May 2016 / Carmen Varner // Lifestyle Blogger & Social Media + Blogging Coach


Perfume & Candles: New Products I'm Excited About

Monday, May 30, 2016

Hip hip hooray for new products! Three cheers for new products! Four for you new products. You go new products! Can you tell these are new products that I'm excited about? In this instance I'm quite happy about some new purchases in the perfume & candle department. I like to tell myself I do it for the blog, but I do it for myself. I just get a thrill out of shopping & it makes me happy to try out new stuff. You can read about other products I've been excited about here & here.

I wish everyone a happy & thoughtful Memorial Day. To those currently serving, to those who served in the past, & to those who lost their lives serving, we honor you today & every day.

bloom and prosper, cranberry kiwi candle

Cranberry Kiwi candle by Bloom & Prosper - This candle has adorable packaging because it comes in a glass jar with a lid. After you're done with the candle, simply wash it out & you have a new container. The scent is fruity, sweet, & fills up the room. I can't find a link to it anywhere online! It's like it doesn't exist.

scentsational, jasmine natural soy candle

Jasmine Natural Soy Candle by Scentsational - This pretty candle smells like genuine jasmine. It's fragrant, floral, & potent. You'll certainly smell this walking across the room. Scentsational really means business. It came in a really adorable mesh bag. I'm loving it so far!


glow by jlo

Glow by JLo - I was abnormally thrilled when I spotted this perfume. Here's a mini life story: when I was 12 I subscribed myself to several teen magazines. You know how magazines have the little foldout with the little perfume sample scent? Glow was one of those perfumes. I distinctly remember flipping through the pile of magazines & smelling this scent. In addition to being a genuinely wonderful perfume, Glow by JLo gives me such waves of nostalgia. I had to buy it! 

lovely by sarah jessica parker

Lovely by Sarah Jessica Parker -  This is my second bottle of Lovely. Back in college, my roommate gave me Lovely for my birthday. I slowly worked through it over the years & couldn't resist buying it this time around. This is another scent I associate with positive memories. 

perfume and candles

There you have it. Everything smells amazing thus far & I have absolutely no buyer's remorse. All these options are great choices & I would totally recommend getting any of them. No lie: I've been wearing Glow nonstop. It just makes me feel all warm & fuzzy inside.

Have you tried any of these products? What was your last perfume or candles purchase? :]

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An Irresistible Evening at the Empress Hotel in La Jolla

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

We all deserve some pampering, a bit of relaxation to rejuvenate the mind, body, & spirit. We're always rushing to an appointment, gathering our thoughts for a project, or staying up late to finish up a long overdue task. That's why the Empress Hotel* in beautiful La Jolla, California is your ideal spot to recuperate & decompress.

empress hotel

empress hotel

I found some nearby street parking & moseyed over to the lobby. I was greeted kindly. The check in process was smooth as butter. Ryan, the front desk associate, handed over my key & took an extra 10 minutes pointing out vegetarian-friendly eateries, cool things to do nearby, & how to get from place to place.

empress hotel

The Amenities 

Room 406, the Superior Spa Suite, was my home for the night. The Superior Spa Suite provides you with two rooms — a bedroom & a living room. The first thing I saw was an open living room with plenty of seating options, a couple tables, a wet bar, a couch which doubles as a pullout bed, & a nice big flatscreen television with premium cable.

empress hotel

empress hotel

I entered the bedroom & spotted a little tablet that welcomed me by name. I walked to the window & could see the ocean in the distance. The bedroom had a king-sized bed, a whirlpool hot tub, bath robes, another flat screen TV, & a variety of amenities such as shampoo, lotion, toothbrush, etc.

empress hotel

The large bed with crisp white linens looked extremely inviting. I couldn't help myself, so I immediately plopped onto it. Everything appeared clean & pristine. No stains, rips, or tears. Oh & did I mention that I was greeted with a complimentary bottle of red wine? Oh yes!

empress hotel

I maneuvered my way through the suite a couple more times to absorb everything. The living room & bedroom each had their own adjustable thermostat to suit your needs. The wet bar included some Starbucks coffee, Tazo tea, & a couple water bottles. At this time, I decided to kick off my shoes & turn on that nice flatscreen TV. I watched Bridesmaids & giggled the whole way through.

