Sunday, January 31, 2016

New blog series!

This last week of January, I was supposed to roll out two new series for this blog: an advice column called "Ask Frances" and a press release dump called "Frances Finds". But Topaz Mommy got nominated for Best Parenting Blog for Blogopolis and I got distracted!

So I'm launching the two new series this February!

"Ask Frances" is for my readers who send me questions on life, career and love. I try to reply to their emails but I finally decided that I'm spending too much time dishing out advice during my me time. All my time should either be used for my family, for work or for me (like sleeping, eating, seeing friends)! So since I consider blogging work now, emailed questions asking for tips and advice will see the light of day on my blog! You can tell me to withhold/change your name for privacy, but if you email me a question privately, I will answer it publicly!!! Chosen questions will get fabulous products from me!!!

"Ask Frances" will be posted every third Friday of the month. So if you have any questions, email them to frances@topazhorizon with "Ask Frances" on the subject! I will pick a question to answer and I will answer it as bluntly and as honestly as I can. Walang iiyak! Walang magagalit! For February, the chosen question sender will receive this:
Happy Skin lip glosses!

"Frances Finds" is like a bulletin board for posting all the press kits I get. This is also my way of saving my Instagram account for my life, not products (unless from my sponsors). I'm not going to do that for emailed PRs because I get a dozen press releases a day! "Frances Finds" will only be for press kits sent to my house (and only those I find helpful and interesting!) because I can actually add something useful to the write-up because I've seen, held, smelled, or tasted the product. So I can give mini reviews!

"Frances Finds" will be posted every last Friday of the month. That said, please don't send me press kits!!! Ask me first please (email with "Frances Finds" on the subject) and then we'll see if your products and services are a fit with Topaz Horizon. Why? I used to work in PR and I dabble in PR now and I know there's a budget for products to give away. I get so many things that I can't really promote like headbands for baby girls, or shampoo for thick and curly hair, or products from a competitor of my blog sponsors. Sayang naman yung product and effort niyo.

I have a couple more series I plan to launch within the year. There will be "What's in my...?" and "Frances's Favorite". I guess you can tell what those two will be about! But I'll launch those just before summer. I want a series for every week! So you have something consistent to look forward to every week.

As for the blog merger, it is sloooooowly happening! I'm deleting and editing blog posts over 10 years! Every night has been a true trip down memory lane. It's so amazing how my life has changed! How my kids have arrived one after the other! How I've grown fat and old! LOL! Anyway, once all the unnecessary or mega nega posts have been deleted, I'll be ready to merge Topaz Mommy to Topaz Horizon then migrate to Wordpress. So exciting! Thanks for patiently waiting for my relaunch!

Monday, January 25, 2016

Review: Anti-acne facial products of Flawless Face & Body Clinic

This post is brought to you by Flawless Skin & Body Clinic.

Hi everyone! I want to make kwento. This weekend—I must confess!—I spent more than a few times admiring my skin in the mirror. It's not perfect. I still have a few whiteheads and a bit of dark acne scars on my cheeks. But my skin was smoooooooooth. No more scary bumpiness, no more angry pus-filled volcanoes. My Advanced Anti-Acne Facial Treatments from Flawless really work!

Still, those facials happen every two (or so) weeks. What do I do in between visits to Flawless? I manage my skin with three Flawless anti-acne products: SAS Soap, Erythromycin 2% solution, and Skin Protect Gel.

Here's my review of each product:

SAS Soap, P140
This is for deeply cleansing oily skin.

What I liked:
1. Just a little bit of soap creates a lather soooo rich and thick!

2. There is no fragrance. I'm sensitive to fragrances.

3. My skin is super clean!

What I didn't like:
1. Nothing!
Suds up fast, doesn't melt quickly.

Erythromycin 2% solution, P650
This is a topical antibiotic solution. Its main purpose therefore is to kill bacteria on my skin.

What I liked:
1. It works!

2. If I have a developing zit, I just soak a cotton ball in Erythromycin and plant that ball over the affected area for 10 minutes. The pimple dies.

3. It lasts for 4-6 weeks so it's affordable.

What I didn't like:
1. Oh boy, does this sting! It evaporates quickly enough so it doesn't feel like your face is burning. I like to fan myself while applying this.

2. Okay, I don't know if this is actually the medicine that causes it, okay, but my skin smells bad after application. It smells like wet socks. Vince says my face doesn't smell like wet socks but, nope, it doesn't smell nice.

3. My skin doesn't taste good, too. I know this because when I lick my lips, I sometimes lick past my puckers and I taste the medicine, and it tastes awful. Vince concurs. Heehee.

But who cares??? My skin is clearing up by the day! Wala na lang kissing masyado while I'm on treatment!
No added color to the solution. 

Skin Protect Gel, P290
This is a sunscreen. All the dermatologists tell me that this is the single most important product in any skincare regimen!

