So you want to be a Background Actor?

After recently sharing a little about my most recent stint at a background actor, I learned that a lot of people have questions about it, so here is all the info!

What is a Background Actor?

A Background Actor, or “Extra”, is exactly what it sounds like - a performer in a film, tv show, commercial, stage show, etc. who appears in a nonspeaking role, usually in the background of the main actors in a scene.

Do you get paid? How much?

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YES! You do get paid. There are occasionally unpaid opportunities (you are usually compensated in some way - whether it’s free swag or tickets to an event or something like that), but I’ve only ever done paid work.

The rate of pay depends on a lot of things - the size/budget of the film/project, the working conditions, etc. For example, you can get paid extra for overnight shoots or if you’re filming “in the elements” (rain, fog, in the water, etc.). You can also get paid extra for the use of your car. I got an upcharge on my work on Abduction because they used my car - I didn’t even have to drive it anywhere - it was just parked there!

Usually, you make an hourly rate for a day of work as a Background Actor, and you generally earn 1.5x pay after the first 8 hours (average days are 12-14 hours). Other times, they may offer a flat rate for the entirety of the day or of the entire shoot (this is more common for commercials or other short-term projects).

You also get paid for attending your wardrobe fitting, if applicable. Usually, a film has a set budget for every single element of the movie, meaning they’ve budgeted for X number of extras to be included, $X for props, $X for wardrobe, etc. When I went to my wardrobe fitting for the upcoming film You Are My Friend, I got paid a flat rate that accounted for a wardrobe fitting up to 4 hours (mine took 30 minutes!). They also compensate the max rate for the parking garage ($9), but my parking only cost $5 for the time I was there, so I just pocket the difference.  

Other compensation includes parking reimbursement, meals, snacks, and occasionally, you get really lucky and they let you keep something from your wardrobe! When I worked on The Dark Knight Rises, they let us keep the rally towels we waved all day. Honestly, it was a winter scene that we shot outside in the August heat, so I really think they just didn’t want to touch anyone’s sweaty bandanna by the end of the day. I got to keep several wardrobe pieces from my Ebates commercial shoot - this is pretty typical of commercials. They’ve got crazy big budgets and they don’t need the clothes once they’re done filming.

 I filmed an Ebates commercial in Sonoma County in April 2017!

I filmed an Ebates commercial in Sonoma County in April 2017!

What is a wardrobe fitting?

For some projects, they just need you to arrive in your own clothing. For Abduction, they needed everyone dressed for a Pirates game, so I wore my own clothes. For Concussion, they needed me in business attire, and my final outfit was a combination of some of my own pieces as well as a few selected from their wardrobe options. The scenes I worked on for You Are My Friend were a 90s wedding in New Jersey, so every piece of my wardrobe was courtesy of Sony.

 Look for me in  You Are My Friend  in theaters in 2019!

Look for me in You Are My Friend in theaters in 2019!

What is a casting call?

Production companies using casting calls to find background actors! Most major films outsource background casting to local casting agencies (more info on Pittsburgh agencies below!). Most have an option to create an online profile, but the casting calls are a great way for the agencies to find the right people for the job, and to ensure they have up-to-date photos of people in their records. Sometimes, it is solely up to the casting agencies to select extras for a project, while other times the movie’s main casting director will review the options and make final decisions.

I once submitted my information for a featured extra role on a mini-series. The local casting agency I had been working with narrowed their pool to 5 (including me) and asked us to come into meet with the director, who would select someone personally. In this case, the director was Ben Stiller! The scene included stepping out of a helicopter, and he told me that my hair, while “really beautiful”, would stand out in the scene too much, so he ultimately selected someone else. If you have to be rejected from a role, there are worse reasons than being too pretty haha!

What does being a Background Actor entail?

I’ll be honest – it’s not for the faint of heart or easily bored. An average day on set goes something like this:

7:00am (or earlier – my call times on Abduction were between 4:00 and 5:30am!): Arrival and check-in. Complete your employment paperwork. If you had a wardrobe fitting, you go and pick up your stuff from the Wardrobe crew. Get dressed and head to hair and makeup!

8:30am: Get your hair and makeup done, or get it checked by the Hair crew and Makeup Crew (these are totally separate teams of people). Most of the time, they ask background actors to arrive with their hair and makeup already done to save time. The makeup crew for You Are My Friend LOVED how I did my own makeup, so I take that as a huge compliment! It also meant I got to go get breakfast sooner haha.

 Hair and Makeup from  Concussion

Hair and Makeup from Concussion

On Concussion, I was one of only a few extras in the scene, so the hair and makeup crews did everything for me. It was mind-blowing how much hair spray they used, and even crazier when they kept doing touch-ups every 15 minutes! I had to wash my hair twice that night to get everything out.

10:00am: The catering people usually have breakfast out. Depending on schedule and the production budget, this ranges from a simple continental breakfast to a full hot breakfast buffet.

12:00pm: If the extras holding area is in a different location than the actual set, you’d probably head to set around now. You likely have another holding area on set to hang out when you’re not doing anything, which is most of the day.

2:00pm: Craft services, which is different than catering, usually has snacks and coffee out all day. On most sets, extras have their own craft services setup, while on smaller sets, you might use the same snacks and drinks as the rest of the cast and crew (this is how Will Smith and I once had coffee together!)

3:00pm: They might need you for a scene, so you’ll go and film it for a few hours (or however long it takes to get the shots they want).

5:00pm: The meal break for the day is dictated by when filming began that day, not when you arrived. So, while you might have arrived a 9am, if filming didn’t start until 12pm your lunch break wouldn’t be until 6pm (it is usually 6 hours into the “work” day). This is why craft services is so important and appreciated!

8:00pm: This is usually when they’re wrapping up for the day. As you can see, most extras have been earning 1.5x pay for several hours at this point in the day, so the daily pay looks a little sweeter now.

Most of the day, you’re hanging out in a holding area with other background actors just hanging out. I’ve met so many amazing people on the movies I’ve worked on, and it’s amazing how quickly a bond forms. I always bring a book to read as well. A physical book, not one on a device as sometimes you aren’t permitted to have your phone with you.

