Heather's Hangout

Sharing the people, places & little moments that make a difference.

20 of my favorite activities May 28, 2017

Filed under: Life Lessons — Heather @ 12:56 pm
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Ready to explore?

One of my favorite pieces of the start of spring and summer weather is the opportunity to sit outside on the deck, at the park, or anywhere outdoors and enjoy good conversations with family and friends. I’ve been doing that recently and several of our conversations have drifted to what we’d do if we didn’t have to be at the office every day, whether we won the Lotto, retired or some other plan arose to keep us financially independent. It makes me think about all the activities that I would love to do more regularly if I had more time. I don’t think I would get bored!


Here are 20 of my favorite activities (in no particular order):

    1. Hike
    2. Bike
    3. Read
    4. Garden
    5. Dance
    6. Sing
    7. Write
    8. Make candles
    9. Photography
    10. Geocache
    11. Camp
    12. Wine tasting
    13. DIY craft projects
    14. Relaxing with good people
    15. Beer tasting
    16. Puzzles
    17. Golf
    18. Volunteer
    19. Try new food recipes
    20. Road trips

What activities keep you busy? What would you try if you had more free time?


Biking on a race track May 14, 2017

Filed under: Random Travels & Exploring — Heather @ 2:43 pm
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Biking on the Grand Prix course!

My friends and I decided to head downtown today for a bike ride on Belle Isle Park, one of my favorite places to bike in the morning. The 982-acre island in the Detroit River offers a paved 6.5-mile bike path, plus many interior roads, so it’s easy to get some distance after a few loops. We looked forward to the promise of a beautiful weather day and hanging out together while on our bikes. We didn’t, however, plan for the start of preparing for the Detroit Grand Prix to be held June 2-4, 2017 on Belle Isle.


If you’re a racing fan or history buff…..the Detroit Grand Prix started in 1982 as a Formula One race through downtown Detroit (that doesn’t sound safe to me!). It moved to Belle Isle in 1992 and was held annually until 2001. It occurred sporadically through the years until 2012 and has been held annually since with a variety of races held during the weekend, including the IndyCar Series.


A lot of set up has already occurred for the race, including cement barricades for the track,  grandstands set up, sponsor banners and tents in place, and more. There is lots of high fencing up, I’m assuming to protect spectators during the race, but it kind of blocks your view of the river and nature. The track and festivities are set up on the west side of the island so once you get closer to the east end, the stands, banners and other event melee end. There were a lot of geese with adorable babies so I feel bad for them on race weekend. So loud and chaotic. I hope they hunker down on the other side of the island!


We made the most of the obstacles and laughed at biking on a race track. After all, it’s not every day that you get to ride through a Grand Prix race track…on your bike! And your new Chevy SUV, which I thought was fun since Chevrolet is the major sponsor. We had a beautiful day to bike throughout the island and added some good mileage to our ride. I remembered how fun it is to ride with a group of people and how easy it is to rack up miles because you’re distracted talking and enjoying the time with others. It was a great start to the day.


Now I’m off to celebrate my awesome mom! Wishing all of the moms a wonderful Mother’s Day!


5 favorite activities that spring brings May 7, 2017


Love hiking in the woods!

The spring weather is slowly trying to make a steady presence in Michigan. The temps have been a sporadic but I’m grateful for the days filled with sunshine and mild temperatures. I’m loving that the days are staying lighter longer. More time to play outside after work and on the weekends!


With spring comes opportunities to participate in some of my favorite activities. Here are few that I enjoy. What are some of your favorite spring/nice weather activities?


Biking. I love being on a bike. Whether it’s my road bike or mountain bike, I enjoy the ability to explore the area on a bike. From the physical rush to the mental clearing of my mind to great views to the simple joy of feeling the strength of my legs, biking is definitely a favorite activity. Our mild winter let me get several rides in even during traditional winter months, but it’s much nicer to bike in sunshine and warming temps!


Hiking. Nothing chills me out faster than spending time on the trails, surrounded by trees, plants and friendly animals. It’s such great physical exercise and mental relaxation, but rarely feels like either since I’m usually enjoying myself so much.