What I liked:
1. It's soooo cheap! My favorite sunscreens are Kiehl's Ultra Light Daily UV Defense (P1,995 for 30ml), Lancôme UV Expert SPF 50++ (about P2,000 for 30ml), and VMV Armada SPF 30 ($50 or about P2,300 for 88ml). This tiny tube is P290!

2. This lasted me 4 weeks! The reason it lasts long is because I only need a pea-sized amount! Why does that matter? The FDA, dermas, beauty brands and beauty magazines will tell you that we all need a teaspoon-sized dollop of sunscreen for our face, ears and neck. That's a lot.

And then did you ever notice that sunscreens are always sold in these tiny tubes??? So if I put 5ml (that's a teaspoon) of sunscreen on my face from a 30ml tube, that means a tube will last me just 6 days. Two thousand bucks for 6 days is insane.

3. It mattifies my skin! I'm super oily and oily-skinned girls really don't like sunscreen. But this sunscreen is so light, it's in gel form! And you only need a little! And the best part is my skin gets matte! No oiliness for hours!
What I didn't like:
1. The smell. It's too fragrant. So thank goodness I only need a tiny amount for my face!

2. It's a mattifier, right? While I like how my skin stays not oily for a loooong time, I also need to wait for a looooong time for the sunscreen to dry up. Okay, I exaggerate. I only wait for maybe a minute after application for the product to completely dry up. If I apply makeup while the sunscreen is still fresh, it rubs off like libag. So I brush my teeth muna while I wait for it to dry. Then I apply my makeup.

3. It's a sunscreen but it doesn't say the SPF. So on days I need to be under the sun, I still put an extra layer of sunblock. 

4. Like all sunscreens, this needs to be reapplied every 4-6 hours.
Just a little gel goes a long way.

All these skincare products are available at Flawless clinics nationwide. You'll need a prescription to purchase them, however. That shouldn't be a problem because a consultation with the resident dermatologist at Flawless is free! 

I'm so happy I chose Flawless to take care of my skin. For more promos and information, visit the Flawless websitelike them on Facebook and follow them on Instagram (@myflawless).

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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Marking milestones

This post is brought to you by UNOde50.

I just turned 39 a couple of months ago but I have big plans before I turn 40. Well, maybe not so big for many people but for me, I have plans to get my life in order before the big four-oh. I'm sharing my plans with you so I can have accountability because, honestly, I've been meaning to do some of these things for, I dunno, decades now. Decades! 

I just think that it's high time I do some—if not all!—of everything I've been meaning to do. And I finally wrote them down (and published the list!) because I was browsing the website of an online Spanish brand I love for women necklaces and other jewelry and accessories, and thinking, "I don't need new jewelry even though I want new jewelry..." and then it just came to me—I'm going to reward myself with a piece of jewelry for every milestone achieved! Here is what I plan to do before my life begins again at 40: 

Get flawless skin. As I keep mentioning for years on my blog now, I've always had bad skin. I accepted it as a part of being me. But last year, I decided that I can't subscribe to the "inner beauty matters most" excuse anymore. Honestly, I'm beautiful enough inside already!!! Time to take care of the outer beauty for once!

What better way to frame flawless skin than with big gold earrings? I love the shape of these!

Get fit. Forty years old is old for many people. Like, they dread it. I never have, but now that it's on the horizon, I feel it. Creaking bones, aching back, sore muscles. I can't be unfit. I have three young children! I need to live at least 30 more years and those years need to see me in tip-top shape!

Eat healthy. At 39, my metabolism is still pretty fast. Yes, that's my excuse for being skinny because if you saw what I ate on a daily basis, you'd freak out. I eat lots of meat, carbs, fats and sugar. Veggies and fruits? On a rare day, they show up on my plate. I should eat better because my body deserves it. Plus, it's hard to teach my kids to eat healthy when their mama doesn't! 

I don't own a leather-strap watch so let's mark the passing of time with this one!

Get a physical check up. Well, because of what I said above! After years and years of abusing my body with stress, unhealthy food, and sleepless nights working, I really ought to check if everything's okay. I haven't had a physical since 2010! 

Own a streamlined wardrobe that flatters my new body. I'm getting rid of most of my clothes and shopping for new ones—clothes, bags and shoes that fit my age, my work as a blogger and freelance writer/editor, and my life as a mom. But I'll shop for clothes when I have that new healthier body! Hopefully, in 6 months!

My busy life needs a simple wardrobe... which means statement accessories like this chunk of rock!

Take my whole family on a trip abroad. Our last family trip abroad was to Hong Kong Disneyland in 2013. Back then, there was just Vince, me, Vito and Iñigo. No Piero yet. Actually, Piero was already in my tummy but we didn't know it yet! So I guess you can say that was our first family trip abroad! But I want an official trip abroad, hopefully before Piero turns 2 so his plane fare will be free.

