Who should you trust with your DNA? Are there privacy concerns that we should pay attention to when it comes to genetic testing?

DNA Testing, Heritage, Health, and Heredity

This morning I was reading The Forward and they had a little blurb about how Wirecutter recommended Ancestry.com’s DNA testing but not 23andMe. As the child of an immigrant with limited documentation of births, deaths, and backgrounds I had a unique interest in some of this. Firstly I’ve used 23andme for my own personal results, and secondly, I have used Ancestry to attempt to locate documents.

My experiences with 23andme and Ancestry.com might surprise you.

I was invited to Silicon Valley in 2009 along with some friends of mine to try 23andMe. It was still very much in start up mode and at the time I was neither curious about my DNA nor was I interested in leaving an eight and ten-year-old child home so that I could learn about a new company. So I declined the invitation. After hearing about it later I still wasn’t curious.

About a year after that I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis and instantly I gained interest in my genetics but was also terrified to learn too much. What had I passed along to my children? Sometime in 2016 I bought a 23andMe kit and found out some of the most boring information ever doled out. I found out I was likely to have brown eyes. I found out I was more than 96% Jewish. I found out that I was likely to have RA. I was waiting for them to tell me the sky was blue.

More recently I decided to apply for German Citizenship under article 116 (2) of the German Basic Law. This required me to locate documents from Germany proving that my parent and Grandparents had been stripped of their citizenship. The documents required were hosted on JewishGen.com, owned by Ancestry.com. They charged me to have access to my family’s information; birth dates, death dates, incarceration dates, marriage licenses, notes from concentration camps, and the like. There is something so inherently distasteful about profiting from someone trying to document their family’s demise in concentration camps that I held my nose and paid the $100 fee.

After selling me access to my Grandfather’s vital records Ancestry.com wants to sell me DNA testing services. Does that sound like a good idea to anyone?

Here’s the thing. 23andMe may be imperfect but it was founded by tech pioneers whose goals were to serve science. Ancestry has its home in Utah where the founders were Mormon. The LDS Church has long been a great resource for genealogy. The Church has this to say on the matter:

Genealogy, the study of one’s ancestors or family history, is one of the most popular hobbies in the world. People of all faiths and nationalities enjoy discovering where they come from. For members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, however, learning about one’s family history is more than just a casual endeavor. Latter-day Saints believe families can be together after this life. Therefore, it is essential to strengthen relationships with all family members, both those who are alive and those who have died.

Now, I understand that Ancestry is no longer a Mormon holding but it is still based in Lehi, Utah where 93% of the population is LDS. This is not a criticism of Mormon beliefs or philosophies, but there needs to be an acknowledgment that when you entrust a company with your most personal data an understanding of why the company exists may help you decide if you trust their privacy policies.

I’m not sure that sending your DNA to a privately held company that sells birth certificates is a good idea.

I am, however, certain that DNA testing is a great idea. I was able to take my raw data from 23andMe and input into a website called Promethease. Promethease’s privacy policy is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Your reports are deleted from their servers after 45 days if you’ve created an account and if you choose not to create an account it’s deleted after 24 hours. Promethease encourages people to pay using Bitcoin and to use their service from behind Tor.

The information I got from taking my raw data from 23andMe and running it through Promethease was actually quite helpful. I found that I’m one of the people who doesn’t synthesize methotrexate well and since that is one of the first treatments for Rheumatoid Arthritis this would have been extremely useful to know in 2010 when methotrexate was leaving me bruised and destroying my stomach while doing nothing at all to alleviate the symptoms of RA. I also found out that my genotype is 3.5 times more likely to suffer liver damage from the use of NSAIDs as well as gastrointestinal bleeding.

If you have a chronic disease like RA detailed genetic testing might be a good idea.

The information I was able to share with my rheumatologist is vital to sustained good health. I’ve been in remission with hardly a flare for several years now, but when things flare up (and they will because diseases suck that way) we’ll know that NSAIDs are the last course of treatment, not the first.

Genetic testing isn’t for everyone. Surely there are results most of us don’t want to see. I personally didn’t look at the results for a few of the higher stakes tests: think Alzheimers and Parkinsons. It’s extremely personal.

I worry though when sites like Wirecutter, that are respected by the tech community

Your vagina is just fine. Really. And your labia do not need a trim either.

