Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Can't wait to discover Hong Kong this 2017!

Halloo, working mamas! Yesterday, I attended a lunch hosted by the Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB). They wanted to express their thanks to us Filipinos because we're such a huge market. Can't contest that. On my Facebook alone, it seems like everyone I know goes to Hong Kong on a weekly weekend whim. Aside from thanking us for being such fans of their attractions like Disneyland, Ocean Park, and their shopping, the HKTB also wanted to tell us about their "Best of All, It's in Hong Kong" campaign, which invites everyone to many other places to check out in Hong Kong. I was very surprised!

For example, I did not know that you can go hiking in Hong Kong and see the dazzling city right below you. I mean, I knew that there were mountains behind that famous skyline. I just didn't realize that those mountains were within spitting distance of the skyscrapers. Literally!
Whenever movie star Sean Lau feels the stress of city living, all he has to do is escape to the nearby mountains.

I also just found out today that there is a volcano in Hong Kong and so the Hong Kong UNESCO Geopark was created to celebrate that fact. In fact, I didn't even know that there was nature in Hong Kong! I always thought it was all city. But believe it or not, there's a marine park, a wetland park, a nature reserve, and a botanical garden! And by marine park, I don't mean Ocean Park (which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, by the way, so do visit!).
Movie star Michael Wong invites everyone to check out the biggest Hong Kong attractions.

I also never knew that Hong Kong has nice beaches. I knew that there was Repulse Bay but there's another one on the island called Big Wave Bay Beach. Other beaches are not on Hong Kong Island itself but in the neighboring Lantau Island, where Disneyland is.

So, if you think Hong Kong is only about shopping, food, and fun parks, think again. There's so much more to see and do in Hong Kong. We just need to discover them all!

But of course, you might as well shop and eat at Hong Kong, just like 20-year-resident Chef Umberto Bombana and his chef friends, including our own Chef Margarita Fores.

Anyway, back to my lunch today. I want to quickly share with you our dishes because they were especially created by Asia's Best Female Chef 2016, our very own Margarita Fores. My family is a fan of Cibo. We eat there all the time! So I was looking forward to our lunch. Chef Fores learned to cook when she lived in Hong Kong many years ago as an investment banker. The many flavors of Hong Kong plus her solo living made her realize that she not only loved to eat, she also loved to cook as well. So that was the start of her new career as a chef and restaurateur! So when HKTB asked her to create a special Filipino-Chinese meal for us, Chef Fores delivered. It was really nice how she was also so excited about each dish. She introduced every one as the servers placed the plates on our tables. I found her adorable! And here's what she made for us all.

Crab Trio Sformato Chinese Black Vinegar-Negros Muscovado Glaze
Organic greens, calamansi perfume
Handmade Egg Taglierini, Asian Bolognese
Minced pork and cured goose liver sausage ragu, organic peanut
Spotted Philippine Garoupa in Cartoccio
Cordillera black rice cooked to a crisp (a.k.a. tutong), Hong Kong cured meat trio, Xiashing wine, Balsamico di Modena, Mindanao sakurab onions
Spiced US Angus Short Rib Adobo
Davao chocolate, Negros cinnamon, five spice, Philippine soy-Chinese plum sauce, pickled bitter gourd and palm heart atsara, rosella Chinese barley, topped with pumpkin flower fritter
Salted Egg Panna Cotta & Red Bean Ensaimada
Coconut caramel sago pearls, warm pili milk, Batangas coffee coral

It was an interesting menu. Very flavorful. A little strange, to be honest. I liked the crab salad and the adobo best. I mean, that adobo was perfect.

My afternoon made me all the more excited to visit Hong Kong this year! I've been waiting for my youngest son Piero to get a little older so we can visit Hong Kong Disneyland. My kids want to see the new Iron Man attraction.

Iron Man Experience made its grand debut last January 11 at Hong Kong Disneyland. The ride is interactive—kids (and kids-at-heart) board it at the Stark Expo at Tomorrowland. First, kids get to examine the innovations from Stark Industries. Then they can try on the Iron Man armor virtually. If they're lucky (oh, I hope my kids will be lucky!), they can also meet Iron Man in person! The grand finale is putting on a pair of StarkVision glasses and boarding a special Expo-edition Iron Wing flight vehicle. Forty-five passengers of this special simulated flight will fly alongside Iron Man in the Hong Kong sky for a panoramic view of the Hong Kong Stark Tower! But be ready for battle, kids—the evil forces of Hydra are out to get you and Iron Man! 

