2019 / Carmen Varner // Lifestyle Blogger & Social Media + Blogging Coach


2 Years Self-Employed: Life as a Blogging Coach, Travel Influencer, Social Media Consultant!

Friday, June 07, 2019

It's official: I've been self-employed for two years! June, although midway through the year, always signifies a fresh start.

I never mentioned this before, but only 10 days after my resignation from my corporate job, I went on my first press trip as a self-employed travel influencer, blogging coach, & social media consultant for small brands. (Yes, I do a bit of everything as a digital influencer. I kind of have to!)

Is it stressful? Oh yes.

There's no boss to blame because I am my boss. Well, I guess I could blame myself, & that does happen from time to time. I'm in charge of what I do, when I do it, & what I earn. While this might sound like the ultimate freedom, this journey comes with a learning curve.

Last year I wrote my one-year self-employment anniversary post after I'd gotten back home from a familiarization tour to El Paso, Texas. The tourism board flew a few journalists, bloggers, & industry leaders to El Paso to see the city in person. It was a whirlwind experience.

Downtown San Diego Travel influencer and California blogger shares her self-employment journey as a blogging coach, social media consultant.
Downtown San Diego before an event - I was invited to a restaurant opening (September 2018)

Things I Learned

I learned a lot this year as far as SEO (search engine optimization), going outside of my comfort zone, understanding the true meaning of networking/connections (building genuine & authentic relationships with people in which you can mutually help each other but in different ways).

Year 2 as a Travel Influencer

In my second year of self-employment, I explored frequently as a travel influencer. I'm grateful to receive invites to travel influencer press trips to places like Lompoc (where I went skydiving!!!), Long Beach (where I rode in a gondola down the river), & Oxnard (where I slept in an ocean view room & saw a pod of dolphins off the coast of Anacapa Island).

What is a Press Trip/FAM Tour?

The idea of press trips/FAM tours is to bring awareness of things to do in these California cities, whether that's sharing hotels to stay at, best restaurants, hidden gems, & nature spots. Sometimes you write a blog post, sometimes they prefer social media shares or geolocation tags. I explain more about press trips & familiarization tours on this Instagram photo. The press trip itself always ranges, but the goal is always the same: bring a bit of tourism into the city, a bit of awareness, eyeballs, interest, dollars. 
Downtown San Diego Travel influencer and California blogger shares her self-employment journey as a blogging coach, social media consultant. Photo of Girona, Spain
Photo from my travels to Girona, Spain (October 2018)

My Own Travels

I'm always thankful that my blog & social media presence allow me travel influencer/travel blogging opportunities because most of the time I plan & purchase trips myself. I visited Mexico on three different occasions since I live less than one hour away from Mexico. I explored some Tijuana breweries. I stared at the stunning pastels of San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato & Peña De Bernal, Queretaro. I went to Oslo, Norway; Berlin, Germany; & Barcelona, Spain.

Downtown San Diego Travel influencer and California blogger shares her self-employment journey as a blogging coach, social media consultant. Photo of Pismo Beach, California
Pelicans in Pismo Beach, California (May 2019)

Life as a California Blogger & San Diego Blogger

There are many places to visit & things to do in California. As a San Diego blogger, I traveled all over the County & I mean all over. I'm talking about Balboa Park, Cardiff, Carlsbad, Clairemont Village, Coronado, Encinitas, Escondido, La Jolla, Normal Heights, Oceanside, Old Town, San Marcos, Solana Beach, Vista.

Looking for things to do in California? I also explored other parts of California such as Hesperia, San Bernardino, Santa Barbara, Pismo Beach, Ventura. As a digital influencer, I share visual stories online with my audience about each place.

Sponsored Blog Posts & Campaigns with Brands

During my second year fully working remotely, I partnered with some cool brands for sponsored posts & campaigns on my blog such as iWi (a vegan omega-3 supplement) & Nurx (affordable female health care like birth control & HPV testing). I did an affiliate campaign with Soo Jin, a clothing company.

Downtown San Diego Travel influencer and California blogger shares her self-employment journey as a blogging coach, social media consultant. Vista Library, California
A partnership with Soo Jin, a clothing company (September 2018)

Life as an Instagram Influencer 

On my Instagram digital influencer platform, I had sponsored posts with Subway & Wallaby Yogurt. The Subway campaign was a local San Diego campaign. Here's the Subway campaign photo on Instagram. I didn't do too many sponsored posts in my second year of self-employment.

Compared to Year 1, my sponsored blog post & sponsored social media opportunities went down for two reasons. 

1) I was pickier with the brands I worked with.
2) Brands shifted toward social media marketing vs. blog marketing.

