Friday, January 29, 2021

Review: "At the School Gate" by Sandra Nicole Roldan

I bought At the School Gate by Sandra Nicole Roldan a couple of months ago. I met Sandra at the 1999 U.P. National Writers Workshop in Baguio, the same workshop where I met my husband, Vince. Sandra also met her husband, Paul de Guzman, there. We were all fellows in possibly the most romantic writers workshop ever. So join workshops if you're looking for your soul mate! Joking aside, Vince and I like supporting local literature, especially the work created by our fellows. At the School Gate is Sandra's first book.

Since my readers are mostly mommies, I figured I'd do a book review because At the School Gate is a children's book. At just 40 pages, all fully illustrated by Nina Martinez, it appears to be a simple little story about a teenaged girl's adventures outside her school. And it is, except that the story is dark and scary because the girl's father is hunted down by real monsters.

This is the story of Ella Cortez, a child of an activist against Martial Law. In the 1970s, activists who criticized Marcos were arrested and jailed without evidence. Many were tortured, many were killed. My parents were Marcos Loyalists and they told me this was a lie. And I was a Marcos fan, too, until I met the survivors - my professor Marra Lanot, my mentor Jo-Ann Maglipon, and my colleague Pete Lacaba. I was so embarrassed to declare one time that Marcos was an amazing President in front of Sir Pete. He looked at me and smiled sadly. That was when another colleague told me about his activism. Then I had to confront the fact that my parents were the ones who lied.   

The book follows Ella's story as she is fetched from school by her auntie at the school gate. Ella is not living in Martial Law times anymore. She is 15 years old so this is 1991. The country is under the Aquino administration, supposedly the golden era of democracy, a safe time. Her father is now an NGO worker, making documentaries. But Ella finds out from her aunt that the government captured and tortured her father again. The whole family must now stay together to keep her safe. It didn't feel safe. There is malevolence and fear haunting every page. Ella realizes quickly that even though it's her father the government is after, the threatening presence of a henchman shadows her every move. Will she be afraid or will she be brave just like her father?

At the School Gate is an important book, especially and frighteningly relevant in these dark times. Many would argue that recent events of red-tagging schools is a good thing. The government is just trying to protect students from communists sweeping through the halls and recruiting gullible young girls and boys to go against the government. But my argument to that is this: What's the overwhelming proof that state universities are churning out communists? You'd think there are thousands upon thousands of students joining the New People's Army every year. But there hardly are any. Not one person can come up with a verified list of even just a hundred students who joined the NPA in the last year. 

I don't even understand why the government is threatening the universities when there are no physical classes. The campuses are ghost towns in the nearly year-long quarantine. There's no one there to recruit, and therefore this issue is illogical. Yet we are haunted and threatened by it. 

Student activism shouldn't be a priority, especially while there is a global pandemic. Yet it seems to be an issue that won't go away. What's the oft-used phrase of this administration and its defenders? Kung walang masamang ginagawa, walang dapat katakutan. Something like that. Why are all our administrations so afraid of students and activists then? 

At the School Gate shows us that activists just want a better life for their children, except that in their fight for a better world, their families suffer. Is it worth it to sacrifice your family, your life, on the altar of democracy and freedom? It's a question I'd have said yes to when I didn't have children. But I'm ashamed to say motherhood has made me a coward. That's what this book made me realize.  

And that's why this book must be included in every Filipino home. It opens our eyes to the truth that democracy is a tenuous thing. We must not take it for granted. Some people risk their safety, happiness, and their lives fighting for it. Will At the School Gate ever be required reading? Sad to say, as long as we have leaders who are corrupt and hungry for power, this book will be dangerous material. 

To be honest, I haven't read this book to my kids yet because it's too raw and scary. It shouldn't be. Martial Law was three decades ago. But it's all still happening, especially today. I thought I'd be able to tell the boys, "And that was a dark time but these brave men and women saved us from a dictator and now we're free! There's nothing to worry about anymore. We are all safe." But I can't say that. Not yet. I hope, in 2022, I will.

At the School Gate by Sandra Nicole Roldan is available on Shopee for just P195.

Friday, January 22, 2021

Women in tuxedos. An ode to Ashley Biden's so-cool-so-hot OOTD

I know everyone's talking about how the fashion choices of Kamala Harris, Jill Biden, Michelle Obama, and poet Amanda Gorman symbolized many important things in the inauguration this week. Yes, it's wonderful fashion is back in a good way. But it's the uber-chic Ralph Lauren tuxedo that First Daughter Ashley Biden wore that has me going, "Oooooh I likey!"

Check out the First Family - stylish like the previous two families before them:


But while the Obamas were high-low American chic and the Trumps were high-end-only fashion design style, the Bidens seem to be "We're cool just as we are." It's relaxed. The two First Families before them didn't have this chill vibe. The Obamas aimed to please. The Trumps wore their fashion like armor. The Bidens wear their clothes like they have nothing to prove. They're cool, naturally. It's almost not American, their je ne sais quoi attitude.


