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Internet Safety for Kids {and Free Tools Parents Can Use Now}

I recently had a speaker come and talk to my church's mom group about media safety for families. It was eye opening to say the least, and I couldn't write notes fast enough. Are you using filters and apps to keep your kids safe from hardcore images? Internet safety is a big topic in general, but when it comes to safeguarding our families from viruses and explicit material, it is our job as parents to make sure we do everything we can to protect our little ones from those awkward explicit moments.

Some Scary Stats

There's nothing like an good infographic to get your jaw to drop and eyes to widen, right? Well here you go. Some of the scariest stats any mom can see.
I know, it's scary, BUT I am here to tell you that there are steps that you can take to keep your kids from becoming one of these statistics. They are simple and mostly FREE! Let's go get to work parents!

Protect Your Devices

There are lots of things to be aware of when it comes to the dangers of internet and technology. They include, sexting, malware/phishing, pornography, cyber bullying, social networking and our kids' digital footprint {more on this another time}.

The first step in creating a safe techy environment for our families is to safeguard your computer from malware and viruses. Some free filters are malwarebytes.org, free Sophos tools {anti-virus for Mac}, and AVG Antivirus {antivirus for PC}. Now that your computer is better protected, let's look at other ways to keep your family internet safe.

Safeguard Your Search Engines

Google search and YouTube are commonly used by both kids and parents. These are two heavy hitters when it comes to searching for fun and for homework. Make sure that you take the proper precautions for your kids by enabling safe search on both of these huge platforms. As the graphic above states, many kids characters are now being linked to explicit material, not cool.

Because Google search and YouTube are close relatives, the steps to turning on safe search are fairly simple for both.

  • Go to Google.com and create an account if you don't already have one.
  • Click the Gear icon in the top right corner to manage your search settings
  • Under SafeSearch Filters, check the box marked "Filter explicit results."
  • Click Lock SafeSearch and enter your Google account password and sign in
  • Click the Lock SafeSearch button to confirm, then log out of your account {logging out of your account ensures that settings will not be changed, unless by you}
  • The next you go into Google to search, you know your SafeSearch is on by the balloons on the right side of the header. DONE!

YouTube's safety filter is pretty simple as well:

  • Log in or create a free YouTube account if you don't already have one
  • Go to your profile page
  • Click Manage subscriptions in the bottom left corner
  • Switch safety mode to On, and save
  • Log out of YouTube to prevent further unauthorized changes

Kid-Friendly Web Browsers

If you want to take safety up a notch, you can download special apps that are specific to keeping kids' online surfing safe. Kidzui is a web browser specifically designed for kids who like to play games and watch videos. They keep the content very strict to only certain kid friendly games and videos and give parents some piece of mind when giving their kids screen time.
K9 is another filter designed to protect kids and helps parents to monitor internet activity on your home computer. They also have a mobile web browser app available for iPhone to replace Safari.

Get Help If You Need it

If you would like to know more about how you can safe guard your home computing, check out Internet Safety Specialist, Scott Burnett from Integrity Computer Concepts based in and serving the Orange County area of Southern California. They make house calls to anywhere in the Orange County area by installing filters, modems and the like for you. Scott also speaks to groups, like our mom group, about the dangers that lurk in technology and what parents can do to protect their families.

In partnership with Scott, I will continue to post on internet safety and give you gifts you can use to love and protect your little ones for online predators.

Have your eyes been open to the dangers that our kids can easily find online? Have you implemented the tools I mentioned above? Share in the comments and let me know what other safety topics you want to know about.
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An Interview with Renee Peterson Trudeau {Author of Nurturing the Soul of Your Family}

I had the opportunity to review the book Nurturing the Soul of Your Family by Renee Peterson Trudeau before its release last month and found that there was a lot of good insight there. For me, it affirmed my faith in God and got me thirsty to read more scripture, hearing the Lord talk back to me through the words of the Bible and nurturing my soul. Today, I am sharing some of Renee's passion with you in this interview. I hope that it gets you thinking about how you can de-clutter your life and get you hungry for nurturing your own soul, and the soul of your family. 
You seem very passionate about the topic of emotional well-being for families. What inspired the work you now do? 
My mom suffered from clinical depression and I grew up navigating a lot of chaos and uncertainty (part of this was due to coming from a family of nine). I never knew what to expect day-to-day and feelings of peace and harmony seemed fleeting and far between. My emotional well-being was entirely dependent on what was going on around me. I was never taught that it’s possible to experience inner peace even in the midst of disequilibrium. Nurturing the Soul of Your Family teaches parents an invaluable skill: to anchor within themselves and that they can experience happiness, harmony and well-being, even in the midst of mayhem.

