Professional development at its best at the BE Entrepreneur Summit

Many people ask why they should invest in professional development and at the Black Enterprise Entrepreneur Summit Wednesday’s opening festivities made a bold answer as to some of the fruitful reasons why.  Professional development is about more than sitting through conferences and hoarding business cards.  It’s about opening yourself up to the possibility to do better, work harder, make more money, and learning to enjoy yourself through the process.  The opening night was a wonderful emulsion of all these reasons with a great lesson in working hard and playing harder.

The first day of the conference showcased how to best take on professional development, from the inside out. A big part of really evolving professionally is evolving personally.  By making it a priority to master new techniques and challenge yourself to step out of y our comfort zone you also make strides in becoming the best you can be for your business.  The sessions for Wednesday started with a frequent nail bitter for many professionals, business presentations.  In the Mastering Business Presentations session you had the chance to hear from some great including Alfred Edmond, the Executive Editor at Large for Black Enterprise, on honing your skills to present in ways that moves and motivates your listeners.  With that session pushing you from within you quickly moved to how to take that motivation and make it work for your business.

With a conference focused on moving you from internal development to external development the session on business in Houston was a cornucopia of business ideas on how to expand to Houston. With key insights from none other than Houston mayor Sylvester Turner you got some invaluable insight on seizing on the wealth of opportunities found within the Houston market.  Now this is already what a good business conference is made of, a meeting of opportunity and growth and the networking potential that allows you to connect all of the dots.  To add some ice cream on the top of what is already shaping up to be an amazing treat in your personal development, Wednesdays kick off mixer was the perfect welcome present.  From delicious food including some Houston specialties to fun entertainment to a room full of eager entrepreneurs the summit was kicked off with a bang.  As I joined in on the fun in the lip syncing contest I was reminded of something that stayed with me the entire conference, in the world of business learning to enjoy yourself draws  others to you and in a game you have to play to win you need all the help you can rising to the top.

Enjoying a wind down (and wine-down) in Marseille France

the-view-from-notre-dame-in-marseille-france-1It is hard to follow up a day in Barcelona so the only way to do it well is to offer something completely different so instead of the busy city pace, the quaint slower vibe of Marseille in Provence, France was the perfect complement.  At day 6 of a 7 day cruise I am all toured out and so I decide to hop off and just make the most of what I can.  This of course means a walking tour if you are me.  The ship offered a very convenient round trip bus to the port so you are dropped off right in the middle of town and ready to take on a little adventure.

an-open-market-in-marseille-france-8 marseille-france-9 marseille-france-7The Old Port area is a hot spot for shops and food in the city and easy way to start off or even enjoy your whole day.  I love local vendors and was able to find a great open air market with lots of souvenirs that felt very French (at least to me).  The seascape is also beautiful so as I passed a little train I decided to take off and find out where the train can take me.  There is where speaking a little of the language comes in handy.  After dragging my kids up and down the marina with no access to the castle that initially looked very close I decided a can would do as well.  Great decision!  The city is full of increasingly steep streets and hills so if you are going to take on the challenge of the on foot route make sure you are ready for the climb.

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marseille-france-6 marseille-france-12 marseille-france-11 the-ceiling-in-notre-dame-in-marseille-france-3Once in the cab we head to the top of the hill to visit Norte Dame de la Garde.  While the church is beautiful the view is amazing.  You can see the whole city from the top and with the lovely sea breeze coming your way it is a great place for reflection and prayer.  Just note, however, getting a cab down is much harder than catching a cab up as you have to call a local company to send a cab your way.  Never fear, however, because you can take the land train down.  The ride is steep but lots of fun and a good way to spot some things you want to add to your visit list while in town.

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desert-trio-in-the-old-port-area-of-marseille-france-16 lunch-in-the-old-port-area-in-marseille-france-13 lunch-in-the-old-port-area-in-marseille-france-15With that the tourist check was marked for me for Marseille and so next up was tackling my food cravings. With the old port surrounded by restaurants the choice was if but which.  A Tripadvisor recommendation caught my eye and we settled down at a lovely Italian restaurant right on the water.  It was some of the best food I had the whole trip and as I enjoyed my bottle of very French wine I reflected on what was undeniably a trip of a lifetime!

