Stop Using Your Body As a Trash Can with Cynthia Lair

bright leafy greens

Cynthia Lair, nutrition and culinary arts professor at Bastyr University, and author of Feeding the Whole Family, reminds us just how important mindfulness is when it comes to nourishing our bodies. (After all, we’re not goats, people!)

Listen to the podcast here:

Cynthia’s lighthearted thoughts on the benefits of developing a personal relationship with food is a breath of fresh air in a culture of convenience and special diets. And, as a woman who talks to chickens, I especially love that both of her sourdough starters have names: Dottie and Fizz.

I hope you find this podcast nurturing and fun!

Are you filling your body with nourishing foods, or are you using it as a landfill?

Maybe it’s time to add some new self-care practices.


Showing Up With Intention: An Interview with Wardrobe Stylist Lisa Fischer

Lisa Fischer Styling headshot

Do you have a personal brand? Are you “showing up” in a way that enables you to project your unique inner truth? In this podcast, Lisa Fischer of Lisa Fischer Styling shines some light on how the process of establishing a personal brand is a courageous act of self-care.

Listen to the full interview here:

I’ve always believed that how we look on the outside reflects how we feel on the inside (and vice versa). But I must admit, as an introvert I sometimes like to hide behind neutral colors. Sometimes I kind of like feeling feel invisible.

But on the other hand, I’m not my best self when I’m invisible. And hiding certainly doesn’t put me in a position to use my strengths to bring something of value to the world.

In her consulting practice, Lisa uses style words to help guide her clients toward developing a personal brand. “Wardrobe is a tool,” she explains. “We use it to bring our best self forward.”

A common struggle that many of her clients face in the beginning is (you probably guessed it): getting rid of the crap that no longer serves them. I, for one, have a whole lot of crap shoved in the back of my own closet.

I think you’ll find this interview both encouraging and motivating. Lisa’s wise words of wisdom urge us to stop judging one another and focus on our assets. My biggest takeaway from this interview?

“Don’t put yourself off.”

It’s so easy to do, especially for those of us who tend to get immersed in projects to the point that we forget to care for ourselves.

Lisa offers a number of packages that are designed to fit your needs wherever you happen to be in your style journey. A great place to start is to schedule a complimentary 30-minute Discovery Style Assessment.


Building an Artificial Pancreas: An Interview with Dana Lewis

pink diabetes supply kit

When most of us think about patient empowerment, we think about choosing a health care provider or researching treatment options. But Dana Lewis took patient empowerment to a whole new level in 2013, when she set out to find a solution for a small problem: the alarm on her insulin monitor wasn’t waking her up at night to alert her of severely low blood sugars.

Listen to the podcast here:

Initially, she brought her concerns directly to the industry, but to her dismay they responded with comments like, “It’s loud enough” and “Most people wake up to it.” Fortunately for her, and for many others around the globe who are struggling to manage diabetes, she didn’t accept those answers.

I first met Dana while attending a Meetup on Health Care Design in Seattle. She was a panelist who shared her personal journey–specifically, how she co-created the DIY Artifical Pancreas System when no one was able to deliver one. As I listened to her story, I remember thinking to myself this is the most powerful example of self-care I’ve ever heard!

How exactly did she do it?

She reached out to other smart people who had the answers she needed, and with a “design and build” mindset, they promptly got to work. And after months of testing and tweaking, the OpenAPS solution was born.

The cost? About $150 USD on average.

As you might imagine there are a few risks involved with building Do-It-Yourself medical devices. There’s no FDA stamp of approval, no experts standing by to make updates or repairs, and device failures could result in complications. Still, it’s easy to see why the idea is so compelling: often, the alternative isn’t much better. For example, not awakening to a low blood sugar alarm can be fatal. Suffice it to say that managing complex medical conditions like diabetes is anything but easy, even with today’s modern technology.

Lewis admits this project has been “a gradual awakening,” or a process, rather than something she simply decided to do. It certainly didn’t go from idea to reality overnight.

“It was a realization that we don’t have to be passive recipients of care as patients.”

Indeed, we are the owners of our health just as much as we are recipients of care.

Her mantra, we’re not waiting, tells the story quite clearly. And she certainly isn’t waiting. Neither are the more than 200 others around the globe who are now using a DIYOpenAPS system to not only manage their chronic condition, but also to improve their quality of life.

For Dana, self-care involves getting enough sleep, spending time with family, and reading. Like so many of us, she understands that when she doesn’t get what she needs, it impacts everything else.

Empowerment lies at the heart of self-care. It’s taking ownership of what we need and then experimenting until we get it right.
Design thinking can be applied to an endless number of life’s challenges. If you’re feeling particularly empowered by this story, you can learn more about the Open Loop Artificial Pancreas System by contacting Dana directly or exploring these links:

Dana Lewis
@danamlewis #werenotwaiting #DIYPS #OpenAPS
Background and details on how Dana built her OpenAPS:
Why DIY-ing #OpenAPS is important:

Please Note: The Artificial Pancreas System, like other DIY devices, is not FDA approved, which means individuals assume any and all risks associated with its use. Please talk with your doctor before undertaking a DIY project like this, and be sure to keep them informed of your progress.

Other Exciting News: This hybrid closed loop technology is the future of treatment for diabetes, and several versions of it are currently in the commercial development pipeline. It’s expected that an FDA approved product will be be available in 2017.

Celebrating Moms with Leanne Kabat of Mamacon

headshot of Leanne Kabat of Mamacon in Seattle, WA

I’m always on the lookout for people with interesting messages and stories to share for this Conversations with Smart People blog series. Like so many others that I’ve interviewed over the past two years, I knew right away when I met Leanne that her contagious enthusiasm for life simply had to be shared.

As I’ve gotten to know her over the past few months, I feel so blessed that we’ve crossed paths. Our shared interest in self-care made our connection inevitable. By encouraging more women to invest in themselves, refilling their cups so they can make a meaningful contribution to their families and communities, we are both fulfilling our own unique purpose.

