apis meadery

last week at next gen house

So yeah, I’m a little behind on the garden posts, but it’s there and it’s coming. Living that whole year of margin thing, right? Blog when I can?

Anyway. Here’s Stormy, helping me do laundry.

stormy in a basket

Last week in running

I should probably start calling this section “Last Week in Physical Activities” because I’m not exclusively running right now. But I did make a decision to join a gym by my building that allows me to to run outdoors before work a few days a week. So last year I ran three times – twice before work and once with my dad when I visited on Saturday. About 10 miles over those three workouts, which is more than I ran the week before. I’d ideally like to be around 15 miles per week, so I’m going to go for that this week. It’s nice to be out of a training cycle though, because it’s given me time for some other pursuits, such as getting back to krav maga more frequently and riding my bike. Really fun way to work out. I even rode my first half marathon on a bicycle this weekend, also at a faster speed than I’ve ever been able to maintain before plus a few hills. And it was on the section of the trail where I had a meltdown during my first 20-mile run last year, so this was a nice redemption for that stretch of trail.

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Last week in eating

Any week that includes your mom’s strawberry pretzel salad is a banner food week (shout out, mom!).

But another cool thing we did this week was check out Apis Meadery, here in Carnegie. Why we waited so long to check this place out when it’s literally a few blocks away is beyond me, but that’s now been rectified. We did the samplers to try all the types available and while I had a few favorites, it was really hard to decide what was the best, and none that I wouldn’t try again. It’s BYOF (bring your own food) and they have a whole section of board games and books. While we were there, a big group was playing board games and I realized this could definitely be a good hangout spot. We will be back. Soon.

apis meadery

Last week in homesteading

Garden’s in, more info to come. Kombucha’s a brewing, double batch! And a friend is giving me her yogurt maker, which should be a fun experiment. Homesteading sometimes feels like what happens in the background in our house, which I guess is as good a definition as any.

Last week in reading

This week I finished two graphic novels: The Wrenchies and Rat Queens: Vol 2. I chose The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins as last week’s audiobook, and I thought it was fine, but was absolutely not the amazing novel everyone’s made it out to be. I guess I’m just not into thrillers, but I found this one to be really cliched. Definitely not my favorite book of the year. I’m about to start Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed on audio, which I am thrilled about. I might not even want to get off the bus. Also starting Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Lathe of Heaven, which was a “congrats” gift from a fellow book person at my last job. Lots on the list, but what else is new?

No really. What else is new?

race bling

2015 Pittsburgh Half Marathon recap

Fair warning, this is a long one. Meet me back here tomorrow for what’s in our CSA if you’re looking for something less than 2,000 words.

I’ve read race recaps by several bloggers that I follow and the general consensus seems to be that “this race didn’t go as I planned.” I will add an amen! and a preach! to that.

When I came into training this year, I was ready for a reset with running. Poorly planned full marathon training last year left me completely burned out on running and I wasn’t sure how much of it I wanted to do going forward. But I love the Pittsburgh Marathon events, and having injured myself during the 2014 Pittsburgh Half enough to have to go to physical therapy for 10 weeks, I wanted another shot. So I decided to put the effort into real, focused training for this race and go for a PR, trying to top my personal best from 2013.

And I did. Through the ups and downs of illness and job changes and the complete garbage dump that is Pittsburgh’s weather from December – April, I trained harder and stronger than I ever have before. So I was thrilled in March when I PR’d in the half at Just a Short Run, shaving more than 5 minutes off my 2013 time and setting the new bar at 2:22:49. You’d think I could have been happy with that, because that’s a big PR and finally brought me under an 11 minute/mile average for the half marathon distance.

But I wanted more. I wanted a new PR and I wanted it at the Pittsburgh Half. I didn’t have a B or C or D goal. Just PR. Get to ring that bell at the finish line festival. But I didn’t PR. I finished the race officially in 2:24:35, a little under 2 minutes behind that PR.

