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Gifts You Use {Stay Sane While Blogging: Part #2 Blogging Tools}

If you were here last week, Kacey from Well Rounded Home gifted forward her tips on how to stay sane while blogging. Check out part one of the series here. Today she gifts us with a bunch of bloggy resources. What I love most about this post is that it's both techy and bloggy! I'm swooning! Take it away, Kacey!
Blogging requires time. Something that few of us have to spare, so how do you make it work? The last time I was here, I talked about a few blogging rules to keep you sane. Today, I'm following up with some tools that help me complete all my blogging tasks more efficiently.
  1. Evernote App – Evernote is a virtual notebook/filing cabinet to keep you organized. I use it to for compiling post ideas, drafting blog posts, clipping websites, storing articles, etc. I like that I can access it on my phone or any computer, plus it lets you tag notes for easy searching. 
  2. HootSuite App – Instead of checking multiple social media apps or sites, you can access your accounts (first five accounts are free) in one place. Even better, you can pre-schedule updates. 
  3. Buffer – Like HootSuite, you can access all your social media accounts and pre-schedule updates in one place, except with Buffer your updates are set for pre-set intervals to make sure you're not bombarding your followers with a bunch of updates at once. The cool thing is you can use a service like Tweriod, to figure out the days and times your followers are most engaged and schedule your posts for those times.(Note: HootSuite recently added an auto-schedule feature similar to what Buffer offers, but I haven't used it yet.) 
  4. Wordpress App – Get all the Wordpress features you love on your mobile device. Great for responding to comments or creating new blog posts and pages on the go. 
  5. Microsoft / Flickr Creative Commons – When you don’t have time to take or edit photos, download free pictures from these two sites. Searching for photos is really easy. 
  6. Google Reader – Instead of getting tons of email updates from other blogs or visiting those sites individually, get RSS feeds in a Google Reader account and read when it's most convenient for you. 
  7. Google Calendar – Since I use Gmail and Google Reader, it's really convenient to use Google Calendar to keep up with blogging commitments, such as guest posts, an upcoming series, etc. I also like that I can get reminders via text and email. 
  8. Twitter lists - If you follow more than 50 people on Twitter, lists are the best way to keep up with everyone's updates without getting overwhelmed by your newsfeed. Some of the lists I've created are My Peeps (friends and family), Newsstand, Celebatweets and Big Blawgs. 
  9. Dropbox – You can use this online data storage service for backing up your blog (I use the WordPress Backup to Dropbox plugin) and exchanging documents between blog contributors. (Note: Google offers a similar service, Google Drive, but I haven't used it as much yet.) 
  10. Cellphone Camera – Your blog posts need pictures these days with the popularity of Pinterest. Instead of lugging around a huge bag of camera equipment, just whip out your camera phone for super easy pics.
With three busy bodies to care for, Kacey is a mom on a mission to turn her house into a home. Her blog, Well-Rounded Home, is filled with tales about wrangling kids, cooking, tackling never-ending DIY projects and more. She’d love to have you stop by for a visit.

Want to be featured on Gifts We Use?

Do you have a great story about how organizing, technology or blogging has made a positive difference in your life?

YOU are the key to Gifts We Use!!!

Tell me about the gifts you use to grow, love and serve.

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The Best Way for Families to Use iCloud on Multiple Devices

Since the new iOS update, some friends have asked me questions about iCloud, so I wanted to share some tips on how families can best keep multiple Apple devices in sync with iCloud and communicate through FaceTime. For me, having my family life synced through iCloud was the best thing I've ever done, I'm gifting it forward.

Why iCloud Works for Families

Today's busy families require a more advanced system of keeping everything {and everyone} in sync. What's coming next? What needs to be done? Enter iCloud. I recommend iCloud for families because it takes all of those important calendar events, contacts and reminders, and makes them accessible from every device in the family.

Downloading and syncing apps is another great reason iCloud works well for families. iCloud saves all the apps ever downloaded on any device {using the same Apple ID} and brings it to other iCloud enabled devices in the family. If you paid for an app on Dad's iPhone, you can still get it on Mom's iPhone at no extra cost. It's just a matter of setting up your account properly.

Set Up a "Family iCloud Account" by using a Family Apple ID

Your family may already own several Apple devices, but have yet to get everyone on iCloud. That's okay, because setting up iCloud is pretty simple. First you need to get your ducks in a row before you take your family into the cloud.

Just like there's a head of the household, there should be one main Apple ID that the family uses on each device to access information using iCloud. This will ensure that apps are only paid for once, and that calendars, reminders and contacts are all syncing to the same source. Decide whose Apple ID will be used for iCloud and who the keeper of the family contacts will be to avoid duplicates.