Downtown San Diego Travel influencer and California blogger shares her self-employment journey as a blogging coach, social media consultant. Instagram influencer campaign with Wallaby Yogurt
My campaign with Wallaby Yogurt (September 2018)

Trends for 2019 - 2020 

Brands didn't focus as heavily on blogging or SEO, they were really focused on social media content. For example, both the Subway & Wallaby campaign required two Instagram posts within a short period. It would benefit to have longterm campaigns so an audience can get introduced & acquainted to a brand over a longer period of time. But that's just me. :]

The Instagram influencer trend is already changing. SEO is a gamechanger if you do it strategically. I've noticed a difference in 2019 for myself & my clients. I work one-on-one with people as a blogging coach & I work with brands as a social media consultant. These two segments are separate but they absolutely benefit each other.

Year 2 as a Social Media Consultant

I recently refocused on this aspect of my business. I wasn't as enamored with the digital influencer life because it's financially unstable. You never know how the month will go. In November 2018 I landed a new social media client, writing SEO-friendly product descriptions on their Shopify e-commerce website, writing blog posts with SEO keywords, & creating all their online ads (Google, Facebook, Instagram). Then a few weeks later I onboarded my second client. Those two social media clients have been steady, while others come & go. Some require short-term projects, some don't have budgets for continuous work.

Downtown San Diego Travel influencer and California blogger shares her self-employment journey as a blogging coach, social media consultant. Instagram influencer travel blogger at Chichen Itza Mexico
Exploring Chichen Itza, Mexico (December 2018)

My Intentions & Goals for Year 3

My intention is to shift some of my focus toward actively finding social media consultation clients, small businesses & brands looking for assistance over longer periods of time. I'm always open as a blog coach, but I'll let people find me who want to me to coach them, rather than me seek people out. If that's you, hey!!! :] So I want to have more social media management clients. I want to focus on being a travel influencer & creating fun digital content. I'd like to also create long-term relationships with people in the industry in a way that we each work together to help each other.

Are you a brand or small business interested in social media management, content creation, community engagement, reputation management, SEO, copywriting? Please fill out my Discovery Questionnaire & I will email you within 48 hours.

Are you an individual who has questions about social media, how to start blogging, how to find your voice/audience, working with brands, how to get invited to press events as a blogger influencer? Please fill out my Discovery Questionnaire for Coaching.

Have a question?? Please leave a comment! :]

My Favorite Kombucha Brands + What Is Kombucha?!!

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

Kombucha has been around for 2,000 years. It originated in 220 B.C. China where it was consumed for its detoxifying & energizing properties. That makes me about 1,999 years late to the kombucha party, but I'm a fan now. How about you?

Most people, like me, wonder what is kombucha? What's it made from? What's the alcohol content of kombucha? Where to buy kombucha tea? Can you buy a kombucha starter online? Well, my friend. I answer all these questions & more. Why? Because I had the same questions! Keep reading to find out about kombucha.

* This post may contain affiliate links.

But what is kombucha?

At its core, kombucha is a beverage created by fermenting tea with a culture of yeast & bacteria. It looks a bit like an at-home science experiment, which it basically is. I mean, you can literally buy kombucha starter kits online. Kombucha is lightly effervescent. Think of it as a sparkling tea-based juice drink with a bit of bubbly goodness. Kombucha tends to have some alcohol content, some brands have more & some have less.

GT's Third Eye Chai, Euphoria, & Rose kombucha flavors

What other fermented food & drinks can I try?

Kombucha, kefir, kimchi, kvass, miso, sauerkraut, tempeh, pickles, yogurt are popular fermented food & drink. Each has its own unique flavors, properties, & gut health benefits.

San Diego Kombucha Options

As a San Diego-based blogger & digital influencer, I'm happy to report there are many kombucha options in the area. Many of these establishments have kombucha that contains alcohol content, so it's an excellent alternative to heading to a brewery, bar, or distillery. There isn't much kombucha in North County San Diego yet, but perhaps in the foreseeable future.  ~*~ just putting those vibes out there, you know? ~*~

Where to buy kombucha tea in San Diego?

GT's kombucha flavors

My Favorite Kombuchas

GT's Kombucha - Love, love, love this brand. My all-time favorite is GT's Rose kombucha. It has rose hips, rose water, rose petals, as well as their organic & raw kombucha. It's what dreams are made of. It has 4% alcohol content. I usually split up drinking this over 2-3 days.

Health-Ade Kombucha - My coworker a few years ago used to do promotional work with Health-Ade so she gave me a few bottles to try. It was my very first dabble with kombucha. They have a variety of flavors like cherry berry, ginger lemon, & pink lady apple.