You have worked with thousands of women at all life stages from around the globe for almost 14 years through your Personal Renewal Group program and workshops. What do they share are the biggest challenges they face?
Many women (and men) share they feel overscheduled, overworked, like they’re always rushing and life has become a giant to-do list. Overuse and misuse of technology is making them feel disconnected and it’s hard to unplug and just “be.” Due to an extreme lack of self-care — they’re parenting from an “empty cup,” feeling exhausted, and are concerned that they’re losing the ability to find joy in daily family life.

Your book outlines ten paths to peace to help readers reconnect and experience more peace on a daily basis. What are they?
  • Tapping the transformative power of self-care: attune and respond to your needs and desires 
  • Healing from the inside out: peace begins with me 
  • Unplugging to plug in: remember, people first, things second 
  • Unleashing the healing power of nature: the ultimate antidepressant 
  • Making time for spiritual renewal: return to the river within 
  • Loving the ones you’re with: spend time together (like you mean it!) 
  • Defining, celebrating, and honoring your family culture: what do you stand for? 
  • Slowing down: do less to experience more 
  • Exploring a new way of being: make hard choices, break free, and do it different 
  • Building your tribe: ask for and embrace help as you create your support network

If families were to just embrace three or four insights or strategies from Nurturing the Soul of Your Family that would make a big impact on their daily lives, what would they be? 
  1. Be open to a new way of being: Be bold, do it different. Be willing to take the road less traveled. Open up to the possibility that there is another way of seeing and experiencing life and begin to imagine what that would look like for your family. 
  2. Be compassionate and loving with yourself: treat yourself as worthy of the same self-nurturing, acceptance, and tenderness that are afforded your children. 
  3. Invite in playfulness and curiosity as you begin your journey; awareness is the first step towards positive change. 
  4. Get support — smart people do. It makes everything easier.

Having coached thousands of men and women around coming into greater alignment with how they desire to live and work, what is needed for change to occur?

Three things: Clarity and a vision for what they want (what does the life/career you desire look and feel like?), lots of self-compassion (making a life or career change is courageous work!) and taking deeply guided baby steps while getting lots of support (often we try to run before we’ve learned to crawl). Support could be from a friend, mentor, coach, a therapist, a minister or someone else. Learning to ask for and receive help can take years of practice; it’s like strengthening a muscle.

What’s the most important thing we should be teaching our kids right now around self-care and emotional health? 
As parents we spend a lot of time and energy around our kids’ cognitive and physical development, but we rarely focus on their emotional or spiritual health. Conveying to our kids-through our actions that they not only deserve and have permission to nurture their hearts and souls, but that it’s their birthright to do so — could be one of the most important lessons we ever share.

What is your greatest hope for families?
My greatest hope is that this book will inspire parents to new ways of being. That it will help them find their center and move through chaos and uncertainty with renewed strength and ease; live in greater alignment with their values and what matters most; slow down, live more intentionally and know what's best for themselves and their family; and release old fears and learn to live more in the present moment . And most importantly, that it will help them see that their family members can be their greatest source of joy!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Renée Peterson Trudeau is the author of the new book Nurturing the Soul of Your Family. A sought after life balance coach/speaker and president of Career Strategists, her work has appeared in The New York Times, Good Housekeeping and numerous media outlets. On the faculty of Kripalu Center for Yoga & Wellness, she leads life balance workshops and retreats for Fortune 500 companies and organizations worldwide. Thousands of women in ten countries are participating in Personal Renewal Groups based on her first book, The Mother’s Guide to Self-Renewal. She lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband and son. http://www.reneetrudeau.com


NURTURING THE SOUL OF THE FAMILY by Renée Peterson Trudeau 
March 1, 2013 • Parenting/Personal Growth • 240 pages • Trade Paperback 
Price: $15.95 • ISBN 978-1-60868-158-7
I love how Renee talks about unplugging and getting into nature to relieve stress. These ideas are so powerful and so simple. We've done so much to clutter and complicate life that we've lost the soul in our families. I pray that as you journey to a clutter free house and life, that you would take time to pour into yourself and fill your own cup before you can fully and effectively fill the cup of your family. My faith in Jesus has been my source of strength, my light in darkness, and my hope for the future. God's word {the Bible} has answered by prayers, guided my path, and cemented my values.

