"A Christian should be an Alleluia from head to foot." - St. Augustine
I'm about 12% Alleluia on any given day, but I'm working on it.

Why Church Web Design Matters Visualize a Comic-Sans-Free Vatican website

Yesterday on Facebook, there  were a few friendly conversations bemoaning the design of the Vatican website. It’s a perennial punch line – particularly the Parchment background that dates from the last century. This came up in conversation because someone went to quite a lot of trouble to put together a beautiful album about Pope Emeritus (sob!) Benedict XVI. It’s a 62-page album of photos from his papacy, and each one has a quotation from one of his speeches or writings, with a link to the full text. It is a very moving tribute to his service as our spiritual leader.

You can get to the album easily – just type “http://vatican.va” into your browser, and…

Oh, sorry – that link doesn’t work:

Screenshot of Google Chrome

So, make sure you type in WWW.vatican.va, because nobody’s had time to set up the redirect for the plain http:// version, and you’ll see the album here.

It is obvious that someone put a lot of work into assembling the photos and selecting the quotations. There’s potential for this to start some provocative discussions in which people reexamine the media narrative of “Pope Rottweiler the Staunch”. Like this quotation, included in the album:

Benedict XVI album quotewhich links, via that little blue arrow, to Benedict XVI’s Mass of Possession of the Chair of the Bishop of Rome.

The what now? He was Bishop of Rome? When was that? What’s this thing with the Chair?

Many Catholics already know that pope = Bishop of Rome, but most people probably do not. Here’s a perfect opportunity not only to show people what Benedict actually thought about the papacy, but to explain some basic “Catholic-ese.”

Instead, we have this album, which is not immediately clear as to how one turns the pages – I thought you could type a page number into the box at the bottom and didn’t realize there was a way to “flip” pages until it was pointed out to me by Brandon Vogt, Social Media Guru. Okay, so that doesn’t speak well of me as a web designer, but: still.

Benedict XVI album screenshot

I felt vaguely bad for criticizing the album, because – again – obviously someone put a lot of thought into compiling it. But here’s the thing: Now it’s on Mashable. And not because it’s amazing, but because it’s mockable.

“Vatican Celebrates Pope Benedict XVI With Comic Sans Photo Album”

Shared 2,400 times in the last six hours. (The Mashable article, not the Vatican album).

I understand that some would say “this is just another example of how the media twists everything that comes out of the Vatican.” But this is so easily avoidable.

For many people, the Church’s Internet presence is the only public face they will encounter – a face that, as Benedict himself stated, in reference to the scandals –  ”has so often been disfigured by man.” Why are we putting up further roadblocks in the way of people who are looking for more information about our faith?

The Church has been a patron of the arts—devoted to the belief that beauty itself points to truth—for centuries. Design is kind of our thing. Yet over and over, when it comes to web design, the Church says “oh, what we’ve been doing has worked fine so far.” These visual cues reinforce the image of Church as outdated and irrelevant.

Making our message accessible means utilizing at least basic principles of web design. For example, this album should use “alt” tags to indicate what links or images are about, so a disabled user who accesses the site via a screen reader can hear what the content is instead of the word “image” or “link.” The design itself should draw the user into the experience, to want to learn more. It should…not look basically the same as it did in 1998.

We need to understand that something like this is just serving it up on a platter for those who are looking for ways to snark on the Church. It’s one thing to say “we will not compromise who we are to suit the ways of the world” and another to say “what we’re doing worked ten years ago, so let’s keep doing it exactly the same.”

Related – Matthew Warner on “What the Church Should Be Known for Online”. Oh, and look who said all of this more charitably: Benedict XVI in his Message for World Communications Day:

The ability to employ the new languages is required, not just to keep up with the times, but precisely in order to enable the infinite richness of the Gospel to find forms of expression capable of reaching the minds and hearts of all. In the digital environment the written word is often accompanied by images and sounds. Effective communication, as in the parables of Jesus, must involve the imagination and the affectivity of those we wish to invite to an encounter with the mystery of God’s love. Besides, we know that Christian tradition has always been rich in signs and symbols: I think for example of the Cross, icons, images of the Virgin Mary, Christmas cribs, stained-glass windows and pictures in our churches. A significant part of mankind’s artistic heritage has been created by artists and musicians who sought to express the truths of the faith.