JuneShine - JuneShine is a local San Diego kombucha brand. Their kombucha is made with green tea, as opposed to black tea. JuneShine kombuchas have 6% alcohol content with flavors like Honey Ginger Lemon & Midnight Painkiller (charcoal, pineapple, coconut, orange, & nutmeg).

The GT's Rose kombucha is my favorite flavor of all-time

Can you buy kombucha starter kits online?

Why yes, you can buy a kombucha starter online! Gotta love being able to shop from the comfort of your own home! Whether you want San Diego kombucha or perhaps kombucha with alcohol, there is an option to suit your needs.

What's your favorite kombucha? Leave a comment if you have a suggestion, a thought, or a question. 

* Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you click &/or make a purchase through certain links on this site or my social media platforms, I may make a commission from that click &/or purchase. It's at no additional cost to you. Learn more about my disclosure.

18 Things to Do in Oslo, Norway

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Nude beach. Food halls. Viking ships. Breathtaking views. Oslo, the metropolitan capital of Norway, sits at the head of Oslofjord. Oslo has cold winters as well as warm sunny days by the fjord. The Norwegian capital has Michelin star restaurants, nature parks, museums, & whatever you want to do. If you're endlessly researching for the essential list of things to do in Oslo, Norway, this list has 18 top activities in Oslo all year round.

About Carmen

If you came here because you searched for things to do in Oslo, Norway, you probably don't know much about me. Hey, I'm Carmen, a travel influencer & blog coach from San Diego, California. I've traveled to 20 countries. I started my blog in 2011. One of my greatest hobbies is finding bargain flight tickets. These are some of the best things to do in Oslo. I traveled to Norway end of October/early November, so there's still a lot of things to do in Oslo during autumn & winter.

The Vigeland Park in Oslo, Norway is a free thing to do in Oslo in winter
At the highest point of The Vigeland Park
Researching hotels in Oslo? Browse here:

The Vigeland Park

Separate from the Vigeland Museum, The Vigeland Park at Frogner Park contains over 200 sculptures created by Gustav Vigeland. The sculpture park consists of the Monolith, the bridge, & the fountain. The Monolith shows 121 human figures holding onto each other in various positions. The bridge shows 58 sculptures of men, women, & children, while the fountain depicts a group of men holding a vessel with water spilling out. The fountain wasn't running while I was there, so it looked like a bunch of dudes holding a bowl. Did I mention all the figures are naked? Tip: Vigeland Park is free to enter every day, 24 hours a day (or night).

The view from Akerhaus Fortress on a rainy day in Oslo, Norway
Akerhaus Fortress on a rainy day

Akershus Fortress

Akershus Fortress also called Akershus Castle was completed in the 1300s. Entrance to the fortress grounds is free to walk around, which is the ideal option for anyone on a budget. The clear skies & green grass against the stone castle look beautiful in the summertime, but the Akershus festning (that's the Norwegian name) is pretty romantic on a rainy autumn/winter day. Tip: Akershus Fortress makes an excellent sunset vista point; look out at the fjord with the city lights glistening as it gets dark.

Aker Brygge

Walk along the boardwalk of Aker Brygge, a strip of eateries by the water. It's pretty small. I walked by it during a wintery evening. This is the ideal spot to wine & dine with friends, loved ones, & of course, alone. This place is buzzing during the summertime, but there wasn't much happening when I walked by on a November night.

Oslo Cathedral at nighttime in Norway
Oslo Cathedral at night

Oslo Cathedral

Why not pop in the cathedral while you're checking off free things to do in Oslo, Norway? I was walking by the Oslo Cathedral (Oslo domkirke) & ended up making it for part of an evening service. The chorus echoing in the cathedral will ring in my ears forever.

Street art at Ingens Gate in Oslo
Stumbled upon the street art at Ingens Gate

Street Art at Ingens Gate

Make sure this magical alleyway filled with street art is on your free things to do in Oslo list. Oslo has quite a lot of art throughout the city, but Ingens gate is located in the Grünerløkka neighborhood near the Akerselva River. Walk under the magnificent chandelier; the dangling charms sound soothing when the wind hits it ever so gently. Drop by Ingens gate alley for an array of artwork. It's small & charming, but you won't be disappointed.

Mathallen Oslo has Tex Mex, Asian Tapas, & more good food options
People eating at Mathallen Oslo food hall  

Mathallen Oslo

Food halls are one of my favorite ways to eat in Oslo other than stopping inside a grocery store for munchies. Mathallen Oslo offers a tempting range of food from Asian tapas, Tex Mex, fresh seafood, & more. This is the perfect spot to stock up on cheese, meat, veggies, & yummy baked goods. Oh, & Mathallen Oslo is conveniently located near the street art at Ingens gate! Tip: Walk up to the second story to see a bird's eye view of the hall & see if the boutiques are open. 

