As a kid, my favorite Christmas treat was my mom’s Christmas Crack. Because it is super addictive and sugary, I haven’t made it in years…but it is 2020 so I made three versions of it to share with my church staff earlier this week. The leftovers at home have been a hit for Arianna, too.
Here is how you make it:
Classic Christmas Crack Recipe
2 sticks salted butter
1 cup brown sugar, packed
40-50 saltine crackers
2 cups chocolate chips
Christmas chocolate candy and sprinkles
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Line a cookie sheet with foil and spray with cooking spray.
Arrange crackers to fill the tray…this is easy to do while you melt butter and brown sugar in a small saucepan,
Once the sugar and butter start to boil, set a timer for 3 minutes and let it keep boiling. You might want to stir with a wooden spoon while it boils.
Pour the boiling toffee (butter and sugar) over the crackers….once they are all covered, pop the pan in oven and bake for 5 minutes or until bubbling.
Sprinkle the chocolate chips over the bubbling toffee then return to the oven for 3 minutes.
Spread the melted chocolate over all the crackers then quickly sprinkle in desired Christmas chocolate candies and sprinkles.
Allow to cool at room temperature then break into pieces.
Watch for the other two recipes I made this year and check out my Instagramfor a Reeldemonstration! What is your favorite holiday treat?
On our quietest morning of 2020 (as our kids were at the Grands for a visit and the voices of pain had calmed in my body), my husband Greg and I headed out to the beach. Out here on the fossil gray sand as waves lap the shells and shore, everyone is searching for something.
The tiny birds are pecking at mussels as seagulls soar overhead waiting for something to jump in the foamy waves. A shrimp boat trolls by ever so slowly, nets cast and ready to bring the catch to market. Behind it, dolphins spiral and leap, seeking a bonus bounty from the shrimp and fish the nets leave behind.
Here on the shore a young boy with a shovel scoops up sand and dumps it immediately, likely looking for that perfect shell. A retired pap follows behind, watching in awe as the next generation of his last name wanders through the waves in wonder.
A toned runner swishes by in wind pants, searching for that runners high. Behind him, a young woman who reminds me of myself at a healthier season of my life comes up breathing in rhythm, searching for that same feeling as the feet that pounded the sand yards ahead of her.
The pair of retired friends who power walk past are deep in conversation about their kids and grandchildren. College aged friends search for the just right spot to lay out their towels and soak up the glorious October sun.
Greg is at the waters edge, net in one hand, sifting so precisely through sand with the other. He is searching for sharks teeth and will not rest until he has found an adequate amount.
I am plopped on a chair, humming “No Longer Slaves” and soaking it all up. This still, quiet rhythmic morning in coastal Carolina is calling to me. To search for what I need, not for what anyone else here on this beach or in this world is. To search for the delights and blessings God has for me in this season of physical and mental healing. To be okay with not cruising along in my Altras and to be okay with not being soaked by wave after wave of cool water. To just be here in the moment God has given me and to enjoy it. I am happy.
Everyone is searching. No, we are not all searching for the same thing whether it is here on this beach morning or in our daily lives. But if all search for God to be present as we seek his blessings, we will easily find what He has planned for us uniquely and beautifully in each moment.
Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” I pray a life like that is what you will search for. A life of abundance specifically intended for you. Plans that include a hope and a future.
Everyone is searching. Start with the right thing first and all the other things will come your way. God bless!
This being my 37th autumn season I find myself wanting to hold on to the life left in any plant I come across. Maybe it is all the gloom of being cooped up inside my house for over six months. Maybe I feel like I’ve kept children alive for twelve years and counting so there is a glimmer of hope that I can keep a plant alive. This has me wondering – am I a plant lady?
Why the question, wannabe plant lady?
Fall brings so much beauty in the ashes as we change seasons. I was recently over on Pinterest looking for some pretty fall bouquets and came across some beautiful options, combinations of sunflowers and my favorite lilies. I love the pops of color and the way we usher in the coming winter days with last golden moments of beauty.
As I get older, I find myself wishing for floral deliveries at home, at least in the fall and winter. Greg and I are working on crushing our debt and don’t love spending money on flowers, but those sure have me wishing we could swing it more often.
Good thing we have a beautiful (free) garden for about 8 months of the year!
I’m NOT the Gardener.
