“Top 5 Places Along the Pittsburgh Marathon Course”

This post originally appeared on The Firecracker Blog as part of a Pittsburgh Blogger’s April Fool’s Day Event. Enjoy! 

A few years ago, it would have been a true April Fool’s Joke if I wrote about running a mile, let alone a Half Marathon. Over 110 pounds ago, I set my heart and my head to a goal – to run a Half Marathon. Thing is, I never spoke it until a ‘lil over a year ago when I trained for my first half, the Pittsburgh Half Marathon.

Becky at her First Half Marathon – 2013

Now, there are still times that I don’t think I am really a runner, but I am. My feet move me, my lungs sure feel it, and I have at least five medals to prove it. When I was matched up with Jennifer, I got really excited to be able to share part of my story on her blog. I tossed around a few ideas and decided with a ‘lil of a month to go until the Pittsburgh Marathon, my “Top 5 Places Along the Pittsburgh Marathon Course” would be a fun fit for today. Although I am not doing the Half this year, I’m running two legs of the Marathon Relay and am excited to see my favorite places soon.

“Top 5 Places Along the Pittsburgh Marathon Course” according to Becky of ‘lil Burghers

5. The starting line. Emotions soar as you inch your way (literally) to the starting line. It’s incredible to be part of such a large group of people — all ages, sizes, races, genders — with one common goal. Music is blasting, people cheering, and cameras snapping. I definitely ran the fastest quarter mile of my life (to that point) as we ran past through the starting line and I waved HEY to my husband.

4. The North Shore. Be ready to smell some amazing bacon wafting through the air from Bistro to Go. Run past PNC Park and the Children’s Museum. The harmonica guy. So much cool Pittsburgh “stuff” to run past. It’s truly part of “running home” (this year’s Marathon Theme).

3. The Birmingham Bridge. This, to me, is the make or break of the race. I made that bridge my “you know what” because I realized that “OMG, bridges are really big hills”. You get to see the city. Half Marathoners will be bracing themselves to go up the hill to Duquesne and saying farewell to the relayers and marathoners. It was definitely a defining moment in my running life.

2. The miles to the finish line. Okay, I haven’t done this yet, but I did some of them during the 10-Miler in November. Fast miles happen here. Crowds in Bloomfield and Lawrenceville are VERY supportive (so I witnessed on the news). The finish line is OH.SO.CLOSE. This is going to be my most exciting part of my experience this year.

1. Anywhere your friends or family are along the course. Greg and I strategically placed where I’d need him to be and scheduled out T-schedules and walk times for him to get to me. At least twice, he got to high five me. When I did the 10-miler, he even pushed the double stroller and had my ‘lil cheerleaders there for me. It really means a lot to have your biggest fans along the course. Don’t have fans? Don’t worry. EVERYONE is there to cheer for you on race day.

Are you going to be part of the Marathon Weekend this year? If so, look  for me. I’ll be panting, running between 10-12 minute miles, and taking on the hill to Oakland, through my beloved Shadyside (thank you, Chatham College), and down the hill into the finish line. Look for me, or follow @mrsgregwillis for race day updates.

Happy April 1st!

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Want to check out the other bloggers participating today? Here’s the list, and you can also follow along on Twitter with our hashtag, #PghGBE!

Sean’s Ramblings

Small Town Dad

Sole for the Soul

Syntaxxerrorrr

The Firecracker Blog

The Pittsburgh Mommy Blog

The Steel Trap

West of Mars

Ya Jagoff

Yinz R Readin

Yinzster

Yum Yum PGH

Crazy Stories Sane God (Review)

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book in exchange for a review. All opinions are 100% my own.

I hope I’ve made it pretty clear that this is going to be a year of growth around here. Especially when it comes to my faith journey. I started the year out reading a book that brings the story of the Bible into what reads like fiction. As I’ve been reading weekly, I’m coming across stories that make me go, “Wait. What?”. These “crazy stories” come to us from a sane God and have a purpose and meaning. Trust me.

