Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Dive into Spring with Express

This is a Sponsored post written by me on behalf of Express for SocialSpark. All opinions are 100% mine.


Photo of Rog, Teyla and MJ beating the heat last summer, courtesy of MJ

Come to West Virginia one sultry weekend in July or August and get ready to be wowed when we drive you up to Nicholas County to see the beautiful Summersville Lake, the largest lake in our state.

Formed by a rock-fill dam (Summersville Dam) on the Gauley River, south of Summersville, the lake features 2,700 acres of water and over 60 miles of shoreline at the summer pool water level. I don't know about you, but 60 miles of shoreline spells F-U-N in capital letters to me, specially when bikini season rolls around!


 Photo of Rog taking in the beautiful Summersville Lake from an overlook, courtesy of MJ 

Speaking of bikini season, a girl friend and I were at the mall the other week checking out women's swimwear while excitedly making plans to spend a day at Summersville Lake in the next couple months, when temps start to soar around here (as of today, we still have snow on the ground!).

Summersville Lake is a popular recreation area in this part of West Virginia for outdoor activities such as fishing, boating and rock climbing; and water activities like snorkeling and scuba diving. My friend and I giggled as we imagined our kids having fun at the lake - her 9-year-old son happily rowing a boat on the cool waters, or Teyla's excitement in catching her first fish (with our help, of course). We were, however, disappointed with the boring and outdated (in our opinion) swimming attire that met our eyes at the mall, and after almost three hours of perusing various swimsuits in different stores throughout the mall, we climbed into our vehicles empty-handed.

*** Photo of Teyla pulling mommy out of her baby pool last summer, courtesy of Rog ***

Later that night, though (and let me say, "Thank God!," because shopping for gorgeous swim suits is hard work!), I stumbled upon the NEW Spring 2011 swimwear collection at Express while surfing the net! Boy, I was like a kid in a candy store, bright eyed and all excited, as I scrolled up and down the page, looking at the various bikinis, string bikini, two piece swimwear and monokinis, imagining how I would look in each particular style. The bright, solid hues, the body-loving shapes, the flirty ruffles and the glam beaded embellishments are what I love most about this line! I also like that the padding in tops is removable. And Express even offers swim shorts for men. So now, I can shop for Rog's swimwear at the same time - and same place - as mine!

My favorite swimsuit from the Express Spring swim collection would have to be the bright yellow number in the halter bikini style. I find the ruffles ultra sexy and very unique! And yellow, to me, is the perfect color for summer - so happy, so zany, like a bucketful of sunshine! I can definitely picture myself enjoying a day at Summersville Lake with Rog, Teyla and our friends while strutting around in this cute, sunshiny bikini:)

women's swimwear @ Express

Something else on the Express web site caught my eye. Listen to this - Anyone can have the chance to win one of 10 $200 Express gift cards simply by signing up for Express e-mail! Hey, I don't know about you guys, but I have already signed up for Express e-mail and I'm crossing my fingers and hoping I win one of those gift cards. If I do, I'm definitely using it to get that yellow halter bikini! Picture yourself selecting one of those gorgeous swim suits from Express with a gift card if you are one of the lucky winners. Can we spell F-R-E-E S-W-I-M-W-E-A-R? Now go and sign up for Express e-mail already!:) The sweepstakes ends Thursday, April 21, at 11:59 p.m., EST. Visit Express to read the sweepstakes rules.

Also, don't forget to check out Express's spring essentials such as hats for him and her, sunglasses, tout bags and sandals for that perfect day at the lake or ocean! I can't wait to hit Summersville Lake with Rog, Teyla and our friends who, along with me, will be sashaying up and down the shoreline in our brand new Express swimwear.


Photo of MJ perched on huge boulder overlooking Summersville Lake, courtesy of Rog

I wish you all many warm and sunny days ahead! Summersville Lake, here we come (as soon as it quits snowing around here)! 
- by MJ
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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Parrots of Point Cook

by MJ
Photo of MJ with a friendly parrot at Busch Gardens amusement park in 2007, courtesy of Rog Browning
Will Rogers, comedian, vaudeville performer and one of the most famous celebrities in the 1920s and 1930s, once said, "So live that you would not mind selling your pet parrot to the town gossip." This quote makes me smile. It also takes me down memory lane, to that time in my life when I was a skinny, pimpled 13-year-old and the proud owner of a gorgeous talkative parrot my family and I christened "Jenny."

