Heather's Hangout

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

Exploring food and drink spots in Austin, Texas October 24, 2016

Filed under: Random Travels & Exploring — Heather @ 11:17 am
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austinsign_hhWhen I traveled to Austin last weekend for the 20th anniversary of the LIVESTRONG Challenge, I was fortunate to travel with some great friends. In between our LIVESTRONG events, we had time to explore Austin.


We decided to stay near South Congress so we could walk as much as possible around Austin. A great decision as it was convenient for lots of fun (and I got a ridiculous amount of steps on my Fit Bit)!


While we wandered through much of downtown Austin to see the sites, we also indulged in some great food and drinks. Here are a few of the places we visited:


Home Slice Pizza: This New York style pizza is available by the slice or whole. It’s so good that you might as well order the entire pie because you won’t eat just one piece! You can eat in or carry out. I love the ‘neighborhood’ feel as you walk in, breathe great scents and indulge in some very good food.


Snack Bar (adjacent to the Austin Motel). There’s a cool, laid-back atmosphere when you walk into this diner. With space to sit inside or outside in a covered area, it’s a great place to simply hang out. But they also have good food that includes locally grown options and a nice selection of wine, beer and cocktails. Sadly, we learned that both Snack Bar and Austin Motel are scheduled to close Oct. 30 so get there quickly.


Hotel San Jose’ lounge: This hidden gem on Congress is like walking into a secluded snackbaraustin-signsanctuary. Oddly, the noise of the street seems to disappear as you step through the opening to the garden. The outdoor lounge is surrounded by lush greenery, the relaxing pool to one side and a mellow vibe throughout. I enjoyed a delicious Tokyo Mule cocktail (okay, maybe more than one!). In the evening, the dimly lit area is perfect ambiance for good conversation.


Torchy’s Tacos: With clever taco names (Trailer Park, The Democrat, and Brushfire), you’re not quite sure what to expect. Thankfully, we were rewarded with good food! I love Mexican so was happy to try this location for lunch. Be forewarned though – the tacos are big and filling! I tried the Baja Shrimp and Chicken Fajita tacos. Both were delicious (although the chicken was a bit spicy) and filled me up.


Container Bar: Located on popular Rainey Street, this eclectic venue was created using shipping containers. Seriously. It’s a trendy area yet somehow finds a way to be laid-back and fun (only in Austin?).


Iron Works BBQ: It’s a good thing we walked to/from this place because, holy moly, I needed to burn some serious calories after eating here. Located in a brick red, old iron work shop, Iron Works serves traditional Texas barbecue. With very generous portions of the meat (I think I laughed at the portion of chicken that was plopped onto my plate), as well as several choices of sides , you can’t leave here hungry. The chicken was juicy and the brisket pretty much melted in my mouth. The corn on the cob was yummy. The macaroni and cheese put me over the edge. Food coma.


The challenge of writing about the LIVESTRONG Challenge October 20, 2016

hh_livestrongwalkI’m not sure how to write this blog. For one thing, I’m feeling a bit jet-lagged. The other is that my heart is so full and my mind keeps replaying so many memories from my recent trip to Austin that I don’t where to start. So if I babble through this, bear with me.


I spent five recent days in Austin, Texas celebrating life, friends, survivorship and positive change. I spent these days supporting the LIVESTRONG Foundation‘s 20th anniversary of the LIVESTRONG Challenge event. I am a better person for doing so.


It’s been several years since I visited Austin. My first trips to Austin were, ironically, related to LIVESTRONG. Back then it was known as the Lance Armstrong Foundation but the goal of supporting people touched by cancer was the same. I was very involved with Camp Mak-A-Dream in Montana and the foundation provided assistance in helping us start a young adult survivors conference (to this day, it’s one of the efforts I’m most proud of). So it felt a bit ‘full circle’ to return to Austin for another LIVESTRONG purpose.


My regular readers might remember that I represented LIVESTRONG at the One Voice Against Cancer (OVAC) lobby day and I’ve written about their support services for cancer survivors and caregivers in the past. As part of my commitment to the organization, I thought it would be good to check out a fundraising/team event so I could better speak on the various events offered. And, admittedly, I eagerly jumped at the chance to meet up with some friends who also were attending the Austin event. We all know I’m not one to turn down a chance to travel!


hh_livestrong_signsSo a group of us headed to Austin. And it was not a disappointment (although I don’t know that any trip I’ve ever been on has been a disappointment because I believe in making the most of any situation, especially an opportunity to travel. But I digress….remember the jet lag). There were so many opportunities throughout the trip to connect with people I had met in the past, and meet lots of new people. I love that we all have at least one thing in common – our dedication to help LIVESTRONG support people touched by cancer.