A gold gown with messy hair. A vintage-style dress with on-trend ugly sneakers. Sparkly orange gown grounded by black details. A severe purple pussy-bow, grandma dress with matching killer D'Orsay pumps. And Ashley's undone tie is just the symbol of it all. She's dressed in nice threads with those sleek cigarette pants and black-and-gold stilettos but her undone tie relaxes her look. I am so in love with this look!

Tuxes and suits aren't that odd on a woman. From the 1930s, actresses like Marlene Dietrich and Katharine Hepburn, have donned the menswear staple to challenge how women are supposed to dress. In the 60s, cool girls Bianca Jagger and Catherine Denevue wore it to show that women can be sexy and powerful in a man's world. It's supposed to be an androgynous look but by wearing something so male, the femininity is emphasized. 

Here are my favorite recent incarnations of the look:

Evan Rachel Wood

Dakota Johnson

Emma Watson

Victoria Beckham

Zendaya

Angelina Jolie

Wearing a tux is on my bucket list actually. I just need an occasion! Universe, let's make that happen! 

Monday, January 18, 2021

Stop this unrequited love nonsense

My husband and I were watching "Bridgerton" on Netflix and one of the Lady Featheringtons is hopelessly and secretly in love with one of the Lord Bridgertons. And I turn to my husband and announce, "I have no idea what unrequited love feels like."

My husband gives me his I-won't-roll-my-eyes-because-I-love-this-arrogant-woman look.

"It's true," I huff then I turn back to the TV and give my advice. "Just tell him you love him and be done with this agony. Easy!"


Now I know it isn't easy for many women. It wasn't easy during the 19th century and it's still not easy 200 years later. Goodness, despite all the progress feminism has brought us, when it comes to love, we still pine away and hopelessly wait for the men to notice us.

I've never been this way. If I like a guy, I tell him. If he doesn't like me back, then his loss! As Taylor Swift sang, "Who could ever leave me, darling? Who could stay? You could stay." And if he chooses not to, then it's just not meant to be. And it's okay, I can let it go because I tried and failed and I can't argue with facts. 

But if you never tell him how you feel, then how would you know it's not meant to be? And you're trapped in this purgatory of never knowing when this hell of uncertainty will end. Just like quarantine! I mean, you can enjoy quarantine but you don't want to be stuck in the same place forever. 

I've been told many times by friends and older people that if the girl shows interest first, men will lose respect for her. But they underestimate my intelligence. I can see when a man is taking advantage of my interest and then I lose interest because I see what he's really like after all. And isn't it great I saw the real him before I ever fell deeply in love? 

So maybe we should teach our girls to be smart so that they can see a jerk a mile away. Maybe we should teach our boys that a girl who says what she means and means what she says is admirable and be taken seriously instead of mocked. Maybe we should be teaching our children that honesty and truth are good things and that both men and women can be honest and no one should disrespect an honest person, especially when they're sharing something so delicate. And then maybe this world wouldn't be full of heartbroken people who shouldn't even be heartbroken in the first place because love is a relationship. It's not a one-sided affair, folks. When only one person is in love, that person never sees what the object of his/her affection is really like. You're not there when he's happy or sad or sick or mean. You're not in a relationship so all you ever see is the good side. You only love an image. That's not true love.

I hope my sons never know what unrequited love feels like. Yes, it's romantic. Think Severus Snape and how he loved Lily Potter so. Or Cyrano de Bergerac and how he wooed Roxane with his exquisite love letters but signed them as Christian so she ended up falling for the dumb guy. Or Julianne who was determined to steal her best friend Michael from Kimmy. Or the Little Mermaid (not the Disney one) giving up her life literally to be with a Prince who never cared for her at all. Eponine and Marcus. Gatsby and Daisy. Romantic but tragic and infinitely a waste of time. 

I tell my sons all the time, "The worst thing in the world is waste." Waste of resources, waste of talent, waste of opportunity, waste of life, waste of time. Don't waste time pining away for someone. Tell him you like him. And if he doesn't like you back, don't waste your affections on him. He doesn't deserve you. Move along. Life is short. Your heart, mind, body, and time are precious. Don't waste yourself on someone who won't love you back.

Love,

Auntie F.


Sunday, January 17, 2021

These Bible verses will be my guide to a healthy lifestyle

Good grief, I'm 133 lbs. I know I don't look it because my face and limbs are all still slim. All my chubbiness is concentrated on my middle section so I'm kinda like a spinning top. I better be careful and not wear colorful clothes or someone might spin me around haha


I did let my body go in the second half of 2020. I was exercising and getting trim the first half of last year then I got depressed midway and it just felt so good to eat. Then even when I wasn't sad anymore, it still felt good to eat! Oops. All the food I discovered and had delivered in quarantine? was just too irresistible.

So it's now 2021. No better time to change my body! And to really keep me on track (I hope!), I looked for a few Bible verses to push me to care for my health. I've tried all the reasons - to look good in my clothes, to be fit and strong because I'm a boy mom, to be healthy for my family, there's a pandemic for goodness' sake, etc - and nothing seems to motivate me enough to stick to a healthy diet and fitness routine!

But maybe God will. I mean, this better work, right??? So here we go! 

"Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, honor God with your bodies." I Corinthians 6:19-20

"Remember that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize. You also must run in such a way that you will win. All athletes practice strict self-control. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run straight to the goal with purpose in every step. I am not like a boxer who misses his punches. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified." I Corinthians 9:24-27

"So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God." I Corinthians 10:13

"She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks." Proverbs 31:17

"But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way… 'Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.' At the end of the ten days, they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food." Daniel 1:8, 12-13,15

Gosh. Now I feel that if I still live unhealthily, it will be a sin. Well, it is, I guess. What a sobering thought. 

My goal is 125 lbs by March 15. That's basically a pound a week. Should be easy enough haha *famous last words* Okay, I'll be posting my progress on my Instagram Stories! Please don't make fun of my chubby tummy haha Pray for me!

*Toy top photo by Marcus Spiske from Unsplash.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

How Chadwick Boseman changed my 2020

Truth be told, I like quarantine. I didn't anticipate it to last for 10 months (and counting) but being an introvert and an overwhelmed mommy, staying indoors is a relief. I didn't have to rush rush rush anymore. My rushing about wasn't pointless, even though I seemed like a headless chicken most days. There are always errands and chores and deadlines for a working mama. There is always something urgent. Always something to do. There were so many days I would slowly sink into a chair and realize this was the first time I sat down that day.

So when quarantine happened, I was determined to sit down and even lie down for as long as possible. For once, I didn't want to do anything. I just wanted to stay put and enjoy staying put. I wanted to do nothing and be nothing. 

If that sounded lazy and selfish, well, maybe it was. But I had spent the last 10 years getting pregnant, giving birth, breastfeeding, teaching, feeding, caring, giving and giving and giving, you know? I just wanted to rest. And from out of nowhere, a pandemic happened and I can finally get the rest I wanted.

I was actually quite happy. Then Chadwick Boseman died. Black Panther. King of Wakanda. And apparently one of the wisest, most beloved and admired in Hollywood. I wasn't really a fan. I liked Black Panther, sure. I think it and the first Iron Man movies are the best in that Marvel movieverse. Otherwise, I didn't really have any reason to mourn his passing. But people kept sharing his words and this one hit me in the chest:


"When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, 'I used everything You gave me.'"

I used everything You gave me. 

It made me want to stop lazing about! I thought of what my talents and skills are and if I'm using them well. I realized very quickly that I wasn't. I was in a selfish, lazy mode. I was also in insecure, I'm-a-nobody-anyway, I'm-just-a-mom, poor-me mode. 

But Chadwick's words stirred awake that little girl who dreamed of changing the world. And yes I may be no one important but that's just my ego talking. Anyone - big or small - can make a difference, big or small. God gave all of us talents and skills. Some seem to have gotten a big chunk, sure, but what matters is what we do with what God gave us. And I've learned that when you put yourself out there and use what you got, people will pay attention, they will help, and you will learn more and gain more. So even if God gave you maybe one little talent, it will help you gain more skills and opportunities just as long as you keep using your talent!

The Bible literally has a story on talents working this way, except that in that parable, a talent is a form of currency worth 16 years of daily wages. In Matthew 25:14-30, the story goes that a rich man was going off on a trip. He gave one of his servants 5 talents, a second one 2 talents, and a third servant just 1 talent. Why the unfair distribution of talents? Well, his criteria were he'd give according to their ability to do what they can with the money. Well, the first two servants used the money given them for business and their investments grew. The last guy was too scared he'd lose the money so he just hid it. Of course, when they had to give an accounting of the money, the rich boss got mad at the servant who didn't do anything with the talent.

So there I was, on my butt, hiding my talent because I was feeling boo-hoo, I'm a nobody, why write when no one cares about what I have to say. But Chadwick, my man, you may not know me but what you said made me sit up and stand up. And I decided then and there that I'm going to write and teach and fight and sing (lost that talent already actually) and discover all the good things God gave me and use them all for the good of mankind and for His glory. 

And that's why I'm writing thought pieces for Project Vanity, why I decided to blog mindfully, why I'm being more mindful of my decisions this year, and why I wrote a book. Life is so unsure now, what with that COVID-19 threatening our every breath. So we'd better do what we have to do with whatever time that's given us. 

I hope this story galvanizes you, too! Let's get off our ass, stop feeling insecure, and just use whatever God gave us and make a good change in this brokenhearted world. We all need to make life just a bit better, just a bit kinder, softer, sweeter, wiser. Let's use everything He gave us. God bless you, my friend! 

P.S. Taylor Swift was an inspiration, too! Two albums within months. If she could do something productive in lockdown, I was determined to do the same!


Friday, January 15, 2021

Dream come true! "Not Invisible: A Memoir"

 Way back in 2006, I blogged about a little dream in this post: What I think about on a slow Sunday evening. Six years later, I brought it up again in  My bookstore haul and mentioned it very quickly in Photo dump!. I dreamed of coming out with my own book, it will be published, of course, and hopefully loved by people enough to buy it and tell others about it.

This week, that dream came true. Please check out my new book, Not Invisible: A Memoir!!!


I shared the good news yesterday over at my social media that it's real - I am now a book author!