Eat yummy food at Vippa Oslo near the Port of Oslo
Grab a bite to eat at Vippa Oslo near the Port of Oslo

Vippa Oslo

Another food hall? Why yes. I wouldn't have it any other way. Food halls are a convenient, affordable way to grab a bite to eat or satisfy multiple food personalities, rather than your typical sit-down restaurant. Come to Vippa for multicultural food stands & a stunning view of the Port of Oslo.

Go to the nude beach at inner islands Oslo Fjord
The Inner islands of Oslo Fjord offer many summertime activities

Islands of Inner Oslo Fjord

Spend the day exploring the Oslo Fjord, a 68 miles/100 kilometers long with many islands freckled. The islands are a hub during the warmer months with everyone swimming, hiking, & having fun outside. On the island of Hovedøya, there are monastery ruins from the Middle Ages. Drop your knickers because Langøyene island has a nudist beach on the southern tip.

Gokstad & Oseberg Viking Ships at the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo
One of the large ships at the Viking Ship Museum

Viking Ship Museum

As the name suggests, the museum contains the beautifully restored Gokstad & Oseberg Viking Ships. These ships were used in burial rituals for rich Vikings. The ships are positively massive & you can walk up a couple steps to a second story to see inside the ship. If you're looking for a souvenir, the Viking Ship Museum has a cool gift shop too. Tip: Stay around for the Vikings Alive visual journey projected onto the walls of the museum. I enjoyed the music & animation as an entertaining way to learn about the Viking Age.

Norwegian Folk Museum

Located at Bygdøy in Oslo, the Norwegian Folk Museum (Norsk Folkemuseum) is the optimal place to learn about Norwegian folk art, folk costumes, the Sami culture, & people I knew nothing about prior to visiting the museum. Don't forget to also the Open Air Museum, which is part of the Norwegian Folk Museum.

Oslo, Norway's cutest thing to do is the Open Air Museum
Just a small corner of the Open Air Museum at the Norwegian Folk Museum

Open Air Museum (at Norwegian Folk Museum)

The Open Air Museum turned out to be a hidden gem that I can't recommend enough, easily one of my favorite parts of Oslo! If you enjoy the outdoors, quaint villages, old towns with history, this is the place for you. The Open Air Museum displays Norwegian rural & urban buildings from the Middle Ages to the 20th Century. Visit the Old Town, the countryside, the Setesdal farmstead, & Tip: Find the barn to see cows, pigs, chickens, & rabbits up close! 

Things to do in Oslo, Norway: National Gallery
Posing next to "The Scream" by Edvard Munch

Munch Museum

The Munch Museum (Munchmuseet) houses the work of Edvard Munch, a Norwegian painter. You might recognize his most famous piece, "The Scream." Munch was raised in Christiania, which is modern-day Oslo. "The Scream," however, isn't located at the Munch Museum; it's at the National Gallery. We had some trouble locating the museum as it was under construction due to a planned expansion of the museum. Upon his death, Munch donated over 1,000 paintings to the government & that's when the country built the Munch Museum.

National Gallery

Note: The National Gallery is closed until 2020 while they move to a new museum location.

The National Gallery (Nasjonalmuseet) in Oslo, Norway houses Edvard Munch's "The Scream" & "Madonna" as well as other notable Norwegian artists, such as J.C. Dahl, Thomas Fearnley, & Harald Sohlberg. Together The National Gallery & the Norwegian Museum of Architecture comprise the National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design.

Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art

The Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern (Astrup Fearnley Museet) contains collections of contemporary art with a focus on acquiring pieces that push boundaries, & perhaps even comfort zones. The building design itself aims to welcome visitors to look out at the boats on the fjord. Some popular pieces included: "God Alone Knows" by Damien Hirst, "Michael Jackson" & "Bubbles" by Jeff Koons.

Oslo City Hall City Council
The brick exterior of the Oslo City Hall

Oslo City Hall

We walked by Oslo City Hall (Oslo rådhus) many times. You can't miss its big, beautiful, brick exterior. The City Hall is home to Oslo's administrative body as well as their City Council. Guided tours of City Hall are available all year long.

Ekebergparken Sculpture Park by Salvador Dalí Venus de Milo aux tiroirs, 1936.
Salvador Dalí's Venus de Milo aux tiroirs at Ekebergparken Sculpture Park

Ekebergparken Sculpture Park

Ekebergparken is essentially an outdoor art gallery with sculptures from Salvador Dalí, Auguste Rodin (I went to the Rodin Museum in Paris), Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Sean Henry, & other magnificent artists. You could spend hours here finding fun things to do as you stroll through the woods & spot artwork along the way. Tip: Check out the spectacular views of Oslo during sunset; the city lights up at night. Bonus Tip: They host a free tour of the Skyspace on Sundays.