In his new book, Crazy Stories, Sane God, John Alan Turner brings us 52 of these stories. My dad and mom didn’t share these with us in Church, Sunday School, VBS, or youth group (at least for the most part). These were the ones that were saved for understanding as an adult.

Crazy Stories, Sane God

Source: PR by the Book

While I won’t be reading this book with my kids, it’s a great way to shed light on the fact that strange things do happen, even to some of the people God used as Biblical leaders. Things like getting drunk, seeing UFO’s, and a talking Donkey are the stories that you likely wouldn’t expect to read in the Bible, but they are there.

Turner isn’t questioning the validity of these stories, he’s giving them to his readers as a gift to show that God’s love really is real. No matter how crazy the stories may seem, the outcome is a message that God is in control and forgiving.

The epilogue is what got me most – it pointed me to WHY I was meant to read the book. While some crazy things have happened in my life, nothing is better than God’s love and redemption. It’s why I am here blogging, sharing my crazy stories with you…things that inspire me that hopefully inspire you in turn.

If you’d like to check this book out, it retails for $14.99. It’s an easy read and broken down into chapters you could dedicate a few moments to each week for a year. While I’m not sure I’ll run out and share this one with my dad (a pastor) over a cup of coffee, it’s definitely worth picking up and chewing over yourself.

Want to get social about this book? Follow @PRbytheBook @BHPub @JohnAlanTurner on Twitter.

Alive

Hi, friends.

If you haven’t been able to tell,  life hasn’t been the same around here.

This already busy mama took on an assignment at work that is keeping me there longer than usual and working on high visibility stuff. A certain dad has had to take on more around the house, including some bedtimes without me there for the routine.

It’s not been easy on us, but I am torn. Truth be told, I love what I am doing…stress and all. Problem is, I am not as great at balancing as you may think.

Even though I have been busting my butt since June 2010 to take care of my body, I haven’t taken care of my mind. It never shuts off. (case in point? I am writing this on the recumbent bike because I don’t have the time to write my heart out anymore.) My mind is not in the right place, and that’s mine to own.

It’s a work in progress, this whole loving yourself thing. I know many people love me, but I am my own worst enemy. I need to let my past be where it needs to be, nailed to the cross. I need to look at this everything I have been blessed with and give thanks. But I am struggling. 

When we lost Wendy, I entered a place in my mind where I was very dark, but I likely didn’t let anyone know. Part of me still holds that.

I have anger toward my past self and how I could let myself remain in a situation that was unhealthy and unsafe. I’ve talked to a counselor about it and have prayed to find forgiveness…but I am still not letting go.

Even looking at Greg and Arianna, I get sad because I don’t feel like the person I was when they became my world deserved to have these two amazing people in my life.

And sweet little Evan. He thinks he has a happy mama who has always been under 200 pounds (not recognizing the mama holding him in pictures of his first months of life). It’s like he’s the purest thing I have, but raising a three year old BOY is intense.

Phew, man. Got all my crazy out. I am working on all this, especially when I am out on runs. Trust me. There has been Christian music on my radio since January.  I am going to focus more on yoga once training for the 2 fifths is done. I’ve been praying more than ever in my life (and I am a PK, so it’s a lot of prayer).

And this morning I am super thankful I am alive to tell you all that while life isn’t always easy, it is beautiful.  I am alive. I am thankful for my husband who has held me on the kitchen floor and let me cry and cry and cry some more on days that all the feels are too intense. He’s kept me going more than you’d think. 

I ask that we all are gentle with each other today. You never know someone’s inner struggles. Lift the people in your life up, don’t pull them down. Breathe.  Pray. Be thankful.  Know you are not alone. Talk about it.

Not just preaching…learning from myself, too. It’s a journey, this alive thing.

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She is in for this living thing. And for that, I am thankful.