Also related: I am so excited about the work that the contributors to ElectingThePope.net have been doing. We are up to 50 questions answered so far, with lots more to come. Thanks to all of those who are working to make this a great resource for students, teachers, journalists, and anyone looking for basic information about Catholicism.

Answering questions about the upcoming papal election ~ A New Website Project - Contributors Needed!

UPDATE: ELECTINGTHEPOPE.NET is now live! I’ll post more about it soon. Thanks for everyone who’s shared this information already!

I’m still working through my feelings about Pope Benedict’s resignation – disappointment, certainly, but also hope and a tremendous curiosity to see who will be our next Vicar of Christ.

Something I’ve noticed is that there aren’t a lot of great resources out there that explain the papacy in very simple terms. Granted, it is a complex institution, to say the least. But I’m thinking about this on behalf of the sixth grade teachers around the world who just thought to themselves, “that might be a interesting topic for a lesson plan.”

What’s needed is clear, concise information for people who may be interested in learning more about the papacy from a research standpoint. So, because I think websites solve all problems, I am making one.

Electing the Pope

The goal of this website will not be overt evangelization, although I personally think that dispelling myths and misunderstandings about the Church is itself a form of evangelization. I want this to be a site that a teacher in a public school classroom would feel comfortable sharing with students, or that a journalist could visit as an alternative to Wikipedia.

Contributors will write short responses (I’m thinking 1-4 paragraphs) to questions about the papal elections or other aspects of the papacy. You will also be asked to provide links to online sources or print publications that could be beneficial. At this time, I do not plan to open up comments on the site or to allow random submissions of questions, but I’m sure you can think of questions that people might have. I don’t see it as a huge time commitment.

The Annual Getting Together of the Act (WITH CALENDAR GIVEAWAY)

For people like me, whose lives are stuck in permanent “never mind! I have a better idea!’ mode, this is the most wonderful time of the year.

NeuYear calendarYes, it’s the annual changing of the calendar. By which I mean, “I can abandon the half-used systems of old and embark upon a new journey.”

I’d had success in the past, off-and-on, with the Uncalendar. But I’m finding that its lack of structure (you can fill in the weeks as you go, however you like) ultimately made it too easy for me to put off using it – and then I’d get these bursts of energy where I’d go through and label the pages for several weeks in advance, only to have to go back and erase everything. It also made it kind of overwhelming for me to try to prioritize the disparate tasks that make up my day.

My particular challenge is that I am homeschooling and also running a web design business. I was trying to keep everything all on one planner, which SEEMS like it would make sense – keep up with a master list of what’s going on in every sphere of my day-to-day life.

But then it occurred to me that, if I were working outside of my home, I’d have a calendar at work and one at home. This year, I’m going to try to use two separate planners – one for school planning, and one for my business. I think it will also help me to think of these things as distinct modes in which I operate, because right now I’m kind of doing a little of both things throughout the day – and yes, as I read that, I realize it sounds cuckoo.

NEVER MIND THIS, WOMAN, YOU SAID THERE WAS A GIVEAWAY

YES. There is, indeed, a giveaway!

I was contacted by Jesse Phillips of NeuYear.net a few weeks ago; he asked me if he could send me a free calendar; I had just completed round one of dealing with the office; it was kismet.

If you watched the video above, you are already aware of the Five Awesomes. I’m just here to validate their claims. I’m very impressed with this calendar. There’s plenty of room to write in each day, and I’m especially happy about the weeks-flow-together model. The design is very clean and appealing. I’m going to use an uncoated NeuYear calendar for planning out homeschool stuff, and a laminated NeuYear calendar for business. I love a dry-erase marker so the laminated version will let me color-code entries by client or type of task. For the school planning, I went with the uncoated because it will let me write things really small when needed.

NeuYear calendarSo, what’s going on my big ole calendars?

Well, I must admit that I am having that feeling of “I cannot sully this immaculate document with my erratic handwriting and more erratic plans,” but I’m going to press on and use the large calendar to map out some big goals for the year, as well as visualizing better how long it will take to accomplish them. For work, I know that seeing a large calendar will help me to better keep up with how many client projects I have going on at any given time. For school, I’m going to use the big calendar to write out the general “what we need to do this week,” especially for math, so that I make sure I cover the basics over the course of the year. NeuYear makes an academic calendar, too.

