Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Frances Finds: delicious holiday hampers from Marks & Spencer

Everyone wants to give amazing gifts and while some of us are very good at it, many of us need a bit of help looking for the most wonderful gifts. And because we're all soooo busy and because the traffic is soooo horrific, we want to do our shopping with ease and convenience.

And that is why Marks & Spencer food hampers are super popular! I always get Marks & Spencer food baskets every Christmas. It's one of my favorite things to give and receive. They're always so well curated, every product from cookies and candies to savory cooking ingredients are gourmet, and everyone eats everything in a Marks & Spencer holiday hamper! Well, I know I do!

I got a sampling of the goodies that are already in the Marks & Spencer shelves so that I can tell you all about them. Thanks, M&S! We think the penguin tin is adorable. (It's on my Instagram Stories today! Check it out here: @topazhorizonblog)

Here are the other holiday hampers you can shop for this Christmas (descriptions by M&S):
Remind someone to live the good life and indulge only with the tastiest and most thrilling treats with the Divine Pleasures (P4,995) hamper. If you’re going for gold and want to impress, this hamper won’t disappoint as it comes with Domaine Mandeville Shiraz, Belgian Metropolitan Biscuits, Wild Flower Honey, Christmas Coffee, and more!

Another luxurious treat is the Holiday Haven (P5,995) which can instantly lift up any mood with its delectable yuletide selections. The hamper contains Italian Hazelnut Chocolate Spread, Christmas Pudding Biscuits, Cherry Liqueurs, and Sparkling Clementine & Cranberry Presse, among others.

Perfect for when you want to let your loved ones try the best at home is the Lavish Luxury (P3,495, in photo). Just imagine them curling up with some hot Cream of Chicken soup on a relaxing day or munching on Milk Chocolate Teacakes while sharing a laugh—totally worth it! The Sumptuous Selection (P2,995) on the other hand has indulgent drinks, treats, and a savory soup that food lovers will surely appreciate. You’ll also never go wrong with Timeless Favorites (P2,495) which has a collection of much-loved food like the Chocolate Chip Cookies and the Traditional British Porridge.

Marks & Spencer has something for every health nut in your life as well. The health conscious can enjoy Gluten-Free Delights (P1,995) for gluten-free options and The Wellness Collection (P1,995) with items that are perfect for when one wants to relax. You can even gift the flavors of Italy with Italian Escape (P1,995, in photo) which comes with culinary essentials that will bring the authentic Italian food to life.

Smaller boxes include the Tea-Time Treats (P1,495), Sunrise Bliss (P1,495), Chocolate Indulgence (P1,995, in photo), and Sweet Nostalgia (P1,495). Wine lovers can also enjoy the wine gift sets and make Christmas gatherings extra special.

Extra special indeed! I love love love M&S holiday hampers! If you're planning to give me a gift, I would love anything yummy from Marks & Spencer. Well, except wine. I don't drink alcohol really, although I will admit that their wine is so perfect when paired with the pasta and sauce in their baskets! 

And extra news for shoppers who love a discount! 
December 4 to 31, 20% off on champagne
December 11 to 24, 15% off on bags of sweets and chocolate bars
December 25 to 28, 20% off throughout the store including food and wine, and double points for Loyalty cardholders.
Reward and Premium members and BDO cardholders: , enjoy up to 50% off on selected items plus additional 5% off sale items for  up to January 5, plus an Exclusive Sale Preview for Loyalty Members on December 29

Marks & Spencer is a super British retailer that sells clothing and home products that are not just stylish but are also of good quality. Its food products are delicious (my favorite is their caramel candies!) and are responsibly sourced from around 2,000 suppliers globally. Really a good choice if you're looking to give gifts of food baskets this Christmas. 

You can find M&S branches at Alabang Town Center, Eastwood Mall, Gateway Mall, Glorietta 4, Greenbelt 5, Power Plant Mall, Robinsons Place Manila, Shangri-la Plaza Mall, SM Mall of Asia, SM Megamall, SM City North Edsa, Trinoma, Central Square, Estancia at Capitol Commons, Abreeza Mall, Marquee Mall, Ayala Center Cebu, Lim Ket Kai Center, Paseo de Sta. Rosa Outlet Store, Subic Harbor Point Outlet Store, and SM Lanang Premier. Happy shopping!

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Oh, what fun we had at the Alaska Ultimate Mission Camp!

This post is brought to you by Alaska Milk.

Last Sunday, my little superheroes Captain America and Iron Man were absolutely pumped to go to the Alaska Ultimate Mission Camp. I imagined a day of chaos for me but, boy, was I mistaken! The Alaska Ultimate Mission Camp was AMAZING!!!

