Heather's Hangout

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

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

HH_Calistogawinefest

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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!).

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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.

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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.

 

When I fell in love with San Francisco April 26, 2017

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View from our room!

One of my big goals this year, in keeping with my “Best Year Ever” theme, is to get back into traveling more often. Whether weekend road trips to northern Michigan, longer getaways to somewhere in the U.S. or extended adventures around the world. Or all of the above!

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In keeping with that theme, I was super excited when my friend and I decided on a whim to book a trip to San Francisco and Napa Valley. I explored northern California years ago through the Redwood Forest but hadn’t made it to San Francisco, which I’ve been anxious to visit. So many people love the city and the destinations north of the busy city.

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We were able to book our flights with airline miles (bonus!) so that started the trip on the right path. We found a great deal on car rental, then hotels. My friend is a wine club member at some of the Napa Valley vineyards, which provided free tastings. Needless to say, I was pretty giddy by the time our plane landed in San Francisco (who doesn’t love the opportunity to explore new places and experience new adventures??).

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We easily picked up our car rental and headed to the Marriott Marquis in the South of Market (or SOMA) District of downtown San Francisco. The Marriott has 39 floors, with the top floor a restaurant/bar called The View, aptly named for the amazing 360-degree views of the city and beyond. Our room was on the 23rd floor, also providing outstanding views. We did a quick peek out the windows of The View, appreciating the stunning views of the busy city and mountains beyond. Then we headed to explore that bustling city.

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The weather was perfect with temperatures in the high 60s and sunshine. We were

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A talkative sea lion.

already hungry when we left the hotel so headed to The Grove. The funky, fun décor matched perfectly with the fresh food choices. We split a delicious salad and hummus tray and ordered our first drinks to toast the adventure. After re-energizing ourselves, we set off to simply explore. We window shopped, people watched and took in the sights of the district and surrounding areas. We eventually made it to Fisherman’s Wharf, where we came across a small market of artists, fresh flower stands, fresh fruit and vegetables and more near the Ferry Building. I love talking to local residents when I travel so enjoyed meeting so many people at the market. Then we made it to the pier (where we walked some more!). It was awesome to take in the beauty of the water, mountains, sailboats and more. I felt the stress of everyday life falling off as I walked and the fresh air and sunshine breathed new energy into me. This is why I love to travel.

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We continued to Pier 39 where we came across a very busy, definitely tourist area of Fisherman’s Wharf. Souvenir shops, restaurants, wine tasting, fishing boats, bike rentals and more populate this area. Despite it being a popular tourist area, I loved the energy, things to see, food to smell, activities to watch, and scenery to soak in. So we decided to be tourists and visit Wines of California wine bar overlooking the marina. We did a wee bit of shopping after our drinks, then we rounded a corner and I spotted the Golden Gate Bridge. I had two tourist items on my San Francisco bucket list – see the Golden Gate Bridge and ride a trolley. So I was definitely ‘that tourist’ who did a little hand clap when the bridge came into view on our walk (the trolley ride was another day so stay tuned). You can also see Alcatraz Island from the pier (and tour the facility).

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Loved this church in the city.

As we walked, I heard the noise. The sea lions! The sea lions first arrived at Pier 39 K-Dock in 1990 after an earthquake in 1989. While marina tenants at first didn’t like the sea lions taking up so much space, there wasn’t much that could be done as sea lions are protected by the Federal Marine Mammal Protection Act. Plus the sea lions were attracting crowds of people (which increases revenue for surrounding businesses). At one point, more than 1,000 sea lions “docked” at Fisherman’s Wharf! Now the mammals are a regular feature of people’s visit to the area.

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After watching and laughing at the antics of the sea lions, we headed back toward the hotel for a brief rest and relaxation before the evening fun. We checked out the views of Yerba Buena Gardens from Samovar Tea Lounge….it was a trendy, fun crowd hanging outside this place. I loved the perfect view of a pretty church residing in the midst of a bustling, tall city. It was a reminder to me that you can find peace and calmness anywhere in your life if you simply pay attention.