Best things to do in Oslo, Norway - Oslo Opera House
The remarkable view from the roof of the Oslo Opera House

Opera House

The Oslo Opera House is home to the Norwegian National Opera & Ballet. Stay entertained with internationally acclaimed opera & ballet performers, or head to the roof for plays, concerts, & other events throughout the year. The architecture of the building is meant to be accessible & open. Tip: It's free to walk up the roof of the Opera House, so head there for an epic view. Add this freebie to your things to do in Oslo list!

King & Queen of Norway live at the Royal Palace in Oslo
The Oslo, Norway Royal Palace 

Royal Palace

Want to stand near royalty? Well, the King & Queen of Norway live right here at the Royal Palace in Oslo. A lot of royal meetings & official dinners take place here. Foreign heads of state don't stay at Airbnb, like me, they stay at the Palace! The Royal Palace is open to the public during the summer months, yet another experience I missed out on because I visited Oslo, Norway in November.

Things to do in Oslo, Norway bingo

Where to Stay in Oslo, Norway

I stayed in an Airbnb whilst in Oslo. I shared a room with my boyfriend, our Airbnb host, & his dog. We had an amazing experience. If you're interested in creating an Airbnb account, please use my *affiliate link* to receive a $30 credit toward your account.

* Disclaimer: If you click &/or make a purchase through my Airbnb link, I make a commission when you sign up. It's at no additional cost to you, in fact, you should receive $30 toward your account. Learn more about my disclosure. :]

Got a question? Leave a comment & I will answer it.
Did I miss something? Comment your favorite things to do in Oslo, Norway.

Things to do in Oslo, Norway image for Pinterest

Books by Modern Female Authors

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, Mary Shelley, Louisa May Alcott, Charlotte Brontë, Emily Brontë. These are among the best female authors of all time! They've been around for centuries. We've read them in school.  We know their names. But.....raise your hand if you're here to learn about modern female authors! Hell yeah, me too!

The dictionary definition of the word "modern" states: relating to the present or recent times as opposed to the remote past; it's present-day, contemporary, present-time, present, current, twenty-first-century, recent.

Okay, so not your granny's favorite author. Not a classic female author. Not the best female author of the 19th century or even the 20th century. This is the 21st century, y'all. Bust out your library card or let's face it, just whip out your credit card to buy it off of Amazon. Ok, let's start reading some modern female authors!

* Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links.

If you want to read something career, business, or success related...

Kate White is a bestselling author, professional speaker, & former editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan.  She's magazine royalty! This modern female author is your go-to for career advice. The Gutsy Girl Handbook: Your Manifesto for Success has knowledge nuggets, strategies, & tips for women who want to make their own rules, advance their careers, & get the opportunities they deserve. It's a modern take on White's book from 1995, Why Good Girls Don't Get Ahead but Gutsy Girls Do.

If you're struggling with your identity or world view...

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is an award-winning author of Purple Hibiscus, Half of a Yellow Sun,  & Americanah. Half of a Yellow Sun is inspired by experiences of her parents during the Nigeria-Biafra war, while Americanah revolves around the realities of balancing the delicate mixture of a Nigerian & American life - the perfect read for anyone struggling with their identity, no matter where you live. As a Persian-American, this topic always resonates with me!

If you want to read something funny, satirical, or light-hearted...

Sarah Cooper's satirical book How to Be Successful without Hurting Men's Feelings aims to poke fun at business strategies for females. The book shares how women can succeed in their careers without harming the fragile male ego in the meantime. It's a great read if you're feeling especially bitter at your workplace. Sarah Cooper is hilarious.

If your mom died...

Read The Dead Moms Club: A Memoir about Death, Grief, and Surviving the Mother of All Losses by Kate Spencer. Someone asked me, "Is it sad? Or like supportive??" Of course, it isn't the most cheery of topics, but Spencer writes in a quippy, sassy, frank, & overall empowering way! Someone somewhere might benefit from this modern female author; I know it helped me.

One of my friends said, "Last time you talked about this book, I bought it. Not very far through it yet, but this year will be 10 years since my mom passed. I thought that it was an appropriate read this year! Thank you."

There are many modern female authors to choose from. Just take a moment to stop scrolling or watch someone's story to read, to live, to think for yourself. We absorb technology all day; when was the last time you absorbed the words of a book?

* Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you click &/or make a purchase through certain links on this site or my social media platforms, I may make a commission from that click &/or purchase. It's at no additional cost to you. Learn more about my disclosure. :]

How to Find Blogging Inspiration & Blog Ideas

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Blogging is tough, y'all. There's always a curveball or a challenge or a commitment or an obstacle to keep you on your toes. There are highs & lows. There are so many moving parts. Whether you want to reach new clients or increase your blog page views, it's easy to lose blogging inspiration & fall behind on your social media goals. It's hard to create successful blogs these days!