7 Things Every Midlife Woman Knows Her Vagina Need Not Do

By the time you’ve hit 47 your vagina has either stretched to accommodate a child or been given a hall pass. The good news is that they’re really just a tube surrounded by muscles and most often things go right back to where they began, or pretty darned close. Of course for some women there are issues and they’ll need to consult with a gynecologist but for the vast majority we have compiled a list things your vagina never has to do.

1. Go Flamenco Dancing: I mean, sure you can go flamenco dancing and obviously your vagina will accompany you but she needn’t carry her own fan. Give the little lady a rest. Let her enjoy the dance without the work.

Go flamenco dancing but let your vagina just be there with you. She doesn't need to carry her own fan.

2. Shoot ping pong balls: If you’re looking to play a little beer pong this lady can teach you how and your vagina can just come along for the ride without doing any of the heavy lifting.

A post shared by Jared Pope (@jaredpope1) on

3. Squirt: If you are a squirter have no shame. If you don’t that’s okay too. This article explains squirting pretty well and and links to some research if you want more information.

4. Get Bleached: that color, whatever color your labia may be, that’s the right color. Don’t change it.
Do not bleach your labia. There really shouldn't be more discussion than this but really, don't do it. There's no reason at all.

5. Putting rocks in her: Anything GOOP recommends is suspect. I’m pretty sure they’re trolling us more often than not. But your vagina doesn’t need a $65 polished rock. It just doesn’t. If you think that putting a jade egg inside of you will have strengthening and healing powers go for it. Just make sure it’s clean and you use a fragrance free soap. Here's an egg you put in your vagina. GOOP says you need it. We say.... 6. Douches: Unless a gynecologist recommends one (not even sure how that would happen) douching is on the short list of things your vagina should never need to endure. A 2011 study concludes that frequent douching increases the risk of pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancy, and, possibly, cervical cancer.Current literature suggests that frequent douching increases the risk of pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancy, and, possibly, cervical cancer.7. Have Plastic Surgery: There’s a special kind of sadism that markets labiaplasty to women who think their labia are too big, uneven, or somehow otherwise imperfect. Unless there’s pain involved there’s nothing to fix. Leave your labia alone.According to the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology:A recent analysis of internet marketing for labiaplasty by Liao et al. (BMJ Open 2012;2:e001908) found unsubstantiated claims for physical, psychological and sexual benefits on every website studied. Far from reassuring girls and women about healthy genital variability, surgeons are active participants in distorting the norms in ways that can undermine vulval confidence and put pressure on women to modify their vulva.

Women’s vulvas haven’t changed in the past decade. Our physicians have. One plastic surgeon has the gall to make you click through to see the highlighted text:
Plastic surgeons are telling women that their vaginas need to be trimmed

What three items should every tennis bag have in the hot summer months

Tennis Gear Discoveries

This week I had three discoveries in the tennis pro shop that are changing my game. Firstly, it’s hot here. Not a little hot. Very. Saturday’s match began in 90° heat. USTA rules don’t call games for heat unless the temperature is 95° or higher when you begin.

So we played. And we struggled and my opponent tried to sit longer than 90 seconds when we switched sides, and I tried to move her along without making either of us too miserable.

I had a secret weapon and it’s about to be the worst kept secret ever because I’m basically telling everyone I know that Endurolytes will change their game.

You’re supposed to take two an hour with lots of water. The guys at the bike shop explained to me that it’s important to make sure you’re drinking a lot of water with them or you’ll be out of balance. One said to treat water and Endurolytes like peanut butter and jelly. I nodded thinking I’d just bought the world’s most expensive placebo. But during my match when I was drenched with sweat and popping just one capsule an hour while feeling no effects of the heat I decided that Endurolytes were the best trick ever. Even better than the salt packets I stole from fast food joints when I used to run marathons.

Endurolytes saved me from muscle cramps and fatigue in the heat.

The next time I play I’ll try taking two an hour. I just love getting electrolytes without having to drink sweet things or eat candies.

My second discovery only applies if you wear a women’s sized shoe up to size 9.

I’ve had a really tough time finding no-show socks that don’t slip down my shoe when I’m playing. It seems as though when I jump or serve the socks sort of slide down my heel and into the arch of my foot in the most uncomfortable way. I mentioned this to one of the ladies in the pro shop and she said, “Don’t you know about the socks.”  And I just stared at her dumbfounded. I did not know about the socks.

Nike No-Show Tab Socks in a Youth large size is the right size for most women

Apparently the Nike Elite Cushioned Support socks in 4-6 youth is the perfect size for my foot (Women’s size 8.5 US). Buy some, you’re welcome.

