pictures, you don't have to make that investment right away. Most smartphones have decent to very good cameras these days, and you can achieve a lot with just your phone. 

My best advice is to take pictures often, and build a photo library you can work with. It doesn't matter if you need it now or not, if something strike you as picture worthy, just go snap it. 

If picture taking really isn't your thing at all, DO NOT turn to Google to find one. Because you know, at the risk of repeating myself, Goolge is NOT a free to grab and use photo database. In fact most of it is copyrighted by default, unless stated otherwise on the website it comes from. 
Rely on stock photos instead, there are plenty of free ones you can use without infringing any copyright laws. 

If you really really really like a picture another blogger has taken and really want to use it. Contact them, and ask for their permission first. Then, play nice and give them due credit. This is basic blogging etiquette 101. 

Picture editing and sizing

So, you took your picture, or found one you like in a stock photo database. Your job is far from over at this point. 

All pictures need to be edited and sized, some more than other. What you want is a picture that pops and look the part on your blog. If you have been taking pictures with your phone, they might need a bit more editing than DSLR one, but it is not impossible. The best thing is that you don't even need a pricey software to do it. There are many free apps and web based editors you can use.
I myself work in either Photoshop (not free, but not too costly either, a monthly subscription is 499 rupees), or photoshop express (free on iPad). Find one app you like and learn to use it. 

When it comes to editing, I like saving several variant of the picture using different filters. Because I could be using a picture for something in saturated colours, and a more toned down version for another post. The picture I used for this blog post was initially taken for Instagram and I saved a couple of versions of it.

Once you are done with your editing work, you will need to watermark your picture. Trust me, it reduces the instance of photo theft, so take a few second to add your logo, or your blog name to it. For years I did it in "iWatermark" on the iPad. I now do it in Photoshop using the font I used for the header. 

Now that your picture is looking pretty, don't hit "save" just yet. You want that picture to not be too large so that it loads quickly on your blog. The rule of thumb is that any picture intended for web viewing should be saved at a resolution of 72 DPI (dot per inch). All editing apps will do it by default, and Web based editing tool should either do it by default or offer you the option to do so. Photoshop usually keeps the resolution the picture had when you opened it, so you will need to go change that clicking on the Image tab > Image size. 

Before publishing

So you have your picture, it has been edited and saved and you are writing your blog post, your job is done right?
WRONG or at least partially wrong. 
You see, you need to think about a few blog design things now. And the good new is that most of it can be set once and be applied to every single blog posts you publish in the future without you having to think about it. 
The first thing you need to think about from a design point of view is how uniform your blog look is. One way to achieve it is to have the same picture width on all blog posts. 
The golden rule these days is to have a picture width that fills all or most of the text area width. 
In Blogger, this is achieved by setting the maximum width of pictures using a line of CSS to your template: 

1) Go to template
2) Click on customize > Advanced> scroll down to add CSS
3) Add this code to the CSS text window : 

.post-body img {max-width:655px; 

4)Save your changes. 

Replace the value in red with the width that will suit your blog, on mine, the pictures are all resized to 655 pixels wide if they are wider than that to begin with. 
What you MUST be aware though, is that for this code to work, you MUST select "Original" size in Blogger's post editor when you write the blog post. Otherwise the code will not work on it. This code will apply to past and future posts without you having to do anything else. 

Another thing that can be a bit annoying in many Blogger default templates is the frame and drop shadow it adds to pictures. But there is a way to get rid of it permanently with a little coding as well: 

As you did for the other code, go to Template > Customize > Advanced > CSS and add this code in the box (beneath the other code, or any code you may have in there already) : 

.post-body img, .post-body .tr-caption-container, .Profile img, .Image img,
.BlogList .item-thumbnail img {
  padding: none !important;
  border: none !important;
  background: none !important;
  -moz-box-shadow: 0px 0px 0px transparent !important;
  -webkit-box-shadow: 0px 0px 0px transparent !important;
  box-shadow: 0px 0px 0px transparent !important;

Save your changes and voila! Frame and Shadows be gone!

Other tips and tricks regarding pictures

Before I conclude on this lengthy post, here are a few other things you can do to optimise your pictures for your blog: 

-Give them a relevant name, this will help boost your SEO. As tempting it is to just leave the series of numbers and letters your camera gave the file, DON'T If someone runs an Image search for let's say a "Cupcake with pink frosting" they are more likely to land on your picture and blog, if you labeled said cupcake picture with its name rather than something as uninspired as "DC 00045"

-If you know what specific width you want for your picture on the blog, start saving all your pictures with that width in mind. Because a file that is 72 DPI in resolution will still be larger and load slower if it is 2000 pixels wide than when it is 700. Beside, you don't want to make picture thieves work too easy by uploading High-res pictures for them to use.