Logged this geocache find!


Geocaching. This GPS outdoor scavenger hunt is a fun past time to do with friends, family, or alone when I have some time to spare. I especially love taking my nieces and nephew on this treasure hunt and also logging a cache when I visit new places.


Gardening. It’s not quite warm enough to plant flowers but it’s soooo close! I’m getting excited to plant bright flowers in my new pots and put them on the porch and deck. Flowers always bring a smile to my face.


Grilling. Yes, I know that many people grill year-round, even in the snow and cold. But…..I don’t! I have a great new grill that will be often used to make yummy vegetables, burgers, chicken, and much more to enjoy while eating on the deck.


Why I’m biking in Iowa for cancer May 5, 2017


Excited to be part of the team!

Twenty years ago this month, I walked into a clinic as a carefree 21-year-old three months shy of graduating from college. I walked out stunned and terrified as X-rays of my achy knee revealed a tumor growing in the lower part of my left femur. Less than three weeks later, I started chemo for osteosarcoma, an aggressive form of bone cancer. A surgery to replace part of my femur and tibia with titanium, my hair falling out, 13 months of chemo, hundreds of days spent in a hospital bed, 40+ blood transfusions later, I walked out of the hospital a cancer survivor.


My life had dramatically taken a different direction than planned. Facing your own mortality at 21 forever changes you. In the past 20 years, so many lessons have been learned, challenges faced and overcome, tears shed, and laughter bubbled out. Part of this 20-year journey was becoming an advocate for other people touched by cancer. From mentoring patients to meeting with legislators in Lansing and DC to speaking about young adult survivorship around the country, I am blessed and grateful to be alive to help others through their journeys. While a cancer diagnosis will always bring fear, uncertainty and anxiety, I hope to be able to help alleviate a little of those feelings by making sure programs, services and support are available to everyone.


Which is a big reason that I’ve supported LIVESTRONG for many years. LIVESTRONG provides a multitude of programs and services to people affected by cancer (Read about some of my favorite LIVESTRONG programs). Many of you know I was so excited to be selected as a LIVESTRONG Leader volunteer this year, allowing me to take an even more active role in advocating for cancer survivors.


So I decided that, in recognition of my 20-year cancer diagnosis and my


Miss this sweet man.

commitment/belief in LIVESTRONG’s mission, I’m joining Team LIVESTRONG in a week-long bike ride across Iowa in July. The Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, or RAGBRAI, is the world’s oldest, longest and largest recreational bicycle touring event. Thousands of people from around the country and world attend this annual event. You bike from the Missouri River to the Mississippi River, camping at host towns each night, enjoying music, food, drinks and great company.


For the past decade, LIVESTRONG has participated in RAGBRAI, usually hosting a team of 70+ cyclists who raise over $100K each year for these important programs and services. This year, the route is a mere 402 miles, the third flattest and shortest route in RAGBRAI history. I simply laugh when people say this! That is still a LOT of miles to bike! The first day is 62 miles (one moment please while I take some deep, calming breaths….ok, I’m back). My surgeon and I decided that I won’t ride every day, as it’s too much on my left leg with the titanium. Our goal is three days and if my leg feels good after a rest day, I can add another.


Logging some miles to prep!

If you read my blog about my lovely new road bike, you learned about my experience with Team LIVESTRONG at RAGBRAI last summer and how each member touched by heart and inspired me. From the other survivors to the caregivers to those who lost someone dear to cancer to those who rode just because it’s for a good cause and fun….these people are why I’m registered. And besides, 2017 is My.Best.Year.Ever. So why not bike across Iowa??


Some of this ride is admittedly personal. Before cancer, I ran miles, rode horses and rarely backed down from a physical challenge. Cancer rocked my world in so many ways. Today, I am consciously aware of the rod in my leg and risks associated with hurting that leg (including losing it). Cancer can still, 20 years later, flood me with anxiety, sadness and frustration. Some days I have to turn from watching someone ride a horse, run, play tennis because I miss these so much. But I know how fortunate I am to have both of my legs. I focus on what I can do – ride a bike, hike in the woods, have dance parties and so much more.


