I Believe in Hope

When did hope lose its meaning? When did it go from hanging out with its support team of faith and love to being in the wrong crowd with fat chance and cold day in hell? When did people stop believing in hope?

As a child I was frequently told “don’t get your hopes up.” But I wasn’t the only one and it’s still happening today. As a society we are constantly told and sold the belief system of “muddling through” and “just getting by” from the pharmaceuticals that offer more side effects than relief from symptoms, without hope for a cure, to lottery tickets with impossible odds to the nightly news spewing crime and violence as headlines.

Hope needs an intervention. We need a conversation with hope to remind it and ourselves of its true nature. That real hope and belief in miracles is possible. Not the watered-down pie-in-the-sky hope of “good luck with that”, “let’s not get our hopes up,” because “there’s a slim chance” of a cure, or winning, or even survival. Are we so afraid of disappointment that we no longer believe in hope?

“I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge. That myth is more potent than history. That dreams are more powerful than facts. That hope always triumphs over experience. That laughter is the only cure for grief. And I believe that love is stronger than death.” ― Robert Fulghum

I left the highly supportive world of autism support groups in 2010 when our family moved to Minnesota. Finding that the local group in our new town had recently disbanded and that my son, with the healing power of real nourishing food, no longer needed an I.E.P. (ticket to special education) for autistic traits he no longer possessed, I felt no void, until recently.

The lead character in my children’s books is a marmot. The books are our stories ON (Moby’s First Day of Kindergarten is about autism acceptance and peer advocacy) and OFF (Moby’s First Day of Summer Vacation is about the healing power of food) the autism spectrum. So I reached out to see if I could set up a table at a local autism awareness event to share information about my books and my upcoming community education gut-healing cooking classes. Healing the digestive system is effective treatment for autism and other mental and physical illnesses and conditions. Real food is not snake oil hope, it works. Given real nourishing food, our bodies know how to heal. That’s real hope to get families out of the muddling through world of therapies and accommodations into freedom of possibilities. Don’t get me wrong, the work done by therapists, social workers, and support staff is necessary and helpful while the body heals. My first book is all about using the tools and tips from these helping professions.

At this autism awareness event under a local park pavilion, I was one of three informational tables all in a row – one table manned by a representative from the state autism society, another one by a local occupational therapist, and then my table. This first time event was well attended. Interestingly, many people gave my table a wide berth on the way to visit the other two tables. It’s not like I even brought my signature Avocado Chocolate Pudding (although maybe I should have), I was just standing there with my books, stuffed animals, and pamphlets. 11056554_10204988563614764_5701123969913562814_n A handful of hopeful people did approach my table interested in my knowledge and experience, but it wasn’t many, which got me thinking. I left the autism community and nothing has changed. “The Experts” upon diagnosis delivery still fail to mention effective dietary intervention to parents just like back in 2004 when we were told “there is no cure for autism” only a daily professionally directed and often medicated navigation through meltdowns and odd behaviors.

Toward the end of the event, I inquired with the very kind representative from the state autism organization on how I could submit a presentation proposal for the state autism convention. She gladly filled me in on the submission process, and then cautioned that I could not mention healing or cure. Funny how it’s acceptable to cruelly proclaim a lack of a cure, but not a cure. As a Certified GAPS™ Practitioner, I claim that gut-healing real nourishing food offers effective treatment for autism. The state autism representative agreed that the wording of “effective treatment” is acceptable. Consider this, treatment is okay because it doesn’t get people’s hopes up too high, but a cure for and healing of autism is irresponsible. We were given no hope for our son’s future. We proved them wrong, my son is no longer on the autism spectrum and his future IS FULL OF HOPE.

Since my discussion that day, I was hit with yet another hope deluding recommendation to limit my verbiage, which makes me dig in my hopeful heels even deeper. A fellow business group companion cautioned that I should not even use the words “effective treatment”, but rather “may alleviate symptoms” would be easier for people to swallow. But I like feeding people real nourishing spoonfuls of hope and will continue to do so. I believe in the power of hope.


“Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all.”
― Emily Dickinson


Miss Compassionality

Miss Idaho’s visible insulin pump undeniably promotes diabetes awareness and acceptance as illustrated in NPR’s article, “Hey, Miss Idaho, Is That An Insulin Pump On Your Bikini?” Good for Sierra Sandison (Miss Idaho) and the minds she will open and the others she will encourage by her act of courage to show her medical device, her difference in this world, her challenge to champion. We need awareness and acceptance because we belong to each other.

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” – Mother Teresa

My first children’s book, Moby’s First Day of Kindergarten, is about autism acceptance and awareness. Sharing a hand-flapping, headphone-wearing, eye-contact avoiding cute furry marmot named Moby with children and adults is easy. Awareness and acceptance is easily accepted and applauded.

“When the first day of kindergarten was finished, Sunny said, “Goodbye, Moby.”
Moby quickly tucked his head down and did not say goodbye. Sunny knew nothing was wrong with Moby. She knew it was okay for him not to say goodbye. She knew he was a marmot just like her. She knew she had a treasured friend.” – Aileen Swenson, illustration by Christian Marie McGowan

I love the message of my first book inspired by the heartbreaking and isolating all-too-real events of being “kicked out” of a library storytime, a health food store, and a church and my son being severely bullied, all by unaware and unaccepting hearts and minds of people that did not understand autism.

“Understanding is the first step to acceptance, and only with acceptance can there be recovery.” – J.K. Rowling

My first book fulfills the first step criteria of understanding and acceptance. What’s the next step according to the Harry Potter author, J.K. Rowling? Recovery, or to use my preferred word, healing.

Healing autism through delicious nutrient dense broths, ferments, and juicing is the message of my second children’s book, Moby’s First Day of Summer Vacation, and the topics of my gut healing cooking classes.

“That summer Moby’s mom prepared delicious meats and fats served with soups, yogurt, and cultured vegetables that Moby grew to enjoy. Moby loved happy shakes the most, because they made him feel better.” – Aileen Swenson, illustration by Cassandra Joy Swenson

I love even more the healing message of my second book that connects food with feelings and health, but I confess it is a bit more challenging to read. To encourage people to heal themselves with food counters the modern medicine mode of pharmaceutically managing (not healing) illness, not to mention it holds them accountable for their health. After all, what a sense of relief to go to the doctor and be told that diabetes type 1 (and autism) are genetic diseases. The genetic card is the “get off the hook” free card requiring no further responsibility than to diligently take the prescribed medications. While being diligent in your self-care and well-being is important, including taking necessary medications, I recommend that you consider what you eat as well.

Ten years ago when I started dietarily treating my son’s autism, I had a conversation with another mom of a child also with autism. She knew that food could not and would not help her son because she had the brain scans to prove that her son’s brain was and will always be genetically wired differently. She was “off the hook” for playing any nourishing role in her son’s recovery.

The NPR article clearly mentions that Miss Sandison has type 1 diabetes four times, maybe to make her appear blameless, because fault mostly seems to lie with people who allegedly eat their way to type 2 diabetes, one donut at a time. It seems we lose our compassion for people when we blame them for their illnesses. Even emphysema received, what seems to be, a public relations make-over by changing its name to COPD to distance itself from the emphysema/smoker blame game.

“We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Blaming others and blaming ourselves is counterproductive to healing. People with diabetes type 1 are not better people than those with diabetes type 2. In both types, the pancreas no longer produces enough insulin to lower blood sugar levels. Both types 1 and 2 should be value-free, judgment-free conditions, even though they are somewhat different. Type 1 is an autoimmune disease, a GAPS™ (Gut and Psychology/Physiology Syndrome) condition, that can be successfully treated with broths, ferments, and juicing along with a grain-free, sugar-free diet, just like Moby, the marmot, consumes to recover from autism in my second book. Type 2 diabetes, often attributed to lifestyle choices, likewise responds well to this protocol due to the removal of the major contributors of glucose – grains and sugar. Healing the gut leads to healing many mental and physical illnesses, which may lead to a reduction or discontinuation of medication as deemed appropriate by your physician.

