Ep 128 -- Gratitude, Meditation, and Power Tools with Carmen De La Paz


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This week, I spoke with Carmen De La Paz.

Carmen is an Emmy-nominated TV personality. She spent years appearing on HGTV and the Oprah Winfrey network. She's a carpenter, an artist, a bilingual host, a singer, an actor, a musician, a dancer and more.

Carmen is also a stroke survivor who's story involves a helicopter ride, waking up to the last rites, multiple hospital infections (including sepsis and staph), and encephalitis.

And today she is back to working with power tools, creating art, supporting the community of Waukesha, WI, and figuring out her next app.

And Carmen is an absolute delight to speak with as she shares her story.


Carmen De La Paz smiles and looks at the camera while wearing a light blue plaid button down shirt

From Carmen's website:

Carmen De La Paz, Designer, Carpenter, DIY expert and TV personality, inspires people worldwide through television projects and her recently established YouTube channel, featuring videos in both English and Spanish. A “hands on designer” and accomplished craftsperson, Carmen does all of her own work, handling power tools, to create with wood, metal and glass. She is also owner of De La Paz Designs, an interior/exterior design studio specializing in creating designs focusing on decorative finishes and custom made furniture for interior/exterior residential and commercial spaces.

Voted one of the top 200 most knowledgeable people in the construction industry in the United States by Fixer.com, Carmen brings the female perspective on home improvement, power tools, design and “do-it-yourself" to the television screen and the internet in both Spanish and English through a variety of projects. Appearing as Co-Host and Carpenter in two Emmy Nominated seasons of the make-over show, "Home Made Simple" on the Oprah Winfrey Network. Often recognized for her work on HGTV - Carmen’s carpentry and design skills were featured on six seasons of HGTV’s highly rated makeover series Hammer Heads which garnered Imagen Award Nominations for Best Reality Show. In addition to many other shows on HGTV, Carmen appeared as one of HGTV’s celebrity carpenters on a season of highly-rated HGTV’s Design Star and was a judge on Mike Holme's All American Handy Man Competition.

Additionally, Carmen currently can be seen as the host in multiple seasons of the PG&E webisode series, Energy House Calls, which was nominated for an Imagen Award for Best Web Series, Reality or International. Continuing to share her expertise and craftsmanship, Carmen appeared on George to The Rescue, filmed simultaneously in English for air on NBC and in Spanish for air on Telemundo.

Carmen has gained a strong international Spanish language following from her four years on FOX International’s Spanish language channel, FOXLIFE, with several shows airing in 17 countries including the US, Canada, South America, Mexico and the Caribbean. While at FOX Carmen was creator, producer and host of 40 episodes of her own show, Be Handy con Carmen. Additionally, Carmen hosted 40 episodes of the DIY show, Hágalo Fácil, for FOX LIFE,and was featured in 80 Episodes of Talkshow Hola Martin and 3 seasons of the highly rated Spanish language talk show, Tu Vida Más Simple.

Carmen’s other TV credits include: HGTV’s, Showdown I & II – where she was featured, for two seasons, as the only female carpenter to compete in the show; NBC’s Today Show – Weekend Edition; HGTV’s – 250K Challenge; HGTV – 25 Worst Landscaping Mistakes; HGTV – 25 Worst Renovation Mistakes; HGTV – Home for the Holidays; DISCOVERY Español – Mientras No Estates & Ideas Para La Casa; WE Network – Holiday Home Invasion, Children's Show Paloozaville as Co-Host to John Lithgow and host on FOX Television’s children’s show The DJ KAT Show.

Carmen served as brand ambassador and spokesperson respectively for 3M and the ScotchBlue brand for four years. During her time, she produced content and hosted several how-to videos for ScotchBlue, represented 3M at several industry conferences including Hispanicize 2015, and represented ScotchBlue in a variety of media efforts including Satellite Radio and TV Media Tours, magazine and print Contributions, as well as public events all over the country.

Born in San Juan, Puerto Rico and raised in Wisconsin, Carmen is an alumna of Syracuse University and has a BFA in Music Theatre. She also studied Broadcast Journalism though the UCLA Certificate program. Carmen is a musician, plays nine instruments and has an amazing vocal style.

Carmen's Demo Reel

See Carmen in action here:



A recurring theme from many survivors is gratitude. Many of us, while we don't recommend the stroke experience, feel a sense of gratitude for the life we have now. I'm one of them. Carmen talks about how grateful she is for her life today. Neuro Nerd Joe Borges expressed that sentiment, too. As did Kristen Aguirre and Vince Holland among others.

I get that not everyone will feel that way. Sometimes the particular deficits we are left with make that harder. And some people don't make it.

We may be grateful because we realize things could have been so much worse.

But many times stroke makes us reassess our life. It suddenly interrupts normal life. Everything has to stop, whether we want it to or not. And that interruption isn't just about a week off. It can be months or years.