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Let’s start at the beginning. I am always in D corral because I’m a caboose runner, usually bringing up the rear. That’s no shade – it just is what it is. By the time we got to start around 7:30, I could see the sun getting higher up there, but paid no attention because it hasn’t really been warm at all in Pittsburgh, well, in all of 2015 so far. In the corral, I was repeating in my head start slow, start slow. My problem during the 2014 Pittsburgh Half beyond the injury was coming out of the gate way too fast and then completely crashing about halfway through. So my intention was to stay at 11 min/mile at the beginning until I could find a comfortable space in the crowd and get over the West End Bridge, and then gradually increase my pace until I brought it home in the last few miles after Station Square.

I couldn’t find a space to comfortably run until we hit the incline to get up on Carson Street. That’s past the 10K point. I spent more than 6 miles weaving and dodging, running around “fences” of 4-5 people walking side by side in a line and avoiding people taking selfies who would just stop in the road. (I never EVER hate on people walking during races, but for the love, people, don’t walk 5 in a row.) This was mentally making me crazy, and I decided somewhere around Western Avenue that next year I will lie about my pace if I have to in order to get at least one corral farther up. I was formerly #CorralDFoLyfe but no more. That was complete craziness.

The miles ticked by and because I was running with no music or podcasts and just my running prompts from MapMyRun, I got to enjoy a lot of the cheering and the course entertainment. I tried to focus, listen to the pacing in my ear and keep things mentally under control.

Meanwhile, the sun was just scorching us. I wore a really light tank and shorts and I could feel my heat factor rising with every mile. I am just not a heat runner. Historically, all of my PRs have always been in cold temps – early spring races or early winter Turkey Trots. My asthma/lungs don’t like the heat and my core temp jacks up and stays up when I run in the heat, especially with absolutely ZERO heat training at all this year.

After getting through the West End and finding a little bit of a comfortable space to run, I began to focus on pushing up the pace, knowing that with the tangents to take into account, I needed to hear MapMyRun tell me I was running about 10:45/mile to actually PR. I knew Mark was waiting for me at Station Square with a cowbell and a Star Trek sign that was from the Columbus Marathon that I kept. I get a huge high from seeing people I love and know cheering for me and shouting my name, so I was so happy to see him – my faithful supporter at so many races. I yelled out to him “I AM SO HOT!” across the road and just like that, I was on my way toward the Birmingham Bridge.

(The sign that Mark held – I hope some geeks on the course enjoyed that.)

marathon sign 3 resize

During the race I was using the fluid stations for water and taking my chews like I usually do, but I was noticing that I was starting to melt and wither in the heat and at the last station before the Birmingham Bridge, I made a poor decision and gulped two big cups of water. Like gasping, chugging the water. (Also, let’s take a moment to say god bless those fluid volunteers at the course this year. With it being so hot, some of these poor people couldn’t keep the cups filled as people were needing to douse their heads as well as drink – and the volunteers gave it their all.)

This was a poor decision, because leading up to the race, one of my GI issues reared its ugly head again, and the classy way of saying it was that not only did I run with shorts and a tank and my Ghost 7s, but also all of the food I had consumed since Friday morning. So pounding my stomach quickly with way too much water at once and then taking off again at an increased pace was a poor choice.

Crossing the Birmingham Bridge, I all of the sudden understood in a new way what all those signs about “never trusting a fart” were about. My stomach was in major distress and after seeing the downed runner off to the side getting fluids in an IV, I started to mentally panic. All of the sudden I felt like I was on fire, my GI distress making me more flushed. I came down the ramp and had to mentally kick it into high gear to start up that last hill, feeling like I was running head first into the dehydration wall. I swear I was seeing spots during that last climb.

I tried my best to Kool-Aid man through that wall, but when I heard a prompt from MapMyRun that I was past 2:20, I knew the PR was gone. I pushed and huffed and puffed my way to the finish, not even able to look to my left or right to try to find Mark, though the crowds were just unbelievable flanking the final stretch. I wobbled past the foul Gatorade in search of water and walked really slowly to get my bearings a bit, feeling really woozy and almost dry heaving a bit from that final push.

Officially I finished 13.1 miles in 2:24:35, an average pace of 11:02. MapMyRun clocked me at 13.52 miles in 2:25:01, an average page of 10:44.

So here’s what I finally settled on. The only thing I should have done differently was carry my own water so I could slowly sip, knowing that temperatures were going to be higher and I was not remotely heat acclimated. I should not have gulped that water down in a huge portion right before the final push.

