Be Ready to Share Your Experience of God

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1 Peter 3:15-17
13 but set apart the Messiah as Lord in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. 16 However, do this with gentleness and respect, keeping your conscience clear, so that when you are accused, those who denounce your Christian life will be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.

Peter wrote his first letter to encourage others who were being persecuted for being Christians, telling them that it is right and good to speak openly about Christ to anyone who asks. Note, however, that he says to do this “with gentleness and respect, keeping your conscience clear.” Witnessing, according to Peter, should be a thing done with subtlety and finesse rather than bluntness and brutality, so that others cannot point to you and say, “Well, if that’s a Christian, I don’t know that I want to be one.” And along with a gentle, respectful style of witness, you also must have a strong commitment to God in your heart already, as Peter says in verse 13. If you do not have this commitment and faith, it will be much harder to endure the “suffering for good” and “accusations” that Peter speaks of, the possibility of which still exists today.

Nowadays, it is not so much the Pharisees or polytheistic Romans who would attack our beliefs, but the message is still relevant–you must not be afraid to share your story about God when the moment arises, even if you’re afraid someone else will take offense. This can be difficult in this era of multitudes of religions; you’re never sure how the other person is going to take it. You might sit there fearing that your words won’t be enough to adequately describe your experience, or that the other person will brush you off as another silly Bible-thumper ready to judge them for their sins. But sometimes the preparation isn’t a conscious process of devouring Bible verses for hours, but a result of speaking honestly about your personal salvation story. Sometimes, all a lost person needs to hear is how your life has been touched by Jesus and His loving sacrifice.

Exercise: Not My Idea of Fun

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I’m currently 5’8″ and nearly 300 pounds. Yep, I said it. And traditional exercise, which has been touted as THE way for me to achieve fitness, is not fun for me, for a variety of reasons:

My Beefs with Traditional Exercise

  • Boring – nothing to think about but how much pain I’m in, how much this stinks, how much I’d rather be doing ANYTHING else (such as getting a root canal)
  • Isolating – none of my friends do any kind of exercise that I can get into, and none of them do what I’m interested in
  • Painful – everything hurts/gets sore very easily, and I hate the breathless, about-to-die feeling I get

A Little History: I USED to be a Thin, Active Little Girl

To understand how and why I’ve ended up this way, you have to know some of my background. I’ve been a fat girl longer than I was a skinny girl, but I do remember the days of being bone-thin. I was tall and fairly lean through most of elementary school–I played basketball during the school year, swam a good bit during the summers, and played both outside and inside. I also didn’t sit down to dinner long enough to really eat much, though I never went hungry, either. (As an extremely selective eater from early childhood, I chose foods based on texture almost more than taste, and ended up eating from a very limited palate which has persisted to this day.)

What Changed: Emotional Associations with Exercise, Onset of Puberty, and Injuries

Starting in fourth grade (age 10), however, my level of activity began to change, albeit slowly. I was cut from my basketball team because I had lost much of my speed to a foot injury and hadn’t really improved my playing skills. But to be honest, I had started losing interest in playing sports–I knew I wasn’t very good at physical activity, and I was beginning to be picked on for it. I just never was fast enough or quick-reacting enough, though I could pull off a surprise basket on occasion. As a result, I started doing more indoor, sedentary activities with my newly freed time.

By fifth grade, I had the basics of my adult hourglass figure in place. But fifth grade was also the year I entered weighing about 90 pounds and left weighing 145 pounds, with little to no change in my diet and regular P.E. exercise just as I had had for the previous 5 years of elementary school. This same body change has happened to all the women in my extended family–rapid weight gain and a radical body shape change around puberty, much more significant than other girls’ body changes. (I have wondered, in the years since, whether some form of endocrine imbalance or some form of hypothyroidism might be to blame, but most doctors seem not to know what we’re talking about, despite having a body of anecdotal evidence covering several lives and at least four decades.)