Exploring the timeless beauty of Malta

valletta-11As a water sign, water destinations always represent a taste of paradise for me and a visit to the beautiful island of Malta was no exception! Stepping into Malta you can almost feel the spirit of another day and time with remnants of famous civilizations represented all over modern day Malta.  The country is rich in history, from the shipwreck of St. Paul to its conquer by Napoleon, so  with a goal of mixing history and exploration I decided on a half day tour to check out the city.

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First stop up on my tour was the historic city of Mdina.  As with most European tours you are going to see churches galore.  What I loved about Mdina, though, is the authentic taste of an ancient lifestyle you receive.   From the small, cobblestone streets to the impressive palaces each steps take you back centuries as you walked through the walls of the city that previously made it a fortress.  They also offer huge offerings in hand-blown glass for prices that really will blow you away.

 

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valletta-7After Mdina, we travelled to the capital of Valletta.  The city is built on a grid, making it not only easy to navigate, but also gives you breathtaking ocean views and breezes around every corner.  Walking in the city entrance surrounded by the many flags representing its heritage you get a glimpse of just how pivotal the city was.  The St. John’s Co-Cathedral was at the top of the list and to my pleasant surprise it was a church, museum and so much more.  St. John’s definitely gives a different, more elaborate feeling than many other churches and you have the opportunity to see masterpieces of the famed painter Caravaggio while there.

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valletta-9 valletta-17After enjoying the cathedral you are just a quick walk away from the Upper Barrakka Gardens.  This is a great place to enjoy the scenic views Malta has to offer of not only the ocean but the city itself. You also have a premium placement from there for a lot of great restaurants.  I wandered into I found a rooftop restaurant that caught my eye.  Not only did I enjoy some great food and wine, the views and calming sea breeze definitely did a body good.  With street vendors and shopping throughout the peaceful streets making a day in Valletta goes by in a breeze and like that it was time to take the quick walk down to the pier. This timeless city is a great break in between the hustle and bustle of a quick European tour and definitely left me wanting for more in Malta.

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The Balvenie and Anthony Bourdain team up for the Rare Craft Collection

Balvenie Rare Craft Collection (10)The Balvenie pulled out a culinary heavy hitter as it brought is Rare Craft Collection, curated by Antony Bourdain, to Houston. In putting together some of their finest selections they energized Silver Street Studios while guests were treated to an intimate tour of superb whiskey. As if the headlining Rare Craft Collection was not enough the curator on the tour is food aficionado Anthony Bourdain who definitely knows how to distinguish the outstanding nodes of flavor of the Balvenie whiskey from all the imitators on the market.

The best thing about the Rare Craft Collection presentation is that the entire experience was carefully fashioned to be as exceptional as the whiskey. From the moment you step into the door you can sense the luxury influence that blends ingredients which are impressive on their own but are ultimately breathtaking when masterfully combined. From the art that embellished the walls to the crowds of beautiful people to your first sip of the 14 year blend.

Balvenie Rare Craft Collection (3)The main attraction of the night was presented to take a tour of all that is wonderful about whiskey. Crafted from The Balvenie whiskey isn’t just a drink it is a nod to the journey from the rolling hills of Scotland to your glass. The presentation began at one of my favorites, the Caribbean Cask. Aged in Rum bottles produces a memorable spin on the whiskey and for rum lovers gives a nod to something near and dear to your heart but in an elegant presentation. Imagine regular rum getting a high end make over. With each sip of the Caribbean Cask and the Dodgewood and Portwood that followed you taste why these selections were singled out by the curator. Making a single malt look easy the taste confirms the true craftsmanship from the inception of the barley, to the meticulously maintained barrels to the skilled malt masters all working seamless to produce a beautiful result.   Years ago The Balvenie became one of my favorites in an intimate presentation and being in a room full of fellow whiskey lovers confirmed that from taste to ingredients The Balvenie is exceptional. For a whiskey lover a taste of these selections, especially this holiday season, cannot be missed.