Blogger Swap: Pulled Pork Fajita Burritos

Today’s post comes from Jennifer of Firecracker, and is part of a special day of shenanigans from other Pittsburgh Bloggers. You can see my post over on Firecracker, where I am sharing my “Top 5 Places Along the Pittsburgh Marathon Course”.

Hey everyone! My name’s Jennifer and I write over at my own blog, Firecracker. I’m so glad to be here posting for Becky today as part of the Pittsburgh Blogger Swap!

Today I’m going to be sharing a versatile, simple pulled pork recipe that makes my life a heck of a lot easier on a million different levels. First, it’s a time-saver, and with how busy everyone is these days, who can’t appreciate that?  You can easily make it ahead and stash it away for later, or you can prep parts of it and throw it together whenever you get a chance. Second, it’s a chameleon: you can make a bunch of different dishes with it–it’s only limited by your imagination. Quesadillas? Check. Sandwiches? Check. Salad? You bet. (Today I’m making a burrito, but really, your options are limitless.) Third, you can eat it and feel good about it: it’s a healthy, well-rounded meal with tons of protein and as many veggies as you want.

The star of the show is the barbecue sauce. I’m not ashamed to say that my husband and I were about ready to drink this stuff right out of the mixing bowl (and maybe we kind of did…ahem). It’s tangy and vinegary with a touch of sweetness, but you could always adjust levels of brown sugar, ketchup, and vinegar to suit your tastes. Don’t omit the tomato paste, though: that’s where it gets its thicker texture.

Go for a leaner cut of pork, like pork loin—not tenderloin; that tends to be a little more expensive and not as large. You could always use beef or chicken if you prefer. Heck, I bet this would even be great with tofu if that’s more your style—skip the slow cooker, though; just marinate and sear. The brown sugar will make the sauce caramelize beautifully.

 

One thing I suggest, though, is adding additional seasonings after the slow cooker’s worked its magic. In my experience, even though it’s a super convenient way to feed your family, the slow cooker has a way of making things bland.

Another thing that’s great about this: the quantities can be adjusted up or down to serve however many people you’re feeding. You’re really just limited to the side of your slow cooker. When I made this, I cut my pork loin in half and stuck just a little over a pound of it into my tiny slow cooker, producing enough for five super-stuffed burritos.

This recipe was inspired by one of my favorite South Hills restaurants, Mexi-Casa. Ever been there? All I have to say is…GO. Now. Get queso. Personally, I have dreams about their pulled pork fajita burrito. However…inhaling that entire one-pound monster—not to mention the obligatory margaritas—isn’t the most health-conscious of moves, so at least I can make this at home and feel good about it!

Oh, and just a note: the ingredient list looks intimidating, but there’s a lot of spices/simple stuff in there.  Also, I’m the kind of cook who tends to throw things together haphazardly.  Some measurements are approximate, so just taste as you go!

Pulled Pork Fajita Burritos

Serves 5

Ingredients:

  •  About 1lb. pork loin
  • 1 large onion, split
  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 2T apple cider vinegar
  • 2T brown sugar
  • 2T tomato paste
  • dash of worcestershire sauce
  • 1T dijon or brown mustard
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • squirt or sriracha (or hot sauce of choice)
  • optional: cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes, to taste
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • healthy dash of garlic powder
  • healthy dash of onion powder
  • 2 bell peppers
  • 1-2 T extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil
  • additional salt and pepper, to taste
  • a few handfuls romaine lettuce, spinach, or any green you have on hand
  • 5 sliced havarti cheese (sharp cheddar works well, too)
  • 5 large whole wheat tortillas (I love the 100 calorie whole wheat ones from La Tortilla Factory)
  • a few handfuls of chopped cilantro
  • 1-2 tomatoes, sliced
  • optional toppings: sour cream, salsa, guacamole, or queso

Directions:

