Monday, August 21, 2017

Pastor's Wives Retreat 2017

Two weeks ago, I hosted a retreat for some of my closest fellow pastor's wives. It ran Thursday through Saturday, but some ladies were able to come in a day early to be with us at the midweek service, and others stayed on until Sunday to join us for church then. I was able to spend time with these ladies from Wednesday until Sunday, which was a special treat in itself as I rarely get to see them face-to-face.

By the Wednesday evening service, five of us seven had arrived in town. Between the seven of us, three were pregnant, and three others had little nurslings with them.

Unbeknownst to me, the ladies in our own church had for months been planning on surprising me with a gift basket that evening, which I was presented with during the evening service. This was an incredibly generous and beautiful gesture. After I got home from the service, I had to restrain myself not to open anything until after the kids were in bed, the house was clean for the night, and I had finally packed my bag for the trip.

Then I stayed up until past midnight reading all the wonderful notes and open the many gifts.  It was beautiful and overwhelming. It made me feel very loved and appreciated. I don't live up to the high views our wonderful ladies seem to have of me, but it was very touching reading their heartfelt notes. I was thinking how spoiled I was - most people don't get anything like this in their lifetime. I could have worked at a job my entire life and retired from it, and the farewell could not have come close to being this sincere and beautiful. To everyone in our church, THANK YOU so much! I know everyone thinks their church members are the best, but ours really are. 

Also, THANK YOU to all who sent cards and gifts to include in the gift baskets for the other pastor's wives. I didn't actually put them in baskets, but rather chose canvas bags that would travel more easily and could also be reused. 

Thursday morning, we picked up the remaining two ladies at the airport and had breakfast at a little crepe restaurant in Tempe. One of my major preparations for this trip was to thoroughly research the best and tastiest food options ahead of time. Eating great food is high on my list of pleasures in life, and I knew the same would be true for the other ladies. This little cafe did not disappoint!

After breakfast, we left town and headed down to the southern part of Arizona, where we were going to be staying at a remote ranch / bed & breakfast.

Along the way, we stopped for a tour of the famous Kartchner Caverns. They are every bit as impressive as they are said to be. When we first stepped inside the first tunnel, the musty underground smell gave me a mild attack of claustrophobia, but it passed and I was able to enjoy the tour. 

The grounds outside are equally beautiful, with butterfly gardens, native plant life, and lots of hummingbirds. We had lunch at the little cafe on site.

From Kartchner Caverns, we continued on to the ranch. By this time, a monsoon storm had let loose, which is a beautiful thing to experience in the desert - especially while safely sheltered from the rain, ha!

After we checked in at the ranch, I was able to present the ladies with their gift bags. They were all very touched, and loved all the notes and gifts they received.

For dinner that night, we headed into Benson to a small Mexican restaurant called "Mi Casa". Take it from someone who has lived in the Southwest for many years now - this is the best Mexican restaurant in Arizona! It was in a literal house that had been converted into a restaurant. The entry was decorated with various awards and famous mentions of this otherwise unassuming gem tucked away in a small town. The owners are a married couple. The husband is the host, his wife is originally from Mexico and is the chef. She uses authentic family recipes passed down for generations.

We all LOVED our food. It far exceeded any expectations I had of finding good food in a small town. The fresh guacamole was incredibly good! I don't know if it's good or bad that this place is almost three hours' drive from my house. I am definitely feeling inspired to take a family day trip down south soon!

Each dish came decorated with a different fried tortilla cutout.

Being pregnant, I went to bed early Thursday night, while some of the others stayed up late fellowshipping. Our accommodations had a spacious shared living room that allowed for either. 

Friday morning, I woke up early. After my usual morning routine of Bible reading and going over the day's events, I was able to go for an early morning walk. I love going for walks first thing in the morning, but at home they are a luxury I can rarely afford. As soon as one of the little ones wakes up, they need food, and they also need to be kept from waking the rest of the house. Most of our kids are early risers so unless I want to leave for a walk no later than 5 a.m., it just isn't going to happen. At least not without reaping the consequences of having hungry, energetic kids on the loose unsupervised first thing in the morning! 

Not only was I able to go for a walk, but I was able to walk among lush green landscape in the middle of nowhere, with not a soul in sight. It was like balm to my desert-summer-weary eyes. After the torrential rains the night before, everything was especially fresh and fragrant. The ranch where we stayed had many riding/hiking trails through this beautiful outdoors. 

 I love little brooks.