The day of the Challenge event was….early. And steamy (seriously, Texas, 90 degrees and humid in October? My hair was so not prepared for that weather.). But the day was full of so much energy. And once again, everyone in attendance had something immediately in common – fighting cancer. Most of you have probably been to a charity walk or event. There is something powerfully inspiring and motivating to be part of an event with a common cause. Of course, as a cancer survivor and someone who lost her dad to cancer, these cancer-related events are deeply personal. I have attended and planned numerous cancer charity events, and I always take some time to step aside from the crowd and absorb the impact. I see the joy, sadness, hope and dedication on faces. I hear the stories. I watch the determination. I am inspired and touched. I leave every one of these events with a full heart and renewed commitment to being a cancer advocate. This LIVESTRONG Challenge was no different. Thousands of people came together to walk, run, bike or observe, as a team to raise funds for a cancer institute that will have great impact on thousands fighting this crazy disease. There is significant positive power in that movement.


livestrong_dadsign2I felt so much gratitude as I added my name to the survivor card. Some days I feel like a different person than that 21-year-old young woman diagnosed with bone cancer, as if I could sit beside her on the hospital bed, wrap her in a hug and promise brighter days. Then there are the days that I vividly feel every ache and emotion. There was also a moment when I wrote my dad’s name on the “In memory of” card that I was certain he’d be there if I turned around. Maybe more wishful thinking, or desperate longing, but I still am sure he was there, cheering and supporting me and everyone else there that day. I like to think that he proudly walked beside me on the route.


I am grateful to be able to participate in these events. As a cancer survivor, I know how blessed I am to have every minute of every day, alive and enjoying people and places. Therefore, while I walk and speak and try my best to make a difference because of my survivorship, I mostly do these things for him. And others who do not get to walk, speak or live.


And the people. I don’t even know where to begin with these people who come from near and far to support LIVESTRONG – from seeing current friends to making new. I must have hugged hundreds of people, including strangers. I shared and listened to so many stories. I sat on a bench after the walk with tears in my eyes as a woman told of losing her husband to cancer, the love of her life, and promised her that I wouldn’t ignore special moments, opportunities or people. I hugged a man who completed treatment last month, then was swept in a bear hug by him after I shared that I was done with treatment too. So many times this trip, I laughed until my cheeks and stomach hurt. I embraced connections that I didn’t know could exist so strongly. I was reminded numerous times of how beautiful life is, and the impact our positive actions can make on so many people. I felt like I was home, surrounded by love, inspiration, motivation and kindness. So much kindness.


This is LIVESTRONG to me. People thank me for being involved and helping others, but I always feel like I should be saying thank you for the opportunity to be involved, to help others and do good. After all, I can. I’m alive.


If you or someone you know is going through cancer, visit LIVESTRONG’s website for some valuable information, navigation services and more. If you’d like to help make a difference, check out LIVESTRONG’s advocacy efforts. Donate to support their services or join Team LIVESTRONG. You’ll make a difference. I promise.



My reminder to appreciate the little things October 5, 2016


Hiking in Cuyahoga Valley

I tend to be a naturally optimistic person. I like to be happy and enjoy life (don’t you??). I’m going to be frank, though. Every so often I get in a funk and get frustrated with some of my physical limitations, thanks to cancer.


When I was diagnosed 21 years old with bone cancer in my femur, there was a very real possibility that I might have a leg amputation. It was terrifying. It’s sadly not uncommon with my type of bone cancer diagnosis. Thankfully, I was diagnosed fairly early (it was stunning to know my tumor had been growing for almost a year!) and the horrible chemo did its job by killing the majority of the cancerous tumor in my femur. The tumor shrunk enough to be removed and save my leg. That meant the lower part of my femur, knee and upper tibia were removed and replaced with titanium.


I work hard to keep my leg in strong shape. I work out at least four times a week, sometimes more. I have always enjoyed exercise and being physical so it makes it less ‘work’ for me (I know many people feel like working out is a chore). During Michigan’s warmer months, I get most of my exercise outdoors hiking, biking, and more.


The challenge with the titanium rod is that I have to be more cautious than the average person with regard to injury, impact and twisting of my leg. A wrong move or fall could break my remaining bone, the pin, etc. One of the bigger blows that cancer gave me was having to stop riding my beautiful horses (too risky if I fell). I also can’t run (too much impact) or ski (too much twisting), and can only play tennis if my opponent can serve pretty close to me so I don’t have to run (uh, yeah, so I don’t play much; no offense to my family and friends!). Over time, I’ve picked up many other activities that I now love and enjoy. My regular readers know my love of hiking, biking and Zumba. I usually try to shove that caution to the back of my mind and throw myself into enjoying everything I can.