  1. Make your barbeque sauce: combine the ketchup, vinegar, brown sugar, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, garlic, salt, paprika, sriracha, and cayenne (if using). Whisk together until smooth.
  2. Roughly slice half of the onion and lay it in the bottom of your slow cooker. Put the pork on top, then cover in barbeque sauce. Cover and cook on low for eight hours.
  3. When the meat is finished, shred it using two forks, then add cumin, coriander, garlic and onion powders and toss well to combine. Remove meat from cooker and set aside.
  4. Slice your bell peppers and onions into thin strips. Heat about a tablespoon of oil over medium heat; add the vegetables and begin to saute until softened. Take your time: if things start to burn, turn the heat down. Halfway through the cooking process, add some salt and pepper.
  5. Build your burritos: layer the cheese and lettuce on your tortilla. At this point, the pork should have cooked off enough that it won’t rip right through the tortilla. Top with pork, pepper and onion mixture, sliced tomato, and a good bit of cilantro. Roll everything up and serve with a side of sour cream, guacamole, salsa, or queso. Enjoy!

 

 

A New Friend, The Yoga Frog

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Pure Protein

Disclaimer: I received product(s) in exchange for a blog review. All opinions, as always, are 100% my own.

Did you know I’m back to training for (almost) a half marathon? Yup, this spring, I’m going to be running home in Pittsburgh in the last two legs of the Marathon Relay. What’s protein have to do with it? A whole lot.

Following a workout, the body needs some help repairing muscles and cells. This is normal and natural, but protein helps make that easier on the body. Additionally, it helps keep your metabolism going long after the workout.

After a run, the first thing I grab is something with protein. Lots and lots of grams of it. But when I get to add sweet to it? HUGE bonus. That’s where Pure Protein comes into my plan.

According to their website,

Pure Protein® is the nutritious protein solution for those living an active lifestyle.

You can read up more (as well as find where to buy their products) on their website: http://www.pureprotein.net/. Or, you can stick around and read about the three products I got to taste test!

Pure Protein

 

First up, you know I had to try the Double Chocolate Vanilla Crunch protein bars. These were like eating a candy bar, only much better for you. They are soft, yet have a crunch. And the chocolate tastes real, no faking around here.

The Pure Protein High Protein Bar with Greek Yogurt Style Coating (Strawberry) were a flavorful addition to my day. There are strawberry bits inside (super tasty) and were so smooth going down (thank you to the green yogurt “glaze” on top).

And the shake in Cookies and Creme was, to me, better than sucking down a milkshake and much more flavorful than chocolate milk (a runner’s favorite). In fact, I’m drinking one now as I write this (post run).

What I love about these three Pure Protein offerings is that all three filled me up and fit into my lifestyle. When I had to take runs at the gym, I could just toss them in my bag and go. They’re great for throwing in my lunch bag as a snack, too.

So, you don’t work out and are like, “who cares!”??? Well, we all can benefit from protein, young or old, active or not. Seriously. If you add a little bit of protein to every meal, you’ll not only see results, but be less hungry and have more energy to handle your day. (These aren’t medical facts that I read somewhere, they are my real life experience talking). Both my kids and husband like the benefits of protein, too. Greg was elated when I offered to share a bar with him, and Evan LOVES the smell of the Cookies and Cream shake (but sorry honey, Mama’s not sharing this one!).

Have questions about the three products I tried? Leave a comment below and I’ll get back at ya (or find someone who can help out with other questions).

Pure Protein

Source: Pure Protein

Pajama Program Fundraiser (April 12)

The Pajama Program is an organization that I just heard about and wanted to share with you.

What is the Pajama Program? According to their website, their mission is:

Pajama Program provides new pajamas and new books to children in need, many of whom are waiting and hoping to be adopted. These children live in various situations including group homes, shelters and temporary housing facilities and are shuffled often from one place to another. Many of them have been abandoned, abused or neglected. Most of these children have never enjoyed the simple comfort of having a mother or father tuck them in at bedtime with warm, clean pajamas and a bedtime story. Some of the children we serve are living with their families below the poverty level, in desperate need of food, clothing and shelter.

