Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

Conversations I Never Thought I’d Have with a Son

Monday, March 11th, 2013

I remember my eldest son telling me once, following a detailed discussion of which one of the bras drying in the laundry room I wanted him to carry upstairs to me, “That was one conversation I never thought I’d have with you.” Well, his little brother has him beat.

talkin-bout-the-birds-and-the-beesMy 11-year-old son, Parker, is the first of my children to attend middle school, so his experience with “sex-u-al reproduction” as a study unit in science class represents new educational terrain for all of us. Prior to the start of this unit, I’d had no idea that my ongoing conversations with his now teen-aged siblings, had gone, quite literally, right over his head. And considering the almost annual arrival of new infant members into our extended family, and the “polite conversations” on human reproduction that attend to them, I was shocked at his apparent lack of common knowledge about the so-called “birds and bees.”

The sexual reproduction unit started innocently enough with pollination…

Then there was the day I asked Parker about school and he replied, “Well…I learned why women use tampons…” He also learned an alternative meaning for “period” and, as a consequence of a wisecrack remark by his science teacher, that it’s a good idea to avoid women during this “time of the month.” (Thank you very much, Mr. Science Teacher.) I did my very best to behave as if I discussed human reproduction with pre-teens all the time and and expressed my openness to any and all questions he might have. He responded, “No, Mom. I’m good.”

The highlight of our conversation came at the end when Parks concluded, “You know, it’s all about the woman.” Oh yeah, he’s going to make a terrific mate one day.

Brace Face

Monday, February 25th, 2013

I was lucky enough to be one of those people who didn’t need braces. And yet, I voluntarily succumbed to 12 months of raw gums, limited dietary choices, marathon flossing sessions, and a lisp! (To be honest, that’s the bite stop.) Why?

The proximate reason is my bite. In that, I have plenty of company. On the basis of the handful of blogs I’ve read by orthodontists and adults with braces, bite or “teeth/mouth” function is right behind appearance and dental health among the top reasons that adults opt for braces. Bite problems are often the source of tension headaches and other head and neck pain, jaw-popping, difficulty swallowing, and excessive snoring. I do suffer from headaches, my jaw pops, and I snore…but no one ever suggested braces.

Braces as an antidote to my “off” bite only became relevant when my upper teeth started moving apart, ever so slightly, as a result of my dentist’s effort to ease the crowning of my lower teeth via Invisalign. Uh huh, that wold be “improved dental hygiene through plastic-tray-straightened teeth.”

IMG_1412Ten days into the consequent mission to align my lower teeth and bring my upper teeth back together again, I’d have to say that having braces is nowhere nearly as painful and stigmatizing as my children made it out to be. Sure, I felt a little pressure when the orthodontic technician ligated my braces, but that was really about it. And so many adults get braces now for commonplace reasons from appearance to dental hygiene and bite correction that I haven’t heard a thing from anyone other than close friends and family members – mostly simple joshing.

And that’s not all bad. Today, someone mistook me for my daughter’s older sister as we were scootering across campus…

Braces still suck, though, simply because my mouth feels puffy, it’s nearly impossible to take a good bite and difficult to chew, and flossing is both monumentally important and extraordinarily time consuming. I’m afraid it’s going to be a long year, no matter how “young” braces purportedly make you look.

What are They Teaching our Kids These Days?

Tuesday, February 12th, 2013

models-observed-human-naturalI’ve been teaching environmental politics and policy for 20 years, so you can imagine my reaction to learning that a staff member at our local nature center told a group of Boy Scouts that global warming is just a cycle. Of course, the earth’s climate has changed naturally over the billion years of its existence. That global temperatures rise in response to increased heat is a basic principle of climate science. (And they fall when heat is lost.) However, according to the IPCC – Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – rising temperatures since the late 20th century are due to human activities.

Global warming is problematic because it contributes to dangerous and costly changes in weather – or short-term atmospheric changes, as opposed to fluctuations over the long-term. In the United States, both the violence of winter storms and the temperature and duration of heatwaves have increased, for example. Repairing the damages attributed to hurricane Sandy last year are estimated to exceed $70 billion; consumer prices for food are currently 2.5%-3.5% higher than a year ago due to last summer’s drought, which was harsher and more extensive than anything the United States has experienced in over 25 years.