Sometimes, though, that always present caution and tiny anxiety in the back of my mind get a little louder and cause me to get….well, cranky and frustrated. Because I don’t want to always be cautious and anxious. I want to ride a horse, run a marathon, sky dive, bike without any cares, teach my niece to play tennis and not say no to joining my friends in an activity.


My annual check up with my oncology surgeon arrived just in time with my blue(ish) mood (this sounds so much better than saying I was feeling sorry for myself) so I decided to express my frustration with my limitations. I am so fortunate to have my cancer care team. My doctors always devote every minute in the room to just me and my concerns. They listen, talk and share. Never have I felt rushed or silly for bringing up a topic.


Climbing to the top of a sand dune – very rewarding!

My surgeon asked me to share what activities I do or have done since surgery. I listed biking, hiking, Zumba, yoga, rock climbing, weight training, dancing, etc. She kind of chuckled and asked what don’t I do? I started to list some of my ‘restricted’ activities but stopped. I sort of saw where she was going with her questions. Then I recalled a past conversation when I complained that during a hike on a glacier field in Alaska I had to turn back after a few miles because I was worried about falling on the slick footing. “But you hiked a glacier field in Alaska! Even a few miles is an awesome accomplishment that most people won’t or can’t do!” was the reply. I know this is true. From hiking in Montana, Ireland, Oregon, Hawaii and elsewhere to rock climbing in Canada to biking miles and miles without an ache in my knee, I am a fortunate bone cancer survivor. I accomplished these things on my own legs. My healthy body allowed me to push myself physically and enjoy these amazing moments.


She eased my mind quite a bit about how long my hardware (medical jargon for the titanium rod, plastic knee, etc.) should last and my activity limitations. She reminded me that I know my body best and basically said as long as I pay attention for certain pains, then I could appreciate the many activities I can do. And she’s right.


I share all this not to brag, because I know most of you can do all these activities and more, but to share the lesson I was reminded of today. Sometimes we all need a reminder of the good in our lives and all that we can do so we focus on the positive rather than allow the the negative to drain too much of our energy. Not every bone cancer survivor has both of their legs. Not every bone cancer survivor who has their two legs can be as physically active due to complications. Some walk with limps. Some are in chronic pain. So, yes, I am fortunate. I can do so much and love every minute that my body is moving. It’s freeing and a reminder that I’m alive. My example is being a bone cancer survivor, yet I am sure that each of you has a circumstance where you can appreciate what you can do.


Who cares that I sometimes decline an activity because it’s too risky for my leg? So I can’t run anymore. I hike downhill a little slower than others. I stand on the sidelines during a volleyball game. It doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy many, many activities. Or stand on the sideline cheering on my friends, which also brings me joy. I simply embrace the accomplishment in a different way than others. I no longer take for granted that I wake up every day and walk on my own two legs. Neither should you take that for granted because you never know if someday the ease will disappear.


The fact that I even wake up every day, breathing and cancer-free, is always the biggest blessing I count. And sometimes that’s what I focus on for that day. Because I’m human and have ‘those days’ that I feel a little down and frustrated with myself. But I allow myself those days because it brings me back to these grateful moments.


On a side note, the really happy news for me is that my surgeon pretty much gave her blessing (with a few caveats) for me to attempt to ride this ‘little’ bike event across Iowa with Team Livestrong next summer. I’m super excited to have something to train and focus on as I think this would be the ultimate accomplishment for me as a bone cancer survivor. Stay tuned for more on my new bike and adventures!


What are you grateful for today?


Penguins, butterflies and giraffes, oh my! October 1, 2016

Lions, tigers and bears, oh my! Sorry, but I couldn’t help it. Every time I enter the gates of the Detroit Zoo, I think of that scene in Wizard of Oz. Although my recent visit to the zoo should have included a chant of ‘penguins, butterflies and giraffes, oh yes!’


Inside the underwater tunnel.

It was a beautiful, sunny day during my recent visit to the 125-acre Detroit Zoo. Home to more than 2,400 animals, the zoo has a new penguin center and baby giraffe, which were my main interests of the day.


There is much to see at the Detroit Zoo. You can meander through the paths to view animals in various habitats or pick and choose your path (maps and signage help direct you to specific points of interest). Since there were several in our group that day, we each voiced one attraction we hoped to see. Happily for me, everyone also wanted to view the penguins and baby giraffe.