Here’s a great article about what it’s like being a background actor.

I’m interested! How can I become a background actor?

My experience is solely Pittsburgh-based, but I imagine the process is similar in other cities (though I’m guessing the opportunities are far more concentrated in cities like Los Angeles and New York). Here in Pennsylvania, we are fortunate to have a great film tax credits, which makes it enticing and affordable for movies and shows to film here. This has resulted in a pretty constant flow of projects coming to Pittsburgh! You can learn more about the tax credit here.

A great resource for learning more about the film industry here in southwestern PA is the Pittsburgh Film Office website. They don’t have an exhaustive or constantly-updated list, but they do list casting notices on there.


Pittsburgh Casting Agencies:

Nancy Mosser Casting | Facebook

Movie Casting Pittsburgh | Facebook

Mindhunter Extras Casting | Facebook

Pittsburgh Casting (I’ve never used them before) | Facebook

Donna Belajac Casting (I’ve never used this agency either) | Facebook

I follow all these accounts on Facebook and check them for casting opportunities. If you see them post about something and you fit the description, apply FAST! They usually fill roles quickly, so you’ll want to get your information submitted as soon as possible.


This was longer that I intended it to be, but I wanted to give y’all some useful information! Do you still have questions? Comment below!

 


Running Friends

I've talked about this before, but anyone who thinks running is a solo sport is doing it wrong. Running is a team sport, whether your team is Olympics-bound, sponsored by a major shoe company, a local running club, or simply a group of friends who run. 

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More than I've ever actually loved the physical act of running, I love the people of running. The spectators, the volunteers, the elite athletes (Love you, Des Linden!), the charity runners, the coaches, and all the "regular" runners. Of course, there's a special place in my heart for my fellow back-of-the-pack runners. We'll never win Boston or pick up an endorsement deal, but we're crushing personal records and achieving goals nonetheless. 

I went into Pittsburgh Marathon weekend feeling under-trained and just ready for the whole thing to be over. I knew it was going to hurt (thankfully, it wasn't as bad as I thought). I knew I wasn't going to have any sort of speed. I knew the whole weekend would be chaotic and would leave me feeling like I didn't get to spend any time with dear friends who were in from out-of-town. 

Saturday brought the 5k, where I saw some of my Crohn's & Colitis Foundation friends volunteering on the course. After that, it was back to the North Shore to meet up with my two favorite Kids of Steel. Aunt Chelsea and I once again accompanied Dex & Quinn in the Kids Marathon. This year, they ran the whole way themselves! (Last year included some piggy back rides and quite a bit of coaxing to keep walking haha). It was such a cool treat to two kids I love so much running in the streets of the city I love so much. 

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I had a whole bunch of stuff written here, but it somehow got deleted, so I had to try and remember what I wrote about. I feel like I'm missing a paragraph or two, but oh well. Here's the rest:

Chelsea and I had already talked about running the half together and just taking it easy and having fun. Until we actually started running that day, I wondered whether we were defining “slow” the same way or if I’d be holding her back. Thankfully, and unsurprisingly, we were in sync. We kind of followed a run-walk but took longer walk breaks whenever we felt like it (or whenever we were crossing a bridge that appeared to be 900 miles long). Towards the end of the race, I told her how glad I was that we had decided to run together because I knew I would have been much slower had I been on my own. Going into the race, I honestly thought anything under 3 hours would be a win, but that I could probably do under 2:50. We finished in 2:41:09! Certainly not my best time, but actually not my slowest either. I guess that goes to show that not all of my conditioning was lost.

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After recovering and seeing my family, we headed back out onto the course to find Coach Jeff. We had planned on running the last mile or so with him, but he was speeding along at a pace neither Chelsea or I could maintain (especially having already run a half marathon that morning), so we met up with him again in the Finish Line Festival, got some food, and once again headed out to the course to cheer on runners. By now, marathoners were coming through in somewhere around the 6-hour mark and it was POURING rain. Ashley from P3R graciously invited us up into (now) empty covered VIP Finish Line viewing tent where we were able to cheer for people.

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The finish line of a marathon is a magical place. There were people running solo, friends sticking together, and everyone with a determined look on their face. We met a 75-year-old man who just completed the marathon. A 75-year-old. Who ran 26.2 miles. In the rain. Like a badass. Seriously, runners are a rare breed.

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Here’s to crossing another finish line with my BRF and heading into summer ready to train for a fall marathon (or two? Am I that crazy?)!

Tell me about your running friends in the comments below!

Helping her helped me.

Unless you've been living under a rock, you know by now that Desiree Linden won the Boston Marathon yesterday, in arguably some of the worst weather conditions a runner can compete in (thank you, 5439238672265th day of winter...). 

 Source: New York Magazine

Source: New York Magazine

Des decided early on that yesterday wasn't her day (spoiler: it was SO her day). She thought she'd drop out due to the miserable weather and because she wasn't feeling great. Many people would have just dropped out and made their way to a warm shower and dry clothes as quickly as possible. But Des decided to use the gas left in her tank to help others, specifically her fellow American runners. 

When you work together, you never know what’s going to happen. Helping her helped me.
— Desiree Linden, on helping Shalane Flanagan during the 2018 Boston Marathon

She hung back when Shalane Flanagan made a restroom stop, and offered to block the wind for her. When is the last time someone offered to block the wind for you? Whether literal or metaphorical wind, when is the last time you blocked the wind to help someone else succeed?

Not only did Desiree Linden win the Boston Marathon, she was the first American woman to do so since 1985. American women claimed seven of the top eight spots. Who run the world? BADASS WOMEN. 

I'm passionate about helping others succeed, whether that means cheering them on via social media, running alongside them in a race, helping them start their own business and get their nutrition on track, or connecting with them others who can also support them in reaching their goals. It gives me so much satisfaction to see people making their dreams a reality. 

I'm going to channel my inner Desiree Linden in the coming weeks and focus on how I can "block the wind" for people, even if that means helping them get out of their own way and start believing in themselves. 

How do you block the wind for others? 

 

 

New Hard Drive Who Dis?