Chief among the basket of greenhouse gases responsible for the climate feedbacks responsible for global warming is carbon dioxide (CO2) which is emitted from the combustion of fossil fuels currently believe necessary for heating and cooling our homes, offices, etc., and moving us around. It’s easy to understand why the petroleum industry would oppose CO2 regulation, but what about everyone else? Surely, investment in more efficient transit and cleaner sources of energy that are expected to generate long-term economic growth and jobs as well as a clean air and a stable climate is better than hemorrhaging relief aid.

aerial-photo-Los-Angeles-AHLB4483I am a recreational athlete and asthmatic, who spends more than the usual amount of time outside, and lives in a city renowned for poor air quality due to a combination of a large population, Southern California’s notorious automobile traffic, and the region’s bowl-shaped topography that traps pollution West of the mountains. So, yeah, I’d support transitioning to clean, renewable energy sooner rather than later, regardless of climate change and whatever impacts it might have on that speck of So. Cal. I call home.

More generally, though, I honestly have a hard time with the idea that some of my fellow Americans – dare I say neighbors and family members? – honestly believe that sustaining the capacity for corporate giants to make yet more money and, perhaps, preserving our individual driving privileges trumps the rights of all of us to the clean air necessary to healthy living. Pollution from energy production combined with the overall increasing costs of petroleum are reason enough to conserve energy, carpool, and opt for cleaner, renewable fuels. Climate change just ups the ante.

Trial Run: Mt. San Gorgonio – 11,500 Feet

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

IMG_1001One of my daughter Reiley’s goals for her 15th year was to climb Mt. Whitney, which at 14,505 feet is the highest peak in the lower 48 United States. “Okay,” I said, completely oblivious to the annual lottery process used to allocate hiking permits, the near certainty that my assent would entail donning a backpack again for the first time in more than 20 years, and the reality that hiking a 14er from home at roughly 1200 feet might just require more training than I’d bargained for.

We really lucked out. Just about the time we’d figured out how to enter the lottery, a friend who’d scored a permit for this summer posted on Facebook that he was looking for four more hearty souls to join his group. Within weeks, we were hiking regularly – with weighted packs. For the record, when you need to carry little more than water and a wind-breaker, even ultralight feels like hell over 10,000 feet at the end of a long, hot day.

Thankfully, we actually needed our packs this past weekend. We hiked Mt. San Gorgonio, the highest mountain in Southern California. We loaded up with everything we expect to need on Whitney, sans fleece and a bear canister, and headed up the Vivian Creek Trail. Of the many trails to the San Gorgonio peak, none is as steep as the Vivian Creek trail, which climbs more than a vertical mile in less than eight miles to the summit.

I’m happy to report that with the exception of Reiley’s bout with altitude sickness, we did okay. Setting out after noon on a 10+ mile round trip hike from camp to the peak may not have been our brightest move. (That made day one a 13+ mile hiking day!) And the final half mile or so was pretty hellish. But I learned the value of salty, reconstituted food eaten directly from the bag it cooked in, and easily earned my two-hour post-hike nap.

Facts about Mt. Whitney:

Description of the Vivian Creek Trail to Mt. San Gorgonio:

Overview of Altitude Sickness:

Shocked that I Just Talked About “It”

Monday, May 7th, 2012

C006/1959It all started with Julia Sweeney's sex ed monologue. Sweeney riffs on a conversation she had with her eight-year-old daughter about the mating practices of frogs…and humans. Sweeney’s daughter’s reaction to the straightforward description of how a woman’s egg gets fertilized – “Well…the sperm comes out of [the man's] penis” – was dead on. “Her face twisted up with a look of disgust.”

I think disgust followed jaw-dropping disbelief in my own case. If my mother had not backed up her story with a book by an actual doctor that included a series of remarkably convincing line drawings accompanied by descriptive text, I’m sure I would have walked away from our talk with my stork-filled sky variant on the facts of life well intact.