What’s going on YOUR big ole calendar? Because, you know, YOU COULD WIN ONE FOR YOUR VERY OWN SELF. I have two calendars to give away. Here’s how to enter!

1. Leave a comment using the word “calendar” in a sentence.

2. One entry per person.

3. Giveaway closes on Saturday, January 5 at 11:59 Central Time. Two names will be chosen via a random number drawing.

4. Earn an extra entry by posting to your own blog about how you’d use this calendar, with a link back to this post. Earn another extra entry for sharing this post on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest – if you do that, shoot me an email with the details.

You can also save 30% if you use the promotional code “scrutinies” and order from NeuYear.net before January 31, 2013.

I bookmarked this post from Andreas Widmer on how to think about the year to come and am going to come back to it when it’s time to start marking up my new calendars. I like Widmer’s approach because it doesn’t read like a step-by-step goal management program:

Many people would advise you to start with a goal for next year, with setting out specific achievements and accomplishments. I suggest you to take a different approach. Instead of pursuing any specific achievements, start by thinking about the kind of life you want to live. What’s important to you? What values do you want to be present in your life? What virtues do you want to practice in your life? I find this approach to planning my own life much more effective, and it gives me the ability to keep perspective.

This is my favorite of the questions he suggests for how we can look at planning the year in terms of “what do I value, and how do I spend my time?”

What activities and habits made you fulfilled during the last year? Come up with 5 of them as well. Describe what they are, what virtue or value do they represent? What situations made them possible? What circumstances enabled them to grow or come about? Who and what helped you in this practice? Who and what hindered you?

I’ll leave you with another short video I thought was helpful for long-term planning – this one from Nathalie Lussier. It’s tailored to planning for business purposes but the techniques seem applicable to other sorts of planning, as well.

Now, let’s get those comments going! Who has a sentence that includes the word “calendar?” (Comments can, of course, be longer than one sentence.)

Seven Quick Takes-a-roo

— 1 —

Whee! TGIF! TGIt’s closer to the end of August, because this month is absolutely jam-packed with projects for me. I’m super-busy in a good way, but it’s still a bit more than I like to have on my plate.

So, logically, the way to handle that would be to try to learn an entirely new software program to keep myself organized, and thus my brief fling with Microsoft Project. Gantt charts look so…gant-tastic (groan) in theory. It’s a way to show the steps towards completing a major project, and to put them on a calendar, and you can scoot them around, or something. But when I tried to crowdsource to Facebook for help understanding this ridiculously complicated program, the general consensus was: Microsoft Project is the bane of my friends’ existence.

Thus, I haven’t opened it up again in five days and I have no idea what’s on my various charts.

Still, on the extremely unlikely chance that someone reading this is a Microsoft Project aficionado, I would love to ask you a couple of very, very simple questions. Pretty please?

— 2 —

Fine Linen and Purple

NEW SITE! The lovely Kendra of The Nerdy Wife has just debuted her new site, Fine Linen and Purple. It was great working with Kendra to get her site ready and I know she’s going to have lots of fun posts for you – and her sister-in-law, Emily, is also going to be contributing. I think that’s so neat that these ladies are such good friends and sisters-in-law!

Fine Linen and Purple, the title of this blog, comes from Proverbs 31. It’s a reminder that God created women in His image and likeness.

To me, it also says that beauty is not at odds with our faith.

God doesn’t ask us to give up our favorite colors, our love for fashion, or the little pleasures of life. He does not want us to be prideful or immodest, but He doesn’t intend for us to wear ugly or ill-fitting clothing either. He does ask us to respect ourselves – created in HIS image – and to let Him work through us.
 They are off to a beautiful start. Go say hello!

— 3 —

This week, a group of families from our homeschool group took a field trip to the Titanic Exhibit at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. I was very impressed.

We had terrific docents – I somehow managed to split up my three children into three different groups, so I can attest that each docent was beyond decent. (Who doesn’t love a hacky docent joke? Not this gal.)

I am by no means a fan of the movie but I was genuinely moved by the exhibit – getting to see the artifacts excavated from the wreckage, walking through a replica of the first class and third class cabins, and reading the testimonials of the survivors. At the start of the exhibit, you’re handed a “boarding pass” with the name of a passenger, and you get to find out at the end if you survived. I was surprised at how emotionally invested I was in my assigned person’s survival. She did, indeed, go on to live a long life, although her husband perished in the wreckage.