With womanhood barely a year away from me at age 11, puberty had thus backhanded me with an entirely new body–one I quickly learned to hate, just about as quickly as the other kids learned to tease me about it. My “muffin top” and “rolls” earned me so many jeers and so much physical abuse that I eventually quit trying to do much in P.E. at all. (Wouldn’t you have, if every time you so much a dribbled a ball some idiot would run over to you, grab the ball out of your hands, and smack it against your stomach hollering “FATTY FATTY FATTY! HAHAHA!”) Exercise, as a result, became less associated with fun and freedom, and more associated with pain, humiliation, and anxiety.

I gained about 10 pounds a year after puberty’s horrible 50-pound prank, and by college I battled to stay around 230-240 pounds. Several incidents, however, led to even walking being painful; going to class in the ice and snow led to repeatedly injured ankles and knees, which I could not get treatment for without having to WALK to the campus infirmary. (Explain that one to me!) Having always had weak ankles and flat feet (thanks to heredity), the injuries did not heal properly, which has left me with constant pain while walking. I even have a handicapped sticker, one which I am grateful for but wish fervently that I did not have to use as often as I do.

Would I Like to Exercise? Yes! Does Any Exercise Interest Me? NO!

The thing that annoys me the most about traditional exercise is the heavy emphasis on pointless repetition of mind-numbing activities. I know, I know, we’re supposed to be “training muscles” and whatnot, but it is as maddening to me as doing 30 identical math problems for homework. It’s a huge attack of “same stuff different day”–there’s nothing new, nothing interesting, nothing challenging mentally.

And, if my brain is not kept busy, then its only remaining focus is the condition of my body–you know, the straining muscles, the joints in pain, the sweat in my eyes. If exercise is repetitive (and most of the traditional programs out there are), then I end up tense, anxious, and eventually angry that I’m wasting my time doing this stuff and I’m going to waste even more time trying to recover later. (Keep in mind, I have a lot of injuries, so my body normally takes a longer time to recover from exercise anyway.)

How to Solve This?

An ideal exercise routine for me would be:

  • Fun – keeps my mind as well as my body busy
  • Social – involves friends and family as part of a get-together
  • Less painful – I know exercise is going to hurt, but it doesn’t have to hurt this much!

Let it be known that just walking on a track like a rodent in a wheel doesn’t cut it for me, nor for most like me, I’d imagine. I and other people in my same condition want more out of exercise than just doing 10 reps of this and 10 reps of that for an hour or so. Doesn’t that make sense?

Navigation Placement in a Web Design, Part 1: Traditional Placements

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Part of designing a website is determining where the site’s main links–its navigation–should be displayed in a layout. It’s important to place the navigation in a clearly visible spot, where the user does not have to scroll or hunt endlessly for it.

Yet many of us webdesigners balk at just putting the navigation in the same tired old places in a layout every time; you want to be able to innovate just a little, make your layout look different from everybody else’s. Yet your site must still be easy to browse.

With that in mind, what are some of the traditional navigation placements?

Position #1: Left of Content

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Many websites nowadays have at least some navigational links placed at the far left of their layouts, like the graphic above. For left-to-right readers, this works great, because the left-to-right reader’s eye instinctively navigates to the top and/or left of any page to begin viewing, and having navigation placed there can direct them quickly to your content.

However, this placement being so traditional means that it can be rather boring in terms of design. How much can you innovate a left-aligned navigation without simply imitating what a thousand other webdesigners have already done?

Position #2: Center-Aligned Over Content

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This navigational position is great for sites that don’t have a whole lot of links in their navigation, and it’s become a big trend in design as of late. It looks clean and sharp, blends in with the layout a lot better than left-aligned, and it allows room for one or more sidebars of extra content beside your main content block. (This has been especially adopted for mobile-friendly layouts!)

However, this presents a problem when users (especially desktop users) are viewing extra-long pages of content: in order to browse to another page, you have to scroll all the way up to the top again to click on another link. All the “Back to Top” links in the world can’t permanently solve that problem.

Position #3: Right of Content

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This is actually a favorite navigation position of mine, because it’s a bit unexpected. This way, users are drawn to your index page’s content first. If you’re creating a site that’s meant to be browsed slowly and thoroughly, this is a great design, and it works well for personal sites.

But the problem with this navigation position is also that it’s unexpected. People may spend more time hunting for links than they do clicking on them. How can you draw more attention to the links without putting them somewhere else on the page?