But beyond that, everything else I did perfectly right. Most of what stopped me from getting that PR was outside of my control. My GI distress had nothing to do with what I ate pre-race and everything to do with an underlying condition I’ve been battling for more than two years. The good Lord didn’t ask me to pick the race weather, so the sun and the fact that it was unrelenting, even in a city as cloudy as Pittsburgh, was out of my control. The corral placement was basically out of my control, and I can’t control the people who are more concerned about selfies than running, so the added 0.42 mile was nothing I could really avoid either.

You know what else? I’ve realized that Pittsburgh is just not the course for a half marathon PR. It’s just not flat enough and the weather is so unpredictable here in May that I can’t put all my PR eggs in the Pittsburgh basket, to butcher a metaphor. I can go for course PRs, but it’s unrealistic for me to set a time PR as my goal in Pittsburgh, the most crowded race I run, and then be devastated when circumstances out of my control make that impossible.

So I’m acknowledging that this race was a great race for me in a lot of ways.

I raised over $850 for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. At the end of the day, that money will do more good in the world than running the race itself. I actually put all the names of my donors on a Food Bank bandanna, intending to carry it with me during the race, but it wouldn’t fit. Still, each donor was with me during that race, as I often used that as a mental place to go to when I needed a distraction from the heat.

food bank donors

I nearly ran negative splits in a half marathon. I have never run anything close to negative splits in a distance race before, and with the exception of that GI/water/heat mess on the Birmingham Bridge, I was running negative splits. My pace strategy was working.

I ran a course PR. My 2014 Pittsburgh Half time was 2:35:13. That means I took over 10 minutes off my time from last year, which over 13.whatever miles is really significant, pace wise. And I also didn’t have to visit the med tent after this year’s race. And had I not run Just a Short Run in March, this would have been the PR that I trained for.

I broke through a mental wall. Mental walls are my downfall (I’m looking at you, Columbus Marathon). This was my first race where I recognized the mental wall for what it was and basically said, eff this, and called upon all of the strength I had left to push. I can literally say I left everything I had physically and mentally out there on the course. There was a guy on the Birmingham Bridge yelling to runners about to push up to Oakland in the full that “today is the day that you give it everything you’ve got and you pull out the best version of yourself.” I feel like I can walk away saying I did that, and that’s a huge improvement from last year.

This is pretty rare for me, coming with pride out of a race where I didn’t reach my goal. Yeah, I know there are people who don’t train and show up and run like gazelles, when I’m there riding the struggle bus the second the sun comes out. But I need to run my own races and be proud of that medal around my neck. And remember that running is as much about those quiet mornings on the trail and the bone chilling long runs in February and the treadmill speed work than it is about the races. Not reaching the goal doesn’t erase the miles on my legs and the huge leap I took in training this year.

So to remind me of this fact, I went to Dick’s on Monday night and got my medal engraved with my non-PR time and I’m really glad that I did. It looks freaking awesome. Runner of Steel indeed.

finisher medal

last week at next gen house

So what happens when you write a blog that’s narrowly focused around a sub-set of what your actual life looks like, making you run out of things to write about when you don’t have a ton of time in your schedule for new urban homesteading projects and outside it’s a frozen wasteland of gray?

Here’s the thing. I could write post after post about why I don’t eat fast food, the importance of eating whole, real foods or why chia seeds are the most foul of the one-item health trends, but a lot of that is repeat. But while posts like that have their place since they fall right smack into one of my passions, there’s more to my life than sustainable, healthy food and canning tomatoes.

Not sure how this will exactly play out with content, because I am still staying within the theme of 2015 for me – margin. But for now, it’s Monday. Here’s some…stuff.

The Week in Running

I just completed week 3 of my Pittsburgh Half Marathon training. 5 runs for a total of 19.4 miles. I’m amping up my training plan this year in an effort to shave some minutes off my best time, not just seconds. And I’m putting my running shoes where my mouth is and hitting those workouts, even when it’s uncomfortable.

I’m still feeling really excited about training, but I know logically that not all weeks will feel like that. But for now, I’m riding that wave. I’ve also been doing daily yoga with the help of Yoga With Adriene. Those yoga videos? The only ones I’ve ever done without wanting to throw a block at the computer. It’s really helping with my stretching and keeping my legs in good shape with this added running.