Launch a new and improved Topaz Horizon. My blog turns 10 in May and I want it to be bigger, better and more beautiful! I'm working with a great team to make this happen but I have a LOT to do before we can launch. For one thing, I need to delete dozens of blog posts—those that used uncredited photos and those that were negative and nasty. Yep, I wasn't a responsible blogger when I started 10 years ago! So those have got to go. Deleting posts is hard, though. That's what's really slowing me down in the whole migration to Wordpress! 

I want an interesting bangle so I'll be inspired while I type! Love that silver pearl solitaire.

Learn to play an instrument. One of my few regrets is abandoning my piano lessons. I come from a musical family. An extremely musical family. Everyone knows how to play an instrument or two, or sings and dances, or writes music. I'm the only one who stands out as being unmusical. I didn't care for the longest time but now that I have kids, I regret that I can't pass on that legacy. But it's not too late! I can still learn something! Maybe piano or guitar!

Reach my crazy financial goal for the year. I have a new business that I started with fellow moms, entrepreneurs and bloggers Martine de Luna and Ginger Arboleda. Beauty Biz Bliss has a ton of activities lined up for working women this year and I hope you can support us! If BBB becomes a smashing success on top of my blogging career, I won't need to go back to a 9-to-5 job ever again!

If my business takes off, I'm going to indulge in a chunky chain neck piece.

Teach Creative Writing. I've always always always wanted to do this! I'll teach a writing class here at my home. My husband knows I've been dreaming of this for years but I just never got to doing it because I had a demanding job back then which was replaced by demanding children! But this year, two of my kids will be in school so maybe it's time! 

Okay, that's a lot. Ten to be exact. I'm pretty sure I won't be able to do all in 10 months! 

Still, when I was window shopping online at the fashion UNOde50 jewelry website this weekend, I was inspired to finally get off the couch and make my life better! If only for new accessories!!! You know that I reward myself with jewelry whenever I have a big milestone (if you don't, then click this link for a brief history: "About push presents"). But when Piero came along, I haven't really bought myself anything. So no push present for his birth yet! Must get a ruby ring for that big event, and for the other milestones mentioned above, fashion jewelry will do just as nicely!

How about you? What are your perpetual plans? And how do you reward yourself when you reach your goal? Do share!

*photos from UNOde50 website

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Benefit hosts the launch of Beauty & Sparkle's beauty videos

Last weekend was a fun celebration of my friend, Nicole Romero. She's many things to many people—friend, sister, aunt, editor, writer, fitness enthusiast, baker, makeup artist, blogger, and now beauty vlogger!

Nicole's blog is called Beauty & Sparkle: A Real Girl's Guide to Looking Pretty + Feeling Good. Nic's seriously one of the most professional, most amazing, most fantabulous beauty bloggers I've ever read. All her blog entries are well written, grammatically correct (she's an editor!), fun to read, inspiring, helpful, relatable, and her tutorials are friendly and easy to do. Her blog looks great, too!

And now she's into beauty vlogging! Check out her YouTube channel, Beauty & Sparkle!

I love how cute and pretty and helpful all her videos are! And the music she uses just makes me so happy, makes me do a little dance while I watch my friend, and follow her instructions. I love ALL her videos but these are my favorites:

She's my friend but when we're together, I don't, like, stare at her face. But because of her videos, I get to do just that and OMG doesn't Nicole have the MOST FLAWLESS SKIN ever?!? Seriously. I want to have skin as perfect as hers. And her hair? So lush and fab! And I'll tell you a secret and she will kill me for revealing this—she's naturally that way!!! God was doling out perfect skin and hair the day she was born, I bet!


Beauty brand Benefit celebrated Nic's new vlog with a party last Saturday at their boutique at SM Megamall. Did you know it's the biggest Benefit store in South East Asia??? You should go visit! It's chock-ful of beauty goodies and there are areas for spa treatments. So fab for girls like us and so perfect for a pretty party! Check out these pics I grabbed from Nic's Instagram account:
We definitely felt like VIPs!
Beauty blogger extraordinaire!
Nic and newly engaged Alyanna Martinez.
Nic, Nikki and me! 
Just a few of Nic's family, friends, readers, followers and subscribers!
All the guests went home with a Benefit loot bag!
Here are my photos:
Checking out the products.
My message to Nic and all my readers!
Nicole introducing her videos.
Selfies with her fans.

What a fun party, Benefit! Thanks for having us at your fabulous store and for supporting Beauty & Sparkle!

And because unboxing videos are SO HUGE on YouTube now, let's check out the unboxing videos that Nicole made of Benefit products:

Love your channel, Nic! Congratulations, dear friend, on your successful vlog launch!

Read her blog: Beauty & Sparkle
Like her on Facebook: Beauty & Sparkle
Follow her on Instagram: @beautyandsparkl
Watch her on Snapchat: @beautyandsparkle
Subscribe to her YouTube channel: Beauty & Sparkle

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Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Review: Flawless Acne Control Advanced Facial

This post is brought to you by Flawless Skin & Body Clinic.