I hope you’ll feel as inspired as I did by Leanne’s words of wisdom.

Q: What exactly is Mamacon, and how did you become involved with it?

Leanne Kabat: MamaCon is a community of moms celebrating and navigating the complex journey of motherhood together. It is designed to support moms in all seasons of motherhood, whether your children are younger, tweens and teens, or grown and flown. MamaCon hosts events for overwhelmed and overextended mamas, providing strategies so we can be our best for our children, partners and ourselves. MamaCon is built on three pillars: pampering, inspiration, and enrichment. We honor these pillars in our face-to-face meetups by showcasing inspiring speakers to nurture our minds, spa treatments to nurture our bodies, and intentional girlfriend time to nurture our souls.

“It was at MamaCon’s first event in 2012 where I fell in love with the whole idea of celebrating moms and our journeys in motherhood as a group.”

I was alone and shy, sitting in the back corner watching from a safe space, but I couldn’t help but get swept up in the emotional sharing and side-splitting laughing of the speakers on the stage and the women around the tables. After that event, I wrote to the founders and pleaded with them to let me help bring this experience to women every year. We worked together for four years, and when the company went up for sale this past May, I jumped up and down until it became mine!

Q: What does self-care mean to you?

Leanne Kabat: To me, self-care means making intentional and deliberate choices to create a thriving life. This definition truly encompasses my every breath. Am I choosing nutritious food to eat? Am I setting limits in my volunteer and work commitments? Am I both moving my body and resting my body enough? Have I dedicated time for creative expression and human connection? Do I forgive? Do I reflect? Do I monitor my energy and refill myself as needed by walking in nature, meditating, making plans to travel, reconnect with people I love?

“Every decision for me has a self-care component.”

Q: I just read your story and I now find you even more amazing! (And quite honestly, you were already pretty amazing to begin with!) You’ve gone through some significant health concerns of your own. What has helped you move through it?

Leanne Kabat: Thank you! There is something that happened deep in my DNA that November day in 2006 when my neurologist sat with me and told me I had only five years to live after I suffered from what I affectionately call ‘my stupid bloody brain crash.’  After six months of testing by dozens of specialists, no one knew why I fell down, 5 months pregnant, and remained paralyzed for hours. No one knows why I spontaneously start to slur, or see pink neon flashes shoot across my eye, or have crushing head pain that blows through me and dissipates within minutes. Over the years they have poked, prodded, scanned, and measured the extent of my brain damage and identified tasks that will be more difficult for me based on the areas of the brain impacted by my condition, but it remains a medical mystery. They had lots of great theories, but none of them turned out to be true.

It was in the depressed fog of watching each day slip by as I edged closer to my time of death that I honestly just decided I was going to live. I had three children who needed me and I wanted to be their mom more than anything in the world.

“I plunged into self-care in a big way, sleeping more, eating better, hiking and practicing deep gratitude and prayer every day.”

For the next few years, I still watched the calendar and my 5-year expiry date, but I was pulling myself out of the hole. I made it past the five-year mark, then past 6, then past 7! In 2012, I had joined an amazing team of women at MamaCon, this empowering conference for moms, and suddenly my life changed to become full of potential and possibility. I remember in an appointment in 2013, my neurologist showed me my latest brain scan. As was our routine over the past seven years, she showed me the progression of damage, and I crumbled emotionally, falling deeper into despair.

But this time, I challenged her on what she couldn’t see. I told her these scans can’t measure my drive for making a difference. They can’t see how I wake up every day full of love for my kids and my family, exploring the world through their eyes and giving them new opportunities every day to see how beautiful and magnificent their life can be when they stop and smell the roses and meet new people and climb trees and take chances. These scans can’t see how passionately I want to serve stressed, tired, scared, frustrated, consumed moms at our conferences. They can’t see how I sparkle when I bring joy, laughter, or new ideas to my friends and family. At the end of the appointment, she wiped away her tears and said I was her miracle. I laughed and shook my head. No, I replied, I was just living in my miracle. My blessed life. My every day was my miracle. She loved that I chose to live, chose to ignore the expiry date and cheered when I set new goals to achieve, such as my 50 by 50 goal- visit 50 countries by the time I turned 50.

Next month, on my 10-year anniversary of that conversation with my neurologist, I will have been to 35 countries around the world. So, for me, honoring the gift that I can serve my MamaCon moms by creating a community that shares and cares about each other, bearing witness to their motherhood journey and offer support when it all becomes too much – that drives my professional passion. Honoring the gift that I can serve myself and my family by exploring this great, glorious world, experience all of life’s gifts, and live in our miracle – that drives my personal passion.

Q: What would be your advice to the moms out there who are struggling with taking proper care of themselves?

Leanne Kabat: Self-care could mean a long shower for one woman and a spa retreat for someone else! Or for one woman, it could mean having time every day to read a book with a cup of tea, while for another she would choose to train for a marathon or knit a sweater while listening to jazz music. I believe self-care has two critical components: identification and practice. The first thing every woman should do is identify the ways she wants to recharge. This is very personal and self-reflective and it is different for every woman. She can’t just Google ‘self-care practice’ and do the top tip hoping for the best!

“Self-care needs to feed her soul and replenish her energy, and if it doesn’t do that then it is just another task.”

After she knows what she wants, she must choose to find a way to make that happen, the practice piece. Perhaps for one woman, the best self-care would be to dance, but she doesn’t have the money to pay for expensive classes. That isn’t the end of the road for her though! She can find lessons on YouTube or maybe take classes at the local YMCA or community centers. Another woman dreams of writing poetry every day to deal with the loss of her mother, but she doesn’t have the time with her busy life. She could decide to wake up thirty minutes earlier and write, or download a recording app and speak her poetry and write it out another time, or she could decide that every day for 15 minutes, her children will sit with her and they can silently read or draw while she writes poetry and they can turn it into a family activity where they can share their work afterwards if they like. So, there are no rules for what self-care needs to be, what matters is that every woman purposefully and powerfully chooses what it is for her, and finds ways to honor herself to recharge. No one can pour into someone else when her cup is empty! Self-care is the only way to healthfully refill her cup.