Renee asks an important question in this book, what do you stand for? I pray that if you don't know, you find the right answers from the right people. If you don't have anyone to ask. Ask me. I would love to walk with you through this journey.
Disclosure: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. All opinions expressed by me here are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


Take Control of Technology {Compartmentalize Your Devices & Be More Effective}

Most people have a smart device. More often than not, they have multiple devices. When cloud services came on the scene, it made access to many things available everywhere. Y'all know that I'm a big fan of the cloud, but the more devices I obtain, the more I realize that I don't want to access everything everywhere. Read more to find out why taking control of technology by compartmentalizing my devices makes me more effective.

The Problem with the Cloud

For those that don't know, the cloud is what the techy companies call how multiple devices gain access to shared data like videos, music, documents and more. The cloud's greatest strength is also its greatest weakness, that is, if you are a parent.

I don't just say that to be controversial, I have actually experienced this first hand. For me, having access to everything everywhere just makes for a more distracted mom. More temptation to step out of being present and lowering my head into my device. More opportunities to disregard my son while I check on "something". For all these reasons and more, I have decided to compartmentalize my devices.

Compartmentalizing My Devices

After my mindset shifted and I decided to take control of technology, I began looking at my devices as the tools that they are. I released my dependence on them to notify me of non-urgent matters, I set boundaries for myself, and I am assigning my devices jobs.

My iPhone is my mobile mom office. I get my calls, emails, social media other mommy tasks done there. I still have access to my blog emails and social outlets, but I have turned off those notifications so I am not tempted to dive in. My phone is primarily for personal use and seldom blog use.

My iPad is my casual bloggy office. I read blogs, research, network, and do light work there. Rough drafts of blog posts, printables and some brainstorming happen when I'm on my iPad. My iPad is primarily for casual work, networking and occasional blog use.

My Mac is my get-to-work machine. I develop, plan, write, format and do heavy work there. I also do heavier networking on my Mac where it is easier to type a lot of text. So I use this for participating in forums, commenting and the like. My Mac is primarily for heavy blog work, and occasional personal use.

A Place for Everything

Just because I have compartmentalized my devices doesn't mean that I don't take advantage of the cloud. I still have all my social media and certain documents available on multiple devices, but the difference is that I choose to use certain things more than others depending on the device that I am on.

As a mom, I have to have games and videos on all my devices. It's just a fact of life and it is just easier to have it that way. I do pick and choose what goes where and what it repeated. Just because you can have it everywhere, doesn't mean you should.

Everything in its Place

The most important reason that I compartmentalize my devices is so that everything is in its place. Clutter free. Things are in order because I have set my priorities, drawn my boundaries and utilized technology to work for me, not against me.
If I may challenge you to do anything in terms of technology, I challenge you to control it in your life. Being more effective in your world means that you keep distractions under control. Being more effective means that you are present in the moment. Being more effective means that you are giving your best to whatever is in front of you, be it faith, family, work, study or service.

What has been your biggest take away from this Take Control of Technology series? What are you going to change after reading this? I would love to know so I can pray for those things over your life. Please share them in the comments.
Have you read the entire series? Catch up right here and comment as you feel lead.
Take Control of Technology:
Death by Notification
The Timer: An Oldie, but Goodie

A Not-So-Secret Way to Reduce Your Comment Spam

I wanted to pop in really quick with a blogger tip because I have experienced a significant reduction in my spam comments. This simple and effective way to reduce spam has nothing to do with CAPTCHA! If you use CAPTCHA, for the love, please remove it!!! This super easy tip will make all the difference. It's a no brainer.

The pain of spam comments

Bloggers of any length of time know the aches and pains of comment spam. And, if you receive an email once a comment has been submitted, heaven help your inbox. That's how it was for me.

On the day a new post would go live, I would receive many email notifications. Good right? Not if 99% of those comments were spam! At its worst, I had almost 150 emails with comment spam!!! UGH!