Every child deserves the feeling of comfort as they go to sleep, and this organization is making sure that happens.

How can you support the Western PA chapter of the Pajama Program? 

On Saturday, April 12th, the Steel City Roller Derby will be donating a portion of their proceeds to the Western PA chapter of the Pajama Program. Doors open at 6 pm and Kids 10 and under are FREE! Tickets are $10 in advance and can be purchased here:  http://scrd.ticketmob.com/show.cfm?id=25015

They’ll also be collecting books and pajamas at the event.

Source: Pajama Program

Name the Look Alike

Who does Evan look like in this photo? Hint – family may be the only one to be able to guess this one.

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Summer Travel Ideas from FamilyFun

Disclaimer: I was provided the information below and was inspired to share with you. All opinions are 100% my own. This post is not sponsored content.

Pack your bags, put the ‘lil ones in the car. It’s road trip time! Summer is right around the corner. Do you have plans yet? If not, FamilyFun Magazine sent me their list of winners of their annual Travel Awards. I know I added a number to my bucket list after taking a look at this. (You can also vote for your favorite at facebook.com/FamilyFun.)

Happy travels!

Top Destinations by Region

Northeast

1. The Strong, NY

2. Hershey Park, PA

3. Bronx Zoo, NY

4. Acadia National Park, ME

5. New York, NY

West

1. Disneyland Park, CA

2. Disney California Adventure

3. Yellowstone National Park, WY, MT, & ID

4. Yosemite National Park, CA

5. Sea World, San Diego, CA

South

1. Magic Kingdom Park, FL

2. Universal’s Islands of Adventure, FL

3. Orlando, FL

4. Universal Studios Florida

5. Disney’s Animal Kingdom, FL

Midwest

1. Cedar Point Amusement Park, OH

2. Mount Rushmore National Memorial, SD

3. Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, NE

4. Toledo Zoo, OH

5. Brookfield Zoo, IL

 

Source: FamilyFun Magazine

Source: FamilyFun Magazine

 

Support Pre-K with #IAmPreK

As a former teacher of a four-year-old program and kindergarten, I can tell you that early childhood education is super important. Because of that, I want to do everything I can to support my state’s program to ensure ALL kids get quality pre-k education. The “Pre-K for PA” campaign is dear to our hearts because our kids are reaping the benefits of people dedicated to this cause (THANK YOU!).

Next year, Arianna will be enrolled in kindergarten. She is more than ready, and I have to thank her years in Pre-K for that. This is her third year in pre-k. I’ll be up front and tell you that we stretched our budget for two years and had her enrolled in a private preschool program. While it was a quality program, we really were at the top of our spend limits. This year, she got to enroll in our school district’s “Pre-K Counts” program, a free program to families within a set income level. This program helps families like ours get a jump start on kindergarten.

Evan isn’t left out! Both he and Arianna receive additional programming thanks to a head start home based weekly program. And next year? He’s going to be going to school 6 hours a day with the program.

Pre-K for PA

Source: Pre-K for PA

Did you know that 70% of PA children cannot access high-quality pre-k? To help change this, the Pre-K for PA Campaign needs our help.

Kids can’t vote, so it’s up to us to voice our support for early learning. 2014 is an important election year in Pennsylvania, and we must raise the visibility of early childhood education so that every candidate – from governor on down, understands the wisdom and urgency of ensuring access to high-quality pre-k for all of Pennsylvania’s children.

Here is how you can show your support right now:

  • Smile, snap a picture and share it using the hashtag #IamPreK.

  • Share the above infographic on Facebook or Twitter.

  • Help us pass 2,000 supporter petitions this week. Ask your colleagues, friends or family members to join Pre-K for PA at www.prekforpa.org.

We gladly support this campaign. Will you join us?

#IAmPreK

#IAmPreK

#IAmPreK

#IAmPreK

 

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