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Exhale. Inhale.






























Today I heard my writing voice inside my head for the first time in a long time. And I remembered that I exist, separate from my children, the housework, the food I eat and whatever is on my calendar.

We humans dilate in and out, like the iris of our eyes. We contract to protect ourselves from too much intensity, or dilate in the comfort of the dark or the excitement of attraction.


Inhale. Exhale.

I exist.

You exist.


Such things as soft, ripe peaches growing on trees exist. And village parades, and light shining through the laundry, and children who will earnestly and happily collect candy to give to their sister, without eating a single piece.

How is it even possible to forget? Why do we need to go away to come home and see what has been there all along?

It is the season to read Rumi again.

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GAPS or Autoimmune Paleo?

I named this blog The Parent Vortex after the all-encompassing whirlpool nature of parenting, especially those early days when your life is totally and completely turned upside down, with a laser focus on everything to do with your child. It’s hard to see past your own immediate experience in those days, and every little decision looms large.

I’ve been living in The Food Vortex the past few weeks. We started a trial of the GAPS intro diet mid-July. My days have been filled with food prep, meal planning, cooking for multiple dietary requirements and seeking out affordable options for new foods that our family hasn’t been eating in the past, such as grass-fed beef. After about 10 days on GAPS I realized that many of the foods that we had re-introduced were causing reactions – wonderfully nourishing, GAPS-safe foods like eggs and nuts and tomatoes. And then I discovered The Paleo Mom and everything she’s written online about Autoimmune Paleo. Our “failed” attempt at GAPS intro turned into a lightbulb “Ah-ha!” moment: We are dealing with early-stage autoimmune symptoms. 

The joint pain, restless legs, brain fog, headaches – all related to autoimmunity.

The behavioural issues, anxiety, moodiness – maybe we’ve got some GAPS going on too.

Maybe it’s just two sides to the same coin? At least the healing protocols are basically the same: remove all foods that are irritating and damaging the gut, introduce foods that heal and seal the gut, continue for a few months and then slowly and carefully reintroduce foods one at a time to check for tolerance. The only difference is in the precise lists of foods which are considered safe or unsafe.

So that’s where we’re at. It’s been overwhelming at times, to be sure. But we’re hanging in there. And even managing to eat dinner on the beach and go swimming before bed sometimes, eking out a bit of enjoyment from this otherwise extremely distracted summer.




Perfection is an Illusion

shiny shellThere is no perfect.

No perfect mom, no perfect kids.

No perfect job, perfect car, perfect outfit.

No perfect diet, perfect exercise routine, perfect body.

No perfect personality, perfect marriage, perfect friendship.

No perfect environment, perfect government, perfect decision-making process.

There will always be a cabbage moth waiting to eat your kale, a sticky hand waiting to stain your pants, a nasty person trying to force their own way through.

Just when you think you’ve rebuilt your VW engine and got it running perfectly, the transmission will break and it will only run in 1st and 2nd gear.

Just when you think you’ve finally got a handle on your temper, you go and lose it again. Over nothing.

Life is full of dropped stitches, dropped pottery, dropped friendships, dropped opportunities.

Life is change. It is flow and flux and flummox.

It is breaking apart and building up again.

There is no perfect.

Perfection is an illusion.


GAPS, Paleo, Vegetarian, What?

Lots of stuff has been happening in the past few weeks, even though this here lil’ ol’ blog has been as quiet as a ghost town. *cue tumbleweeds drifting past*

Through all the many busy things, however, has been a common thread: diet. I’ve been thinking about our diet, reading about different diets, talking to other people about their diets and trying out some changes to my own diet.

It turns out that food, like parenting, is one of those rabbit holes (vortices!) that you can fall into and never really climb out of. At least not the as same person that you were before. Ever since we went gluten free two+ years ago I’ve been a convert to the “food has a powerful effect on how you feel, mentally and physically” camp. Around the same time we were trying out a gluten free diet, I was reading another blog about a family that was on the GAPS diet, and I thought, “wow, that’s a lot of meat” and “wow, that’s a super restrictive diet”. I didn’t fully understand the reason why someone would choose GAPS, or what it was supposed to do, and even going gluten free felt overwhelmingly difficult. I just put GAPS out of my mind at that time.

Two years on, we’re still discovering food intolerances for Claire and I. None are as severe and dramatic as gluten, but the effects are insidious all the same. Corn, coffee, and processed gluten free bread are definitely out. Milk and soy are on my suspect list. And I’m starting to understand the reason people do GAPS – by taking everything out that may be damaging your gut or leaking through your gut wall and slowly re-introducing it you achieve two things: 1) you know for sure what you react to and what you don’t, and 2) you give your gut time to heal by removing the foods that have been damaging it and eating healing foods instead. Over time, your gut can heal enough for you to be able to eat your trigger foods again.