Today I will do a super happy review of the Acne Control Advanced Facial of Flawless. But first, a background...

Around the time my youngest child celebrated his first birthday in July last year, my skin started popping up whiteheads. At first, they were a smattering here and there, but within a month, they were everywhere. My cheeks looked like a cauliflower. Observe:

Nakakaiyak siya grabe. I went to a derma to have the whiteheads extracted but my skin got irritated and exploded into full blown inflammation. I had a serious case of acne! Now I've always had pimples. In fact, that's how I know my husband fell in love with the real me because when we met, all Vince saw was a pus-riddled face. I seriously don't know how he saw through that!

Anyway, so sanay na ako sa pimples, right? And kahit ganyan yung face ko, someone still fell in love with me (and married me pa!). So my face wasn't a huge deal. Then in my 30s, my face miraculously cleared up. The only times my pimples came back were the first trimesters of my three pregnancies, then my skin will return to perfection. I have never felt so confident and beautiful in my life! Iba pala talaga ang acne-free skin.

So when the pimples returned in July and worsened as my 39th birthday approached, I was really besieged by insecurity. Pangit na pangit ako sa sarili ko. Cauliflower cheeks nga, diba. Nakakaiyak. I tried to remind myself that inner beauty matters more but I felt my confidence erode talaga. So I was so happy when a Flawless clinic opened near my house. I went for a skin consultation right after my birthday in November.

Dr. Boyles, the in-house dermatologist who saw me, told me hindi naman daw cauliflower levels ang skin ko. She also promised better skin by Christmas. That's just 6 weeks, or a month-and-a-half, or around 3 facial treatments! I couldn't believe her! But it's true! By the time Christmas rolled along, my skin was so much better. Thanks to the Acne Control Advanced Facial of Flawless!
After 3 facials, no more cauliflower skin! Here I am at makeup-free at Flawless, ready for my facial!

Here's the 12 Steps to Flawless Skin (a.k.a. the Acne Control Advanced Facial):
  1. Aromatherapy. The facial starts with three inhalations of the lavender-scented palms of your facialist. Lavender is supposed to relax you.
  2. Cleansing. It's a simple procedure lang. Your facialist will apply cleanser all over your face and neck and then wipe it off with moistened sponges. 
  3. Eye treatment. Your facialist will apply an Eye-Destressing Cream all over your eye area, then cover them with moistened cotton pads.
  4. Lip treatment. Your facialist will apply a moisturizing lip scrub on your lips. I suggest you press your lips together and move them about to exfoliate your lips in the next step.
  5. Steaming. This is 15 minutes of basking under a warm steam directed at your face to open pores. If you have asthma like me, make sure to mention this to the derma and the facialist so they can make bantay sa iyo. Steam can irritate your sensitive air passages. Dr. Boyles was the one who told me this and I found this to be such a relief and a relevation. Previous spas and clinics (even high-end ones!) never warned me about this!
  6. Hand massage. While your face is being steamed, your hands will be wrapped in hot and dry towels. Then after they're warmed through, you get a hand massage. 
  7. Vacuum. A quick vacuum treatment is applied all over your face. The tiny suction removes dead skin cells that are on top of your skin. It also stimulates lymphatic drainage.
  8. Pricking. This is the painful part. Your facialist will squeeze out with sterile instruments all your blackheads and whiteheads. 
  9. Toner. Witch hazel toner is applied all over your face to disinfect it and to return the pH level of skin.
  10. Laser. Little laser zaps close and tighten pores. You'll notice your facialist will linger over the areas that were pricked most. 
  11. Multivitamin serum. A small amount is massaged into your face to repair and nourish skin.
  12. Oxygenating mask. The final step is a thick and cold mask applied all over the face—even on eyes and lips! This mask solidifies in 10-15 minutes. It can get quite claustrophobic under that mask. Your facialist will give you a back massage naman at the last five minutes of the mask but sana the whole 15 minutes na lang! The mask is supposed to infuse oxygen into skin, reviving dull, tired skin and giving it a glow. The cold mask also calms down inflammation so you don't look namamaga after your facial. 

That's it! This can take a while so prepare to set aside an hour-and-a-half to two hours of your day. This is me after the pricking. Medyo maga pa my cheeks but after the chilly Oxygenating Mask, the redness will calm down.

My tips for the best Flawless experience:
  • Don't wash your face for at least 6 hours after the facial. Your wounds from the pricking, tiny they may be, need to be completely dry before you can wash your face again. Water from the tap has bacteria which can infect your fresh-from-the-clinic skin. If you get a facial at night, pwedeng tuloy-tuloy ka na matulog. If you do it naman first thing in your day, don't put on makeup after. In fact, don't touch your face at all.
  • Set an appointment with the dermatologist. The consultation is free! Might as well get a professional opinion on your skin's condition, diba? She can diagnose what your real problem is, suggest the proper treatment, and give you other skincare tips. Plus, the derma will oversee your facial pa.
  • Dress warmly. Maybe I'm lamigin lang but the clinic gets chilly. I guess kasi nakahiga ako ng two hours so giniginaw na ako after a while. There's a blanket naman but best to bring a jacket or a cardigan, and don't wear shorts. 