Okay, I don't know why my book came out in the Educator Biography category. It's not entirely inaccurate, given that I used to be a preschool teacher and I'm homeschooling now hahaha. But it should be under Parenting and Relationships. I'll ask my publisher, Ukiyoto, about that. 

And today, this happened:

#1 New Release

#8 Best Seller in Biographies of Educators

#13 in Two-Hour Biography and Memoir Short Reads

I am thrilled beyond words! All the words that I can manage now are "Thank you!", "Thank you so much!", "I'm crying!" and "God bless you!" Everyone's been so kind and encouraging, thrilled with me and for me. I am so grateful.

Not Invisible: A Memoir is a collection of the best posts from Topaz Horizon and Topaz Mommy. The latter is not accessible to the public anymore but for this book, I went back to that beloved blog and picked out a few essays. So if you've never read Topaz Mommy or you did and you miss it, please buy my book!

After selecting the best posts on marriage and motherhood, I realized that it wasn't a simple task to just put them all together. They had to make sense together, to have a consistent thread, and to flow well. That was not easy. I took out half of the text! From 40,000 words, I went down to 22,000. I edited and rewrote it all for print. Online writing is different, you see. I wanted the print version to read like a book, not a blog. So now many of the posts chosen for the book read like entirely new essays! 

I was also aware that readers of the book will be people who may never have heard of me. So I had to pay attention and make sure there was no reference that only made sense to Loyal Readers or people who know me. And while it's still very much about my life as a Pinay mommy, it also had to appeal to an international audience. Making this book wasn't easy (check out a behind-the-scenes scene)

So I assure you, if you are a Loyal Reader, that you may have read many of the posts on the blog but they are quite different in the book. Much better actually because now they're edited mercilessly! I want you to know that Not Invisible is a wonderful collection! Look at what my editor said:


I also had the help of my most favorite editors, Kat Dy Peters, Nicole Romero Vagner, and my most favorite editor of all, my husband, the Vincent Sales! Having four published books under his belt (fiction), his opinion was valued. In fact, I was a little scared to show him my work haha. On one hand, he's my husband so I'm sure he'll be kind. On the other hand, he's one of the best writers, editors, and authors I know so I was intimidated. 

I also asked my Loyal Readers to help me out! I sent out a few "help me!" messages and the response of encouragement and excitement wowed me. They were even more excited than I was! It was crazy haha Their excitement was what I needed to keep working on the book even though I was plagued with self-doubt and imposter syndrome. Ugh. I hate that imposter syndrome. So thank you, dear Loyal Readers, for helping me get rid of it! 

A dream only comes true with the help of others. I am so grateful to everyone who's helped me out, especially my friends and readers who asked me every year, "When are you coming out with your book?" That constant faith means the world! Look at where their faith got me!

And since we're on the topic of faith, I do want to share that last year, I was praying to God, "What do you want me to do? I feel like I have a book inside me but I don't know how that's going to happen and if it will ever get published." I kept praying about it and then, out of the blue, Ukiyoto Publishing, a traditional publisher in Canada, sent me an email, said they loved my blog, and asked me to submit a manuscript. Ukiyoto had just set shop in South East Asia and wanted to publish regional authors. And the rest of the story is above!

So I need to end this happy post with words that aren't my own but ring true now more than ever:

"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” James 1:17

"I will give thanks to You, LORD, with all my heart; I will tell of all Your wonderful deeds.” Psalms 9:1

"Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, His love endures forever." Psalms 118:29

* * * * * * *

Not Invisible: A Memoir is available as an ebook on Amazon/Kindle for USD 2.99. (Click here to buy!). It's also available as a paperback for USD 7. If you're from Manila, Amazon's shipping fee is crazy. I'm working out a pre-order plan from the Ukiyoto Singapore office. If you'd like to pre-order, please send an email to frances@topazhorizon.com with "Pre-order: Not Invisible" on the subject line. Thank you!

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Who's the best match for Daphne Bridgerton: Duke of Hastings, Prince of Prussia, or Baron Berbrooke?

Sorry sorry! I know I have a 30-Day Blogging Challenge but I was derailed by Netflix's Bridgerton. Who's watching??? 


Such a fun show. It's like Gossip Girl. I hear it's right down Downton Abbey alley, too, but I haven't watched that show so I won't know. I love the modern touches. The Ariana Grande and Billie Eilish songs in 19th century settings. The obviously modern high heels with sumptuous gowns. 

Anyway! This isn't going to be a review haha. I'm an absolute royalty nerd so I was a little annoyed at one thing. The issue of peerage. 

Just a note on peerage. There was a scene where Lady Gossip Girl said Daphne traded up by choosing the Prince from Prussia vs the Duke of Hastings. Not quite.

A duke is a title just under king. The peerage goes like so:

1. King or Queen

2. Duke or Duchess

3. Marquess or Marchioness

4. Earl or Countess

5. Viscount or Viscountess

6. Baron or Baroness

A prince, meanwhile, is a title that simply means the son of a king. So unless Prince from Prussia is the heir to the throne, he's basically just a rich brat with no future and no real money of his own (think Prince Harry, Andrew, Edward). If you're a prince, you want to be a duke! That's why on their wedding day,  Queen Elizabeth II gifted William the Duke of Cambridge title and Harry the Duke of Sussex title. Before their dukedoms, they were literally just COOs or "child of the owner".


