Wednesday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

Update: Thanks for the feedback on “barefoot” running this past Monday. I ended up at my usual women’s running store (See Jane Run) and learned that they stopped carrying the toe shoes because of injury complaints and people stopped buying the shoes. I tried on a couple pairs of minimalist shoes and ended up going with the New Balance Minimus (pictured on right). Honestly? They aren’t much thinner than my beat-up Nike luminars. I will continue to run in both shoes.

In political news: The Washington Post published a front-page article on Sunday on how, in spite promoting family-friendly legislation, the White House remains one of the most family-unfriendly jobs. Most of the top job-holders either don’t have children, have grown children or have stay-at-home spouses.

In health news: In light of preventable illnesses making a comeback — like measles — BlogHer published a blog post on how parents who choose not to vaccinate their children are “jerks” who are basing their decision on debunked science. The comments were interesting, and overall, respectful in tone. Both are worth a read!

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?


Dance With Me (And Play BINGO)!

It’s official. There is now a YouTube clip of me dancing very horribly. LOL!

I and my co-workers at MomsRising created the clip in celebration of National Women’s Health Week this week:

Among the activities we have planned is a BINGO card of activities to do. We have been posting images of our members on Tumblr and Facebook. Here’s one of me stretching before a run.

Please join us! You can download your BINGO card here. Thanks!


I Completed My Second Half Marathon and I Feel Great

Best Time: 2:15
Tinkerbell Time: 2:18

Photo from left to right: I was honored to run the race with my best friend and partner, Erika Chavez, her mother Guillermina Chavez, another dear college friend of ours Courtney Dyar, myself and dear childhood friend Rachel Johnston. (Not pictured: my other partner, Gloria Riesgo.) Here we are sporting our Tinkerbell medals after the race!

Fitness is important to me. My mother’s family has this nasty tendency towards obesity, Type II diabetes and heart attacks that kill only the women in our family, not the men.

My grandmother died of heart failure in her late sixties – very surprising, considering she was the youngest and spriest of all of my grandparents. Almost three years ago, my aunt – her daughter — died of heart failure in her early 50s, leaving three children behind, ages 13 and under. My mom, too, has dealt with weight issues and type II diabetes for as far back as I can remember.

Needless to say, I undergo regular checkups, eat as many fruits and vegetables as I can, and exercise every other day. The latter is especially hard with two small children, a paying job, a marriage and a house. But when I look at my family history of diabetes and heart disease, it is motivation enough for me to get up when my alarm goes off at 4:30 a.m..

Yes, I actually get up between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. at least two weekdays a week to go for an 8-mile run, or work in the morning so that I can run later in the day. Running has been my passion since I was a kid because it is free, I can do it anywhere and I feel great when I am done.

I didn’t run my first half marathon (13.1 miles) until June 2011 at the age of 34. This past weekend, a month shy of my 35th birthday, I ran my second half marathon through Disneyland and finished in 2 hours and 18 minutes!

Here were my times throughout the race:

• I completed a 5K, or 3.1 miles, in 31 minutes and 21 seconds, at an average pace of 10 minutes and 5 seconds.

• I completed a 10K, or 6.2 miles, at 1 hour and 4 minutes at an average pace of 10 minutes and 19 seconds.

• I completed a 15K, or 9.3 miles in 1 hour and 37 minutes at an average pace of 10 minutes and 30 seconds.

• I completed the half marathon (13.1 miles) in 2 hours and 18 minutes at an average pace of 10 minutes and 35 seconds.

I tried to run the 12th mile as fast as I could, but I felt incredibly fatigued and could not will my legs to lift high enough. That is my challenge for next time – oh yes, there will be a next time! – to end as strongly as I started. But I am savoring this personal triumph as I share my Tinkerbell medal with my 4-year-old daughter, who actually took the medal with her to school earlier this week.  

I smile as she reminds me what all of this is for: my personal fitness and health.


Study: Daily Exercise Boosts Cognitive Ability

Researchers in South Carolina have found that students who exercise in school 45 minutes a day were not only physically fit but boosted more cognitive skills than students who had physical education once a week.


Dr. Julian Reed, an associate professor of health sciences at Furman University who has been studying the effects of Legacy’s 45-minutes-a-day exercise program on its students’ brains, found that not only did they improve on 92 percent of the fitness measures tested, they also grew by 59 percent in their cognitive abilities, compared to 25 percent for students of similar backgrounds in other schools who had just one period of PE a week.