I still have acne marks—dark spots and ice-pick scars—but now that the pimples have calmed down, we can now think of other treatments to address the scars and pigmentation. I'm so excited! I'm going to be flawless soon!

The Flawless Acne Control Advanced Facial is just P980. So thorough but so affordable! And most important of all, so effective. Visit any Flawless clinic near you and have your skin checked now!

I'm so happy I chose Flawless to take care of my skin. For more promos and information, visit the Flawless website, like them on Facebook and follow them on Instagram (@myflawless).


Monday, January 11, 2016

Blogging stress!

One of my resolutions is to blog MWF. While I did write a blog post last Friday, it was over at Topaz Mommy. So technically I did blog but because it wasn't over here, I feel like I missed a day!

It's so strange that I'm killing off Topaz Mommy. In my head, it's actually already dead. I just need to do two sponsored posts there that's why I still need to update it. And yet in my heart, it's still alive. I mean, it's been a part of me for six years (my first post there was Dec 28, 2009, when I announced my pregnancy). How does one say good-bye???

I love everything about this design that Fancy Girl Designs and I worked on.

Has anyone here ever killed/abandoned/deleted a blog? How did that go? Did you feel all the stress I'm feeling now? I've actually killed a blog, my beauty blog, Beauty For A Living. But since I never really was into beauty blogging, that didn't feel horrible. In fact, it was a relief. Topaz Mommy is such a different story!
This was my most popular post on the now-dead beauty blog.

I'm not going to annihilate Topaz Mommy completely. I'll still keep the domain. Then Jennyfer Ang Tan will move all six years of mommy blog content into Topaz Horizon slowly and merge the two blogs so that all the posts will be chronologically arranged. I don't know how she's going to manage that! Patricia Allix Villa of Fancy Girl Designs is coming up with a new design (see the inspiration board below) and I'm so excited about that! Lastly, I'm moving everything to Wordpress and Martine de Luna is overseeing my migration. That's a great team helping Topaz Horizon become a bigger success!

I also decided to move to Wordpress because everyone's been telling me that that's best for professional blogs. So okay, I'll do it. But, wow, I've been on Blogger for 10 years and I'm really freaking out about this move. I really don't want to do it!!!

I'm really bad about moving. I've moved homes six times in my life and each move, I'm a mess. Like, I grieve for about two weeks.

So I'm excited about the blog move. And I'm dreading the move, too.

Promise me you'll be there while I go through these growing pains, dear Loyal Readers!!!

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Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Is blogging even still relevant this 2016?

Topaz Horizon officially turns 10 years old on May this year.


Yep. Ten years. I think about who I was and where I was 10 years ago and now... What a blessing blogging has been!

I've been blogging since 2005 (on Friendster) but I created Topaz Horizon in 2006. I had only 50-80 hits a day but I loved blogging! It was so therapeutic to blast my thoughts out into cyberspace and pretend people are reading me. Fun times! I didn't care no one was reading my blog. In fact, it was so liberating to know no one was there because I could say whatever I liked, say bad words, say bad things. Yes, if you read my posts from those early years, they were awful. Absolutely awful. I keep them around anyway to remind me of how I've evolved from that self-absorbed, whiny brat to this 39-year-old wife and mom juggling many jobs and trying to find time to shower!

I've changed. The blog has changed. This year, there will be more changes. Here we go:

There will be only one blog. I'm merging Topaz Horizon and Topaz Mommy end of this month. I haven't announced it to my Topaz Mommy readers yet, but my mommy blog sponsors know and they are all shifting their support to my new (returning) role as a lifestyle blogger who happens to be a mom. That said, that means there will be more parenting posts here now. That will make Topaz Horizon lotsa fun!

Expect at least three blog posts a week. With just one blog to maintain, updating my blog will be tons easier. I'm planning to publish a post on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Sponsored content and my own ramblings will be balanced. When I monetized blogging, never did I dream it would one day be the occupation that will put food on our table. So now that that's the case, I won't say no to business. I'm grateful that my Loyal Readers send me feedback about my sponsored content—that they still sound like me and real and "not paid." I'm very careful about picking brands to work with because I always want my readers to believe me. I put so much of myself out there and I don't ever want anyone to think it's fake.

As a businesswoman, I love pleasing my clients and my readers. I think sponsored content is something I do well. I do realize however that as a blogger, I have to stop flooding you with sponsored content. They can't come one after the other or else you'll think I only blog for the money. The past two years, well, that's been mostly the truth. With three babies and my work as a magazine editor, I just didn't have any time to blog so I only blogged if it was for partners. I'm really sorry about that. Thanks for still sticking around!

