Tuesday, July 15, 2014


I believe this universe is entirely connected and that nothing stands alone.  That our universe is filled with interdependent and interwoven elements, whether you are talking about people, animals, bacteria, a phone call at just the right moment, natural systems in a forest, or the ecosystem I call my body.

Just like diamonds... by Wayne Dixon
found at: http://www.photographyblogger.net/12-beautiful-spider-web-photos/

Most of us do not spend much, if any, time contemplating these connections.  Is it the inherent complexities of an interwoven universe and we just don't want to think that hard?  Is it our busy lives that leave us with little time to contemplate anything?  What do we miss if we are not in the habit of observing the interwoven nature of our systems, bodies, and universe?  Do we frequently ignore the big, interconnected picture and overlook important/meaningful connections?  When we do notice them, do we pass them off as coincidence or chance?

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” - John Muir
This past week we had a visitor at our farm.  Austin, the lead researcher from last summer's study of diet and autism, stopped by to give me an overview of the study's empirical results and his progress in writing it up for publication.  As we were talking about food and autism and kiddos I told him my thought evolution to where I now see everything as connected...  the soil microbes, the gut microbes, the health of our soils to the health of our foods, the cleanliness of the water to the health of the people and animals.  It is ALL connected.  Talk about a "duh" moment -- how did it take me so long to get here?

He said he sees that same interconnected web.  We talked about how one of the challenges in our study was the interconnectedness of the family unit, the food culture in a family, the complicated ecosystem called a child, etc..  To best study a complex system our study design is best described as a "food challenge."  To best ensure we were proving true cause and effect between the food changes and a child's behavior we tracked the old diet for two weeks, implemented a new diet for awhile, reverted to the old diet, and then came back to the diet being tested.  Data collection took place during each phase.

So that is what the design looked like.  It was crazy and intense.  As a mom who did SCD/GAPS/Low Oxalate without someone else buying and preparing the food I thought it was going to be pretty smooth for the families.  But it was a massive shift and as much as you may warn someone how hard it will be there is no substitution for experiencing it first hand.  It was hard.  Really, really hard.

One key piece in the study's support structure turned out to be missing from our design, so the families contracted with a local ABA therapist who helped with food training.  We went from, "It is unreasonable to expect my child to eat broccoli," to, "He loves almost everything."  The transition, once she was involved, went quickly.  Major kudos to her and the next study will include her role in the study design from day one, it was that critical to our success.  If you don't get the kiddo to eat the food it is difficult to study dietary intervention!

During the pilot study we accommodated issues and learned quickly what worked and didn't work.  There were highs and lows throughout the study, as would be expected.  One of the early high-five moments was when both participants discontinued using MiraLAX after the first couple of weeks on a new diet.  Both of them had been on it for awhile so this was a wonderful change for each of them.  It wasn't just chance, of course, and the kiddo who completed the food challenge portion of the study got right back to his former constipated self during the food challenge.  Food does matter...

Note:  The removal of MiraLAX from both children's daily routine was major in my book...  Why?  Read this article for the ugly downsides of this drug.

Getting back to the interconnected nature of it all, other improvements were documented throughout the study because what you eat does not impact just one part of your body.  The participant who completed the full study had a measurable decrease in difficult behaviors (tantrums, elopement, and attention).  Additionally, this participant was able to discontinue another major pharmaceutical drug after just a couple of days on the new foods.  The participant's parents also reported an increase in communication and notably in the ability to communicate specific needs unprompted.  Unfortunately the videotaping did not corroborate this reported improvement (note to self:  kids sometimes act funny with a stranger + video camera in the house so we need a less intrusive measurement tool...  with less intrusive methods we can hopefully identify if it was a design flaw which caused the uncorroborated report from the parents).

Now What???

So now I get it.  I really, really, really get it.  Our two and a half years on the SCD/GAPS/LOD healing diet was very challenging, particularly emotionally.  Who knew that food was so heavily indoctrinated into our culture that changing your foods would change your relationships with friends and family?  Many moms know this only after making extreme changes...  But I would not trade what I learned for anything, particularly because it worked!

Today we enjoy starches, sugars, and grains in moderation and everyone is doing well.  I am very picky about which grains we eat and how things are prepared, but life looks more the way it looked before we did our healing diet.  With one major change -- our food is WAY more healthful than it ever was before and we plan to keep it that way.

So we will continue working with the research community to prove what a bunch of Mamas already know...  On the one hand it seems silly to spend time on it, but published, peer reviewed research is the requirement for most in the medical community before they will "prescribe" dietary intervention.  So we play the game in the hopes that we can somehow systematize a solution for families in need of solutions.

I hope to one day hear from friends in the area that the majority of doctors are addressing a variety of issues not with Big Pharma symptom management but instead with commonsense "eat what your grandparents ate" solutions.  Some extreme cases, like autism, may take more intense dietary intervention.  But surely many chronic ailments would be lessened just by reducing the yoga mat ingredient intake in the Standard American Diet (SAD).  Okay, I may be picking on yoga mats but you catch my drift.