My husband Greg is the one who from day one has managed our gardens and flower peds. Friends, I cannot keep a succulent or one of those ice orchids alive. I’m definitely not the gardener, but I do love the plants that are in our yard throughout the year.
Our yard has some of the most beautiful hydrangeas I’ve ever seen (fueled by my coffee grounds) and they bloom into late fall – as late as December some years! We have so many different mini roses and lillies, teeny tiny hyacyniths in the spring, and of course our pond plants.
But none of that is thanks to me. Greg is the one who makes it all happen and I am so grateful for his patience and care for our plants.
Inside, I’ve had my share of succulents and ice orchids, never with too much luck of them living for the length of a life they should. That does not stop me from picking up the beauties when I see them. Like this beauty from the summer:
It has been suggested to me to get some air plants because they are really tough to kill. Have you tried these in your home? That just might be my next go to.
Well, I think I answered my question. I’m not a plant lady but boy do I love plants. If you are a plant lady, my pal Rachel has a super adorable shirt that you might want to pick up from her boutique here.
What suggestions do you have for me to keep plants alive in my home year round?
In our house, candy is definitely an addiction. I had been doing really good with substitutes like grapes and apples when I started to eat healthier back in 2011, but there were just some things I was jealous that everyone else got to eat – gummies to be exact. When I started doing ww three months ago, I renewed my motivation to avoid sugary snacks but started to look for alternatives. That’s when I found SmartSweets in the checkout aisle of my local Walmart!
What are SmartSweets?
SmartSweets is a brand of candy that offers low-carb versions of those gummy favorites I was missing. Gummy bears. Swedish fish. Peach rings (oh, peach rings). They are made from a combo of Stevia, tapioca starch and plant fiber, coming in with just 3g of sugar per bag and around 80 calories a serving.
You can get these sweet treats in stores (like I did at Walmart, but also have seen them at Whole Foods) and even online through Amazon. Check out this 7-pack variety to try all of their 2020 options!
What do SweetSweets Taste Like?
When I saw the bright “3g of sugar” labeling on this bag in the grocery checkout, I had to whip out my phone and open my WW app to see how many points these fish were.
Three. Just 3 sp and at the time I had 30 to work with. I could definitely budget those into my day, so I snagged two and sent them down the checkout belt with my turkey pepperoni and fat free cheese.
The bags sat in my office for two days because I was scared I’d get addicted and start filling my days with “empty” calories, but once I opened that first bag I was so glad I did. The size and texture of the Sweet Fish are a little different from the firmer, tiny Swedish Fish but the taste is pretty much on point and takes me back to my childhood.
Which SmartSweets Will I Try Next?
Right now it is a toss up for me between the Peach Rings and newSourmelon Bites. I’m trying not to spend too much over on Amazon so I might need to rely on what my grocery store gets in first, but honestly for a 12-pack I’d consider that cost with the savings on Subscribe and Save. I’d opt for the multi-pack variety option first to try them all before I went and “bought big”.
Which flavor would you want to try? Share this post on your social media + let me know!
So how is ww going?
While we’re here and talking about ww, I might as well give you a three month update on how things are going for me on the Blue Plan.
Things were going amazing for my first two months (July and August). In early August, my obgyn and local ER found some concerns in my uterus. I had a D+C in September but kept losing the weight. By the end of September, I’d hit some milestones (over 25 pounds lost, over 10% of body weight shed). I was super happy but was keeping some post op pains under wraps.
Turns out my left ovary grew another cyst after the procedure. It was 2 cm at the end of September and by the 6th of October looked to be around 4 cm. That’s rapid growth, so I stayed overnight in the hospital and had a cystecomy on October 7, removing the 5cm cyst. In the week since then, life’s been an uphill climb. I am healing but it takes lots of rest. I’m eating lots of things I know I shouldn’t and I keep saying that October 19 when I’m fully back to normal activities I’ll get back to ww swing of things.
I know I can do this, I’m just so scared for that next weigh in and to see what damage caring for my body in surgery and recovery with emotional eating has done to my amazing progress. I’d love your prayers and encouragement!
Note: I am not a certified medical professional and the content of this post is solely to share my personal experience with ear drops to combat allergy symptoms. Always seek professional medical advice.