At a time when physical education is being trimmed back because of budget cuts, and state and federal governments are placing greater demands for academic performance, Reed believes his year-long study demonstrates that regular exercise should be a vital part of the curriculum.

“If we can demonstrate that kids perform better and it increases their cognitive ability, it gives further leverage to say, hey, we need to make sure our kids get more movement opportunities, not less,“ he told

Have your schools cut back on physical education? What has been the effect on students?


The amazing placenta

I came across this article about new research on the placenta, and I wanted to bring it to the MT community’s attention. Possible future applications of this research include treating cancerous tumors, identifying early which pregnant women are likely to develop pre-eclampsia, and a post-delivery test that might indicate which babies are at higher risk of developing an autism-spectrum disorder.

After the jump I posted a few excerpts from the article.

The placenta is much more than a filter:

Penn’s latest work, which is being readied for publication, supports an increasingly persuasive scientific hypothesis that the placenta shapes the development of a fetus and its organs. A recent study found that serotonin, a neurotransmitter that is critical for neurodevelopment, is not made in the early developing brain but instead is made and transmitted to the fetus by the placenta. Other studies have offered evidence that corticotropin-releasing hormone—which the placenta produces in exponentially increasing amounts as pregnancy progresses—stimulates the fetus’s adrenal glands to manufacture cortisol, which many fetal organs require to mature.

Yet according to Penn, the dogma that the placenta serves only as a passive filter between mother and baby still dominates most doctors’ thinking. “Medical students are taught that the endocrinology of the placenta itself doesn’t actively change the development of the internal organs of the fetus,“ she says. “I think placental hormones will prove to be an extremely important piece of the puzzle of fetal neurodevelopment. And because we’re very good at creating medications, that may be the piece we can fix most easily“—with new drugs that, for example, provide an adequate substitute for missing allopregnanolone or oxytocin. More than 12% of births in this country occur prematurely, adding up to more than half a million infants annually who might benefit from this branch of placental research.

And scientists may be able to use placenta research to identify women and children at risk for serious conditions:

Studying the molecular profile of placental activities may also help physicians intervene sooner in cases of preeclampsia, a sudden, severe complication of pregnancy characterized by the mother’s extremely high blood pressure. The condition occurs when the placenta’s tumorlike invasion of maternal blood vessels fails and the organ is deprived of sufficient blood and oxygen. That triggers the release of chemicals from the placenta that cause hypertension—the placenta may force up maternal blood pressure to draw more blood and oxygen to itself.

The potentially dire results of preeclampsia, which can develop in just a few hours, may be eased if the condition is identified earlier. “Right now the screening protocols we have to offer a pregnant woman are unbelievably primitive,“ says Fisher. “We test blood pressure, check for protein in the urine and look for swelling. But studying the abnormal molecules that the placenta produces when things go wrong should help us develop blood tests that will warn if a woman is at risk for preeclampsia or preterm birth.“ Fisher is testing many placental molecules to find early biomarkers for preeclampsia.

Microscopic placental abnormalities are also emerging as early markers of disease. Among the most intriguing are the ones that involve specialized placental cells known as trophoblasts. The cells make up the two layers of the placental surface—the outer, syncytial trophoblast layer and the inner, cytotrophoblast layer—and as they multiply, the two layers normally fuse, causing bulges in the placental surface that become new villi connecting the placenta to the uterus. What interests Harvey J. Kliman, director of the Reproductive and Placental Research Unit at the Yale University School of Medicine, is the abnormality that occurs when the multiplying cells in the inner layer mostly fail to fuse with the outer layer. That causes the placental surface to curl inward, forming divots called trophoblast inclusions.

Although trophoblast inclusions don’t affect the way the placenta functions, there seems to be a powerful association between those mistaken folds and several genetic disorders—suggesting that the same genetic anomalies cause both the inclusions and problems in cell and tissue formation elsewhere in the body. It has been known for some time, for instance, that trophoblast inclusions show up more often in the placentas of babies with Down and Turner syndromes, genetic diseases marked by physical abnormalities, than in those of normal infants. But recently Kliman discovered that placentas belonging to children who were later diagnosed with a more subtle neurological anomaly—autism spectrum disorder—had three times more trophoblast inclusions than normal.