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On a recommendation, we found Anchor & Hope restaurant. And I say found because it took a little bit of looking to find the restaurant that is tucked away on Minna street (it looks like you’re walking down an alley). Admittedly, we may have passed the street twice because I was absorbing everything else around me! It was worth the search effort. It was still happy hour so we sat at the bar, which turned out to be a great place. The bartender and staff were so nice. We enjoyed drinks and delicious salmon cakes.

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Enjoying views from Fisherman’s Wharf.

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When we left Anchor & Hope, we passed Thirsty Bear Brewing Company so decided to check out the local craft beer scene. Thirsty Bear is San Francisco’s only organic craft brewery. (To be honest, I had no idea what that meant and I couldn’t tell the difference in the beers, but I’ve since learned it means that the beers are made with all organic ingredients.) We once again sat at the bar and once again met some great people. The beer was good and the tapas awesome.

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Our final destination of the day was back at The View at the Marriott. By then, the sun had set and the lights of the city were on, providing another great view. Luck was with us as we snagged a spot by the windows to enjoy the views, our drinks and conversations with other patrons.

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It was a great, busy, first day in San Francisco! We were fortunate for the beautiful weather. I loved meeting many friendly people and seeing so many sites. I definitely went to bed a tired, happy girl, ready for our next day’s adventure (stay tuned).

 

When bowling and football collide April 16, 2017

SamM_HHfowling42017A friend recently invited me to join a group of people to play fowling. I had heard of this activity but never played or seen it in action. I was interested in checking it out.

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What’s fowling (pronounced FOE-ling)? It’s a football bowling pin game. Fowling was invented by some guys right here in metro Detroit. It involves the traditional set up of 10 bowling pins on a flat plywood board. Another set of pins is placed about 48 feet apart, then you take turns throwing a football from your board to your opponent’s board, trying to be the first to knock down all of your pins.

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It turns into chaotic fun. And it’s not as easy as you think (although I didn’t think it was going to be easy at all!). The ball, which is much lighter than the pins, may hit the board, floor or wall (or person!) at an odd angle, causing it to bounce around. Sometimes it hits the pins, sometimes it hits the person standing near the board (I have a bruise on my thigh as proof). If the ball bounces and then knocks the pins down, that counts. And if another team’s ball bounces (from another lane) and knocks the pins down, it counts. If you go to grab the ball and accidentally knock a pin down, it counts (I thankfully didn’t do this but saw it happen a few times). So it got pretty comical watching people grab at or try to deflect a bouncing football.

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We played at the HUB Stadium (which stands for House of Urban Bowling) in Auburnfowlingpins Hills. I noticed on their website that they call the activity bombowling (fowling by another name). There are 16 lanes, which were consistently busy. A full menu and two bars, plus space for private parties made for a very busy place.

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The guy that originally coined the fowling term and established the rules opened The Fowling Warehouse in Hamtramck. There is no food onsite but they allow outside food, and have a full bar. Several people mentioned they also have been to this location and enjoyed the large space to play.

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The game was a lot of fun and I definitely would play again. It would be a great tailgate, camping or outdoor game. Have you been fowling?

 

Travel planning tips February 20, 2017

Travel planning tips

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Traveling has always been a favorite activity. When I was younger, I loved our family getaways (and still do!) and now as an adult, ‘travel’ is a definite budget line item goal so I can afford to plan my own trips and choose new destinations. I love exploring new locations, learning new cultures (even those local cultures in the U.S.!), trying new activities and simply getting away from life’s daily responsibilities and grind.

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There are many factors that help make a trip memorable, fun and smooth. I truly believe that the people you travel with are the greatest factors in a successful trip. Finding someone/some people who are flexible, easy going and can ‘go with the flow’ if snafus happen can make or break a trip. I recall one of my backpacking trips to South Manitou Island with a group of friends – we woke one morning to thunderstorms and hard rain. Three of us girls piled into a tent and spent a few hours sharing stories, laughing, braiding hair and basically making the most of the unplanned event. When the storms cleared, the planned hikes and fun resumed but it was awesome to be with people who shrugged at the circumstance and moved on.