Lastly I found that CVS’ spray bottle hand sanitizer is a lifesaver when you need to get sunscreen off your palms during a match.

I coat myself in sunscreen before I warm up, spray my body again after warming up and reapply to my face and neck. Every 30 minutes or so I’m spraying again so by the time I’ve had a couple of hours on the court (sometimes three if I’m playing doubles) there is a thick layer of sunscreen all over me and it does nothing to help my grip.

I found that a couple sprays of this hand sanitizer is extremely helpful when there just isn’t the opportunity to wash your hands.

CVS hand sanitizer is a must have for your hot weather tennis bag.

I’m ready for a hot summer with plenty of great match play. What are your hot weather gear tips?

Like You Never Tried to Take Your Underwear Off Before Your Pants….

I don’t like the dentist. I mean, I like her because she’s a nice lady but when I hear the whirr of a drill I break into a sweat and wish for a quick death.

That is not hyperbole.

Yes it is. I lied to you already.

When I was in Mexico during the holidays I noticed a little dent in one of my teeth. I phoned the dentist to set an appointment, but as everyone knows at the end of the year folks are using up their insurance benefits and it’s tough to get in. Since there was no pain, not even a little discomfort, I took an appointment in the middle of January.

Two days before the appointment my tooth turned grey. It had died.

Since my entire dental history consisted of the removal of my wisdom teeth and filling a cavity at 21 I had no idea what was in store for me. My fear of dentistry and drills was compounded by the fact that my friend’s alcoholic father had removed my wisdom teeth and left me with dry sockets at 19, and then later at 21 I won my one and only filling in a poker game in the back room of the restaurant I worked in. I don’t think that dentist was any better at dentistry than he was at poker. I had that filling fixed at 30 and I’m still recovering from the incident.

In any event my dead tooth meant I needed a root canal. I didn’t know what a root canal is. When the dentist tried to explain it to me I got woozy. I still don’t know what a root canal is except that it’s $650 after insurance, takes three appointments to complete, and you get Xanax.

Oh, apparently there are people who have root canals and then go to the office. My husband has told me about these people. These are not my people. My people sweat bullets, cancel appointments from nerves, and then take Xanax and maybe act a little silly.

My people have good intentions and low thresholds for pain.

There are three appointments for a root canal. The first involves drilling, the second involves drilling and things, and the third involves something and something and a credit card… see I’m a good listener. I made my first appointment and then a few hours before the scheduled time I canceled it. Something about traffic. I made another appointment. I canceled it muttering something else about traffic. The receptionist noted that I lived walking distance from the office and asked if I would like some Xanax so that I could get to the appointment without anxiety.

Yes please. Yes I would like a bucket of Xanax for each and every visit to the dentist forever and ever amen.

They called in a prescription, I filled it, swallowed a pill and dutifully showed up for my next appointment. High. Very very high.

I had my son with me. We took a Lyft to the office and my daughter was to pick us up. He had a cleaning while I had the unnamed first root canal appointment that everyone in the free world knows about and understands because they can listen to the dentist’s words without their eyes rolling back in their head and their stomach churning. Everyone but me.

My recollection is that I sat in the chair with my noise reducing headphones, listened to some music and slept while they worked on my tooth. My daughter then picked us up and I went home and slept in my overstuffed chaise lounge from 2pm until the following morning. My recollection was that I acted like a lady.

Sadly my recollection was incorrect.

The first tip off was that I woke up in bed. Not in the chaise I was sure I’d been napping in.

Apparently there were requests for food. Perhaps calls to my husband during a business dinner. Here are the texts from my daughter’s phone:

text messages with a father and daughter
text messages

In my defense I have taken Xanax a number of times before, particularly for transcontinental flights. Typically I get a few pills at .25mg, break them in half, take half and wake up in a new country. Only after hearing from my children about how I stood on the landing above the living room trying to remove my underwear while my jeans were still very much on my body and buttoned up did I check the dosage the dentist had given me. Two Milligrams! Sixteen times the dose I’d taken dozens of times in the past.

Today I’m going for appointment number three. I’ve decided that I’ll have an old fashioned with a light lunch, wear really strong antiperspirant and let someone drive me to and fro the appointment. Or maybe a smidgen of Xanax, but only enough so that I know how to get myself dressed.

Or maybe I’ll just cancel the appointment… traffic. I mean, I still have enough teeth to get through a meal, right?