So in July, I’ll ride to remind myself that cancer can never take my determination, strength, laughter and love of life. I’ll ride for the hundreds of friends who make my tribe courageous and full of life, the many friends and family who cancer took too soon, and my sweet, brave dad who continues to be my hero and always in my mind and heart, even if cancer robbed us of him.


If you want to support my (crazy) endeavor, please consider donating to Team LIVESTRONG via this link. Any amount supports people affected by cancer. To add a little fun (because life has to be full of fun!), every $10 donation increment will get your name entered into a drawing to win a bag full of Michigan-made goodies (think Saunders, Better Made, McClure’s, etc) from me. I’ll even ship so no need to be local.


Thanks for your support and being part of this journey with me. Now I’m off to ride a bike!


Walking the streets of San Francisco April 30, 2017


Enjoying the waterfront.

After spending a few days enjoying Calistoga and Napa Valley, we loaded luggage into the car rental and headed west toward Sonoma for our drive back to San Francisco. It was misting a little but still mild temps. We took the ‘scenic’ route back, enjoying conversations and laughs. As we neared the city, we stopped in Sausalito for lunch. Sausalito sits at the northern foot of the Golden Gate Bridge. It has small town charm wrapped in its waterfront downtown with awesome views. I was in awe of the numerous houses nestled on the sides of hills and mountains.


We walked the downtown (which has a large bike parking lot!) before eating lunch at Scoma’s. The restaurant is located on the waterfront and we scored a great window table. There were many fishing boats on the bay. It was fascinating to watch the fog roll in and out. At one point, the Golden Gate Bridge, which was visible when we sat, ‘disappeared’ from sight due to the fog!


After an awesome lunch of dungeness crab cakes and sandwiches, we headed across the


Beautiful Grace Cathedral

bridge into the city. We easily found the Orchard Hotel near Chinatown. The hotel staff was friendly and the room spacious and nice. Then we set off to explore. We were near the “Chinatown Gate” so headed that way. Chinatown was busy! People packed the sidewalks and store after store sold a huge variety of almost any item you may think of. I swear some of these stores had items overflowing from their doors! We walked all through Chinatown, which seemed like sensory overload to me after a few blocks. But cool and fun!


We shifted our direction and walked toward Nob Hill. Here is where we found the hilly sidewalks that often appear in San Francisco pictures! My friend and I are in decent physical shape and had on comfortable flat shoes, but even we started laughing at one point as we turned corners and encountered another street going up. Our goal was the Top of the Mark, thanks to a recommendation, for drinks and great views. Top of the Mark is located on the 19th floor of the Intercontinental Hotel, offering 360-degree views of the city. So you can imagine our disappointment when we walked into the hotel to discover that a private event had the restaurant closed on that particular day! Ugh. We laughed at our luck and instead wandered around the nearby beautiful Grace Cathedral. Then we indulged my final tourist wish list of riding a trolley!


Looking down (literally) the street!

The trolley ride was fun…..and a great leg workout. Many people already filled the trolley so I ended up standing for our ride. Since you are going up and down the streets, it takes a lot of balance to not move all around. We laughed at the great workout we were getting and how we would definitely deserve a good dinner and drinks!


The trolley ride took us to the north side of Fisherman’s Wharf, which was bustling with activity. I just love the energy of this city! It honestly makes me smile. We wandered a lot of different shops, enjoyed listening to several talented street musicians, checked out the retired World War II vessels docked near the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, and then rested at a restaurant for happy hour. After refueling our stomachs with great San Francisco craft beer, wine and food, we wandered to North Beach before deciding we deserved a taxi ride back to our hotel. The cab driver was amusing and kind. A brief relaxation provided new energy for another walk around Chinatown before a pizza and beer dinner.


I’m so glad that we placed downtown San Francisco at the beginning and end of the trip.