The Week in Eating

To celebrate me turning 32 this weekend, we ate at Dish Osteria on Saturday night. It’s been my favorite Pittsburgh restaurant since we ate there last year. It’s a tight space, so it’s not super quiet, but the food and drink are just outstanding. I feel like a lot of restaurants have really great food, but Dish goes beyond good food – every bite and every flavor seems like it has a purpose. Mark and I both tried quail – allowing us to cross another item off our Mark & Joanna Life List (eat something that we’ve both never tried). And I even ate a big slice of golden beet. I know, right?

The Week in Homesteading

My last two attempts to grow a new kombucha SCOBY failed. The first of those attempts got moldy from being too close to other potential molds in the kitchen as well as Mark’s sourdough starter. (We think the kombucha was also responsible for the sourdough starter molding too.) The second attempt didn’t mold, but also didn’t go anywhere because the temp wasn’t right. So I started up again this weekend, trying to grow a new SCOBY by moving the jars to the warmest room in the house and keeping an eye on the temp. We’ll see how it goes!

The Week in Reading

I’m tooling along just fine on my reading goal for the year. Currently listening to the third book in the Dresden Files series on audio in my car and currently reading the sixth book in the Star Trek Typhon Pact series. Do you have a serious TBR (to be read) list and want to commiserate about that with me on GoodReads? Find me here.

Know something else? I’m happy that at 32, I can say that I’ve made it to the stage in my reading life where I realize there’s no such thing as guilty pleasure reading. I will proudly wave my Star Trek novels all over the place, leaving them out on my desk for people to see or whipping out a graphic novel in a waiting room. If it’s worth my limited reading time to consume, it’s worth letting people know that. I love what I love. I’m not in the least ashamed that I have a master’s degree in literature and consume Star Trek novels. I’m sorry for anyone who carries around book related guilt. Life is too short.

The Week in Randomness

Got a Kindle with Christmas money, thereby silencing the last vestige of book-related guilt. E-books are never going to be my big thing, but they are here and I’m not missing out anymore. Anyhow, after I get Mark’s t-shirt blanket done, I think I might make myself one of these.

Mark and I are watching our way through the old Battlestar Galactica. Which was made in 1978 but somehow has worse special effects than the original Star Trek did in the 60s. It’s so bad I think it warrants a post of its own.

I woke up on my birthday thinking that what I’d really like for breakfast was brownie edges. (Yes, I am the person that the ridiculous edges only pan was made for, though I haven’t gone ahead to buy it since I need another baking pan in my house like a hole in the head.) So I whipped these up and ate them with some vanilla ice cream from Antey’s, the world’s greatest homemade ice cream place in the West End. (We stock up on pints at the end of the season to last us through the winter. As you do.)

How was your week?

back of the house BBQ

This weekend, we were lucky enough to be guests* of Penn’s Corner Farm Alliance at an event on the North Side called Back of the House BBQ, sponsored by Table Magazine, benefiting Youth Places and their job training programs in the culinary industry. Penn’s Corner sponsored the Pork Team and the chefs cooked with some of Penn’s Corner’s offerings.

Let me tell you. I’ve been to several different food tasting events in the city, and this one was hands down the best. I mean, spectacular. The basic set up was that chefs from the best restaurants in the city cooked a piece of a BBQ dinner – they had beef, pork and chicken, plus starches and veggies. Your tickets gave you seven tickets to take to seven of the stations to taste, with the option to purchase more.  We usually like to go whole hog at these things (no pun intended), but the portions were so generous that we were full with our tickets!

The atmosphere was really great too – you could tell people were really enjoying the food and the music was good. It wasn’t an awkward, stand around and look at each other, pick at a cheese plate fundraiser. I would definitely check out other events put on by Table in the future.

In any case, this is the important part. The food. The photos don’t do the food justice – but I was juggling my phone, drink and delicious food, so this is the best I could do.

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From the top left, clockwise:

Great Lakes Brewing Company Eliot Ness (my favorite Great Lakes brew)

Smoked Brisket with Coffee BBQ sauce by Chef Rick DeShantz of Meat & Potatoes and Butcher & the Rye and Handmade Chorizo by Chef Keith Fuller of Root 174. The Coffee BBQ sauce was nuanced and didn’t hit you in the face, but it was so delicious on top of that brisket. The chorizo was really flavorful and packed some heat – the best kind that isn’t just spicy, but warms your mouth with every bite.