Oh, our Jenny was something else! She had barely been home from the pet store an entire day when she surprised us all by squawking, "Ha-lloooo! Ha-lloooo!," after only having heard the word "hello" from us a couple of times. The speed at which she picked up new words was impressive, to say the least. Within a week, she was greeting guests to our house with, "How are you? Kamusta?," much to their amazement. We were so proud of her!

Sadly, Jenny, like so many good things, didn't last. And it was my fault really. I still feel a tinge of guilt after all these years when I recall the day I returned that beautiful, talkative bird to her cage after playing with her and failed to hook the latch immediately. A favorite show - MacGyver, I believe - was coming on and I didn't want to miss the first minute or so from trying to work that latch (which was slightly bent, making it a bit difficult to close). I figured I'd come back out (we kept Jenny in a cage on the front porch) and secure the latch during the first commercial. Alas, an empty cage with its door wide open was what met my eyes by the time I went back outside. Looks like Jenny saw her one big chance to escape and took off soon as I turned my back. We never did see her again, although the neighbors reported spotting her in mango trees in their backyard.

I thought about Jenny again recently while watching a special on TV about endangered species of birds. The lovely orange-bellied parrot which can only be found in southern Australia made the list.

The adult male of this species boasts bright grass-green upperparts, underparts the shade of the sun and a distinct orange patch on its belly. The adult female and juvenile sport a duller green color. Both males and females have a blue frontal band and outer wing feathers the color of the deep blue sea.

The orange-bellied parrot has a population of fewer than 50 wild birds and is regarded as a critically endangered species. Things like this fascinate me. I hear the word "endangered," and I wonder right away, "What can be done to ensure this species lives on?" At the same time, another part of my mind goes, "I wish I could see this bird with my own eyes before it totally disappears from the face of the earth."

Point Cook is an excellent place for bird lovers to relocate to, specially if they want a chance to view the endangered orange-bellied parrot. The bird is known to feed in the salt marsh at Point Cook. I think it would be wonderful to watch these lovely feathered friends hang out at their favorite habitat.

Point Cook features a coastal park which boasts a wide array of birdlife, intertidal sand banks, a Marine Reserve and a historic bluestone homestead. Those who are considering Point Cook real estate can call Wyndham Harbour's sales team at (03) 9394-2688.

I wish the Australian government all the best as it takes measures to save the orange-bellied parrot from extinction.

- By MJ

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Iron Mountain in Poway, San Diego County

looking West from the summit of Iron Mountain (the other mountain is Black Mountain)
One of the things I enjoy living in San Diego is the accessibility of the trails. I remembered when I was still new in San Diego, one of my students before told me that, "in San Diego, if there is a hill, there must be a trail". True enough, I found out later that there are actually trails almost everywhere. There are trails in the inland hills and valleys, in coastal mesas and canyons, in coastal bluffs, and if one prefers to do more serious climbs, then there is Palomar Mountain and the Cuyamaca Mountains not so far from the coastal city. However, one of my favorite trails within the city limits in San Diego Metro is Iron Mountain, next to Torrey Pines State Reserve (my first) and Woodson Mountain (my second). Iron Mountain has new parking lot now which allows for more cars to park safely instead of on the curb.
me at the summit of Iron Mountain (looking Southeast), rising 2700 ft above sea level
The two pictures above were taken on the same day, about 3 weeks ago. Notice the big difference between looking West and looking Southeast. Looking Southeast (2nd picture above ) and East (below),
looking East from the summit of Iron Mountain
the low clouds were thinning out providing for a greater visibility to view the mountain layers to the East. Looking west (first picture above) where we came from was surrounded by low lying fogs. On a clear day, the ocean glitters with the sun at the top of Iron Mountain. This was how our road looked like as we left home and drove a few miles East to Iron Mountain.
leaving home and driving to Iron Mountain ( posted this picture previously in my post here )
However, just a few miles East and upon reaching the trailhead, the conditions was totally different. No fogs, but a clear trail with plenty of sunshine.
Coast Live Oaks Lined Trail- @ the trailhead
There are two trailheads that approach the summit of Iron Mountain. These two trailheads are located approximately 1 mile apart. The hike from the Highway 67 Staging Area, just south of the intersection with Poway Road, is shorter and is a direct path to the peak. The hike from the Ellie Lane Staging Area, one mile north along Highway 67, is longer, but more scenic.
Here are some trail information for the two trailheads:
From Ellie Lane Trailhead:
Distance: 9.0 miles round trip
Elevation gain/loss : 1600 ft
Difficulty: Moderate
Trailhead: Highway 67 and Ellie Lane Road ( 0.7 mile North of Poway Rd)