After my trolley ride!

It was fun to explore the bustling city, but nice to have the beautiful open land of the Napa Valley area to soak up the tranquility of Mother Nature. It was a perfect balance of exciting and busy with calm and quiet.


As we wrapped up our day in San Francisco, I reflected on the adventures. We packed a lot of fun into our days, saw and experienced so many new things, tasted awesome wines and food, soaked in much natural beauty and shed some of life’s stress and overload. I loved San Francisco and the surrounding areas. I will definitely go back.


Have you been to San Francisco? What’s your favorite area/destination in the city?


Exploring Napa Valley’s wine country April 28, 2017

We woke to a beautiful morning in Calistoga. The downtown was quiet when we walked to find a breakfast place. We came upon a great little place called Café Sarafornia. The family owned restaurant offers a delicious variety of breakfast options.


After filling up on food, we headed out to enjoy one of the best parts of Napa Valley – wine! Our first stop was Clos Pegase. My friend is a wine club member, which provided a tasting and tour of the winery. What a place! The winery was created by a couple who appreciated art, nature and wine. The owners hosted an architectural competition to design Clos Pegase. Designer Michael Graves won the competition. There are sculptures and art throughout the grounds, although there were more when the original founders owned the winery (he sold it a few years ago when his wife died from cancer). One of my favorite parts of the grounds were the 52 cypress trees in the courtyard, representing every week of the year, and lined in four rows to represent the four seasons. The buildings blend modern and ancient Mediterranean architecture. Our tour took us through the grounds to see the vineyards, then the production facility. It was impressive to see the massive storage, bottling and labeling lines. We then were able to walk into the 20,000 square feet of caves that house wine and a large theater where special events and tastings are held. Our tasting was here! We tried several great wines and enjoyed some cheeses, fruit and nuts. It was a wonderful visit!


After Clos Pegase, we headed to Chateau Montelena Winery. Another great recommendation. It’s an incredibly impressive site to drive onto the grounds, see Jade Lake and surrounding landscape, then the chateau. Built in 1882, the chateau was converted to a wine making facility and tasting room in the early 1970s. It resembles an English Gothic castle gatehouse. The large arched windows and door, stone walls and (faux) arrow slits make for a neat building! We enjoyed our tasting inside the chateau. The wines that we sampled were very good, although the reds were a tad too dry for me.


Wandering outside and down the steps in front of the chateau led us to the peaceful area of Jade Lake. There are footbridges that connect to two islands (used for private tastings), built crooked to honor Chinese legend that says evil spirits can only travel in straight lines. Lawns, vineyards and mountains are just beyond. It was so quiet and serene here that I could have easily sat on the bench for hours enjoying the view, light breeze and warm temps.


As we left Chateau Montelena Winery, we passed an awesome landmark – Old Faithful Geyser! The Old Faithful Geyser of California park is a neat place where you can see one of only three geysers in the world considered “faithful” because it regularly erupts. The geyser also has proven to be a predictor of earthquakes in the area as scientists note when the geyser’s regular eruptions are delayed or lessen, an earthquake is likely within a few weeks within 500 miles surrounding geyser. Entrance is $15 for adults, but we thought it was worth saying we saw “Old Faithful.” Plus, there’s more to see – the park is also home to a goat farm (so cute!), gardens, geology museum and outdoor activities like bocce ball. There is a picnic kitchen in the gift store that offers wine corks and more so you can enjoy a bottle of wine in the park while watching Old Faithful.


We were hungry when we left Old Faithful so stopped at Dean & Deluca, a nice market type restaurant offering freshly made sandwiches, salads, baked goods and more. My sandwich was huge! Our next stop was Yountville, where we found the Girard Winery tasting room. My friend’s membership at Clos Pegase also gets her complimentary tastings at other wineries by the same owner (although we learned that she is ‘grandfathered’ in and this doesn’t apply to new memberships. Lucky us!). The tasting room has a rustic feel, which I love! The staff was nice and funny. And the wine was delicious!