My hope is that Miss Idaho continues to champion the diabetes awareness and acceptance cause and that sometime in the near future we have a pageant platform, or better yet a societal movement, that promotes what Hippocrates knew long ago, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”


Now that we have understanding and acceptance, let’s take the next step to recovery and healing and let’s do it with great compassion! You matter! What you eat matters!

“Compassion is a verb.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

P.S. My oldest son, no longer on the autism spectrum, healed with the GAPS™ protocol, often encourages me to write a third children’s book in which Moby takes a field trip to Monsanto headquarters and hears the CEO of Monsanto say, “No, Moby, I am your father!” Ha!


Seek and Find

My 16-year-old son recently asked why I went rogue from mainstream medicine to successfully treat his autism, Asperger’s Syndrome specifically, with food instead of medications. Seeing his friends struggle with mainstream pharmaceuticals and behavioral treatments, his question wafted with a mix of survivor’s guilt and gratitude. It seems logical that my naked gardening self has a history of bucking the system.

2014 Naked Gardening Day Celebration

Not true. Much of my life, I’ve cowered in fear of authority, blindly following directions. I spent my childhood and young adulthood irrationally afraid of parents, principals, employers, and other people in power. After my partial hysterectomy, medical professionals advised me to consume as much water as possible. Faithfully, I did. Unable to eliminate, trained hospital staff urged me to drink even more water. My blind faithfulness distended my bladder that required me to use a surgically inserted catheter for 62 days. This having-to-hide-my-pee-in-a-bag-under-long-skirts experience, while wrangling four young stair-step boys ranging in ages 1 to 4, happened less than a year before connecting the behavioral and symptomatic dots that led to an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis for my oldest son, the now quizzical 16-year-old.

2003 Fourth of July Neighborhood Parade Preparation (with catheter)

Perhaps this incident gave me incentive to question the institution of modern medicine. Perhaps this incident opened my heart to the then (2004) prevalent drug alternative touted in online stories posted by parents who removed gluten and casein from the diets of their autistic children with miraculous results.

Within three days of eliminating gluten and casein, my oldest son, a month away from turning 6, colored in the lines for the first time in his life and many of his autistic behaviors disappeared or improved.

Day Before Gluten and Casein Removal

Three Days After Gluten and Casein Removal

It worked! Changing his diet worked! For a few months. Eventually his behaviors returned with a vengeance to the point that school authorities gave him six weeks to improve in mainstream classes or he would be sent to a specialized autism school. I grasped at music and horse therapies to no avail. While desperately seeking answers, a flash of intuition and inspiration incited me to revisit diet.

“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow.” – Mary Anne Radmacher

Back online I went. I found that removing gluten and casein was not enough. A series of additional food eliminations eventually led us to “breaking the vicious cycle” by improving intestinal health with the SCD (Specific Carbohydrate Diet) until we later upped the gut healing ante with the GAPS™ (Gut and Psychology/Physiology Syndrome) protocol. It worked! Not only for my oldest son, but also for myself and my other five kids! Changing our diet worked!

To answer the question posed by my 16-year-old, I pursued the healing food route over psychotropic pharmaceuticals because when I sought answers, dietary intervention found us. We were very fortunate that my oldest son showed initial improvements by going gluten and casein free, as some kids do. However, many kids do not. Removing only gluten and casein is not the answer because other offending foods get overlooked allowing gut function to remain impaired. My youngest son showed more severe autistic inklings than my oldest son. My youngest son experienced zero improvement at the removal of gluten and casein. When non-glutinous corn was removed from his diet at the age of two, he lost his autistic behaviors, avoiding a similar autism diagnosis as his oldest brother. If my fourth son was my first son, lack of tangible improvements from removing only gluten and casein may have prohibited any further dietary healing pursuits. Never before or since has refrigerator art invoked such gratitude. It worked! Answers always find the seeker.

“What you seek is seeking you.” ― Rumi


You Are Enough!


