Heather's Hangout

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

Tomato/cucumber salad holds onto summer September 23, 2016

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


Exploring outdoor spots in metro Detroit September 5, 2016


My ‘deer’ friend hiked with me!

It’s always a little amusing to me when so many people complain that Labor Day weekend is the ‘end of summer.’ The end of the summer season doesn’t actually occur until fall starts at the end of September (Sept. 22 this year). And while I understand that teachers and students must return to work and the classroom, those activities do not mean it’s the end of summer for everyone.


Since the end of summer doesn’t happen for a few more weeks (and Mother Nature appears to agree since Michigan is expecting temps in the upper 80s this week), I have enjoyed being active in the outdoors as much as possible this long holiday weekend, and I plan to continue to be as long as I can through the upcoming weeks.


It never ceases to amaze me how being outdoors can change one’s mental and physical outlook. I can feel the tension and other stress fall from my shoulders when I step into the woods or pedal on my bike. I soak in the breeze on my skin and listen to the voices of nature. For example, I felt a bit sluggish yesterday when my alarm sounded and I considered enjoying another hour of sleep. But that would mean skipping a hike with a new group of friends. So I kicked the covers off and headed to the trail. And I felt a sudden burst of energy and positive attitude as I stood ready at the trailhead. I was so happy to be outdoors.


I found all of this fun at local parks and trails. We’re so fortunate to have some great locations throughout metro Detroit. I thought I’d share these recent spots in case you’re looking for a push to get outdoors too.


Macomb Orchard Trail, Shelby Township: This is one of my favorite biking trails. The 24-mile paved trail has less intersections to stop your pace or distract you with vehicles. It is popular for biking, walking, running and even rollerblading so I like to be on the trail early. I usually pick up the trail at 24 Mile/Dequindre (park at the ice arena), then head east. I love that the further you ride, the more countryside you ride through with trees, orchards, dairy farms and crop fields.


Maybury State Park, Northville: This almost 1,000-acre state park has some great wooded and gently rolling hiking trails. Some of the bike and horse trails intersect with the hiking trails so do pay attention to trail signs. There also is a paved bike path, fishing pond, and horse stable (you can rent trail horses). Be thoughtful if you encounter horses – no yelling or fast movements to spook these awesome animals. You do need a recreation passport or to purchase a day pass.


Stage Nature Center, Troy: This 100-acre park is located close to my home so these trails have become my go-to whenever I need a quick ‘nature pick me up’ (read my previous blog post about this location). The trails are relatively short so I usually loop several times to hit any significant distance. But I like this location as it’s rarely busy when I’m there, I often encounter deer and other wildlife, and I feel comfortable hiking alone.


In my encounters with other people this past weekend, I learned of some new outdoor spots for me to check out so stay tuned! Did you get outdoors this holiday weekend? If so, where did you go?


Making my own MOD Pizza September 2, 2016

ModpizzaA friend recently asked me if I had tried MOD pizza. I wondered if this was a new style of pizza that I was not hip to. I’m not really into fancy or weird pizza. I just like good ‘ol fashion simple pizza.


He soon clarified that MOD Pizza is a new restaurant near us. He described it as “Subway style ordering” for pizza. Once he mentioned it, I suddenly was craving pizza (don’t you hate when that happens?!) so decided to check it out.


MOD (meaning “made on demand”) is a restaurant that started in Seattle and has spread across the country via franchises. It was fairly busy when I first arrived at the new location, which was a good sign to me that people like the food.


There are three different sizes of pizza – Mady, MOD and mega (prices range from $4.47-10.47). I like that the crust is thin (gluten-free crust is also available) and the pizza is wood-fired. Once you choose your size, you can choose your choices of sauce, cheese and toppings. There are lots of choices! The crazy thing is that you can choose as few or as many ingredients and the price doesn’t change. So many other pizza restaurants charge extra for multiple toppings and consider some, like chicken, as premium.


If you don’t want to think about the many ingredients you might want on your pizza, there are specialty options, such as the Jasper, Caspian and Mad Dog. You can add or subtract ingredients from these pizzas, at no extra charge. MOD also serves salads (again that you can choose from specialty or create your own) and breadsticks.


There is room to dine in or you can get your food to go. If you dine in, you can order from a small menu of beer and wine, plus a variety of non-alcoholic drinks and milkshakes. I ordered my pizza to go and was a bit concerned it would take a while to cook since there were so many others waiting in front of me. However, my pizza was ready after a few minutes of waiting (as a bonus, I met a really nice woman who chatted with me during our wait!).


Most importantly, my pizza was delicious. I liked my choice of toppings and look forward to trying a different mix next time I’m hungry for pizza. Have you checked out MOD Pizza? If so, what did you think?


Yoga, good food and great conversations August 27, 2016

My friend recently invited a few women to enjoy a relaxing day of yoga, food and friendship. I’m always up for that type of adventure so looked forward to the outing.