I Joined a Contact Team Sport After 40

I understand the value of team sports. I loved them growing up and as an adult play doubles tennis for very different reasons than I’d play singles. In my 30’s I went out to play soccer as I’d done in my teens and decided that contact sports just aren’t destined to be part of my life any longer. I didn’t want to get bashed around.

When we asked our friends if they’d taken up a sport at any age over 40 we found that team sports were still appealing and that crashing into other athletes is good at any age.

What made our friends take up a team sport after 40?

Tanis Miller has two kids in University and one who will always live at home. Her husband travels a good deal for work, she’s been a runner for most of her life, and when a friend convinced her to try out for a ball hockey team she said yes without thinking too much about it. Tanis was surprised to find out how much she loves it.

Having known Tanis a good long time I had to ask what in the world she was thinking playing any sort of hockey with a back injury. She said:

I do have major back issues, including neuropathy in my feet and chronic back pain, all residual due to the nerve damage I sustained in a bad fall. Protecting my back and continuing to strengthen it is my number one health priority. I’ve learned over time the very best pain management I can find is to move and to keep moving. Since my son is only going to grow bigger and heavier, and he is always going to be a quadriplegic, I need to learn how to live with my back injury while still being able to parent and safely lift him.

I am very selective and protective on the activities I will engage in, so as to not hurt myself while I strengthen and maintain my fitness. No ice or snow sports other than snowshoeing (which I love). However, that said, life is short, yoga gets boring and I can’t live in a bubble. Joy is out there, waiting to be found. Who knew, for me, it would involve running around a concrete rink, wearing hockey gear, holding a stick and chasing a hard rubber ball? And yet here I am. 7 years ago, after my accident, I would never have thought it possible. One step at a time. I don’t take it for granted at all.

Contact Sports Midlife

Jennifer Taggart: Attorney at Brawl – Why Jennifer joined the Roller Derby at 40

Jennifer roller skated her days away as a child and loved every minute of it. At 40 she really wanted to do something that would help her get and stay in shape while being on a team with other women. She happened upon roller derby which sounded and was fabulous. Surrounded by women of all ages who loved to skate she found a home with strong and powerful athletes. But with an edge.

Attorney by day, Derby by night, this is Attorney at Brawl.
Attorney by day, Derby by night, this is Attorney at Brawl.

I’m going to go ahead and live vicariously through our contact sport friends. Hockey in all its forms and Roller Derby are exhilarating to watch, so just call us the cheering section.

is skinny a compliment

You’re So Skinny! Compliment or Critique?

Recently a friend called me skinny and it could not mistaken as a compliment. First I noted that my weight is unchanged and I was told that it shows on my face. Then I reflected on the inappropriateness of the discussion. These are not necessarily kind words. Even when they are offered up in gentle spirits.

From a young age we are trained to never tell our friends they look fat or chubby or thick. Perhaps there should be some training for talking to fit and trim girls? 

Note: it’s absurd that I’m the woman defending the “skinny girls” it’s not how I self-identify but it’s a group that every mother of a teenager recognizes as being an undeserving punching bag. 

Sometimes when women are overly critical or snarky I remind myself to be compassionate as I’m likely witnessing their own insecurities bleeding into conversation. However, I find the older I get the less tolerant I am of bad behavior in adults. This recent encounter left me wanting to scream, “We’ve lived half our lives already. Don’t you know better than to be a mean girl?” Instead I defended my weight.

Sometimes being ladylike is freeing, this event made it feel like a burden. 

I’ve worked hard to make myself into the friend that offers a safe place. We are what we do, what we say, how we live, how we give, love and care for the world, and the people around us.

At age 49 I exercise a lot, seven days a week. Exercise reduces my anxiety and stress levels. One of the added benefits of daily exercise is that it helps me keep my weight where it ought to be, and that’s according to my doctor, not a fashion magazine editor. 

In April I’ll be turning 50. 50 is a big milestone for me and though I embrace it I have to admit to not being entirely thrilled by it. My father died at 70 and my mother at 74. This makes me thoughtful about the last third of my life. I work to maintain my health, and like many people there is a fair amount of damage from my 20’s to make amends for. 

As we hit midlife our bodies go through a lot of changes. We acquire some smile lines, grey hair, are more vulnerable to injuries, weight gain, and illnesses. Many of my friends use Botox and fillers and though I think they look fantastic without, it makes them feel good. I tried them and let’s just say that the results were not flattering. I want to use injectables, I just don’t get the desired results. We get a new body every decade or so and have to find out how best we want to feed it, clothe it and care for it. 