— 4 —

Are you wanting to go to the CNMC but can’t seem to swing it this year? You can still get a virtual ticket to see all of the great speakers, and then also me.

Heh.

Personally, although the $120 price for the virtual ticket is steep, I think it would be a really good value if you’re going to put it into use at your parish, for example. You’ll have all of the talks in digital format so they could be used as a starting point for a discussion of how your parish or your organization could better utilize social media.

My talk is going to focus on how to have a personally enriching blog experience even if you’re not going to do the work to really become a top-tier blogger, and how to make your commenters feel welcome. YOU DO FEEL WELCOME, RIGHT? Anyway – if you want to see an insane photo of me to accompany my presentation proposal, here you go, and if you register with the code “Dorian,” I would be much obliged as I get a little reward for sending you along.

— 5 —

Our priest came over for dinner recently and he and my husband had an extended conversation about grilling. He recommended a technique in which you heavily salt the meat for an hour, let the juices soak up the salt, rinse it all off, and then grill it. Something like that – I’m not the griller in the family.

Anyway, it’s been a huge hit at our house, and my husband made a point of telling our pastor on Sunday how much we’d been enjoying our steaks since learning this technique.

“I’m glad to hear I finally made a positive impact in someone’s life,” he replied. Hilarious.

Also: this works on pork as well as beef.

— 6 —

We’re having a friend of mine from college over this weekend for dinner – I haven’t seen her in years and years. (I guess now I’ll find out if she reads my blog HEY LINDA).

I saw another college friend a few weeks ago, and it’s really great to be with friends who’ve known you long enough that trying to make a good impression is a moot point, you know? Since we’ve moved twice in the past three years, I have loved making lots of new friends, but there truly is something rejuvenating about reconnecting with old friends and trotting out the well-worn inside jokes forged in the mists of time.

— 7 —

I got a new cell phone last week – my old one had lamed out on me in so many ways that it was becoming unusable, basically. I justify owning a smartphone because of my web design business. It’s just a nice little lagniappe that I also have a serious Twitter habit.

Well, my OLD plan had unlimited data, and I guess I didn’t realize what a great deal that was, because after four days of owning the new phone, I got a “you have reached 50% of your prorated allowance for the month” message from Phone Central. Wow. So…maybe the first step is in admitting I have a problem, then.

I also have the problem of not understanding how to put people’s phone numbers into the phone, and somehow I’ve carried over my useless contacts list (everyone in the universe who has ever emailed me or followed me on a social network, minus my mother and other critical humans). It makes me feel old and out of it that I can’t even remember how to answer the phone. There’s some kind of Tai Chi swipe-rock-cradle maneuver required to get the rainforest music to stop escalating. I just want it to ring.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Seven Quick Takes, Props Edition

This week’s quick takes post is all about the PROPS. An expression the young people were using APPROXIMATELY THREE DECADES AGO. Represent.

— 1 —

It’s been a pretty nerdy week for me, largely because I decided I couldn’t do this one thing until I figured out how to do this OTHER thing, but then that required I learn how to do this third thing, and at the end I was allWordPress success and my friends and loved ones were strangely unfazed by my victory dance. But I owe a great part of my success to my WordPress friend Brandon Kraft, who helped me figure out  (insert garbled nerd language) so everybody give him a hand! Brandon just rebrandoned (HA! GET IT? NO?) his design business this week so be sure to check out Coffea Web Services. He’s part of Austin Catholic New Media and his wife, Vanessa, writes a terrific column at Busted Halo. Total pros, the Krafts.

— 2 —

I also had help from one of the team members at WPEngine, my new WordPress web hosts. Y’all, I am so impressed with WPEngine. If you at all like to tinker with your site and maybe, just maybe, break it in the process, you will enjoy the fact that you can create a duplicate “staging” version of your site with one click. Why, if you were to look at my staging site right now, you’d see it was completely broken! (It’s been a long week.) Broken by me, though, and nobody is the wiser, thanks to the fact that it’s not happening on my live website. Anyway – I mentioned I was having issues with (insert more garbled nerd language) on Twitter and one of their team members not only emailed me to help but also removed the missing parenthesis that was causing some of the trouble. Highly recommend them. They cost a bit more than traditional web hosts but it’s worth it.