Beef Short Ribs (I believe, with shoshito peppers) by Chef Sam DiBattista of Vivo Kitchen. Meat fell off the bones – and again, with a delicious sauce. I know I shouldn’t be surprised that we had good sauce at a BBQ event, but still.

Jerk Chicken Thighs over a quinoa with almonds and a yogurt sauce by Chef Brian Pekarick of Spoon, BRGR, Grit & Grace and Willow. I was expecting chicken to be the bland dish, next to all of the beef and pork. But this was not at all bland – and Mark even remarked that it was the first preparation of quinoa he’s ever really enjoyed. It was cooked perfectly and the yogurt sauce was a great complement to the jerk seasoning on the chicken.

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From the top left, clockwise:

Pork Confit with Blue Cornbread, Cracklings and Pickles from Chef Bill Fuller and Eli Wahl, of Big Burrito Restaurant Group (home of Next Gen House favorites Eleven, Soba, Kaya and Casbah). The cornbread was really tasty and moist, especially with some fat leeched in from the pork confit.

Pork Belly Pastor with Charred Pineapple and Togarashi from Chef Derek Burnell of Round Corner Cantina, Chef Roger Li of Tamari and Chef Domenic Branduzzi of Piccolo Forno. While the pork was great as expected, the homemade tortilla and charred pineapple really made this dish.

Brussels Sprouts Salad with Red Quinoa. I believe this one was from Chef Stephen Thompson from Bluebird Kitchen, though I’m not positive on that one. The sprouts were crisp and the red quinoa was really good – the second delicious quinoa at the event (we’re converts!). The citrus flavors were delicious.

Sweet Potato Fritters with Bacon Glaze from Chef Ryan Chavara of Whole Foods Pittsburgh. I was expecting these to be tasty, but they were out of this world. Crispy on the outside, hot and soft on the inside. And that bacon glaze with the buttermilk sauce? It would be amazing if they served these in their hot bar at the store!

 

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From the top left, clockwise:

Collard Greens from Chef Kate Romane of E2. Mark laughed because he knew I’d be all over the greens like a rat on a Cheeto, seeing that I am over the moon about chard and collards and spinach, etc. These had such a deep flavor and a seasoning that really made them taste hearty and green (if that makes any sense). So simple and so delicious.

Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese with a savory granola from Chef Jason Dalling of Habitat. (This one was in the same area as the brussels sprouts, so I might have messed this one up too.) Regardless, it was amazing how this still tasted like mac and cheese, even with the addition of squash. Usually butternut squash pasta just tastes like butternut squash, but this was great – really a “gourmet” mac and cheese. And savory granola? Who knew?

NY Strip Steak with Chimichurri and carmelized onions on toast from Chef Anthony Falcon of Gaucho. I saved this one for last, because I admit: I used two tickets so I could have a second serving. I love chimichurri but don’t make it or eat it often. It’s probably not classy to say, but every bite of this made me make a noise – like “ugh, Mark, this is so amazing” or “aahhhh, so good” or just a groan with my eyes rolling up in my head. I need to get myself to Gaucho for dinner, pronto.

 

We are so lucky in Pittsburgh to have the kind of culinary scene that we do – restaurants with insanely talented chefs (who are generous enough to donate their time and skills), supplied by amazing farms and cooperatives who grow the ingredients that make a food scene possible in the first place.

Thanks again to Penn’s Corner for letting us be their guests and to Table and Youth Places for putting together such a great event!

 

*We attended the event as guests of Penn’s Corner, but I was not asked to write about it or advertise them in any way. My words are entirely my own. I just can’t stop thinking about the food, so I had to share it.

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Donating produce to the food bank

After feeling pretty overwhelmed this weekend (and really the last few weeks) with our plentiful tomato harvest, I decided to quit moping about what I couldn’t do, and do something I’ve always wanted to do. Share our garden with people who need fresh produce.

Last year, we intended to give the contents of one entire raised bed to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank through its Community Harvest Program. Well, nature got the best of us and we basically had nothing to donate because nothing did well enough.

Not this year!