There’s lots more in the article, so I recommend clicking through to read the whole thing. I have no scientific expertise in this area, but I find this whole area of research fairly mind-blowing. On the other hand, it’s surprising that the placenta hasn’t been more carefully studied before.


When Obesity Gets In the Way of Fun

I was debating if and how to post this story as I know that childhood obesity is a touchy subject. But the incidents mentioned therein bothered me so much that I do want to share them with you.

Last week, I had four cousins from Pennsylvania — two from my father’s side and two from my mother’s side — visit me in California. I sent for the kids, who are aged 16, 15, 12 and 11, and had a wonderful time showing them around the Bay Area. We went to the famous Alcatraz prison — love the audio tour! — the outlet malls near Sacramento, many ethnic restaurants, Haight-Ashbury Street in San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge. We snuck in a daytime visit to the Great America amusement and water park, which is located in Santa Clara, California, or the heart of Silicon Valley.

At Great America, there were a couple disturbing incidents that occurred. On two roller coasters, my 16-year-old cousin, who weighs 300 pounds, was unable to ride because the harness did not fit him. I reacted like my other cousins who were very sweet and told him, “The ride wasn’t that great anyway.” We also called the people who made the rides “pricks.”

But I won’t lie. I am concerned about my cousin’s weight and his 12-year-old sister’s who is large for her age and quickly approaching his size. While I was in the bathroom at Great America, I texted my uncle to tell him what had happened. I apologized for being a “Debbie Downer”, assured him that I did not think it was my place to say anything to his children, but felt wrong not saying anything at all.

“I agree with you,” he texted back. “But I have no control over what they eat at their mother’s house.”

My aunt and uncle are divorced. My uncle is somewhat large and has high blood pressure. My aunt is very large, like the children. Apparently, both my uncle and his sister-in-law — my aunt’s sister — have spoken to them about their weight, but nothing has been done (from what I can tell). My cousin admitted to me not only his weight, but also that he has high blood pressure and his doctor has told him to walk 20 minutes a day. Did I mention that he is only 16?

I tried to steer all of my cousins toward healthier food choices while they were with me, and by day three, limited the soda to one serving per meal. I buy soda only for birthday parties, and my kids don’t ask for it. Off the bat, I was caught by how much soda my overweight cousins drink. They would order the large and then inquire on “free refills.” I put an end to that on day three, gently suggesting that we all drink water since it was a hot day. The unlimited soda drinking felt like buying an alcoholic more beer, reinforcing to me that food and beverages can be an addiction like any other.

My other cousins, by the way, were average-sized, did not ask for soda and junk food, and pretty much ate like me, Markos and the kids do in California. They loved the tofu, for example, while my other cousins snacked at night because they were still hungry.

MotherTalkers, what would you have done in this situation? Are any members of your family this overweight? Do you say anything to them?


Clean Air Ruling: Good Job, Moms!

I was away last week and am now catching up on my e-mails. What a treat it was to learn that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has ruled in favor of families over corporate interests.

Just last Thursday, the EPA issued a rule mandating that power plants in 27 eastern states and the District of Columbia reduce smokestack emissions — specifically sulfur dioxide (SO2) and oxides of nitrogen (NOx) — by more than half in 2014 compared to 2005 levels. As we have extensively written here at Moms Clean Air Force, these emissions are poisonous and linked to air pollution, which studies have shown is bad for our health, especially our lungs and heart.

While polluters have long fought the rules, claiming that they will impede economic growth, the New York Times listed many (monetary) advantages for families:

As is true of nearly every regulation spawned by the landmark 1970 Clean Air Act, the rule’s benefits will greatly outweigh its costs to industry — a truth routinely ignored by the act’s critics, most recently the Tea Party supporters in Congress. The E.P.A. estimates annual benefits at $120 billion to $240 billion, mostly from fewer premature deaths, hospital visits and lost work days associated with respiratory illnesses.

By contrast, the costs of new pollution controls and plant retirements are estimated at $800 million annually, on top of about $1.6 billion in capital improvements already under way in anticipation of the rule.

Also, the capital improvements mean not only clean air, but additional construction and engineering jobs. Imagine if this were a wider movement? Green jobs, anyone?

This is a victory that I, and all you moms — and dads! — out there should savor. Thank you for writing and calling the EPA to combat the barrage of letters and money from polluters.

