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


Click here for a machine-generated transcript.

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

Here is the latest episode of The Strokecast


Ep 127 -- One Fine Day Everything Changes


Click here for a machine generated transcript

One Fine Day everything changes. Nothing will be the same. Sometimes that's a good thing. Sometimes it's not. And sometimes we won't know for years.

Sameer Bhide was living the American dream. He grew up in India, Came to the US for college, graduated with his Masters Degree, got his green card, and too a great job in IT consulting. By the time he was 47, he was married with kids and living in a great home in the suburbs of Washington, DC with a sports car.

And then a genetic abnormality reared its ugly head inside of his head. He had a hemorrhagic stroke.

Over the next couple years, he would lose his job, go through a divorce, and move out of the amazing house.

But Sameer continued to work on his recovery. He travelled to India to supplement a western stye recovery with eastern techniques.

He chronicles his experiences in the book One Fine Day. And he shares his story in this episode of the Strokecast


From Sameer's website:

Sameer Bhide headshot against a bluish background

On January 31st, 2017, at the age of 47, Sameer suffered an extremely rare catastrophic hemorrhagic stroke in his cerebellum, underwent two brain surgeries, and spent a month in a medically induced coma. Not just his life-changing debilitating illness, later on, he had to quit working, and on top of that, he also went through a divorce. He is extremely grateful and thankful to the Universe that he survived and he promises the Universe that he is going to make the most of the fact that he is alive. 

Book cover of One Fine Day

Sameer is on a unique journey of life, a journey complete with excellent highs and heart-wrenching lows. He is a true fighter, excellent writer and a motivational speaker and thus, written an inspirational book titled “One Fine Day” a unique story of resilience and hope in facing the new normal. It is a transformative memoir about his illness and experiences dealing with adversity and how he came back from the brink of hopelessness/death with the help of a diverse community of friends, caregivers, colleagues and other people around him in his adopted country (USA) and his country of birth (India) besides his family.

Sameer’s mission starting with his book is to help and guide people worldwide on how one can prepare for and embrace their new normal whatever it is for them with positivity, grace and gratitude.

Writing Process

I find the process survivors go through to write their books fascinating. In part that's because I've started work on mine. But it's also interesting because people choose different ways to work around their disabilities. Writing a book requires energy, a willingness to revisit some of the most painful and frightening moments we've lived through, access to language, an ability to type or handwrite, and wherewithal to bring it to market.

None of those come easy after stroke.

Sameer worked with a ghost writer for his book. This gave him a few advantages.

For one, he could work in bursts. He didn't have to sit down for hours. This way he could work around things like neurofatigue or the discomfort that can come from typing a lot. He would share his story with the ghostwriter who would write the story out. Then Sameer could make revisions. They could go back and forth to tell Sameer's story in Sameer's voice.

Sameer also leveraged his work experience in crafting a product plan. E jokes about it, but it makes a lot of sense.

Even if we can't work in our pre-stroke profession, we can often still find a way to leverage those skills and experiences in post stroke life.

When a lot of people see a stroke survivor, the see a person with disabilities. What they don't see is the IT project manager, the lawyer, the judge, the assembly line worker, the retail manager, the author, the actor, the pilot, the broadcaster, etc. Yet we are those things and more.

And in the projects we pursue after stroke, we can often leverage those skills. We bring a treasure trove of experiences to post-stroke life. Sure, some of them may be harder to access now, but they are still there.

It's up to us to figure out how to use and find new applications for those skills.

Disability in India

On Twitter, elsewhere in social media, and in conversations with disabled people in the US, you'll see discussion about lack of accessibility, and the challenges of that. And we absolutely should talk about it. The Americans with Disabilities Act is 30 years old and its ridiculous so many people still have to fight for the accessibility and accommodation that Federal law "guarantees" to us.

As Sameer points out, the situation is worse in India. You simply won't see the level of accommodation and accessibility that you see in the US. Sameer grew up in India, the came to the US, then became disabled, then went to India, giving him a deep perspective on the issue.

It mirrors the limited observations I shared about my week there a couple years ago.

Accessibility is a growth area around the world with different challenges in different places. And being "better" is not the same as being "good.

Hack Jugaad of the Week

Sameer talked about the importance of  meditation and mindfulness in his recovery.

Between added stress and the experience of over sensitivity to environmental stimulation, our minds can be exhausting spaces. It makes it hard to focus on recovery, and an overly exhausted mind may not be optimized for the neuroplasticity needed for recovery.

There are two key tools the popular Headspace app and video chat meditation centers with his guide in southern India.

There are lots of software solutions and YouTube channels that can help you with your own meditation and mindfulness needs. When I was receiving outpatient care one such session was even covered by my insurance at the time.

Explore your options or ask your care team for their recommendations if you feel meditation or mindfulness can help you.

Motus Nova

I'd also like to take a moment and welcome new sponsor Motus Nova to the Strokecast. You'll be hearing from them in a couple week.

Motus Nova makes devices to help stroke survivors with our at home rehab. For example, the Motus hand is a robotic exoskeleton that help you use your hand to play games and do exercises. It’s similar to the way my PTs and OTs used to manipulate my affected limbs in therapy sessions.