Sometimes you feel stuck or overwhelmed with how much you need to do. You ask yourself: "How can get there? How can I get unstuck when I feel stuck?"

Take 30 minutes to go through this exercise & by the end of it, you'll identify some creative blog topics you can start writing immediately. As a blog coach, I go over this topic a lot with my clients. Let's get those blogging content inspiration juices flowing. Are you ready? My clients have successful blogs, brands, & social media channels.

Blogging coach, blog coach, blog inspiration

Step 1. Ask yourself: What excites & inspires me? 

Write it down. Grab a pen & paper. Type it on your phone or laptop. Time yourself for 5 minutes; time management is important. Write down words or phrases as they come to you, stream of consciousness style. Don't overthink it. Write it down, you can refine it later. Aim for 20.

1. Food
2. Travel
3. Nature
4. Craft beer
5. Netflix
6. Friends
7. Hot sauce 
8. Blogging 
9. Photography 
10. Dogs
11. Poetry
12. Journaling
13. Writing 
14. Reading magazines 
15. Learning
16. Earl Grey tea
17. Thrift shopping
18. Kombucha
19. Farmers markets
20. Meditating

Step 2. Expand!

You have your initial list of things that excite & inspire you. Now we're going to get more detailed about each blogging inspiration point. Go through each word or phrase you wrote down & expand on it. Every. Single. One. Of. Them. Aim to expand by 5. Again, stream of consciousness style. There's no right or wrong way to do this. You just want to get pen to paper. At the end of this step you should have a hodgepodge list of things that you're drawn to, captivated by, interested in, or simply enjoy.

1. Food ---> Vegetarian food. Persian food. Trying food from different cultures. Dark chocolate. Pickle chips.  

2. Travel ---> Seeing new places. Learning about other cultures. Trying new food! Challenging myself (like that time I spent the night on a couch at London Gatwick Airport). 

3. Nature ---> Botanical gardens. Nature walks. State parks or nature reserves. Seeing animals like butterflies, birds, rabbits, deer. Finding peace outside.

4. Craft beer ---> San Diego craft beer breweries. Happy hour craft beer. Hazy IPAs. Tijuana tasting rooms

Step 3. Circle the words or phrases that you're especially interested in

Take a look at your list & circle words or phrases you're especially interested in. What calls to you? What are you truly inspired by? As a human being, what are your current interests? This exercise is an excellent way to get to know yourself (again) & find blogging inspiration content ideas.

Step 4. Ask yourself: How can I incorporate these topics on my blog? How can I incorporate these things into my daily life or even my work?

Time yourself for 5 minutes. Work from your circled list & ask yourself how you can incorporate the topics on your creative blog as well as how you can add them into your daily life. The more you expose yourself to things that excite & inspire you, the more likely you'll have plenty of blogging inspiration to give you content blog ideas. Identify your current likes & write about it. Always stream of consciousness style, it doesn't have to be fancy.

1. Persian food

How can I incorporate this topic on my creative blog? ---> 
- Write about my childhood & growing up Persian
- Experiment with classic Persian Iranian recipes 
- Storytell about the Persian parts of my lifeevening Farsi classes, celebrating Nowruz
- Talk about the joys of rose water

How can I incorporate this topic into my daily life or even my work? ---> 
- Eat at local Persian restaurants in the San Diego area.
Buy an Iranian cookbook to try new-to-me recipes.
- Practice Farsi on DuoLingo
- Check out a book on Persian poetry from the library

Complete this exercise in its entirety & you'll find blogging inspiration to give you creative blog topics & blog ideas for months to come. Never forget that success is a series of small wins, sometimes it's almost unnoticeable. Use your time wisely; read time management tips for bloggers for my best tips. As a blog coach, my clients with successful blogs ask for inspiration tips quite often.

8 Things to Do in Encinitas, California

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

San Diego is an enormous county. In fact, it's around 4,500 mi.². I just Googled that. I definitely didn't know that off the top of my head. In North County San Diego alone, there's  Del Mar, Escondido, Oceanside, Solana Beach, & more cities. 

I enjoy international travel as much as the next person. I visited Spain, Germany, Mexico, & Norway in 2018, which proved more than ever that small moments matter, no matter where you are. You have to supplement those getaways with something budget-friendly, something local. At the end of the day, I'm a San Diego blogger at heart!

Whether you like coffee drinks or walks by the beach, there are plenty of things to do in the city of Downtown Encinitas, California. Read this guide for Encinitas points of interest whether you're a North County San Diego local or an out-of-town visitor!