empress hotel

The Location

Empress Hotel is a quick five minute stroll away from the beach. I walked to the beach & spotted a wedding. Then I headed over to Children's Pool Beach, which is taken over by seals, not kids. Empress Hotel is right in the heart of Downtown La Jolla, so it's an easy walk to a number of restaurants, boutiques, & more. You can spend the day walking around the area & then head back to your rad suite to unwind at the end of the night.

empress hotel

empress hotel

The Experience

The Empress Hotel Superior Spa Suite is perfect for a romantic & relaxing stay. I popped open the bottle of wine, slightly turned the television, & entered the tub. I slowly sipped wine & watched Dodgeball as the whirlpool jets therapeutically massaged me. It was heavenly.

empress hotel

Fast forward a couple hours: Dodgeball ended so I sauntered out of the warm embrace of the tub into the coziness of the robe. I changed into my most comfortable & least chic pajamas, hopped into bed & sighed in relief. The bed was genuinely one of the most comfortable, fluffiest beds that I've ever slept on. Soft, plush, & cozy. I had one of those moments when I woke up the next morning not even knowing that I fell sleep in the first place. It was that good. Oops.

empress hotel

empress hotel

After blissful night of sleep, I strolled over to get some breakfast. The continental breakfast was one of the more impressive & robust selections I've seen in my days of travel. There was a variety of muffins, breads, cheeses, & even Chobani yogurt. I made myself a waffle, grabbed a plain yogurt, some cheese, a hard-boiled egg, & a cup of coffee & found a table. It was the perfect pick-me-up after the previous night's rendezvous with red wine. I'm more of a beer girl.

empress hotel

The Verdict

Empress Hotel in La Jolla has such a prime location with an irresistible variety of accommodations to choose from — the Superior Queen Room to the Superior Spa Suite. Empress has whatever you're looking for. The highlights of my stay were the whirlpool hot tub, the bottle of wine, the premium cable, & the bed. My time at Empress Hotel made for such a unique, unforgettable experience.

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* Disclaimer: My one night stay in the Superior Spa Suite was received complimentary from Empress Hotel. All opinions are 100% mine aka Carmen's. Learn more about my disclosure here. :]

Get the Look: Rory Gilmore from Gilmore Girls

Monday, May 23, 2016

Lorelei Leigh Gilmore, better known to most of us as Rory Gilmore, has a comfortable, minimal style that's perfect for everyday wear. This particular style inspiration comes from Gilmore Girls season one episode 19 called "Emily in Wonderland." It's very reminiscent of the early 2000s & can be easily emulated with a modern twist. Here's what you need:

Start off with a stitched button up cardigan. This intricate knit cardigan from L.L. Bean is stitched to perfection; it's a mix of retro & modern. There's a vintage feel to it, but it's not quite as bulky as the one that Rory wears.

Underneath your cool cardigan you'll need a plain black t-shirt. I'm pretty sure we all have one in our closet but this H&M version is a good choice. It's plain which means it's the ultimate versatile piece to include in your wardrobe.

rory gilmore outfit

Rory's style, especially in the older episodes, is very minimal & modest. She doesn't reveal too much & she isn't trying to impress anybody with what she wears. Comfort is key.

The Ryder Pant from J. Crew is a stylish skinny pant with super stretchy, cozy fabric. This is something Rory would wear in the present day. The pants sit above the hip & come with cool slant pocket details.

Chokers are very reminiscent of the 90s but the early 2000s were chock-full of them too. The Lucy 90s Stretchy Choker from BooHoo is a perfect match & it's extraordinarily affordable. Only $4. can't beat the price like that.

Rory wears a cool boot like the Women's Maavin Combat Boot from Madden Girl. It's made from faux leather in a combat boot style with a round toe. 

Rory's style changes in the later seasons when she grows up & gets out of high school. No more school uniforms after all. This particular outfit is from the very, very beginning with easily recognizable bits & bobs of the early 2000s. I love getting inspiration from the past & putting a funky, new twist on it.

What do you think of this Rory Gilmore inspired look? Would you wear it? :]

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Why You Should Attend the Paella & Wine Festival in San Diego

Friday, May 20, 2016

Paella. Wine. Festival. The three words together conjure up such a blissful scenario in my imagination. I never thought I'd see the day where those three little words would go together so harmoniously. But then again, I live in San Diego.

paella wine festival

The Paella & Wine Festival at Waterfront Park is the perfect event to get your grub on. Watch as chefs compete to win the prize of Best Paella in the Baja-California Region. Keep on reading for reasons why you should attend the Paella & Wine Festival next year!

paella wine festival

What is paella?