The United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced last week the new rate of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) is 1 in 68 children. Ten years ago when my oldest son was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, an ASD, the rate was 1 in 150. And just like ten years ago, the “experts” still claim, “We don’t know what causes autism.” I don’t get it. Can’t the “experts” Google? Not that everything on the internet is true, but can’t they attempt to sort through it all like parents do upon receiving a diagnosis?

Ten years ago, I surfed the web and entered the world of dietary intervention acronyms starting with the Gluten Free and Casein Free (GFCF) Diet. The GFCF Diet, incomplete in grain removal, led us to the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD). The SCD is the diet of GAPS™, the Gut and Psychology and Physiology Syndrome. GAPS™ amps up the healing of the grain-free, sugar-free SCD by emphasizing gut healing broths, ferments, and juicing. Autism is a symptom of a faulty digestive system, a leaky gut. By healing the gut, people overcome many mental and physical illnesses, including autism. The “experts” did not research the effectiveness of dietary interventions like we parents (including Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, parent of a son diagnosed on the autism spectrum and neurosurgeon who authored the 2004 GAPS™ book) did. The cornerstones of the scientific method of research are experimentation and observation. We experimented with our kids by taking away grains and sugar while giving them broths to heal and seal the gut, ferments to balance their microbiomes, and juicing to detoxify their bodies. We observed that their digestive issues and autistic behaviors significantly improved and/or disappeared. For anyone just now receiving an ASD diagnosis, don’t believe the we-don’t-know “experts”. Become your own expert! You are enough!


It’s eerie how similar two gut healing experts and moms of sons no longer on the autism spectrum can look! Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride is pictured on the left and I am on the right. Before this post, I never dreamed of categorizing myself as an expert of Dr. Natasha’s caliber and I’m no neurosurgeon. I only did it to make the point that you too can be a gut healing expert and heal yourself and/or your child(ren). You are enough!

The night before the new ASD rates were announced I had a dream. In my dream, a GAPS™ client asked me (I’m a Certified GAPS™ Practitioner in real life), “How will I know if all that I am doing is enough?” I answered, “You will know it is enough, because you are enough.” You are your own expert. Listen to your body. You are enough!

I like to think that healing with GAPS™ can be charted on a line graph with a general trajectory of up, but it’s not a straight line. Healing has ups and downs. The downs teach us as much about our healing as the ups do. Healing, die-off, and detox reactions all manifest similarly. They make you temporarily feel lousy, not quite right, with possibly some of your common symptoms returning. For me, these reactions often manifest as asthma. When you experience a healing, die-off, or detox reaction you can choose to back off or plow on through. For example, if I, having not eaten any probiotic foods before, were to eat a cup of homemade yogurt and started wheezing, I may choose to back off and reintroduce this probiotic food one teaspoon at a time to breathe more freely or continue to eat a cup of yogurt a day wheezing for a few days or more. It’s important that you heal at a pace that is comfortable for you. Healing on GAPS™ generally takes about two years. For some people, it takes slightly less time or some choose to be GAPS™ lifers (like myself) because they feel like their food tastes – amazingly alive and delicious! During your healing period, the trajectory of your overall health and happiness should trend up.

Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream Pie pictured.

The night before I had this dream, my oldest son (you know, the one no longer on the autism spectrum) shared Carl Jung’s theory that the important life lesson dreams are the lifelike ones we can’t forget. Important indeed! You are enough! The teachings of Carl Jung seem be springing forth everywhere for me like a field of flowers after a harsh winter. I love this one. “Your visions will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.” ― C.G. Jung



On today, April 2, 2014, World Autism Awareness Day, look inside. Awake to the effective treatment of autism and other mental and physical illnesses by gut healing dietary intervention. Become your own expert for yourself and your child(ren)! After many of my oldest son’s autistic behaviors lessened and/or disappeared, I complimented him for working so hard to overcome these behaviors. He looked at me and said, “Mom, I didn’t do anything.” But he did. He ate nourishing gut healing foods. Given nourishing real food, your body knows how to heal. You are enough!