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Hiking outside of Las Vegas

Traveling solo can be fun too. You can set your own plans and pace, and either do as much or as little as you want without worrying about keeping everyone happy.

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Regardless of how and who you travel with, the advance planning of a trip will help ensure you have a smooth, enjoyable time once you arrive at your destination. Here are a few tips to get you started:

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1. Be prepared to spend some time doing research. Whether it was Maui, Ireland, Alaska or somewhere in Michigan, I took the time to check out local websites and read reviews. This up front research helped me know some local spots, things to be cautious about, and feel a bit more comfortable with a new area. This was especially important when I went to Ireland, as despite it being an English-speaking country, it was still a foreign country with different cultures, currency and customs.

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2. Check out the homes, cottages and condos available on rental sites, such as Vacation Rental By Owner (VRBO.com), Air BnB, HomeAway.com and others. I found the awesome oceanfront Maui condo on VRBO, thanks to the suggestion of a friend. These options can sometimes be more affordable, spacious and cozier than a standard hotel (I especially like having the option of buying your own food and making meals when you want). Some questions to consider: When were the pictures taken? If there’s a kitchen, what’s included (dishes, coffee, detergent, etc.)? Are laundry facilities available? Is there a local person to contact if something happens? Is there a cleaning fee and other fees not included in the listed nightly fee?

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3. Read reviews. I like to find a potential facility on TripAdvisor to get some feedback. VRBO usually also has guest reviews of each facility. Keep in mind that these reviews are subjective (what one person finds lacking may not be a big deal to another). However, if consistent problems or concerns are listed, it might be time to look at another facility. For example, my family was ready to book a location for our summer trip until we skimmed the reviews and noticed a lot of recent complaints about cleanliness and cranky staff. We moved on. Check dates of the reviews to ensure the concerns aren’t from years ago. If you want to pay it forward, write a review after your trip of the lodging, entertainment venue or restaurants you experienced during your trip.

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4. Look for a Groupon or other discounts in the local area for lodging, meals and entertainment. If you’re looking for local ideas at your destination, search Groupon, Living Social or similar online discount sites for discounted tickets, restaurant and activity coupons. There are a lot of great choices. You may find a food spot or activity that you wouldn’t have known about without searching.

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Exploring Alaska, one of my favorite trips.

5. Cash in credit card or airline miles. Many people don’t know that these earned miles aren’t just for airline tickets. Most of the time you can redeem for car rentals, restaurant gift cards, cameras, hotel rooms and more. Make sure you know the redemption rules to check on blackout dates and fees.

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6. Ask for input from friends and family. A plus of social media is the ability to share your personal business with a large group of people at once. Heck, often times, friends of friends can learn your business with the click of a button. Take advantage of this by asking for input, suggestions and reviews on Facebook, Twitter and other sites.

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7. Be flexible. If you can adjust dates and also be flexible in the type of lodging or car you reserve, you may find a better deal. Also, once you arrive at your destination, be flexible in your activities if possible. I like to have some ideas for activities but try not to set too much in stone so I can be ready to try something new if the opportunity arises. When my friend and I went to Riviera Maya, we had zero plans except relaxing at the resort. However, I woke one morning and decided to hike the ruins. It was fun!

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8. Check out Costco or other member companies. While I haven’t personally used Costco to book travel, several friends regularly book rental cars, hotels and more through the big store and assure me that they receive great discounts.

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If you put a little time into the planning portion of your trip, you can relax and have fun on the actual trip. And the golden rule of travel for me is to take life in stride – you’re on vacation, enjoy it! And don’t forget to take pictures!

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What tips do you have for trip planning?

 

Back to basics in the new year (5 goals for 2017) December 30, 2016

A few months back a friend talked me into going to see a tarot card reader to find out what’s in store for my future. I had never been to one and admit I had bit of trepidation. What might she tell me?