Now that the boys are a little older, I think I can breathe easier now. I can do personal posts more often and still have space for sponsored content. As a business, this blog needs to have a certain number of posts to survive. But so you don't see sponsored content one after the other, I promise that for every sponsored post, I'll follow it up with a personal post. So the more business I get, the more personal posts I'll have to churn out!

I will start blog series! This really excites me. Readers look forward to series like What I Wore, Wordless Wednesdays, Inspiring Women, My Kitchen Tips, etcetera ad infinitum! I've tried this before actually but it never quite worked because my series involved so much work. Topaz Fashion was what I wore, Topaz Reads was what I read, Topaz Beauty was beauty reviews. It was just too much time and effort! I couldn't sustain it! So I've come up with a couple of ideas. I'll announce them both within the month! So excited for them!

I will do more giveaways. Okay, let me confess that I dislike doing giveaways because they attract professional contest joiners. They're not really interested in the content, they just want the prize. Then once the contest is done, they don't go back. But because I get so many wonderful freebies from brands and because I want to share my blessings with my Loyal Readers and because I don't want to let the clutter of products pile up in my already-small home, I will do giveaways! I'll just come up with mechanics that will help me award the prizes to deserving readers.

I'll share what I know about the blogging business. I did a workshop with The Study by Enderun Colleges and it was all about making your blog generate income. I think I did well there but I now know that I can help bloggers better if I had follow-through with my students. My workshop was more of a talk because a workshop means I have to be engaged with each participant and make sure what they learned will work for them. So I'm planning workshops and blog coaching sessions all on how to make your blogs make money. So exciting!

So now you know most of my plans for Topaz Horizon this 2016, the tenth anniversary of its existence. But I also want you to know that I've been thinking of the future of blogging. Is it still even relevant in this age of fast-food type of content? Instagram is huge because it's just snippets. Facebook is just as big—you can share photos, thoughts, links, videos, memes without even leaving the platform! Snapchat is... I don't even understand it but it's short videos that have a 24-hour life. And then there's YouTube. Okay, videos are not easy to create (I've tried again and again) but they are the biggest thing online and readers are gravitating towards viewing by the millions.

Where does blogging stand?

My friends in brands dismiss it now. They say blogging is only relevant for Google searches. They want to work with bloggers so that when someone Googles "brand X review" or "brand Y price", their brand pops up in the search. Hmm. Brands think blogs and bloggers are theirs. That's their mistake. And maybe that's the bloggers' mistake, too. Look, I've said it before, "You only bought space on the blog. You didn't buy my soul." Bloggers, have integrity. Don't let a measly shampoo or a free meal or a check make you forget that you and brands are collaborators. They are not your employers. You do not work for them. You are working with them. You have a say, you can dictate content, you can tell them what you and your readers want and if they insist on what they want, walk away. This is how blogs die—when we give it up to advertisers. I know. I've stopped reading blogs overrun by ads. My own blogs, I'm sad to say, have started down that path, too. But I'm taking blogging back!

I think blogging is very much alive, if only suffering from the onslaught of brands. Yes, how ironic, no? Brands came in to work with blogs and suddenly bloggers had a source of income, but it's also the presence of brands that is driving readers away.

I started blogging in 2005, when everybody, absolutely everybody crazy enough to put themselves out there did it for love and love alone. Okay, for the fun of it. Then in 2008 and 2009, advertising discovered bloggers and their massive influence, abandoned print media (and that's why the magazines my husband and I helmed were killed off), poured money into blogging, and then everyone started blogging for fame and money. Not for love.

I'm so happy and relieved I was one of the first bloggers of the Philippines. My being in the first batch gave me a spot in advertisers' files even though my blog wasn't huge back then. Now, brands want blog stats, number of followers, ranking, etc. when they approach you for partnerships. Back then, they just want to work with you because of who you are and how good your blog was.

I don't think there's anything wrong with making your blog generate income. I always said this from when Topaz Horizon started earning money: The time and effort creating this blog need to be compensated. I'm glad that's happened because I'm living the dream—working from home, doing what I love while being with the ones I love.

So I want to be a better blogger—for my Loyal Readers, my brand partners, and most importantly, for myself. I love blogging. With or without sponsors, with or without readers, blogging is forever for me. Right now it's extremely vital to my family because it's what puts food on our table. But blogging will always be important to me because this is how I met many of my good friends today, and my readers from all over the world celebrated my joys and triumphs as well as pulled me through some of my very darkest days. I have a family I've never met scattered throughout the planet. I call you family because I really truly do feel the love.

I can never give up blogging because it holds the very best of my memories, it is a record of my amazing life, an unfolding of my thoughts from the last 10 years. When I look back at older entries, I wince at the attitude of that whiny young woman, roll my eyes at how she thought she knew everything, then follow her adventures into marriage, through grief, then a new career, and then motherhood.