Q: What has been the most rewarding aspect of being involved with Mamacon?

Leanne Kabat: By the time I turned 35, I had moved to a new home over seventy times and I had attended 9 schools from grade 1-12. To say I didn’t have roots would be an understatement! I had made and lost so many friends growing up that at some point I just didn’t bother making friends anymore because I knew I wouldn’t be there very long. So I was always polite, but my friendships always stayed on the surface; they never became a space where I could be my true self, reveal my inner thoughts, talk about my mistakes or my struggles, or feel safe to be vulnerable in any way.

When I attended the first MamaCon conference in May, 2012, I stood with my mouth hanging open the whole day! I never knew women could gather and connect and share and support so openly and freely with people they didn’t even know! In both table discussions and big groups, they revealed their personal stories, hardships, struggles, small wins and big successes – they shared everything! It was life-changing for me to witness a sisterhood so beautiful and powerful! From that day, I knew I found what I had missed my whole life: my tribe!

I am completely humbled that I am now leading the MamaCon movement to connect women, to share journeys of motherhood and womanhood, to rise up to be our best selves surrounded by and encouraged by fellow nurturers and protectors, pioneers, warriors, trailblazers and community builders. For me, the most rewarding aspect of being involved with MamaCon has been that no matter how high the mountain or how low the valley, we are never really alone. We are a part of something bigger and greater, a collection of hearts full of strength and power and love, and we are in this together.

Inspired a little? We’d love to hear what you think. Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

To learn more about upcoming events, visit the Mamacon website, get connected on Facebook and Twitter, and sign up for their newsletter.

Keeping Safe Food with Mary Angela Miller

When it comes to protecting your plate from food-borne illnesses, Mary Angela Miller is the authority. I first met her back in the early 2000’s, when I was just beginning my career in dietetics. Suffice it to say that she’s one of those people you can’t help but remember. Her enthusiasm and light-hearted personality just sort of draw you in.

Fork and knife earringsAnd, as it turns out, not only is she a talented dietitian, but she’s also a gifted jewelry-maker. One year at a fundraising event I bought a cute pair of knife and fork earrings (the envy of every dietitian), and little did I know she was the creative artist behind them. I still wear them today.

Since 1990, she has been ensuring the safety of patients and their loved ones at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, where she oversees food service operations, first as the Foodservice Director and then as its Administrator.

While most of us tend to focus our concerns on the practices of food suppliers–growers, harvesters, manufacturers, transporters, and other retail food handlers–we forget that we can take action in our own kitchens as well to reduce our risks.

Food handling practices are typically handed down from generation to generation. Chances are, you probably store and prepare food the way your parents and grandparents did. And while that’s not inherently a bad thing, there may be a few adjustments that you could make to reduce the likelihood of you or your loved ones getting sick.

Safe food handling is an important skill to add to your self-care toolbox.

Q: How common are Food-borne illnesses (FBIs)?

Mary Angela: 1 in 6 Americans contract an FBI every year. You, or someone you have dined with, have probably suffered from one. Most often, symptoms are relatively minor. They may put you out of commission for a few days due to nausea and gastrointestinal upset. But over 125,000 people require hospitalization–and what’s perhaps even more disturbing is that the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention attributed 3,000 deaths to food-borne diseases.

Q: What are the top 4 things you wish more people knew about safe food handling?

Mary Angela: This is my favorite question because there are so many myths and assumptions related to FBIs.

  1. If you think you have contracted an FBI, it may not have been from your most recent meal. FBIs can take from a few hours to over 10 days to create their misery. That’s because FBIs are caused by different organisms, which are present in different concentrations, and grow or multiply at different rates. For that reason, it’s easy to see how symptoms become apparent on varied timelines.
  2. Food, especially fresh foods (think farm fresh produce) are nutritionally beneficial, taste great and are good for us. But food is not sterile. Our bodies have defense mechanisms in place to protect us from becoming ill from eating, but these normal protections can be impacted by age or illness, or overcome by a food that has become contaminated at any contact point before it enters your mouth. Be aware of this when preparing food, especially “ready to eat” foods that won’t be cooked before eaten.
  3. It’s not all about the food. People sharing a meal can eat four different entrees, but if a cutting board, utensil, or the person who prepared the food was the source of the infection, all diners can be affected.
  4. When someone suspects they have an FBI, they tend to think the culprit was their last restaurant meal. Of course that’s possible, as managing the logistics of serving multiple meals by multiple chefs and servers is a daunting task. But retail restaurants are licensed and inspected, and staff must have food safety training, which means some preventive measures are in place. I encourage people to look closer to home and make sure they have the basic 4 measures in place:

Clean        Hands & everything else food touches (forks, spoons, serving plates, etc.).
Separate   Raw, cooked & ready to eat foods when shopping, storing & preparing food.
Cook         To a safe temperature. Use a thermometer to be sure.
Chill          After 2 hours at room temperature, refrigerate or discard food.

Q: What does the latest evidence say about which material is best for cutting boards? (Wood or plastic?)

Mary Angela: That’s an important issue because using clean or separate cutting boards or chopping mats when preparing food is a key tool to preventing cross contamination. The simple answer is, as long as cutting surfaces are cleaned appropriately, all materials are safe to use. This prevents bacteria or other harmful organisms from one food being unintentionally transferred to another, and eventually transferred to your mouth.