From Highway 67 trailhead, just South of Poway Road:
Distance: 6 miles round trip
Elevation Gain/Loss: 1000 ft
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Trailhead: Highway 67, a little bit South of Poway Road

Best Times to Hike: On cooler days, usually November to May

from Iron Mountain's summit, looking South
On a clear day, looking West and Southwest, one will see the Pacific Ocean. The picture below was one of those days where the visibility was so clear I could even see the Los Coronados Island.
Looking Southwest from the summit of Iron Mountain on a Golden Day (sunny day)
The picture above was not taken at sunset, but at noon actually. I did not also edit the picture to give the golden hues commonly seen during sunset, but because about noon, the marine layer (or fogs) that you see in the very first picture above have been lifted higher and have spread out to let some rays of the sun hit the ocean creating a soft golden hue making it look like a sunset at noontime.

Monday, March 14, 2011

A Treasure of Bright Beginnings

This is a Sponsored post written by me on behalf of PBM Products for SocialSpark. All opinions are 100% mine.
photo of snowman made by MJ in winter 2009, courtesy of MJ

"Stay home. Have fun. Build a snowman. Go sledding with the kids," American politician and former North Carolina governor, Mike Easley, once reportedly said. So a couple weekends ago, when Old Man Winter swept through our area, leaving everything under a thick blanket of snow, we took his advice (well, all except the sledding part; Teyla's a bit too young for that): We built a giant snowman out in our front yard!

"Come on over and help us make a snowman!," I excitedly said to one of my girl friends over the phone earlier that day. "Bring Cookie! (her little boy and Teyla's best buddy). She thanked me for inviting them, but said they were out of groceries and really had to go to Wal-Mart that day. 


Photo of Rog struggling to lift the third snowball to make the snowman's head, courtesy of MJ
"Don't you guys have to go to the store, too?," she asked. She knew we made our weekly trip to "Wally World" on Sundays because we often ran into each other at the store on that day. "Aren't you all out of food? Or diapers for Teyla?"

I assured my friend our cupboards were well stocked. We had watched the Weather Channel days before thick snow hit our area, and we had made an early run to Wal-Mart for food and other supplies we might need in the event of a power outage. As for diapers? I told her, to her surprise, that we had quit buying them at stores in the area more than a year ago. 

 Photo of Teyla standing by the unfinished snowman, courtesy of MJ
"We buy on diapers.com now," I told her happily. "They bring the diapers right up to our doorstep!" I then shared with her the advantages of buying baby products on this awesome web site I discovered when Teyla was just a few months old:

- diapers.com has a "call us anytime" policy! Before Teyla graduated to regular milk, she drank Bright Beginnings, a milk-based organic infant formula being sold on diapers.com. Anytime her formula supply would run low, all I would have to do was pick up the phone and call diapers.com's 1-800 number (that's 1-800-DIAPERS). Today, I buy diapers off their web site, and no matter what time of the day I call - day or late at night - someone always answers the phone! Very convenient for times I run out of diapers and want to place an order immediately. Bright Beginnings formula and many other baby products can also be purchased online at http://www.diapers.com with just a few clicks of the mouse!

