Here is a suggestion for your redesign.
Instead of trying to figure out graphics and then doing the web site around them, start with the content (you pretty much have it), then make a layout (no colors/graphics, just positioning and flow), then try some color schemes and finally try graphics that fit overall "mood". This way colors/graphics will come to you easier as you shape you site up. Another advantage of this approach is that it allows you to keep doing graphical tweaks without having to "redesign".
You know you're absolutely correct, Vladdy. I did that the other day when I started on something, and found that method to be quite effective, though I never completed the design or applied any graphics to it, the general layout was simple enough. Thanks for the suggestion, I'll really get to work on it.
One of these days I'll write up a post on my blog describing my design process, but I don't have time to do it right now.
As Vladdy said, when programming your site, it wouldn't be a bad idea to start with just the bare minimum XHTML. This will help ensure that you only use semantically meaningful markup, as you won't be concerned with the layout/design of the page. After that is done, you can go back and add non-semantic elements (div, span, etc) as needed to allow you control over the design of the site.
Also, as far as the graphics go, browse through sites such as the CSS Vault, etc for design inspiration. Obviously you need to be very careful not to copy the design, but rather copy the "inspiration" behind a design. I'd recommend that you read Cameron Moll's "Nodes of design inspiration". It is a very good (and true) article.
Design is a hard thing to "teach", as personally I believe that it is partly learned, and partly natural ability. Some people have more of a gift for coding/programming and some have more of a gift for designing.