Chopping mats can be used in addition to, or in place of, cutting boards. They are less expensive to buy, and easier to clean and store. I use a combination of my favorite cutting boards and several mats in this way:

  • Set a sturdy cutting board on the counter as a base.
  • Place one chopping mat on top of it. Stack the rest next to it.
  • Slice, dice or chop the 1st ingredient in your recipe.
  • Place the used mat in the sink or dishwasher.
  • Use a clean mat for each additional item.
  • Be sure to wash your hands and knife or use a clean knife in between each item.

Q: How long can leftovers be safely kept?

Mary Angela: In general, leftovers can be safely stored for 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator. This is a question I am frequently asked so I’ve developed a handy guide that can be printed and attached right to your fridge with a magnet. It provides details for safe storage of common foods in the refrigerator and freezer. You can download a free copy from

Q: Where can people learn more about how to keep food safe?

Mary Angela: For more information about food safety, visit my Facebook page and website. I guarantee you’ll learn one helpful or interesting fact each week on how to Protect your Plate. I’ve listed 4 more resources with extensive food safety information:

Feeling inspired to make some changes? Tell us about it at!

Living Upp Members: Don’t forget to check the partner directory for details about discounts on KeepSafeFood products!

Getting (And Staying) Organized with Debbie Rosemont

woman wearing a purple shirt and green scarf

When I first met Debbie, I was intrigued by the notion that there was a correlation between the amount of clutter we have in our lives and the amount of stress we experience.

After leaving my corporate career behind to take a sabbatical in 2015, I used the time to ask myself some difficult questions. What truly makes me happy? How might I make a meaningful contribution to the world?

And do I really need all this stuff?

I began to read more about minimalism, and made some significant self-discoveries after reading Marie Kondo’s book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I’ve noticed a difference in how I feel (and behave) when my surroundings are tidy compared to when they are not, and there’s not doubt that I’m more productive when I can find what I need easily.

And as it turns out, our level of organization may indeed have a direct impact on our health. A study released earlier this year found that cluttered kitchens may lead people to snack more, suggesting that stress may reduce our ability to exercise self-control–and also cause our waistlines to grow.

It’s not such a stretch to consider how this might also play out in other areas of our life.

Debbie Rosemont, owner of Simply Placed, a professional organizing and productivity consulting company based in Sammamish, WA, shared some of her organizational insights with me.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your clutter, please read on.

Q: What are the some of the costs of disorganization?

Debbie: The costs of disorganization are numerous and can be quiet significant. When we have clutter, can’t find what we need when we need it, can’t follow through or be on time with our appointments, promises, and commitments and drop the ball on our responsibilities, it can negatively impact our relationships, health, self-esteem, finances, work/business and peace of mind.

The average American wastes an hour a day looking for things they know they have, but can’t find. That’s a lot of time! And as they say “time is money.” Many people also waste money by buying duplicates of things they have, but can’t put their hands on, or by paying late fees on bills when they don’t have a good system in place to do so on time. We’ve had clients complain of lost revenue in business when things fall through the cracks, they miss appointments, or don’t follow through in a timely manner on sales opportunities.

“The average American wastes an hour a day looking for things they know they have”

Disorganization can also be stressful and when prolonged or chronic, can lead to health issues. Disorganization can also keep us from reaching our goals. For example, someone may have a goal to lose weight, eat healthier, fit in more exercise into their life, etc., but they may not know how to organize their schedule or set up their physical environment in an organized way so that they can be successful with what they’d like to accomplish.

It can also impact relationships. When someone has to work late, yet again, because they are disorganized, and they miss out on family dinner, an important event or activity, or have less time for the special people in their lives, relationships can suffer.

Q:What are some helpful organization strategies for someone just getting started.

Debbie: First, clear clutter – let go of the things in your space or your life that aren’t adding value, that you don’t need or love, or that are keeping you from finding what you need when you need it. Pick one area to start in, sort items to put like with like (so that you can see how many of something you have), determine what your goals for the space are, what you’ll use the space for and how you’d like it to function, and then determine what physical things you want and need in that space to accomplish those goals. Let go of the things that don’t fit the purpose or aren’t serving you well. Make space for life!

“Make space for life!”

Once you’ve gotten rid of the clutter, organize the things that will stay. Everything should have a home. Keep like items together. Keep things close to where they are used. Keep the things you will use most often, the easiest to access. Think about flow and systems. How will you use the items in the space. How will things move in and out of the space. Create zones so that items related to a particular activity in the space are kept together.

Do the same with your time and schedule – consider your values and what is most important to you. Block time for priorities and what matters. Clear the clutter (saying “no” to some things is in fact a time management strategy). Group like tasks/errands and work together for optimal efficiency.

Q: Do you have any tips for staying organized once we’ve invested the time and energy into creating a productive space?

Debbie: I do! This is where establishing habits comes into play. Once you have set up an organized space or made some decisions regarding some new time management strategies, maintenance and routine are key.

To keep your space organized, practice daily habits such as putting things away once you are done using them (back into their “home”). Decide that when you buy or bring something new into the space, you’ll do so knowing that it is needed, or replacing something you already have and employ the “new one in, old one out” rule. Put time on your calendar to review the space and things in it periodically (semi-annually or annually) to do another clean out and reorganization, considering what your needs are in that point in time. Organizing is a process, not an event.

“Organizing is a process, not an event.”

Q: What suggestions do you have for people that are overwhelmed by their email inboxes?

Debbie: This is so common. The volume of email we receive these days can be very high.

The first thing I would recommend is to do what you can to reduce the volume coming in to your inbox. Unsubscribe to lists, newsletters or retailers that you no longer find value in the information they send. Create a rule or filter in your email program to take selected emails and “file them” right into the proper folder, skipping your inbox completely. Send less to receive less. For every five emails we send out, we get three in return. That means we need to really ask ourselves if an email is necessary before sending it out. Be judicious about using the cc: and bcc: lines, as well as using the “reply all” button.