-  diapers.com features FREE 1-2 day shipping if you order more than $49 worth of baby stuff (which is easy to do when caring for a growing baby!). I usually avail of this offer by buying in bulk. I stock up on diapers and wipes. You can never have enough of those, and the free shipping is always a plus (considering the fact hardly anything is free anymore nowadays). Also, I love the gas money we save from not having to drive to town to buy diapers and other baby products. With gas prices inching closer and closer to the $4 mark, it is refreshing to know we can sit pretty at home or decide to spend the day building snowmen out in the field while diapers.com brings our products right up to the house!      

- diapers.com has 2 great offers for new customers! While browsing their web site the other day, I noticed two coupons near the top of the page - one offered 20 percent off diapers for three months. The other announced 10 percent off everything else. Discount offers such as these are worth taking note of in these hard economic times!


Photo of Teyla playing with a bowlful of snow indoors, courtesy of MJ
And for mommies such as me who visit facebook.com throughout the day as a form of stress relief from the rigors of mommyhood, Bright Beginnings now has a Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/pages/…. Mommies from all walks of life come to this page to discuss the many benefits of Bright Beginnings infant formulas. I recently joined this page on FB and it has been a delight to meet other moms and to compare notes on various aspects of our children's development. If you are a mom, dad or child caregiver who would like to learn more about this organicinfant formula, I highly recommend you check out their Bright Beginnings on Facebook! I find it very informative and a great place to meet fellow parents/caregivers who hold their child's health in utmost importance.

Well, Rog, Teyla and I went on to build a giant of a snowman out in the yard that day. And what fun we had! We didn't have to worry about driving through all the ice and snow to get to town to buy diapers or wipes. The diapers.com delivery truck showed up at our doorstep the next day with several weeks supply of those products! 
Photo of Rog, Teyla and I by our finished giant snowman, courtesy of MJ

Thank you, diapers.com, for a fun-filled family day out in the snow! For more information or to purchase Bright Beginnings organic infant formula, visit diapers.com. And don't forget to check out Bright Beginnings on Facebook

- By MJ

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Story Behind the Picture and "The Joys of Simple Life"

Pelican in Flight, Small Bird resting, Sea Lavenders, the bluffs of Torrey Pines from Del Mar
The picture above is my favorite shot yesterday. Maybe some of you may think it may not look as pretty or as scenic as the other pictures I took from the same place yesterday,
Mix of Wildflowers and Pelicans ( taken from the same trail as the picture above on the same day)
but a lot of the times, when I look at my picture, I look back at the story behind. The first picture above was taken without a sense of planning nor composition, unlike the next picture that follows it. While we were walking back to Torrey Pines, a small bird came flying and perched on top of that pole that is on our path. I knew if we will continue, the small bird would have to fly away from our intrusion. Since the bird was there first, I decided to stop, and enjoy the scenery around me. 
Ice Plant
When I stopped, I started observing more, such as the folding of the ice plant blossom above. It was windy and chilly, thus despite it was middle of the day, the flower did not fully opened up. Ice plants do not grow tall, they crawl on the ground. As I knelt down to take this blossom a picture, I saw a lighting up the gray sky and focused my attention there for a while. Still on the ground and looking up, I finally noticed a very tiny hummingbird perched on top of a very skinny branch of a tree bush. 
Hummingbird
At first, the hummingbird did not look pretty, and it was simply resting there, I was not so excited to take a picture since I had a lot of hummingbird pictures already, and they were in action! But then, as the hummingbird changed direction of its sight and moved its neck to look in my direction, I saw the green changed to red! Then, it went back looking at the other direction, and I lost the red feather again. But to my surprise, the hummingbird kept on gazing back and forth, and it was like, "red...green...red...green...",
A Hummingbird showing its two distinct colors
maybe it tells, "you go...you stop....you go....". Life is not all about going and running, it is also about resting and savoring the joys of every moment. It was actually the very first time I saw a hummingbird simply resting on top of the tree, sitting there still, not flapping its wings and producing sound, it was just there, quiet, and maybe, just like me, savoring everything that nature brings its way. How I wished at that point I had brought my better camera and zooming lens to get the details of the hummingbird, however, because of weight, and considering I am taking a very local trail, I left my better camera and brought with me a lighter one. But then, I told myself, sometimes, I do have those gadgets, but I do not have the same experience. What makes the pictures more meaningful for me, is the experience and the joy it brings while being there and while connecting to the world that shelters me. Thus, I did not think about regretting not having the right camera, instead I focused on the joys of being there, and enjoying the gifts of nature. Then, my eyes went back to the direction of the pole where the small bird was resting. I saw a California brown pelican in flight above the small bird, so, I hurriedly took a picture of the meeting of those two birds, one resting, one flying, one small, one huge, but all part of one world, frozen in the bluffs of Torrey Pines with a field of sea lavender and coreopsis. 
wild yellow Coreopsis and purple Sea Lavender
As the pelican flew over the small bird, it continued to the water where later it took a dive. As it plunged into the water, some fins came out of the water, and there they were, dolphins! We see dolphins oftentimes when we walk this trail (like 6 or 7 out of 10 times ), but it is always a joy to see them especially if it feels that the pelican lead us to the dolphins, and it is that small bird that led me to follow the pelican. 
Dolphins As Seen From the Bluffs
At that time, I was no longer doubting why i chose to take the easier trail along the coastal bluffs from Torrey Pines to Del Mar. Morning, I was still confused where to hike, do we go for a steep hike on mountain slopes, or do we take the easier slopes along the coast? However, for the past 2 weekends, we had been spending our time outdoors exploring the snow-covered mountain slopes, 