The immersive multi-sensory motion experience was created by more than 70 Imagineers from Hong Kong working together with the international Imagineering team and the Marvel team to create this world’s first Iron Man-themed area. It took them more than three years to design and create the Iron Man Experience: flight simulators, 3-D projection, surround sound, and other special effects!

My little Iñigo will go absolutely bonkers. That Iron Man-themed hotel room alone! Oh, I really really really want to bring the boys to Hong Kong this year!

The last time my family went to Hong Kong was in 2013, just before I discovered I was pregnant with my youngest boy. This year, they'll be 7, 5, and 3 years old. Must go back! Vito and Iñigo had so much fun in Hong Kong Disneyland so I am so sure Piero would enjoy himself, too. As a working mama, I first need to budget for this trip! So far, we haven't started putting away the funds for it, but that's why we're going to work extra hard this year. Pray for us, mommies! I'll pray for all of you, too. And when God answers our prayers and lands our families in Hong Kong at the same time, don't forget to say hi!

For more information on the latest and best of Hong Kong, go to their website: You can also follow them on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Blog Biz: How to get beautiful photos for your blog posts

Today's Blog Biz post was inspired by a reader who asked why I said some time ago that I was deleting old blog posts. Well, I have many reasons but the biggest is image copyright. I've been blogging for more than 10 years and back in the day, we bloggers just grabbed willy-nilly any and every photo and image we found on the world wide web and used those for our blog posts. So I had (or have since I'm not yet done editing!) dozens of blog posts that have images that were used without permission and credit.

Working mamas, that's called stealing intellectual property.

One of the most worrying and creativity-numbing components of blogging is sourcing images. There are many horror stories of bloggers using images that were protected by copyright, assuming they would just get a warning or takedown notice but instead, ended up paying money due to an image copyright claim—it’s a scary thought.

More and more bloggers have become law-savvy and have prepared several alternate methods of obtaining images to avoid the possibility of being sued by a disgruntled photographer. In all fairness, people who create those images have a right to enforce their copyrights, but no one wants to pay someone thousands of dollars just because they used an image without permission, so it’s best to avoid that trouble altogether.

So does this mean we won't use photos for our blog posts anymore? In this particular age of social media, beautiful images matter. They are what make your blog stand out, they help break up long text, and they make people read your blog. Sourcing beautiful images is key to creating a successful blog, so here are some tips to get the images you need:

Take your own photos.

This is an obvious one but many people seem to forget that their smartphones can take ridiculously good photographs. If you need some snaps of nature or the skyline or your outfit, then why not grab your phone and go for a little walk around the block? If you need to take generic stock photographs of a computer or a chair, then why not just snap some pictures of your house or if your house isn't Instagram-worthy, go to your friend’s home and take a few shots?

Use stock photos.
If you aren’t in a position to take your own photographs, then consider a stock photo service. These can get pretty expensive, but they offer an insanely large collection of stock photographs with comprehensive search functions. I sometimes use stock photos, too, but I use free photos. Yes, there are free ones out there! The ones I used for this blog post are from Unsplash*, just to give you an example. I'll make another blog post on stock photo services! With these services, you’re almost guaranteed to be able to find some photographs to suit your blog, but chances are your readers might notice they are stock pictures and be put off by your lack of creativity.

UPDATE Jan 31, 2023: I just deleted all the stock photos I got from Unsplash. Scrubbed my entire blog of their images. Apparently, there are disputes about copyright over some photos on their site. I know because I just got a letter about it. This lawyer's saying his client owns the photos I got from Unsplash. The photographer credited in Unsplash says the photos are his. Not worth the trouble! So no more stock photos for me. I'll just...

Learn to create images.
If it’s not photographs you’re after, then perhaps you need to get involved with the design process and learn your way around graphic design. Fortunately, there are many online tools that let you create your own posters, flyers or other images that are suited for the web or social media use. I just discovered Canva and I've used it for creating my media kit. I plan to make memes and working-mama quotes next! Now if you’re into comic art, creating banners or even mixing stock images to create infographics and other similar designs, then pick up basic skills with software like GIMP or Photoshop.

