Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Why 23andMe is my favorite genetic-testing program

It's been years and years since I sent away my cheek swab and got my 23andMe genetic profile.

Back then - maybe 10 years ago - not may people had registered their family trees at 23&Me, so my first discoveries were not unknown cousins but 'medical' info and other genetic traits.

Here are some surprises that followed:

1. I could participate in research. 23andMe asked me if I'd be willing to answer some questions, and for these many years I've been stopping by their website and responding to their quizzes. Most take 5 minutes or so.

23andMe correlates my answers with my genes and combines my responses with those of others doing the same quiz. For example, one quiz centered on taste preferences. Did I like fresh coriander? No. That helped them home in on which gene causes some people to find coriander soapy.

I don't know the number of these little research projects I've participated in but probably 100-200.

2. I could look up genes they didn't report on. 23andMe keeps an archive of our genome and we have access to it. Here's how that's helpful:

One of my sons is a bit shorter than average yet jumps really high in an important way: he can dunk the basketball. So he was curious if he had a special gene for fast-twitch muscles. He searched Google to find the actual gene responsible, then asked me to look it up in 23&Me to see if I had it. I was amazed that I could do that! Pick a gene and they will let you know which variation you have, what you have inherited.

3. More recently I had a serious issue to research: docs thought my sister had Alzheimer's. Alzheimer's is hereditary (in part) so it was scary to hear we might have it in our family. But I was surprised because I remember well getting my 23andMe report and having to give special permission to see if I had a gene for Alzheimer's (also special permission to learn about a susceptibility to Parkinson's), and I did not have the Alzheimer's gene (that they knew about back then).

So I looked up the gene in my personal archives that 23andMe keeps for me, and found I had much lower than average chance of getting Alzheimer's. And that could easily apply to my sister, too. At least she couldn't have a large tendency to it. So with this information the doc reconsidered and discovered a thyroid problem.

4. And while I was looking at my archive, I found a few things I had forgotten: that I had low risk for cardiovascular disease, also for A-fib. Isn't that nice to know? And I didn't have the main breast cancer gene, either.

5. The results that mean the most to me are included in a separate report from these health-oriented ones. It is the report on my mitochondrial (or Mothers') line. Not all companies report on this, and most folks don't miss it until they start reading about it. For now, let's just say it is the most important result I received from 23andMe.

6. And then there are the cousins. I have discovered many, and some of those were not very distant. But this too is another story.

Conclusion: 23andMe is my favorite. it has given me insights, knowledge, hope, and relatives. And through the mitochondrial reporting, keys to my deep history, food preferences and allergies, and clues about my metabolism.

A final thought: 23andMe keeps our genetic archives so when new discoveries are made, we can apply them to ourselves immediately, without further testing. That's a real bonus and who knows what we'll learn because of it over time.

I've told so many people about 23andMe that I got a referral link. Here it is. If you're interested in more information, please use it:

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Father's Day 2016 - Changes in a context of 'the eternal us'

Travels with Juan these years take place on the road, in the air, in our minds and hearts, and in our bodies. It's all a journey, right?

Here we are, transitioning from our early to our mid-70s. We love where we are in life. But there's no denying that however we look at it, the journey ahead will be shorter than the one we've already taken.

Retirement is not what we thought it might be mostly I suppose because we are both still working!

For one, Juan is now the Chief Scientist of Deep Space Industries.

And since that was an unexpected development and a whole journey in itself, I want to record some of its features and challenges here.

Background: Juan in his persona as Dr John S Lewis, Planetary Scientist at MIT and then the University of Arizona, wrote a book called Rain of Iron and Ice, and then another, Mining the Sky. These were published originally in the late 80s. They were received with great interest, mostly in the category of 'great idea - if only...'

Then, twenty years later and not long ago, entrepreneurs and space aficionados put their heads together and created companies around the ideas he was proposing, including the promise of vast wealth from mining asteroids.

One of those companies, Deep Space Industries, hired him on as Chief Scientist.

Since then he has been busy at work helping bring his mid-life ideas into reality.