— 3 —

Sips of Sunshine blogMoving on – please welcome to the world of blogging my dear friend Heather Kallus, who posts funny, reflective columns on family and parenting once a week at Sips of Sunshine. Heather is a tremendously genuine, funny woman and – wait, I already said “funny” – well, she is. I really hope you’ll enjoy her writing, and please leave her a comment to say hello!

— 4 —

Whether you homeschool or just want to help your children improve their writing skills, I encourage you to check out Ms. Scribbles’ Writing Workshop. Ms. Scribbles offers writing workshops for young writers – this is such a creative idea:

The workshop, conducted via email, is simple, convenient, affordable and effective. Parents must have access to the email account their child uses so they can monitor progress and provide oversight.

I accept one email per day per student, which can be sent to me at any time. Siblings can share a course, but the “one email” rule still applies. Parents can send one email per day too, in addition to the one the student may send.

As the parent of one effusive letter-writer and one Reluctant Participant in All Activities Everywhere, I am hoping to utilize Ms. Scribbles’ services next fall. For the kids, I mean. AND I have just learned that Ms. Scribbles just moved to Athens, Georgia, which is CRAZY because that is where I am FROM. Wow.

— 5 —

I was so excited to meet Lisa from Of Sound Mind and Spirit this week when she dropped by to give me their family’s extra information packet for Lemonade Day, an activity in which we will probably not participate because we are both disorganized and committed to Rocket Day that afternoon. It’s always fun to meet “virtual friends” in person and nice to have someone to talk to who shares an interest in social media while also realizing the inherent ridiculousness of things like Klout. Lisa also alerted me a few weeks ago to the increased number of alligator sightings in our town, which has given me an opportunity to contemplate the wonders of God’s creation, my own mortality, and the correlation between chilled-out waterfowl and probable absence of alligators. (This is what I tell myself when I walk by a body of water and see ducks but no gator.)

— 6 —

Wedding dress to First Communion Dress

SUCH mad, mad props to both my next-door neighbor, who threaded my serger and is removing the beading from the bodice, and to my mother-in-law, who helped me cut the skirt down and insert the zipper.

Right – did I not mention that there are eight days until my daughter’s First Communion? And I’m making her dress?

Thanks to the crack team of more experienced seamstresses I have on call 24-7?

Because I’m making it from my wedding dress?

Oh, yes. It will be blogged. But not live-blogged, because there are still a lot of pins in this thing and I can’t risk stepping on another one.

— 7 —

And finally, the maddest of all possible props to my three children, who teamed up to assist me in the Great Snail Purge of 2012. I have discovered the source of the coming apocalypse. It leaves an iridescent trail in the moonlight; it devours basil; it occasionally slimes its way into my HOUSE. My HOUSE. Where I walk BAREFOOT.

It is the slug brigade. When it’s time for invertebrates to play hardball, they send in the slugs. Oh. my. stars. But, thanks to Sluggo, we have killed them dead. And then we spent four hours pulling up weeds and collecting all the tiny and not-so-tiny empty snail shells underneath the bushes. “It’s a SNAY-LL! I see the SNAY-LL! Get the salt!” commanded the three-year-old. (Note: We did not use salt. I didn’t want to scorch the earth.) I am going to consider this at least one month’s worth of homeschool science and P.E., given the highly aerobic nature of extended snail gathering. And I promise to not mention snails on here for at least a month.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

New Website Design – SnoringScholar.com

Please check out the all-new SnoringScholar.com! Sarah Reinhard has been a joy to work with, first on her parish website and now on her personal blog. We wanted something with a “homey” feel without it being too Cutesy Country Living (technical term). Working from a photo of Sarah’s kitchen window and her statue of the Blessed Mother, we came up with a theme that I think really suits her warm, conversational style.

This site was my first go-round with responsive design, a fancy term that means “magically reshaping itself to fit the screens of various mobile devices.” It’s based on the eleven40 theme from StudioPress, customized for a more personal style. If you’re reading this on a mobile device, can you let me know how her site looks and if there are any bugs I still need to fix?

I shall conclude this Blatant Commercial Self-Promotion Capitalist Fink Talk with a reminder: I’d love to be your Website Gal. Add me to your entourage! Refer me to your friends and/or frenemies! Check out my portfolio and stay tuned for an Exciting Special Promotion soon.