How I Went from 150 Spam Comments to under 40

The simple and powerful way that I reduced my spam comments is...are you ready for it? By moderating all my comments! What comment moderation did was keep any comment off the site until it was seen and approved by yours truly. So simple, right?

Another important thing that I did was to remove my email notification on comments. Why? Because I'm trying to live a clutter free life, and because I know myself. Every time I would get an email with a new comment, I would be tempted to respond at that very moment. What happens then is a downward spiral into my device that will trap me for who knows how long. I turned it off.

The Hidden Joy of Comment Moderation

Since I have started moderating my comments and turned off my email notification, I have noticed  something that I wasn't expecting. My blogging workflow is much better! How? Because I deal with comments all at once instead of randomly throughout my day.

When I have set time aside just to moderate and reply to comments, it's done when it's done. I'm not always "on" so to speak. For me it was a boundary that was set unintentionally, but an important boundary to have as a mom blogger. Notice: the Mom comes before the Blogger.
Nothing terribly spectacular or life changing in this tip, or is there? If I am better able to draw lines in my life when it comes to my work and my family, I think that is a good day. A simple way to organize my work and keep me from having to go through deleting stacks and stacks of junky emails full of spam. Excuse me Sir, but I only like spam in my sushi. Thanks!

Are you bombarded by comment spam? Have you tried to moderate comments and eliminate email notification? Try it. I will change your bloggy life!
Bloggers, want even more tips and tricks? Sign up for my monthly newsletter to get exclusive tips and reads of my personal learnings that only subscribers can get!

5 Ways to Organize Using Scrapbook Paper

When it comes to getting creative and crafty, I tend to lean on the creative-with-intent-to-organize side of me. It's how I bring the two sides of my brain together. I try to be creative with my hands, but being left handed doesn't make for easy cutting. But I do still try. If you follow me on Instagram, you will find that I tried my hand at crafting over the weekend. I will reveal the finished product once it's hung. Today, I will share the ways I have organized around the home in creative ways, using a scrapbook paper pack.

{1} Create Expanding Envelopes for filing receipts

By far my most popular "craft" is my Expanding Envelope. They are great for keeping small categories of receipts neatly filed in an interior file folder and expand to make room for lots of receipts.

{2} Label Storage Bins of Kids Clothes

This was a no brainer craft for me because I didn't have to do anything to the scrapbook paper, except paste my label on top. A 12x12 sheet was the perfect size to cover the front of my storage bins so I can easily organize my son's hand me down clothes.

{3} Dress Up Plain Binders for Ongoing Projects

I love a good sale and when office supplies are 50% off as they often are at Staples {my favorite office store}, I have to snag then. Sadly, I also have to live with the fact that they are only plain white. Never fear, scrapbook paper is here! A little trimming here and a snip there and my inexpensive, quality binders are pretty and coordinated {because they all came from the same paper pack}. My project zone is functional, organized, and cute! Gift!

{4} Control Your Cash Budget with Wallet Dividers

This craft I spent a lot of time figuring out for us all. I wanted it to be easy to follow, easy to use and easy to print. Out of all my crafty organizing, the wallet dividers are my favorite. I still have them in my wallet today and am finding that laminating them is a must to keep them sturdy.

{5} Make Dividers for filing lots of receipts

You may be thinking you are experiencing deja vu, but you're not. After using my expanding envelopes for my receipt filing, I found that I filled certain categories up really fast! I needed to update my system and pinned this simple, but brilliant idea. I'll share the details in a post to come, but here's a sneaky peeky for you!
Crafting scares me. It scares me because there is so much stuff that comes with it, but when I harness the power of crafting and use it for organizing, it's a win win for me! If you are not gifted in the area of organization, find someone {me!} who is and let them {me} show you how you can tap into your organized side. I needed the help of my crafty friends to bring out the creativity in me. I was stretched, challenged and overwhelmed, but at the end of the day, I went home with something beautiful. You can do it too!

Are you crafty for the sake of organization? Or are you organized for the sake of being crafty? Share your gift in the comments!
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Take Control of Technology {The Timer, An Oldie but Goodie}

This post is as much for myself as it is for all of you. Often, I find myself going to check something on my phone "real quick". Next thing I know, "real quick" turns into 2 hours of non-productive time gone by, real quick. The answer to this problem seems so simple. Set a timer. Somehow, I always seem to convince myself that since I'll be real quick, I don't need to set a timer. It.rarely.happens.that.way. This week's Take Control of Technology post will challenge us all {myself included} to set the timer on techy time eaters.