To clean out and keep up with the email in your inbox, process it, don’t just “check” it. Processing it means making a decision that moves it out of your inbox (so you don’t have to re-read the same emails again and again). Delete it, forward it on if someone else needs it or should handle it, do it if it takes just a minute or so to deal with, file it in a reference folder, or put it in your task management system. All of these decisions will get it out of your inbox. Your inbox doesn’t function well as a to-do list or as storage; don’t use it for either reason.

Q: How can Professional Organizers help with productivity.

Debbie: A trained Professional Organizer can ask you the right questions to learn about your productivity challenges, personal preferences, style, personality, goals, resources, strengths and current habits so that they can teach you systems, strategies and habits that will work for you to optimize your productivity. They are an objective party who will help you save time, money and stress. You can benefit from their experience, education and passion for productivity by not having to do it on your own or guess at what might work for you.

Most Professional Organizers or Productivity Consultants will begin with an assessment to learn where they can make the biggest difference for you. From there, they will consult with, coach and train you to be more efficient and effective with your space, time, talents and team. They will provide strategies, hands-on help, and accountability to ensure that you reach your goals and get results.

We’ve been thanked by numerous clients for giving them the gift of time, improving the quality of their life, positively impacting their bottom line, and greatly reducing their stress. We love hearing success stories from our clients!

Do you need some help in the organizational department? Learn more about Debbie Rosemont’s services by visiting Simply Placed.

Discounts on services are available to Living Upp members. Please login and visit the partner directory for details.   

Happy Parenting with Sheila Storrer

When I started this Conversations with Smart People blog series last year, I wanted it to be a special place where I could share interesting stories about interesting people who are doing interesting things.

I met Sheila Storrer a few weeks ago, and knew immediately that she was special. While I may not have any children of my own, I’ve always felt a deep sense of appreciation and respect for the mothers and fathers out there who have a seemingly endless sense of patience, composure, and compassion as they help their children make their way to adulthood.

Sheila is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker and a parent coach who offers unique parenting support and workshops in the Seattle, WA area.

Q: How did you come to focus on teens within your coaching practice?

Sheila: I coach a lot of women who are parenting teens. I find that our work often focuses on how they want to create more connection with their kids. This is a tricky time of parenting and the skills and communication techniques needed are so different than in any other stage of parenting. During these conversations, it became clear to me that parents of teens are in great need of support and education. They often feel alone because they are reluctant to tell other parents what is going on at home. And, I get it because I’m the parent of two teens myself–I’m swimming in the same waters.

Q: What is your advice to parents who are struggling to connect with their teens?

Sheila: Pick your battles and remember that your kids are going through tremendous changes–emotionally, physically and socially. Practice different techniques to see what works, be patient and give yourself a break when you need it. It’s also a nice idea to set a regular time each week for the family to spend time together. For example, my family has a big dinner every Sunday night and then we watch the Walking Dead. It’s mandatory that everyone is present no matter what else is going on–and NO phones.

Q: What is the one question you most enjoy asking your clients.

Sheila: I love asking my clients what they were like as teenagers. The answers are usually hilarious to both of us and are a great way to point out that what our kids are going through is often exactly what we went through. It’s generational and all a normal part of adolescent development. By remembering our own struggles our empathy increases. When we remember the fun things we did, we often feel excited that now it’s our kids’ turn.

Q: What does self-care mean to you?

Sheila: Now that my own kids are teenagers and I have more time, self-care means reconnecting with the things I enjoyed before I became a parent–hanging out with friends, hiking with my husband, going to the movies and enjoying a quiet morning with a cup of coffee and the Sunday paper. I also started meditating after I read Dan Harris’ book, 10% Happier. This few minutes of relaxation has helped with my stress level.

Q: Where can we learn more about your parenting workshops and coaching services?

Sheila: I created a specialized program just for parents of teens called Happy Parent | Happy Teen, In addition, I offer group coaching and speak at parent meetings. I can be reached at (425) 941-9194 or, and more information on my coaching services can be found at

Choosing Quality Olive Oil with Jeff Conarko of Con’ Olio

healthy olive oil in Austin, TX

I remember the first time I accidentally stumbled upon Con’ Olio, a specialty olive oil store based in Austin, TX. Owner Jeff Conarko quickly introduced me to a world that I never knew existed. For years, I had been grabbing random bottles of moderately priced oils from my grocer’s shelf, certain that the price was an indicator of quality. Boy, was I ever wrong.

As I began to taste the endless varieties of olive oil–each with its own distinct flavor profile–I discovered a whole new vocabulary to go along with those flavors: buttery, grassy, peppery, earthy, nutty and the list goes on.

Earlier this year, olive oil garnered quite a bit of media attention–and not in a good way. In January, 60 Minutes featured a story highlighting the industry’s questionable practices: mixing products with other (non-olive) oils, not meeting product quality standards, and adding artificial flavoring and coloring. The reality is that what we find on most grocery shelves today is poor quality oil–even the ones depicting Tuscan countryside images and carrying “made in Italy” labels.

This has led to the emergence of boutique olive oil shops like Con’ Olio.

Jeff and his wife, Tabitha, founded the company in 2009, and it has grown quite a bit since that time. There are now three locations in the Austin area, and the company also hosts a wide variety of tasting events. Because Jeff holds an impressive wealth of knowledge when it comes to olive oil, I asked him to share some of his wisdom with Living Upp. (Thanks Jeff!)

Like most wellness topics, there are some conflicting opinions within the scientific community about olive oil’s role in health. But as a dietitian, I think it’s clear that there are many benefits, particularly when olive oil replaces less healthy, saturated fats.

Q: Can you give an overview of how olive oils vary around the globe?