One major passion of his is to make space activities more affordable by providing propellants for space-faring from space materials. That means not lifting them from Earth, which costs about $5000 a pound - for example $5000 to lift a pint of water.

Instead, water would be brought downhill from asteroids and dead comets to Earth orbit. Down is easier than up! And water makes the best propellants.

The whole story is fascinating and I recommend the books as a starting point. They are written for interested non-scientists, and are just about as up-to-date now as when they were written.

You can also check out his blog at

So retirement is not as we expected. We'd thought about travel, and feeding ourselves from our garden, and we can do that. And Juan always expected to write science fiction and he's doing that as I write this.

He also picks raspberries endlessly.

This Father's Day we celebrate good health and good times together and the exhilaration of being able to work at what we love: space, science, writing, the garden - and family here and there and yon. We're grateful we've been able to keep doing what we love, however long it may be.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Te Moana

Who has seen the sea?

Flying into Wellington, we followed the coast where the Tasman Sea crashes into New Zealand, then turned to pass through the Cook Strait. To drop into Wellington airport, we needed to circle around the southern tip of the North Island so that we could rock our way down through layers of wind to the peninsula the airport was built on. We might as well have been in Captain Cook's wooden ship. The city was just to the west, just to our left.

At Wellington the Cook Strait connects the Tasman Sea to the South Pacific Ocean. Going straight west from Wellington, just skirting the northern tip of the South Island, a voyager would eventually come to Tasmania. From there it is only a short trip, straight north, to the mainland of Australia. From the same point in Wellington and heading east, the voyager would die of old age before coming to the southern tip of South America. So Wellington is built where the contents of these two vast seas surge and slosh back and forth, creating tidal chaos. And then there are the fierce oceanic winds. The mountains of New Zealand funnel them right through here too. 

Soon after we came to live in New Zealand, we visited friends on the east coast and saw the South Pacific for the first time. Having dipped our toes (in lieu of full immersion) in the Arctic Ocean, South China Sea, and elsewhere, we could not resist a symbolic toe-dipping here in the South Pacific, and when done that left us with a strong desire to do the same in the Tasman Sea.

The two islands that make up New Zealand are long and narrow, and our New Zealand home was about halfway across. So getting to the Tasman Sea was not a problem; it was just a matter of when. We waited through the spring. Then one day the weather was just right. We drove from our small town down the main north-south highway, Route 1, then exited at Foxton in the Horowhenua district. Horowhenua means landslide. The Tasman Sea was straight ahead to the west, still several kilometers away.

We arrived at tiny resort town of Foxton Beach. Soon we could hear the waves thudding. We could see dunes and tall, supple grasses. The houses began to thin out. We were close!

But then the road curved right a full ninety degrees. The dunes were too high to see over. The sand-swept two-lane carpath seemed to run parallel to the coast for a bit, then turned right another ninety degrees and headed back toward the highway. 

It was hard to figure how we could have missed the sea! We backtracked to the place where the road had first turned and parked the car. We could hear the surf, so surely walking would bring us to the water's edge. We found a path through the grasses, well-marked. We slipped along in the sand, dry and almost white. The dunes we trod rose and fell until the path rose steeply. We climbed up, anticipating a perspective that would show us the way. But what we saw before us were yet more dunes. Only on tiptoes could we at times see the tops of waves.

But they were still distant. The paths divided and converged, the dunes lay ever ahead of us, and gradually the sun was setting. We felt out of place, in a strange world. Reluctantly we turned back to the car, which by now was well behind us. Another day we could ask someone we knew where to find the ocean.

What an idiot question to have to ask on a small island! We circled around to the highway, and went home. It was thoroughly dark by the time we got there.

Days later we were invited to share a meal with friends to enjoy paua and kina and other fare from the sea. It was a good time to poke a little fun at ourselves and ask where the ocean was! The response was a shock. Not our shock, not at first, but theirs. The men said, "Why do you want to go there?" 

We told them we wanted to put our toes in the Tasman Sea. They were aghast.

"It's dangerous," they said. "You can get caught in te opape and carried out to sea! We don't go there unless we want paua or kina. When our appetite gets strong, we risk our lives and dive for them. Otherwise no one would go near the sea!"