Finally, we will also continue to evolve as a family.  If everything is interconnected, and if we now understand that our foods impact our health and that the water/soil determine the healthfulness of our foods...  next stop:  FARMING!  Now that we own a farm we are half-way there!  Okay, maybe just 5% of the way there...  the one thing we have learned about farming so far is there is always a LOT to be done and not enough time to do it all.  But we love the farmers who healed us and we look forward to being the farmers that build community and are involved in healing the next set of children.


Saturday, June 21, 2014

Adjusting Sails

Hello!  I feel I should start with some apologies...  It has been a very, very long time since I posted because I've not had the right words to move forward from my heartfelt blog posting on Valentine's Day, 2013.  Plenty of major life changes have occurred in the meantime, some good news and some bad news.  This morning a beautiful quote came across my Facebook feed and gifted me the words and context I needed to sit down at the keyboard.

Facebook posting by "A Mighty Girl"

Why the hiatus for such a chatty person?

A few days after my "Love Offering" post last year our "perfect property" went to a second, last minute buyer.  The sellers sent me on a wild good chase for a day running around town to get signatures on documents that should not matter "before the seller could sign our offer" and then...  BAM!  

The property was already toward the top of our price range and with the improvements necessary it was not a reasonable decision to get into a bidding war.  So...  this is how life goes sometimes and sometimes your heart breaks.  Shatters, really.  

But if it's not meant to be, what choice is there other than to pick yourself up off the floor and move on.  This was not my first heartbreak, but sometimes picking up the pieces is easier than other times.  This time it felt very, very difficult because it felt like I was going in the "right" direction only to have it all vaporize right before my eyes.  The girls were crying, I was crying, my husband was even upset (he is usually our rock).  It took weeks to even open the MLS page again except to stare at the listing we had tried to buy.  Devastating is how it felt.

On top of the disappointment, there was something about turning forty not knowing where we were going to live that was throwing me WAY off balance.  It was digging at my self-perception as someone who generally has a sense of direction and purpose.

And Then...

About ten days before my 40th birthday a new MLS listing appeared...  Small land (12 acres vs the 218 acres we said goodbye to in February).  Even smaller log cabin.  Not at all what we were looking for, even as we had adjusted our MLS search after the "great loss of 2013"...

But there was a creek and a pond, it was staged beautifully, the price was comfortable no matter what we decided to do long-term, and there was an open house exactly a week before my birthday.  Perhaps my proverbial clock had finally started ticking (my clock never did tick regarding "needing" to have kids or "needing" to get married) but I NEEDED to go look at this place.  It felt right for the next step and like it was calling my name.  Andrew was not so sure, but since a drive in the country was one of our favorite things to do anyway he agreed to load the girls into the car and go look at the house.

When my little one spread her arms widely and "airplaned" down to the dock on the pond I looked at my husband and said, "I think we should do this.  I think we would be happy here."  

He replied, "But is it fun?  We need some fun in our lives."

So here we are...  and it IS fun, very fun...  Not that there wasn't a lot of effort required to even get to this sweet little place -- the summer of mold remediation + structural issues on the cabin (discovered during inspection) made us have to really WANT to live here and be willing to undertake it all.  Kind of like a test of our loyalty to this new location.  

During that same timeframe of the "great loss of 2013" through the end of the summer I also assisted in a formal study to replicate the dietary intervention we did with Z in an academic setting.  There were two local boys with autism diagnosis and researchers from a variety of institutions led by a professor with a PhD in special education and research interest in dietary intervention and autism.  The memories from last spring / summer are all hazy as there was so much going on and for me to coordinate, and at times it felt like it all moved at the speed of light.  The times I remember best from that time were the slow, lazy, off-grid play dates with friends we spent out at the farm as the construction guys worked to get the house back in order.  Who needs a house for a play date?  We had shade trees, a swing set, a zip line, and a pond.

So that was the Good...  Then Came the Bad and the Ugly...

Life would have seemed to be on a path toward bliss, but all through this time my mother-in-law (of Beach Cakes posting fame) was in the end stages of cancer so there was a certain "toned down quality" to the joy we should have been experiencing.  Waiting for the second shoe to drop, so to speak.  Cue the dark music...

At the end of September / beginning of October we had the craziest eight days of our lives.  On September 30th we lost my mother-in-law after a very long battle with cancer.  Four days later we interred her in the most beautiful cemetery with a great view of the James River in the morning and in the afternoon we moved to our new farmlet.  Four days after that my husband's company eliminated his position in another corporate reorganization.  

Talk about some ups and downs in a week!!!  We easily made the determination to accept a severance package rather than move to operations in Texas.  The Texas location sounded great and by all reports the business culture was great.  Since we had JUST arrived at our R&R farmlet it seemed antithetical to the fun we were trying to incubate to consider moving somewhere with family / friends / support network.  We zombie walked our way through a couple of months after the "Crazy 8" and then I lost two of my three remaining grandparents in a rough couple of weeks in January.  As a friend told me, "Man, the universe must think you've got some strong shoulders."  

