November 30, 2012

Blog Design Update

I am currently taking a web design class (thank you, unemployment, for the gift of free time), and it has inspired me to make some changes around the blog. After learning a little bit about the concept of user experience, and then observing how I interact with some of my favorite blogs, I came to the realization that the design of my blog made it difficult to navigate it. Readers were finding the blog through links or searches, but it appeared that they were not finding other content that was relevant to what they were looking for, even though it does exist somewhere on the blog.

So, with the goal of streamlining the blog layout and making it easier to navigate, I thought about the changes that I wanted to make to the design, and I've since started implementing them. One of the first things I did was install Google Analytics to figure out where my readers were coming from and what they were reading once they got to the blog. I highly recommend doing this because the vast amount of information that the analytics service provided was truly eye opening. I confirmed that readers were indeed leaving the blog soon after getting here via a keyword search or a link, and this is probably because the design made it difficult for them to figure out where to go next.

Armed with this information, the first change I made was put social media buttons in the side bar, close to the top where they are easy to find. Before, I had one link to my Pinterest page near the top of the side bar, but in order to find a way to subscribe to the blog (either the feed or by email), you would have to scroll all the way to the bottom. Now, those links are all in one place and easy to see. And I now also have an Instagram page (which, for some reason, seems to be themed around food and flowers at the moment), so now you can see what I am snapping pictures of!

Even though I had an "About" page before, it was outdated and needed to be freshened up. I also noticed while browsing the blogs on my reading list that it was really nice to be able to put a face to the blog. So I put a little "About Anna" blurb at the top of the side bar, and now you know what I look like! The "About" page has been updated, so go ahead and check that out.

And while you are navigating the tabs up there near the header, did you notice that I added a couple more pages? I am very excited about the new DIY Projects page, which features the projects I have tackled since starting this blog, all in one conveniently visible page. I will be adding more projects to that page as they are completed.

The new DIY Projects page!

There is also now a "Contact Me" page which has my email address. Maybe one day I will figure out how to code a nice form onto that page that people can fill out to contact me.

Another little change I made was move my blog reading list from the bottom of the page to the side bar. The reading list used to be mostly for me to keep up with the posts that my favorite bloggers were writing, but there were a couple of issues with that setup. First of all, sometimes the feeds would not update for weeks, and I would miss some posts. Secondly, I would have to keep coming back to my blog just to see if anyone posted anything, and of course I once again missed some content, since only the latest blog posts showed up. So I decided to join the twenty first century and start using the Google Reader to keep up with the blogosphere. Let's just say that I already love that system so much more, and I have no idea what took me so long to switch over. First of all, I no longer miss posts because everything I hadn't yet read is waiting for me in the Reader. Secondly, I actually spend less time catching up on blogs now since I don't have to keep clicking to multiple websites to read everything. And I think that the "Reading List" in the side bar has a cleaner look to it than the blog list at the bottom of the page. All in all, I'm very happy with this update.

I still have a few more design changes in mind, which I will hopefully be implementing in the coming weeks. So stay tuned, and I hope you find the updated blog design easier to navigate! Feedback is always welcome.

November 21, 2012


New York City at night. From here.

Eighteen years ago today, my family landed in the JFK airport in New York, stepping on the American soil for the first time. It was a long journey, and I don't mean just the fourteen hour flight. The immigration process had started years earlier, with applications and interviews, stolen documents and pointless blackmail. But on November 21st, 1994, our bags were packed and we were ready to leave our lives behind and fly to the land of opportunity.

For breakfast, I had cottage cheese and cold cuts. I remember that meal so well because I spent the next fourteen hours throwing it all up. At least a decade passed by before I touched cottage cheese again. The vomiting was particularly bad on takeoffs and landings, and our layover in Helsinki did not help the matters. We arrived in New York amid darkness and downpour. Our plane attempted to land three times. To my stomach, that was three additional landings and takeoffs.

Mercifully, the plane finally landed, and we slowly made our way to the overcrowded Immigration and Naturalization Services room. The collective breath of immigrants-to-be sucked up the oxygen, and I was ready to faint. Eventually, we were called to the desk upfront, some questions were asked and answered, some papers were exchanged, and we were out of there.

One of our relatives picked us up in a van, which only had one passenger seat, and there were five of us. We sat in the back of the van on top of our falling-apart paper-thin plaid luggage as we made our way into Brooklyn. When we finally got to the apartment, we were greeted with brightly lit rooms and a table set with an enormous amount of food. Wow, they must be rich, I thought. (Turns out, I was wrong. Food and electricity were a given in this country, apparently.) Despite not having eaten anything for at least eighteen hours at that point, all I wanted to do was sleep. My sister and I headed to the bedroom and fell asleep in our new country.

Welcome to America.

Thank you for electricity and running water. Thank you for the abundance of food and food choices. Thank you for not discriminating against me because I'm Jewish. Thank you for the opportunity to attend the college of my choice. Thank you for giving my family the chance to live a better life.

Thank you.