This and many other issues are tackled in Experimenting with Navigation Placement–click to read the 2nd part of this article!

Working on Getting Comments Activated

I’m in the process of learning how to build my own WordPress theme–what you’re looking at is my creation, but it’s unfortunately half-formed and parts of it still don’t operate correctly. :/ I apparently don’t have a head for all these technical terms–I feel sometimes like I’m about to understand, and then the concept slips away like an eel, and I’m left in the dark again.

One important part of this blog that I’m trying to get activated is comments. Once I get that rolling, I’ll be a lot more comfortable with the theme overall. Bear with me!

A Fickle Playmate: My Muse

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Writing, for me, has often been as natural as breathing and eating (and other unmentionable bodily activities). I have been known to sit at my computer and produce poetry and short fiction in under an hour sometimes, if I’m gripped by an idea. As a kid, I almost never experienced writer’s block–the Muse was an eager friend. Now…not so much.

My Muse is Jealous of My Real Life

These days, I have writer’s block fairly often, especially with ill health, “real life” concerns, and other obligations usurping my time and energy. There are times when I want to write, but pain blocks me from even thinking straight. Other times, I have a vague idea of where I want the story to go, but the Muse resists me because I’m tired or distracted. (Sometimes it makes me want to reach for the mental Dulcolax, LOL!) Often, when I’m stuck on a creative writing project, it almost feels like my Muse and I are engaged in tug-of-war with my outside life as the rope between us.

My Muse Hates Sad Events/Endings

I also generally have difficulty writing if the particular part of the story is disturbing or sad. I may be weird as an author, but I hate putting my characters through stressful times when there’s no “light at the end of the tunnel,” no hope for a better day at the end of it. Makes me sad to write such things, and it must make my Muse sad, too–I struggle quite a bit with writing those types of scenes. Thus, I usually try to weave in at least a little bit of hope.

But the Muse Isn’t All Bad for My Writing

You might think I have a love/hate relationship with my Muse, and sometimes it seems that way. But over the years, surprisingly, I’ve gotten one particular comment from a lot of people who have read my work–they say that while my works aren’t fairy tales and “happily ever afters” all the time, they like the bits of hope that are scattered throughout the stories. Little did they know, I put those bits in to help my sad little Muse survive the necessary downs in order to get to the ups!

Not to mention that my Muse’s random absences lead me to “strike while the iron is hot” when it does come back around. When the Muse is active, I can edit, revise, add, and delete at record speeds–almost like when I was a kid again. Hey, you gotta use it while it’s there, right? This quickened pace makes me more ruthless with my edits, which usually means a better, more polished finished project.

I can pretty much tell what my particular Muse likes–lots of humor and banter between characters, contemplative scenes of domesticity, and a bit of action and adventure sprinkled like pepper on the top. But I’m trying to stretch my writing muscles, so I’m experimenting with darker miniature dramas included in the middle of contemplation, and shadowy undertones to humorous banter. I guess it’s like hiding a pill in ice cream so a kid will take his or her medicine; I have to wrap the more difficult bits in easier-to-digest plotlines that my Muse enjoys. Either way, if my Muse cooperates, it makes me a MUCH better writer!

Do You Have a Fickle Muse?

What are your thoughts on this tongue-in-cheek post about the “Muse?” Is yours as capricious as mine? Let me know in the comments!

What to Read Next, Creative Desktops, Life as We Experience It, and How to Treat Others

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5 Lessons in How to Treat Others
Interesting philosophical points about how to treat other people better.

Monstrous Discrepancies
How life feels to us, versus how it actually is. Cute and funny comic!

Wall Arrangement
Fun image of someone’s creative desktop. Wish I’d thought of this!

WhatShouldIReadNext.com
Don’t know what to read next (like me)? Generate a list of new books you can read based off the reviews of a book you really like. Like iTunes Genius, but for books!

City of Heroes

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(Note: The following post was first published in February 2011; however, City of Heroes was unceremoniously shut down by its parent company, NCSoft, in November of 2012, amid much outcry from its devoted fans, myself among them. Currently, many of us are fighting for NCSoft to release the intellectual property rights so that we can keep CoH going as a fan-based game. After some debate, I have chosen to let the original post stand–with some minor edits–as a testament to how awesome this game was and still can be if certain folks will let it be.)