So again, the only prince who matters is the heir to the throne. And since Prince of Prussia said he planned to stay in London to raise his family, he is obviously not the heir.

Also, side note on Daphne's brother, Anthony, marrying her off to Nigel Berbrooke. That made no sense at all. Anthony is Viscount Bridgerton. Berbrooke is just a baron, a title lower than theirs. It's a terrible match because Daphne would've married below their status. So ridiculous. 


Which means the Duke of Hastings is the best choice. He has the better title, his own land, his own money, and - with no siblings - absolutely no one else to share all that fortune with. And if the Queen in the show has no children (and it doesn't look like she does), Hastings has a chance at the throne. Well, all the dukes in the kingdom will, er, duke it out first but he definitely has a chance. Which means Daphne has a chance to be Queen. So Hastings is the right choice.

That's all! 

Thursday, January 07, 2021

Review: Silouex compression leggings

I'm just going to start this review with my conclusion: I have found leggings that I love! Ladies, meet Silouex compression leggings. It's not a new brand. I think it's been around for a couple of years. I've definitely seen the brand featured on women's lifestyle websites but I only got a pair myself a few months ago. And I love it!

Exercising and lounging at home in my favorite leggings! 

Here are all the reasons why:

1. It's thick. 
You may think that's a bad thing in a tropical country but I am just tired of leggings that rip at the bum, split at the seams, and when you're out under the sun, kita na kaluluwa mo sa nipis. Yuck. The Silouex leggings are thick. sturdy, but not hot. Definitely warmer than your regular leggings but better warm than embarrassed!

2. It's easy to put on and take off. 
I have had battles with other kinds of leggings. Pulling them up can leave me breathless, taking them off can be a nightmare (especially when you need to pee!). Silouex leggings are no trouble at all!

3. It can be worn outside your house. 
Like I said, it's thick. Some leggings are so thin, people can see your camel toe. Not chic at all. Silouex leggings protect my modesty while showing off my legs, too!
I can twist and stretch and my leggings won't split, roll down, or reveal my butt! 



4. It's high-waisted. 
You know what that means? They keep my tummy in and they don't roll down! Ladies with big bellies know what I mean!

5. It separates my ass cheeks. 
Yes! Not only does my butt get a nice lift from the compression, there's also a seam in the butt part of the leggings that makes my ass look like two round buns instead of one flat piece of meat.

6. It holds me together. 
Did I mention Silouex is a pair of compression leggings? That means all my jiggly parts are contained! It's shape wear disguised as leggings!

7. It's comfortable. 
At the end of the day, we ladies use leggings because we want to be comfy. Silouex is soooo comfy.

8. It's affordable. 
A pair is P2,300. Is that a good and reasonable price for leggings? Yes. Why? It's really shape wear, and shape wear is expensive. But super affordable nga actually their price compared to the ones you buy from foreign brands.

Once the quarantine is over, I'm definitely wearing my Silouex leggings to the gym, on the streets, to the mall, while hiking, etc etc. Check out some of these OOTDs I got:


Nice! Anyway, if you're on the lookout for really good leggings, buy Silouex! I super recommend it!

Wednesday, January 06, 2021

How to know if I'm sharing a sponsored post

I've been blogging for 15 years by May this year. And, boy, have things changed! Before 2010, bloggers just wrote about everything they fancied. That's why bloggers were so trusted. Reviews were always from personal experience and since these were paid for from our own pockets, readers knew we had every right to say whatever we wanted - positive or negative.

Oh, those were the days! Such freedom! I didn't do reviews, though. I couldn't because I was the editor in chief of a magazine. I once wrote a glowing review of Olay on my blog. Pond's, a major advertiser of my magazine, complained. I protested, "My blog is a personal hobby. It has nothing to do with my job!" But my bosses persisted and so I deleted the Olay post and avoided doing reviews thereafter. It's okay. Reviews are an expensive thing to do anyway! (But do it because people Google reviews all the time!)

Around the start of the decade, brands started taking note of the huge following of bloggers and so advertising budgets were shifted from print publications to blogs. But with bloggers now taking payment for featuring a product, a restaurant, a salon, or a hotel, readers began doubting their credibility. I avoided this by choosing to work only with brands I believe in. That meant not raking it in, however. Sometimes, I will admit, I wished I could just say yes to all the offers since who's to know anyway? Well, I would. My family, too. And eventually, my readers would, too. The loss of my integrity is the most costly of all so I can't do it. 

I wanted to be transparent so all my blog posts were marked at the beginning or at the end with a "This blog post is brought to you by [brand]." And they were also tagged as sponsored posts. On Instagram and Facebook, I used the hashtags #THx[Brand] and #thblogsp (Topaz Horizon Blog Sponsored Post) until the platforms added the Paid Partnership feature. 