Paella is a saffron-infused rice dish that originated in Spain. Types of paella can include seafood paella, vegan/vegetarian paella, mixed paella, & whatever other combinations you can imagine. Paella is cooked in a shallow metal pan. The crispy bottom of the paella that becomes caramelized & toasted is called socarrat.

paella wine festival


Eat all the paella your heart desires. Simply make your way to the line & wait to be served some tasty paella. My tip: Go around early in the afternoon & figure out what time each paella chef will be serving their dish. The sign with their serving time is on their canopy. Take note & then get in line a few minutes before otherwise the line gets quite long.

paella wine festival


I'm not the biggest wine expert in the world so it was wonderful to have a variety of wine vendors supplying so many options. I was able to try different types & get a feel for what my palate positively responded to. Drinks are served in 2-ounce pours. My tip: Keep your cup & reuse it. You won't receive a second one.

paella wine festival


As you know from my multitude of brew reviews, beer is more of my jam. You can read some of  my reviews here, here, & here. I enjoyed trying new brands from the Southern California & Mexico areas. My tip: Last call for alcohol is at 5:30 p.m. Be aware of the time & get your refills.

paella wine festival


You don't have to twist my arm to spend the day in San Diego. SD is the place to be. The Paella & Wine Festival is held at Waterfront Park, a newly constructed waterfront space in downtown San Diego. My tip: Bring a light layer in case it does get chilly. You're by the water after all.

paella wine festival

Free Swag

I'm pretty sure I speak for everyone when I say that free stuff rocks! Some of the free swag included reusable water bottles, drawstring backpacks, beer koozies, & more. My tip: Make the most out of your ticket price & grab any free swag that catches your eye.

paella wine festival


With everything from live music to dancing to watching the paella chefs work their magic to a whimsical conga line, the Paella & Wine Festival is filled with entertainment. Grab yourself a serving of paella & a bit of wine then feel free to sit down & watch the liveliness unfold. My tip: If you're feeling up to it, you can always join in.

paella wine festival

The Paella & Wine Festival in San Diego is the ideal way to curb your wanderlust because you get taste of the Spanish culture without having to venture too far. Enjoy endless paella, beer, & wine. Take in the beautiful San Diego scenery. Participate in the variety of live entertainment & while you're at it, grab some free swag.

How does the fest sound to you? Have you eaten paella before? :]

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*Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ticket from Paella & Wine Festival. All opinions are 100% mine aka Carmen's. Learn more about my disclosure here. :]

My Opinion of Social Media (from a Social Media Manager)

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Social media is my full time job. Because I work with it day in & day out,  I have an educated grasp on what goes on behind the scenes. Just like anything in the world, social media should be used in moderation.

Marketing is a huge part of social media. Brands promote their posts to have a wider reach, which means the average user (like me or you) sees the brand. Taco Bell created a taco Snapchat lens for Cinco de Mayo; the filter was viewed 224 million times. Social media marketing is no joke.

There are teams working together to create cool engaging posts for brands, big or small. There's the new wave of marketing which comes in the form of bloggers & social media influencers. Social media gives people a platform & voice, especially those with a large following.

You'll see your favorite beauty blogger showing off some items in her "Favorites" video, never really knowing whether she was paid to promote it or if she genuinely likes something. The U.S. does have a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) ".com Disclosures" guideline but the whole world isn't regulated.

When it comes to self-promotion, there's the side of social media that can be seen as vain or an attempt to show off. Instagram  feeds often highlight the most vibrant, most positive, most beautiful photos & moments. There's the shot of someone's back as they relax by the infinity pool. There's that photo of a stunningly configured açai bowl. There's the one where the blogger is dressed in a flawless outfit in head-to-toe designer wear. 

california lifestyle blogger, social media manager
Upon first look, this photo is cute! However, here's what went into this one photo: I did a dozen poses to find the one that was the most flattering — How can I hide my wide hips? What's the best way to mask a double chin? Oh gosh, my hair is greasy let me put it up. I took approximately 29 photos to find one that I liked. I edited the heck out of it, using about three filters. Then I doubled the image to hide the horrors of a dressing room. Hmm...not so simple, is it?