After a particularly stressful few weeks of unexpected work travel, my hard drive decided to put the icing on the cake by dying. There was no warning or indication that something was amiss. I put my computer to sleep after finishing up notes from a 9pm conference call and went to bed. The next morning, I opened my computer and went to start 'er up like I've done hundreds of times before and I got a "Boot Error" and the BIOS Utility opened. I have no idea what any of that means so I did what any normal person would do - I texted a picture of the screen to my Brother-In-Law. He said it might be due to a corrupt file or any number of things and suggested taking it to a pro (especially since this is my work computer). 

I made an appointment with GeekSquad and upon initial review, he said the computer wasn't even recognizing that it had a hard drive. I asked if there was some sort of Craigslist Missed Connections option to reintroduce my computer to its hard drive (there wasn't). My new pal at Geek Squad walked me through some options, all of which included getting a brand new hard drive. 

As a result of this process, I've got some tips for you on what to do ahead of time in case you ever find yourself in my shoes, as well as tips for what to do once your hard drive is replaced and you're staring at a clean slate. Here they are!

1. Back up your files (and do so frequently!). This one's pretty obvious, and thanks to the Cloud, this is achieved pretty easily. All of my documents are saved on Dropbox or Google Drive, and I've also got everything backed up to an external hard drive. I'm a little anal, so I've also got a second external hard drive that I keep in my fireproof lockbox along with other vital documents. I highly recommend you invest in an external hard drive if you don't already have one! You can usually hook them up to your wireless router and then they work like the Cloud - you can sync files over your wifi connection. Also, don't make a habit of saving files locally to your desktop. While I know I didn't lose anything critical, it is driving me insane knowing I had files on my desktop but not knowing what they were. 

2. Keep a list of all your installed programs and any license keys. You should keep this list on the Cloud, or your phone, or somewhere besides your computer. This will save you the frustration of trying to remember if you reinstalled everything correctly and digging through emails to find license keys for any paid accounts you may have. 

3. Sync your browser. If you're a Chrome user, did you know you can sync your browser settings, extensions, and bookmarks to your Google Account? This saves you a LOT of time and keeps all your favorites/links organized just how you had them before.

4. GeekSquad (or something similar) can be a lifesaver. As I mentioned, this incident occurred on my work computer, and we had purchased a GeekSquad protection plan when the computer was purchased. This saved me several hundred dollars as the hew hard drive and installation fees were all covered under the plan. 

Bonus: Get yourself a sweet new desktop background to make it feel less sterile. My favorites are from The Everygirl and they roll out new ones every month! 

Have you ever had to replace your hard drive? Do you have any tips for surviving this process with ease? Comment below! 

How I Stay Organized (Part 1?)

I use a lot of apps and tools to stay organized and productive, and today I'd like to share some of those with you. Maybe this is the first of a series of blog posts on the topic? Let me know what you think, and what you'd like to see more of. 

1. Evernote

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For those who don't know, I work from home. I have been a remote employee since Day 1 of my current job and it's the first remote job I've had. It was certainly an adjustment and I had to figure out how to structure my time, stay organized and keep track of everything. One of the things I realized very early on was that I needed a way to take notes during meetings (conference calls). I experimented with a few other options before settling on Evernote. I love how I can have separate notebooks for different things (personal, work, old work stuff that I still want to hold on to, standing items/quick reference, etc.). Within notebooks, I can tag things by subject. My notes sync across my devices so I can make my grocery list on my desktop and then access it on my phone at the store! They have a great companion app, Scannable, which has pretty much eliminated the need for a traditional scanner device.

2. Asana

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This was another tool I discovered for work in my remote job. I was looking for a way to share task lists with my staff. I played around with some Google Sheets for a while, but found they were too simple for what we wanted to do, but full-blown Project Management programs (like Microsoft Project, for example) were way to complex and offered way more than we needed. Asana is in that perfect sweet spot of helpful features and team collaboration tools, but is super user-friendly and simple to use. While we use it a lot for shared projects at work (such as Convention prep where there are so many moving parts), I also use it to set agendas for meetings (so my staff and I can both add things we need to discuss ahead of time, and I can easily delegate tasks as a result of the meeting). Personally, I've used it for planning big projects in my volunteer life (like developing some social media plans for this blog as well as the Zelienople Horse Trading Days social media accounts that I manage). Again, it syncs across devices, which I LOVE. 

3. GTasks App

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This one is strictly an iOS app (though I'm sure there are Android options as well). I use Google Calendar for my main calendar, and I like to use the tasks feature to keep track of random tasks (like "schedule Ziva's groomer appointment" or "buy birthday card for Luke" and things like that). While Google Calendar has a great iOS app, it does not incorporate tasks and this always annoyed me. Finally, I found GTasks, which syncs your Google Calendar tasks to their app on your phone. You can also make additional tasks lists, though I prefer things to sync across devices (in case you couldn't tell that from the first two apps on this list). I've also found this useful for things I remember when I'm out and about that I want to take care of the next time I'm at my desk - I pop the task into my iOS app and then boom! It shows up on my computer when I log in! 

4. Dashlane

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Dashlane is a secure password manager. Not only does it store all of my login info and passwords, it will also auto-login on websites and auto-fill forms, saving me time that would otherwise be spent looking up passwords (because I can't remember that website's dumb password rules which are different from every other website's dumb password rules). Again, this syncs across devices! This is a paid subscription service, but I have found it to be such a worthwhile investment. Its features include a random password generator and a password analysis tool, which both keep my accounts more secure! 

What are your favorite organizational tools/apps? Comment below! Also let me know if this is something you'd like to see more of on the blog! 

Five Things Friday: 2.9.2018

It's been a busy week, and I wondered if I'd hit my goal of at least one blog post or not, but here we go! 

1. I've decided to switch from the full marathon to the half for Pittsburgh. Training has been nonexistent the past few months, and the pressure to try and catch up at this point just isn't worth it. I'm looking forward to adjusting my training schedule on my calendar and building a great base for what will be my 11th half marathon! [Click HERE to learn more about my fundraising efforts and to make a donation!]

2. I'm speaking at a student leadership conference on saturday on the topic of time management and ironically, I'm finishing the presentation prep somewhat last minute. Leave me your best time management tips in the comments below! 