Contrary to current advice, my mother did not expound on the reasons anyone would want to do “it” – other than to make a baby, of course. “The talk” was heavy on anatomy and reproduction, including the basics of sexual intercourse and it’s primary purpose: pregnancy. It notably did not cover sexuality or sexual behavior more broadly defined, birth control, sexually transmitted diseases, or sexual decision making in the context of teens’ social lives. I credit my initial reaction to the idea of sex, underscored by more exposure to childbirth and more childcare experience before my first date than some people enjoy in a lifetime (my younger siblings numbered seven, with two still in diapers, on my 16th birthday), for effectively preventing teen sex and unintended pregnancy in my own case.

It worked so well that when my eldest daughter, Reiley, blurted, “That’s gotta hurt” upon learing that babies emerge naked from “a special opening between the mommy’s legs,” I went with it. “Yes, it does!” I agreed. And I confirmed her corresponding reluctance to welcome any intrusions into her “girl parts,” and prepubescent commitment to delay dating until she is 30. I could have seized the moment to discourse on the potential physiological, emotional, and social ills associated with sex, or to assure her that she would change her mind when the right “one” comes along. But I didn’t.

Rather, I chose to honor my daughter’s gut response to sex – empower her to say, “No” – not because I want Reiley to think sex is” sinful,” or so earthshaking that it requires waiting, but simply because she doesn’t want any part of it yet. Despite the likelihood that there is some super mature 14 year old out there who enjoys sex and is physically ready and protected as well as emotionally prepared for a sexual relationship, I think Reiley’s current ban on boys is both appropriate and healthy at her age.

This was the gist of my contribution to the shocking discussion during Jeanna’s Cinco de Drinko party Saturday – a truthful chat about the damage our parents’ efforts to instill their values about sex can do to us, about social pressure to form relationships and solidify them with sex, about how difficult it can be to make the “right” decision, about male prerogatives, about the embarrassment and stickiness of the physical act itself, and, yes, about the babies.

Susan Maushartargues that women need to drop the giddy “mask” of motherhood. I think sex deserves the same treatment. It’s time to talk about it.

Safe Boobiess Need a Healthy Place to Live

Monday, April 30th, 2012

“The mandate to nurse and the mandate to titillate are competing claims that continue to shape women’s fate. Since the beginning of the Judeo-Christian era, churchmen and secular males, not to mention babies, have considered the breast their property, to be disposed of with or without women’s consent.”

~ Marilyn Yalom, History of the Breast

My latest reading includes science writer Florence Williams’s Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History, which begins with the observation that breasts “can turn both babies and grown men into lunkheads.” Her history of this “evolutionary masterpiece” repeatedly juxtaposes the maternal and erotic role of breasts in contemporary, predominantly Western, culture. Williams situates her own lactating breasts squarely at the center of the toxic stew produced by modern, industrial economies developed to satisfy human desire, as opposed to ensuring its survival.

The list of ingredients in human breast milk? 4% fat, vitamins A, C, E, and K, sugars, essential minerals, proteins, enzymes, and antibodies – amounting to 100% of the recommended daily allowance of everything a baby needs to grow. In addition, there’s a proprietary mix of bonus ingredients evolved to moderate the nursling’s appetite, and thwart everything from the flu to cancer for her entire lifetime. The stuff is valued at 262 times the price of oil! Unfortunately, it also includes some geographically specific blend of DDT, PCBs, trichloroethylene, perchlorate, dibenzofurans, mercury, lead, benzene, and arsenic. No wonder, Williams’s agenda includes a call to "Save the Boobies."

What makes breasts so mercurial—and so vulnerable? The short answer is that they evolved to provide human infants with all the nutrition necessary to survive long enough to learn to carry themselves and to contribute to the family’s dinner table. (I continue to find this evolutionary tale far more persuasive than the alternative: female breasts grew large and round primarily to attract eligible mates.) They are particularly susceptible to disease – cancer, in particular – because they grow and change over the course of a woman’s lifetime, providing multiple points of exposure to our increasingly contaminated environment.

I’d like to believe that the research Williams marshals in the interest of saving women’s breasts (as opposed to preventing their deaths from breast cancer) will do the trick. Unfortunately, in the absence of resistance to market-based approach to breast cancer research, I think Williams herself might strike closer to the truth with her cynical comment that there is simply far less money to be made preventing breast cancer relative to treating it.

Ladies, are you willing to fight?

Olive Oil as Facial Cleanser: Who Knew?