We wandered around the area after our tasting, then headed back to Calistoga. We shopped a little more, then ordered a takeout dinner from Puerta Vallerta Restaurant. It was delicious ‘authentic’ Mexican. The evening weather was amazing so we enjoyed our food and some drinks on a table near the pool of our resort.


It was yet another awesome day of vacation. We once again packed a LOT into a day. I loved the scenery, wines, friendship, meeting new people and exploring so much of the area. I went to bed once again a tired, happy girl ready for the next day of fun!


(Don’t miss reading about our previous days’ adventures in San Francisco and Calistoga!)


Wine and food fest offers taste of California wines April 27, 2017


Cheers to wine country!

Sunshine, blue skies and warm temps greeted us on our second day in San Francisco. After an awesome first day of exploring, I woke happy and ready to see more. And I was not to be disappointed. My friend and I enjoyed a brisk walk through the streets of SOMA (South of Market), then a quick breakfast at a local coffee shop (the restaurants were crazy busy this morning!). It was time to get the car from the parking garage and head north…..to Napa Valley. Our destination was Calistoga.


While San Francisco is a busy, condensed city, the land north opens up to rolling hills and mountains as you cross the Bay Bridge (or Golden Gate Bridge if you come from the coastal area) to Napa. Northern California has experienced a lot of rain (terrible flooding at times) so the scenery was green and blooming for us. And while I loved wandering the city streets of downtown San Francisco, I also melted at the sight of the mountains and open space greeting us as we drove. Not much soothes my soul more than time in nature. The beauty just makes me smile and relax.


We arrived in downtown Napa by late morning. It was busy but we scored a parking spot


Yummy mimosas and snacks.

by the Oxbow Public Market. I love this place! It’s an indoor market lined with small shops selling natural products, baked goods, spices, books, flowers, fresh fruits and vegetables, plus several restaurants and more. The energy of the crowd was addicting. I’m pretty sure I smiled like a silly fool the entire time we wandered through. Something about the place just struck me. I enjoyed it. We of course worked up an appetite and thirst after walking through the shops so grabbed a spot at the bar at the Oxbow Cheese & Wine Market. They were serving blood orange mimosas so we ordered two along with an amazing cheese, nut and fruit tray. It was a great place to enjoy our snacks and drinks while taking in the ambiance and energy of the place.


We left Napa to journey along the Silverado Trail Road with our destination of Calistoga in mind. The drive was delightful as we passed winery after winery, each one’s vineyards filling rolling acres showcasing beautiful examples of architecture (serving as their tasting rooms, event locations, production facilities or other). The mountain landscape provided an inspiring backdrop and I was tickled to see so many cyclists pedaling along the bike lane.


So relaxing.

Calistoga is a wonderfully quaint small town. The shops remind me of those small businesses you might find in Traverse City, Saugatuck and Grand Haven (for my Michigan readers). There were plenty of dining and drinking options and a small grocery store.


We stayed at the Calistoga Spa Hot Springs. The room had modern touches, along with a small kitchenette, space to unpack clothes and a spacious shower. The highlights are a lap pool, geothermal mineral pool, large adult only covered mineral spring hot tub and children’s pool. The outdoor area had plenty of lounge chairs, plus multiple lovely landscaped areas with small tables and chairs – perfect for enjoying drinks and food (which we did!).


Our plan was to spend the rest of the day at the Calistoga Food and Wine event held at Solage Calistoga. It was a nice walk from our resort. The event was held under tents on the lawn and in the barn. The ambiance was fun and we met many great people, both from the wineries and restaurants as well as other patrons.


More than 40 wineries were at the event, meaning we tasted some wonderful wine! Some of my favorites included Sebright Cellars, Twomey Cellars, Tom Eddy Winery, Next Door Wines, Olabisi, Jones Family Vineyards and Huge Bear Wines. The food was outstanding as well! We had salmon cakes, steaks, cheeses, fresh vegetables, chicken, and delicious desserts. Add in awesome jazz and beautiful artwork by Tim Howe placed throughout the event, it was a wonderful evening.


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