3. My nutrition company just launched a brand new app that I'm pretty stoked for. As someone who loves fitness trackers and checklists, this app is everything I've been dreaming of! It's a great way to track your health and wellness goals all in one place, and it's also (obviously) designed to help people stay on track with using the products. I'll be attending my company's national celebration event in Nashville in August, and I'm SO excited to connect with my team, receive training, and of course, enjoy some southern food (#thebalancedlife). If you're interested in learning about what the heck these products are, or what the app's like, drop me a line in the comments or send me a message on the Contact page. 

4. My dear friend Nik wrote a blog post a few weeks ago about airport travel. I think Nik is great, and his opinions are great, and this post was no exception. Check it out and subscribe! 

5. If you aren't following Jessie over at 15Minutes_Late, you are missing out. Not only is her Instagram feed chock full of gorgeous and wanderlust-inducing travel photos, she also gives great tips and advice on how she uses meal planning and meal prep to save money (so she can fund those amazing trips!). I look forward to her weekly grocery haul pics each week, and to all of her recipe ideas! 

GROCERY HAUL! 🥑🥦🍊 $61.63 at @aldiusa this week! Bonus points and a gold star to whoever can tell me how many 🥑 are in this grocery haul! ⭐️ . Still working to clean some things out of the freezer this week - but still managed to spend plenty of $$$. . Both the “recipes” for our lunches are in my STORIES right now! So go check it out. . And if you peep my grocery list you’ll notice a few things on the list, but not in my haul, and a few things in my haul that weren’t on my list. It was WAYYYY cheaper to buy guacamole than to make my own. REAL TALK. 😳 And those lobster & crab ravioli are amazing. So when I saw them I couldn’t resist. 😍 . 👇🏼Here’s what’s on the menu this week! . BREAKFAST 🍯 Overnight oats for me 👉🏼 1 x strawberry chocolate, 2 x chocolate covered blueberry + 1 x chocolate coconut 👉🏼 AKA cleaning out some frozen fruit. 🍳 Eggs + avocado for him. . LUNCH 🥡 Egg roll in a bowl 👉🏼 verified amazing, I had a few bites to make sure. 🥘 Chicken curry w/ rice & broccoli. . DINNER 🍕Homemade pizza w/ 2️⃣ ingredient dough. 🍤 Bang bang shrimp pasta w/ mushrooms & broccoli. 🐟 “Mystery” fish (I can’t remember what kind is in the freezer) + rice & broccoli. 🌭 Sausage hoagies w/ peppers & onions + sweet & sour cabbage. 🌮 Tacos 😍 . Is anyone eating anything tasty for the Super Bowl tonight? Well probably end up Netflix binging instead, but I’m using it as an excuse to eat pizza. 🏈🍕🤷🏼‍♀️ . . . . . #eatrealfood #mealplanning #mealprepmadesimple #healthycooking #foodforfuel #foodforthought #mealprepsociety #healthyfoodshare #mealprepideas #howtomealprep #mealprepdaily #mealideas #foodisfuel #mealpreponfleek #foodgram #mealprepping #freshproduce #eatyourveggies #healthyeating #balanceddiet #groceryshopping #groceryhaul #grocerybudget #easymeals #budgetmeals #forkyeah #fooddiary #ALDIgram #eattherainbow #cookingfortwo

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Hope everyone has a great weekend! OVER TO YOU: What are your best time management tips and tricks for college students? Share in the comments below! 

Five Things Friday: 1.26.2018

First things first, if you're new to my blog, WELCOME! 

It's my first Five Things Friday of the year! Here goes...

1. Marathon training has been completely on hold this month due to work travel and illness (and the ridiculously cold temperatures we've had this month - I just don't handle the cold well). I'm hoping to get back into a better routine (or any routine) next week. I'm grateful I've been able to keep my nutrition on track thanks to some amazing products that get delivered to my door and I use every single day.

2. I'm on the Partners Board at the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust and we had our first meeting last week. The Trust is embarking on a new strategic plan and we've got a TON of fun things planned for 2018. Now is a better time than ever to consider becoming a member - there are SO many benefits. Mark your calendars now for Cultured Cocktails, coming April 28!

3. Anybody else check their credit score every week? Just me? I have a standing reminder on my calendar to log in to Credit Karma and get my free updated score each week! It is one of my many great tools I use to keep track of my financial picture. I'm planning to do a longer blog post on this soon!

4. My new Instagram BFFs are Little Miss Lola Doodle and The Cutest Clementine. Seriously, how can you not love these two?!?! 

5. I'm not planning much travel for 2018 (because I'm saving for a Eurotrip!) but I am thinking about squeezing in a trip to Chicago in March (thank you, free hotel nights!). Send me your restaurant recommendations! 

Have you subscribed to my blog? You can have new posts delivered straight to your inbox! 

Happy Friday everyone! 

2018 Goals!

Now is about the time that many people are falling off the wagon with their new year’s resolutions and goals, so I figured now was also the perfect time for me to share mine. I don’t really ever set resolutions, but I like to have some goals to focus on.

I’ve actually got some pretty big goals that I’m keeping private for right now (but if we’re friends IRL, please ask me about them!), but here’s what I’m putting out there for the world:
 

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1. Read every day.

In 2016, I set a goal to read 52 books, or one per week. I actually surpassed this goal and read 53! I knew I wanted a slightly less aggressive goal in 2017, but I read even less than expected and probably read somewhere around 25-30 books (which is still a lot!).

To get back into reading more regularly, I’ve set a goal to read every single day (and so far I’ve still got a perfect record!). I use Goodreads to track my reading, and I’ve set a goal on there to read XX books, so I’m hoping daily reading time will help do the trick!

I’m not putting further parameters on what “read every day” means - so some days it may be a chapter, or other days might be a bit more, like the day recently where I had 3 hours of flights and read a few hundred pages.

I’m also committing to reading all of the unread books on my bookshelf (as opposed to the hundreds of unread books also sitting in my kindle app haha!)