The Mission Camp was held at SMX Convention Center at SM Mall of Asia. I don't know why I got the idea that it would be held outdoors but I slathered the kids in sunblock, brought towels and a change of clothes, and boxes of Alaska Choco milk. When we were ready, we piled into a taxi and then zoomed all the way to MOA. There's no traffic on Sundays so we did literally zoom there. Once we got there, the kids got even more excited seeing the crowd. They immediately started playing with the other kids while we were still lined up.

With Momma 'n' Manila Michelle Aventejado and her daughter Gelli.

Inside, we did a tour first, so we can develop a game plan. We wanted to experience everything that the Mission Camp had to offer! There were four main areas:

(1) Kids Activity Zone for the younger kids. This is where they can busy themselves with arts and crafts activities like coloring, cutting out masks, building with blocks and bricks, stacking Alaska Milk cartons to make a tower, face painting, and playing memory games.

(2) Disney Mission Zones for kids 4 and up. There are four Mission Zones: the Marvel Zone where the kids skate, stick to the wall, hit a target, and crawl through a tunnel; the Frozen Zone, which is basically a big skating rink; the Ultimate Zone, which is a big obstacle course where kids test out their skills in balancing, jumping, climbing, and other major physical exertions; and the Alaska Zone, which also has lots of activities to test your kid's strength and agility, plus there's a big dome the kids enter and inside they experience virtual reality.
Safety briefing from secret agents at Marvel Zone. 

(3) Parents Zone, where grownups can learn about making coffee with Kreme Top, making desserts and cooking with Alaska Evaporated Milk, Alaska Condensed Milk and Alaska Crema Whipped Cream. There was also a Toy Kingdom booth which peddled Disney and Marvel goodies.
Waiting for the coffee-making workshop to start. 
Pop-up shop for Disney toys

(4) Entertainment area. In the middle of it all was a big stage where games, song numbers, and educational talks were presented for the entire family.
My kids in front.

Look at what my kids did:

Listening to Ate Secret Agent finish briefing the kids.
Iñigo is Spider-Man! Sorry for blurry pic. All parents had to stay outside and
we can only look through these little windows.
Just finished their Alaska milk refreshments and about to go to the Ultimate Zone.

The obstacle course at Ultimate Zone was physically challenging!
Enjoying the ball pit at Alaska Zone.
They just missed the cupcake decorating workshop! My boys weren't happy about that but oh-so-adorable 
Selene (unica hija of The Misty Momjust jumped up to check out what new activity she can do!

We had soooo much fun! More importantly, my kids learned to be independent because the Mission Zones were parent-free. The brothers had to take care of each other and Vito was really looking out for Iñigo. So proud of my boys! They also learned how to listen carefully to instructions, and bravely take on all the physical tasks. They weren't that easy, but they did it anyway! I'm especially impressed with Iñigo because he usually has lots of reservations when it comes to new places and new things but he jumped into each new activity happily. I am oh so proud!

I'll let my kids tell you about their experience at the Alaska Ultimate Mission Camp:

It definitely was a winning day for my kids! As a parent, I am also happy to report that the event was so organized. I've been to other events where the organizers were just overwhelmed with all the kids. The Alaska Ultimate Mission Camp was well staffed—there was a LOT of them to make sure every kid and parent is attended to. The staff knew what every activity was so if you ask a question, you get an answer fast. The zones were all safe and secure, and they controlled the number of kids in each area so that it doesn't get too crowded and the staff can manage the kids better. Should accidents do happen, there was a medical team in a very visible area.

I had been a bit apprehensive when I found out that the mission zones didn't allow parents in, but when I saw how safe and secure the areas were and that the staff was in control of everything, I relaxed and allowed myself to have just as much fun as my boys! In hindsight, I should've not been so scared because Disney was involved in the event, and Disney has the ultimate credentials when it comes to giving families an exciting yet safe experience for all.

Tired but happy little boys.

I'm so happy that Alaska and Disney mounted this super fun day. Thanks soooo much for inviting us, Alaska and Disney! Thanks also for providing Alaska Milk for all the thirsty kids at the event. I saw that all the kids (and the parents, too!) enjoyed the delicious and nutritious milk drinks. They liked pointing out the beloved characters like Spider-Man, Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Princess Anna, Queen Elsa, and even Olaf whenever they pop a straw in a box of Alaska Choco, Alaska Sweet Milk (my favorite), and Alaska Yoghurt! The drinks didn't just refresh them and sustain them for the day of physical activities, it also provided them with the essential vitamins and minerals and, with the yoghurt drinks, even good bacteria for their tummies. As a mom, I am oh so happy with all that!