Wildflowers! Imagine that!

This rock reminded me of Psalm 40:2 - "He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings." God has done so many wonderful things for me in my life. Being away from the daily grind helped remind me of that.

Breakfast was made fresh just for us and served at the ranch. It was cooked by the owner himself, an older cowboy. Boy oh boy, was it GOOD! We had bacon, eggs, and potatoes. Which sounds like nothing extraordinary, except the seasonings really made the dishes shine. It was also obvious from the taste that they had been cooked in cast iron using real butter. There was also a buffet set up for us of fresh fruit and coffee/tea/milk/juice. It was all around lovely. 

After breakfast, we headed down to Bisbee to tour the old Copper Queen Mine. Children under 6 are no longer allowed on the tour, so we took turns with half of us watching the babies upstairs while the other half went underground. The babies all cooperated nicely and just napped in their strollers.

The tour was guided by former miners who had worked here before the mine shut down for good in 1975. They were both knowledgeable and funny. Just friendly, down-to-earth small-town folk. Even though we went deep inside the mine, I did not feel nearly as claustrophobic as I had the day before in the cavern, thanks I think due to the much better ventilation and fresh air flowing through.

After the mine tour, we enjoyed a late lunch at a really good restaurant in Bisbee. One of the pastor's wives had to leave to go back to Phoenix and fly home at this point, as she was needed back home the next day for a wedding. She had driven down in a separate car so she could take herself back to Phoenix that evening.

We made our way back to the ranch after that. Everyone was pretty tired, so we spent the evening relaxing in the pool and spa at the ranch while chatting and letting the kids play.

We had wanted to go back to the little Mexican restaurant again for dinner, but we were so stuffed from lunch that nobody felt like eating again yet, and they close pretty early (7 p.m.). Instead, we had late night pizza in Benson before retiring for the night. 

Saturday morning, breakfast once again did not disappoint. This time, we were treated to French toast made with - get this - croissants! Served alongside bacon and potatoes again, as well as real butter and maple syrup, plus the buffet with fresh fruit and beverages. I had not expected to gain new culinary hacks on this trip, but the croissants were a superb idea! I have since made them at home for my family, and even Isaac who hates eggs in anything but cookies, including French toast, came back for seconds!

After breakfast, we headed to Apple Annie's orchard in Willcox. They were hosting a peach festival. We took a hayride out to the orchard, picked and ate some peaches and apples fresh, and I also bought some to take home. 

We headed back to Phoenix around noon, stopping for lunch along the way. Most of the ladies were flying home Saturday evening, and the last one left Sunday after the morning service and a final lunch with our family.

Being a pastor's wife is a lot like being a mom. The work never ends, much of it goes unnoticed, and it's a lot harder than it looks from the outside. Just as with mothering, the blessing of seeing people grow and mature far outweigh any sacrifices. Even so, getting a short little breather can make all the difference between feeling burned out, or keeping our head above the water.

I loved hosting this retreat, and being able to participate in it. I am already looking forward to next year! My goal is to keep hosting them once per year, but in different parts of our beautiful state. Thank you again to all who contributed to this retreat!

Friday, August 18, 2017

Freezer Cooking

One of the ways I am able to serve food from scratch every day AND keep my sanity in spite of my large-and-growing family is precooking and freezing meals. 

Originally, I did this only in preparation for another baby, aiming to have about 4 to 6 weeks worth of breakfasts and dinners prepared and ready to go by about 36 weeks of pregnancy. Which, honestly, is pushing it because my already low energy levels during pregnancy go to virtually zero sometime by week 32. And my belly gets too large to stand in front of the kitchen counter comfortably, and turning sideways is only feasible for so long each day - ha! So this time around, I will be aiming to have all meals done and stashed by 7 months of pregnancy. 

As our family keeps growing (and growing), there are ever more opportunities for unexpected events to crop up that could throw dinner for a loop. I also like to precook meals for the times my husband and I go on little getaways, so that my awesome mother-in-law doesn't have to worry about cooking when she comes over and keeps the family circus running in my absence. Finally, I run several produce, meat, and other food-based co-ops that land me with huge loads of food at one time, typically about every other Saturday. Needing to process lots of food at once naturally led me into batch cooking and freezing.

Every family is different. What works best for us is to make enough of any one meal to last us for dinner one night, as well as lunch the next day. By planning on serving leftovers for lunch every single day, I never have to stress about making lunch during our busy mornings (homeschooling or otherwise). In addition, I try not to serve cold cereal more than once per week for breakfast, usually less often, which means that every day I cook breakfast and dinner. 