Of course, our work is not done. We are still pushing the EPA to cut down on mercury emissions. Yes, there is mercury in our water and air, which have been tied to not only lung disease but neurological disorders as well. Here is the link to do that. Thanks all!


Wednesday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

Out of the 14,000 school districts across the country, less than 2 percent have a Latino or Latina superintendent, according to the blog Latina Lista. The good news is there is a new development program to address this disparity.

In somewhat related news: the New Latina blog had a helpful article on raising bilingual children.

In fitness news: Kaiser Permanente recently sent out this e-mail blast to its members on the benefits of walking 30 minutes a day for five days a week. The walk, by the way, can be split up in two 15-minute intervals to receive benefits such as:

reduce the risk of heart disease
decrease new cases of diabetes
strengthen your bones
improve memory,
and it may even help prevent or help cure certain cancers.

My big news: I just signed up for my first full marathon, which will take place in Palo Alto on October 30. Yes, I am insane. Actually, I was inspired by my friend Joe Sudbay, over at AmericaBlog, who is 50 and has run seven marathons! We went out for a run together in Minneapolis, and I was just so inspired. He has been kind with his encouragement and running advice.

Have any of you run a full marathon? Tips? What else is in the news? What’s up with you?


Monday Morning Open Thread

What kid shows do you record? Right now, Ari is into Sponge Bob Square Pants (Nickelodeon) and Eli is into Disney’s Little Einsteins and PBS Kids’ Super Why!.

After “attending” a PBS Kids webinar on Friday, I added another to our list: Martha Speaks. The show, which is based on a book by Susan Meddaugh, presents the point of view of a dog named Martha. It is aimed at building the vocabulary of children between the ages of 4 and 7, perfect for my household which has two kids aged 4 and 7.

At the webinar, Meddaugh and Martha Speaks Senior Executive Producer Carol Greenwald were on hand to talk about the series and answer questions from bloggers. The first thing they announced is that a new episode will air today, “Martha’s Slumber Party of the Weird,” and on Friday, “The Long Rotten Summer.” In between, PBS Kids will air all summer-themed Martha’s Speaks episodes.

I felt nostalgic when Meddaugh described the inspiration for her books: a flea and tick-ridden stray mutt named Martha who her family adopted when Meddaugh’s son was only 8 months old.

“Whether it was a combination of her breeds or the fact that she had been a stray for a while, she was a very interesting dog,” Meddaugh said. “All of our dogs since then have been rescue dogs and stray dogs. You never know where they are going to take you. This little doggie has taken me for a great ride.”

Aw. It reminded me of the wonderful dogs — and a cat! — that we had as a kid in Miami. They, too, were all strays us kids convinced our parents to keep. We don’t have a dog because this isn’t a place where a dog without a collar is likely to show up. People really do take care of their pets here.

But none of the kids have expressed an interest, and Eli is afraid of dogs. I don’t know why, and I am hoping that Martha Speaks will make her more easy around them.

I also thought this was cute: “Whenever 2nd graders ask me whether Martha speaks, they really want to believe that she speaks,” Meddaugh said. She added that having children read to a dog is a great way for them to acquire literacy skills.

Do any of your kids watch Martha Speaks? Do you like it? What are some of your favorite kid shows?      

In other news, Women’s Health ran this blip on longevity:

New Age Rules
You may have inherited your dad’s baby blues and your mom’s lithe legs, but your life span isn’t so predetermined. A new study shows that life expectancy has much more to do with your lifestyle than with your parents’ longevity. Researchers tracked 855 subjects and found that being a nonsmoker, having low cholesterol and blood pressure, and exercising on a regular basis are what pushed people into their nineties and beyond.

I wonder where the subjects lived? I’d like to see more research on air quality and longevity. is circulating a petition to help stave devastating cuts to healthcare coverage for children, the elderly and people with disabilities. Here is why this is important:

Medicaid provides health care coverage to nearly 33 million children, 11 million people with disabilities, and is the primary payer for 64 percent of all nursing home residents.

Even with help from the government, it is difficult to care for those who need it most. These cuts would be devastating for caregiving families. Shudder.

It is summer so I thought I’d run this Circle of Moms piece on “10 Ways to Soothe a Sunburn.”

Kudos to country singer Chely Wright who wrote a wonderful essay about how her faith and sexual orientation are not incompatible for the Huffington Post.