Now, it's my 15th year in the blogging world, and I know from emails from my Loyal Readers that they don't like blogs and Instagram accounts that are all about products and services because they never can tell if what they're reading is paid for or not. Influencers usually don't like marking posts as sponsored because followers don't trust paid posts. While it would be nice for bloggers to never charge for anything, a blog isn't a cheap hobby. And for influencers with massive followings, it really makes sense to earn from their influence, right? 

I'm not a huge blogger but I've built enough credibility to be considered an influencer (or in agency speak, KOL - key opinion leader). Even though disclosing sponsorships usually means fewer likes and views, I'll still disclose anyway and hope you'll still support me by liking the IG/FB post and reading the blog feature. I'm making it easier for you all to know if what I'm sharing is a sponsored post or a press gift. Here's how to know:

SPONSORED POST


Sponsored posts on the blog, Instagram, and Facebook will all have my face on it! That will differentiate it from the other products that I share. That way, you'll immediately know I'm endorsing it. And brands like it when people pose with their products. 

I want to make sponsored posts more special because a few years ago, a sponsor complained that I'm posting and writing about other brands for free. The brand felt gypped. Struck me as a little petty but I've thought about it and I'll do something about it. Hence this blog post!

PRESS GIFT (NOT PAID)

This is actually tricky. Some press gifts are sooo nice or I really love them that I blog about them happily and people assume it's a paid post. I will always always always disclose if a post is sponsored. Always have, always will. But to differentiate them further, press gifts will not have my face on them when I share on social media. And they can be lumped together with other similar gifts in a thank you post or a blog feature. 

On the blog, however, I haven't decided. Some gifts need to be worn (clothes, makeup, jewelry) or experienced (a resort, a salon makeover, restaurant). I figured I'll present the gifts the best way I can on the blog even if that includes me with the product/service and then just disclose that it's a gift. But I'll only share the experience on IG Stories. Same goes for events.

Some bloggers advised that they share gifts and events on Instagram as a carousel, but the first photo will not have the brand in it at all. That seems like a good idea. 

Oh, and all gifts will be shared on my blog's Facebook page, in the Blogger Gifts album. If I extra love them, then they get an IG post and a blog feature, too! But as a thank you, every gift will be shared in this album.

EVENTS

One thing that I do that baffles people is I don't post events in real time. My reason is I don't want anyone to know where I am. I always post about an event hours or even days after it happened. Many brands ask that I post in real time. I never say yes. And they can't make me because I never charge for event attendance.

I don't think you should follow my example, though. Agencies and brands love influencers who post in real time and stay throughout the event. So if you want lots of campaigns, go to all the events! It really helps you become visible to brands and agencies so they think of you for campaigns. It's really a good idea to go to events, guys. However, brands don't like people who charge an attendance fee but if you want to, then do so. I know why other people charge. Parking, gas, Grab fare, outfits, the time spent in traffic - all of these cost money. 

I will charge if I'm asked to work at the event as the host, part of a panel, or as a speaker. So if you notice I'm posting about an event in real time, then you know I was hired to be there. But if I'm invited as a guest, then I go as a guest. That way, if I want to leave, I can leave and no one can stop me. And because I don't have an attendance fee, I only go to events I like. It has to be worth my time and money and what makes that worth it? If it's a brand I really like, if it's for a friend, or if my friends will be there. Events are a great place to catch up - there's free food, free drinks, and everyone's all dressed up! 

Again, don't do what I do. Events are a great way to build your brand and network. Attend as many relevant events as you can!  


PRESS RELEASES

I used to publish press releases on the blog on Press Release Tuesdays. I think that some announcements are interesting for my readers to know and it makes for additional content. But now I'm putting all press releases in my News to Know album. Mostly because news gets old fast and it's easier to post them on Facebook then delete after it's no longer relevant.

And that's it! That's what's you can expect this year on my blog and social media platforms! Okay, and just in case you're not following me yet, please like my Facebook page and follow me on Instagram

Thanks so much!

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

Review: Maybelline Color Drama Brow Mascara to make brows match hair colors!

To greet the new year, I went back to an old look. Short and red! Everyone I know tells me I look much better with long hair. And I agree haha That's why I always cut my hair short once a year then I let it grow, then I cut it again. People may like me with long hair but I think I'm most me with a red bob. My hair grows really fast, about half an inch a month, so it's fun to just cut and cut and cut because it's going to grow out fast anyway.

However, in all of 2020, I wasn't able to go to the salon. In fact, the last time I had my hair cut and colored professionally was mid-2019. I gave myself trims throughout quarantine but I finally chopped it all off, colored it a deep red, and I feel like myself again! This is me from the past two decades!

Hello, 2021! Imma ready for ya!

Except my eyebrows aren't haha. To be honest, I only learned to do my brows when I turned 40 (that's 4 years ago). So if you look at my looks above, some photos have no eyebrows haha

Anyway, I used to bleach my brows to match my red hair but now I just use Maybelline Color Drama Brow Mascara in Brick Brown. It's my secret for a cohesive look without bleach. When I'm dark blonde, I use Yellow Brown. When I'm a brunette, then it's the Deep Brown. 