Since most recipes for our family already need to be quadrupled to be enough for two meals (dinner one night plus lunch the next day), freezer cooking for me looks different from most. Rather than making 20 or 30 meals in one day to last all month, I can on an average Saturday only make about 4 entrees, 4 breakfasts, as well as do the usual prep work for the week ahead. Since my family still wants to eat even on marathon cooking days, I can count on stashing 2 or 3 each of those breakfasts and dinners in the freezer, and leave the rest for immediate consumption that weekend, further freeing up our busy Sundays. Consequently, freezer cooking is not a monthly, but typically weekly event around here, usually on Saturdays as that is a day us homeschoolers like to stay home anyway and let the rest of the world enjoy the crowds at stores and everywhere else. :) 

In addition to these big cooking days, I cook dinner every night except most Sundays and those days when life is crazy and I have to pull a frozen meal out to save dinner. This is how slowly, over time, I can build up a freezer stash for those extended times like vacations or baby breaks.

I got ALL this organic produce, plus a 22 lb box of dried dates, for just $10!! I don't think there is another place in the country where healthy produce is this inexpensive!

The pictures above are from Saturday two weeks ago. In one day, with the help of some of the older kids, we made:

16 lbs pork carnitas (enough for 8 meals - I froze half)
10 pints pesto (enough for 10 meal - I froze all) 
6 pans of jalapeño poppers (enough for one meal and one snack - bwahaha! - I froze none)
2 quarts pico de gallo (enough to last for various meals that week - I froze none)

1 gallon of cooked pudding (enough for 1 breakfast and one snack - I froze none)
10 quarts of tomato soup (enough for 2 meals - I froze none)
32 strawberry scones (enough for 2 breakfasts - I froze half)
3 quarts tomato sauce (enough for 2 meals - I froze all)

 Miriam made all the jalapeno poppers by herself!

While there are free resources for freezer cooking available online, these do not work well for our family. Most focus on making small (for us) amounts of many different foods. Quadrupling a batch means that all the grocery and prep lists will no longer work for us, not to mention it would be impossible to make that much food in one day.

For years, my favorite resource for freezer cooking has been Once a Month Meals. For a membership fee of $16/month, members get access to ALL their menus for all menu types. These include traditional, real food, paleo, vegetarian, slow cooker, allergen, diet (with several THM-compliant menus!), gluten free dairy free, baby, mini, and Instant Pot. 

The last two menu types are my favorite! Mini menus save me the work of having to put together my own menus with fewer meals. I just simply up the serving size to our needs. With the recent gift of an instant pot, my batch cooking has been made even faster and easier, and the Once a Month Meals menus even more helpful! 

 This is a very helpful infographic breaking down the various menu types

Members can use any new menu or any menu in the archives (they have over 600!), and do not have to choose a specific menu type. Additionally, members can fully customize any menu to fit their individual needs and preferences, or even design their own menus from the thousands of recipes on the website. The program then generates the necessary grocery and prep lists. This is great for someone like me who would rather make mass amounts of fewer meals.

In addition, one really helpful resource is the Once a Month Meals Community, which all members have access to. You can search for tips and advice, connect with other freezer cooks, and share your story and experience.

Last but not least, I love how beautiful the Once a Month Meals website is, how easy it is to navigate, and how thoroughly everything is explained. They even have a YouTube channel! 

If you would like to give Once a Month Meals a try, you can sign up for their newsletter and receive a dietary specific mini menu. (Note: These menus come in a PDF format and are set for four servings and cannot be customized. But they give you a good idea of what the printed resources look like and how to set up a freezer cooking day.)

Homemade fajita bowls with the pork carnitas. They were incredible!!!

I have recently become a Once a Month Meals affiliate, which means that if you sign up for membership through any of the above links or the ad in the side bar, I get a small referral bonus at no additional cost to you. And if lots and lots (and lots) of you sign up, I can replace my old counter tops and finally bring you food photos without 30-year old tile - ha! :)

Please note: This post contains affiliate links.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Look Who's Walking!

Chloe takes the prize for being our latest walker! She will be 15 months old tomorrow. Just in the last few days, she has taken to toddling across open spaces. 


Yeah, this was totally filmed during church... it was a moment not to be missed!