Hire a freelancer.
If you need a specific image made or a picture taken of a particular location, then there are hundreds of freelancers on the internet that are just waiting to be hired. A quick Google search will reveal thousands of results for budding freelance designers and photographers who are willing to work for less money just to build up a portfolio for when they pitch to higher profile clients. If you’re lucky, you can get a beautifully created image for less than the price of lunch. Yes—please pay. I have a lot of friends who are photographers and graphic designers who HATE bloggers who ask for ex-deals. Please offer them payment. I'm sure they'll be willing to work within your budget if you're really nice. 

I still think that taking your own photos is the best and easiest solution. I use my iPhone 6 and Olympus camera. Some bloggers who have lots of money invest in cameras and equipment (lights, tripods, reflectors, etc) and their investment paid off, especially with gaining Instagram followers. 

You don't have to do the same yet. Just use whatever you have, take photos in a well-lit area, use your phone's filters, use photo editing apps, and master flatlays and your perfect angle. Take your own photos! It’s easy to upload to your computer or website, you have full ownership of the images and you don’t need to worry about infringing on someone’s copyrights. Good luck, mommy bloggers!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Quirky Birthday Party Ideas for Kids

Many of my readers tell me they discovered my blog because they were looking for intimate birthday party ideas for their babies. For reasons ranging from no budget to not liking their relatives haha, many mommies didn't want to throw huge parties. But because of our culture's penchant for throwing wildly extravagant fetés for babies, these moms wondered if anyone in the Philippines actually threw tiny birthday parties and didn't die of humiliation afterwards. Aaaaaand that's how they found me! Hooray!  

I'm not throwing shade at big parties, okay? I imagine that if my circumstances had been different (ex. my babies liked strangers, my kids and their cousins were the same age, friends were also having babies, my house was bigger, I had lotsa extra money, etc), maybe I'd have thrown huge parties, too. In fact, we did try a big party for Iñigo and that was fantastic, but we all decided after that that the smallest parties had the biggest fun! 

This year, however, my kids are turning 7, 5 and 3. They have more friends now and want big birthday parties. So as early as now, the kids are throwing me their suggestions for their parties—some crazy (a Ghostbusters party with real ghosts), some blah (Avengers party. Again.). As a working mama, I want my kids to have the birthday parties they want but done with lotsa fun and creativity and definitely within a reasonable budget.   

What are your plans for your kid's birthday party, mommies? Why not try something a bit out of the ordinary this year? There are some tried-and-true themes that kids always love, from superheroes to Disney characters. But putting a fun and quirky twist on the usual birthday party can give your children something to remember plus let your own creativity shine. Here are a few ideas to help you get started with planning the perfect event. 

Cooking Party
This is something my little chef Iñigo will enjoy. Kids love getting messy in the kitchen. If you have a smaller group on hand to make this manageable, you could make the main activity a cooking session. Whether it’s decorating cupcakes and cookies or making their own pizzas, the kids can get creative and learn some new skills in the process. You could extend the theme to the party’s decorations and costumes. Dress up with chef hats, and let the kids customise and take home their own aprons as a party favor. 

Detective Party 
My kids have discovered that silly Inspector Gadget and also love the investigative skills of the Ghostbusters. So let your guests unleash their inner super sleuths with a detective-themed party. If you’re a lover of murder mystery dinner parties, this would be the junior equivalent! Create your own clues and scatter them around the house for a different twist on a scavenger hunt. Costumes could include Sherlock-inspired caps, magnifying glasses and fake moustaches. Crafts can involve invisible ink, allowing guests to solve the crime. 

Science Party 
I love this idea for my eldest son Vito because he's started asking a lot of questions about how things work. Make the most of children’s natural curiosity by throwing a science-themed party. You could set up a few basic experiments or a more outlandish mad-scientist themed party. With this one, part of the fun is in planning the decorations! There are also sorts of science-themed treats that you could dish up, including frog-shaped cookies and juice served in beakers or test tubes. Add in some fun fancy dress including lab coats, goggles, and wacky wigs, and you’ll have a mad science blast. 

Fairy-tale Theme
Princess- or Disney-inspired themes are always top of the heap for little girls’ birthday parties. But my boys like fairy tales, too! My littlest boy Piero loves being read to and enjoys fairy tales and fables so a fairy-tale party would be great for him. You could give this idea a unique twist by picking a specific fable or fairy tale. For example, choose Goldilocks and the Three Bears as your theme and you could transform your home into the abode of the bear family. Place different-sized chairs around so that guests can find the size that’s “just right,” along with porridge-inspired treats and whimsical woodland décor.

