January 2017 / Carmen Varner // Lifestyle Blogger & Social Media + Blogging Coach


Adding Probiotics Into My Daily Routine

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

This post is sponsored by OLLY, but the content & opinions expressed here are my own.

I'd heard of probiotics for a long time but never put too much thought into it. I knew it had its benefits but was never motivated enough to try it. A few months ago I signed up for a couple free probiotic samples & waited for them in the mail. I got them & tried one the next morning. The packaging was bulky & hard to open. The tablets tasted horrible. It was a chore to get one down. My boyfriend, Fred, & I tried the probiotics for two days before we gave up.

olly probiotic

Then OLLY came along like a little probiotic angel. I was first drawn to the exciting & vibrant packaging, giving off a sense of happiness & whimsy. The OLLY Quick Melt Probiotic Sticks come in three flavors: Juicy Blueberry, Crispy Apple, & Giddy Grape.

I tried both Giddy Grape & Crispy Apple, & oh my heavens. They're both insanely tasty. All you have to do is open the stick & pour it into your mouth. Yep, that's it. You could also mix it in water. Both flavors ring true to their name, one tastes grapey & the other like a tart green apple. I actually have to stop myself from having seconds. True story. The bonus is that the OLLY Quick Melt Probiotic Sticks work to support immune & digestive health as well as overall health & wellness.

olly probiotic

Giddy Grape is the kids version because it has 5.5 billion live cultures as apposed to 10 billion in the Crispy Apple. The sticks are designed to give you the proper balance of beneficial bacteria & contain four strains:

1. Bifidobacterium Lactis HN019 – helps with digestion
2. Bifidobacterium Lactis BL04 –  helps boost the body’s natural defenses
3. Lactobacillus Acidophilus NCFM – helps support both digestive & immune health
4. Lactobacillus Rhamnosus GG – one of the most studied probiotics in the world

olly probiotic

My afternoon pick-me-up usually includes a cup of caffeine-free tea, an afternoon snack, one OLLY Quick Melt Probiotic Stick, & updating my daily planner. It keeps me organized & on track consistently. It's important to carve out time for self-care, those little moments where you can relax or decompress.

I've been taking my OLLY Quick Melt Probiotic Stick for about two weeks now & I feel like they definitely help keep me regular. I'm excited to keep using them to see how I feel in another two weeks time.

olly probiotics

Make OLLY part of your daily routine! Grab your free sample of OLLY Quick Melt Probiotic Sticks while supplies last or get 20% off your order. It's good for your body & tastes like candy. Sounds like a win win to me. :]

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

The Best Coffee Shops in Portland, Oregon + a Coffee Cupping

Friday, January 27, 2017

When I think about Portland, I picture those golden trees with leaves galore, the nippy mornings, the endless walking, the delicious donuts, & the coffee. Oh, the coffee. In order to stay alive & function with all the steps we trekked, Fred & I definitely needed some caffeine.

portland coffee

Thanks to Third Wave Coffee Tours*, Fred & I spent one morning exploring some of the finest coffee options in Portland, Oregon. I opted for their Pioneering Eastside Roasters Coffee Tour, a three-hour guided tour on the east side of the Willamette River.

portland coffee

The Eastside tour starts at 10 a.m. on Fridays & introduces you to top-notch espresso, cold brew variations, & even a cupping experience — the practice of observing the tastes & aromas in brewed coffee, basically a coffee tasting. This tour introduces you to the pioneering micro-roasters that sparked the third wave coffee revolution.

portland coffee

portland coffee

The tour began at Portland Roasting Coffee —  a sustainable & carbon neutral company —  where we waited a few minutes for the rest of the tour members to join. We tried the small but mighty macchiato with a bite of cookie before we were on our way to the next stop, Steven Smith Teamaker.

portland coffee

portland tea

Yep, we went to a tea place during the coffee tour. Steven Smith is actually the mastermind behind Tazo Tea as well as Stash Tea. Go figure. We tried nitro chai tea with a touch of half & half. It was utterly glorious; I still dream about it. We also sampled both the iced & hot tea versions of the Sparkling Strawberry Honeybush. As a tea fan, this was my favorite stop of the day.

stumptown coffee

portland coffee

Then we began the journey to Stumptown Coffee Roasters, a brand that focuses heavily on sustainability, direct trade, & paying their coffee farmers liveable wages. The Stumptown visit was abundant in its information & coffee samplings. We sipped on quite a view varieties, but I was particularly in love with the Stumptown Chocolate Cold Brew, which is essentially coffee spiked chocolate milk. Yes please.

portland coffee

portland latte

Next up on the tour was Coava Coffee Roasters with their cool & open wooden interior. Instead of using the traditional but wasteful paper filters, they created their own handmade cones with tiny holes to strain the coffee. We tried a single shot Guatemala macchiato & nibbled on bits of a cookie.

portland cupping

portland coffee

What is a Coffee Cupping?