I'm hoping that Alaska will have another Ultimate Mission Camp next year. Pleeeeeeeeease do it again! My kids can't wait to go again. It was the most fun they've had in recent memory, so thank you and please do another one soonest!

For more information on Alaska Milk, visit www.alaskamilk.com; and like their Facebook page, Alaska Milk, to be updated on promos and other activities.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Blog Biz: Don't forget these 4 social actions to promote your blog

Hello everyone! I am fresh off my latest and oh so successful Blog Biz workshop last Friday at The White Hat Yogurt at Fully Booked BGC, and I am so happy with how smart and enthusiastic my workshop attendees were. I am confident that their blogs (when they finally start blogging!) will be bigger than mine! I am so sure of it!

One of the topics we discussed at the workshop was blog promotion. If you run a blog, you want people to read it. Whether you're sharing your opinions on politics or the latest fashion, or you might be writing tutorials or talking about your daily life—whatever you write about, you need to get people to pay attention. 

There are lots of ways you can promote your blog, but social media is one of the best methods. You can connect with a community of other bloggers and blog readers. There are several channels you can use, from Facebook and Twitter to Snapchat and Instagram. If you want to get started, there are several things you should do.

1. Automate your sharing
Once you have social media accounts set up, it can be a lot of work to share your posts. I devote about 10 minutes just sharing away everywhere! Twitter, Instagram, my Facebook friends, my blog's FB page, the FB groups I belong to, and Linkedin. If 10 minutes sound like a lot of time and you're on Wordpress, you can make it much easier by setting up automated sharing. It's simple to do this using various tools. 

Do keep in mind that you may not be able to use the same tool to share to different accounts. For example, Instagram lets you share to Facebook, Twitter, etc. But when you look at an IG post shared on Twitter, it doesn't really look nice. It just redirects you back to Instagram. So now I just post on Twitter itself. I no longer use IG's sharing tool. 

2. Connect your blog and social media channels
As well as doing your own sharing, you want others to share your posts, too. Sharing is caring as they say! Make sure that you have sharing buttons on your blog. Put them on the main page and on your individual blog posts, too. Make it easy for people to share your content to their own accounts straight from your website. 

You can also put widgets for your social media pages on your site. For example, you can have a stream for your Twitter feed or show your latest Facebook post. I haven't done this myself but that's one of the design tweaks I plan to do soon. 

Oh, and don't forget to link to your blog on your social media channels! If you look at my Twitter, Facebook accounts, and IG, all of them links back to www.topazhorizon.com. Make it easy for your followers to find your blog!

3. Paid ways to improve your reputation
If you have an advertising budget, you might want to use paid ways to grow your audience. There are tools you can use on social media to boost your reputation. One thing you can do is use advertising and promoted posts. These are available on a number of channels, including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I just started doing this on my blog's Facebook page. I select a post I really really really am so proud of and then I boost it. My budget is usually just P200 and that reaches around 2,000 people. I've only done this to four posts so far but my page's likes went up dramatically in a month. So it works!

Now this next suggestion is a bit controversial and the attendees of my workshop last weekend discussed this at great length: You can buy followers and likes for your accounts. Yep. The advantage of that is when people see you have a large following, they might get curious and follow you because they want to know what the fuss is all about. My friends in PR revealed to me the Instagrammers who bought their following and, well, their padded numbers definitely helped make them successful. The disadvantage is when Instagram does a purge and then you're exposed as a fraud. But if you're willing to risk it anyway, you can use sites like buycheapfollowersfast.com/facebook/ to do this. Me, I don't want to risk it since I've built my reputation on being real. But I will judge no one who does this!

4. Connecting with your followers
Promoting your blog on social media isn't just about sharing your stuff. You also need to engage with people to encourage them to get involved. This is my favorite part of blogging—engaging with my Loyal Readers! I love replying to comments! I used to do this religiously but now that I have kids, I can't do this like I used to. But I try! 

Engaging with your readers tells them you want to show them the personality behind your blog and prove that you're interested in them. Get to know your readers and they will love you for life! Many of my dearest friends now started out as my readers before! 

You should find ways to connect with people on social media. For example, you might ask them questions or start a hashtag game. My friend Martine de Luna of Make It Blissful did this so well with her #makeitblissful community. I'm trying to do the same with my own #authenticmama challenge. Yes, show me your struggles and honest revelations on Instagram with the #authenticmama hashtag so we can all cry and laugh together! 

Social media can help you boost your blog if you know how to use it. Remember that it's a two-way street and requires you to communicate. I'm still learning myself so if you have more tips, please share in the comments below!

*images from The White Hat Yogurt and Pixabay

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