These are just a few top ideas to help you start flexing your own creative muscle – ask your child for input and you may be able to find the perfect theme! 

For a look back at my kids' tiny parties, see here:

Thursday, January 19, 2017

A New Year, a new you? Work-from-home careers for busy moms

It won't come as any surprise to my readers that being a mom is a full-time job. As a mom, we are on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Our job never ends! Whether you're a full-time homemaker, a work-from-home mommy, or a mom who goes to an office, we never stop working at all. That is the truth.

Many mommies tell me they wish they can work from home, just like I do. (Meanwhile, now that my youngest son has weaned, I'm thinking maybe it's time to go back to corporate!) But many of them also tell me they don't want to be a blogger like me. I totally understand—sometimes I don't want to mine my life for business opportunities, too! Sometimes the need for privacy takes over, you know? That's why I'm steering my blog away from my mommy life and to a space for working mamas. 

So what other options are there for moms who want to be with their kids and earn money at the same time, but don't want to be bloggers? The good news is that there are plenty of career paths now available for moms to work from home all day. Let's take a look at some of them.

Realtor or Appraiser
Real estate agents are usually able to set their own schedules and often expect their employees to be able to work at the evening and on weekends. The job of an appraiser is to calculate the value of property by comparing it to similar properties in the same area. The job requires some training and certification, so you'll want to start thinking about it now if you plan to become one before the end of the year. The pay is good, and there are lots of benefits.

My friend, Kabbie Alipio, is in real estate. She used to be a fashion editor (that's how we met, when we were both editors for OK! magazine), and then her husband asked her maybe she can help with his growing real estate business. So she jumped ship. She now earns so much more than she ever did in publishing and she gets to be with her adorable daughter, Kelly. Best work-life balance!
Get Kabbie to help you find your dream home via Upside PH.

So try real estate, mommies!

Hairdresser or Makeup Artist
Women are always going to demand services from people who can help them achieve the look that they want. This means that there is a lot of demand for beauticians, like hairdressers, makeup artists, and mani-pedicurists. The great thing about beauticians is that they are able to work from home and work flexibly around their own timetable. The most successful beauticians, hairdressers, and makeup artists are those who specialize in particular areas, like weddings. Rates of pay tend to be higher for things like weddings and special events.

One of the best wedding makeup artists I know is Jasmine Mendiola. We also met in the magazine world, when Jas used to be the fashion and beauty editor for Total Girl, and sometimes I'd ask her to contribute to OK!. Jas has since left for more lucrative work in advertising and events. She also does beauty workshops. She writes beauty articles. She's a stylist. She's also an in-demand makeup artist and hairstylist for brides. Whew! Despite her busy schedule, she still gets to spend lots of time with her kids, Mio and Roux. 
Check out Jasmine's work at Jasmine Mendiola.

So try the beauty industry, mommies! You can do nail art, waxing, massages—all of these pay so much! 

Interior Designer or Home Stylist
If you have a passion for interior design, then becoming an interior designer is a good option. Although education and training are usually preferred, there are plenty of opportunities in the markets for people who just have a passion for decor. Most people succeed in the interior design industry by focusing on one or two very lucrative clients and ensuring that they meet their needs. 

A mommy interior designer who endlessly surprises me is Camyl Besinga. She used to be the managing editor of Cosmopolitan (that's why I know her). She's also in a band. She's a stylist, too. And did I mention that she's an interior designer? Like, what can this woman not do?! She also has a cutie little girl!
Check out Camyl's work at Gal At Home.

So try interior design, mommies! You can also start a home-cleaning service, a gardening biz, or make products for the home!

Most people think that accountancy is a job that has to be done in a big office. But as an accountant, you can actually work for yourself from home, allowing you to do things like preparing clients' taxes and creating financial reports. In addition, you are able to work flexibly, or even part time if you wish. Most accountants start out with a bachelor's degree in accounting, but you don't have to start out this way. You can also start as an assistant for an established accountant. What's more, there is plenty of training online through people like the CPA Exam Guy

Haha, okay for this job, I have no friend to give as an example. I don't know any mommy who is an accountant! I guess former editors may branch into a lot of things but finance is way too far from the spectrum! But do try accountancy, mommies! My goodness, I've been looking for an accountant and bookkeeper forever to help with my business books. There is a HUGE market out there for freelancers and sole proprietors like me. I finally have an accountant but he's a he so I can't feature him as a working mama!