2. Run 2 marathons.

I’m already registered for the 10th anniversary of the Pittsburgh Marathon in May (on my birthday!), so that’s one for sure. I’ve got a free entry for Akron in September and had a great experience there in 2017, so I’m definitely considering it again as well. I’m also tossing around some other ideas!

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I'm also participating in the Run for a Reason program once again and am looking to raise $1000 for the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation. I'm currently 15% completed with my goal. I'd love to see my friends and family sponsoring my race at $1 per mile (that's 26.2 miles, folks!). Even $0.50 per mile is a HUGE help and goes a long way towards funding a cure. You can donate by clicking HERE!

First things first - I’ve got to get back into a rhythm with running. The past few months have not included much running and while I’m ok with that and know I’ll get back into it, I also know these next few weeks will probably be rough, particularly with all the gross weather we’ve had.

 

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3. Create a plan and budget for a trip to Europe.

A Eurotrip has been high on my bucket list for many years, so I’m determined to finally start making some plans!

I won’t be going on the trip or setting dates until I’ve met some financial goals I’m working towards, but I’m also hoping that making more concrete plans will help keep me focused on those goals.

 

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4. Stick to my #powersheets.

I haven’t used a planner in many, many years thanks to technology because I keep my calendar and task list in Google Calendar, but I decided to try one out this year in hopes that seeing my goals in writing, on paper, in my own handwriting, will help me stay focused on them and not lose momentum. I figure if I’ve got to drag this book everywhere with me, I may as well smash the goals and plans written in it, right? :-p

After looking at a few options, I settled on the #powersheets planner from Cultivate What Matters. Unfortunately, they were sold out of the 12-month planner and aren’t restocking their inventory, so I purchased a 6 month calendar. I’ve been chipping away at it a little bit at a time and hope to have all of my action plans laid out by the end of next week!

This goal also encompasses achieving those other goals I vaguely mentioned at the beginning of this post, so it's actually more than just writing in a planner (though I'm definitely going to buy some fun new pens to write in it!)

 


Do you set New Year’s resolutions or goals? Share them in the comments!

BIG ANNOUNCEMENT!

In honor of #GivingTuesday, I've got a big announcement to make: I'm running the Pittsburgh Marathon again in 2018! This is the 10th anniversary of the return of the Pittsburgh Marathon, and it will be my 3rd full marathon (2nd in Pittsburgh). Once again, I will be raising funds for the Western Pennsylvania/West Virginia chapter of the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation. As part of the Run for a Reason program, all of the funds raised will stay local! This means the money raised will directly benefit all of my fellow IBD warriors here in the Pittsburgh area. 

To learn more about some of those IBD friends, check out the trailer for The Stool, an upcoming documentary I had the privilege of working on earlier this year. Stay tuned for more details regarding the premiere of The Stool in 2018! 

I've set a goal to raise at least $1000 this year. I sincerely appreciate every dollar that people are able to spare. ALL of the funds raised stay local! I will be fundraising until race day on May 6, which also happens to be my birthday! Crowdrise allows the option to make monthly donations, so please consider a recurring gift (or simply spreading your gift out over several months!).

To kick off my fundraising, all donations of $15 or more made TODAY (November 28, 2017) will be entered to win a $50 gift card to Starbucks or Chipotle (winner's choice!). 

#GivingTuesday is a GREAT way to give back to great causes! I will also be making a donation to the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust as part of #GiveBigPittsburgh. What are some of your favorite #GivingTuesday charities? Comment below with a link! 

My new website is LIVE!

I'd been wanting to update/upgrade my website for quite some time. While Blogger has been good to me over the years, I was ready for a more polished look. A few weeks ago, I finally took the plunge and started building my new site on Squarespace - I love all of their beautiful templates and the user-friendly interface. And sure, all those advertisements/sponsorships on my favorite podcasts probably contributed subliminally to my desire for a new home on the web.

The process has been pretty great - their support team has been responsive to all my questions, I don't need to code anything myself (unless I want to), and my blog posts all imported from Blogger! I'm still building out many of the pages, but take a look around and let me know what you think so far! 

 

Trying that 26.2 thing out again...

I'm officially registered for my second marathon! I will be participating in the 15th Anniversary of the Akron Marathon! I participated on a relay team (hey, Ohana!) a few years ago and really like the race experience. It's well organized and the swag is awesome. I also like that's not terribly far from home and that it's early enough in the fall that I'll be able to recover in time to run some other fall races as well as pace Jeff at the JFK 50 Miler in November (eek! So exciting!). 

As an added bonus (in my opinion, anyway), this will also be my first race as a member of Team Challenge! While I'm not new to fundraising for the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation, this will be my first time to official Race in Orange. You know an organization really matters to me when I'm willing to (and excited about) wear orange. Orange. Ick. The worst color ever (except for maybe brown).

My goal is to raise at least $1000 for the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation, so yes, I'll be hitting up all of my family and friends for money again. Until there is a cure for these awful diseases, I will continue to do whatever I can to raise funds and awareness. You don't find cures, you fund them.

I'm using a Hal Higdon training plan again and have also set the following fitness goals for myself for the summer:

-Run 3x per week.

 The training plan has 4 runs per week, but I've found that often isn't realistic for me.

-Strength train for at least 15 minutes 3x per week.

The Cranberry Township Community Chest had these awesome fitness stations installed at Graham Park in 2014. They're fairly basic and use body strength, so I'm not going to start some bodybuilding career (which is good because that body paint looks creepy as hell), but at least I'm incorporating another good habit. And let's be honest, most runners have no upper body strength at all. 

-Walk/Cross train 1-2x per week. I really enjoy walking so this is usually pretty easy for me to add in. In an effort to keep a good workout routine going (and to motivate me to get at least 3 runs in each week), I told myself that if it was raining really hard or the weather was otherwise crappy and I didn't feel like going outside to run, I'd do a Jillian Michaels workout (or something similar, but I like hers). This morning I did 30 Day Shred for the first time in a long time and it was a little rough haha. 

A post shared by Lauren Hopkins (@pghlauren) on

 

-Keep nutrition on track.

Again this should be pretty easy because the nutrition company I've partnered with has an AMAZING product line. I've recently (finally) started using the performance line and holy crap! It IS possible to have a pre-workout drink that doesn't make your skin crawl after 10 minutes. 