Hanging out at the Moonlight Beach overlook with a stunning view of the Pacific Ocean

1. Head to Encinitas Beaches

Encinitas is a beachside town, there are a lot of beaches! Moonlight State Beach is one of my favorite places to relax. Play volleyball with your friends or dip your toes in the water. Moonlight Beach is beautiful & I've seen some of the best sunsets of my life there. Want other beach options? Check out Cardiff State Beach, San Elijo State Beach, or Swami's State Beach. Again, heaps of beaches & things to do in Encinitas.

2. Grab a cup of coffee

The city of Encinitas has no shortage of coffee shops. Head to Pannikin Coffee & Tea for a coffee & a muffin. Their muffins are enormous & perfect for sharing. I love the Aztec Mocha from Lofty Coffee Co.; it has a spicy kick thanks to the cayenne. There's also Better Buzz Coffee Roasters, Ironsmith Coffee Roasters, Coffee Coffee, Philz Coffee, & a few other spots.

In awe of the view from the Self-Realization Fellowship Encinitas Temple

3. Spend Time in a Garden

The Self-Realization Fellowship Encinitas Temple is one of my favorite spots in North County San Diego because it has some remarkable views. Relax in the peaceful meditation gardens. Stare at the majestic koi swimming in their ponds. Look out at the vast Pacific Ocean. It's free to enter but donations are welcome. If you want to spend some time in nature with over 4,000 types of plants, visit the San Diego Botanic Garden.

4. Support Local & Buy Souvenirs

Stroll Downtown Encinitas Main Street for all the cool retail stores & businesses. Caravan West is a bohemian paradise with baskets, blankets, books, & more. Check out Moon Shadow Boutique for bohemian fashion & vintage home accessories. Crystals, hair salons, home decor, kids boutiques, men's clothing, stationery, swimwear, women's clothing, there are local Encinitas options for any gift or souvenir need. Downtown Encinitas has a lot of spunky shops!

A coffee & giant muffin from Pannikin Coffee & Tea is one of my favorite things to do in Encinitas

5. Drive Historic Highway 101

U.S. Highway 101 runs through the states of California, Oregon, & Washington. Highway 101 is the longest highway in California. Drive down a piece of history in Encinitas. Downtown Encinitas Main Street is conveniently located on Highway 101; park your car then shop some of the local boutiques & stores.

6. Eat Delicious Food at Encinitas Restaurants

Fresh fish, tasty vegetarian food, gluten-free options, raw & organic desserts, Downtown Encinitas has restaurants food for all your needs! My other personal favorite restaurants in the city of Encinitas: pastries from St. Tropez Bakery & Bistro ♥ hot & prepared foods from Lazy Acres Natural Market ♥ Machacha Breakfast Burrito from Mozy Cafe (two eggs, jack cheese, & soy chorizo instead of turkey) ♥organic, fresh options from GOODONYA like the Breakfast Veggie Bowl ♥ EVE Encinitas for all things vegan

7. Drink Craft Beer at Encinitas Breweries

San Diego County has over 150+ breweries, so it's no surprise that the city of Encinitas has a few craft beer options.  Saint Archer Brewing Co. has happy hour from 4-6 pm Monday through Friday - get $2 off a pint. Enjoy plant-based food & a full food menu (in addition to a full craft beer list, obviously) Modern Times Far West LoungeCulture Brewing Co. always features artists on their walls, so they're kind of like an art gallery with beer.

8. How About Cocktails?

Sip on a sexy cocktail at any number of cool Downtown Encinitas spots. In addition to a full food & craft beer menu, Bread & Barley has a number of signature cocktails (like the Leucadia Sunrise made with vodka, lemon, lavender, elderflower, cucumber), brunch cocktails, & classics. The Roxy is another classic go-to on Encinitas Main Street.

Did I miss something? Leave a comment with your 3 favorite things to do in Encinitas.

Have you visited Encinitas or North County San Diegy? Do you like to explore your own city? :]

Using an Acupressure Mat & Pillow for Stress, Tension, & Pain Relief

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Sometimes I casually lie down on a bed of needles to release tight muscles & relieve stress. What the hell am I babbling about?

This magical invention is called an acupressure mat & pillow. It only costs $20. It's spectacular! You can buy it from Amazon & you totally need one in your life. Keep reading to find out all about what it does, how to use it, & where to buy one. I bought the ProSource acupressure mat.

At its core, an acupressure mat is a self-applied acupuncture device. You can lay on it, roll on it, sit on it, stand on it, stretch on it. I've been using the acupressure mat for over a year, so I developed an understanding of how to use it & how it benefits me. I use it frequently, especially when my back acts up.

ProSource acupressure mat pillow

* Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links.