We were given a time slot to visit the penguin center when we purchased tickets so that was the first stop on our visit (I was told that timed-entry is only on weekends right now). This new center is 33,000 square feet, with a 326,000-gallon, 25-foot-deep aquatic area. Plenty of clear glass allows you to watch more than 80 penguins swim, eat, snooze and play. I find penguins cute, and interesting to watch them interact with each other, swim and waddle around. As you walk through the penguin center, a path takes you to the ‘deck’ of a ship where awesome 4-D video makes you feel as if you’re crossing Antarctic waters. Once you leave the ship area, you can enter an underwater gallery with two acrylic tunnels to watch the penguins swim above and around you. It’s very cool!


So many pretty ones.


Once we left the arctic, we entered the balmy Butterfly Garden. Home to thousands of butterflies, representing more than 25 species, the beautiful gardens are maintained at 75 degrees to ensure optimal flora growth and butterfly activity. And active these butterflies were that day! It was fun to watch them take flight throughout the gardens.It’s funny my human instinct to duck when something flies at your head, even a harmless, lightweight butterfly. To enter the Butterfly Garden, you walk through one door, wait for it to close, then go through another door. This ensures that any butterfly that happens to slip past the first door can be caught and returned to the garden area. Which was a good setup to have as a large pretty one landed on my leg as I was walking out. Thankfully someone spotted it before I went too far and, with the help of the docent, we returned it safely to the garden.


An adorable ‘little’ girl.

I was so tickled to walk up to the giraffe habitat and immediately spot the ‘little’ female giraffe (born in August). She’s adorable! She walked around the enclosure several times, often stopping to check out all of us humans smiling and taking pictures of her. The zoo added an elevated viewing platform several years ago, making it easy to get almost eye level with the largest mammal in the world. Some interesting giraffe facts (courtesy of the Detroit Zoo): Giraffes have the same number of vertebrae in the neck as a human (there are only seven bones in its neck); a giraffe’s heart can weigh up to 25 pounds (an adult human heart weighs about 10 ounces), and giraffes sleep about 20 minutes each day.


There were many other animals to watch, from gorillas to polar bears to red pandas to kangaroos to zebras. It’s a good time of year to visit these animals as the cooler weather often provides a more active viewing opportunity. It was a great day to be outdoors and learn about the conservation efforts of the zoo and the many animals living in metro Detroit.


Fall hours begin today, 10am-4pm. Keep in mind that the zoo doesn’t sell bottled water (in a cool effort to reduce plastic waste) – you can bring your own or purchase a reusable bottle at the concession stands.


Tomato/cucumber salad holds onto summer September 23, 2016

Filed under: do it yourself — Heather @ 11:45 am
Tags: , , , , ,

tomatoesI know the first day of fall happened yesterday but I’m not quite ready to pull out the sweaters, boots and chili recipes. Instead, I’m wearing shorts and sandals today, and snacking on some refreshing summer vegetables.


Believe it or not, I wasn’t a fan of tomatoes until about two years ago. Yes, I ate tomato-based foods (spaghetti sauce, salsa, etc.) but I politely declined any fresh tomato. Then I happened to try grape and cherry tomatoes and loved them. Now I buy containers of the mini tomatoes from the road side farm stand near me almost weekly since I love to snack on them. I even grew a small plant on my balcony, which produced some delicious cherry tomatoes. But, sadly, not enough to keep me fulfilled, thus I continue to support our local farmers.


In case you’re wondering (as I did) about the difference between grape and cherry tomatoes – it mostly comes down to the shape. Cherry tomatoes are round and small, similar to cherries. Grape tomatoes are typically oblong, and a little hardier and smaller than cherry tomatoes. Cherry tomatoes tend to be a little sweeter than their grape size counterpart.


Anyway, I digress. With this love of the mini tomatoes, I started making a tomato and cucumber salad over the summer. Each time I made it, I added various ingredients to switch up the flavors based on my appetite.


tomatocucumbersaladIt’s such an easy recipe. I slice a handful of grape tomatoes in half (length way). How many I use depends on the salad I’m making. Just for me? Maybe 10-12. To share? I add more. Then I slice a cucumber into small pieces and mix the vegetables together. Some other ingredient options:


Fresh mozzarella balls, sliced

Bacon bits

Chopped hard boiled egg

Fresh spinach

Chopped chicken


Then I add mix 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, then drizzle onto the salad. Toss lightly and enjoy!


