From MistyLook to Comet in the Skies: Welcome to the new look Grains of Sand!

A couple of days ago, I finally took the plunge and clicked ‘Activate’ on a new WordPress theme for my blog: Comet.

Even though I’d been a huge fan of my previous theme MistyLook since I started this blog in 2008, I had played with the idea of changing the theme for a long time.

This is what it used to look like:

The front page of my blog, using the MistyLook theme

Every time WordPress brought out a new theme, I hopped on over to check it out. But each time, as soon as I had previewed the theme on my blog and noticed that all my settings had gone haywire, I retreated. I didn’t have the time, the energy or the functionality-know-how to activate a theme, to lose all my settings, and then to spend days and days figuring out how to fix it up again.

It was in July this year when blogfriend Lisa from the Southern Cape posted an extremely well-researched article on her Quest for the Ultimate WordPress Theme – a post that was deservedly recognised and Freshly Pressed! – and her follow-up article The Quest Continues, that I got excited about the prospect of giving my blog an entirely new look.

Notes from Africa: Quest for the Ultimate WordPress Theme

This week, after numerous visits to the Theme Showcase, I chose Comet.

Comet was described as “a lightweight, faded design with simple and classy typographic touches. It’s a great theme for any type of blog, and it works really well for showcasing your writing and photos.”

What I Like About It:

  • I immediately liked the font type and the overall look.
  • It has seven color schemes (Blue, Gray, Red, Yellow, Green, Teal, and Purple) – they aren’t as dramatically different as those colours imply, though – it’s a very subtle change.
  • It has four different layout options (two-columns with Content-Sidebar or Sidebar-Content; three columns with Sidebar-Content-Sidebar, or one-column with Content).
  • I can customise the background and the header image (particularly important in my view for giving my blog a fresh look once in a while without having to change the entire theme).
  • I can even add a custom menu – actually, I think I can add two: one above the header image, and one below.

My new blog theme showing one of the drop-down menus

Yes, I finallllllly learnt how to create a custom menu!

You can see the new drop-down menu headings just underneath the header – My Book, Exploring the Cape, Getaways, Hikes and Rambles, Home and Garden, Entertainment, and Defence Reserves. It meant that I could tidy up all the little self-created tables-of-content widgets that used to clutter up my right hand side margin. I am now using categories in my menu entries, which will update automatically as soon as I post a new article in a specific category (in theory, at least?).

So, if you are a regular and can’t find the posts that used to be listed all down the right hand side, please have a look at the new drop-down menus. It won’t give you a nice and handy numbered list of all the posts that I wrote in any particular category (if only I could figure out how to do that – and how to ensure that it updates automatically!), but you will be able to see the first couple of lines of each of the posts in that category.

What I Would Like To Improve:

  • I now have to incorporate the title of my blog and the tagline into the header image, which wasn’t the case with MistyLook.
  • I think the font size of the main heading of each post is rather large.
  • I think that the font size of the custom menu underneath the header is rather too small.
  • I would like to change the font sizes of the side-bar widgets, as the headings seem disproportionately large compared to the rest of the text.
  • It does not support post formats (gallery or image posts, etc.).
  • I have not yet gotten the excerpts to work the way I think they should work.
  • It does not have featured images and featured header images.
  • It does not have featured posts. Great pity! I wonder if I could work around that by using a front page and populating it with sticky posts?

I don’t suppose that FrostPress, the creators of the theme could add some of that functionality? Hm? Pretty please?

17 thoughts on “From MistyLook to Comet in the Skies: Welcome to the new look Grains of Sand!

  1. Bravo! on being brave enough to make the changes. I found navigating the mysteries of WordPress workings to be a daunting task – you will remember that I called on your expertise a number of times while setting up my own blog; plus I pounced on my son when he visited last Christmas & begged him to sort out all my mishaps & mysteries, which he kindly did. But the new format sounds good. Look forward to more posts.

    • Thank you, Sally! I confess that I am still previewing other themes, so we’ll see how long I stay with Comet. I see that you are currently using Twenty Ten for your blog – I also like that look, as it shows off your photos really well.

  2. You did such a great job on re-designing and re-organizing your site! I also like how in this post you have clearly articulated what you like about this theme – and what aspects need to be improved.

    The “front page with sticky posts” idea is very a good one!

    • Thank you, Lisa. I am glad you like the new look.