The paua, which we knew as abalone, required diving. With the surf crashing around, the wet-suited paua hunter enters the cold waters armed with a knife for prying the paua from the rocks on the seabed. Breathing through his snorkel, he searches for legal-sized shells. The surf pounds him and te opape can carry him away. His limit is ten a day.

The paua, lumpy, shadowy, blending with the sand, cover the seabed where they stay submerged even during tai iti. Sunlight is filtered by water and wave-churned debris. Diving, then resurfacing to breathe through his snorkel while searching for paua of the proper size, the wet-suit clad paua-hunter must be aware of tide, surf, and wind. 

The diver flaps from the surf with his floating basket and his ten paua. He has survived another trip into the clutches of te moana

As we heard the fear in their voices and realized the sacrifice they were offering us in sharing their hard-won catch, we were careful just to nibble. But no, they were proud to share. We were their honored manuhiri. It was for us that they had caught them. 

And then they brought out the shells. The backs were sand-colored. But inside, every color. As we held them to the light the colors changed, all centered on aquamarine, sea-colored. Later we read that this mother-of-pearl lining was a combination of inorganic and organic, brittle mineral platelets alternated with supple biopolymers, for strength and resilience. Only ancient types of mollusks make mother-of-pearl. And while it ripples and changes color like ocean waves, it bears no chemical similarity to the aquamarine gem. 

We left our friends and thought that someday soon someone would tell us how to find the Tasman Sea. But no one ever did and we never put our toes in it. But now we know from maps that the road we were on does go to the sea. We had turned toward home too soon. And that may be true of our entire stay in Aotearoa.  

Saturday, August 29, 2015

On The Road Again Spring 2015

We hit the road again on the last day of April 2015 and returned a week into June.

It's not easy leaving a garden for 5 or 6 weeks, but we had the sure knowledge that it always rains in Anacortes in May. Every day. So it was the perfect time to go: nothing would be ready to harvest till we got back, and we could stretch the trip out into June and come home to healthy baby veggies.

And weeds. And grass. Yes, we knew we would have that to cope with. But an excuse for a cross-country road trip was enough incentive to get us past worrying about these.

The overall purpose was to go to my college reunion, in fact my 50th reunion. Yes, I am that old. And at this age you don't want to wait 5 years for the next reunion or you'll miss some old friends. Permanently.

(This kind of talk doesn't bother me. If there's anything about being 72 it's that we might as well be honest about all of life, including the inevitability of death. That said, I don't quite believe it because I feel very much alive, but I get it intellectually, and I'm not going to mince words about it.)

The reunion was at Smith College in Northampton MA. That is something like 3000 miles from our home in WA. But this was not to be an out-and-back trip. Why not see friends and family along the way?

In the end we swung around in a big arc to 28 states, saw 63 real friends and family members (not counting children or mere acquaintances), met several new cousins, got caught in bad storms going and returning, and had a blast. We did close to 9000 miles and listened to several audiobooks. We got behind in newsletters and phone calls and of course the lawn mowing. It was vast and grand and we even got to spend a few hours at Badlands in South Dakota, one of the few tourist excursions of the trip.

And then we got home and found there had been a drought, right here in the Pacific Northwest. The lawn did not need mowing - it was brown. The weeds were likewise not much of a problem. And basically all the crops had failed due to lack of water.

So we had sparse pickings from the many garden boxes we had so earnestly planted before leaving.

Some crops picked up again after a few days of irrigating, such as the raspberries. The chard somehow did marvelously despite the lack of moisture, as thank heavens did the baby fruit trees.

But where we should be eating our own carrots, we are buying them from the farmers' market. We can't live on just chard, and the few plants of kale, the rhubarb, and whatever peas were not too doughy to enjoy - these are all that survived the rain-free month of May.

It's ok. The rains proceeded to stay away all summer, and have just started in this week. That schedule is typical. No one believes we have a drought here. It's due to the mountains on the Olympic peninsula to the west of us, which create a rain shadow here in our area (but not in the areas around us, which stay wet and green all summer, as is thought to be typical of the PNW). Now we have baby choys and cabbages and peas and carrots sprouting. The harvest will commence by late fall and continue through winter.