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

459064_10150768886778739_645133738_9565785_1521440565_oApparently a whole lot of people. My mother among them. My 14-year-old daughter returned from a weekend at my mom’s and promptly advised me to start using olive oil as a moisturizer. After all, that’s what my mom is using, and she looks great.

Naturally, I checked it out. Jenni Wiltz cites Carol Firenze’s The Passionate Olive
and Cal Orey’s The Healing Powers of Olive Oil in her history, which credits the Ancients with the first use of olive oil as a cleanser and emollient. In short, hormones, trapped bacteria, and dirt – NOT oil – causes oily skin and acne. Oil protects skin. When the skin’s natural oils are removed, the body reacts by producing MORE oil – hence, the familiar vicious cycle of ever more harsh astringents to combat oily and oilier skin. An oil based cleanser arguably provides a more effective way to remove unwanted bacteria and dirt, with far less drying.

With respect to adapting the use of olive oil to facial care regimens for contemporary women, the Beauty Bottle's Stephanie probably provides the most thorough discussion how to use olive oil as a treatment and moisturizer. Many others provide simpler instructions. I like The Simple Mom's Tsh Oxenreider’s, in particular.

Tsh advises:

1. Create: Mix selected oils together in a small bottle, give it a little shake, and you’ve got yourself an effective facial cleanser. The most popular blend of oils for this cleansing method is castor oil and extra-virgin olive oil. Castor oil draws dirt out of pores; olive oil moisturizes, helping heal and nourish the skin.

2. Rub: Pour a quarter-sized amount into your palm, rub your hands together, and slowly massage your skin with your fingertips. Don’t splash your face with water first — apply it dry. Work the oil into your skin for about a minute. Don’t scrub — just rub.

3. Steam: Wet a washcloth with hot water, and put it over your face until it’s about room temperature to remove impurities and dead skin cells. It’ll take about a minute.

4. Wipe off the oil: Take the washcloth, rinse and wring it, then gently wipe off the oil. Your skin will probably feel softer immediately.

Most sites advise using this cleansing routine once a day – preferably at night, splashing water on your face and following with a bit of olive oil or your favorite moisturizer in the morning. I’ve tried it for two days so far, and it appears to work. My face immediately felt smoother and, almost more importantly, it is much less red after washing – even when I add a bit of fine (so-called “baker’s”) sugar to create a natural scrub.

For those who want to give it a shot, but shy away from undiluted olive oil, a mix of water and oil also works and forms the basis for commercial olive oil washes currently available from DHC and Kiss My Face.

Come on, try it. After all, what do you have to lose? Unlike other cleansers and moisturizers you’ve tried, this one can become dinner if it doesn’t solve your skin issues.

A Woman is Much, Much More than “Just” a Beautiful Body

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012


This ad has generated a lot of discussion. While the disciplined “work it” mantra resonates with many  health-conscious women, athletes, and exercise enthusiasts, it rubs critiques the wrong way by, yet again, equating a women with her body. What do you think?

Daddy Loves Me More!

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012


Because Maz is gone Monday-Thursday working out of town, I often have to run only on Friday-Sunday. Sam and I look forward to our runs every weekend, and Maz is more than willing to accommodate us both.  This is a view I caught while getting ready for my morning run.

I’m not really sure where I would fit into this picture…

A New Look at Almost Four Months Old!

Thursday, February 9th, 2012


This is the very first photo of my little Everett without oxygen. Tubes attached to the little guy’s nose have been part of almost every picture since he was born, until now.

Everett did have a few days in the hospital when he didn’t need oxygen, and that was wonderful. I remember he was just a few days old, maybe a week old, when he no longer needed it…It was the same day they took him off the lights for Jaundice. That was the very first time I was able to hold Everett for longer than 30 minutes! He was so small, not even 2.5 lbs and it was almost unheard of for such a little baby to go without oxygen so soon.

A short time, maybe five days, later, he was put back on…I remember the day and I cried.

Up until a few weeks ago, Everett always had some help breathing. It has been the biggest pain, but we all dealt with it knowing that the little “puff” he was getting was helping him.  I couldn’t tell you the amount of times we tripped over the cord, or Everett spit up through his nose and into the tube. He even tried to “eat” the tubing or put the tubing on top of his nose.

All I can say is that my little boy clearly comes alive in this picture.