Run, shake, repeat. #runtheblueline #akronmarathon #teamanchored

A post shared by Lauren Hopkins (@pghlauren) on

 

-Drink local beer!

Hey, life is all about balance. And I've got to re-hydrate from all those runs somehow, right? :-P 

A post shared by Lauren Hopkins (@pghlauren) on

 

What are your summer fitness/beer goals? Comment below! 

Student Loans...Ugh.

*Feel free to laugh in my face if I ever tell you I'm going to blog consistently.*

Can we talk about student loans? Most people I know have them, and whether they owe $5,000 or $50,000 or $150,000, they all feel this burden in their daily lives. Most of the time I joke with people that I'll die of old age before my student loans are paid off. I also get frustrated when I think about all the things I'd be able to do if I didn't have to make these payments every single month. Things like buying a house, or take a trip to Europe, or invest more for my retirement. 

In my years of paying on my student loans, I've learned a lot. I've learned that you have to just make the payments every month and be done with it - don't dwell on it or you'll make yourself crazy wondering how you'll ever pay it off. I've learned that people have very different definitions of what is "a lot" in terms of student loan debt. For example, a friend told me how hard it was to make the payments on her husband's loans, and his balance is 10% of mine. 

I've also learned a lot about ways to make the payments a little easier. In some cases, people may be eligible to have their loans forgiven entirely. That sounds great, in theory, until you realize that most people don't qualify. For example, I work for a non-profit organization, which should qualify me for forgiveness of my student loans after so many years of service, but I work for a 501(c)7, which is the wrong kind of non-profit, so I'm not eligible. Sigh. 

Refinancing is something I've learned a lot about and have actually done twice now. A few years ago, I refinanced my private student loans. As a result, I was able to lower my monthly payments and drastically reduce my interest rate. 

Here are my tips for loan refinancing:

  • Shop around for the best rates. There are many websites that will help you do this, including my favorite, Credible (more on them in a minute).
  • Take advantage of auto-pay discounts - many lenders will reduce your interest rate by .25% by setting up automatic payments each month. This also prevents you from missing a payment (which could damage your credit score)!
  • Pay attention to the length of the loan and choose one that fits your budget. This might mean taking a longer loan that has a lower monthly payment, or choosing a shorter loan but knowing you'll have to tighten your purse strings for a while to pay it off sooner. 
  • Take advantage of referral bonuses and get some extra cash money while you're refinancing. 
  • Consider adding a cosigner - this may open up even better interest rates for you. 
As promised, let's talk a little more about Credible. This isn't a sponsored post - I receive nothing from them for writing about this, but I want to share this information with others. However, there are referral links in this post. If you use them to refinance through Credible, you and I will BOTH get $250! 

First, Credible is not a lender. Instead, they will help you shop for rates from many lenders all at once. This will save you so much time! From there, Credible makes it easy for you to submit your loan application to the actual lender that you select. I am so glad I found this site when I was first refinancing because they gave me so much helpful information about the whole process. I needed a cosigner, and Credible emailed him (thanks, Dad!) directly and gave him the link to securely upload his documentation to be included with my loan application. There are other great websites out there that do this loan shopping for you, but personally, I was able to find the best rates on Credible. 

They have an awesome referral program as well - if a friend refinances after using your unique referral link, you BOTH get $250! Who doesn't want an extra $250 just for helping a friend out? If you have student loans (and again, who doesn't?), I encourage you to check out Credible and please use my referral link to help a sister out! 

I am happy to answer questions people have about student loans (and if I don't know the answer, I will help you find it!). Comment below if you've ever refinanced your loans and share what your tips and tricks! 

2016: A Year in Review

Like most people, I can agree  with the sentiment that 2016 was a bit of a dumpster fire. I'm not really sad to see it go, but there were also a lot of highlights and memories made that I will cherish forever. Here is my 2016 year in review:

-I took trips to Chicago, San Antonio, DC, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Kansas City, Indianapolis (again), St. Louis (again), Dover, Niagara Falls, Riviera Maya, and Boston;

Kansas City has a pretty great skyline. #travelswithlauren #adventureisoutthere #collectmomentsnotthings

A post shared by Lauren Hopkins (@pghlauren) on

 

-I said goodbye to my beloved Grandma Margaret;

-I ran 26.2 miles and didn't die (mostly thanks to Jeff and Chelsea);

-I turned 30 and had two parties to celebrate;

A photo posted by Lauren Hopkins (@pghlauren) on May 7, 2016 at 7:24am PDT

-I celebrated the weddings of friends;

Whoever thinks running is a solitary sport is just. plain. wrong. 😘😘 #mcshuppwedding #ohana #manatees #runbutler
A photo posted by Lauren Hopkins (@pghlauren) on May 22, 2016 at 4:35pm PDT

-I scrambled around downtown Pittsburgh with Laynie to find a place to watch the last few minutes of the Stanley Cup Final so I could see my favorite team win their 4th Stanley Cup;

-I watched David Boudia and Steele Johnson qualify for the Olympics in person;

A photo posted by Lauren Hopkins (@pghlauren) on Jun 24, 2016 at 5:54am PDT

-I said goodbye to my childhood home and moved to a new one; 

Thanks for the memories, 431.

-I got to spend time with cherished friends;

A photo posted by Lauren Hopkins (@pghlauren) on Jun 22, 2016 at 5:20pm PDT
A photo posted by Lauren Hopkins (@pghlauren) on Aug 8, 2016 at 6:00pm PDT

-I wish bon voyage to a dear friend who embarked on a huge adventure;

I am so proud of this brave girl, but damn I miss her! 

