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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