This fall, every single sniffle, sneeze, ache, and pain will be judged. This is the time of year when our allergies creep up, causing symptoms that are never any fun, but most especially not now with a worldwide pandemic. You’re not alone!
Our family is over here catching the sneezes into tissues (good thing we buy in bulk), spraying the disenfectant, rubbing in extra hand sanitizer, and combatting our seasonal allergies the best way we can.
Combat Allergies with Ear Drops: What I Use
My biggest complaint during allergy season? Ear issues. As a kid, I suffered from many ear infections and that hasn’t really stopped as an adult. Dad was always pushing the sweet oil. Mom would religiously put Swimmer’s Ear in my ears after any swimming.
Today my ear issues are pressure, stuffiness, and even pain. Once I flew to Denver with a sinus infection and I couldn’t hear out of my left ear for THREE DAYS even after rounds of benedryl, mucinex, and lots of sleep. After that, I knew things had to change for my comfort during allergy season when it comes to my ears.
I am a big fan of essential oils, especially Melaluca (Tea Tree) and Balance to help with my ear issues; however, I’ve recently found some ear drops at my local big box store that take the ear pain away almost instantly. (These drops are also available for us online shoppers!)
Another method Greg and I like to use are ear candles – again, available at your local big box retailers. We’ll save that post for another day as this method to extract wax from the ears is a little dangerous butoh so good. Getting regular chiropractic adjustments can help, too!
What methods do you use to combat the impact of allergies on your ears?
March 2020 feels like forever ago, but that was the last time my four kiddos stepped foot inside a school. In just a few days, they’ll be back to their school buildings – three of them in new to them buildings. Our district allowed the option of in school or cyber and we are giving in school a try. Check out these COVID-19 back to school hacks we will be using in our house this fall.
Note – these “hacks” are my personal advice and ways that we are going to be getting ready in our home. Feel free to comment with any that you would add!
COVID-19 Back to School Hacks
This September as schools open virtually and in person, there is one main thing in common. Back to school isn't what any of us pictured it would be for 2020. I put together a few hacks we will be using in our home as we prepare for boarding the school bus every day.
There is nothing worse than getting that call from the school that you have to go get your sick child. This year, our district is going to be checking temperatures of all students as they enter the building. We are going to be prepared by taking their temperatures right at home before they even head out the door to the bus. We hope this will avoid getting that call from the school that we need to drive up and pick up 1, 2, 3, or even all 4 kiddos due to an abnormal temperature.
Also, our school is having 2-week quarantines if there are issues with kids coming in sick. Mentally, I'm just preparing that if we have a sick kid it means in home schooling for two weeks. If we are ready, the instant flexibility that was mandatory for us in March won't be so daunting.
Routine was thrown out the door when our kids were home with us full time in the spring. Some nights were movie nights, others the kids crashed super early. There was no set time to wake up because for the most part there were no classess to get to or buses to catch. Our house is going back to an 8:30 PM bedtime and 6:45 AM wakeup, giving us all much needed sleep.
And speaking of much needed sleep - we love our blackout curtains to help cut down the noise from the street and the lights from outside. I suggest checking out our 'lil Burghers post about the curtains the twins use to keep them snoozing all night long.
As parents, we are sometimes the last ones to know what is really going on in our kids lives. Having conversations with your kids helps to give them confidence and opens the door for them to talk to you. It has to go deeper than "how was your day". The Our Moments collection, available on Amazon, is a great way to get those conversations going.
Once you have their attention, add in some reassurance that they aren't alone in dealing with back to school during a pandemic. Let them know you're proud of their flexibility and that you, their teachers, and others are doing things to keep them safe.
Consider switching up the mundane of school + home cycle and do something new every now and then. Sure, things aren't going to be widely opened up yet, but maybe while we still have nice weather get out for a family hike somewhere new, try a virtual art class together, or cook a new to you meal one evening. Just switch things up every now and then and keep the brains and muscles fresh.
Let your kiddos know that wearing their mask, taking their own water bottles, not wearing a backpack, and sitting six feet apart is important for helping the virus from spreading. Teaching them at home that they can keep others safe will help with their classroom compassion.
PSST: If you haven't already, do some reading up about the Enneagram. Knowing your personality type + being able to recognize the types of your kiddos will help you to have the tougher conversations as we navigate this school year. Click the "read more" to find out about my favorite book on this topic!