Celebrating New Beginnings with Orgins

Orgins Relaunch (6)The skincare phenomenal Orgins is doing its own renewal with new products and a new look at the Orgins Galleria relaunch. Orgins has always been a brand focusing on the pulling only the best ingredients nature has to offer and innovative formulation to address a wide range of skin care needs. Whether your problem areas are oil, age, sun or drynees, Orgins prides itself on specially formulated products and the insight of a knowledgeable staff who works with you to shine the best you through in your skin. The relaunch of the Galleria store marks the redesign initiative of all of the Orgins stores according the global Vice President. The clean lines and airy spaces put the spotlight on the pure components that are the source of Orgins strength. Orgins Relaunch (5)The beautiful Orgins approach of being transparent in what they use and how they use it is beautifully woven in their new design and as always strongly present in their product lines.

Orgins Relaunch (1)Of course outside of the ingredients the fact that Orgins is set up as a giant tester store is a sweeping win with the redesign. Whether it is a hand massage or a quick facial, Orgins backs up their promise of better ingredients to fit a better solution to your skincare concerns by working with you in the store to find your customized solutions. Orgins Relaunch (8) Orgins Relaunch (7)

 

 

 

 

 

As an added bonus to the already fabulous Orgins lines they had The Bachelors Catherine and Sean on hand to share some of their favorite picks from the store.

 

Orgins Relaunch (4)Here are some of the must haves from Orgins that can help you step out with your best face forward:

Weil for Orgins: Breaking free from a routine of washing that can overly dry out your face is easy with this Mega Mushroom Skin Relief. No matter if you use it as your make up remover or bedside to clean and calm your face before bed the mushroom based skin cleanser breaks the chains to soap and water.

Clear Improvements: You can search all over and be hard pressed to find a charcoal mask that works better. For me hands down this is one of my tried and true favorites, especially for those with oil and acne prone skin. Even using the treatment just once a week does wonders for reducing oil and seeing less pimple pop ups.

Original Skin: Even better than a regimen for reducing the signs of aging is one that prevents! This product aims for those in the quarter life range to prevent a crisis down the road. It is a great way to start investing early in your skin care for the long term.

High-Potency Night A-Mins: If you hate waking up in the morning to find the hardship of yesterday still written all over your face this product is for you. The vitamin rich formula helps your skin supercharge its healing so it wakes up in the morning as refreshed as you are.

Deciding when to say f-it, and proceed just for you

Middle fingerGuess who’s back. After months of not posting on my blog I have followed the call to return to the world of blogging. I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to make this journey on this blog because, as with many walks down reality lane, blogging wasn’t quite what I was expecting. I started off on the path blessed to have a really great blogging mentor to look up to. I thought I would start posting and before long be a super big blogger, flying all over the world and only having to drop a line to have doors swing wide open for me. The reality was that blogging is super hard work. It requires commitment, discipline, and a willingness to risk a very public failure if it doesn’t pop off like you hope it will. Coupling that with a stupid web hosting company I cannot escape from and a mysterious reason why Google won’t index my blog I reached my maximum frustration level. I thought that follow others suggestions to just stop or find a different domain was the best idea.   I struggled with this idea for months and today while watching The Voice a kid reminded me of something that I lost in translation of trying to have a successful blog: Following your passion is a reward in itself.

Up at midnight on a Monday night it dawned on me that following your passion is not easy and the rewards may not come from where you expected. If my expectation was to start writing a blog and get paid in money and clothes for my opinion then I struck out. But if I blog because I love to write and want to share the real life struggles, lessons, laughs, and adventures of my world then whether 1 person reads it or 100,000 I have already won. Life often deals us cards that seem the exact opposite of what we expect and at this point it is the opportunity to pull out the f-it card. If you aren’t doing it because it’s a passion that makes you better than by all means stop, but if the opposite is true whether others love it or hate it – F-IT! Do it because you love it and leave the rest of the angst and expectation at the door. My life is full of challenges of being a mom and working and thinking and praying and a million other things not unlike people across the globe. In this blog I hope to share my life in its fun and thoughtful moments as an inspiration to others facing the same challenges of not just making it through life but on really enjoying it to the fullest. It is not for money or fame just because I like to write and I like to share. If you are new I hope you enjoy and if you are not new thank you for reading and if you hate my post and wish you could get the 3 minutes of your life it took to read it back well then F-It and have a nice one.