City of Heroes is an experience-based superhero game, which is only similar to World of Warcraft and its ilk on the surface. Boasting a powerful, nuanced character design module which has been touted by players of many different MMOs, plus a user-friendly screen design and playstyle which make the game approachable for even younger players, CoH is at once an environment rich in creativity but relaxing to play.

As a superhero in the fictional Paragon City, your job is to defeat bad guys (“arrest” them), get experience and items from them, level up, and get new powers. You can create your own superheroes based on several different archetypes:

The Five Basic Hero Types

Controller

Helps neutralize baddies by slowing them, holding or immobilizing them, putting them to sleep, confusing them, or scaring them into submission. Not a damage-dealing class necessarily, but wonderful for supporting teams, especially for helping to soften up lieutenants, bosses, and elite bosses.

Defender

Does a little bit of everything–Defenders can be second-string ranged attackers, can buff allies and debuff enemies, or heal and protect allies. This is a hard class to develop because there are so many directions you can go with it, but it is a great team-support class. You can literally become a Jack- or Jill-of-all-trades with a Defender!

Blaster

Superior ranged attacker. Not so good up close, though the Blaster secondary powersets get some close-combat powers as backup. They are definitely not Tanks, so they can be fragile, but usually you’re taking out the enemies so fast it doesn’t matter. Good to play either solo or in teams, as they provide excellent cover fire for close-combat allies.

Scrapper

Superior close-combat attacker. Can get shot to pieces before they can get close enough to attack, but the secondary defensive powersets can help a Scrapper stay alive longer. Again, they’re not Tanks, but their fragility is offset by their damage potential. Great for playing solo, can play in teams (just be careful not to go off by yourself and get killed!).

Tanker

Usually “Last Man/Last Woman Standing” of a team. Has the highest defense of any class, so Tanks can take lots more damage before being defeated. They are close-combat attackers, like Scrappers, but they don’t deal nearly the same amount of damage; however, teams benefit greatly from Tanks drawing fire away from the more fragile classes. They can play solo, but it’s usually faster and more enjoyable to level if you play your Tank in a team.

The Two Epic Hero Types

There are also two Epic classes, called the Peacebringer and the Warshade. They operate fairly similarly in terms of gameplay and build–you can build your PB or WS to be close-combat, range, or a cool blend of the two. They function like a combo of Blaster and Scrapper, with all the fragility and damage potential included. They also have three forms–human (balance of offense and defense), Nova (flight, higher offense, lower defense) and Dwarf (heavy, higher defense, lower offense). They are like a Swiss Army Knife hero!

Which form you prefer depends on how you like to play, but you can change the form up on the fly with a push of a button. The only caveat? You can’t build a Peacebringer or Warshade until you have a regular hero (Blaster, Controller, etc.) leveled up to level 20.

Basic Gameplay

Players can play missions (quests, for WoW players) by themselves, or they can play their missions with teams of superheroes working together. You can make a team with anybody–just ask somebody if they want to team! Some people play solo much better, and some players, like me, play in teams much better. It all depends on your personality. For me, CoH is such a social game that I have a lot more fun playing with others; playing by myself tends to make me feel lonely.

What Makes CoH Different

In City of Heroes, the more relaxed pace of gaming makes it stand out among MMOs. You don’t just have to play missions and beat baddie butt; in fact, the game’s many Easter eggs and side quests encourage you to stop and smell the roses while you level up. Sure, you can power-level if you want, but you’ll be missing out on what makes CoH great. Run around aimlessly in zones, see all the scenery, listen to NPC chat, click historical plaques, and run every mission you can, even the ones you think aren’t useful; you’ll learn more about the City of Heroes lore than you ever knew.

Also, you don’t have to play CoH 12 hours a day to get the absolute best of everything. This game attracts working people, students, and even parents and grandparents because it’s more approachable–the emphasis of the game lies more in developing your own heroes rather than constant raids and long quests (though raids and quests ARE available for those who want them). Also, “gear” is not worn, but equipped, and has no effect on your costume, so you can design your costume any way you want!