Because I’m a learn-by-doing sort of person, I spent the last week or so dabbling in GAPS/Paleo. I know the two terms are not interchangable; I just wasn’t strict enough to say I did one or the other.

Ten Things I Learned in a Week of (almost) GAPS/Paleo

1. Grain = Sugar, even whole grains like oatmeal and whole wheat bread

So many people think they’re eating healthy when they choose whole wheat bread instead of white, but the fact is that both hit your blood sugar hard and cause a big insulin spike. Grains, dairy and starchy vegetables like potatoes are all the same as sugar when they reach your digestive system. This piece of information has definitely changed the way I look at those foods.

2. When I’m not eating grain, I’m eating a LOT more eggs.

Like crazy amounts of eggs. Too bad 1/3 of our flock is currently broody and not laying any eggs. If we were to eat like this full time I’d need a much, much bigger flock of hens! But I have discovered many tasty ways to eat eggs, like these Pumpkin muffins, coconut flour pancakes and banana pancakes.

3. I actually like chicken broth.

However, I don’t like the process of cooking meat or cleaning meat off a cooked carcass. Also, since my husband is a dedicated, lifelong vegetarian, cooking meat in our house is a radical act. I’m very grateful for his tolerance and good humour about the whole thing.

4. I learned how to make my own coconut milk.

Trying to find coconut milk without guar gum in it is like the holy grail of GAPS/Paleo cooking. Why does it all have guar gum? And why is there such a variation in quality between the different brands? I got fed up with it all and figured out how to make my own: Soak 1 cup of unsweetened shredded coconut in 2 cups of water for about an hour or so (more is probably good too, I was just impatient), blend at a high speed and then pour it all through a muslin cloth to strain out the fibre. Just like making almond milk! And the fact that it doesn’t have any BPA in it either is a bonus.

5. I feel pretty good without grain, starchy veg, dairy or soy, but my energy levels start to drop after a couple of days.

I haven’t figured this one out yet. Any of you GAPS/Paleo folks are welcome to chime in on the comments if you think you know what’s going on here. I don’t know if I start to feel draggy because I’m detoxing, or because my body isn’t used to shifting into ketosis and burning fat from my diet instead of sugar, or  because I’m not eating enough fat/protien, or because I don’t have the body fat reserves available to dip into when I need them. I couldn’t stick to GAPS because of this, though. I started adding in some rice or potatoes one meal a day and felt way better.

6. I’ve got two kombucha cultures going now.

I’m on a mission to recreate GT Dave’s incredible Synergy Black Chia drink at home for pennies a glass, instead of $5 a bottle at the grocery store. Kombucha is magical stuff, and full of amazing probiotics to help with gut healing.

7. Some fats are good for you, even (especially) saturated fat and cholesterol.

Your brain loves fat. Desperately needs it, in fact. That’s why 55% of the calories in breastmilk come from saturated fat, and eggs are described as “the perfect food”. Adequate fat and protien helps me feel full longer than starchy foods do, and I have fewer mood swings and sugar crashes, especially that desperate pre-dinner crash. Instead of downing a bowl of corn chips and salsa before cooking dinner, now I eat a couple of tablespoons of coconut manna straight from the jar and then start cooking. So much more even keel.

8. Long term overconsumption of sugar (and yes, this includes “healthy” whole grains) increases your risk of degenerative brain diseases like Alzheimers. 

In fact, high sugar (and grain) consumption increases your risk of all kinds of inflammation-based illnesses and autoimmune disorders. I don’t think I can go grain free forever, but reducing my grain and sugar consumption overall is a good thing. Check out Dr. Perlmutter’s book Grain Brain for more info. And check out Chris Kresser’s thoughtful and well-balanced response.

9. The gut and the brain are intimately connected. 

I’d even go so far as to say that your entire body is an extension of your brain. If you’re feeling anxious, depressed, compulsive, having trouble concentrating, having bad headaches, etc – look to your diet. Are you eating enough healthy fats and protien? Do you rely on grains and sugars to get you through the day? Could you be gluten sensitive and not know it? You don’t have to have celiac or autism or gastrointestinal symptoms to be affected negatively by gluten or an unhealthy gut flora on a neurological level. See Gut and Psychology Syndrome by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride for more info.

10. Food is social, and eating differently from everyone else is HARD.

This is true for the kids (one kid is allowed the sugary popsicle, the other kid is not), and for whole families (one person is eating meat, everyone else is not). I don’t want to create more division and differences between us, but I also want to make sure we’re eating things that are going to nourish us, not slowly undermine our health. I also want to honour the fact that food is supposed to taste good and be enjoyable to share together. I’m still figuring this one out – what does healthy eating look like for our family? How can we maximize our common ground in a family where we all have differing requirements and preferences around food?

Spring and early summer is a pretty good time to try going grain/sugar free. We’re in the clear for sugar-based holidays for a while now. The season of abundant fruit and vegetables is just about here, and the bright days and lots of outside time make it easy to get outside and enjoy doing stuff. Just as we crave hot stews and starchy things to keep us warm in the winter, we crave light fruits and vegetables to keep us cool in the summer.

