Go Where You Grow

SANDUSKY, OHIO — In 2019, I was stuck in a massive personal rut that I’m frankly still digging out of. In the midst of my pain, all I wanted to do was write and share through this outlet, but my heart and head weren’t in the space. In an attempt to “go where you grow”, I bought a ticket to the 2019 Bloggy Conference and figured at the very least I’d give my kids a happy weekend together at Cedar Point.

What I didn’t realize was how much I’d learn about myself and the blogging community while I spent two days immersed in learning at Bloggy Conference. Through breakouts and keynotes, I was able to put so many things in my brain bank to prepare to move this blog and my other one (‘lil Burghers) forward. Personal and professional development is vital in the ever-changing social media world.

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Lake Erie Shore outside Cedar Point / Breakers Hotel

I remember a key moment for me during the event was sitting my butt in the coldish-warm sand of Lake Erie’s shores and stretching. The morning was cool and yet humid. Staff had just started to arrive to get things going at Cedar Point for the first big fall weekend of 2019 and I was out doing a training run for the EQT 10-Miler. In that moment, I looked out at the lake and just had this sense of calm clarity in the middle of everything I was learning…

Go Where You Grow

In the social media/blogging world, there can be somewhat of a “rat race” to get the best sponsorships, biggest numbers, and maintain a consistent writing schedule. We put this pressure on us. We attend blogging conferences to learn how to do what we do on another level. But the reality is that we need to go where we grow and invest our time and energy into places, people, and perspectives that will do this for (and with) us.

Back then, this blog had been around for almost two years but was going nowhere. I was a Pittsburgh Marathon blogger and would go on to run and write with them again as a 2020 P3Runner. The primary focus of this space was my training journey and to share news about Pittsburgh running events with my readers. It became a habit, an outlet, and a space, but not necessarily what I was looking for.

Where was I looking to grow?

The Ideal Avatar

Rachel Brenke, a speaker in both 2019 and slated for 2021, had meaningful conversations with influencers at the 2019 Bloggy Conference. I listened to her talk about finding the “ideal avatar” and using that in a successful marketing strategy.

I was sitting there on my hands like – sure, I write about running, but gosh that isn’t my whole world. How do I niche down and start to focus the blog and find my real voice? To this day, it’s still a question for me, but I know everyone is searching for their thing and maybe I’m just in the right season of searching!

That’s why I’m looking forward to getting back to Bloggy Conference in 2021 and finding out more about where I want to focus my writing and where I want to take my “brand”, thebeckywillis. I’m looking forward to hearing from speakers like Rachel and Ana Canon who have the courage to tell their stories and inspire.

That’s why I have to “go where I grow”, find those places that challenge the limits I’ve put on myself and decide what needs to stay and what can go in this busy life [that we all lead]. All that to say, I’m all ears if you’ve read this far and have any ideas about what inspires you and keeps you coming back to check on my little corner of the internet. DM me on Instagram.

What is a way you “go where you grow” and keep up with your personal and professional interests? Will you be attending Bloggy Conference 2021 and helping Tiffany and the team celebrate ten years of giving back to the blogging community? Comment below.

go where you grow

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About Bloggy Conference at Cedar Point | Hotel Breakers: Bloggy Conference emerged in 2011 as an extension of the Bloggy Moms Network. Our network and live events are designed with community and information as its cornerstone. Bloggy Conference exists to offer you a new and continuously developing approach to growth, networking and education in our ever-changing social media world. 2013 was an exciting year for Bloggy Conference as our venue moved to Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio! We’ve been returning to their beautiful shores since then! Join us in 2021 with our co-host and sponsor, Cedar Point.

Cleaning the Grime

Did you ever get to a point where you just want everything to be clean but it never seems to be enough? That’s where I am at. Maybe it’s because of catching COVID back in April. Maybe it is being a mom of four and there always being something to clean. Whateve it is, I am so sick of the grime. The worst place for me? The garbage disposal. I always leave it for last and that’s a mistake!

I am a brand ambassador with Arm & Hammer in 2021 and receive product and compensation as part of this partnership.

Getting Rid of Garbage Disposal Grime

As you may have seen over on ‘lil Burghers over the past few months, I’ve been partnering with some companies to help get rid of the grime here in 2021. I’ve also been trying to simplify the ways we are doing this. Getting The Bigs (my oldest two kids) in a chore routine. Asking for outside help. Turning to TikTok for the #cleantok ideas that abound.

It seems like this house has always had some odd plumbing struggles which add to the grime. Like the time I put too much grease down our sink. But the garbage disposal has always been a source of UGH for me, even though it was brand new when we bought the house. Maybe it is because we had issues with drain flies or maybe because egg shells, fruit peels, and meat crumbs really don’t smell all that amazing down the disposal?!?!?

I’ve tried a few products to try to combat that stink that comes up through the garbage disposal, but nothing really seemed to stick. Baking powder, tossing lemons/oranges down while running it, so many different things. ARM & HAMMER™ suggested giving their method of deodorizing and cleaning the garbage disposal a try.