These two boxes are full of ripe and almost ripe tomatoes, complete with notes about the types included, ready to go to our local food pantry yesterday. 

It was simple. I visited the GPCFB’s Community Harvest page, and looked at the donation options. Because of other commitments, I couldn’t get to a Saturday drop-off, and I can’t make it to the actual food bank during their open hours because I’m at work the entire time and it’s too far to go during lunch.

So I looked up my neighborhood’s local pantry through their online tool and made a simple phone call. Within 15 minutes, I got a call back that they’d love to take them! I also contacted a friend who does a lot of work with a local women’s shelter, and they are willing to take the next batch.

I don’t tell you this because I’m an awesome person for donating tomatoes to a food pantry. But because if you’ve already preserved all you can and the alternative is for the produce to go bad, consider making a donation through Community Harvest. All it took for me was 5 minutes on the phone and a two second trip, basically across the street, to drop off the boxes. If you’re not in the greater Pittsburgh area, call your local food bank. You never know what resources they’d have to help you get the produce to people who need it.

I hope next year to plan a little better when it comes to the produce donation so we can make this happen more regularly, instead of waiting until I’m about ready to rip my hair out with frustration. Maybe that dream of the Community Harvest bed will be a reality!

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columbus marathon training update – 20 miles and an ugly cry

As of today, there are 55 days left until the Columbus Marathon. I am in week 17 of my extended 24 week training plan, I believe. To be honest, these are the dog days of training, and it’s only because of my type A, meticulous spreadsheet habit that I even have any idea what’s going on right now.

Last weekend was a big one for fitness at Next Gen House. Not only did Mark become a triathlete, but I had my first 20 mile run. The illusive 20 miles that everyone says is where the “wall” resides. I had always thought I’d run into walls running before, and I had somehow managed to Kool-Aid man through them and push. 

But I think those previous walls were only piles of rocks to step over, because for the first time this weekend, I ran straight into a concrete wall that knocked me over and made me ugly cry for the first time in the two years I’ve considered myself a runner. 

So that’s what a wall feels like.

I actually considered waiting to write my next training update until after I completed another 20(+) miler, you know, to make it seem easier than it actually is. But that’s not real. It doesn’t let you know how hard this is. Sometimes I like to think that if something is possible, it’s not really hard. I am admitting to myself that this marathon is an Everest for me. 

The run was from the North Side to the Waterfront and back. It was just a dream last year – it seemed like the impossible journey – so many miles. But we did it. First 10 miles were great. Miles 10-12 sucked all available energy out of me, and from that point on it was, well, awful. I was fighting tears for 12-14, desperately trying to talk myself out of a panic that would make my asthmatic lungs clench up. At 15, I asked my friend to please talk to me, if she had any available breath, because I couldn’t pull my mind out of its self-destruct sequence. (And to her eternal credit she did.) The voice that says “I can’t breathe, I can’t do this, I have come so far and am about to fail, 26.2 is impossible, I am a joke.”

For the last few successful long runs, I’ve been doing a 60 second walk break at each 2 mile increment. It’s done wonders for my heart rate. On this run, by mile 16 I had to go down to one-mile increments, and I finished 18 and 19 by walking at half-mile increments. 

When my GPS read 20, I slowed to a staggering walk and started weeping. Not just a few tears, but that ugly cry with noises that you didn’t know you could make. I don’t even really know why I was crying in particular. It was a huge release, probably of tension I had been holding in for, literally, hours. Probably days. Probably this whole training cycle.

I read a lot of articles and essays about bad runs – like the ones that make you physically drained or pukey. But I rarely hear about people who just weep when they are done with a bad run.

But after a few days have passed, I am ready to rise up and get those shoes back on and hit the miles this week. I actually have two step-back weeks in a row, each 13 miles, one with the Montour Half Marathon, which was my first half marathon ever last year. I have two more 20(+) milers to get that confidence back that I was flying on after a really good 18 miler. 

After all, one does not simply stroll up Everest (or Mordor). I’ve finally realized that it’s okay that this is really hard for me – the hardest thing physically I’ve ever done, and probably with the exception of grieving, the hardest mentally as well. While I watch a lot of really inspirational runners chasing their 8:30 or 9:30 averages for the Columbus Marathon, I’m chasing a 13:00 average. Yes, a lot slower, but it also means that I’m giving the run the best I can do for 4+ hours. I’ll be happy to finish Columbus in 6 hours – to finish at all. And that’s okay. 