A cupping is a coffee tasting where you observe the tastes & aromas in brewed coffee. For our cupping experience, we ventured to Buckman Coffee Factory. The cupping begins with smelling the freshly ground coffee & pointing out any odor descriptors such as earthy, floral, spicy, etc. Step two is to add water & smell again. The third step is to break the crust by taking a spoon & pushing the floating coffee grounds away while smelling again. The last step is to taste the coffee & compare notes with the others.

portland coffee

banana bread

Our last coffee shop spot was Upper Left Roasters, where we sipped on their cold brew coffee with hazelnut macadamia milk. To wash everything down, we got a bite of their delicious country wheat toast with macadamia nut butter & banana. I'm not ashamed to admit that I grabbed a second piece of toast.

portland coffee

I left the Pioneering Eastside Roasters Coffee Tour feeling high on coffee & ready to take over the world. It's the perfect experience for any coffee lover, & I give it bonus points because there was time for tea. If you're in Portland & enjoy your fair share of coffee, Third Wave Coffee Tours is spot on.

* Disclaimer: Third Wave Coffee Tours provided the tour in exchange for an honest blog post about my experience. All opinions are 100% mine aka Carmen's. Learn more about my disclosure. :]

A Super Delicious Vegan Edamame Dip Recipe

Saturday, January 21, 2017

This post, A Super Delicious Vegan Edamame Dip Recipe, is sponsored by Mirum Shopper but the content & opinions expressed here are my own. #MakeMoreofGameDay

Game time brings friends together. That's what I've found out at least. Some of my fondest memories include getting the roommates together to watch the big game. We'd start the afternoon with a cook off, popping open the grill to roast some veggies & hot dogs (veggie dogs for me). We'd put on some music & chat until the game started, even then we'd chat some more.

vegan edamame dip

No matter what team you're rooting for, no matter what's the score, football lets you spend time together. There's something magical about that. In order to bring back those fond memories while still making new ones, I decided to make my own version of Spicy Baja Dip made with edamame. And guess what? It's completely vegan! Check it out!

First things first make sure to acquire your ingredients. I got my goodies at Albertsons.

vegan edamame dip


4 cloves garlic
2 cups frozen edamame
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. smoked paprika
1/4 tsp. ground cumin

vegan edamame dip


1. Put garlic in a microwave safe bowl. Cover & microwave on high until tender, usually about 45 seconds.
2. Cook edamame according to directions on packaging.
3. Process all ingredients in a food processor until smooth.

Prep Time: 10 minutes 
Cook Time: 10 minutes

vegan edamame dip

This dip is completely vegan & totally addictive. The smoked paprika paired with the vegan mayonnaise creates a smoky & creamy flavor that's unparalleled. When I told my boyfriend about this recipe & Best Foods® Vegan Carefully Crafted Dressing & Sandwich Spread, he seemed skeptical at first. He's a huge a mayonnaise fan, so he wasn't sure he would like the vegan alternative.

vegan edamame dip

Well, he did. In fact, when I gave him a taste his eyes opened wide & his smile turned into a grin. He was an immediate fan! Your guests will be impressed when you make this Vegan Edamame Dip to munch on during the next big game. They might even be surprised to realize it's vegan. Enjoy!

Save $5 when you spend $15 on Unilever products!

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

My 5 Most Viewed Blog Posts of 2016: Where Views Came From & Why They Performed

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Looking to grow your blog views this year? That's a wonderful goal to have! First things first, check out my post about how I increased my page views by posting less. I included details on just how I did it. The question I asked myself was: which posts are performing well & why?

The results are in, so I'm hear to chat about my top five performing posts from 2016. The interesting thing is that most of the posts (4 out of 5) weren't published in 2016. They were posted in previous years but due to want some circumstance or another, they were able to gain traction, views, & engagement. Let's get to it!

tie dye shirt

This post receives daily organic traffic from Pinterest. This is my most pinned pin & I have daily notifications thanks to this post. I also get organic traffic from Google when people search for DIY bleach tutorials. This was my number one most viewed post of 2016.

Where Views Came From: Pinterest & Google
Why It Performed: It provides value to readers with simple yet effective directions on how to do a DIY bleached shirt.

cold brew iced coffee

This was a sponsored ad campaign with StoK cold brew coffee & it was chosen to be boosted on Facebook. I don't know what their budget was, but I received a huge spike of direct page views. The Facebook ad campaign was enough to put this post at number two.