Before I was “that in-law” at the Thanksgiving feast toting her family’s own nutrient dense turkey leftover casserole, before a niece studying to be a nurse stated that my wonderfully probiotic healing kombucha fermented by a combination of good bacteria and fungi sounded scary, before I met blank stares when throwing out the shocking statistic that gut microbiota/flora makes up about 90% of all cells and genetic material in the body as effectively depicted in this NPR animation,

and before the last thing I imparted (only when being asked about cholesterol) was that high cholesterol is a man made disease created by the pharmaceutical companies to sell dangerous, but profitable, drugs prior to receiving the verbal and figurative hook around my waist of “it’s time to leave” meaning I’ve said too much, I was clueless too.

Before I went to bed each night with homemade sour cream on my face and a written question on a folded piece of paper in my sweatpants’ pocket on what I’d like my dreams to answer (incidentally, my question this night was for blog post ideas that led me to waking up at 4:30 am to write this one), before I was even going to a farm to get raw milk from which to skim the cream off the top to make homemade sour cream, my goal was to use a highly processed can of cream-of-whatever soup at every meal. Out of my mouth came the now shutteringly horrific proclamations that Rice Krispie treats were nutritious because of the cereal’s fortification of vitamins and minerals and that eating at McDonald’s couldn’t really harm your health. You know, if it wasn’t every day. Let’s be sensible, everything in moderation, right?

Before I was a GAPS™ practitioner, before the healing broths, ferments, and juicing of GAPS, before I and my six children collectively overcame autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia of speech, OCD, ADD, anxiety, asthma, skin conditions, and hypoglycemia, before I even had six children, I was a binge eater. Sometimes the only thing (because you can’t call it food) that I ate for days at a time was Oreo ice cream, consequently having constant diarrhea, but shockingly never making the connection. Sometimes I still binge, like yesterday. All I had was egg nog kefir, two yummy raisin cookies with homemade sour cream, spicy chocolate kefir, avocado chocolate pudding, and crispy chicken skin with salt and cayenne pepper. I know, not the best, but not the worst either. The raw egg yolks (from happy chickens from happy farms, not from industrialized chickens) provided all the nutrients needed to make my neurotransmitters, the high fat sour cream, avocado, and chicken skin somewhat offset the blood sugar disregulating effects of the raw honey infused sweet treats, the probiotic foods (kefir and sour cream) gave my gut a good bacteria boost, and my binge did not result in diarrhea. Yesterday I nourished my family with wonderful homemade chicken soup, almond flour bread, and lots of butter, but somehow didn’t extend myself the same love. I’m a work in progress. We all are.


Before I bucked the low fat/no fat, high grain, salt limiting, highly processed, GMO food system, before I realized that our bodies have an innate ability to heal themselves when given nourishing, nutrient dense, real food, I surrendered my health to doctors. After all, doctors knew more than I did about my health. Doctors ranked in the same authoritative, never could I question, category as the all knowing entities of principals, researchers, and the so called “experts”. When presenting my symptoms of chronic diarrhea and severe hormonal mood swings to the medical profession, without ever discussing my diet, my microbiome, or my toxic exposure, I was put on Lactaid supplements and synthetic progesterone. Neither worked for very long. When suffering from recurrent Staph infections I was put on antibiotics almost consistently for one year, not long after that I developed MRSA, which came dangerously close to taking my leg and my life. Yes, antibiotics saved both my life and limb and for that I am truly grateful. But not one doctor connected the Staph and MRSA infections to my food intake, nor recommended probiotics, nor mentioned concern for toxins. You see, infections happen when the immune system is compromised. The immune system is compromised when the digestive system is compromised. The digestive system is compromised by starchy, sugary, processed foods, an imbalance of more bad microbiota/flora than good, and toxins.

Before I cried knowing the simple healing power of broth and butter of GAPS can effectively treat the conditions of autism, anxiety, arthritis, epilepsy, autoimmune disease, bi-polar disorder, etc., from which some of my friends and family (including my in-laws) suffer while they continue to follow their doctor’s prescriptions with limited success and harmful drug side effects, I cried because I knew not how to help.

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” – Nelson Mandela