Do You Need a Timer? Yeah, Me Too

In my previous post, I talked about how "death by notification" can pull us away from our families and responsibilities. This post will focus on a simple and practical way to reel us back in and help us to get on with our day.

Since we've already silenced our devices and limited sounds and notifications to key people and apps {have you done that?}, and set aside tech time throughout our day, now we need to set boundaries for ourselves by setting a timer or alarm to stop us when tech time is done.

What I Need to Time

I work a lot on our computer for different reasons, some are personal, some is my blog work and other times it is for serving in my mom group at church. No matter what I am doing, I always seem to loose track of time because I am fully immersed in whatever it is that I am doing. Are you the same way? I thought so.

To give you an idea of where I struggle to pull myself away, here are some of the things I need to start setting timing boundaries around. May this list get you thinking about your own habits so you can take necessary steps to take control of your technology.

I need to limit my time spent on...
~ Facebook and other social media
~ Email writing and responding
~ Blog post writing
~ Blog site development
~ Networking
~ Research
~ Watching TV

I'm sure there are more areas of my life that could use a good timer, but this is what I thought of off the top of my head.

Timers Are Not Just For Tech Time

Do you get lost in your favorite book or magazine? Maybe you loose yourself in your cleaning duties and forget about eating, drinking water or preparing family dinner. A timer will work for all those times as well! But don't think of your day as being controlled by a timer, think of it as you taking control of your day with a timer as your tool.
What's the moral of today? Know yourself well enough to know what aspects of your day need to be timed and use a timer! Just to make sure, do not allow yourself to even open up your device without first knowing how long you will be on it. Then, when the timer goes off, stop. It will be hard and you will want to set the timer again. Don't. Take control of technology and put it down so you can get on with your day and make the most of your time. Remember, I am talking just as much to myself in this post is I am to all of you. Let's do this together y'all!

What do you need a timer for? Have you talked yourself out of timing or resetting the timer? Confess in the comments. I promise, there is no judgement here!
Have you read the entire series? Catch up right here and comment as you feel lead.
Take Control of Technology:
Death by Notification
Compartmentalize Your Devices & Be More Effective

Want even more tips and tricks? Sign up for my monthly newsletter to get exclusive tips and reads of my personal learnings that only subscribers can get!


Take Control of Technology {Death by Push Notification}


What is death by push notification? It is when you go to speak to anyone and {bing!} your phone goes off. Text message. Then, you check that text and {Bing!!} Facebook notifies you that So-and-so isn't in a relationship. You comment to find out what happened and {BING!}....tweet from your favorite store on the next sale. With a BING here and a WOOSH there, soon you're drowning in notifications that you feel you need to respond to. Guess what? You don't have to!

My techy rant

<Rant>
In my single life, I wanted to be notified of just about everything. Let me know when the next get together is, let me know if you got home safe, blah, blah, blah. In my office job days, I looved email notifications! I was very good at responding quickly while still getting my other tasks done. Multi-tasking was one of my special talents. I was hoping to bring that with me into motherhood.

You know what motherhood has taught me? Notifications are annoying! Even as I write this very post I will get notified of different calendar events, new emails, a new facebook post or tweet. I am very easily distracted. Not good for someone who is trying to concentrate on writing or stay engaged with a preschooler.

I just can't do it anymore. I cannot continue to get notifications on things that {in the grand scheme of things} don't matter enough to have them interrupt and sometimes dictate the flow of my day. As much a I enjoy technology, I need to take control of it. Are you feeling the same way? Take a look at how I'm taking control.
</rant>

Put first things first

There was a considerable shift in my mind that changed the way I use technology. What was that shift? My thoughts shifted from things seen to things unseen.

Did I need to be constantly kept up to date with status updates? No.
Do I want my son to know that he is more important than social media? Yes.

Did I need know the instant an email came through? No.
Do I set boundaries for myself and teach my son to honor them? Yes.

My priorities are as follows: Seek God, love my family, serve others.