These days, most of us have likely set up a home office. For the last two years, I have worked out of our old nursery and now call the space “my room”. It has transformed into a bit of a haven for me, even if it is where I work. Having home office decor that makes the space my own + provides functionality is key for enjoying the space.
Have a look at this list of my must haves and be sure to comment with your favorites!
Home Office Decor
These home office decor ideas will have you happy to be at your desk - whether you spend 10 minutes or 10 hours a day at it!
I got a standing desk not long after five of the six of us were home full-time doing work and school. Because I went with white to go with my office vibe, I wanted something that would bring a pop of color + keep hand marks off the wood. This desk pad gives me everything I need - a mouse pad, protection of my desk surface, and that yellow on the flip side is a beautiful pop of color.
This is another must on my desk. I love it for holding my phone during the day. You can have it plugged in thanks to the cord space on the back. The only thing I would say I don't like about it is that it doesn't give my face the best angles for video calls.
Personally, I rely on my phone, computer, FitBit, and Dot for telling the time but when I saw this super affordable time piece, I couldn't help but add it to my personal wishlist. How unique is it? I love that it makes the brain THINK about the time and it would change throughout the day.
You're going to be spending a lot of time in your home office - it should be relaxing and refreshing. Aromatherapy salt lamps can help with removing toxins and bacteria from spaces and putting a light, pleasant scent into the air. I love the dim light my himalayan salt lamp sheds on my office in the early morning - so soothing and sets me up for a great day!
If you’ve been following me for a few years, you know that I primarily worked from an office from 2009 to 2018. All that changed pretty quickly in 2018 when the company I worked for was sold and I joined a consulting firm. My front door became the door to my home and my office. I’ve loved the leap and have really adjusted to working from home.
2020 has not been easy ! If you found yourself all the sudden needing to set up a home office space, I hope these tips bring you some ideas to bring joy into your workspace. Home office decor doesn’t have to be a budget breaker. It can make a world of difference in your motivation to get stuff done.
It’s time to announce another Pittsburgh running event – the 2020 EQT 10 Miler! This event will be held on November 8, 2020 with plans to run through the City of Pittsburgh! This will be my fourth time running this race and I think it just might be my favorite.
IMPORTANT UPDATE! The 2020 EQT 10 Miler is 100% virtual.
EQT 10 Miler | The Details
Here is what you need to know:
Distance: 10 miles
Race Type: Virtual
Date: November 2020
Shirt: YES – a long sleeve!
Swag – YES! a Pittsburgh Box celebrating all 10 miles and Pittsburgh fun!
Register here! (Save 10% off the LIVE or VIRTUAL options with code WILLIS10)!
Cost: $50 for virtual – remember, save 10% with WILLIS10!
Fall is my FAVORITE running weather + Pittsburgh’s scenery never disappoints. This will be my fourth time running the EQT 10 Miler and I’m just as excited as ever. Last year they started to implement Pittsburgh themed fun throughout the course but I missed out because of my surgery. I’m back at it this year and excited to take part!
Those who run the event LIVE will get a mini Pittsburgh Box with swag + get to experience the course fun and everything race-day related. If you’re running it virutually, you get a full size Pittsburgh box (with a $100+ value)! And if COVID-19 circumstances keep us from running live together in November, P3R is offering refunds and swaps for those who registered for the in person event (minus fees, more info here).
Time to Get Training!
As of the time of this post, there are 16 weeks + 1 day to get training. I know I need to get more consistent about my training (but I’m HYPER FOCUSED on dropping some pounds) as I prep for the EQT 10 Miler. I’ll be running this the Galloway Method and live.
I am interested to hear your plans! Will you be running the EQT 10 Miler live or virtually? Are you also a Galloway runner? I’d love to connect with any and all racing this or other Pittsburgh events on my Instagram @mrsgregwillis – catch you there or in the comments below!
This past weekend, while stuffing a grilled asiago chicken sandwich in my face, I embarked on a life-changing decision. Yup. here she goes again. It is yet another weight-loss journey for this (self-proclaimed) #fitmomintheremaking. And this time, I’m going back to basics with the help of a community. I’ve joined ww (formerly known as Weight Watchers). Hi. I’m Becky. I’m Blue.