What would not have survived the lack of watering was the many friendships along the way. These can't withstand too many droughts or they will perish while we're not attending to them.

So all in all it was a great trip, one excuse to go with the result of miles of delightful experiences. I'll write some specifics another time.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Reflections on the Journey on Father's Day

It is Father's Day. We don't make much of it in our family but it's all around us, and that has caused me to reflect on this journey with this man.

We started our life together 50 years ago this past spring, and will be celebrating our 50th anniversary on August 1. Fifty years sounds long when you're young. It doesn't seem that way anymore.

We hope for many many more years together. We've had our ups and downs and have stuck together. He traveled a lot when he was a young professor while I stayed at home with the kids. He's still been to many places I'll never see. At other times I've traveled without him. But almost always we have been glued at the hip.

We raised 6 children together. They were spread over nearly 17 years, oldest to youngest, and their lives were different depending on whether they came in our late childhood (early 20s) or old age (nearly 40). Our style of parenting was probably best described as juggling. Juggling finances, time pressures, priorities (homework or the next chapter of Lord of the Rings?).

We looked forward with a passion to the next summer's vacation and were completely of one accord about where to go: Northern Canada, to the end of the road, a new section each year. Eastern Canada for the older kids, Western Canada for the younger ones. We tented in the beginning, then had a travel trailer.

We always had books, we always did hikes, we always ate very well despite cooking on a Coleman stove.

We are both chemists. For me it was something that allowed me to understand, for him it was his career: space chemistry. We shared a passion for space, something we both discovered at age about 8. We also both had and still have a passion for family, and for family histories.

It's been a sweet journey, and sometimes a stressful one. I knew he was my guy when I met him. We're really quite alike in so many ways, but also a good balance: he is calm, I am volatile; he is inward, I am a bit inward but less so; I am smart, he is remarkably and terribly terribly smart. I am wild, he is tame. Neither of us is yet really old (yay!). He's the prep chef, I'm the kitchen boss. He's the willing sampler, he has the better sense of smell, I'm better on the computer, we both love words, and numbers.

We have plans, lots of plans, books to write, places to see, thoughts to think, cuddles to cuddle. There will never be enough time.

So for now we'll just celebrate the 50 years' journey to this current stopover, and mention too Happy Father's Day, Juan! I'm so glad your the father of my kids!

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Non-Trip to the South Island of New Zealand!

 The big summer holiday is coming right up and reservations for New Zealand vacation spots are disappearing quickly.

The holiday is the week between Christmas and New Years.

Schools will be out by then, and if last year’s pattern continues, the season will be heating up. Last year’s Christmas day was so unbearably hot that people are still talking about it.

What will it be like in your world? Will you be heading to the beaches? Mountains? Probably not!

But you may be heading south. To warmer weather.

Here in New Zealand, everyone is heading to the South Island to cooler weather!

We ourselves are heading to the South Island. Our son Peter and his family fly out of Honolulu on Christmas day and arrive in Auckland, way up north, late on the 26th (thanks to the International Date Line!).

Because ferry reservations were so hard to come by, we will not see them till we meet at about the time the ferry departs late on the 28th. Meanwhile they will drive to Wellington and the ferry terminal from Auckland, a good long drive by New Zealand standards, or about as far as from San Francisco to LA.

And we will drive from Feilding the two hours to Wellington, and have a much anticipated mini-reunion in a place to be determined.

Everyone here on the North Island tells us the South Island is completely different and we will like it very much. I don’t know if they are picturing us going to Christchurch or another city, but since we will be with the Peter Lewises, we will certainly not do anything in any city except drive through.

The Peter Lewises consist of Peter, Amanda, and their three children: Eleanor 7, Alexandra 6, and Miles 3.

These are veteran outdoorsmen, all 5 of them. Peter and Amanda are birders and bird-photographers. Miles is impassioned about orcas. All of them are excited to see live penguins. The children have been birding in Costa Rica and all over Washington State and in numerous other places. Ella started at age 1 in Alaska.