How those priorities play out in my life can make or break my day. It is up to me to be in control of what goes in my head and out of my mouth. Some days are better than others. The point is let your technology reflect your priorities so that you are in control of the stream.

Avoid Death by Push Notification

I touched on this subject in my post on Taming Technology, but I wanted to give you more practical ways of avoid what I call Death by Push Notification.

Carve out tech time in chunks spread out through the day.

Turn off all sounds and notifications, except the ones that matter. Your spouse, core family members, and 3-5 key friends. That's it. Everyone else can wait until you've got time to catch your breath.

On my notifications, I have the option to...
Turn notification on or off
Alert Style {none, banner or alert}
Badge App Icon
Text Tone
View in Lock Screen

These options mean that you are in control of how much or how little your device interrupts your day. Most have not taken the time to adjust these settings. If you haven't, do it today. Decide what is important to you and what you will allow.
When I allowed my devices to control the flow of my day by distracting me from playing with my son or doing my chores, before I knew it, I've wasted two hours catching up on the latest gossip or chain-letter-type social share. On top of that, I probably blew up at my son for trying to get my attention. Sound familiar?

The thought of technology helping me to stay organized sends butterflies straight to my stomach. Nerd alert! I know, sorry. Having said that, make sure you know how exactly you are using technology. It is a tool. Treat it that way. This is part of my our journey to a clutter free life.

In the coming weeks, I will continue this series on taking control of technology so keep it close!

Do you have a specific question on how to adjust your notifications? Are there other tips that you have worked to help you control the technology in your life? Share them in the comments!
Have you read the entire series? Catch up right here and comment as you feel lead.
Take Control of Technology:
Compartmentalize Your Devices & Be More Effective

Because I am sensitive to what goes into your inbox, I have created a monthly newsletter for you to stay up to date on the blog and also share some of my life learnings a great reads from around the web. Sign up for my monthly newsletter today.

Ultimate Blog Party {Small Talk}

Today is a special day for bloggers because it's Ultimate Blog Party day! The twin sisters who run 5 Minutes for Mom host this week-long "party" bringing bloggers of all walks of life together to mingle and find new bloggy friends. This is my second year attending and I am looking forward to meeting new bloggers and winning some awesome prizes! Have you got your drink and h'ordeuvres? Good. Let's chat!

A Bit About Me and Gifts We Use

Hi, I'm Ferly and I'm a mom blogger. 
{and everyone replies, "Hi Ferly."

I write about the things that tickle my fancy: organizing, technology, family life and my adventures in blogging. Keeping your home and family organized takes skill {and sometimes technology}, I hope this blog helps you get there.

The idea for Gifts We Use was born when discovering blogs helped reignite my passion for organizing. Get to know me for more on that story. Being inspired to make a change in my life made me want to pass that feeling on {what I call gifting it forward}. Hence, a blog is born.

What started as my way of creating accountability for myself to declutter my house, evolved into my outlet to inspire and encourage other moms {and dads} to rediscover their gifts and use them to grow, love and serve others.

My Likes

~ Warm weather {I come from a tropical people}.
~ Any well organized space.
~ Multifunctional furniture.
~ Technology that helps to maintain order in my life.
~ Anything a la mode!

My Dislikes

~ Trying to have a conversation over loud music.
~ Dropping my keys when I'm in a hurry.
~ The lower left photo of me {from the collage above}. I'm not asleep, I'm playing with my {at the time} new iPad. See..
This is how hard I work to do research to pass along to all of you! You're welcome.

A Bit of Bragging

What's a party without a good brag, right? While I'm learning and working on the business of blogging, it helps to have a nice pat on the back every once in a while. My biggest pat on the back came with a nomination. Yup, I just went Oscar on y'all. If you read my announcement from a while back, you'll understand why I'm happy to brag about an almost-achievement.


Come and Stay a While

Since I have you here, you might as well stay a while and chat with me! Below are a few places I recommend you start.

To Get to Know Me Better:
~ Read About Me
10 Random Facts about Ferly
Last Year's UBP Post

To Help Get Organized:
Getting my blog critiqued
Blog Planner Weekly Goals Printable
Learn As I Blog series
I love that you came here and look forward to meeting you all! If you leave a comment below, I will respond to your comment and visit your blog to comment as well. Happy Ultimate Blog Party everyone!
Want to stay in touch after the party's over? Sign up for my monthly newsletter to get my posts from the past month all together, and get tips from me exclusive to my newsletter subscribers! 