And that interruption is a time to stop and rethink what we are doing.

That's interruption can be something we are grateful for. It makes us stop and make decisions about how we want to live our lives going forward.

While I might like to see all my deficits go away tomorrow, I wouldn't want to not have had this experience. It's made me who I am today. And it's brought amazing people into my life.

But again, I don't recommended having a stroke. While Carmen and I and others had to be forced into this shift, if you haven't had a stroke, you can still take a break and rethink your priorities to make sure they really are bringing value into your life.

And take some time to put together your own gratitude practice to recognize the things that bring value to your life.

Waukesha, WI

Waukesha, WI is Carmen's home town. With a population of roughly 70,000 people, it's just outside Milwaukee, and a couple hours away from Chicago.

And the town has really embraced Carmen. She's working on civic projects, and the love she has for the community really comes through in our conversation.

Art and Stroke

Carmen talks about the change to her art since her stroke. Her description sounds more disciplined and focused that before.

Before her stroke, she described her art as embodying the idea of catharsis -- a building and building until it bursts through. Since her stroke, it seems less chaotic. More refined, focused, and discipline.

Here's an article about the interview Carmen did just before her stroke.

In addition to the changes brought on by our disabilities, stroke can affect us in other ways. I find my writing to be more focused now. But the example that really jumps out at me is the conversation I had with Seth Shearer a couple years back. You can listen to that conversation at http://Strokecast.com/Seth

Seth is a Seattle artist. After his stroke, his art changed dramatically. The change was so dramatic it felt like a different person painted it. Seth began to paint under his middle name of Ian because of the difference.

The things we want to say and how we want to say them are influenced not just by the outside world, but by how we perceive the outside world. Our senses provide raw data, but our brains create meaning from that data. And when our brains change, the way they create that meaning also changes.

Our ability to then express that meaning is impacted by how our brains can use our bodies, by how we can focus on a thing, and by the volume of mental resources we can bring to bear on bear on the project.

And that can be a beautiful thing.

Aneurysm Basics

An aneurysm is an often misunderstood medical condition. The general public thinks it's when the brain just starts bleeding catastrophically. And that's close, but not quite right.

In reality an aneurysm is a weak spot or bubble in the side of a blood vessel or at a spot where the blood vessels divide. As long as the aneurysm doesn't break, leak, or get too big, you can go your whole life with an aneurysm and never know it. Millions of people walk around with aneurysms in their brains and will never know.

Carmen's aneurysms manifested for 10 years as migraines. That bulge in the wall of a vessel can cause problems and press against stuff it shouldn't. Remember, there's not a lot of extra space inside our skulls. They're pretty well packed.

Unfortunately many folks don't get the scan that can show the aneurysm. You can't treat an aneurysm if you don't know it exists. If you do learn it exists, there are some amazing surgical procedures to treat it. Or if it's minor enough neurologists may suggest leaving it alone

But sometimes they are weak enough that they break. And when they rupture and send blood coursing directly into the brain, the results are catastrophic. Many hemorrhagic strokes are caused by ruptured aneurysms and folks who survive are quite lucky.

Motus Nova

Motus Nova is a sponsor this week.

I just started using the Motus Hand device. It's an air-powered, computer-controlled, robotic exoskeleton for my affected hand. It's a therapy tool, rather than an adaptive tool.

One thing I really like about it is the way it collects data and scores my performance on its video games. It's sometimes hard to see the gains we make in therapy over time because they happen slowly. But the reports and data make it much easier to see improvements over time.

I also learned after my first session that I have much less wrist extension than I thought. So now I know one more thing to specifically target.

If you'd like to see if the Motus Hand or Motus Foot can help with your recovery, visit http://Strokecast.com/MotusNova and use the code Strokecast for 10% off your first month.

Hack of the Week

Clamps are an essential tool in woodworking. They give the carpenter and extra, super stable hand. You know who else can use an extra, super stable hand?

Stroke survivors with limb weakness!

A simple clamp is something you can use to hold a thing in place. Maybe that's a piece of timber. Maybe it's a cutting board. Maybe it's a piece of paper you're trying to sign. The variety of clamps available is mind boggling. The right one depends on what you want to do. You can find a bunch of different options on Amazon here.*

Here's one in particular that seems one-hand friendly. I may need to pick up a few myself.*

And of course, I'm still have a warm feeling for the traditional C-Clamps of my youth. You can find those here.*

Explore some different options. And the next time you try something and think, "This would be a lot easier with two (or three or four) hands," make a mental note to look for a clamping solution.


Where do we go from here?

  • Visit Carmen's store and learn more Carmen's work at CarmenDeLaPaz.Com
  • The free Strokecast newsletter launches this summer. Sign up for the monthly newsletter at http://Strokecast.com/Newsletter
  • Follow or subscribe to the Strokecast in your favorite podcast app so you never miss an episode
  • Don't get best…get better.

*Affiliate links

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