When we see images like this it makes it hard for the average person to differentiate between reality & a carefully curated feed. Please keep in mind that what you see on social media isn't always the whole truth. There is often a squad of people on the other side of the photo helping to create an amazing image or campaign. Someone works to better the lighting. Someone fans her to give her hair the perfect amount of wind. Someone's sole job is to edit the photo to perfection. Someone styles her in the latest trends.

From someone who does social media for a living, not everything is as it seems. I often look at tweets, updates, photos, & ask a myriad of questions. How many people worked together to create that wonderful image? Did they do it on their own? Were they paid for this post? How come there's no sign of a disclaimer? Did they buy this or receive it for free? 

From someone who does social media for a living, don't feel like the amount of likes validates you as human being. You are beautiful regardless if you get 200 likes on your Instagram photo. You are intelligent even if no one comments on your post. You are interesting regardless if someone retweets you.

From someone who does social media as a career, be sure to take a moment away from your phone, from your tablet, from your computer screen. Take 10 minutes to just be yourself, be alone, just be. When you stop thinking of social media as a point of validation, you can use social media without comparing yourself. 

From someone who does social media for a living, there is some good to it all. Social media can be filled with news, beauty, inspiration, truth, honesty, vulnerability, & community. Within social media lies those people who are authentic, who are open, who are willing to let you into their lives. Embrace this version of social media.

Remember: social media is not always 100% truthful. Take it with a grain of salt & don't be so hard on yourself when you see someone with a vast wardrobe & six pack abs & a clean, green "What I Eat in a Day" post. Understand that social media is a confusing mixture of marketing, thoughtfully curated content, & real life.

And that is my opinion of social media.

What's your opinion of social media? :]

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Easy Vegetarian Dinner: Penne Pasta with Veggies

Monday, May 16, 2016

I grew up in a household with a Persian mother. Amongst the other Persians I knew I wasn't Persian enough. Amongst the Americans I knew I wasn't American enough. I was always somewhere in the middle. It was a bit of a struggle growing up, never knowing exactly where I stood. As an adult I've come to love that I'm a bit different, & with that in mind, I had to create my own traditions.

penne pasta

* Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by Ragu. All opinions are 100% mine aka Carmen's. :]

As of right now my little family consists of just me & Fred. We love preparing meals together to bond & unwind at the end of each day. It's our version of a homestyle tradition, at least for now. To me, homestyle means you get food made with care, love, & thought. We always try to mix flavor with heartiness —  something that tastes delicious but has some nutritional value. 

penne pasta

This Penne Pasta with Veggies is an easy vegetarian dinner recipe that you can serve at your next family dinner or if you're like me, you'll just eat the leftovers for days to come. You'll get 4 to 6 generous portions with a healthy vegetable to pasta ratio. Let's get started!

// Ingredients //

penne pasta

1 (12-ounce) package of penne pasta
2 heads of broccoli 
1 (8-ounce) package of white mushrooms
1/4 cup of cheese
1/4 cup (or less) of olives

// Directions //

penne pasta

1. Bring water to a boil & cook your pasta according to the directions on the packaging. I chose a tricolor penne pasta because I love the color, but you can use anything your heart desires.

penne pasta

2. Chop your mushrooms while your pasta is cooking. Sautée them for 5 to 7 minutes, or until they half in size & all the water evaporates.

penne pasta

3. Your pasta should be almost al dente by now. Toss in your chopped broccoli to let it blanche & cook inside the water. This is my favorite way to save myself from washing another a dish.

penne pasta

4. Add your Ragu Homestyle Sauce to a sauce pan & cook according to directions.

// Finishing Touches //

penne pasta

Strain your pasta concoction. Add it to your plate then give yourself a generous heap of Ragu Homestyle Sauce. Drop on some mushrooms & then top with a sprinkle of cheese & chopped olives.

homestyle ragu

I didn't add any additional seasoning or spices because the Thick & Hearty Roasted Garlic Sauce has such a rich garlic flavor. The olives & cheese give you just enough salt.  With everything combined, you're good to go.

homestyle ragu

There you have it! I know it's been a while since my last recipe, so I'm glad to have partnered with Ragu in order to entice myself to do so. Bonus points because Fred & I both have enough lunch to last for a couple days. 