The truth is, I have issues with gluten and a to-the-core addiction to food. Over the years it has become evident that I need to change that. And it hasn’t been for the lack of trying.
In 2011, I started my first weight-loss journey and lost 130 pounds. I had a nutritionist at my side every step of that 3 year journey and was encouraged to start running. I logged my first half marathon while on that journey and have not fallen out of love with running (have you seen my list of races coming up?).
At my lowest weight since probably 8th grade, I got pregnant with twins. I gained back 70-ish pounds with them and returned to a stressful job. It took leaving that job and getting back on track with my running + shaking up my eating habits to lose about 50 of that. Truth: I was doing Keto and LOVED how the pounds shed.
Then a new door was forced open and I started a new job working remotely. I do not blame my work environment, I blame my personal lack of motivation to keep moving combined with a really tough 2019 with what comes next.
The harsh reality hit this morning when I stepped on my scale to weigh in for day one. I’ve gained 67 pounds since October 2018 and it hurts physically and mentally.
WW Blue – I’ve joined!
Encouraged by my best friend to make this change, I joined WW (formerly weight watchers) this morning while sitting in my bed, tears flowing after seeing the number on the scale. I entered all my details, including lofty answers to questions about how I eat.
The results came back that I should be “green” – meaning I got more points in my day but had to make more choices (less 0 point foods) for myself. Knowing people on blue, I decided that I’m blue, too.
As a blue, I get 31 points a day (if you join ww, your points will differ based on your starting weight, activity, and goals). That means I need to scan in or search for my foods and plan my day based on the ww blue rules.
The first few days I’m expecting will be bumpy, but I think that’s normal on this plan. I got out my kitchen food scale, measuring cups and spoons, and went to work making good choices today. It was NOT easy, especially since our cupboards and fridge are still full of Keto-friendly foods.
Why Not Keto?
I was TOTALLY stalled. I found myself going for sugar-free foods that were probably spiking my sugar anyways. I was living on pepperoni and cheese and pickles plus an occasional whipped cream. I was eating Keto Ice Cream EVERY SINGLE NIGHT. I did NOT feel good.
About a week ago, I got a little loose on my foods and had spaghetti and pizza – both of which are no-no’s unless they are gluten free. But I did NOT care. I wanted to feel sick, I wanted to remember that unhealthy relationship I had with food and I wanted to change it.
The funny thing is, although today was the first time I’ve weighed myself since my last doctor visit in July 2019, I SWEAR I lost weight eating like CRAP versus eating Keto. And that + knowing I’d have accountability from a friend was plenty to push me into my first month of WW.
If you are interested in connecting with me (you existing ww rock stars), you can find me on connect as mrsgregwillis. If you would like to take the plunge with me, consider joining (and get a month free from me) and let me know you’re in this thing, too. It’s been a long time coming and I’m excited to officially give this program a try!
If you’re just interested in connecting with me but not interested in joining ww, follow me on Instagram – I’ll keep posting lifestyle posts over on @mrsgregwillis like you’ve seen in the past (but include some more ww-friendly “food” content) and/or@mrsgregwillis_ww where I will be starting to post my food inspirations and progress. Here on the blog, things will stay the same – faith, food, fitness, family, and fun – but with a ww twist every now and then!
Thank you for following along and for supporting my journey!
What are your personal goals in 2020? Are you on a weight loss or fitness journey? Reading through the Bible? Just trying to survive? Share below so I can cheer you on, too! xoxo
As a distance runner (having logged 14 miles as my furthest run to date – but that’s going to increase!), one mile seems so short and easy. The thing is, I see it as a great challenge…and it is going to time nicely with my “Magic Mile” for my next BIG race (more on that to come).
One mile is a great little distance to work up your speed. In this heat, one mile is perfect for a quick run that earns you a shirt AND a medal. And one mile is really doable by anyone, even your ‘lil Burghers!
I’m personally excited about this because historically the Fleet Feet Liberty Mile happened when I was away for a conference and I’d never had a chance to run down one of my FAVORITE miles in the city (Liberty Avenue) and earn a medal. Well, in 2020, that all changes. I might even just find an evening or early morning and log my mile on the sidewalks of the original course…we’ll see!
Registration is $15 + $5 if you’d like your shirt and medal mailed to you. Are you running this event in 2020 for the first time or as a vet?