Think of your family's Apple ID as the home you all live in. You may all go to different places at different times, but at the end of the day, everyone goes home. Within your home are different rooms or common areas that each member of the family uses. Hopefully this diagram can help.
Within each room there needs to be furniture to fill it, let's call these your drawers. A calendar drawer for Dad, Mom, Boy and Girl. Each drawer is kept orderly by each member of the family and is accessible to everyone as well. Mom can open up Girl's calendar drawer to see when the next volleyball tournament is and so on.

Techy Tip: Make sure each member of the family has their own named calendar and contact group. This will allow for filtering later on when you want to see only what's relevant to you. Check out my previous post on calendars for more calendar tips.

Communicating as Individuals

In the home, each person communicates in their own way, and this should also be the case when using FaceTime. Each person should use their own individual Apple ID to communicate through FaceTime. Designating Apple IDs to these different functions can be done in the settings app of the device.

One family Apple ID for shared information, and individual Apple IDs for individual communication.
I hope this demystifies iCloud a bit and shows you that getting on board with iCloud will make family life much easier. It takes away the overcrowded wall calendar, outdated address book and countless post it notes, putting them all in one neat little package on your Apple device. Ah, that's a nice gift.

Are you still holding off on iCloud? Why? Have you hopped on board the iCloud train recently? How has it changed your family life for the better? Do tell!
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Gifts You Use {Stay Sane While Blogging: Part #1 Blogging Rules}

Today, I am bursting at the seams because I get to introduce my first guest post! Kacey from Well Rounded Home is here to share the gifts she uses to stay sane while blogging. Lord knows we all could use some tips on how to keep it together. Make sure to comment here, then pay her a visit in her bloggy home! Now I'll turn it over to Kacey.
I've been blogging for over a year now, and I have to say, it's so much fun! The downside is it can also hog your time. So the question is, how does one fit blogging into what's probably an already full schedule filled with family, work, church, volunteer and other commitments without losing it? Here are a few blogging rules to help keep you sane:
  1. Don’t blog every day. Ignore advice that says you must blog everyday. Give yourself a break. Let your readers soak in your words. 
  2. Unplug at least one day a week. Pick one day to kiss social media goodbye. It'll help avoid burn-out and free up time to spend with family. 
  3. Give yourself permission to deviate from your blogging schedule. If you can't or don't want to post, it's ok. Good fans will understand, and chance is, they may not even notice minor changes. 
  4. Use guest posters. If you’re not convinced you can take a blogging break, guest posters are your friend. You get downtime while still publishing great content on your blog. 
  5. Keep your priorities in line. If you're working to grow your audience or even maintain a huge following, blogging is a big deal, but not that big of a deal. Make adjustments whenever you feel blogging is intruding on other priorities. 
  6. Plan ahead. Use a calendar to plan out post topics ahead of time. Be sure to note upcoming holidays, vacations or other calendar appointments. 
  7. Don’t do everything, everyday. Writing and editing posts, engaging in social media, responding to comments, promoting your blog, maintaining your blog site, reading other blogs...all of it can be a major time suck. Instead of doing everything, everyday, assign certain tasks to certain days. For example, you can Facebook on Fridays or use Twitter during the work week. Read other blogs on Saturdays or write only on odd-numbered days, whatever. Just don't do everything, everyday. 
  8. Try different systems. There’s not a shortage of advice about how to blog. Experiment with different systems until you find one that works for you. 
  9. Stockpile posts when you can. If you find yourself with extra time, use it to write a bunch of blog posts. You can then schedule them ahead of time or save them for those times when life gets hectic. 
  10. Use blogging tools to your advantage. There's an abundance of helpful apps, shortcuts, plugins, software, etc. to speed up your blogging tasks. Sites like Problogger, Savvy Blogging and SITS Girls are great resources for learning about these. Use them to your advantage. (Be sure to watch for Stay Sane While Blogging: Part #2 Blogging Tools) 
These are some of the rules that work for me, but I imagine your list may be a little different. Tell us, what are your go-to blogging rules?

With three busy bodies to care for, Kacey is a mom on a mission to turn her house into a home. Her blog, Well-Rounded Home, is filled with tales about wrangling kids, cooking, tackling never-ending DIY projects and more. She’d love to have you stop by for a visit.

Want to be featured on Gifts We Use?

Do you have a great story about how organizing, technology or blogging
has made a positive difference in your life?

YOU are the key to Gifts We Use!!!

Tell me about the gifts you use to grow, love and serve.