Lastly, creativity is important. In CoH, it’s not about mimicking an established comic book hero (since that kind of thing can get you in trouble); it’s about developing your own character and fitting them into the landscape of Paragon City, perhaps combining powersets you always wanted to try together, just for curiosity’s sake. Many players, like me, go on to make involved backstories for their characters even if they’re not on a roleplay server (which is available, by the way).

To Learn More about City of Heroes

Though CoH may be playing the role of Sleeping Beauty (or perhaps Lazarus) at the moment, we fans are keeping it alive and active in our memories and stories. The “official” CoH site has been recreated by fans on cityofheroes.ca, and I myself have created a fansite for it called Skies over Atlas, which has its own Twitter account, @skiesoveratlas. You can also check the #SaveCoH tag on Twitter to follow fan communications about the game. Rest assured, we won’t forget!

Do Everything for God’s Glory

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1 Corinthians 10:31-33
“31 Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for God’s glory. 32 Give no offense to the Jews or the Greeks or the church of God, 33 just as I also try to please all people in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.”

Glorifying God, according to Paul in 1 Corinthians, is the point of our lives–we should act and speak in ways that help the light of Christ shine out from us to other people. Not “giving offense,” or causing others to falter in their faith, is part of raising other Christians up and bringing salvation to those who are not Christians yet. Working for the common good, being unselfish and caring about others’ well-being above our own, is another way we glorify God. (Note: “pleasing all people” in verse 33 does not mean making others temporarily happy with gifts or false words, but giving them permanent joy by serving them because God loves them, too.)

The part of verse 33 about “not seeking my own profit” is especially salient in our society today. So much of what we do is based upon what recompense we get, and glorifying God through our works and lives is not usually high on the list of lucrative things to do. (Sometimes we can even get caught up in that same worldly attitude when we work for the church–a danger in itself!) But what better profit could we as Christians have than to know that we have touched someone else’s life and given them the knowledge of Jesus?

Why do people have to die for social problems to be taken seriously?

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I’ve noticed this pattern happening quite a lot in our society. Bullying in schools was not considered a problem until the shootings at Columbine High School in 1999. Terrorism was not an American problem until September 11th, 2001. And with the January 2011 shooting in Tucson, Arizona came a wave of reaching across the aisle politically that would have never happened had people not been killed. It seems that whatever the social problem we suffer, it takes a death for us to be shocked into doing something about it, whether it be bullying, terrorism, or overly partisan politics.

Have we become that desensitized to other people’s suffering? Are we that indifferent to another’s pain, that only death makes us sit up and take notice of the problem that caused it?

Example: The Columbine High School Shootings and Bullying Awareness

I have personal experience with the bullying issue–from 1990 to at least 1998, I was heavily bullied in school. I got physical and verbal abuse, I was ostracized by the other students, and I had absolutely no friends, no people who would stand with me until 8th grade. The teachers and administrators all told me that I was “too sensitive,” that I needed to “suck it up” because “kids were going to be kids.” Personally, I don’t think being held against the wall by a big guy while his little girlfriend jiggles and pinches your thighs till they bruise was something I needed to “suck up” and “live with.” But I was routinely sent to the office for complaining too loudly about the abuse I was getting in school.

I endured this until 8th grade, when apparently everybody else’s “maturity gene” kicked in and I finally got a few fairly good friends. Then the Columbine High School shootings happened.

I didn’t expect something that had happened over a thousand miles away to affect my life, but it did. Suddenly, I got a call to go to the counselor’s office–the same counselor’s office I had run to in sixth and seventh grades when I was being physically and verbally abused by other students, and in which I had been told that I needed to become “more grownup” and “less sensitive.” Suddenly, there were five adults waiting on me in there–one of the vice principals, all three of the school counselors, and the on-site police officer. They wanted to know, “Is there anybody who’s been, um, bothering you lately, you know, that we can help get you away from? Or is there anybody who’s been mean to you and you’d like us to stop that for you?” All of them spoke as if I was a ticking bomb.

I quite calmly explained that I wasn’t really having any problems at the moment, all the while thinking “Where were you two years ago, when I came to you for help and you told me I was just being too sensitive?” After they asked me if they could help for about the sixteenth time, I finally just said, “I really think it’s sad that kids had to die before you paid attention to the problem of bullying in schools.” The looks of chastised shock I got in response let me know I had hit home with my words at last.