Perfect Picks for Mother’s Day gifts

Happy Mothers day greeting cardIn a little over a week the annual celebration of all things mom will begin!  For the years of pain, struggle, laughter and tears, on May 10th you get a chance to reward that special lady in your life who can never be replaced.  But with the fun of the celebration comes the dread of trying to find a present that really celebrates all that your mom does for you and all that she means to you.  I am not a big fan of the money present as I think personal presents are the best at embodying the emotions of motherly love.  That being said it can be a really challenge to find a great present for someone who either has everything or doesn’t ask for anything.  Here are some tips to finding a gift that is sure to put a smile on her face.

Pay Attention: Every mom is different so there is no list in the world that will give you a perfect answer for every situation.  There is great news though, you can get the perfect fit for your mom straight from the source just by paying attention.  The things that are most cherished are usually things that can be utilized frequently so be it a great pair of earrings or a new apron that will make her life easier paying attention to her daily challenges is the best way to tune into what your mom wants.  If that is just impossible challenge how well you know your mom with starting in a category she likes and go from there.  For instance if she is a music lover perhaps a dual record player/digital music player may be something she did not even think of but is a perfect fit. If you are unsure about your gift make sure you include the why with the present.  Knowing someone put some extra thought into you always gives you the warm and fuzzies even if the result isn’t a perfect fit.

Staycation: As a mother, sometimes on Mother’s Day I just want to get away.  No matter how much your family is on their best behavior, some of the habits that require moms to work pop up any time they are around, yes even on Mother’s Day.  Putting her in a hotel for the night or weekend allows her to free herself from the mommy world and just get back to being herself.  Yes under all the motherly duties there is just a woman under there and probably a tired one.  A day away can end up with a happier her and chances are in the end a happier you.

Digital Photo Frame: In looking at her favorite things chances are that you, her family, is at the top of her list.  With a digital frame you get to pull some of your favorite moments with your mom and load them for her so she has a functional present right out of the gate.  With new innovations in frames like the line from Nixplay you also have access to convenient features like Wi-Fi and an email address to automatically add pictures.  This way your mom doesn’t have to be bogged down with the technology of it all and you can add music, pictures, and quotes on a continual basis that she can enjoy.

Little things count too: Whether it’s because you are young or your money is funny sometimes our desire to do something nice for our mom is not matched by our bank account.  If you don’t have cash then you still have you.  Going out of our way to help, be it with the yard or cleaning up the house, takes somethings off of your mom’s plate and gives you some insight on the work she does every day for you (for example cleaning up your room is not a Mother’s Day present but cleaning up the house might be).  Just make sure that if you go this route you don’t just do something you should have already been helping with, go above and beyond to show some appreciate on this day celebrating motherhood.

Travel Review: The Intercontinental Sydney

Intercontinental Sydney (5)As with many historical cities, there are many parts of Sydney that are a throwback to a historical era long pasted.  Although located in the Circular Quay and surrounded by historical foundations of the city such as the Botanical Gardens and the Rocks area, the Intercontinental Sydney is not one of those throwbacks.  Instead the hotel is a modern perspective of the future of the city focused on the innovation and comfort that comes from a blend of old and new.