We are going to learn a lot. And we will be in the south, where the temps might be cooler than in stifling Feilding (where when the mercury hits 25C, everyone wilts. That’s about 77F).

And we will get some photos. We won’t even have to take them ourselves!

We’ll be gone for a week, December 28th through January 4th. The mission president had no qualms about giving us a week off during this time when no one will be around, and has generously allowed us to use our mission car, too.

We’re not counting the days yet. We love what we do. But it will be great to see a few of our numerous grandchildren (3 of 32) and spend a unique Christmastide in the southland. Photos to follow!

Update: We can’t get accommodations on the South Island during Christmas week! And we don’t have camping gear as the young Lewises do. So we’ll be staying here on the North Island. Stay tuned….

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

First Thanksgiving In New Zealand

A Maori friend said to me today, what is Thanksgiving? What are you thanking? So I told her the story of the first Thanksgiving in New England. And I told her that we New Englanders really thought of Thanksgiving as our holiday. (I was going to say 'Kiwi friend' because she is from New Zealand, but that would not have been exactly accurate as I understand things. And 'New Zealander' is a bit cumbersome.)

We've had Thanksgiving in many places: As an 8-year old, I lived in Louisville KY, and an Army Air Corps officer who lived with us while she and my father were stationed at Ft Knox thought it fitting to treat us to Thanksgiving dinner at a fancy restaurant. I had almost never been to a restaurant at that point, and rarely such a fancy one. And we had it to ourselves. We thought it odd to eat Thanksgiving any place but home. It was over the Ohio River into Indiana, so I guess we never really had Thanksgiving in Louisville. The Korean non-war was over and we went back to Connecticut the following summer.

Many years our cousins came from West Hartford for Thanksgiving. It was about an hour and a half away and we saw them only a couple of times a year. Odd that we didn't see them more often! This same cousin's typical commute in Houston is that long.

One year my parents went away to an English teachers' convention and my mother did all she could to find a good place for us to go for Thanksgiving dinner. I went to my friend Helen's house. That was when I was about 14.

Later when Juan and I were married, we spent our first Thanksgiving apart: he was in grad school in CA, I was finishing college in MA. The year before, his parents found out during his last Thanksgiving at home that we were dating.

I don't remember the Thanksgiving after I joined Juan in CA but the following year a whole group of grad students plus our baby Van drove to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument for the long weekend. We had Thanksgiving dinner before leaving for a few friends.

Later, when we were back in MA, we went to our friends the Fergusons' for Thanksgiving several years in a row. And we had them the Sunday before Thanksgiving. it was Kay Ferguson's birthday on November 22 so that's what we were celebrating. (She will be 93 this year on that date. I wish her a happy birthday and Happy Thanksgiving.)

In 1981 we moved to Arizona and had big Thanksgiving dinners for a crowd. And later when we had our ninos living with us, who had moved as a family of 6 from Venezuela, we had a big table-ful of just us. And one year we met friends at Zion National Park and had Thanksgiving there, with a precooked turkey and I don't recall what-else: something manageable in a camping trailer.

We're having our 48th Thanksgiving together this week with probably no celebration at all. When we were in China for Thanksgiving 2005, the expats from Beijing had us over. It was their Thanksgiving too. But here we have just fellow missionary couples. They are gathering in Wellington for a meal, but we are 2 hours away and have to come and go in one day, with lots of regular traffic on the Wellington end, and we've decided not to do it.

It's still Thanksgiving. We've had many in full celebration, so one where we end up going out for Indian curry will not hurt us.

My parents were married on Thanksgiving day, which was November 25 that year (1937). Did I mention Thanksgiving was special to our family.

While we have too many to mention, and each one of them special, we will kinda miss having family for Thanksgiving this year, and turkey and oyster stuffing and squash and sweet potato and gravy and white potato and creamed onions and rutabagas and pie after pie after pie. My daughters-in-law have their own traditions so that list of foods has morphed and new traditions have evolved. 

And they will continue to do that. I know that. But for me it is The Holiday of the year, and this is how I am celebrating it this year, by reminiscing. 

May you have a Happy Thanksgiving, wherever you are.