-Keep a certain consistency in your overall blog look by using pictures that all have the same shape. I myself decided on Square pictures, though at time I need something rectangle. This isn't an absolute must, but on a cosmetic level it looks a bit better. The point is to stick to one format and use it as much as possible. 

On these wise words, I'll leave you. If you have any questions, feel free to ask them in comments, I'll get back to you as soon as possible. 

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Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Cane lamp, a golden makeover

I save lamps, this could be what defines me after I proved I could fix a broken ceramic lamp a couple of times.
Or even give that very same accident prone lamp a quirky makeover. Then there have been the case of the cane lamp (the Twin of the one in the picture) that got repurposed into a kids room lamp.

Ah! Those cane lamps! I bought them in 2008 in Bangalore. They started their lives as bedside table lamps in our room. Then one migrated in Ishita's room and the other in our living room, where it has been staying in two different flats. Until 2 weeks ago this is how it looked:
And believe it or not that is the ONLY picture I could find of it. Chances had it that it was taken in the flat we currently stay in.
It was chocolate brown, and still in good condition, but not really the kind of thing I wanted after I put my Urban ladder contest winnings to good use.
The last item I bought with that 20k voucher was the Lhasa console table to match the Lhasa chest of drawer. The lamp would have looked a bit dull on the top of it, so I painted it to turn it into a statement piece.

This has to be one of the easiest and quickest lamp makeover I ever did too. No seriously, all you need to pull that one off is a can of spray paint. I decided to go for gold, but you really can do it in any other shades you like.
Simply spread enough old newspaper to cover your well ventilated work area (I did it on my balcony, but any space with enough ventilation will do) and sprayed the lamp with 3 coats of paint. The whole thing took less than an hour, drying time between coats included.
Our living room can get a bit gloomy with just one table lamp on, and we swore off harsh ceiling lights years and years ago (you won't guess how much of a difference it makes for my insomnia problems). Now with our console we have space for all the remotes, chargers and specs in the drawers, and our router is no longer dangling oddly on a nail on the wall. And that lamp has been given a second wind and continues to light our evenings nicely. 
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Monday, February 01, 2016

February 2016 calendar printable

True to my promise to offer each of my 2016 Calendar pages on the first of the month, I give you the one for February today, and you can go download it here.

In India, February marks the last month of Winter for many. Here in Mumbai you can start feeling the days getting a bit warmer already and DH and I commented just yesterday how our AC free nights are now starting to be numbered. We estimate that we have another 2-3 weeks before we might need to get it running again. We aren't looking forward to the fact that in a month or two our electricity bills are going to start looking like a King's ransom again...sigh!

But back to February shall we? I chose to illustrate it with a cupcake, because, like it or not it is the month for sweet things, love and everything pink and red.
While I am not really super hot about Valentines day as a exclusively couple celebration, I am all for love. From my many American friends I came to know that Valentines is not just a thing for adults, and that it can celebrate ALL love bonds. Family, friends, partners...all included.
And let me tell you that I much prefer this take on that festival than the nauseating display of teddy bear, red roses and emphasis on coupledom.
I used to absolutely LOATHE the day in Switzerland, in a relationship or not. Mostly because if you are attached, you have the pressure to buy a crap load of...well stupid crap in the name of commercialism. And if you happen to be single, every stores, bakeries florist shops and restaurants will make you fell like you committed to ultimate sin by not being with someone.

One year I even had to face the snark remark of a snotty sales lady when I decided to treat myself to a  bracelet that day. Not because it was Valentines day, but because that day fell on a Saturday and I had been admiring that one for weeks and really wanted it and had both time and money to buy it.
When the lady enquired if I needed a gift wrap and I said no, her response was "Ma'am you need someone to start gifting you these, especially on a day like this one".
My reply was probably the best you can come up with : "Ma'am, I am the most important person in my own world, I am loving myself so much I'd rather be alone than in bad company, and on this day, it would be a crime if I forget to treat myself to a gift".
Oh snap!

Because yes, we have the right and we should all remember to love ourselves first. And this month, should be as good as any to be reminded of that. I love cupcakes and sweet treats, and it is still cool enough for me to bake them in my kitchen. This is the reason why it illustrates February on my calendar.

If you have read my rambling to the end, and wish to download the entire year worth of Calendar page, I offered them for download in December. If you follow this link, it'll take you the blog post in question. 
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