Intercontinental Sydney (3)With the hotel being just a block away from the Circular Quay you can easily take advantage of being in one of the most transportation parts of the city.  A short walk to the Central Business District puts you within a short strech to the train system and for the more scenic route a block away from the entrance of the several water ports of the city’s ferry system.  Although I love mobility my favorite feature of the location is actually its closeness to the Botanical Gardens.  The Gardens is a huge park wonderland with features from ponds and lakes, to rose gardens and even some historical homes that are open to the public.  It is a great place to take a picnic, enjoy a view of the Opera House or just read and relax under a tree.  In perfect understanding of one its best features by association the hotel even offers meal options that let you customize a picnic (be it romantic or casual) and head over to the Gardens for a day of relaxation. Intercontinental Sydney (1)Intercontinental Sydney (2)Intercontinental Sydney (4)

In its modern ease the hotel provides a renovation that equally places pieces of the past with the smooth lines and minimal approach of more modern design.  From the sleek lobby to the beautiful seating in the lounge you saw pieces of both the new and old that appeal to those who prefer the sleeker side of things, but still love the heritage, culture and history you can find in Sydney.  Likewise the rooms offer modern design features and modern appeal like a digital greeting and TV guide, combined with some flashback components such as the more antique feel of the bathroom décor.   Other amenities are completely modern such as their indoor pool and work out facilities, offering all of (or even more) of the conveniences of home to ensure you have a fantastic stay. Intercontinental Sydney (10) Intercontinental Sydney (6) Intercontinental Sydney (9)

 

 

 

Touring the Blue Mountains for the nature side of Sydney

Featherdale Wildlife Park in the Blue Mountains (5)One thing I knew in deciding to take a trip as far as Australia, I wanted to get in everything I could during my visit so of course seeing the Outback was high on my to do list.  Although not exactly the Outback I envisioned from growing up watching Crocodile Dundee, I was able to dive into some of the culture, history and natural beauty of more developed portions of Australia by Touring the Blue Mountains.

Scenic World in the Blue Mountains (3) Scenic World in the Blue Mountains (2)The Blue Mountains are a beautiful part of Australia that provides the chance to take on the challenge of exploring the great outdoors.  From state forests to botanical gardens and even waterfalls the area offers a more unchanged vision of Australia.  The Blue Mountains are located about an hour away from Sydney by car so we decided to make the trek using a touring service.  Given the popularity of the destination there are a lot of tours offering the service so you can go with the best price or best amenities.  For us we wanted something a little smaller and with included features like scones and breakfast in the morning and lunch we found our fit with Blue Diamond.  Scenic World in the Blue Mountains (1)It was a sharp contrast to the full buses of visitors to the same attractions but for a little bit more we found the comfort and amenities of the tour to provide both a luxurious and comfortable trip to the Blue Mountains.

The worlds steepest train at Scenic World in the Blue MountainsWithin minutes of heading out of Sydney you clearly see some of the rustic allure of the Blue Mountains.  This old world charm ran throughout our first stop for warm scones and continued as we approached Scenic World.  This park in the Blue Mountains combines the heritage of the area with some new world attractions.  For the true nature lover you have a chance to descend the stairs into the rainforest and for those who want a bit of fun scenic world has to offer attractions such as the Skyway, Cableway and Railway should be right up your alley.  With a claim to fame as the world’s steepest railway, the train should not be missed.  Not only do you get a great view, the steep descent is very much like a roller coaster.  Scenic World in the Blue Mountains (6) Scenic World in the Blue Mountains (5) Scenic World in the Blue Mountains (4) Scenic World in the Blue Mountains (7) Scenic World in the Blue Mountains (8) Scenic World in the Blue Mountains (9)Once you arrive at the bottom you get a chance to explore the way miners lived and worked and use the walkway to explore some of the rainforest that explore the area.  I love being able to take nature walks and with ancient trees, exotic birds, and lush canopy all around it was a great place to relax and enjoy nature with the family.

Featherdale Wildlife Park in the Blue Mountains (4)As our tour stayed a steady pace ahead of the larger tour buses we head to lunch with some brief scenic stops of the 3 Sisters Rock formation before we arrived at one of the main tour highlights, Featherdale Wildlife Park.  There is no way I was leaving Australia without having my chance to get up close and personal with some of the wildlife that Australia is known for: Koalas and Kangaroos.  There are few places close to Sydney to get an up close and personal experience with these animals than Featherdale National Park.  You are literally surrounded by Koalas and Wallabys as you get to feed and pet these cuddly creatures.  Featherdale Wildlife Park in the Blue Mountains (3) Featherdale Wildlife Park in the Blue Mountains (2)My daughter was convinced of her connection with one, although I suspect the ready supply of ice cream cones and food had something to do with the love.  Even the sleepy koala, that naps about 20 hours a day, was present and awake for our Featherdale Tour.  From alligators to bats to Tasmanian Devils the park showcased the natural wildlife Australia has to offer.