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Cheers to a new year!

The woman was very welcoming and sweet. She asked what I might want to focus on learning. I really didn’t have a specific focus; mostly wondering if, after making some major life changes in the early year, I was on the right path and what might come in the future, if she could tell. I didn’t admit that I wasn’t sure I really believed these cards could tell about my life…but I was willing to give it a try. At this point in my life, I feel so open to new experiences (one of my new mottos is “bring it on, life.”)! I shuffled the deck and then she started laying out cards on the table. I waited with bated breath while she studied the cards. Then she smiled and said, “Wow you’ve been through a lot, but there so much positive energy and love in your future.” Well how about that? I could have walked out with that bit of refreshing news, but she had more to share. As we talked about the cards’ various meanings, it admittedly was a bit eerie when she commented on things that had happened in my life (health challenges, relationship ending, etc.) that I didn’t tell her (and she had no way of knowing). Then she mentioned things that I’ve been pondering professionally (according to her will be successful!) and house hunting struggles (soon to end!). And the cards indicate my love life will be very full of love, happiness and…… well I’ll keep some of that to myself so I can see how it plays out.

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I know that I am still the person in charge of my present and future, however, it’s nice to have someone say that I’m on the right path. The overall message was to be open and ready for the many positive things that will happen in the new year. I walked out feeling hopeful and excited about my future.

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Whether or not you ‘believe’ in tarot cards and all that, the point is that I liked the message of being open and ready. I am an admitted planner, so often like to plan things. I make lists, schedule things in advance and probably overthink too much. I worry about other people’s feelings, which often time slips into my plans and sometimes even alters what I do in my life (I’ve realized there is a threshold of being too nice). I’ve been learning that I can still focus on my life while being kind, helpful and supportive to others.

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What I’ve really learned in my 40+ years on earth is that not every year, not every moment, will be perfect joy. Not every situation ends in joy. And that’s okay (although it doesn’t always feel okay). We sometimes need those less than stellar moments to guide us into a new version of life and our self. Remember that you’ll make it. Despite sadness, confusion and frustration, there is always hope. That’s at least what I hold onto. There are new chapters to write, new adventures to experience, new people to meet and new moments to heal and fill the heart.

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So that’s what I am bringing into the new year. I’m walking into it with my arms open, ready to live life with laughter, smiles, an open heart and…hope. Lots and lots of hope.

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I usually like to set specific goals for myself each year (shocking from the planner!). This year I want to focus on more simple, yet motivating goals for myself.

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Find what fills your heart with happiness.

Happiness. The quote below from the Dalai Lama is so true. You can’t rely on others to create happiness for you. I believe that life is what you make of it. I don’t always like what happens in life – I didn’t like getting cancer, didn’t like my dad being diagnosed and dying from cancer, didn’t like having a failed marriage, didn’t like the sadness and challenges affecting my family and friends. But through each of these, we all had to pick ourselves up, dust off and move forward. Hopefully with support from others, yet mostly it’s your own decision on how you move forward. With your head high and hope in your heart? I admit that earlier in the year, I was ready to accept that this year would be blah and slow moving as I transitioned. But it really wasn’t. There have been so many times that my heart felt so full of love and happiness that I thought it might burst. Or I’d start crying tears of joy and relief (yes, that happened once or twice). When I recently commented to a friend that I’m touched at the love and joy in my life, she said she wouldn’t expect it any other way because I’m so open to being happy and sharing love that it’s natural those type of people would gravitate to me too. It’s an interesting thought and one I’ll accept because I love and appreciate all of you who bring your own sense of love and joy. Part of creating your own happiness is keeping the ‘right’ people in your life, the ones who reciprocate the time and energy needed to keep a relationship/friendship moving forward, the ones who bring their own joy and happiness so they don’t suck yours away. Simply put, I love being happy and am going to focus on bringing so much more of that to my life, and others, in the new year.

“Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.” ~ Dalai Lama

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Love. I admit it, I’m a romantic. Not ‘I need a bunch of gifts’ romantic type, but ‘kindness, affection, sweet gestures, remembering things I shared, exploring and creating new memories together’ romantic. Real true love is unselfish, kind and joyous. It makes you feel vulnerable, yet won’t hurt you. It makes you smile at the simplest gestures and words because you know it’s genuine. It’s crazy fun, and simple, relaxing moments together. It’s long talks about life, and quiet compatibility. I have not given up on love. I’ve definitely learned some lessons and my mind is aware. Yet, my heart is open. And while I am opening my heart and arms to romantic love, I’m also wrapping my arms around love in general. Love of family and friends, love of simple things and actions, love of life. As my tarot cards suggested, I’m open and ready to accept love in all forms.

“Love is when he gives you a piece of your soul that you never knew was missing.” ~ Torquato Tasso

“As soon as I saw you, I knew an adventure was going to happen.” ~ Winnie the Pooh

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So many places to explore!

Adventures. I feel like 2017 is a new adventure waiting for me to explore. So I want to be more spontaneous and open to new opportunities. I love traveling. I love to not just travel but explore new places, meet local people and learn new things about locations, cultures and more. Having adventures isn’t just about traveling to new locales, it’s about being open to people, activities, foods, drinks, opportunities and more! But no worries if you haven’t been bitten by the travel bug, adventures are also about stepping out of your comfort zone. Join a social group (check out meetup.com for tons of options in your area), try an activity, learn a language. There’s so much to do and see in the world around us. I don’t plan to sit on my couch while time moves by me. Do you?

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” ~ Helen Keller

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Health. I’m always slightly obsessed with my health. I guess cancer does that. This is different though. I want to be even healthier and more focused. I want to feel energized and simply feel good as many moments as I can. So what does that mean? I want my body to feel as strong and confident as it did before bone cancer. Okay, I realize that I was 21 when I was diagnosed so feeling 21 in my 40s is probably wishful thinking….my point is that I felt confident and completely sure of myself. I trusted my body. Cancer raised a distrust and then a dip in confidence from the titanium rod in my femur/tibia. I hesitate to try activities because I’m worried I might hurt myself. I don’t plan to throw all caution to the wind in the new year, because I sure as heck won’t jeopardize my leg, but I want to feel confidence when I try new activities or push myself in a current. For instance, I want to bike a few hundred miles on my new road bike and feel confident that I can do it. So I’ll be setting some goals to get healthier and stronger (and maybe reward myself with a cute new outfit).

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“If today were the last day of your life, would you want to do what you are about to do today?” ~ Steve Jobs

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Hello, you!

Me. It’s always a little odd for me to say I’m going to focus on…me. It kind of feels a little self-centered or selfish, yet what I realized this year is that you sometimes need to be selfish in your ‘me’ time. And it’s not truly being selfish. If you’re not happy and well, then you can’t truly help others. This past year was the first in a long time that I truly stood up for myself, making difficult decisions, having honest conversations and focusing on what I needed. It was at times unnerving and challenging; it was also liberating and stress-relieving. In the end, these were actions that I needed to take so I can live the life that I want and should. I learned how to be an advocate for myself, recognizing that if I can’t stand up for myself, how can I truly help others? I had a very real moment this past spring when I was in my Washington, DC hotel room after cancer advocacy training, networking, and dinner and drinks with new friends – as I mentally reviewed the previous two days of fun, accomplishment and laughter, I suddenly fell back onto the bed, smiling ear to ear and thought, “welcome back, my friend.” Because in that moment, I realized my heart felt so very full and light, laughter bubbled out and I remembered what it felt like to be me. And I had missed just being me. So going forward I’m going to just be me. Because, honestly, who else should I be?

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“All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.” ~ Walt Disney

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A dear person in my life told me to make 2017 the best year ever. It is some solid advice that I can grab onto and run with. Ready to join me?

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“The greatest adventure is what lies ahead.” ~ J.R.R. Tolkien

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May the sun set on this year and rise high in the new year!

 

 
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