Ultimately I know that we have to accept ourselves for who we are and how we look. Our moods and how we live and maneuver though the world should not be contingent upon what the scale says or how many wrinkles we do or don’t have. I certainly want my daughter to know that. I seldom, if ever, discuss dieting or my own weight in front of my daughter. I want to gift her the ability to focus on being the best possible version of herself. That version includes being caring, loving, strong, smart, giving, diligent, hardworking, and resilient.

I don’t see a scenario where my daughter’s best version of herself is measured in her hip size, so why would I punish myself or my girlfriends with such an absurd tool for assessment? 

We don’t celebrate women of every size and age in America, and perhaps even less so in Los Angeles. I understand frustration with being a little overweight and many women over 35 knows what it’s like to have to work doubly hard for a flat stomach. But those skinny girls? Who hasn’t heard (or muttered) the phrase “Skinny Bitch”? 

If you want to avoid being a midlife mean girl let me give you some options. Instead of, “You’re so skinny!” try something like, “You look so fit.” And if it’s a real friend you’d say something more meaningful like, “I’m so happy to see you. How are you?” It’s best to leave the discussions of anyone’s weight to their doctors and dietitians. “You’re so skinny!” is not a compliment, it’s a cut down.


What is CrossFit

Why Do Women Over 40 Love CrossFit?

There was a moment in time where everyone we knew was at CrossFit (not us). Gyms were popping up on every corner and manicured hands were dragging tires across warehouse floors and then climbing ropes like something out of a 1950’s gym class. The only thing missing was a fat coach in knee socks with a cigar in the corner of his mouth.

Recently we asked our friends if any of them had taken up a sport or athletic endeavor after 40. The results were fun, uplifting even. We know a few runners, some women in team sports, a few other solo sports, but there was one activity that kept popping up and it is CrossFit.

We weren’t even sure what CrossFit is other than what you see in the CrossFit Games

We decided to ask some devotees about their experiences.

Julianne Freakley would describe herself as having been fairly active for most of her life. At 42 she stumbled upon a private gym in Richmond, VA called Pure Phit.

The thing I like best about exercising is the feeling that I’ve done something healthy for my body. I love the changes I see when I consistently exercise, and it’s my chance to do something for me! I do something different every day, but as part of a structured class and set of exercises at my gym. Some days we’re focused on squats or dead lifts, other days it’s arms, shoulders and chest.

We have to be careful all of the time of injuries, and that is a major piece of our training, but our trainer is correcting form to prevent injuries.

Friends consistently state that the quality of the trainer makes all the difference the world.

Betsy Bailey spent a lifetime with an aversion to sports and exercise. After one of her teenagers fell ill a few years ago Betsy found that her child’s recovery had become the centerpiece of her life. Aside from being an isolating experience, eventually her physical health started to slide, and she had a couple of injuries that served as a wake-up call. She needed to start taking better care of herself or she couldn’t be helpful to her family.

At age 47 after enrolling in a six week class at CrossFit Obsession Betsy took a shine to CrossFit and soon thereafter her husband joined her. She says:

One thing that always appealed to me about CrossFit is that the overall corporate culture is one of inclusivity, support and community. Of course, individual gyms have their own cultures, but most have a free one week trial so you can get a feel for it before committing. My gym is very family friendly, with quality childcare on site, so it appeals to average people like me who may never be elite athletes, but want to have fun getting fit in a safe, welcoming and nurturing environment.
Also, selecting a gym with coaches who prioritize form and safety went a long way towards easing my worries. Everything can be scaled to accommodate ability level and vulnerabilities.
crossfit rope climb

CrossFit punishes the specialist

Carrie Sandoval took up CrossFit shortly after earning her black belt in Hapkido at age 42. A lifetime athlete Carrie dabbled in many activities including ice skating, snow boarding, wake boarding, gymnastics, cross country running, step aerobics, and traditional weight lifting. While she admits to being above average at all of these activities, she never pursued them competitively or to a very high level.
You can (and should) follow Carrie on Instagram


This year at age 45 Carrie placed 7th in her age division at the CrossFit Games. She says:

CrossFit seemed to bundle up all the activities I love into one package. This is fabulous since CrossFit punishes the specialist! Also, because there are so many elements to CrossFit (olympic and power lifting, gymnastics, running and jumping), I never get bored and there is always something to improve.

Carried Sandoval
Stay with us because soon we’ll tell you about all the runners we know.