Apple Cider Vinegar

I first learned about apple cider vinegar and its’ benefits a couple of years ago after having an allergic reaction to a bee sting. Sounds confusing, right? After the sting, my arm swelled up so I ended up going to the ER. After refusing the steroid treatment, they suggested a stronger combo of benadryl than I had been using and pepcid. I questioned the combo especially since pepcid is known as a an antacid. Apparently pepcid is also a histamine blocker and it works on different histamines than benadryl. I didn’t really understand the science but since I didn’t want to take the steroids and I needed to do something, I figured it was a better option. The drug combo made me tired but it worked on the swelling almost immediately. A side effect of the pepcid was that I got heartburn. How did I get heartburn from an antacid you wonder? My Chiropractor friend explained that the pepcid stopped my natural stomach acid so my body responded by producing more. He suggested taking a shot of apple cider vinegar to help. Wow! It worked almost instantly. It is now my “medicine” of choice for heartburn.

I heard more about the vinegar when I saw a recipe for coughs which include 1 tablespoon each of raw honey, fresh lemon juice and raw apple cider vinegar. RAW apple cider vinegar? I had no idea what that even meant. At the time I was making homemade raw sauerkraut and reading a lot about fermented foods so it wasn’t much of a stretch when I learned the raw vinegar is just not heated or pasteurized so it has beneficial probiotics in it naturally.  I am all about natural and probiotics. I found a recipe online and made my first batch. The downside is that it takes 3 plus months in the beginning. The plus side is you just need apple scraps, sugar and water. That time goes fast and once you have made your own, you will never want the processed vinegar again.

The first batch I made called for cutting up pieces of apple including the core and then making a simple syrup. I use raw sugar and make a one to one ratio for the syrup. One cup of boiling water to one cup of syrup. I use a quart mason jar and fill it with apple pieces. I have used scraps from pie making, whole fresh apples, and apples that are starting to go past their prime, that my kids don’t really want to eat. My son’s teacher used cider making scraps. Pour the cooled syrup over the the apples and fill the jar with filtered water. You need the sugar to aid in the fermenting. The fermenting process needs air to aid it so I use a coffee filter held in place with the jar lid. You can use cheesecloth, a thin paper towel and a rubber band to hold it in place. You want to keep bugs out but let the air in.

Keep the apples in a cool dark place that will get good air flow and check on them regularly. At first I kept my apples in a kitchen cabinet, but now I have a pantry so I keep them in there. The first batch I made, I checked ever day constantly pushing the apples below the liquid to prevent mold. Now, I tend to neglect them for days sometimes and it is fine. After about two weeks, strain the liquid, dispose of the apples and return the vinegar to the jar. You have the beginnings of vinegar and now all you need is time.

Check the vinegar regularly. Again, with my first batch I did it daily, now I do it weekly. Stir the vinegar to help the air flow. You can start tasting it after a couple of months and it is “done” when you are happy with the flavor. You can then put your vinegar in an air tight container. It will continue to age but at a slower process since it isn’t exposed to the air. Now every time I make the vinegar I add a little of my previous batch to the apples as it helps them ferment faster. My current batch even has a good sized “mother” which is similar to a scoby used for kombuchu tea.

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You can use any kind of apples you like and you can even mix and match them. It will change the flavor slightly of your vinegar. Apple cider vinegar has been touted for everything from stomach problems, to reducing inflammation, to aiding in wait loss, to helping with preventing illness and more. Good luck and happy fermenting!

The Drive

After our moving day, we had a restless night in a Sprinhill Suites. The children slept ok, but Matt and I had trouble shutting off our minds even though we were physically exhausted. We got up the next morning to begin the better part of our ten hour drive.

In the future, I will try not to begin a move halfway across the country on the morning of a winter storm which brings us through Pittsburgh the day of a post-season Steelers vs. Ravens game. Icy rain was our companion for a good part of the morning. I70 was closed due to trucks de-icing and spreading sand on the road. There was also a three car pile up. Seeing a minivan fully loaded with belongings, missing doors and hauled on a flatbed gave me pause. That could easily have been us.