Again, the shade I use to match my red hair is Brick Brown. It's a nice reddish brown. In fact, I chose my hair color to match the shade of the brow mascara haha

It's super easy to apply, too. Just brush it down and then up then shape. Then let it dry. It keeps my brows' shape all day. It really coats each strand of my brows. And I like that it still looks natural. And that it's waterproof and smudge-proof. I look so pretty!!! Check it out!

Sadly, I couldn't find the Brick Brown shade in the Maybelline official store in Lazada or in BeautyMNL. So I'm kinda in panic mode haha But if you have brown or blonde hair and want to try a brow mascara, try Maybelline Color Drama Brow Mascara!

Monday, January 04, 2021

New year, time to clean! Stock up on cleaning essentials!

The last 2 weeks of the old year and the first 2 weeks of the new year is when my cleaning spirit is resurrected and I scrub and wipe and sweep and freak my husband out who goes around the house asking, "Who are you? Why are you doing this? Where is my wife???" Hahahaha my poor husband having to live with messy, cluttery me.

I actually enjoy cleaning but having kids is so defeating. Like, what is the point of cleaning when they mess up everything within seconds? So I just do what I can to keep the mess at bay, but during that short period when the old year dies and a new one is born, I clean! And I love it!

Here are a few of the cleaning items I used:


Thanks so much to Clorox, Defensil, Smart Spray, and Aller Plasma Nano+ for the cleansing products! I had a grand time cleaning because of your gifts. Here's why:


With all the rubbing alcohol out in the market today, a gift of bottles upon bottles of Defensil was amazing! Especially since Defensil is 70% Solution Isopropyl Alcohol. Yes, not all alcohol is created equal. It needs to be in concentrations of 60% and above to be effective at disinfecting your hands and surfaces. I had to check if alcohol actually kills the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. According to Healthline, yes it does but it has to be in high concentrations, or pharmaceutical grade. So no, mouthwash, gin, beer, perfume, Eskinol - these will not protect you LOL.

Defensil 70% Solution Isopropyl Alcohol kills 99.9% of germs on contact. That said, the NCBI notes that "alcohol is flammable [so] limit its use as a surface disinfectant to small surface-areas and use it in well-ventilated spaces only. Prolonged and repeated use of alcohol as a disinfectant can also cause discoloration, swelling, hardening, and cracking of rubber and certain plastics." So the best and safest way to kill germs is still good old soap and water and washing your hands for at least 20 seconds.

For more information on how to stay protected, the Defensil Health Defense Council is inviting Filipino families to visit the Defensil Isopropyl Alcohol’s Facebook page.

 
Here's an old and credible brand I trust! Clorox! I think we've been using Clorox since I was a kid. And I'm in my 40s so that's a long relationship we have.

Bleach is a truly effective disinfectant and, yes, it can kill the coronavirus! Yes, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends it. Its active ingredient is sodium hypochlorite and it can destroy bacteria, fungi, and viruses at full strength. But at full strength, bleach can be irritating to skin and the respiratory system. That's why we dilute it with water. As long as you use the recommended dilutions, that won't lessen its effectivity but it slows it down, disinfecting within 10–60 minutes' contact time.

Since you're not going to use bleach to wash your hands, this is fine. I use bleach on household surfaces like the kitchen, bathroom, and tiled or linoleum floors. I also use it on the laundry (Clorox has a color-safe bleach) to make sure our clothes are completely disinfected.

I love the Clorox Disinfecting Wipes, by the way! They don't contain bleach, but they are EPA-registered to kill SARS-CoV-2! So make sure you stock up on these wipes. Please note these wipes are for disinfecting surfaces, not for your face, nose, or private parts.

For more information, like the Facebook page of Clorox Philippines.


For those who are wary of chemicals, why not make your own chemicals? But first, I just want to establish that I'm a great believer in chemicals as everything on earth is made of chemicals. Your whole body, the air, water, the earth, our food (even organic food), every single thing you can see, smell, touch, and taste is made of chemicals. Chemicals are good. 

It's toxic chemicals that aren't good. Let us all use the correct terminology! But for those who don't want to buy bleach, make your own with Smart Spray. It's a simple bottle that uses electrolysis technology to transform water and salt to sodium hypochlorite. If you read my Clorox write-up, you'd recognize that term as the effective ingredient of Clorox bleach. 

I haven't actually used this gadget much because I have real bleach on hand but I read that the homemade disinfectant Smart Spray makes can be used to clean fruits, seafood and meat, bottles, phones, furniture, school and office supplies, car interiors, toys, packages, and all other surfaces at home. Woah. That's a lot and even on food! And it won't harm wooden furniture. 

Okay, the American Chemistry Council says that sodium hypochlorite is safe for food preparation. You can even add it to drinking water. I just don't know the amounts so until I'm sure, I'll use my Smart Spray on surfaces that we put our faces on - pillows, phones, the sofa, dining table, and the like since I don't use bleach on those things. But I'm happy that now there is a safe disinfectant for those!

For more information on Smart Spray, please go to www.smarthomephils.com


Okay, this is our new nifty gadget for fighting off viruses and bacteria in the air! Meet Aller Plasma Nano+ Sterilizer. We did the research and cold plasma technology kills viruses and bacteria suspended in the air. And, according to Science Daily, plasma can kill SARS-CoV-2 cultures not just in the air but also on surfaces in less than three minutes, destroying most of the virus after 30 seconds. 