-I ran new race PRs (heyyyyyy sub-30 5k!);

And the season of PRs continued today with a HUGE PR at Buffalo Creek today."! 2:12:04 - holy crap! Huge thanks to @pghrunner for helping me through that final mile today! #hshive #nuunbassador #gameonpgh
A photo posted by Lauren Hopkins (@pghlauren) on Oct 15, 2016 at 1:36pm PDT

-I met one of my favorite people and told him he was my favorite (and he loved it);

A photo posted by Lauren Hopkins (@pghlauren) on Oct 9, 2016 at 9:26am PDT

-I earned a medal the size of my head;

A photo posted by Lauren Hopkins (@pghlauren) on Oct 24, 2016 at 9:07am PDT

-I discovered Popeye the Foodie and he became my favorite instagrammer; 

A photo posted by Popeye the Foodie Dog 😉 (@popeyethefoodie) on Nov 23, 2016 at 9:16am PST

-I took my racing international and also ran 3 half marathons in 3 weeks (including another HUGE PR);

-I visited every country in North America in 4 days;

A photo posted by Lauren Hopkins (@pghlauren) on Nov 6, 2016 at 1:00pm PST

-I visited Mexico for the first time and watched my lovely roommate get married;

Nice close-up of the back of my head haha

-I raised a lot of money for CCFA;

A photo posted by Lauren Hopkins (@pghlauren) on Nov 17, 2016 at 8:35am PST

-I read 53 books; 

A photo posted by Lauren Hopkins (@pghlauren) on Nov 29, 2016 at 5:36am PST

-I celebrated my 4th anniversary with an organization that treats me like family (and I got a promotion!);

-I hugged my favorite super heroes 58982986389237967876532312787 times;

-Annnnnnnd I ended the year with a bout of shingles. But here's a picture of some of the many tacos I ate this year instead. 

When I write it all out like this, there was a lot more good than bad. But that doesn't mean I don't have big goals for 2017!

52 Books in 52 Weeks

I've had a Goodreads account for several years now, but I used to forget about it for months or years at a time. When I'd remember, I'd log on and update my "Books I've Read" list with as much as I could remember (and synced it to my Kindle account!), scroll through the newsfeed to see what my friends were reading, and then promptly forget about it again. I don't know why, considering I have always loved reading and books.

Towards the end of 2015, I was on the Goodreads app and I noticed a "Reading Challenge" section. I learned you can set a goal for how many books you'd like to read in a year, and then use the app to track your progress. If your friends have challenge goals, you can also follow along their progress and see which books they've read to help them reach their goal. I'd never had a reading goal before, and again, I don't know why.

I decided to read 52 books in 52 weeks - one book per week for an entire year. Considering there have been times where I've blown through an entire book in a day, I figured this goal would be easy-peasy! And for the most part, it was, though I did have to read 7 books in December to finish off my goal. I didn't put any restrictions on myself in regards to genre or book length - just 52 books in 52 weeks. Some were print books, some ebooks, and a few audiobooks as well. I did read 2 books that were advanced copies of not-yet-published books. Since they aren't on Goodreads yet, I elected not to include them in my count. I also read a few boxed sets or 2-in-1 books and I counted those each as one book (since they show up on Goodreads as one book).

Here's my reading list for 2016:

1.

Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One's Looking)

by Christian Rudder (print)

2.

Modern Romance

by Aziz Ansari (print)

3.

The Quotable Walt Disney

by Kiki Thorpe, Dave Smith (print)

4.

A Secret Kept

by Tatiana de Rosnay (print)

5.

Love Is the Killer App: How to Win Business and Influence Friends

by Tim Sanders (I had him sign a copy when he spoke at a conference I attended in 2015!)

6.

The Girl on the Train

by Paula Hawkins (audiobook)

7.

Ready to Run: Unlocking Your Potential to Run Naturally

by Kelly Starrett, T.J. Murphy (print)

8.

A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Hope, Deception, and Survival

at Jonestown by Julia Scheeres (print)

9.

The Perfect Witness

by Iris Johansen (audiobook)

10.

Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner

by Dean Karnazes (print)

11.

Never Never: Part Three

by Colleen Hoover, Tarryn Fisher (ebook)

12.

November 9

by Colleen Hoover (ebook)

13.

The Best Goodbye (Rosemary Beach #12)

by Abbi Glines (ebook)

14.

Leif (Existence Trilogy #2.5)

by Abbi Glines (ebook)

15.

Why Not Me?

by Mindy Kaling (audiobook)

16.

Beautiful Burn (The Maddox Brothers #4)

by Jamie McGuire (ebook)

17.

Work Rules!: Insights From Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead

by Lazlo Bock (print)

18.

Heaven is For Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back

by by Todd Burpo (audiobook)

19.

Running Until You're 100

by Jeff Galloway (print)

20.

The Girl Who Came Home: A Novel of the Titanic

by Hazel Gaynor (ebook)

21.

Fire Country

(Country Saga #1) by David Estes (ebook)

22.

My Year of Running Dangerously: A Dad, a Daughter, and a Ridiculous Plan

by Tom Foreman (audiobook)

23.

Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men

by Michael S. Kimmel (print)

24.

Yes Please

by Amy Poehler (audiobook)

25.

Marrow

by Tarryn Fisher (ebook)

26.

Hot as Hell

(Deep Six 0.5) by Julie Ann Walker (ebook)

27.

Wild Irish Ride

(Weldon #1) by Jennifer Saints (ebook)

28.

Confess

by Colleen Hoover (ebook)

29.

Hopeless (Hopeless #1)

by Colleen Hoover (ebook)

30.

Losing Hope (Hopeless #2)

by Colleen Hoover (ebook)

31.

Up in Flames (Rosemary Beach #13)

by Abbi Glines (ebook)

32.

Devil and the Deep (Deep Six #2)

by Julie Ann Walker (ebook)

33.

When SEALS Come Home Boxed Set II

by Anne Marsh (ebook)

34.

It Ends With Us

by Colleen Hoover (ebook)

35.

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

by Elizabeth Gilbert (print)

36.

Adnan's Story: The Search for Truth and Justice After Serial

by Rabia Chaudry (print)

37.

A Beautiful Funeral (The Maddox Brothers #5)

by Jamie McGuire (ebook)

38.

Under the Lights (The Field Party #2)

by Abbi Glines (ebook)

39.

Always You

by Missy Johnson (ebook) 

40.

Once She Dreamed (Once She Dreamed #1)

by Abbi Glines (ebook)

41.

Stubborn Love (Stubborn Love #1)

by Wendy Owens (ebook)

42.