Get Your Sverve On

I have been working hard on building my blogger resume because I want to make blogging my career by working with brands. The most difficult thing for a newer blogger to do is get noticed by big brands. Ad networks were created to sort of bridge the gap between blogger and brand. I am here to share with you my discovery of Sverve! Sverve does for bloggers what Pinterest does for readers, plus much more. If you're not a blogger, stick around, Sverve is here for you too!

What is Sverve?

Take "social" and "verve", shake well and you have Sverve. More than just a play on words, Sverve strives to bring content creators and social influencers {that's you bloggers!} into the eye sight of brands who want a greater reach.

Sverve takes the brilliant layout Pinterest has, combines it with the "like" aspect of Facebook, then swirls in ad networking for bloggers. From that, readers get relevant content, bloggers build influence through reader endorsements, and advertisers get their message out through bloggers with extended reach.

Who uses Sverve?

Readers use Sverve to find fresh content. If you're tired of the Pinterest scene, but love getting information, check out Sverve. With categories like Family & Parenting, Kids Activities, and Home & Craft, it's a site that is sure to catch on quick with readers.

Bloggers can use their content and add it to Sverve for readers to find, just as they would with Pinterest. The difference is that you choose a category within the Sverve category list instead of creating your own "pin board". I like this because it cleans up the messiness of improper pinning that we all deal with from Pinterest.

Brands use Sverve to get to know bloggers and begin relationships. Many campaigns are exclusive to Sverve users which gives bloggers an edge. This list of opportunities is updated constantly and there is something for every niche.

How I Use Sverve

I recently tweeted:
That is a true statement. I am a member of several ad networks, have signed up multiple lists for paid opportunities, but nothing has given me the engagement that I have gotten with Sverve! When I apply for a campaign through Sverve, the response is timely and the work begins. With some of my other networks, I apply and rarely hear back at all.

If you are a blogger who is trying to take your blogging to the next level, I highly recommend Sverve!

Invitation to Join Me

Readers and bloggers alike will enjoy using Sverve to find awesome content, active engagement and untainted community. Sverve seeks out Mom Bloggers to share their content, so you know that what you're getting is as good as a mom can bring.
If you're a reader, I invite you to sign up for Sverve and endorse me in one or more of my chosen areas of influence. Simply click on the button below or click here to endorse me. Reader endorsements help me build credibility in the blog community and helps you to find other quality bloggers to follow.
If you're a serious blogger, I urge you to get set up on Sverve and humbly request that you do so using my special invitation. As I gift forward what Sverve has done for me, I hope that you will gift me by using my link. Yes, I get a couple of bucks for it, but what you get in return will far be greater.
Sign up for Sverve today!
I've learned that in life, I need to remain a student. A student of my family and of my chosen endeavor. Part of that means learning about new ways to build my resume through several networks. I can tell you from personal experience that my short time with Sverve has been well worth it. It's no get rich quick remedy, it's a way to get work. The gift in this? I am able to get work through Sverve.

Is this the first time you've heard of Sverve? Ready to get your Sverve on? Let me know in the comments!
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

Supply Zone for the Home Office

Today I am continuing my series on zones in the home office. The zone I'd like to highlight is about desktop supplies and how they fit into my home office workflow. Home office supplies can require a bit of real estate, so you have to have the right tools to make it work. My home office is cozy {code for small}, so I needed to be especially mindful of how I use my space to keep desktop supplies handy.

Office supplies to keep handy

There a office supplies that can live in filing cabinets and drawers that are seldom used, then there are the office supplies that you find yourself reaching for more often. Theses are the items I call desktop essentials.

My desktop essentials include:

  • Writing tools {pens and pencils}
  • Cutting tools {scissors, staple remover, exacto knife}
  • Stationary {mostly blank thank you cards and note pads}
  • Small binding tools {paper clips, push pins, binder clips, etc.}
  • Extra copy paper for the printer
  • Larger binding tools {stapler, tape dispenser, etc.}

With all the random supplies that I needed to keep by my side {and fit into a square cubby-like space}, I needed a system that was well thought out, cute and fairly inexpensive.