We love it! I'll do a more detailed review next week. Just all I want to do now is buy 2 more units of this small hero so that our entire condo can be sterilized.

For more information on Plasma Technology and Aller Plasma Nano+, you may visit allerplasma.com, like the Aller Plasma Sterilizer Facebook page and Instagram: @allerplasma.

There you have it - my cleaning essentials to start off 2021 right! Check them out, too!

Sunday, January 03, 2021

All I want in life now really

Well, it's the third day of the new year. I dunno about you but everyone seems to be treading softly. It's not celebration I can feel in the air, but an overall feeling of exhausted relief. "We made it. We're still here. We hope to stay this way throughout 2021." Seems like everyone's goal for the year is to stay alive. On any regular year, most of us will think that's the bare minimum. But with a contagious disease spreading insidiously all over the world, that's the biggest goal.   

That's mine, too, for me and my family. And then I have a second one. It's not a goal really. More of a wish. It's a wish because I don't know how I can make it come true given the pandemic and the loss of projects. What's my wish? I want to have our whole condo unit renovated.


My husband and I have been talking about it once in a while over the years. Our eldest son will be a teenager in a few years. Well, all three of our boys will be teens soon so we need to give them more space and privacy. Our home is almost 14 years old so things need to be updated - the air conditioners, the TV, the kitchen, the floors. I want more lights. My eyesight has gotten worse with age and I need more light, especially when I cook. My husband wants to freshen up the walls with paint and wallpaper. He also wants a bigger TV for the gaming devices he just bought and will buy. I want a big Persian rug in the living room, new curtains, new beds, new sheets, new closets. 

I want shelves in the living room so I can move all the books from the boys' room outside. Loyal Readers will know that the boys' room used to be our home office so all our books are on one whole wall. I want to move those out. When I was a kid, my parents used to drag us around to visit the homes of their hundreds of friends. I remember that the one thing that impressed me among all those houses was a wall of books in the living room. So I want one in my own home.


But talks of renovating remained just that - talks. When we were quarantined last year, however, I became more acutely aware of our home and everything that needs to be fixed and upgraded. I'm also aware that even if I had the means to have our home fixed, the pandemic makes that complicated. Our condo admin is leery of letting non-residents in the complex so good luck getting any renovating done. 

So let's strip down my wish, shall we. My home is actually quite wonderful. Sure, it needs a little freshening up but our home is so nice that my family - even the kids! - didn't feel the desire to go out at all for the last 10 months. I've mentioned this before. Because my husband is an introvert and I hate traveling, we've built our home to be complete in entertainment, comfortable and cozy. Video games? Books? Movies? Board games? Toys? They're all here. We've been cooped up for almost a year and we haven't gotten bored yet.

So what's my itch to renovate all about? Well, it's the thought that the vaccines won't reach our shores for months. So that means at least half a year or even a year inside our home again. I don't know if we can distract them for yet another year.

All I want in life now really is for my kids to be safe and happy. Safe from the virus. Happy with just us. So all I want to do is make our home not just a refuge and respite but also an even more fascinating place for them, a wonderland to make them forget the world outside, if only for one year more.


Saturday, January 02, 2021

30-Day Blog Challenge accepted! What to expect this January 2021 on Topaz Horizon

Happy New Year, everyone! I'm starting 2021 with a challenge -  a blogging challenge! Many of my blogger friends did the 30-Day Blogging Challenge years ago. I never did it because I can't even bring myself to blog regularly, not even twice a week sometimes, so how can I even do 30 consecutive days? Well, that's why it's called a challenge!

I'm treating the next 30 days as my one and only time I'll share everything I think about every single day. This is why I don't want to do the blog challenge before. To create daily blog posts means I'll have to share more than I'm willing haha But that's also the beauty of blogging, right? I'm aware that in the past few years, I've held back. Many reasons. I'm changing, my life was changing, and I really didn't want to talk about things while I was processing them. 

But since I've finally settled down and I'm calmer and wiser now, I decided I can blog every day and share more of myself! I'm so excited! I've actually already made a head start. The next 30 days have already been planned. To make it easier, I followed a general topic list:

Mondays - Marriage and motherhood

Tuesdays - Press releases, shopping finds, product reviews

Wednesdays - Beauty finds and reviews

Thursdays - My work (including sponsored posts) and working mom issues

Fridays - Celebrities and entertainment

Saturdays - Anything goes!

Sundays - Thoughts and faith

Although I guess I'll publish whatever post is ready. Take a peek!

Tentative lineup schedule

What I also hope to achieve with this daily challenge is to figure out which topics my Loyal Readers are most interested in. And which days your schedule is free enough to read my blog. So if you have any suggestions or which topics you'd rather see more or less, please leave comments throughout this month!

As you can see, almost every day is already plotted out. I haven't finished these posts yet, however, so that's the challenge. Some of them are already outlined. Some of them are written but have no photos yet. Some have photos but aren't written yet. So let's see if I can get them done. Wish me luck!