I have suspected that Chloe has long been able to walk, but being a girl, she was far too cautious to let go, choosing instead to 'cruise' for the last several months. It was kind of convenient as she was tired of crawling, so only being willing to cruise kept her 'tethered' to wherever I would put her. Lately, that has been the coffee table as I am spending more time than my non-pregnant self resting. I'd put her down next to me as I lay on the sofa, and she'd contentedly do lap after lap around the coffee table, emptying it of all its contents, and just generally being pleasant and contained. 

Looks like my easy days are coming to and end... ;)

Side note: John was our earliest walker at 10 months. He actually started walking the DAY he turned 10 months old - one day earlier and I could have said he walked at 9 months. 

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Pastor's Wives Retreat

I had mentioned some time ago about the retreat I am hosting next week for some of my fellow pastor's wives, and the gift baskets I am putting together for them to present them with on this occasion. 

A number of ladies have asked me this past week to share the details again, so I figured I will post it here for anyone else who is interested. 

The ladies who will be attending are:

Leslie Berzins of Word of Truth BC in Prescott Valley, AZ

Joann Jimenez of Verity BC in Sacramento, CA

Heather Major of Faith BC in Violet, LA

Cassandra McMurtry of Liberty BC in Rock Falls, IL

Crystal Perry of Old Path BC in San Antonio, TX

Leslye Romero of Stedfast BC in Fort Worth, TX

If you would like to send a note of encouragement or anything else to include in the baskets for any of them, please get it to me by next Wednesday, August 9th. The mailing address is:

Faithful Word Baptist Church
c/o Mrs. Anderson
2741 W Southern Ave, Suite 14
Tempe, AZ 85282

or my personal home address if you know it, or you can give it to me in person at church. If you are sending a gift for anyone, please bear in mind that the ladies will be traveling to Arizona by plane, so please do not send anything bulky, liquids over 3.4 oz in size, and no knives, guns, or anything of the kind - ha!

I love being married to a pastor and helping him in the ministry. I consider it a blessing. The greatest blessings often come with the greatest, and often unseen, sacrifices - just think of having children as a great example of this. I know in my life, having those reminders that those we serve love and appreciate what we do can make the rougher patches a lot more joyful. Many times, I will get a text message, email, or other note of encouragement in the middle of a sticky day - they never fail to cheer me and give me a much-needed boost, especially since we are inundated by a flood of negative comments on a daily basis. Many times, listeners send us gift cards to various local restaurants. These are a blessing anytime, but with the recent pregnancy scare, they were also a sanity saver - because come hell or high water, at the end of the day, kids' stomachs care little about what else is going on in our life, they just want to EAT. Last month, some sweet ladies in a FB group of those who listen to our sermons online gifted me with an Instant Pot. I love it! It has been a tremendous sanity saver! Often, I am unexpectedly called away during the day to help someone or with something. Having an appliance that can get dinner on the table in a half hour with minimal input from me is truly a treasure. Please don't send six Instant Pots to my house for these ladies though - that would definitely fall into the 'too bulky to travel' category! :) These are just some examples of how tangible gestures can make a big difference.

Some of the ladies in the above list are new to our 'movement'. As a result, they have recently lost the support of their extended families, many of their friends, and been cut off from fellowship in their former Baptist circles. I am hoping this retreat will be a much-needed encouragement to them as they keep on the front lines.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

A pregnancy scare, and relief

Scare is an understatement. It was more like a nightmare. But all's well that ends well, so in hindsight is was only a scare. 

I had my first prenatal appointment one week ago today, at 15 weeks pregnancy. Everything was picture perfect - strong heart beat, baby kicked the Doppler a few times, lab work all came back perfect, my own health was excellent. Today's world makes a big deal about a) moms of many, and b) 'older' moms (over age 35). In medical terms, I am a 'geriatric grand multigravida' because at the ripe old age of 38, I am pregnant with my 10th child.

Personally, I think that moms in general live healthier lives than teens and single young people. Consequently, my health and finances with our first were not anywhere near as ideal as they are now, after 17 years of marriage and the health and stability that brings. God has marvelously designed it in such a way that women stop being able to get pregnant well in time to see even their youngest into adulthood. Of course, catastrophe can strike anyone at any time, but that has nothing to do with age. 

Anyhow, on Sunday afternoon I was alarmed to notice I had some spotting (brown, which means old, blood). I know this is very common for many moms. In fact, I had a full-on period this pregnancy around the time I was 4 weeks pregnant. Still, anytime I had seen blood in past pregnancies, they had ended in miscarriage. I have had five miscarriages, all around week 5/6, and the 20-week loss of Boaz' twin brother, Jachin. But I had never had a miscarriage this late into a pregnancy. Seeing blood was highly alarming, no matter how common or normal it is considered for others. 