Our Pacific Northwest Vacation Wrap-Up

As promised in a previous post, I am here to share some of our vacation highlights. If you haven't been to the Pacific Northwest region of the US, I highly recommend it. I particularly liked the time of year we chose to go, early Fall. Going in late September to early October takes you away from the summer crowds, school is in session and the leaves are just starting to change. And if you're a born and raised Southern California girl, like me, the weather is just cold enough to stand and little to no rain.

Oregon {East Coast Living on the West Coast}

I live in Southern California where driving through the state brings you across one city after another. There is hardly any separation between cities where I live, but that is not the case with Oregon. Outside of the Portland area, other cities and towns were very spread out and it was a refreshing change. Winding roads and trees everywhere reminded me of what it was like in the east coast. I liked the balance of nature and suburban life with a little weird mixed in. Oregon prides themselves in being weird...awesome, right? It's good for a laugh anyway.

Multnomah Falls

Oregon has an endless supply of trails to hike and falls to visit. We parked half a mile away from the actual falls and hiked over to Multnomah with 2 preschoolers and a toddler in tow. The hike was just challenging enough to make it exciting for the kids without giving the parents high blood pressure. It was also a great opportunity to explore nature with our little men. Here are some photos of our adventure.

My son's favorite part about hiking is the massive treats.

One of a kind photo opp for the little guys who have been best buds since their prenatal days.
"Friends of Multnomah Falls"

Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach

Our unexpected beach outing in Oregon was quite exciting and another great day of exploration for the kids. The beach town was quiet and we practically had the whole beach to ourselves. The boys could have played in the sand all.day.long. Luckily we decided to venture closer to the rock and found a treasure trove of marine life. It was a fun and relaxing day with a surprise twist thrown in at the end.

Exploring sea life and tide pools up close.

Our Totally Tourist moment #1: A surprise side trip to visit the Goonies house!!! "HEY YOU GUYS!"
Yes, that is the current owner on the roof. No, he was not amused by us. That's what he gets for buying the Goonies house, right? He was nice enough and we took our pictures quickly and left him to his roofing.

Day Trip to Seattle

Our day trip to Seattle was just that, a day trip. It was a lot of driving for 2 families, but we made sure to take some important stops {at the outlet mall, of course}. The kids did great considering they were cooped up in a van more than half of the day. Visits to Pike place and the first ever Starbucks were totally worth the drive. We thought about visiting the Space Needle, but considering the kids and not wanting to find parking again, we opted for a scenic photo with the needle instead. Besides, it was getting late and not worth the trip only to be turned away.

Totally Tourist moment #2: The guys that throw and catch giant fish with their bare hands. Man, I wish my hubby could have caught one. We were too chicken to ask, but they did give us a show.

Totally Tourist moment #3: Enjoying our first Pumpkin Spice Latte of the season at the first ever Starbucks.

Dear fashion police, no your eyes do not decieve you, I am wearing the same outfit on two different days. This SoCal girl did not bring enough warm clothes for the PacNor weather and had to recycle...hey, at least I tried to change it up with a scarf, yo! Don't hate.

Space Needle Photo Op from afar, but sweeter.

Totally Tourist moment #4: Pacific Northwest Sunset via Seattle

Ending with a Photo Shoot

I love when our families get together, so I wanted to end the trip with a joint family photo shoot. Our dear friend Jay takes wonderful pictures and he did our engagement and maternity shots. We were super sad to see our family photographer move to Oregon, but if you're lucky enough to be in the area, book him! Visit his site at SuttiShots.com and see if you find some familiar faces there. If you do contact him, tell him I sent you!

So ends our vacation. It was loads of fun, laughs, and cries {from the kids...mostly}. And what good is a vacation without a trip to the ER? True story, but it wasn't me and everything is okay now. All in all, it was nice visiting dear friends and great to explore another part of the country that we previously had thought not to go.

Did you ever think the Pacific Northwest could be this fun? Share your surprisingly awesome vacay stories with us in the comments!
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Using the Reminders App in Unexpected Ways

I'm dropping in today for a quick techie tip on how to use your Reminders app in unexpected ways. Our hunt for a Preschool has begun! Preschool is a whole new beast for this family and knowing what to look for and what to ask can be overwhelming. I have some things in mind that I am looking for and have asked google too. Now that I have my questions, I want to be sure to ask them as I'm touring the facilities. Nothing is worse than driving away from an appointment and realizing you forgot to ask an important question. Here's my techie way of avoiding that "doh! moment".

Using Reminders as a Checklist
I want to be sure that I ask all the right questions and get the answers I need to make an informed decision. Instead of typing, printing and carrying around a printed sheet, I will jot down all my questions in my Reminders app and check them off as the questions are answered. I can even take note of the answers to the questions with the handy note feature.