      Do you think a front page with sticky posts will work? I have never tried that, but I am keen to give it a try. Have you done it to work around the lack of ‘featured posts’ functionality?

      • Reggie, just had a look and putting featured posts on a front page may be difficult with this theme. It looks like the front page is static i.e. it wouldn’t be able to display sticky posts and you would have to update it manually. You can of course use sticky posts on your normal posts page. The other option would be to create a menu item called “Featured posts” and then allow that to display only posts that have been given the category/tag of “featured”.

        The question you had about creating lists of posts that update automatically . . . you can use the archive shortcode for this. An example would be:

        [archives category="nature" order="asc"]

        where you enter this code in an ordinary page.

      • Gosh, thank you for explaining this, Lisa. It is quite a limitaton that the front page can only be a static page that doesn’t display sticky posts. I thought perhaps I could work around it. I suppose I *could* just update such a static front page manually.

        Thanks for the tip re the “Featured Posts” menu item – that might work too… but when posts in a particular category are listed, I notice that they do not allow for images. I think it just displays the first text para of each post. I’ve tried to play around with excerpts, but they don’t have a ‘click here to read more’ type of phrase at the end; and when I’ve tried to insert that code (from WP support), it doesn’t work either.

        Is this making any sense, or am I explaining it in rather a muddled way?

        Oh, I just tried that archive shortcode, on a new post, as well as on a new page, but it just gives me a listing of what seems to be almost *all* the posts I have published? I tried it out with the category of ‘Exploring the Cape’ – This was rather an unexpected result!

      • Reggie, I’m not sure what you meant by an unexpected result. You do seem to have a lot of posts under “exploring the cape”.

        Having a photo with the excerpt is usually just available with the premium themes.

        To insert a “read more”: From the normal editing screen, look for a button at the top left of the spell-check button, and click on it when you want to insert the code into the page. It just creates across the post at that point.

        Not sure if I explained that well?

  3. You’re very brave to change your look. I haven’t attempted such a task because I think it would involve too many “things” I wouldn’t know how to do.

    btw I love the way you’ve got a selection of your photos on the top of your page. How do you do that?

    • Thank you, Rosie. I know how you feel, because it really is a daunting prospect to change one’s theme. It isn’t an easy decision at all, particularly because widgets and settings do not always ‘translate’ quickly and easily, so there is likely to be a transition period when things may look a little odd… πŸ™‚

      The header is one I created in Picasa, actually. Picasa allows you to create collages with a custom size, so once I had found the size of the header image that I could upload, I created that size collage in Picasa. In the Comet theme, the title of the blog and the tagline (that little quote) can appear automatically, ontop of a header image, but the arrangement and font sizes can’t be tweaked to suit the particular header image. In this case, then, I had to add that text inside Picasa.

      Does this make sense? If you have any questions on how to do all this, please just email me, and I’ll see if I can walk/talk you through it. πŸ™‚

    • I see that you are currently using Vigilance on your blog – I think you have used it for a while, haven’t you? What would you like to improve with it – I mean, what does it not allow you to do that you would like to do?

      Lisa’s article about finding the optimal theme is very useful if you need some guidance on deciding what features are important for you – and if you need to gather some courage to PLAY! πŸ™‚ It’s not the end of the world, if you activate a theme, and then find it doesn’t work for you after all. It helps to have a more playful and relaxed attitude… well, that’s the theory! πŸ˜‰

      Good luck, Truels!

      • Thank you for your support and help!!
        At first, it’s probably just a little innovation I want! But you’re right: I’d better consider what I also want – and yes, I will certainly read the article from Lisa, it sounds good. And then you hit the spot with: “have a more playful and relaxed attitude …” I actually have not even dared to change the theme just as a trial, because: THINK IF something disappeared ……. (!)

      • I know, I can relate to that last bit too, Truels. I was nervous of losing all my widgets and settings, and having to spend hours and hours fixing up the mess.

        But once I took the leap, it wasn’t too bad, and I did learn quite a bit – including how to create custom menus, which was something I had wanted to do for a long time, but hadn’t grasped.

        Who knows, I may well change from Comet again! I’d like to be able to do featured posts and featured images, for instance…

    • Re-arranging the blog furniture – an excellent description. I also like this layout very much – though I do wish this theme had the ‘featured posts’ functionality. Who knows, if enough people ask for that functionality, maybe WordPress will *listen* and implement it! πŸ™‚

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