Where Views Came From: Facebook
Why It Performed: It was promoted on Facebook & provides value to bloggers or those looking to be self-employed.

bath & body works wallflower

Bath & Body Works Wallflower Review

The third most popular post of 2016 was my review of Bath & Body Works Wallflowers, which is essential a scent plug in. I simply talked about the product & my opinion about it. I included large & clear photos of the product. I get organic traffic every single day thanks to Bath & Body Works lovers looking up Wallflower reviews.

Where Views Came From: Google
Why It Performed: It offers an honest & detailed review of a popular item.

My Experience at Comedy Central's @Midnight Taping

I went to a comedy show taping in Los Angeles with my boyfriend a couple years back & had no idea how it would shape my blog. This post gets organic traffic from Google searches from people wanting to know more about the show, its taping process, & if the jokes are scripted. Read the post to find out!

Where Views Came From: Google
Why It Performed: Provides value & insight to a niche audience.

diy lip gloss

How to Make Any Color Lip Gloss

This post already had a fair share of views, but I commented on a Facebook video about a store that made custom lipsticks — the video was everywhere. I simply commented that the brand & concept sounded awesome, but since they came at $100 per lipstick, I linked to my cheaper DIY alternative for anyone interested. It was a subtle self-promotion.  It received several thousand direct link clicks.

Where Views Came From: Google
Why It Performed: Provide value to a niche audience.

Whether it's a cheaper alternative to expensive makeup trends or a detailed review on a popular product, the number one reason why these performed well is because they talk about something people are interested in. These posts provided value to the reader, & will continue to provide value as long as they're still relevant. Hope you found this insightful. Remember to keep this in mind when you post: what is the reader getting out of this post? How is this beneficial, helpful, interesting for them? :]

Other posts from my Social Media/Blogging series:

I'm Going to Paris!

Saturday, January 14, 2017

I'll be heading to Paris, France spring 2017! I'm so excited for this trip!! A few weeks ago, Fred & I saw an incredible deal online & decided to spontaneously book a trip to Paris. We were playing around with various cities (Madrid, Amsterdam, Reykjavík), but Paris was the best option for a several reasons (fight times, layovers, dates).

That said, we'll be there for about a week in the beautiful springtime, which I hear is one of the best times to visit. Portland, Oregon was our farthest trip together, so we're excited to hop on a long-haul flight & see different part of the world.

I've visited Paris before, but this is Fred's first time outside of the country (besides Mexico). We're excited that, after thought four years together, we're finally heading out of the country as a couple. It has already been quite a learning & bonding experience!

Currently, we're planning our accommodations & hoping to find something decent even though time is ticking. We're figuring out our to do lists, writing any & every option down. It's been amusing to  compare notes & see what the other is keen to do. Until we're in the City of Light, I'll just have to countdown the days until our magnificent trip!

I'm particularly excited to see Paris in spring, as I've only visited in summertime. I'll have to strategically pack, because I would love to take some munchies home with me. No shame about that, right? I couldn't hold in my excitement anymore, so I thought it would share it with you! Paris, here we come!

What are your favorite things to do in Paris? I'd love to hear! :]

Mocha Oatmeal: An Easy, Hearty, & Caffeinated Recipe

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. & its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #TasteTruvia #CB #CollectiveBias

mocha oatmeal

Ever find yourself running late in the morning with not much time to create a hearty & healthy breakfast? If you're anything like me then it probably happens a lot — sometimes those extra 10 minutes in my warm cozy bed are too irresistible. To combat unhealthy decisions on those hectic mornings, add a bit of caffeine to breakfast with an easy & undeniably delicious bowl of mocha oatmeal.

mocha oatmeal

I'm making 2017 the year of personal bests by feeling good about myself & taking care of myself. Self-love & self-care, y'all! In order to keep myself on track, I created this breakfast recipe to save time & still fill me up.

mocha oatmeal

I've made this so many times, it's essentially foolproof. It'll give you a nice kick of caffeine while simultaneously filling you up for hours on end. Keep reading & you'll find out how to make this simple mocha oatmeal recipe. Let's get started!

mocha oatmeal


1 cup soy milk
1 cup quick-cooking oatmeal
1 cup water
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1 tablespoon freeze dried coffee
1 teaspoon Truvia® Natural Sweetener Spoonable

mocha oatmeal


1. In a medium saucepan bring soy milk & water to a boil.
2. Stir in oatmeal. Reduce heat & simmer uncovered for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3. After 5 minutes or when your oatmeal is almost to your desired texture, mix in the cocoa powder & coffee. Stir until thoroughly combined. Let sit for 2 minutes.
4. Remove pan from heat & stir in Truvia® Natural Sweetener Spoonable.
5. Add desired toppings & enjoy!