As we were whisked away in our small Mercedes van just as the tour buses descended and headed to the ferry we enjoyed one last view of the beauty, charm, and authentic experience found in a tour of the Blue Mountains.

 

 

 

 

Prep Tips for International Travel

Travel Tips Hanging Sign Agency Advice Helpful InformationThere are few things you can do to enhance your perspective and appreciation for life more than traveling.  Along with the fun and adventure that comes with traveling there are a lot of unknowns that can make taking the leap to international travel a bit overwhelming.  These risks seem exponentially more frightful when you consider traveling as a family, as kids have their own set of variables that makes traveling seem like a no go.  The good news is there are some things that can increase the likelihood of making the first part of your trip easy sailing.

Choose your seats wisely: Eight plus hours in a condensed space is one of the things that nightmares are made of.  The plane offers limited places to go, limited options to move around, and limited choices in deciding who surrounds you.  You can be a bit proactive, however in choosing your seats.  Even in economy some seats are just meant to be more comfortable than others.  Check out seats at the front of a section for special accommodations such as baby bassinets or extra leg room.  These features are offered to you without upgrading services but usually require early purchase to lock and secure.  By taking a look at the seat map you can set your strategy for what features work best for you.  Don’t let fate choose for you and end up with a seat that gives you the short end of the stick.

Fill in the blanks: Even the best planned trip has some gaps that are unavoidable. Maybe it is your connection time between flights or the time between when you arrive and when you can actually check into your hotel but those breaks exist.  If you cannot avoid them you should consider them.  If you have a layover to change flights, knowing the layout of the airport can help whether you can just know a direction for your connecting flight for a quick transition or what they have to do or eat in the airport if you have a longer layover.  This information is especially helpful when you have to go through customs in between.  For good planning for my arrival I like to notify the hotel of my arrival time as well as to check out what is around the airport that is open when I will get there.  You may have several hours to kill between landing and the official check in time for the hotel and after an already uncomfortable flight sitting in the lobby for hours is probably not your first choice.

Money Exchange: Even in this day and age where credit is usually king there are times where having some cash is a big bonus.  You can get stiffed if you are not aware of the exchange rate as convenience in exchanging money usually comes at a high cost.  Take some time to look up the exchange rate so you can know a good deal when you see one (this good rate is usually not found at the airport exchanges).  This is especially true for transportation such as cabs as you are taking a gamble assuming they will take a credit card and if there is not a big surcharge for using credit.   Also check with your bank as pulling cash from an ATM or using your card for purchases can get you the exchange rate without an high fee to do so.

Pre-plan transportation: Every country and city is different and so is there transportation options.  Not knowing what options you have can leave you paying twice as much or without many options at all.  Your hotel should have some quick information for how to get to them so it is a great place to start.  If you are a bit more adventurous the public transportation options in many cities abound, just be careful on times of operation.  Finally riding in style may not be as high of a cost as you think.  When you take the time to research limo services often they are comparable to that of a cab without the hassle of waiting in line and hoping you are not being taken for a ride (literally and figuratively).

Don’t assume the same phone or data access.  At home everything is at the touch of a finger as if you don’t know you can always Google it.  Once you land someplace else those rules changes as you may either not have access or it may come at a pretty high cost.  Many major airports have free Wi-Fi but if you are not sure then check.  Also makes sure to explore the international cell phone options your provider has so you are not hit with an enormous bill on your return.  Also write down a couple of important facts like hotel number and address someplace you can access them regardless of your service in case something comes up.  Having email confirmations are good, but you may need to know hotel address or phone number even when you cannot access the internet like in filling out your customs paperwork.

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