It was tough, stressful, and I'd be lying if I said it didn't take a toll on our spirits and my waistline (stress weight is not so pretty).  But we made it through the long, cold winter like the new pioneer settlers we were pretending to be and by May we took a ten day trip without the children (thanks Mom and Dad!!!) to celebrate our 15th anniversary at a farm conference an hour north of Winnipeg, Manitoba (Canada).  Ahhhhh...  the funny twists and turns life can take.  File this one under "decidedly cold climate places I never expected to be for a fifteenth anniversary."

The Next Stage???

So now, after months and months (years?) of feeling like a blind person tapping my way down an unfamiliar street, listening hard for hints of what is to come and attempting to navigate unseen obstacles, here we are.  We are blissfully living outdoors much more than we have previously in our adult lives in a place that is perfect for us as a family right now.  Because we didn't get the big land at the top of our price range (that needed major additional investment $$ as well), life looks very sustainable for us even while we are spend more time as a family (i.e. not working) than before.  My consulting keeps me just busy enough and Andrew has been very busy with building farm infrastructure.  Our land has not been farmed before so we are starting from scratch which is a great thing (no worry about soil remediation from chemical or sewage sludge activities) and a bit of a drawback (no barn, no chicken coop, no amended fields ready for planting).

At this point we have no idea what the long-term future holds nor do we know which direction we are heading (personally or professionally).  This is very weird for two A students that obtained CPAs out of college and used to have good corporate careers.  Transition is too neutral a word for what it feels like, unless you think of the word transition as it relates to labor.  That feels just about right.  But on a good day it almost feels like we are floating in a sensory deprivation tank and acclimating to the idea that less is more.  Much more.

The study went very well and the head researcher plans to target the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders which he describes as the top autism journal with a circulation including the fields of medicine, epidemiology, psychology, education, and more.  Our study is a pilot study (only two boys) and they have an article type called "brief report" that will match the context of our small scale, first "go round" of studying dietary intervention and autism.

My software consulting work is fun even when it's stressful, and working on the screened porch listening to my kids play in the pond is about the best work situation I can imagine.  Andrew enjoys the new challenges our new life provides on a daily basis along with the growing menagerie of animals (he is an animal lover and the five hens, goose, and twelve ducklings are loving that about him).

Sepp Holzer and Farmer Kirsten
(with translators, excavator operators, and Perma Vitae personnel)
Photo by Billy Lobban
We are learning as we go and the farm conference we attended in May was as inspiring a week as I have had in my adult life.  

Rock star permaculture farmer Sepp Holzer did a nice job articulating his vision for healing land around the world.  He said it in a way that made the light bulb click on for me...  Healing the land is the next step after you heal your child.  We are all connected and it's not just to the other people and the animals.  It is the bacteria, the fungi, the soil, everything.  Good food and healthy bodies needs good land and water.  

The other conference participants were so warm, interesting, and well-read it made for a great take-away: a reading list of books I *must* read as soon as possible.  

The farmer who made it all possible, Kirsten at Prairie Heritage Farm, was incredibly visionary and gracious to open her personal space to the rest of us for a week of education that can really only be had "in the field."  Besides her wonderful vision for creating the space for education and community building she also made sure the conference had a visual record keeper, Billy Lobban.  His blog is a fun bit of eye candy and his June posts have some great pictures of the conference in action.  I think he must have shot thousands of pictures so I'm sure it will take him awhile to tell the rest of the story of the eight day conference!

Inspiration and Gratitude

So here we sit.  Inspired and grateful.  Wounds licked and healed, learning how to smile and relax again.  It really is a skill to relearn after you have spent years stressed, frazzled, and about to break.

Z finished her kindergarden year and is reading very, very well.  This was once my biggest "yard stick" item for her recovery, along with making friends and playing with other children.  She has surpassed my greatest hopes for those goals by the end of her kindergarden year and there are times I want to cry from sheer joy and happiness, considering it took her almost three full years to learn the alphabet.  We have wonderful things on the homeschool horizon next year that will hopefully include her phenomenal Montessori teacher who has helped and guided her classroom learning the past four years.

We have lots to plan and do here at the farmlet to create the space for other families healing their children.  We are also inspired to work on healing our bit of paradise and ensuring it is a self-sustaining and soil building bit of agriculture.  We are talking with Sepp Holzer and Perma Vitae (his trusty side kicks) about a farm workshop here in Powhatan, VA this fall.  As you may guess, when we go in, we go ALL IN.

So many great directions to run in and the inspiration energizes us.  We are grateful for the beautiful and bountiful opportunities before us and that we are where we are doing what we are doing.  Ultimately, our active living these past few years and the years to come are about the major gifts we seek to give our children:  to know what community really means, to show them that giving deeply of yourself is the most honorable human action, to provide the gift of health and healing, and to keep their natural curiosity of the people and world around them.

In our opinions as parents, these are the richest inheritances available and true wealth is measured by the people in your lives and the activities you spend your days doing.