Broken Flowers

by Robert M. Drake (print)

43.

Born For This: How to Find The Work You Were Meant to Do

by Chris Guillebeau (print)

44.

The Chemist

by Stephenie Meyer (ebook)

45.

Too Late

by Colleen Hoover (ebook)

46.

Christmas in Alaska

by Debbie Macomber (print)

47.

The Last Orphans (The Last Orphans #1)

by N.W. Harris (ebook)

48.

She, the Kingdom (She #1)

by Olivian Pope (ebook)

49.

Once She Dreamed (Once She Dreamed #2)

by Abbi Glines (ebook)

50.

A Christmas Homecoming

by Melissa McClone (ebook)

51.

The Christmas List

by Chrissie Manby (ebook - Kindle Single)

52.

Married for Christmas

by Noelle Adams (ebook)

BONUS: 53.  

The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Dinnertime: Comfort Classics, Freezer Food, 16-Minute Meals, and Other Delicious Ways to Solve Supper!

by Ree Drummond (print)

There it is - the complete list of books I read in 2016 (as of December 27). I included the last one because I received it as a Christmas gift and read it cover to cover. I've already flagged recipes I'm excited to try! I finished with a week to spare and even finished a bonus book.

I haven't set a goal yet for 2017, but I'm thinking somewhere around 45. Yes, I know some people would set a goal that was even bigger than 2016's, but I'd like to keep it fun and don't want the pressure of having to read books quickly to finish up (that sort of happened in December). 

What were your favorite reads in 2016? I am looking for recommendations! Comment below with your best suggestions! 

Walmart Grocery Online

Disclaimer: I received compensation from SavvyConnect to shop using Walmart Grocery Online, however, I was not asked to give a review and opinions are entirely my own. This is not a sponsored post and I was not compensated by Walmart in any way. 

On Friday, I mentioned that I had recently had a great experience with Walmart. Yes,

that

 Walmart.

As part of a market research study, I was asked to try out Walmart Grocery Online. Over the course of a few days, I added items to my online cart, much like you do with any online shopping purchase (or the way I'd make a grocery list, if I were shopping in-store). I was able to find everything I was looking for, including some specialty items like flaxseed and a Keurig water filter refill. I found a coupon for $10 off my first purchase, so of course I used that! After I had everything added, I was able to select the store and pickup date and time. 

Unfortunately, this service isn't available at my local Walmart Supercenter in Cranberry yet, so I had to drive abour 15 minutes to the Baden store, which really wasn't a big deal. In fact, the experience was so great I'd happily drive back there again to use the online pickup. 

I received a confirmation email that explained what I needed to do. They said I'd receive a call 15 minutes before my pickup window (you get an hour) and then whenever I was about 10 minutes away, I could call them back and they'd have everything ready to go as soon as I arrived. It also included a map of the store outlining where I should go and park for online pickup.

As it turns out, I forgot a few items and also had some non-grocery items I needed to look for, so I went early to shop in the store. While I was shopping, I received a call from my personal shopper (shoutout to Ryan!) saying my order was ready and to call him back whenever I was 10 minutes away. As I was just getting into the checkout lane (with only 1 person in front of me), I called him back and he said he'd have everything ready to go. 

I pulled into the designated space and within a minute or so, out came Ryan with a cart containing my items. He came around to the driver side and asked if I wanted to check any of the produce before he loaded the car. Everything was GREAT (and the spaghetti squash was HUGE). He had selected everything and prepared the order personally. He also verified that there had been no substitutions on my order (in certain cases, they may substitute an item for a similar item of equal or greater value). 

He loaded everything into the back of my car and then asked if I'd like the loaf of Italian bread up with me so it didn't get smashed - super thoughtful! He also handed me a reusable shopping bag full of goodies, as a thank you for trying out the service! He also told me I could

refer others with a $10 coupon

(full disclosure, if you use my referral link, I get a $10 coupon too!). 

I highly recommend this service. Everything was so easy. I can definitely see this being helpful to busy people or those with kids. I've read a few other reviews of the service online and many people have said

you can still use paper coupons as well

! It looks like you need to present them at pickup, or you can always take your receipt and coupons to customer service. You can also use the Walmart Savings Catcher app as well!

Click

HERE

to save $10 off your first purchase using Walmart Grocery!

Have you used the service before? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. 

Five Things Friday: October 28

I've got five awesome things to share this week! 

1. I completed the Monster's Mash Half Marathon this weekend and earned a medal the size of my face!

#MedalMonday: I completed my 6th half marathon on Saturday! The race begins with a lap around the Dover International Speedway and ends next to the Miles the Monster statue! It was a windy and rainy one, but I had a pretty great race! 🏃🏼‍♀️🏅🏁#teamanchored #gameonpgh #nuunbassador #nuunlove #hshive
A photo posted by Lauren Hopkins (@pghlauren) on Oct 24, 2016 at 9:07am PDT

2. I had a GREAT customer service experience with WALMART this week. Yes,

that

 Walmart. I'm gonna write a whole blog post about it, but for now,

use this referral link

to save $10 off your first order! 

3. I'm all set for Trick-Or-Treat on Monday! I've picked up some of my favorite chocolate treats, as well as some fruit snacks that are allergen friendly! Check out the

Teal Pumpkin Project

and consider having allergen friendly treats available! 

4. Coach Jeff and I are headed to Niagara Falls, ON this weekend to run the Niagara Falls Marathon. I'm doing the Half and Jeff is going to crush the Full in order to gain a qualifying time for the JFK 50 Miler next fall. I'll have my phone on airplane mode, but will try and post to Instagram on wifi whenever I can. Follow along by following me on

Instagram

and following the hashtags #PGHLaurenNATour and #CoachJeffJFK50 (and probably other hashtags I will make up on a whim). 

5. Speaking of #PGHLaurenNATour (NA stands for North America, by the way), I will be in all three North American countries within a span of 4 days! On Wednesday, I leave for Mexico to celebrate my college roommate Elyssa's wedding in Cancun! On the way home, I'll be spending a day in Miami as well and would love some restaurant recommendations, so leave your favorites in the comments below!!!