This summer, I’ve run farther than I’ve ever run before, all over my beautiful, wonderful city. I’m wearing out shoes and burning through rolls of K-tape. I’m pushing my body and my mind and I know it will be worth it if I stick with it. The hard things always are.

herb-tattoo

banner makeover: fox bear designs

If you’re reading this on the actual Next Gen House site, you might have noticed the updated banner at the top.  


The animal members of Next Gen House are now accurately represented, having lost our cat Maggie in December and our first chicken in March, and adding our cats Stormageddon (February) and Vader (April).

The original banner and its update were created by Jessica Wysocki, a local graphic designer and artist and friend. Jess runs fox bear designs, her independent design business outside of her 40 hour a week day job. She’s incredibly talented and I personally have great respect for her as someone who spends time cultivating her own skills and talents in her free time, even while working and commuting full time. I know first-hand how hard that is. 

Jess has two shops that showcase her designs, at Etsy and Society 6

Her Etsy store features not just prints, but those designs on jewelry like earrings and brooches and temporary tattoos. I particularly love this chives tattoo. 


In the Society 6 shop, you can get her designs on a million products. This mushroom mug is adorable.


And then there’s this floral sketch, which also would make a cute tote bag or duvet cover (yes, you can order duvet covers! so cool!).

Right now, her Society 6 shop is offering free worldwide shipping + $10 off duvet covers when you use this promo link. You can always access her main site by the graphic on the right sidebar of the blog, too. 

Thanks for giving Next Gen House a facelift, Jess! 

saving the rail trails

There’s a group based out of D.C. called the Rails to Trails Conservancy. They work on converting old rail lines to trails across the country, and also help to maintain those trails and raise interest in their use and protection.

Here in the Pittsburgh area, we’re blessed with an abundance of these type of trails – Montour, Panhandle, and Three Rivers Heritage just to name a few. The Heritage trail (left) is used as a commuting route for many people. I run on that trail at least twice a week and have done so for over a year now. Mark uses the Panhandle frequently, and we both have used the Montour before. I even had my first half marathon there. Those are just three that are within the metro area. Go out a little further and they are everywhere.

Which makes it even more ironic that recently, it was Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania who proposed an amendment to the Preserving America’s Transit and Highways Act that would eliminate funding for the Transit Alternatives Program (TAP). TAP is the largest dedicated funding source for walking and biking infrastructure, and it would seriously jeopardize the trail system in this country that many rely on for recreation and fitness.

Thankfully, the Rails to Trails Conservancy rallied ordinary citizens as well as civic groups in PA to lobby the senator to withdraw his amendment. And he did. TAP funding is safe – for now.

This is yet another example that community activism and calling your representatives can work. (I wish I would have known about this before he withdrew the amendment or I would have added it to my list of letters to write this year!) I’d venture to guess as a Pennsylvanian, he’s probably been on a converted rail trail before, for one thing or another. Many races and community events are tied to the trails – there are too few parks in the city to accommodate them and the trails help to do that. 


These trails are really important, especially in a city center like ours where there wouldn’t be many places to run, walk and bike outside of traffic. While we do often mix up our routes with combinations of trails and city on the weekends, it’s nice to have dedicated places to go where no matter what’s going on traffic-wise, you can just GO. It encourages people to walk, run and bike when they know they can do it safely. 

And while any scenery gets boring when you’re running 16 miles, our trails are quite lovely, too. Not a lot of areas of the country where you can mix city scapes, riverfronts and forested areas. The trails conserve and expose people to nature, as well, serving as an oasis from the urban sprawl.

To find rails to trails near you, visit Trail Link, a service of the Rails to Trails Conservancy. It’s also a handy tool if you’re on vacation or camping and need to find a place to fit that run in! But if you live in Pittsburgh and haven’t made use of the trails, do it. Start with the riverfront near the stadiums and you’ll get hooked on the view. (And if you see a short brunette huffing and puffing by you in the early morning, that’s me. Say hi and offer me water. :)

Photos from the Three Rivers Heritage Trail and Panhandle Trail in Pittsburgh and the W&OD Trail in Virginia.