My midwife was 2 hours away, and sent one of the midwives she works with (who has been to my previous births) to check on baby. After ten minutes of listening all over my easily palpable uterus, she had not been able to find heart tones. She hung around for a little bit, giving baby a chance to move into a different position, and checked for several minutes more. Still nothing. We heard what we thought was blood pumping through the placenta (it sounds distinctly different from the cord, mom, or the baby), but it was in time to my own pulse and not the baby's (which would be about twice as fast), indicating the worst - baby had died and was no longer showing a heartbeat.

No matter how many kids a mom has, losing one is a devastating tragedy. My husband was at church, preaching the evening service during this time. He had not stayed home with me because we figured chances were everything was fine. Now I had nobody to share the heartbreaking news with. 

The midwife spoke to me about what to expect. Due to the size and age of the baby, I would actually have to go through labor and delivery. There might be excessive blood loss. I was remembering back to all the steps necessary to obtain a burial permit and make arrangements with the cemetery.

It was a nightmare indeed. I hardly slept that first night, expecting labor to start. Hoping, actually, that it would be soon. My husband had a trip planned for Mon/Tue which he canceled, and another to Canada later this week that he could not back out of without major financial losses for tickets that had been purchased months earlier. I myself have a pastor's wives retreat later next week for which PW's are flying in for from out of state. There's never a good time to lose a baby, but this certainly was about the worst timing possible. 

I got up yesterday determined to spend the day doing something other than sitting at home with everyone all day, tending to their unending needs, and waiting for the inevitable. I packed up Anna, Stephen, and Boaz and took them to a kiddie pool to play and have fun while I sat watching and just resting. My husband and older kids stayed home taking care of the baby and household. 

As I sat there, I noticed I still 'felt' pregnant. And by 'felt pregnant', I mean I was still starving hungry 24/7 and craving nothing but fry bread, Mexican food, steak, and pizza - the themes this pregnancy. Normally, my pregnancy symptoms and appetite subside immediately after a loss. In fact, sometimes that is my first indication that something is wrong. Here I was sitting pool-side, stuffing my face with disgusting chili cheese fries and wanting more yet. 

I started texting with my midwife and she said there was a chance baby might be alive after all. She had slept on it and woken up doubting the results from the previous day. She didn't think a full ultrasound was a good idea because though not very invasive, it might aggravate whatever issue had caused the spotting. But she did want to check me herself with a stronger Doppler than the other midwife had used. I did not want to go in and listen to a dead womb again. I thought she was just overly hopeful and I would be setting myself up to relive the previous day's nightmare. But my husband really wanted to make sure because of his trip later this week so I agreed to go.

I took the kids home in the early afternoon and laid them down to naps, then my husband, Chloe, and I went to see the midwife. 

 15 weeks pregnant

No joke, not five seconds in, we heard the familiar little clop-clop-clop of the baby's heart beat. You can imagine our relief! I wanted to keep listening to it just because it was such a beautiful sound after 24 hours of agony. We were so happy and relieved we all went out to dinner afterward to celebrate. 

And yes, I'm still starving hungry today. I just had a second breakfast of steak after my usual oatmeal this morning, and am already planning on hitting up a super-good local taco truck during nap time. I suddenly have a whole new appreciation for my ravenous appetite! 

Praise the Lord for what I consider nothing short of a miracle! Please do pray for the little one if you think of it. The spotting was minimal and had stopped by Monday, but we don't know what caused it. I will go in for a full medical ultrasound in a couple of weeks to give everything a chance to settle down and stabilize, and see what's going on, if anything. Chances are, it was nothing. 

Now please excuse me while I chase down the Taco Truck...

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

New Baby on the way!

Regular readers will not be shocked to hear that we are expecting another little one! :) This makes Baby #10 on earth - double digits! 

 Nine week ultrasound - yes, there's only one!

I am currently 12 weeks pregnant, with a due date of mid-January 2018. That will make five babies in my 20s, and five babies in my 30s. Who knows what my 40s will bring?!?

Anna's 'family'

Now for the million-dollar question: How am I feeling? In a word: fantastic! This has been my best pregnancy by far. It has only taken me almost two decades to figure out how to overcome hyperemesis! I will do a detailed blog post on what new improvements I have discovered this time around.