I think there is value in changing up my diet and breaking out of those food ruts we all get into. Both the Ketogenic (Dr. Perlmutter’s suggested diet) and the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (which is what GAPS is based on) were developed as therapeutic diets – diets to be undertaken for a limited time and/or by a limited part of the population to address specific health issues. I suspect that almost completely eliminating carbohydrates or grains is more extreme than is necessary or helpful for most people, but reducing the amount of grains, diary and soy I consume has been an interesting experiment.

Have you tried changing your diet by going gluten free, GAPS or Paleo? Did you learn anything interesting by eating that way?







In the six months that I’ve been actively practising my Non-Violent Communication (NVC) empathy skills, I’ve noticed that there is a certain quality about children that makes them the ideal people to learn how to do NVC with. It’s the very same qualities that make them both so incredibly endearing and so incredibly frustrating to adults: most of the time, they express their feelings immediately and strongly. Before I dig into that a little more deeply though, what do I mean by practicing my NVC empathy skills?


What is NVC Empathy?

NVC empathy is a particular style of active listening in which the listener reflects back what they hear, making guesses about what the other person might be  feeling and what unmet needs those feelings arise from. Anyone who is caring for babies or toddlers in a responsive way will be doing this fairly naturally – whenever a baby cries her caregiver needs to use empathy to make a few feelings and needs guesses: “Oh, you’re upset! Are you uncomfortable because you need a clean diaper?” We have to guess because a baby doesn’t have the language skills to tell us, “Hey Mom, I need a clean diaper!” She uses the language of her body to tell us, and we make guesses based on how she moves and what her facial expressions are like. We probably don’t explicitly recognize that we’re making guesses about a baby’s feelings or needs, but we are. When those needs are met, the baby visibly relaxes and is comforted.

These feelings and needs are somewhat universal – everyone has the need to feel safe, connected with others, cared for, to have their physical needs for shelter, hygiene and food met. As these deep, fundamental needs are met we open to the possibility of meeting higher level needs – to contribute to others, to appreciate beauty in our lives, to become our truest, most highly developed self. The way we choose to meet those needs is individual and personal. I have a copy of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs that’s been living on my fridge for the past few years, a reminder of these fundamental truths: we all share these needs, we must have our basic needs met continually, and most distress comes from not having a basic need met either now or in the past.

Feelings are like warning flags that pop up to let us know whether or not our needs are being met. Feelings also warn us (albeit unconsciously) of times in the past when our needs were not met in similar situations. Learning to tune in, identify and honour those feelings and link them with their associated needs is the work we do when we practice giving empathy to others or to ourselves.

Practising NVC Empathy With Kids

Kids are great for giving us plenty of opportunities to practice NVC Empathy. In general, their feelings are close to the surface, rise up easily and then disappear again soon after receiving empathy. As we grow up we learn to hide, control and cover up our feelings, which makes us easier to be around but makes it harder for us to access and process those feelings.

Before I started studying NVC, I would try to figure out what my kids were feeling or needing when they got upset or started acting out, but I did a fair bit of that figuring out inside my head. Now I do a lot more of that out loud, both so that my kids know that I see that they’re upset and I’m paying attention to that, but also because feeling and needs guesses are just that: guesses.

No matter how intuitive I think I am, I’m not going to get it right all of the time. I need to put those guesses out there and let my kids or whoever else I’m listening to evaluate them: Am I sad? Do I really need to contribute or do I mostly need autonomy right now? I can tell when I’ve gotten a needs guess right because my child’s whole body relaxes, just like it did when she was a milk-drunk newborn falling asleep at the breast.


NVC Empathy and Gentle Discipline

As my kids grow up my approach to gentle discipline evolves, and NVC empathy is one of my main discipline tools at the moment. It works because most of the time, a kid is misbehaving because they are upset about an unmet need. Recognizing that need and gently holding the feelings that arise from the unmet need goes a long, long way towards resolving things, especially when the child is involved in evaluating the feelings and needs guesses I’m making. I also talk about strategies, which are different ways to meet a particular need, and I also help my kids guess what someone else might have been feeling or needing if we’ve witnessed someone else being really upset.

NVC empathy also helps me get a handle on my own feelings and needs, which are usually the main obstacle to me parenting in the way I want to. In all honesty, this is probably the biggest way that empathy helps me parent. When I can recognize and have empathy for my own emotional reactions I have a much better chance of being able to stand back and make a conscious choice about how I want to respond to a given situation.

More Resources on NVC Empathy

Non-Violent Communication – Marshall Rosenberg

The Whole Brain Child – Daniel Siegel

Non-Violent Communication – wikipedia

Feelings inventory – The Centre for Non Violent Communication

Needs inventory – The Centre for Non Violent Communication



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