Blogging is still important because no other platform commands so much writing and thought. Everything else is mostly content made for entertainment. But if you want to change people's lives, influence them to do good (or bad), let people know what you're thinking and feeling, you write it. You have to write it.

We have to take back blogging from the brands. That's not to mean we should never work with brands. That just means we shouldn't allow them to dictate our content. That's why readers are leaving blogs by the droves. The blogger has disappeared—there's only buy this, do that, go here, eat that! There's no attempt to even personalize the experience. Bloggers are also using their blogs to promote themselves too much—buy my book, buy my product, download my app, go to my event! Of course, if we're lucky enough to actually have offline products, then we should definitely promote them. We just need to find balance so it's not all me, me, me and brand, brand, brand.

Put a little value-for-the readers now and then. Let them see what you think and feel not just what you do and wear. Let them hear your voice, and let that voice be so strong and loud that even when you're doing sponsored content, the readers know it's YOU talking to them, not the brands. If you've been blogging for as long as I have, remember why you started blogging in the first place—didn't we start blogging because we wanted to share our life, we wanted to share our knowledge, we wanted to make a mark and say we were here? We brought our loves, our hearts, our minds, our lives, our very souls to blogging. Let's bring that back.

How about you? What are your blog resolutions? What are the blogs that you still love? Why did you stop reading other blogs (no names please!)? Do you prefer social media to blogging? I confess that I do—it's easier for me as a mom! But I'm going to change that. I'm going back to my first love. Topaz Horizon is 10 years old! I'm going to give it lotsa loving this year!

*photo by Louie Arcilla. Hair, makeup and nails by Lifestyle Salon by Louis Phillip Kee. Shot at Habitat Manila.

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Monday, January 04, 2016

7 things I learned in 2015 and what I hope to learn in 2016

Happy New Year! It's back-to-work day today and I hope you all had a fantastic holiday because we're going to need all those happy memories and good food to sustain us for another year!

Another year. Imagine that! I'm extremely grateful I still have a new day to spend with my family. I really pray that God gives me not just another day but many more years to be with my husband and kids, and to do His will—which I think is to serve my family. I need Him to give me more time because I haven't really been the most amazing wife and mom in the world. I'm not terrible but I know I can still do better. I'm just not there yet. I'm still trying. There's no peace yet (will there ever?) about how I am as a wife and mommy.

As I was scrolling down my Facebook feed this weekend, I read many thoughts on the past year (my husband mockingly calls them New Year's Essay Contest hehe). Many of my friends on Facebook apparently had a horrible year. Wow. You'd never think that, looking at their updates throughout the year. Just goes to show that what we share publicly is just a snippet of our lives.

I didn't have a fantastic year either... if I choose to focus on the negative, that is, and there was a lot of bad stuff that happened indeed. But there was a lot of good, too. Lots and lots of good. So I will focus on that and declare that 2015 was also a great year. Not the best, but it had its wonderful moments!