Despite the poor driving conditions, the ice made for a pretty backdrop to our drive. The trees and grass were glistening and the freezing rain made the otherwise brown vegetation a pretty mauve color. The soundtrack of the 80’s helped keep me awake and alert as the highway passed me by.

We took our time and made it as far as Toldeo, OH (Maumee, really) on the second night. The traffic, weather, and loaded vehicles did not make for an easy drive. We checked in to another Marriott property and headed to the Outback just through the parking lot. It was the only restaurant that did not require driving. We waited for quite a while on “date night” but enjoyed our dinner.

We found a better position for Goldie on this leg of the trip. Buffered by a prized bottle of homemade smokey jalapeño sauce, the bowl didn’t leak at all. Goldie even got to see the inside of several rest areas due to the frigid temperatures in the parked car.

Back at the hotel after dinner, the kids swam with a bunch of other kids staying in town for a hockey tournament. The exercise was great after being cramped in the cars all day. I thought I would sleep better the second night, but my mind was still whirring. I ended up in the small roll away and got a few hours of sleep in the wee hours.

We were all excited to be on our way Sunday and made it to Michigan in good time. Unfortunately my GPS took us on the scenic narrow route to our rental home and my van and lapsed winter driving skills did not quite make it up the narrow winding hilly road. Thank goodness for a good friend with a Ram truck and a tow rope.

We finally and happily made it to our new temporary home. The setting on the lake is lovely and the house is cozy and warm. Even both of our cars have a space inside the garage. We are adjusting to cold and snowy weather, but are happy to be among old friends.

The moving truck is due tomorrow and because of the narrow road, adjustments were made for a shuttle truck rather than the semi. The boys begin school and all three will be in full-time Spanish Immersion. We have enjoyed “camping out” on air mattresses but are all excited to get furniture and belongings tomorrow. We will also get to reclaim out dog who has been living at friends since Thanksgiving.

Henry has plans to move back to Maryland soon and he surely speaks for us all when he says he misses our old life and house and friends. Change isn’t easy but we are all doing well with the challenge.

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Moving Day

This has been a particularly emotional week. We said goodbye to our home for the last twelve years. The first home my husband and I bought together, the home we brought our three babies home to, where we got our first dog, and made more memories than I can begin to count.

We are all excited for our new adventure in a new state and are looking forward to more family time, but the goodbye was hard. We are sad to say goodbye to great neighbors, wonderful friends and the community we have built around this brick, mortar and wood building.

Moving day came after Christmas, packing the 3000 plus square foot home, New Year’s and too many goodbyes to count. The kids have been stoic but slightly edgy and so have the parents. Many tears have been shed and even more pushed back.

I am grateful for all the hugs and the friends who won’t be forgotten. Michigan isn’t so far away and we will visit MD and the MidAtlantic again. DC is the birthplace of our children and America’s hometown. It truly is ours, but for now we are headed back to our Midwestern roots.

Today started out rocky when the moving truck didn’t quite clear a wire to our house. Luckily PEPCO quickly determined that it wasn’t electric or live but probably an abandoned (pre-FIOS) telephone wire. After problems with the heat this week at both our MD home and MI rental, this could have been the final straw, but we pushed on. The kids saw their good friends one last time today while the movers worked. We were on our way after about 8 hours of hard physical and emotional work.

We are loaded down with belongings in two cars and the kids are complaining of overcrowding. The betta fish is sloshing in his bowl but we will push on tomorrow. Tonight we are barely 1 1/2 hours away in a hotel for the night, but we are on our way, together moving to his next step. Tomorrow we move forward. Thanks to all of you who have been with us so far and who will continue to be in our hearts and lives.

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Rest In Peace

My brother died last week after a lengthy battle with pancreatic cancer and we buried him yesterday. He lived for more than two years after his diagnosis. He survived surgery to remove he original mass, a complicated procedure that rerouted some of his inside parts. He also survived radiation and chemotherapy. Pancreatic cancer is a death sentence for almost all who are diagnosed. It is just a matter of time and the will to survive. Bob’s will was strong. He hoped for a miracle and it appeared that he did not believe he would die. Bob never seemed to outgrow that adolescent belief in immortality. He was also afraid to die up to the very end. Pain was what finally overrode both.