And now for a fun little fact that was entirely unique about this pregnancy: I did not know I was pregnant until I was almost 8 weeks along! (TMI coming, so stop reading now if you don't want to know) When I was 4 weeks pregnant, for the first time ever in 15 pregnancies (five of which ended in miscarriage), I had a cycle after becoming pregnant, at the exact time that cycle would normally have been due. It was a little lighter and a day shorter than a normal cycle, but I thought nothing of that because the difference was so minor and I was still nursing Chloe every few hours. Just before my next cycle was due, I had a few days of nausea that felt an awful lot like morning sickness. I took a cheap little Dollar Tree test in the middle of the afternoon a few days shy of 'being late'. Normally, only the super sensitive early pregnancy tests show up for me, if taken first thing in the morning, after I am a couple of days or more late. The fact that this cheap test, taken in the afternoon, days early, came back BRIGHT and BOLD positive was a first for me. Plus, my morning sickness does not start quite that early. I knew this could only mean that 1. there was more than one baby in there, or 2. I was farther along than I thought. It was at this point that I remembered my previous, lighter than usual cycle and the penny dropped. I did go for an ultrasound the following week just to make sure of dates and rule out multiplicity, both of which it did. 

In spite of having done it so many times, pregnancy is still not my cup of tea. Being four weeks further along than I usually am when I found out was a huge bonus, because I find every day of being pregnant a chore. Babies are a blessing, no doubt about that, but I think pregnancy and birth are part of the curse. It's definitely not the wonderful, magical time my romantic brain imagined it to be as a child. With this pregnancy being so much better in regards to nausea, I actually did for the first time ever almost enjoy the first trimester. I only felt despondent for one day, when nausea and fatigue coincided with a day that my little people were all sick and throwing up. In bed. In the middle of the night. Yeah, that was rough... Thankfully, my big boys volunteered to do all the cleanup and laundry the next morning.

I was able to stay active and go bike riding with my husband many evenings. I was able to eat sensibly and healthy and only gained a couple of lbs during this time, compared to the typical 15 lbs in the first trimester alone as the only way to stave off nausea in previous pregnancies was to munch on something non-stop. I was down to being within 6 lbs of my Weight Watchers free lifetime weight when I found out I was pregnant, and no longer allowed to go to the meetings (they do not allow pregnant members). Needless to say, I didn't want to undo much of my hard-earned progress in a matter of weeks. 

Size M maternity clothes for the first time since my first pregnancy? - Yes please!

The other kids are excited. They could hardly keep from spilling the beans to their friends before we were ready to announce it. 

Cute little Boaz in church

Enjoying some cereal on the sofa with me on a particularly tired day. 

I'm hoping for a little sister for Chloe. It would also settle the score of five boys and girls each. Plus little girls are just the sweetest!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Whole grains, phytic acid, and cavities

Ever since our oldest, Solomon, was born and then started eating solids about 15 years ago, I have been on a quest to learn about natural health and about how to feed our family the healthiest way possible.

I say 'quest' because sifting through all the information, much of it contradictory, is nothing short of a search for the Holy Grail.

Thankfully, with the Bible as our guide, many healthy eating fads can be dismissed out-of-hand, such as (but not limited to):

- being a vegetarian, vegan, or fruitarian
- vilifying butter, salt, natural sweeteners, and/or dairy products,
- eating only 'raw
- eating low-carb ('paleo' or Atkins)


I am not saying it is sinful to eat in any of the aforementioned ways. In fact, some medical conditions could be bettered by temporarily switching to a radically different and restricted way of eating. For instance, an obese person would do well to cut back on their fat and dairy consumption for a season for the benefit of losing weight. Cancer cells and gall/kidney stones can be reduced or sometimes even eliminated through a radical juice fast that is all raw and vegetarian.

However, this blog post deals with everyday eating for healthy people, not temporary restrictive diets that address an acute illness.

So let's talk about a sustainable, long-term diet that the average person living today can follow and be healthy, because let's face it - nobody wants you to come to the family holiday gathering and bring your special 'kale and kelp brownies sweetened with nothing but love'.

One of the big things that has been pushed for the last 30 years or so is whole grains and the critical part they supposedly play in a healthy, balanced diet. We're talking whole wheat bread products as opposed to 'white', rolled or steel-cut oats vs. quick, brown rice vs. white, etc.