41 reasons to love life September 12, 2016

Filed under: Life Lessons — Heather @ 1:15 pm
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Birthdays have always been kind of a big deal in my family. My parents made sure every new year was celebrated, particularly the ‘big days’ of turning 10, 13, 16, 18, 21, etc. When I was diagnosed with cancer at 21, birthdays took on a very special meaning and milestone for me, and my family. I recall spending my 22nd birthday in the hospital, sick from chemo and disappointed and frustrated to be sick on my birthday, yet my parents made sure to throw me a small party with family and my nurses packed into my hospital room so I could feel joy and love. It was awesome. Since that day, I welcome and celebrate every birthday. I’m so grateful to be alive!


Love my family so much!

Many moments and people stick out over the years that have helped make life grand. And while I certainly could fill a few pages with the challenges, hurt, sadness, losses and failures that I’ve faced in life, all of those moments and emotions helped shape me into the person that I am today. I’m okay with that woman. I feel great joy in knowing what I have overcome to be here in this place.


So on my birthday, I wanted to share 41 items (in no particular order) that are my reminders of what makes life so awesome for me, in the hopes of spreading some optimism and love to each of you. And if you really want to help me celebrate this special day, I ask you to share a smile or act of kindness with someone you encounter today.


1. Being alive.

2. Feeling content in the moment.

3. Amazingly loving and supportive parents.

4-9. My nieces and nephews who I love like my own children and make me smile daily.

10-12. My sisters and brother in law who always have my back.

13. Fabulous friends who love and support me for me.

14. Giving back to the cancer community that saved me physically, mentally and emotionally many times during and after cancer treatment.

15. Walking, dancing, hiking and more on my own two legs after bone cancer.

16. Waking up every day with strength, courage, optimism and freedom to enjoy life.

17. Riding a bike.

18. Hiking in the woods.

19. Camping under the stars.

20. Dancing in Zumba, my kitchen and anywhere!

21. Loving and trusting my body’s strength (strong enough to survive cancer) and


Staying strong to stay healthy – and have fun!

abilities to be active. When I get frustrated at what I can no longer do because of cancer, it reminds me of all that I can.

22. The comfort of a strong hug.

23. Excitement of seeing someone special.

24. The beauty of a horse and the true peace these animals bring to me.

25. Fresh, bright flowers that bring cheer to the day.

26. Happiness of appreciating simple things in life.

27. A good book.

28. Opportunities to emerge myself in new adventures that create great memories.

29. Learning and trying new activities.

30. Working with other cancer survivors and volunteers to make positive change in the fight against cancer and helping others.

31. Watching the sun set and knowing a new tomorrow, filled with new possibilities, is on the horizon.

32. Smile-invoking memories of moments with family and friends.

33. The promise of a loving, fun, supportive friendship/relationship.

34. Laughter, the kind that makes your stomach hurt.

35. Music that strums to your soul.


Appreciating every day and excited for tomorrow!

36. Quiet time alone to reflect on blessings.

37. Facing fears, sadness, frustrations and challenges with optimism, smiles and hope.

38. Being loved.

39. Falling in love.

40. Confidence in yourself and your decisions.

41. The exciting anticipation of what’s to come – the people who will join you, new adventures to experience, and days filled with love, laughter and good health.


Summer pasta, bacon and vegetable salad September 7, 2016

Filed under: do it yourself — Heather @ 4:00 pm
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pastasaladThe humidity finally slid out of Michigan, leaving wonderfully warm, yet relaxing weather. Despite the pumpkin seasoning and haunted houses appearing in retailers, it’s still the summer season so I’m still enjoying all things summertime! This means that I am not ready to turn the hot oven on to cook. I shared in a recent blog that I’m trying to make myself prep meals more often so I dug through some favorite recipes again.


This easy summer pasta salad came from a Kroger mailer! I’ve tweaked it a bit to add some variety for my taste. It’s such a simple, yet tasty salad that you can really make it any way that suits you.


Here are the ingredients for this yummy salad:

  • Cooked pasta (I use approximately 6-8 oz uncooked)
  • 1-2 cups chopped romaine lettuce (you can also use spinach)
  • 1 cup sliced grape tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup bacon bits


  • 1 Tablespoon dijon mustard
  • 1 Tablespoon mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup olive oil (sometimes I use flavored olive oil, like basil)

Once the pasta is cooked, run under cold water to cool. Mix all ingredients together. Add the dressing – I add a little at a time, then toss the ingredients to determine if I need more dressing. You can also optionally add salt, pepper and seasonings to taste.


To make this a heartier meal, I’ve added diced cooked chicken, fresh cut broccoli and cucumbers. I also switch up my pasta, at times using wheat, veggie or gluten-free pasta. It’s really an open recipe based on your palate!


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