Using Reminders as an Agenda
Having a last minute meeting and need an agenda fast? Use Reminders to create an agenda for your meeting and look prepared and techie all at once. If you're using iCloud, you can also sync your reminders, questions, and agenda points from one device to another, so it goes where you go.

Thinking outside the app can bring your techieness to a whole new level. Just like using office supplies to organize your kitchen, using the reminders app to create checklists, agendas and talking points makes brain dumping that much more worth while. Plus you get the added bonus of checking it off, my favorite thing!

Do you use apps in unexpected ways? I'd love to hear about it in the comments!
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How Our Move Went

I am happy to report that I am currently blogging from my new home office and am excited to be in our new space! I call it my momcave and will reveal the space soon enough. Today, I wanted to let you all know how the whole transition went and what I've learned in the process.
Moving Day Debacles
Since I posted my Moving Planner, it was by my side throughout the entire packing and moving process. I felt totally prepared. We were packed. I was organized. Moving day was well ordered and waiting, until life happened.

People we were expecting to help didn't show, while others we weren't expecting did show! Our helpful helpers were all an hour {or more} late to arrive, which actually turned out to be a good thing. I found myself running all around town for food, water and fly traps. All in all, everything made it over {after 2 or 3 or 5 trips}.

Though moving didn't go entirely the way I had dreamed, I am learning more and more that no matter how well thought out a plan is, when things don't go according to plan, it's just not worth stressing over. Grace is better than foresight. The important thing is that I did my part to make the day go as smoothly as possible and without the help of our family and friends, there is no way we could have done it all. They are a gift and we are grateful to them all!

Vacationing and Blogging {or Not Blogging}
After a long day of moving, we had one full day to get as much unpacked before leaving on vacation. We did pretty good if I do say so myself. Furniture was assembled and placed in its new home, essentials like toiletries and food were readily accessible for that one day we needed it, and the rest would have to wait until we got back. The house was half home, half boxes and with the long two days we just had, we needed a vacation!

Backing up to the week before moving/vacay, I was hoping to bring my laptop to try and blog while away, but the hubs firmly discouraged it. He was right too. I wasn't sure what our friends had planned for us to do and didn't want to take time away from them to blog. In order to show love to everyone {my family, friends, and blog friends}, I scheduled my week's blog posts in advance. I'm so glad I did too because it allowed me to literally unplug. Overall, my tech usage was kept at a minimum, and I even spent one whole day away from my cell phone and didn't even miss it!

The week we spent with our friends was our first official family vacation {post on that to come later}! It was relaxing, fun, and tiring all at the same time. There were fun day trips, laughter filled late nights, breaking up toddler fights and even some down time to just be.

Unpacking for Company
Coming back home to boxes is no way to end a vacation, but we did give ourselves the weekend to recover before getting back to the grind. The week began with feelings of vacation still looming over us. We were a bit slow to jump back in, I was particularly slow to come back. God needed to light a fire under me to get me back on track, and He sure did that.

Other close friends of ours invited themselves over to see how everything went with moving and vacay, and even offered to help get other things finished. That's all it took. Having our families together was enough motivation to finish the work that needed to be done. And the best part? We got to spend a nice evening with our friends instead of working through unpacking boxes. By the time they got here, there wasn't much to do except have dinner and play. I'd choose quality time over work any day.

What I Learned
There have been two recurring themes in all that happened this past few weeks. I have been struggling with and striving for them a long time. Now that I have walked through this season, I hope to continue to be aware of it going forward.

First, straightening my priorities has been key to getting me through. Knowing what I will and will not sacrifice {quality time for example} drives my decision making and guides my steps, leading me to the next major theme.

Second thing I learned was balance. Balancing work and family, play time and productive time, my plans and my hubby's plans, being a mom and being a wife, being a friend and being a leader. Because I knew my priorities, I was better able to balance the things that have eluded me for a while.

The gift of chaos allowed me to grow in ways that I didn't expect. I'm ready to stride ahead.

What Comes Next
Now that the big heavy lifting has been finished, I'm left with tons of little projects. Time to use the prioritization and balancing in my day to day as I dive head first into this next chapter.

Just for fun, let's list some of it out:

  • Create a new entry/drop zone
  • Update pantry organization
  • Organize the garage
  • Design a vanity space
  • Finish the boy's bedroom
  • Re-organize our closet
  • Create some finishing touches on the office
  • Splash pictures and decor onto our bare walls
  • Reveal the new place to you!
There are times in our lives when it rains, and other times when it pours. I'm glad to have this phase behind us and look forward to what lies ahead for my family and this blog. I hope that my experience can encourage you to walk through a season in your life that may be crazy busy. Remember to prioritize and balance what really matters.

If you're going through a chaotic season right now, leave a comment. I'd love to pray with and for you!
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