She invited us to first meet at Namaste Yoga in Royal Oak. Some of the women had not previously practiced yoga so we opted for an essential hatha yoga class, which is gentle and relaxing. I enjoy taking yoga classes and probably should go more often. It’s a nice compliment to the strength training, hiking, biking, Zumba and other cardio that I participate in on a regular basis. Yoga helps me stretch tight muscles, strengthen my core, and relax my mind (or try to relax my mind as I can never quite shut the thoughts off! Can you?).


yogamatblocksThis was my first visit to Namaste Yoga. It’s a small studio located on Troy Street, a block from the public parking lot adjacent to the farmer’s market building. That day, the meters and pay station were covered in the lot so I took it as a sign I was meant to be there and appreciated the free parking! Linda, the owner, was very welcoming when we arrived. I instantly felt like the entire ambiance of the studio is relaxed and friendly.


Just past the lobby area is a large studio, with a smaller room attached to that. One of the walls is full of windows so lots of natural light flowed into the room. Some people prefer to practice yoga in a dimly lit setting but I actually liked the natural light. It was a beautiful, cool, sunny summer morning, which makes me appreciate nature even more. So a great setting for grounding myself in yoga! Namaste has yoga mats, blocks, bands, blankets and other accessories if needed. The instructor encouraged all of us to move at our own pace and modify when necessary. The class was a great way to start our morning.


After yoga we were all hungry! My friend suggested a favorite place of hers – GreenSpace Cafe in Ferndale. I love trying new places so was game. GreenSpace is a plant-based restaurant and bar. Their food contains no GMOs, preser­v­a­tives, processed foods or animal products, and they don’t use microwaves or fry­ers. They even serve “conscious cocktails” made with fruits and greens. The restaurant was founded by a local cardiologist and his family. I was pretty intrigued by this point.


GreenSpace’s ambiance is natural, chic and relaxed. I’m a sucker for the natural wood/outdoorsy decor so I felt comfortable right away (don’t judge, I like the outdoors!). The cocktail menu was interesting – elderflower, carrot juice, watermelon juice, lemongrass-infused vodka, and lavender syrup are some of the ingredients that make up a fun list of tasty drinks.


We started with the cheese board and farmer’s board. The ‘cheeses’ are made with cashews prepared several different ways (smoked, etc.). I definitely was curious as to what cashew cheese tasted like and will share that it was all very tasty. I ordered the quinoa lentil burger, which was delicious and filled me up! My friends ordered a variety of dishes – tomatillo gazpacho soup, caesar salad, sandwiches and bowls. We all declared our food choices as successes and decided we would return to try more of the menu!


I’ve had so much happening in my life the past few months, a divorce, house hunting, work, health appointments and more, that I didn’t realize how much I needed some fun, relaxing girl time until I spread my yoga mat, sat down and looked at the girlfriends surrounding me. As we whispered and giggled before the start of class, I could feel the stress seep out of me. It made me remember that part of life is recognizing and embracing the wonderful, kind, loving people who show up exactly when you need them. I am blessed to have such people in my life and grateful for the opportunities to make memories with them.


Easy slow cooker shredded chicken August 22, 2016

Filed under: do it yourself — Heather @ 2:00 pm
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Easy slow cooker meal.

I’m going to admit something. Here goes…..my interest in cooking this summer has been small. No, actually it’s been pretty nonexistent. I don’t know what happened. I really got into cooking this past winter and spring. I made many new recipes and enjoyed the process. But this summer, I’ve struggled to find the enthusiasm to cook and some days even to eat (no worries, Mom, I am eating.). I don’t know if it’s the hot, humid weather or too much on my schedule. I even told a friend that I thought eating was over-rated, which made her gasp (she’s a big food lover and enjoys cooking so probably not the best person to confess to!).


But this week, I realized that I’m drinking too many smoothies for dinner or nibbling on edamame. Probably not the healthiest way to eat. So I decided to go back to my easy to make recipe that provides a few meal options. I thought I’d share it in case you’re in need of an easy meal.


I was fortunate to work from home the other day while I finished some newsletter articles. That allowed me to be home to think about dinner in the early afternoon and remember this easy recipe!



  • 1-2 pound(s) skinless, boneless chicken breasts
  • 1-2 cups salsa (I tend to use more salsa because I like the extra ‘sauce’ at the end. I also use chunky, mild salsa but you can use whatever brand/type you prefer.)
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp fajita seasoning (optional)
  • Green and/or red bell peppers, sliced (optional)

Easy prep:
I add all of the ingredients to my slow cooker, then lightly mix everything together. I make sure that the chicken is mixed in and covered with the salsa. Then cover with the lid and cook on low for 4 hours. Once the chicken is cooked, remove and shred with two forks. Mix shredded chicken back in slow cooker and let cook for 10-15 minutes.


I love chicken fajita salad!

Once cooked, you can make the chicken into any meal. I often make a chicken fajita salad with lettuce, chicken salsa mixture, shredded cheese, vegetables and tortilla strips. I also make chicken tacos and fajitas.


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