Jeff: Olive trees were originally native to the region around Syria and Lebanon many thousands of years ago. Thanks to the Romans and Greeks who took cuttings of olive trees and replanted them all over their spreading empires, the olive found its way all across Europe and eventually to the New World. After many years, the olives evolved into different species or varietals based on climate and geography.  Today there are close to 1000 different olive varietals that have adapted to living in different climates around the world. Unlike wine, terrior (the soil) does not influence to a large degree the overall taste of olive oils. Therefore, you can take a cutting of an olive tree in one region of the world and plant it in a similar climate somewhere else in the world and produce a similar tasting olive oil if produced correctly. The three biggest influencers of taste quality in olive oil is number 1, Freshness! Olive oil is the fruit juice of an olive and it breaks down with time like any other fruit juice and eventually goes rancid. Therefore it must be eaten within the first 12-14 months for optimal taste. Second is the quality of the method of producing the olive oil. And Third is the varietal or type of olive oil like Picual, Arbequina, Coratina, Frantoio, Koroneiki, etc. For instance, the “Coratina” varietal of olive was originally a Tuscan variety from Italy, but now you can find Coratina varietals from places like Australia, Chile, California, South Africa, and more. In order to have the Freshest EVOOs in the world, we offer a dual-hemisphere model of sourcing. There are two harvests of olives, one is the Northern Hemisphere harvest which coincides with the Fall season in America (these are European and North American harvests), and the second is the Southern Hemisphere (from Australia and South America) harvest which is in the Summer time for us here in America. So every six months we rotate our EVOO offerings with the freshest made olive oil from around the world based on what is currently in season.

Q: How are olives processed to makes them “extra-virgin” or “virgin?”

Jeff: As I mentioned above, the second most important characteristic of olive oil is How it was produced or processed. Olive oil is one of a few oils in the world that can be extracted without any refining required which is very important for health and taste considerations. Extra Virgin is a standard in most of the world that must be tested for and certified in order to achieve, but these tests and certifications are not required in the United States. Therefore the good ol’ US of A is the easiest place in the world to sell cheap fraudulent oil and call it Extra Virgin Olive Oil. These practices have been so deceptive that most people in America believe that “Extra Virgin” means that it was Cold-pressed or First-pressed olive oil. This is absolutely false and misleading. In fact, according to the IOOC who regulates the testing and certification of olive oil around the world defines “Extra Virgin” as olive oil that has been extracted using purely mechanical means of separation using a centrifuge. This means that there is NO pressing going on here. Centrifugation separates olive oil into its components by spinning it at very high speeds. Because of this, the term “Extra Virgin” did not even exist before the invention of the modern milling machine (which uses centrifugation) in the 1950s. Prior to this time, the highest quality olive oil that could be produced was “Virgin” olive oil which was the first pressing of olive oil at less than 80 degrees F (cold-pressed). The way to determine the difference between “Extra Virgin” and “Virgin” olive oil is to test it using a set of chemical tests and by tasting it by a panel of experts trained to spot defects in the oil. “Extra Virgin” olive oil will be completely free of taste and smell defects and contain positive characteristics of Fruitiness, Bitterness, and Pungency (which is natural spiciness felt at the back of the throat.) “Virgin” olive oil may contain taste defects and has a higher acidity level between .8% and 2.2%. Any olive oil with an acidity over 2.2% is considered “lampante” or not fit for human consumption. Because acidity is so important to the quality of the olive oil, olives have to be picked early in the harvest when they are still green and must be made into olive oil within 24 hours in order to keep acidity low and stop the fermentation process in the olive that leads to taste defects.

Q: What is it about olive oil that makes it so healthy?

Jeff: Extra Virgin Olive Oil has been proven through clinical trials to offer many serious health benefits. First of all, EVOO has the highest content of any source for Mono-Unsaturated Fatty Acid or MUFA’s. MUFA is the only fat the can be called a “healthy” fat. EVOO has over 75% Mono-Unsaturated Fats. Compared to other supposedly high MUFA oils like coconut oil which is actually only 10% MUFA and 90% saturated (unhealthy) fat. Also, EVOO has been shown to also be different from other oils/fats because of the insanely high content of Polyphenols which are potent anti-oxidants. With these two things combined, EVOO has been shown to reduce cholesterol, protect the heart through cardiovascular benefits, reduce inflammation throughout the body, repair oxidative damage, and fight cancer. The problem is that if your olive oil is not fresh or authentic, none of these benefits will exist and you may be getting harmful chemicals instead.

Fresh, authentic Extra Virgin Olive Oil has been proven through clinical trials to be at the heart of the Mediteranean Diet and essential to the resulting health benefits. Clinical studies have proven the following properties and health benefits of Olive Oil Polyphenols (OOPs) that include the phytochemicals hydroxytyrosol, oleuropein, and oleocanthal:

Cardiovascular protection: OOPs are significantly associated with lower circulating concentrations of oxidative stress markers and with an improvement of lipid profile, such as an increase in high-density lipoprotein (HDL) levels, a decrease of the total cholesterol-to-HDL ratio, and a decrease of triglyceride levels.
Anti-Inflammatory properties: OOPs with antioxidant activity, including hydroxytyrosol and oleuropein, significantly inhibited events connected with endothelial activation, including the expression of adhesion molecules such as VCAM-1, E-selectin, and ICAM-1. This effect was accompanied by a functional counterpart, that is, reduced monocyte or monocytoid cell adhesion to activated endothelium. Oleocanthal has also been found to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties in vitro. Similar to classical non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, it is a non-selective inhibitor of cyclooxygenase (COX).
– Antioxidant properties: Recent clinical studies showed that markers of oxidative stress , including cholesterol-conjugated dienes, hydroxy-fatty acids, and products of DNA oxidative damage, all decreased linearly with an increase in the phenolic content of olive oil. Recent studies have demonstrated that minor compounds of olive oil particularly  hydroxytyrosol and related compounds, together with monounsaturated fatty acids, help to improve plasma lipid levels and repair oxidative damage related to cardiovascular diseases.