Bob had always been a survivor. In his early twenties he was diagnosed with schizophrenia. I don’t think anyone really knows when Bob began hearing voices, but I think most who knew him would admit that his struggles started early in life. He did not have a lot of friends, school was difficult even though he was intelligent and he never really seemed to fit in. He was often told he was lazy. He slept a lot and enjoyed video games before they were really popular. I remember him playing pinball, PacMan and other old school video games. I believe these were probably escapism from his voices and his problems. Later in life, he would use drugs and alcohol to quiet the demons. He served in the Army and got out just when the schizophrenia was beginning to strongly manifest itself.

I remember a time when a Bob liked to read books, take walks through A neighboring cornfield to visit the grotto, go to the park or play in the creek. He liked to make plans for his future family and the farm he was going to have. He liked to go swimming and ride the bike he earned from his paper route. Bob’s future was very different from the one he planned. But, who believes that they are going to grow up and suffer from mental illness and die at the age of 48 in a nursing home?

There are some who saw his struggles and judged Bob’s life. He was a hermit for many years who did not like to be in public because of the voices. He took his medication sporadically or not at all. Family members stopped visiting because of his living conditions and inability to interact socially. He received few phone calls because he often said strange things and made little sense. He was alone even though he did not live alone and he had an extensive family. There are also some who judge the way Bob was treated by that family.

The truth is, we did the best that we knew how. None of us could fix his problems especially if he could not or would not take his medicine. He was technically an adult even if he was not in a position to support himself. In his final two years, he lived in a nursing home where he received his medication regularly. The medication helped but did not completely resolve his symptoms. Bob saw each of his 12 siblings at some point during his last two years. Due to proximity and circumstances he saw some more than others. There have been judgements about that as well. My sister told me years ago as our grandfather was dying that you can’t judge other peoples’ grieving processes. At the time I am not really sure I really understood even though I tried to take her advice. I do understand now. My adult relationship with Bob was tenuous and fragile, but we grew up together. Our paths took very different turns, we made different choices and were dealt different cards, but our early lives were similar.

I was close to Bob when we were very young but by early adolescence our lives were changing. I tried at times to write and call and visit, but we never regained that childhood bond. I could not put myself in his shoes and Bob could not put the needed work into any relationship. I saw my brother just three times in his last two years, but ten years ago, I thought I would never see him again. I am sorry for all the pain and suffering that Bob endured in his life. It seems unfair that one person has to go through so much, but I truly believe there is a reason for everything. Whether you believe in God, Karma or something else, there has to be a larger purpose for everything that happens. We may never fully understand the bigger picture, but we have free will to make choices along the way and we carve out the lives that are meant for us.

Bob’s dying just like his living was somewhat complicated and messy. I am grateful that his final illness brought him back to us even if those bonds were loose. I may not always see my family or speak to them often, but, I know they are there and will do whatever they can to help me. I only need to ask. We each showed our love and affection to Bob the best we could. In the end I think he knew peace and the love and forgiveness of his family. I know he is now free from pain and struggle and I take comfort in that.

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Thanks to another Pinner, I have dinner

Aside

I have been using Pinterest for a couple of years now. At first I didn’t really know how to use it or what it was. There was a lot of buzz about it and I would see things my Facebook friends had “pinned”. I joined but still didn’t really use it much.

Now, I do spend a few minutes once or twice a week going through my favorite categories which are food (any kind), health and fitness and organizational tips. I have gotten many new recipes to try and last night I made a variation of one that I first saw on Pinterest a year or so ago. That is cheese steak stuffed peppers. I love cheese steaks having lived in Philadelphia for ten years and I like stuffed peppers too. This recipe is a big hit with my husband, but I usually just give my kids a roll to have their cheese steaks in because up to this point they haven’t cared for stuffed peppers. Last night, my eight year old asked if he could have a pepper too when he saw what they looked like!

I got thin sliced steak at Trader Joe’s and fried it in my cast iron skillet with some sliced onion, olive oil and salt and pepper. Once it was cooked, I cut the tops off some green peppers and de-seeded them. I lined the bottoms of the peppers with a slice of provolone and added three ounces of he steak and onion mix. The peppers weren’t full and I was wishing that I had some quinoa cooked to fill the peppers. Instead I finely chopped some cauliflower and filled them with it. I added about 2 tablespoons of shredded cheese and put the tops back on. I baked it in the oven at 350 for about twenty minutes. The peppers were really good, but I probably should have cooked them for about ten minutes longer so the the cauliflower and peppers were not quite so crunchy.