The right tools for the space

I've been a big admirer of the Martha Stewart Home Office with Avery line at Staples since it was first released. I use her horizontal and vertical file folders in my office {yes vertical file folders!}, and would love to implement more of her line into my home office!

The Stack+Fit Desk accessories were the perfect system to bring my randomness together in a clean, organized and pretty way! I love that there are a multitude of pieces that can be used in different ways, and that they all stack and fit together to make one uniform organized piece!

Separate but equal

For my needs, I wanted pieces that would create a tiered look when put together and I knew that I wanted most of the system to have hidden storage. Let's take a look at what I put together with this line.

I used a sectioned organizer to hold my stationary and writing tools so they would be within arms reach when needed.
I snagged a small organizer with a lid to house small binding tools and keep them hidden from prying preschooler eyes.
Finally, I utilized an inbox drawer and tray unit for larger binding items that I didn't want cluttering my desktop and to keep extra paper for the printer nearby.
Each piece serves it function well and the fact that they are all meant to go together makes my heart overflow with organizational giddiness. Is that just me? {wink}

Enjoying the gift of organization

Now that you've seen how I used each piece on its own, take a gander at how I put them together.
In all its tiered beauty, those three separate pieces stacked and fit together marvelously! It took all my randomness and created order while efficiently using prime real estate to corral potentially massive clutter.
Organizing home office supplies doesn't have to be hard {or look cold}. With brands like Martha Stewart Home Office with Avery, you can achieve an organized look with a warm feel to make your home office feel more like home and less like corporate America. This is not a sponsored post! This is what I found for my house to suit our needs best. The whole system together cost me under $40 retail and I used a coupon and my Staples rewards to pack more bang for my buck. Gift!

Has my organizing helped to inspire you to get your own home in shape? Please take a moment to leave a comment. I read and respond to each one!
If you want more of Gifts We Use, stay up to date by signing up for my monthly newsletter! I share bits of myself and give exclusive tips to newsletter subscribers. Sign up today!

Birthday Invitations Using Picture Collage Maker for Mac

Our family converted over to Mac recently, and aside from learning the ins and outs of the Mac operating system, I've been on the hunt for fun Mac apps that I can play with. Enter Picture Collage Maker for Mac! This app can do lots of things from making custom calendars and digital scrapbook pages to fun greeting cards. I think I may have found my new app for making our annual family holiday cards. {fist pump} Yesss! Since we're quite a ways away from the holidays, I decided to test out the app by making invitations for my son's upcoming birthday.

Lots of Templates Ready to Go

You all know that I am craft challenged, so having an app that designs for me is a big thumbs up! I tend to be better at taking something good and putting my own spin on it, than starting from scratch. Here is just a sampling of the templates you can choose from in two of the many categories available.

Easy to Customize

Once you've chosen your template, there is little to learn. Minimal menus make it easy to figure out how to customize frames and add masks. On the Mac, it's all about click and drag, and customizing photos and objects is just that simple.

Tons of Fun Objects to Add

If the template you chose doesn't have enough fluff for you, there are a ton of cute and modern objects in several categories that will spice up any project and add character.

A neat gift I just discovered is that there are also template packs available to download in case you get bored of the same old objects. If adding more objects is not your thing, there is plenty to choose from on its own too.

Just for fun, here's a video to show you this app in action:

My Creation to Save, Export and Share

Are you ready to see what I made using the Photo Collage Maker? I am pretty proud of it.
Here's a breakdown of what I did to create this masterpiece:

  • Chose a birth announcement template
  • Changed the background image using the menu to the right
  • Deleted what I didn't want
  • Added my son's photo and resized
  • Popped in some fun balloon objects to liven up the party feel
  • Included a clipboard object to fill in with party details
  • Used a tag and an extra box to highlight his current size and where to find his wish list
  • Found a fun number four to make his upcoming age stand out
  • Found images to match the party theme
  • Added masks to images to make them blend in
I am extremely happy with the way it turned out, and you all have a sneak peek at the birthday theme too! I am really digging how easy this was and will be using this app to do lots of other creative things for sure. My favorite thing about this app is that I don't have to have all the embellishments and different paper stashed somewhere in my house. I'm a digital gal all the way! I may even try my hand at scrapbooking...nah! {wink}

What do you think of this awesome app? Let's hear it in the comments!
Disclosure: This is a sponsored post. All opinions are my own.
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