In America, well over 90% of all bread products are made from wheat. When I say 'wheat', I mean the grain called wheat. Some people refer to all whole wheat products as 'wheat', and to all bread products made from all-purpose white flour as 'white' - as in, "Do you want that on wheat bread or white?' Since both whole wheat flour as well as all-purpose flour are made from wheat, saying 'wheat vs. white' is a confusing and silly distinction.

The difference between the two is that whole wheat flour is made from the entire wheat kernel and contains the hull and endosperm, whereas white flour has been stripped of anything but the starchy part of the wheat kernel.

The health benefits to using the whole kernel are:

1. added fiber: Whole wheat retains all the fiber that is found in the hull. Fiber is important to help buffer the impact of carbohydrates on blood sugar, keeps us fuller longer, and helps keep us regular and in good gut health because this roughage both retains water, as well as 'scrubs' the GI tract from the inside.

2. vitamins and minerals: Whole wheat contains 23 vitamins and minerals that are no longer present when only the white starchy part is made into all-purpose flour. This is why all purpose flour is often 'enriched' with various B vitamins.

However, one fact that is virtually never mentioned is that whole wheat and in fact all whole grains (like oats, barley, rye, rice, etc.) also contain high levels of phytic acid.

These are listed in alphabetical order, not by greatest to least amount. Notice how high the % amounts of phytic acid are for the bran (whole grain) parts of wheat and rice, staples in most American diets.

Phytic acid, while naturally occurring, is an anti-nutrient, which means it robs our bodies of nutrients. It has rather devastating effects on bone health. In order for our bodies to rid themselves of phytic acid, it must bind to other minerals, most notably calcium and magnesium. Often, for lack of these nutrients in our diet, our bodies will draw these minerals from our teeth and bones.

This is very similar to the way phosphoric acid in sodas leech minerals from our bones and cause osteoporosis, a well-accepted and long-known fact. Phytic acid basically does the same.

There are ways to drastically reduce the amount of phytic acid in grains, nuts, and legumes. They are what I call the '3 S's':

- soaking
- sprouting
- souring

In this blog post, I am predominantly talking about whole grains, because they contain far higher levels of phytic acid than legumes and nuts. I do soak legumes overnight before cooking or use canned (which are soaked), and we don't eat a lot of nuts, so those are non-issues for us. The human body is designed to withstand a certain amount of junk coming in. Problems arise when junk is coming in faster than the 'funnel' of the human body can handle. 

The cooking methods of centuries past reflect the need for these traditional practices. Grains were often soaked repeatedly and for extended periods of time, not just in plain water but whey or vinegar (both of which are fermented as thus also address the 'souring' aspect). After the grains were soaked, dried, and made into flour, they were leavened by being made into sourdough, as modern leavening agents like quick yeast and baking powder had not been invented yet, which likewise breaks down phytic acid.

In spite of all these efforts, all throughout history, cultures who depended heavily on grains for nutrition have had poor bone health, whereas cultures that lived predominantly on meats and fats (like the Inuit and Mongolians) had excellent teeth and bones.

Before cutting out whole grains, I was not just making everything from whole wheat, I was even grinding my own wheat fresh right before baking. Grinding wheat fresh maintains all its nutrients, many of which lose their potency after being milled. I am guessing that the phytic acid in freshly milled flour is likewise more potent than that in 'stale' flour.  On the other hand, I had switched to using all sourdough leavened products for years. While this was great for gut health, it did not stop the cavities. It seems souring alone was not enough to break down the harmful levels of phytic acid. 

Desperate times call for desperate measures. If I lived in a time and day when the availability of foods is severely limited, fresh produce was hard to come by due to climate, and all that was consistently available for me to feed my family on is grain, then yes, I would need to learn to process it in a way that I could access those vitamins and minerals they contain while eliminating their anti-nutrients.

But - I live in 21st century America. I have easy and affordable access year-round to a wide range of foods from around the world with all their vitamins, minerals, and fiber through the abundance of produce and other nutrient-dense foods at my fingertips.

So while I theoretically could keep my own pasture-fed cow, whom I milk bright and early every day and then make cheese so I can have whey to soak my homegrown ancient grains in, which I then also sprout in my clean spring-water and then dry in the sun, before hand-milling them on a low-impact, low-heat grain mill, turning them into loaves of bread with my wild-fermented sourdough starter, all so I can tap into the aforementioned benefits of whole grains...

... I cold also just use plain all-purpose flour, and rest assured that I am getting those same nutrients from the rest of my diet.