What most people do not understand is that all of the polyphenols in olive oil (hydroxytyrosol, oleuropein, oleocanthal) decrease due to internal oxidation processes over time. OOPs exist in highest concentration immediately after crushing the olive fruit into oil. From that day onward, polyphenols decrease until they almost disappear completely, normally within 12-14 months of the original harvest/crush date depending on the oleic acid content in the oil. Therefore, after a year or so, your olive oil will give you significantly less health benefits and will begin tasting rancid.

Q: Are there ever circumstances where it’s better to use a different type of oil rather than olive? (I’m thinking about smoke points here and wondering how much of the healthy properties might be destroyed at high temperatures.)

Jeff: Absolutely not! One of the things we learned about olive oil that blew our minds before we got into this business was going to Italy and learning from Italian chefs that the only oil in their commercial kitchen is EVOO. We were told by the supposed food experts here in America on the cooking shows that we should not cook at high temperatures with EVOO. This advice turned out to be so ridiculously wrong. When EVOO is fresh (less than 12-14 months) it has the highest smoke point of any oil in the world. You can grill, bake, saute, fry, and even deep-fry with a high quality fresh olive oil. When EVOO is first crushed, it has a smoke point of over 500 degrees F. Due to natural oxidative processes in the oil, the smoke point will go down to about 400 degrees F at the end of one year. After that the smoke point really falls with age as the oil becomes rancid. Average age of grocery store olive oil (when it is authentic) is around 3 years old before you even buy it. Therefore, the smoke point will be so low you can no longer cook at high temperatures with it. As with any natural thing like vegetables, there are more nutrients available when it is raw and uncooked. So, any oil you cook with will reduce in nutrient content with temperature. But, if you cook with a high quality fresh EVOO you will retain the maximum nutrients possible.

Q: As consumers, how can we be sure we’re purchasing high-quality olive oil?

Jeff: Unfortunately in America, there are no standards testing or certification required to market a product as Extra Virgin Olive Oil. As the 60 Minutes investigation showed, there is a multi-billion dollar industry in Europe where they make fraudulent EVOO to sell in America where they will not be caught or prosecuted.

It is not impossible to find Authentic, high quality EVOO in America but you have to look for what is most important:

  1. There MUST be a “Harvest” or “Crush” date on the bottle. What you most often find on bottles of olive oil are “Best Buy” or “Expiration Date” and these mean nothing and do not tell you how old your EVOO actually is.
  2. Look for a Certification backed by independent chemical analysis and taste panel testing.
    The specific olive varietal or combination of varietals should be listed on the bottle (Arbequina, Picual, Coratina, etc)
  3. It should say where the olives where grown specifically and be traceable to a producer’s estate.
  4. There should be no generic label saying it is “Italian” or from a list of several different countries.
  5. Look for the terms “Cold Pressed” or “First Pressed” if these are on the bottle they are trying to deceive you with outdated marketing terms.

Because we understand the need for customers to know the difference, we aim to educate each customer at our stores and give them the opportunity to taste and experience our oils and vinegars before they buy so they can see for themselves how much better they taste. At all of our Con’ Olio stores we have a Certification program called Ultra-Premium (UP) Extra Virgin Olive Oil to help answer all of these questions for the consumer to give them proof that they are getting the highest quality, authentic and freshest EVOO in the world. More information about our UP program can be found at

Whether your focus is on the health benefits, culinary uses or flavor characteristics of olive oil, choosing a high quality product is critical.

My guess is that you’re probably wondering where you can find some of “the good stuff” in your area. In case you’re wondering: YES! Con’ Olio does offer online shopping–and FREE shipping with a purchase of at least $100. (Their products make great gifts too!)


Making Time for Art with Vanessa Roeder

Roeder FamilyVanessa Roeder, whose professional alias is Nessa Dee, is one of those super moms we like to imagine only exist in comic books. 

Not only is she a talented artist, but she also homeschools her three equally amazing children.

Art offers an outlet for creative expression and, when used as a self-care tool, it can also have a positive impact on our health. In many ways, art is our unique interpretation of the world. 

Vanessa was gracious enough to share some of her thoughts about how art has enriched her life and supported the emotive aspects of her well-being.

Q: How on earth do you find the time to immerse yourself into art projects when you also homeschool three kids?

Vanessa: Being organized was not always a strength of mine, but as my family and the demands of homeschooling grew, I was forced into it. Once I made my art career a priority and defined my goals, I knew I had to start utilizing my time wisely. I try to stick to a schedule of schooling in the morning, and painting in the afternoon. On days I know I won’t be able to set foot in the studio, I’ll carry a sketchbook with me to hash out ideas for a picture book or new paintings. Deadlines and lists work wonders! I have a large calendar on my wall in my studio, and when I’m immersed in a project, it is filled with daily lists and weekly deadlines. It’s so satisfying to be able to cross something off a list.

No matter how much I plan and schedule out our week, though, life with three kids can be unpredictable. School can drag out into the afternoon or evening, studio time becomes “let’s interrupt Mom” time, and days can pass without getting any of my art goals accomplished, but I’ve learned to be flexible. If I don’t get any painting done one day, I’ll sneak it in when I can. I’ll work nights after the kids go to sleep, or on weekends when Dad’s here to keep the crew entertained. It can be extremely frustrating when things don’t go as planned, but I remind myself that raising my kids is my top priority, and getting to paint and illustrate is icing on the cake!

Q: What are some art projects that you have worked on together as a family?

Vanessa: I have some pretty crafty kids, and when they were younger, I used to plan out simple arts and craft projects that we could make together each week. One of my favorite projects was our “Box House.” It was a essentially a stacked city assembled from recycled boxes, paper towel tubes, and any trinkets we could find. My kids immersed themselves in making every little detail of the city, and once it was finished, I was forbade to ever throw it away. Four years later, it still sits in the corner of our play room. 