that, after 2 weeks of leaving the ocean behind, I was missing the soothing and powerful sound of its waves. I usually would choose hiking/climbing the mountains for a more strenuous cardio-exercise, since climbing the slopes up over several thousands feet really makes our heart beat so fast catching up for air as you go higher and the air thinner. Though water exercise is also a very good cardiovascular activity, however, it is still too cold for me to spend hours in the water right now. Somehow, when it comes to swimming and boogie boarding, I wait until it's summer when the water is not as frigid. But just like camera, where there are times I put behind the better one in favor of a lighter camera, there are times also that I no longer consider the amount of cardio-vascular exercise I would get from hiking. There are times I seek the peace and joy that is being provided by the sound of splashing waves in the sea. Thankfully, our coast in San Diego have a lot of coastal bluffs for us to go uphill a little bit, though it may just be going uphill over 300 ft compared to several thousands of feet climb in the mountains, but we compensate for the lack of elevation by increasing the mileage in the distance we walk. We usually would start our hike up the bluffs at Torrey Pines State Reserve, and continue it up to Del Mar ( Dog's Beach) and back to Torrey Pines, or Torrey Pines to La Jolla Shores. This walk would give us almost 10 miles of walk back and forth with about 400 ft elevation gain. However, during high tide, we prefer to walk to Del Mar than to La Jolla because the bluffs going to Del Mar are so close to the water that we oftentimes see dolphins. 
Dolphins and Surfer, Will Their Paths Cross? 
It is a joy to be walking on the wildflower lined trail, 
with the dolphins swimming in the sea, and birds flying back and forth above us and diving into the water. 
Pelicans In Flight
A lot of the times, nature bring us more than rest, it teaches us that with slowing down, we get to enjoy its many surprises and not miss the pure joy and happiness of the simple things in life.
Let me end this post with a quote from the lyrics of the song "Simple Life" by Karl Kohlase,
"Living life can be hard today, I have to say it's so. But I have learned if I stop and pray I get the grace to go. And I have found by slowing down I have more time to live the simple life."
I am singing now :) You can listen to the song here if you are not familiar with it,
http://www.k4communications.com/karl/downloads/simplelife.mp3 ( no, this is not a paid post, I just love the song The Simple Life), and this song actually was one of the inspirations of this blog, unknown to most.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Keep the Dream Alive

post by MJ
Photo of Teyla trying on some of mommy's makeup recently, courtesy of MJ

Anytime I put on makeup, I think of a woman who once sold home products for a living.