The Aftermath: Anti-Bullying Programs EVERYWHERE…

Nowadays, of course, there’s all these anti-bullying campaigns present all over the nation, and perhaps all over the world. Teachers get trained in how to stop bullies, in ways that I never saw any teacher step up for me when I was getting hurt. Bullying awareness programs and victim support groups have popped up in classrooms, communities, and even churches; the very same people who told me I should just “suck it up and grow up” are now counseling bullying victims properly, acknowledging that they have been victims of social violence rather than just “kids being kids.”

But most of this started after 1999, after 30 students were shot by two guys who had been bullied in much the same ways as I had been. Better late than never, I guess, but it doesn’t make up for the young people who were killed because no one paid attention to the burgeoning problem of bullying. (Note: I do not excuse the two boys for their actions; I am only saying that bullying likely pushed them much closer to making the terrible choice they made, and if preventative action had been taken earlier, they may not have resorted to such deadly, horrific violence.)

Moving Forward: Let’s Pay Attention to the Warning Signs!

My point is that we should start paying attention to critical social problems when they are first raised to our attention, and not just when someone dies from them.

For instance, the 2011 shooting in Tucson shows how negatively charged our current political situation is, that someone would think that opening fire on a public official and the surrounding crowd was a good idea. But there’s been lots of evidence before now, evidence that has been pushed to the side by both parties. Inflammatory comments, highly biased reports, unfair sound bites–and yet all of that has been shoved aside by people who don’t want to even listen to what the other side has to say.

Now, of course, there’s a big push to try to reunite this broken nation in the veils of mourning. My question is: why do we have to witness and mourn death before we drop the “US VS. THEM” banners? Why do we have to wait for a tragedy to remember we’re all humans?

I love display: block!

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Since being introduced to the CSS property display: block by a dear online friend, I have used it to great effect in several layouts, mainly for navigational purposes.

How display:block Looks and Works

This is how I generally use this CSS style in my layouts, because I’m making only the links in my navigation display in a block format:

#nav a {display: block;}

Here’s an example of what display:block can do, from one of my domain’s previous layouts:

I love how clean it makes the navigation look; I actually like it so well that I’ve used display: block-style navigation on a lot of my websites. (I guess I’m a proponent of the saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” :D)

A Few Padding and Margin Tricks with Display:Block

There are ways that you can space the links out or crunch them together to create any effect you desire, just using widths and heights specified in your CSS:

  • For 10px of space all around each link: #nav a {display: block; padding: 10px;}
  • For 10px of vertical space between links: #nav a {display: block; margin: 0px 10px 0px 10px;}
  • For 10px of horizontal space between links: #nav a {display: block; padding: 0px 10px 0px 0px;}

(Note: when you do padding or margins with 4 numbers like I just did, the first number corresponds with the top part of the link block, the second number corresponds with the left side, and so on, clockwise around.) And this is just for demonstration; there are lots of ways you can innovate with padding and margins when it comes to using display: block! Try different pixel widths and heights, and see what works best for your site.

Using a Background Image with Display: Block

Secondly, I like that you can decorate the link “blocks” with background images, like a simple gradient or a pattern, especially for an a:hover link pseudoclass. Having a navigation link highlighted by a pretty pattern in the background when you hover over the link can be just the right touch of detail for a design. Doing something like this would involve your own version of the following code:

#nav a:hover {display:block; background-image: url(‘your_image_name.gif’);}

That code is basically just what I did for my main domain’s 11th layout, seen again here:


See the faint blue gradient over the first part of the word “domain?” That’s the background image hover–no Javascript needed!

Other Beautiful Things about Display: Block

Lastly, I like that you don’t need a “<br>” between each navigation link. It’s one less thing you have to type, which is always good for a web designer, since we’re usually typing large amounts of semi-intelligible code at a time. And it’s amazing how a missing <br> tag can quickly bungle up a layout! (Believe me, one little bit of unnecessary code can make quite a headache!)

In short, display:block can give you a CSS-only way to do something that looks as neat as a table without the clunky borders or endless <td> tags in your code. I love it!