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 7 - 10 minutes, depending on preference
Servings: 2

mocha oatmeal

mocha oatmeal

This recipe is simple & I absolutely love using Truvia® Natural Sweetener Spoonable since it's a zero-calorie, stevia-based sweetener. Oh, & it's effortless to use. I bought my Truvia® Natural Sweetener Spoonable at Ralphs. You may find it in the baking aisle along with your cake mixes, flour, & sugar. Truvia® is easy to spot because the packaging is bright green!

mocha oatmeal

mocha oatmeal

Make this mocha oatmeal once & I promise you'll never look back. It's insanely delicious. The proportions are straightforward & easy to remember. This recipe makes two servings, one to share or one for tomorrow. The Truvia® Natural Sweetener Spoonable adds the perfect amount of sweetness since it provides the same sweetness as two teaspoons of sugar, making it the perfect natural sweetener for those looking to reduce calories.

mocha oatmeal

You can make your bowl of oatmeal even more beautiful by adding toppings like chia seeds, flaxseeds, fresh berries, chopped nuts, or more Truvia® Natural Sweetener Spoonable. We can make wiser decisions this year. Let's start breakfast off right. :]

mocha oatmeal

* Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by Collective Bias, Inc. & its advertiser. As always, all opinions are 100% mine aka Carmen's. Learn more about my disclosure. :]

Whitening My Teeth at Home with Smile Brilliant + A Giveaway

Monday, January 09, 2017

I prefer to feel confident (rather than insecure) about myself, so I deem 2017 the year of self-care & self-love. Exercise. Nutritious food. Time to unwind. Reading. Regular haircuts. Whatever it takes to maintain that sense of self-love. 

smile brilliant

I decided to start off the new year with a nice smile, a big ol' cheesy grin. It had been a while since my last session teeth whitening session — more than a couple years — so it was a match made in heaven when Smile Brilliant* approached me for a collaboration.

How Does It Work?

Smile Brilliant sends over your dental impression kit, all set with catalyst paste & base paste. The impression process is pretty easy as long as you take it one impression at a time. My tip: make sure to use a mirror to avoid dragging. After you make your dental impressions, let them dry, & then mail them out in your pre-paid Smile Brilliant envelope. After some patient waiting, my fitted trays arrived in the mail. 

smile brilliant

Wondering if you should you whiten your teeth? Make sure to read through these things to know before whitening your teeth or you can watch the video review here. You can begin the process once you receive your teeth whitening trays. Simply apply the teeth whitening gel to your teeth tray, then place them carefully in your mouth. I took them out after about an hour & then applied apply the desensitizing gel.

smile brilliant

How Much Time Does It Take?

I did four one-hour teeth whitening sessions. The whole process was a bit time-consuming since you have to factor in wearing the teeth whitening trays (one hour), then applying the desensitizing gel (20 minutes), then waiting 30 minutes after if you want to drink or eat. At minimum you're looking at 80 minutes per application, but you may notice results in as little as one application. 

smile brilliant

Why Do I Whiten?

I occasionally drink a cup of coffee & a glass of wine, but I mostly drink black tea. My teeth weren't severely yellow, so I was aiming for a whiter, brighter, & natural look. I've had some teeth sensitivity issues with past at home teeth whitening kits, so I wanted to try something different.

smile brilliant

How Did Smile Brilliant Work For Me?

Overall, the process was relatively simple. I had some minor teeth sensitivity after applying the teeth whitening gel, but the Smile Brilliant desensitizing gel worked well to combat that. I can still grocery shop, paint my nails, edit photos, & do whatever I want while I whiten. I like that it whitened the little nooks & crannies that store-bought teeth whitening kits can't give you. I achieved the results I was looking for — a brighter but still natural smile. I have plenty of teeth whitening gel &  desensitizing gel to keep in my refrigerator for future use!

smile brilliant

Enter to Win

Enter to win $139.95 store credit at Smile Brilliant! That can get you their T3 Non-Sensitive System (Custom-Fitted Trays + 3 Whitening Gel Syringes) for that price. This giveaway closes January 23, 2017. All you have to do is enter your name & email address! Click here & enter to win! Winner receives free shipping if a resident of the US. International winner is responsible for part partial shipping.

Readers can also get a  5% off coupon code: itscarmen5

Have you used Smile Brilliant before? What do you think of at-home teeth whitening? :]

* Disclaimer: Smile Brilliant sent the over one of their kits as a PR sample. All opinions are 100% mine aka Carmen's. Learn more about my disclosure. :]


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