I first heard about the acupressure mat from Lauryn Evarts of The Skinny Confidential. It intrigued me with its intimidating, spiky look, so I searched for it on Amazon right away. As you know, I love Amazon, especially for practical blog props to elevate my flatlays & photography. Once I found out the set only costs $19.99 I bought it right then & there. Bing bang boom! 

I chose the grey acupressure mat & pillow set. Chic. Timeless. It goes with the grey rug I bought from Target. But the mat comes in a delightful range of colors like black, blue, green, pink, purple, & orange. Which color would you pick?

ProSource acupressure pillow and mat

What are the acupressure mat benefits?

I roll out my mat, lie down on it, then roll gently side to side to help release tension in my upper back. Essentially, you relax on this “bed of needles” to massage various pressure points on your body.  The little spikes can potentially help you self-massage, relieve stress, tension, or pain. It might even help you fall asleep. 

It helps relieve pain in my right shoulder blade from an injury I got in college. It relaxes my muscles in a way nothing else has (other than the equipment my physical therapist used during my semester of rehabilitation. The acupressure mat & pillow set turned out to be one of my favorite Amazon purchases of all time. So worth it. Use it again & again for only $19.99.

On average, I use my mat once per week but you could easily utilize it more frequently, if not every day. That said, mine is well preserved with no stains or anything. The mat & pillow both have removable covers. Spot wash & you're ready to go.

ProSource acupressure mat and pillow set

I bought my mat on Amazon from a brand called ProSource. Made from 100% thick cotton & plant-based eco-foam, the ProSource acupressure mat has 6,210 acupressure points & the neck pillow has 1,782 acupressure points. That's a lot of spikes!!

When shoulder acts a fool, I bust out the acupressure mat because of its benefits relieve some tension. It truly makes the area feel better, relaxed, relieved. Buy an acupressure mat & pillow set only $19.99. Grab one for a friend; it makes a great gift!!

* Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you click &/or make a purchase through certain links on this site or my social media platforms, I may make a commission from that click &/or purchase. It's at no additional cost to you. Learn more about my disclosure. :]

Let's Talk About Sexual Health: HPV, Pap Smears, Home HPV Screening Tests, & Cervical Cancer

Friday, January 25, 2019

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

Let's talk about sexual health! January is Cervical Health Awareness Month. Do you know the status of your cervix? How often do you think about Human Papillomavirus (HPV), pap smears, home HPV screening tests, or cervical cancer? Sexual health is often regarded as a private, taboo topic. But not here, not today. We're all friends here; it's incredibly important to chat with each other so we can learn & be our best selves. Let's talk!

About Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

HPV, or Human Papillomavirus, is the most commonly transmitted sexually transmitted infection. Did you know 79 million Americans are currently infected with HPV? Each year 14 million people are newly infected, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

Get Pap Smears Every 3 Years

Whether you're 25 or in your 30s, it's important to schedule a pap smear every three years. 

What is Nurx?

Nurx allows people to take charge of their health by giving them access to affordable, convenient, quick health care options. If you don't live near a medical clinic, if you can't afford health care, or if you don't have health insurance, Nurx focuses on reaching women who lack traditional healthcare services.

What is the Nurx Home HPV Screening Test?

Okay, so Nurx’s home HPV test allows you to check your risk for cervical cancer from the convenience of your own home. The test kit checks for 14 strains of HPV that have a higher risk of leading to cervical cancer. It's the same quality as a pap smear, but it allows you to check your risk for cervical cancer between doctor's visits. Taking the Nurx Home HPV Screening Test gives you peace of mind until you see a doctor. you don't have to lay awake at night worrying about your cervix. Just remember: this is preventative care, not treatment. The doesn't replace your doctor nor does it diagnose cervical cancer.

How the HPV Home Kit Works

1. Download the Nurx app to your phone or visit Nurx.com.
2. You'll be prompted to answer a handful of questions about your health.
3. Then bing, bang, boom! Nurx ships the kit straight to your door.
4. Follow the kit instructions, send your sample, wait for results.

If your results are negative, it means your risk for cervical cancer is low & you don't need additional testing for another three years. If your results are positive, it doesn't necessarily mean you have cervical cancer. You can work closely with the medical team to help figure out the next steps.

How do you feel about your sexual health? Rather than worry, address your health head-on. Get tested & take it from there. Screening yourself is preventative care, not a treatment. Make sure you're still seeing your doctor because the rest of your body needs care too. The Nurx Home HPV Screening Test is a convenient, affordable option to check your risk for cervical cancer. Try the kit yourself by downloading the iOS mobile app! Check out the Nurx website to learn more.

So tell me: how often do you get a pap smear? Are you taking time to take care of yourself? 

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


© Carmen Varner // Lifestyle Blogger & Social Media + Blogging Coach • Theme by Maira G.