In related news, our Dana over at Mombian crunched Census data numbers and found that a quarter of all same-sex couples in the United States are raising children.

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?


I Ran My First Half Marathon!

ALAMEDA, Calif. — Ever since I lost my pregnancy weight running — I gained between 48 and 50 pounds with each of my two kids — my friends have been pushing me to run a half marathon. I wanted to do it, but like every other mom out there, I had no time.

As a New Year’s Resolution, I signed up for the See Jane Run half marathon — 13.1 miles, by the way — in Alameda, California, which took place this past Sunday, June 5. Before I go into the details and pictures, I want to speak out for every runner, cyclist, or endurance-sport athlete out there: great job. I have such renewed respect for those dedicated enough to practice regularly and compete in their sport. With jobs, families, and other responsibilities, it is not easy. What a feat.

The other consideration is not only the impact these sports have on our bodies, but the amounts of air pollution we are taking in just practicing. Family, friends, and lurking readers: if you want to honor my accomplishment or that of a loved one who enjoys running or any outdoor sport, please write to the EPA to support tough new mercury and air toxics standards. It will take you all of 30 seconds.

Runners and cyclists especially inhale a lot of air pollution because we are on the roads, huffing and puffing to car exhaust and other toxins spewed by businesses like coal plants. But even the happily self-described “couch potato” is affected by air pollution. I was shocked by this map — scroll down in the article — of how many pounds of mercury we inhale every year. Keep in mind that this figure does not include the other fatal toxins we are breathing, like arsenic and carbon dioxide.

If you are as concerned as I am, here is the link to e-mail the EPA. If you have no time to do anything else, just sign the letter.

Now onto the fun stuff. Running a marathon is very much like parenthood. It is exhilarating…and exhausting. There are times when there is nowhere else you’d rather be, and other times when you are wondering what the frick?

A day after I have run the race, my leg muscles are so sore that I am walking with a limp. But I feel like I can accomplish anything. It’s the same feeling I had when my two precious children were born. I want to repeat this experience!

Here is the breakdown of my race on Sunday:

Miles 1 to 5: A lot of runners have passed me, but I know I am maintaining a good pace and will finish the race. I made one mistake this round — I refuse the water at mile 1.

Miles 5 to 8: I feel pretty good. I have hit a second wind and I am riding on it. Then my energy drops at mile 6, and I ask a fellow runner if the “6” sign means we have run 6 miles or we have “only” 6 miles left. “We have run 6 miles,” she says. Uh oh.

I refuse to drink water or take any of the gel packs offered to me at mile 7. (My second and third mistakes.) By mile 8, I drink water at a water fountain — the only time I stop for less than a minute. Then I keep running.

Miles 9 to 11: I reach mile 9, and my friend Monica’s husband, Joe, and their adorable son, Max, are standing at the side of the road. “Finally, someone I know!” I yell.

“Elisa!” little Max yells back. Joe snaps a picture of me at the 9-mile mark:

At mile 10, I come to my senses and accept a cup of water offered to me at one of the stations. I drink, water dribbles all over my shirt, and I throw the cup by the side of the road. (Don’t worry, volunteers were on hand to pick up the cups!)

Miles 11 to 13: At mile 11, I ask one of my fellow runners how long we’ve been on the road. “1:47,” she says.

“One hour and 47 minutes?” I ask incredulously as I have never run 11 miles that quickly.

“Yes,” she responds.

“This is my first race!” I share with her.

“You’re fast for a first-time runner,” she responds, as she easily breezes by me.

I pump my fist in the air, refuse the gummy bears offered to me at mile 11 (my fourth mistake), and pick up speed. The excitement lasts all of a minute, and then I hit a wall. Those last two miles were grueling and took me 28 minutes to complete.

My final time: 2 hours, 15 minutes. That is a 10-and-a-half minute mile.  

Considering that my goal was a.) to jog/run the whole way through — the water fountain at mile 8 was my only stop — and b.) make it under 2 hours and 30 minutes, I smashed my goal. But looking back on it, I probably would have fueled throughout the race. I mean, why else was I offered all those cups of water and gel snacks? Duh.

My husband, a cyclist, couldn’t believe that I completed a half marathon with such little water. No matter, I drank plenty of water and ate delicious Ethiopian food with my family after the race!

Any runners out there? What advice do you have to complete a half marathon?