More importantly yet, I will NOT be dealing with the incessant cavities that come from eating whole grains with their phytic acid. There is a good book on tooth decay (here) that suggests cutting out grains to get around the phytic acid. That is one possibility. Personally, I don't want to go the rest of my life without eating pizza, croissants, pies, and all the other wonderful bread products we get from grains. Their grain-free alternatives are never as good.

The other possibility, the one I have chosen for the last couple of years, is to only use grain products that have been stripped of all but their white starchy part: all-purpose flour, white rice, quick oats, etc. Obviously, these should not be consumed in such copious amounts that they lead to obesity, type II diabetes, or replace other nutrient-dense foods in the diet.

I made this switch right around the same time as I stopped using all modern wheat and have instead gone to using only einkorn, an ancient form of wheat that is genetically very different from post-1800's wheat).

I have noticed several very exciting changes since cutting out whole grains. The one I want to focus on today is cavities. Or rather, NO MORE CAVITIES!

All kids went to the dentist in March for checkups and cleanings. For years, we had been taking them every six months. For years, in spite of diligent home care (flossing, brushing twice daily), daily fermented cod liver oil and a whole-foods-based multivitamin, little to no candy and very limited sugar consumption, homemade bone broths, daily raw dairy with its bone-building butterfat, and a near-100% organic diet, all kids would have new cavities at every checkup. It was expensive and frustrating, most of all because I knew there must be some underlying cause.

The dentist we first used was good, but she was an hour's drive away. Her hygienist also kept telling me the cavities were a result of not giving the kids fluoride, which I found annoying. As our family grew, the drive out there not just for checkups but the inevitable fillings got to be too much.

I then switched to a 'naturopathic' dentist that was closer. Our dental insurance did not cover her, so the cost was exorbitant. She did not push fluoride, but pushed xylitol instead, which destroys the GI tract instead of teeth. She also did absolutely shoddy work. Many of the fillings she did fell out. They were warrantied for two years, but it's a bit much to ask kids to get fillings redone because her work was so poor.

After seeing her for a couple of years, I stopped going there, intending to find a new dentist. Six months turned into a year, I got busy, and next thing I knew almost three years had passed since some of the kids had been seen last. The dentist who did the kids' tongue tie revisions did such an outstanding job that I switched their dental care to her, too.

The outcome: in spite of zero checkups and cleanings for about 3 years, in spite of the kids having more sugar than ever before because the big kids buy their own candy and sodas now, and in spite of them being much more hit and miss with taking their vitamins and fish oil, there were ZERO new cavities in any of the eight oldest kids. For the three oldest, who had all their fillings in their baby teeth which they have since lost, this meant zero remaining fillings in their mouths. Same for the two youngest boys, who never developed any cavities in their baby teeth. The three middle girls have only old cavities and fillings, which will eventually fall out when they lose their baby teeth. Compare this with 2-3 new cavities each every six months before this, both with the conventional as well as the naturopathic dentist.

When I myself went to a new dentist in April, I likewise had ZERO new cavities, and only two old ones that I had been keeping an eye on. I typically get 2-4 new cavities with every pregnancy just from all the throwing up alone. Between my morning sickness having been much better the last two pregnancies, plus the lack of whole grains for the last two years, I believe this had made all the difference. I do not anticipate new cavities in the future.

I am convinced beyond any shadow of a doubt that this is due to cutting out whole grains and their anti-nutrients. THAT is the only thing that has changed in the kids' diet. I explained my theory to the dentist and she thought it was very likely that I was right. I don't know how much of a part using einkorn vs. wheat plays - I think the effect of that is mostly just gut health because the gluten in einkorn does not damage the gut like modern wheat does.

I realize this is not party line. I believe just as the low-fat fad has proven destructive to health, we were likewise sold a bill of goods in whole grains. For what it's worth, I am sharing my anecdotal experience here for others who are left scratching their heads at why their otherwise perfectly healthy child(ren) are having cavities in spite of perfect diet and home care.

As a side note, the kids have suffered zero ill health effects from eating these 'simple' white grains. Isaac and Becca no longer have seasonal asthma since cutting out wheat, none of them have gotten 'fat', their behavior has not gone haywire from white flour converting into sugar too quickly, etc. And let's face it - white flour products just taste so much better! I continue to make many leavened products like waffles, pizza, and bread with sourdough starter. You can see my video for our 'daily bread' here

I have one other huge benefit that has come from cutting out whole grains that I will share in an upcoming blog post. How's that for a cliff hanger? ;)