She worked hard for many years, and got real good at what she did. Her boss noticed her talent and set her in charge of training new recruits to sell the company's products. One day, she was shocked to find out she was passed over for promotion in favor of a man whom she had just trained! She retired shortly after, and planned to write a book to help women succeed in business. What do you know? The book turned into a business plan for her ideal company!

The woman dreamed of building an organization that would embrace the Golden Rule as its guiding philosophy. She dreamed of establishing a company that would "give unlimited opportunity to women." This woman - a single mom struggling to raise three children - envisioned that her "dream company" would abide by three fundamental principles: God first, family second, and career third.

Armed with 25 years of direct selling experience from her previous company, the woman decided to start her own business in 1963. She and her husband (she had remarried) invested their entire life savings of $5,000 to rent a tiny office and manufacture an initial inventory of skin care products. They also recruited nine sales representatives. I can just imagine how excited the woman was. Finally, her dream was coming true! Her "dream company" was really happening!

Then tragedy struck. A month before the company was to officially open for business, her husband died. What do you do when the person you love with all your heart, the person who holds your hand and helps your fondest dreams come true suddenly passes away? Oh, I wouldn't have blamed her if she had decided to put her dream on hold, maybe go on vacation for a while to grieve, to get away from it all. I wouldn't even have faulted her if she totally changed her mind and said, "To heck with it! Let me just get a regular office job, something easier. I can't run this business alone!" But the woman held on to her dream. And her children rallied around her, bless their hearts. Her two sons quit their jobs, took pay cuts and, despite limited qualifications, jumped right in and gave their all to helping her open the business. Her daughter also joined them later, becoming the first company director in Houston.

Long story short - today, Mary Kay Inc., founded by Mary Kay Ash, is one of the largest Multi Level Marketing cosmetics companies in the United States with more than 1.7 million consultants worldwide and excess in wholesales of 2.2 billion, as of 2008. Ash, who passed in 2001, was widely respected, which, I believe, is one big factor that led to Mary Kay's success. She advocated "praising people to success" and strongly urged women in her company to keep their lives in balance.

I admire people like Mary Kay Ash who kept their dream alive despite all odds. Today, I use a lot of her products. I will be completely honest: I do not use her cosmetics because I find them absolutely superior in comparison with other makeup products. I find them satisfactory, but the main reason I buy Mary Kay is because I love her success story so much! I love how she turned a huge disappointment - her being passed over for promotion when she deserved it - into a dream that she never let go of until success was hers!

There are many other MLM companies out there reaching for the stars on a daily basis. Avon Products, Amway Global, Forever Living Products are just a few of these companies you most likely have heard of, who use the "pyramid selling" technique for most of their sales.
Photo of Teyla "reading" the latest news in the Entertainment industry, courtesy of MJ

MLM firms frequently come under fire and are often named in lawsuits, with criticism focusing on their similarity to illegal pyramid schemes, price-fixing of products, encouraging and/or requiring salespeople to buy and use the company's products, and cult-like techniques which some groups use to fire up their members' enthusiasm and devotion to the company, among other things. However, each MLM company operates in different ways, and MLM groups insist their techniques are honest and legit business practices.

Still, it is a jungle out there for these companies. Individuals who work in this field would surely benefit from using Network Marketing MLM Software to personalize their web sites and integrate their social media profiles in order to draw more customers.

Outstanding MLM Software can provide MLM leaders with personalized sites that link to Facebook and other social networking sites, easily show up on search engines, and feature stunning squeeze pages.

MLM leaders can also turn to San Francisco Web Development for assistance in connecting with users in the simplest way possible, for delivering high definition work (60 frames per second with no choppy production!), and for carefully putting together a strategy that fits their unique business.
Photo of Teyla surfing the net recently on MJ's laptop, courtesy of MJ

Sign up for free on empowerkit website to take a peek at the best MLM software platform. Or pick up the phone and call freshout.us at 877-803-4213 to find out how they can ultimately help ensure your product's success.

Good luck, MLM leaders. Hang on to your dream just as Mary Kay Ash hanged on to hers. She achieved success in the end. With the right tools, I have no doubt you will achieve it, too.

- By MJ