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I will continue to search Pinterest to find more recipes and ideas about what to make for dinner.

A New Year

Happy New Year!

The holidays have come and gone and as I suspected I was busy with Christmas shopping, entertaining, holiday programs, volunteering at school and all the usual year end activities. The last six weeks have passed in a flurry Christmas preparations followed by days off from school for vacation and winter weather.

I did continue to exercise in December and felt good about where I ended the year. I know that I have not blogged for several weeks about my road to fitness but I managed to walk, run or bike a few times every week. The holiday season is always a problem with unhealthy habits, but I didn’t stress about it too much which I believe made a big difference in the outcome.

I enjoyed my time with my family and the sights and sounds of the season. It is so easy to get caught up in the stresses, but my children really love Christmas and it is contagious. We love the songs, the decorations and the holiday baking. We all stayed up past midnight to ring in the New Year and talked about goals we want to accomplish in 2014.

It seems appropriate to take time today the twelfth day after Christmas to get back on track with my blog and begin to work toward some of my goals. I am settling back into my routines and also challenging myself to be a better version of myself this year and in the future.

Happy New Year to you all and thank you for taking the time to read my words.

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Back to Basics

Day 1 – I realized over the weekend that I was almost 130 miles away from my goal of doubling my 2012 bike mileage so this morning after the school drop off, I rode my bike on my trainer to close the gap. I rode 12 miles and did it pretty easily even though I have not ridden my bike in weeks. Apparently it is just like riding a bike as long as you are doing some form of cardio.

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After the ride, Jack and I went on our hiking trail. It was a nice day and we encountered a few others with the same idea. On our way to the woods, I ran the quarter mile down hill and also did some running along the trail. At one point in the not too distant past, it was all I could do just to hike down and back up the trail so I really have made progress.  I spent some time thinking about my friend’s mom and the one year anniversary of my brother’s death which is coming up this week. Walking always centers me and brings my spirituality to the surface.
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Day 2 – I took the boys to school and made a quick trip to my favorite grocery store, Trader Joe’s. Matt was working from home so we could go to the funeral later in the morning. Since we were going to be gone a long time that day, I made the decision to take Jack for a walk in the woods before getting ready. I also made the decision on this walk to focus on my bike and these long walks for a bit, since getting any exercise at all during this season is difficult for me. I have never been diagnosed but I suspect that I suffer from some form of seasonal depression. I am more likely get out and do things that I really love. I will continue to do some running, but it is much easier to get on my bike in the house during the cold weather than go out for a run that I am still struggling with. I have not quit running and still plan to do it, but I will walk and bike regularly through the cold dark days.
Day 3 – I volunteered in the kindergarten class today and went my my quarterly hair cut. When I got home, I took Jack for a short walk.
Day 4 – This  morning I met up with a friend and that headed home for a walk in the woods before getting the boys.
Day 5 – Even though my twelve miles of riding earlier in the week was pretty effortless, I did pay for the lack of biking with a sore rear for a few days. Today I got back on my bike and rode another twelve miles. I will make it to my goal by the end of the year. After today’s ride, I have 102 miles to go.
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After the ride, Jack and I did our hike. The walk in the woods that I regularly do, used to take nearly an hour one way several years ago and has since been cut in half. It is a true measure of my fitness progress over the years. I still have a long way to go, but I have come a long way. I have made it a habit not to try to get the closest parking spaces. Instead, I park farther away from entrances to avoid the crowd of traffic and to get a longer walk in.
Day 6  and Day 7 – We had a busy weekend filled with activities for the kids and get-togethers with friends so I did not get any formal workouts in. I did some laundry and cleaning which counts as activity in my book. I also ran some errands which I typically avoid on a weekend. I had planned to do a hike by put the cold weather was a deterrent.  I am doing well staying away from holiday treats so we will see how the year ends up.
Happy Thanksgiving to you all! I have much to be thankful for and hope that you do as well.
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