How does this easy vegetarian dinner recipe sound to you? :]

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*Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by Ragu. As always, all opinions are 100% mine aka Carmen's. Learn more about my disclosure here. :]

7 Things To Do in San Clemente, California

Saturday, May 14, 2016

If you find yourself in glorious & bright Southern California, do yourself a favor & check out San Clemente. Located between San Diego & Los Angeles, this spunky coastal town in Orange County has so much to do & see & experience. The San Clemente town slogan is "the Spanish Village by the Sea," which rings true once you start exploring. Look no further for things to do in San Clemente, California.

1. Walk down the San Clemente Pier

No stop in San Clemente would be complete without a walk down the pier. It's not very far & the wood is in great condition, so it's quite an easy journey. Once you make it to the end you'll see the remarkable blue green horizon of vast ocean.

san clemente state beach

2. Hang out at San Clemente State Beach

Heading to the beach is the very first thing you should do on a warm SoCal day in San Clemente. Take a dip in the water, wriggle your toes in the sand, watch the surfers do their thing, or just bask in the sunlight.

san clemente beach trail

3. Stroll the San Clemente Beach Trail

Since you're already at the beach, enjoy the San Clemente Beach Trail. In addition to getting your step count up, you'll witness the wonderful views of the shoreline with a breath of fresh air. It's a relatively easy & tranquil trek.

san clemente wine company

4. Browse the local shops

San Clemente has a lot of unique eateries, funky shops, & cool spots to enjoy. Walk down the main street & you're in the heart of all the businesses. There are clothing boutiques, delightful restaurants, & anything your heart desires.

san clemente homes

5. Take a look at the houses

I had a blast just looking at the various houses & buildings in the area. Many of them have a very distinct Spanish inspired architecture. Some are brightly colored & others have beautiful front lawns with an abundance of succulents. Just take a moment to peruse & enjoy.

san clemente farmer's market, dried fruit

6. Go to the San Clemente Farmer's Market

Walk around & relish in the farmer's market on Sundays from 9 a.m. - 1 p.m. Get your locally grown fruit, aromatic & fresh bread, or maybe even a bouquet of surprisingly affordable flowers. The farmer's market can be done in 30 minutes or less if you're in a hurry.

7. Casa Romantica

I'm super sad I didn't get a chance to visit Casa Romantica during my trip to San Clemente. It sounds amazing but it was closed by the time we got there. It's a lovely cultural center & garden. I'd love to go on my next trip in the area.

Have you visited this coastal town? What are your favorite things to do in San Clemente, California? Leave a comment :]

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5 Things I'm Loving Right Now ♥

Friday, May 13, 2016

My weeks have been busy attending events & then certain posts that take priority. Well, I'm back into the swing of things, so get used to this every other Friday! Now let's just get to it: here's what I'm loving right now.

fresh flowers

Fresh Flowers

I've only mentioned flowers like a million times, but I really love flowers. Fresh flowers that is. I cringe any time I see fake flowers. They're just not for me. I spotted a local flower shop during a stroll & had to take a photo. I mean look at these vibrant beauties!

strawberry rhubarb pie

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

This miniature pie was absolutely scrumptious. You may have heard me mention it in this post. Fred & I shamelessly scarfed it down in record time. We ate the pie so fast that Fred literally asked where it went. I had to break the news to him that it was gone. Oopsies! 

seal beach


Living in Southern California means you have quite a lot of access to the beach. We made our way to the Children's Beach Pool in La Jolla. I was ever so excited to see a whole pod of seals, especially the adorable chubby little baby ones. My squeals of adoration could be heard for miles.

jordan river soap works

Hot Tub

Okay so I'm not the biggest bath fanatic in the world but I've come to do them more often. Like twice in a six months. That's a really good number for me, considering prior to that I hadn't taken a bath in over five years. Go me! I used a couple products to jazz up the tub. You can read more about the products here & here.

street art

Street Art

I have a whole series on street art from various place around the globe — ParisCopenhagen, Seattle, etc. I was super excited to spot this little cat because he was more detailed & comprehensive than other street art works I've seen. Someone cut him out, painted him, & attached him to the sign. Isn't he cute?

Life has been incredibly hectic lately. Doing social media for 18 resorts is no small task. Top it off with running a blog & I'm left with minimal free time. Taking a moment to acknowledge gratitude is vital for my sanity. I hope you have a great weekend.

What are you loving right now? :]

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