If you're wondering how you can grow your business if you're stuck at home, don't lose heart! The first place you could look to build your customer base is your family and friends. Try your community, too. Try your online community—I find this very effective. Use Facebook, Instagram and Linkedin to tell people about your work. The best way to have a cheap shop and office? A blog that features your work! So try blogging, too! Good luck, mommies! 

Monday, January 02, 2017

What 2016's most popular posts can tell us about blogging in 2017

Happy New Year, everybody!

Indulge me for a moment: I want all my Loyal Readers who are bloggers to check their stats and see which of your blog posts ranked the highest. List them down and then study that list. I'll tell you why in a bit but first, here are Topaz Horizon's most popular posts in 2016:

#1 Review: Flawless Advanced Anti-Acne Facial
#2 Mama's regrets
#3 What exactly is a supermom?
#4 I saw my future in an instant
#5 Frances Finds #GiftsTheyllLoveatNBS
#6 Topaz Horizon is now officially a mommy blog
#7 Review: Physiogel Calming Relief range
#8 Life changes this year with the new school year 
#9 Is blogging even still relevant this 2016?
#10 Raising kids in the time of blogging

Beauty reviews, motherhood, marriage, blogging, and shopping finds. Those are the topics that my readers liked the most. Although I'm a little suspicious about the National Book Store post because I think NBS promoted that.
Or maybe this was a popular post because people love to shop? What do you think?

In November, as I turned 40 years old, I launched a new look and a new direction for my blog. The look was cleaner and more professional yet still feminine. The new direction was my blog will now be a working mama's journal, a working mother's life shared with other working moms! It is my hope we can create a community supporting each other. That's the goal. Thing is not one career-oriented blog post made it to my popular-posts list! What to do?

Well, I've decided to marry what my readers want with what I want. I will still continue to talk about beauty, motherhood, marriage, and shopping but all in the context of working motherhood. To tie it all neatly together! So I've found my niche (working mamas unite!) and I'm so excited to blog this 2017!

You see, last year was a bit of a limbo for me. I decided to kill my mommy blog so I can stop mommy blogging and be a lifestyle blogger. However, my lifestyle was very much dominated by my kids—from what I wore and what I ate to what I read and watched! What else am I going to write about?!? As a writer, I have always been told by my writing teachers and mentors: Write what you know. And all I know now in this stage of my life is being a mommy so here we go! Mommy blogging again! But I needed focus. And after many tries, I found it, I found my focus! Working mamas unite!

Throughout 2016, I also experimented with different topics seen in blog series. I did Ask Frances, Frances Finds, Topaz Talks, and Blog Biz. Here's what you'll still see in 2017 and what will stay in 2016:

Ask Frances was an advice column but I quickly found out that I couldn't sustain it. First, the questions sent were too hard—marriage trouble, OFWs resenting their families, mothers resenting their kids and their husbands. I'm sorry if I didn't answer your questions, readers. I didn't because I couldn't. Second, the questions were mostly sent anonymously so when I ended each Ask Frances post with a request for contact info so I can send their gift, only two replied and got their gifts! So that didn't fly.

Frances Finds will continue! I have lots of products and goodies to tell you about!

Topaz Talks is fun—it's me chatting with other working mamas and they reveal tips and tricks about work and motherhood, plus information relevant to the season. I have three Topaz Talks lined up! I just haven't been able to transcribe my interviews because the holidays were much too much! Stay tuned for those!

Blog Biz was my favorite series! I was only supposed to do that every other month but I liked talking about blogging so much, I did it every month. I even did two Blog Biz broadcasts on Facebook Live! I realized I love sharing my blogging secrets, and I really want everyone to have a blog. I like telling stories and I love reading other people's stories so let's all write our stories! Plus, if I can help other people, mommies especially, to earn from blogging like I do and be able to stay home with their kids like I do, then my blogging has been worthwhile!

So there you go! My blogging strategy for 2017! Focusing my blog to be by and for working mamas will also help me with everything—from the sponsors I work with, the workshops I'll do, and the speaking engagements I hope to get. It's easier to explain my blog to brands now! I'm so happy that after 10 years, I've finally understood what to do with my blog! Imagine that!

Okay, now tell me what you plan to do with your career and your blog this 2017. Tell me about your blog's most popular posts and what it told you. I'd really love to know!

Happy New Year!!!