I don't want to brush aside the bad, though. We have to learn from the past so we can have a better future. And here is what I learned from 2015:
1. Commitment is a constant state. I don't think my marriage has ever been tested as much as it was tested last year. Nothing movie-worthy—no affairs, no fell-out-of-love feelings, no torn-apart-by-destiny plot line. Ours was more insidious. Vince and I were just drowning every day in everything three kids could possibly throw at us. Consequently, we simmered in resentment and neglect. There were explosive fights and long silences.  
It was horrible because we still loved each other so much and yet we weren't showing it. We couldn't seem to be able to! The kids' needs were so constant and in our face! There would be entire days that we would pass each other in the hallway and eat meals without talking to each other simply because we were attending to a child crying, another one's bump from a fall, another one's feeding.   
I finally realized that the best thing I can do for my children is to prioritize my marriage. Vince and I talked and talked and talked about this. And, more importantly, we made changes. While the needs of the kids haven't abated, we now make sure to look at each other over the little sweaty heads, to touch hands or pinch a butt as we rush past each other to attend to a child or two, to steal a kiss whenever we can. It's just little things and sometimes they don't feel enough but they are constant reminders to each other that we are committed to our marriage. 
2. Liking isn't necessary to loving. I hate Legos. They're messy, noisy, constantly getting lost, and extremely painful when I sit or step on them. All those wise quotes people keep posting on Facebook and Instagram sagely advice to get rid of everything that makes you unhappy. Well, Legos make me unhappy. Extremely so. But they make my kids happy. Extremely so. So I keep buying those blasted things. Why? I may dislike them passionately but I love my kids. What can I do?! 
Sometimes I think these Legos are a foretaste of the future. My kids will like friends, hobbies, music, clothes, girls, and lifestyles that I may not like. But does what I feel matter? No. Granted of course those things aren't dangerous (like drugs and toxic friends and girlfriends) and then I will need to step in. But I have learned to love what my kids love even though I dislike whatever it is—an important attitude I learned really early. Thanks to Legos. 
3. Friends can save your sanity. They do. I don't know what I'd do were it not for my tribe of wise women. Everyone needs somebody to say the truth as well as offer comfort, to make you smile as well as get mad at you when you're being dumb, to get mad and fight for you when you're being too scared or stupid. I'm glad I have these women in my life! 
4. Bad people are difficult to shake off. Towards the end of 2015, a couple of friends revealed their true colors. One tried to sabotage my job. Another said the most awful things about me and when I confronted her, she spat out so much hate at me all because I asked why she was voting for a certain person. These on top of the other blogger friends I used to have, the mean bullies. These betrayals really messed with my head. Someone I work with told me, "Don't let it stay in your head. Rebuke it. Reject it. Better yet, cut off these people from your life!" Yep, remember that advice about getting rid of anything that makes you unhappy? Well, it's not so easy when it's people. I'm still "friends" with these Judases. I don't know why.  
5. Letting go is hard. This must be the reason to the above situation. But this Lesson #5 is meant more for the material things I can't seem to let go of! After three pregnancies, my body has changed. I believe that 90% of my wardrobe don't fit or flatter me anymore. And yet I keep them around in the vain hope my pre-kids body will return. My husband says whether it returns or not, I should just get rid of the clothes and shoes anyway. They're all from 6 years ago. More than not fitting me, they're not on trend anymore. He says, "Just buy new clothes and shoes!" But I caaaaaaaaan't! 
6. Aging bothers me after all. I have always looked forward to 40. I thought that that would be the age I would start being wise, I can finally have a stylish wardrobe and all the great things that come with old age without looking old. Well, this year I'm not liking what I see in the mirror. My face and my body reflect my life now—sleepless years nights, exhaustion, fast food and junk food, no exercise. The white hair, fine lines, sun spots, sagging lids, yellowing teeth, and everything else a young body doesn't have doesn't sit well with me, and my unhappiness about it bothered me.  
You see, I always thought I would welcome aging with grace. I'm not a vain woman, I celebrate my age, I like growing old, I am realistic about aging. But when I saw it happening to me, I was surprised at how upset I became. It made me rethink who I am. Am I vain after all? Am I going to be one of those Botox-stiff people after all?  
7. Being a Christian is really hard. I think I questioned God a lot last year. How can I pray without ceasing when I can't even think straight? Is the Proverbs 31 woman even for real? Is keeping quiet really the best way to respond to the awful things this person did to me? Are You really going to provide for us? Am I ever going to be the wife and mother You want me to be? 
That's what I learned in 2015. Here's what I hope to learn in 2016: I want to learn to love.

Yep. Love! Love in every sense of the word. Love in all its forms. Love that's real and fierce and spiritual and God-led. Love that informs all my decisions and actions.

Wow. That's hard. Big goal. I'm already intimidated just thinking of it. Love is my word for 2016.

I have words for every year since 2013. It helps define that year. In 2013, it was simplicity. In 2014, it was family. In 2015, it was courage. This 2016, I had decreed it to be abundance. I had a good year financially and career-wise in 2015 so I wanted that to continue and flourish this year. So I decided on the word abundance.

Vince disagreed and said, "Your word should be sex."

We laughed. Yeah, while it's still happening, sex isn't happening as often as we'd like! Two reasons: the kids and the exhaustion. Then I thought, "If I really loved Vince, I should honor his needs. Being married means making love and, yes, we must make more time for more of that!"

My motivation to make love is because of love. Love must always be my motivation for everything in my life!
I will be more patient, more kind to and more fun to my husband and kids. I will serve my family with grace and joy because I love them. 
I will spend more time with my friends and other family members because I love them. 
I will take care of my home, not allow mess to pile up, make everything pretty and clean, and use my nice things because I love my home and the ones who live in it. 
I will take care of my body, drink more water, eat healthy food, and exercise. I will apply the lotion, moisturizer and sunscreen, exfoliate weekly, pat on the eye cream. I will get rid of the clothes that make me sad and take up space in my closet and buy clothes that will make me look and feel good. I will go to the salon every two months. I will visit the derma and the dentist. I will sleep!!! I will love my body because it's the only one I've got and three little boys need me to be healthy, fit and beautiful. 
I will be more conscientious with my work. No more missed deadlines. No more "That will do" attitude. No more lateness. I will be the best magazine editor, blogger, writer, PR manager I can be because I love my work and how it puts food on my table and allows me to live my wonderful life.  
I will spend more time with God in devotions because I love Him. I really do. I haven't given Him any time at all last year, sadly. Maybe that's why I was so stressed and upset! Besides, I don't think I can succeed in this love project without the God of love to help me and guide me. 
Love is what will define and shape and move my year! The abundance will come after all that love! I wish you also love, love and more love in your relationships and in all you do! God bless our 2016 with soooo much love!

*image from Christlike Ministries NWA

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