Arm & Hammer Garbage Disposal Cleaner

Their solution is a pack of 12 capsules meant to be used twice a week (get this on Subscribe & Save every other month and you’ll be set for the year). At under $5 a pack, I figure this is worth a shot for less than a dollar a week. It is super easy to use and the whole process is done within two minutes (yes for us busy parents).

To start, you run the disposal and hot water for one minute then turn off the disposal, changing the water to a slow stream. The last step is tossing a capsule into the disposal and turning the disposal back on for 15 seconds. Instantly, you’ll smell the fresh citrus scent.

@thebeckywillis

Gave these disposal cleaners a try. Nice scent. More details over on the blog.

♬ Astronaut In The Ocean – Masked Wolf

My Take

The kicker for me was that while it made the garbage disposal smell a whole lot better, it only seemed to last for a day. I was anxious to get to the next time to clean it.

Maybe it’s just me though. The reviews are a pretty positive 4.7 stars and 97% of people would recommend it to a friend. For me, I give it 4 stars. While I do recommend you give this cleaning method a try, know that the little capsules (smaller than a marble) are not going to be giving you a BOOM BOOM hint of freshness for days. Maybe my expectations are high? (Have you seen our latest refresh of the microwave stand?)

Did I keep using the capsules? Yes. Will I continue to be on the search? Yes. Tell me – what have you found helps in cleaning the garbage disposal?

Getting Cozy

It is officially cozy tee season! We’ve hit the time of year in Pittsburgh when the weather is not at all predictable. A tank top is too cold, but the hoodies can go away until campfire evenings. Perfect weather for comfortable t-shirts for the entire family.

As much as I have an obsession for “statement shirts”, my husband has an obsession with plain tees. He’s a slim build with a long torso, so sometimes he finds that he has to size up in those solid color t-shirts that come in big box stores. I’m always on the lookout for clothes that would fit his style and make him feel like being a medium isn’t the “in betweener” that those typical shirts make him look. (And keeping people from thinking we don’t know how to do laundry without shrinking, ahem.)

The Perk Clothing Cozy Tee

Greg has given Perk Clothing a try for his latest t-shirt – the Cozy Tee. This tee is made from 100% Pima Cotton. This gives guys the buttery soft feel that we ladies know they’re secretively jealous of when it comes to our leggings.

Giving Perk Clothing’s Cozy Tee in Ranger Green a try

The tee comes soft right out of the package with no need to wash immediately – I’m jealous – and gets softer with time. An added bonus that most guys probably wouldn’t notice but that I did right away was the curved hem that gives the classic t-shirt a less casual look.

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A close-up of the curved hem

That shape makes them ready for anything – for Greg that means grocery delivery, church, playing sports with the kids, or hanging out watching a movie. Oh – and did I mention that there is not a tag? Perk calls this the “all-day naked feeling without the naked part”, hey hey!

(Once you pick up some of these t-shirts, be sure to wash on cold and air dry so they don’t lose all those great features!)

Of course, something this cozy does come at a price. These tees start at $38 each. Perk has some bundle options available and of course I’ve got a code to share that will get you 10% off when you use code PerkUp10 and checkout here. We get it, spending that much on a tee is a bit steep, but trust me when I say the softness alone is worth it.

Beyond tees, Perk Clothing also carries chino pants that “make your butt shine” – I’m hoping we get a chance to try those out for the fall but for now we’re living in cozy shirts and shorts for the next few months. What is your go to late spring/summer attire for comfort?

Wash it Away

There are some bits of my story I wish I could just wash away, if I am being totally honest. Like losing two people I loved before they got to celebrate their 18th birthdays, only having one grandparent alive to see me walk down the aisle, and bad decisions made as a young adult. But the truth is, these are all parts of my story that make me who I am.

And right now, that who I am is someone who is struggling with balance. I’m so confused because I feel like I spend more time than ever in my bed and watching TV. I haven’t read an entire book yet this year. And the scale just keeps climbing from all my suagar addictions I’ve picked up during the pandemic. Add random virtual school days, changing my job right before the end of the 4th hardest year of my life, and not having friends and family to just HUG on the regular. Sigh.

So what do I do when life gets to be a little too much these days? I escape to our newest remodel project. Our full downstairs bath. And I wash it away, praying and praising while I soak the stresses out. It is so soothing and I’m so grateful to Greg and my brother for how they made it happen and for our plumber (Armstrong Comfort Solutions). I could spend days in here…but then nothing else would get accomplished.

What do you do to wash it all away?

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Classic Christmas Crack

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.

Enjoy!

Watch for the other two recipes I made this year and check out my Instagram for a Reel demonstration! What is your favorite holiday treat?

Everyone is Searching

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!

Am I a Plant Lady?

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.

Like these beauties from Englewood Plant Shed – how gorgeous are they?

Source: PlantShed

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 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?

SmartSweets: A ww Treat!

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.

SmartSweets

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.

Interested in giving ww a try? Join with me and get a month for free here.

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 new Sourmelon 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!

Combat Allergies with Ear Drops

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 but oh so good. Getting regular chiropractic adjustments can help, too!

What methods do you use to combat the impact of allergies on your ears?

5 COVID-19 Back to School Hacks for Parents and Kids

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.