As the kids got older my planned projects became springboards for their own creativity, and I learned it was better to just give them access to my art supplies and let them create, as it was with our robot paintings. Before my third was born, I wanted the whole family to make something special for his room, so I threw a bunch of different art supplies in front of the kids, and said, “Make a robot.” Once finished, we ended up with three uniquely wonderful art pieces: a robot made completely out of buttons, one made from paint and scrapbook paper, and one out of ink and washers. They all hang above my youngest’s bed. (We’re still waiting on Dad’s robot, but he made mention to finishing it soon).

Q: As a form of expression, how has art impacted you personally? 

Vanessa: Art has been such a prominent part of my life since I was a young child, so I don’t think I realized until much later how making art has affected my emotional well-being. I definitely had periods of my life when art became an outlet for expressing my thoughts and feelings. Even now, when the overall theme of my work is lighthearted and fun, I still sometimes use the canvas to directly reflect my mood, though it’s cleverly disguised in a child centric painting. But I don’t think everyone has to have a Blue Period, or each piece has to express an emotional journey taken in its production for art to be beneficial. Just the act of creating something is, I think, good for the soul. In the busyness of life where there’s this pressure to fit so much into each day, it’s easy to forget to take time to just mentally and physically rest. Painting gives me permission to do just that. When I step into my studio to work, I begin to let go of the stresses of the day, clear my mind, and just focus on putting a paintbrush to canvas. It’s a powerfully restorative process.

Q: What has been the most challenging aspect of being an artist? 

Vanessa: Focusing has been one of my biggest challenges! As a child, when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, my answer differed from day to day, though it always had something to do with art. I can’t say I’ve changed all that much.  For a long time, I was haphazardly exploring different facets of art and art mediums from being a muralist to up-cycling furniture. However, as my studio time is precious these days, I’ve had to narrow my focus to only children’s illustration and art, and I constantly remind myself of the goals I’ve set so that I’m not distracted by every new art opportunity that presents itself. I do teach an art class once a week to middle and high schoolers, so if I really feel the urge to try something different, I’ll incorporate it into my lessons. 

Q: What is the most unique art medium you have experimented with?

Vanessa: I started dabbling with combining paint and collaged paper in college and was immediately hooked. I loved the texture and depth that layers of paper added to the painting, and I started to crave more of that tactile quality. I experimented with joint compound, tissue paper, fabric, embroidery thread…pretty much anything I could get to stick to the canvas that created more texture. When I realized the canvas could be more than just a two-dimensional surface, everyday objects from keys to buttons, galvanized wire to drawer pulls became my art supplies. While these aren’t typically considered an art medium, reimagining found objects and incorporating them into my art has been creatively satisfying. The downside is that you start looking at every piece junk as an art possibility, and in turn become a hoarder of trinkets. 

Nessa Dee, 900Vanessa’s talents have not gone unnoticed. In recent years, she’s also become a published illustrator: Varla’s Gift, The Seed, and Useless are all available on Amazon. 

I consider myself fortunate to be the proud owner of a commissioned Nessa Dee original. There’s something special about owning a piece of art when you know the artist personally.

If you’re interested in seeing more of Nessa Dee’s art, visit her blogEtsy marketplace or Gallery Direct.

Vegetable Fermentation with Elijah Santoyo

Making kimchi

When we think of sauerkraut, most of us think of Germany. The word itself, which means “sour cabbage” in German, often brings to mind its close companions: beer and Brätwurst. But some would argue that fermented cabbage actually originated in China, long before Germany staked a claim.

Regardless of origin, lactic acid fermentation is one of the most popular methods of food preservation in the world.

Professional Chef Elijah Santoyo, who also serves as Director at The Permaculture Academy in Los Angeles, teaches fermentation classes in the Southern California area. He was trained in Japanese Kaiseki cuisine and as a sake sommelier under Master Toshi Suigara. I recently asked him for some advice as I get started with fermentation, and he’s been gracious enough to share some of his wisdom here.

Q: What is the most difficult aspect of vegetable fermentation?

Elijah: Fermentation is very simple and elegant, the only practical problem sometimes is space.  Most of us don’t have root cellars or cave access anymore, so finding space for all your various jars and crocks can be an issue.  I used to have a separate refrigerator just for kimchi.

Q: What have you found to be the most effective way to “bruise” vegetables to release their juice in preparation for fermentation? For example, is there a specific tool that is more effective than simply squeezing them in your hands?

Elijah: The salt granules and along with osmosis do plenty, and the more carefully you massage the ingredients the better.  Time is really on your side, and is an important ingredient to any pickle recipe.  You have to remember that anything you do to the organic matter in the beginning will be magnified twelve-fold by the end.  So be gentle and kind.  We used to call it “respectful” in the professional kitchen.

Q: Of the many fermentation vessel options to choose from, what are your favorites?

Elijah: I love urns of any type, the breathable clay korean onggi (Amazon Associate Link), in particular.  And the japanese cypress tubs.  The other great design is a chinese pickle crock (Amazon Associate Link), where a lipped opening filled with a moat of water creates a gas siphon.

Q: What are some common mistakes that beginner fermenters make?

Elijah: Usually the balance of salt and flavourings is the first trip up, a lot of people love to make substitutions and improvise in recipes, but they are chemistry and they should be followed closely.  As my sensei used to beat into me, if you don’t know, imitate.

Q: What is the most interesting thing you’ve ever fermented?

Elijah: A type of thai sausage called naem, or sour pork.  It’s raw pork mixed with garlic and started with sticky rice (which you’ve chewed and spat out to create a bacterial inoculant using your saliva) and left at room temperature for a week to sour and then is eaten raw with crudites.  Aroi mak mak, if you know what I mean.

I’m so glad I asked that last question! I’m astounded by how much there is to learn about this topic, and I’m glad there are folks out there who are willing to share their knowledge. As we become increasingly reliant on large corporate entities for our food supply, we would be wise to maintain at least a basic understanding of food preservation methods. If we don’t, the wisdom may be lost altogether.

For more information about The Permaculture Academy’s upcoming classes, visit their website or event schedule.