Real Life CSA: week 8

This week a new pantry item, and some of my favorite colors of spring.


We are still loving the variety of foods we get with Penn’s Corner. Even the items we get regularly don’t seem like overkill, and we like stocking up on staples like the maple syrup, even if we don’t use it every day. 

Pretty excited about the apple butter – a Penn’s Corner value added item that we haven’t had yet. I’m only slightly nervous about it because one of the ingredients is allspice, and I usually shy away from anything seasoned with allspice because of my nightmare dental surgery/cloves experience that has permanently given me a gag reflex for that taste. But I’m brave when it comes to food, and we’ve so much enjoyed all of their products so far that I’m going to give it a whirl. At least Mark will enjoy it!

Tonight Mark is roasting a chicken with rhubarb for dinner, which is a new recipe. Follow me on Instagram to see how it turns out. I think we’ll have enough rhubarb that I should probably bake something else with it. Speaking of rhubarb, the Pittsburgh Canning Exchange is hosting an event called the Rhubarb Social at Marty’s Market in the Strip on June 14, with Marisa McClellan, who writes the Food in Jars blog and has a new canning cookbook out. We’re going, and you should too! More details here.


Lettuce is our weekly salad base, and this red butterhead lettuce is particularly lovely. A friend asked recently how we store our lettuce, especially when you’re overcome with salad greens in a CSA. We combine the pre-cut lettuce and the heads of lettuce that we cut up and store it in ziploc bags in the fridge with a dry paper towel in the bag to absorb the moisture. It actually keeps the lettuce crisp really well and we’ve had success making the lettuce last longer that way.

Not sure what we’ll use the dill for this week. I’m thinking maybe a roasted potato or roasted carrot side dish, since we don’t need the fresh dill to pickle anything yet.



Last but not least is my favorite item this time – swiss chard. I adore chard for its rich flavor, especially prepared the way Mark does it in garlic and broth. But look at the vibrant color of these stems. I think we get so used to seeing green in the garden that we forget about the rainbow of colors represented. Between this lovely chard and the rhubarb, plus the lettuces, it’s pink and purple week!

How have you been using your CSA items?

western PA CSA roundup

I’m a little late to the party when it comes to talking about CSAs in western PA for this season, especially considering that we’ve been getting our share now for 7 weeks. But I’m feeling late to the party on a lot of homesteading stuff this season, considering my schedule and life outside of the home. Better late than never, right?

If you’ve found this blog because of my CSA posts, you might be interested in the idea but haven’t made the leap yet. If you’re still on the fence, check out this post on why you should make that leap

If you’re ready, but haven’t actually signed up yet, the most comprehensive resource for CSAs in western PA is probably Edible Allegheny’s 2014 CSA Guide (co-sponsored by the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture).

But I want to list out a few that we subscribe to now, in the past or might in the future – the ones I follow more closely and on social media. These farms and co-ops often share a wealth of information on produce and farming practices, as well as special events or programs in the area – even recipes! Many of them still have sign-ups available, so check their sites and social media for more details as well as pick-up locations.

Penn’s Corner Farm Alliance

  • Various CSA options (watch Thursday Next Gen House posts this season for what we’ve received so far)
  • Online farm stand (if you want CSA items without the commitment of a share), including meat, eggs and dairy
  • Combination of organic, certified naturally grown and natural/sustainable 
  • Facebook 
  • Twitter: @pennscorner

  • Various CSA options, including meat shares (see Next Gen House posts tagged CSA and meat for details on what we received last year)
  • All USDA-certified organic
  • Facebook
  • Twitter: @ClarRvrOrganics

  • Various CSA options, all USDA-certified organic
  • Farmer’s Market CSA option, with the ability to purchase credits for the farmer’s market
  • Twitter: @edibleearthfarm
  • Facebook
  • Instagram: @edibleearthfarm

  • Various CSA options, all USDA-certified organic
  • Agriculture Supported Community program for low-income families

  • Unique partnership with Bocktown Beer and Grill restaurants
  • Various CSA options, all USDA-certified organic (definitely sold out for 2014, but keep them on your list)
  • Facebook
  • Twitter: @conoverfarm

If you have more to add to the list that you have experience with, please leave a comment – I’m always excited to learn about new ones!