It’s designed to make it easier to get in the thousands of repetitions we need to ensure a strong recovery.

If you'd like to learn more or find out if the Motus Nova devices can help your recovery, visit http://Strokecast.com/MotusNova to complete a free online assessment. And use the Promo code "Strokecast" to save 10% on your firs month.

Special thanks to Strokecast guest Ella Sophia for introducing us.


Where do we go from here?

*Affiliate link. I may receive compensation if you make a purchase through the link.

Here is the latest episode of The Strokecast


Ep 126 - Kitchen Tips for Stroke Survivors


Click here for a machine-generated transcript.

I'm excited to announce the new Strokecast Newsletter.

This free, monthly  email newsletter will launch this summer. You can sign up at http://Strokecast.com/News

It will include synopses of recent events, stroke community news, updates from previous guests and more. So signup for free at http://Strokecast.com/News

11 Kitchen Tips for Stroke Survivors

The core of this week's episode is Kitchen Trips for Stroke Survivors. I talk about them in a lot more detail in the episode, but here is the list.

Mise en  place

Prepare all your ingredients and tools before you start cooking. You'll be less stressed and rushed. You'll be less likely to make a mistake, and you'll be less likely to forget a key ingredient.

Slow is smooth. Smooth is fast.

Take your time while doing your tasks. Focus on getting them done right, rather than getting them done quickly. If you can keep it smooth, you'll be surprised at how much time you ultimately save by not being sloppy and having to fix mistakes.

Let it fall

Don't try to catch a falling knife. It's a good way to seriously injure yourself. When something starts to fall, you may find yourself panicking as you try to stop it and dropping something else. Instead, just let it fall and deal with the aftermath.

Use big coffee mugs as small mixing bowls

Giant coffee mugs are great little mixing bowls. My affected arm and hand are full of tone, but if I can get my fingers in the handle, the tone will hold the mug in place so I can use my unaffected hand to beat an egg or mix tuna salad.


Get a roll of Dycem (http://Strokecast.com/Hack/Dycem (affiliate link)). This plasticy, rubbery, non-adhesive stuff is great for keeping bowls, cutting boards, and containers of yogurt in place so they don't slide around as you use them. Your OT probably had a bunch and you can find it on Amazon. When it stops sticking, just was with soap and water and it's good as new.

Sharpen your knives

Dull knives are dangerous knives. They're difficult to use. And the way we (or at least I) use knives post stroke makes them duller, faster. So get them professionally sharpened.

Hot water maker

Get a stand-alone hot water maker. They're a super simple way to always have hot or boiling water safely available. I drink so much more tea sing The GF and I got one.

Stand off-center while doing dishes

We center ourselves at the sink to make it convenient to use both hands. If only one hand works why do we continue to do that? Center your unaffected arm with the sink to reduce reaching, strain, and splashing.


Use a checklist to make sure you don't forget a step. The more complex a meal, the more high-stim the environment, the more helpful the checklist will be.

Let the beepers beep

Just because an alert goes off doesn't mean you have to drop everything and attend to it. Your appliances work for you, not the other way around

Be safe

More important than anything else is that you be safe. Don't take unecesary risks, even if that means you have to abandon meal prep halfway though. Worst case, there';s always delivery and take out.


Where do we go from here

Here is the latest episode of The Strokecast


Ep 125 -- The Spooniepreneur Life


Click here for a machine-generated English transcript

A stroke is a forced opportunity to reevaluate our personal and professional lives. Maybe we don't think we can do our previous jobs as well. Or maybe others make that decision for us. Regardless, is now a good time to go into business yourself?


Of course, being an entrepreneur always has its challenges. Pursuing business ownership with stroke related disabilities or Chronic illness poses some additional challenges. And some opportunities

Nicole Neer is a Spooniepreneur -- a business owner and coach living with multiple chronic illnesses. She helps other spoonies -- like stroke survivors navigate and thrive in the entrepreneurial world. We talk all about it in this episode.


Nicole Neer stands against a white wall looking at the camera with her hands in her pockets. She wears a blue shirt with puffy sleeves and blue jeans

Nicole Neer is the founder and CEO of Bloom Admin Services, a full-service virtual support agency providing online business management, podcast editing, and virtual assistance for online businesses. Because of her experience of being an entrepreneur living with Fibromyalgia, Bipolar Disorder, Anxiety, Sleep Apnea, and Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Nicole is passionate about helping those living with chronic illnesses to build resilient businesses that cope with whatever life throws their way. She's also the host of the Spooniepreneur podcast, a show that highlights what it's like to be an intentional entrepreneur who makes the most of the time and energy you have.

6 Tips for Disabled Business People

1. Decide what it will be.

What do you want to do with your business? It helps a lot if you are passionate about it, but you also need to consider the market. What role do you want this business to play in your life? Is your focus to get rich or just make a little extra pocket change? Or is it somewhere in between?

I would also add that if you are on disability or Medicaid in the US, or other social support programs around the world, be aware of how working on your business could impact your continued eligibility for those programs.

2. Build business plan with non-revenue goals.

Instead of focusing on bringing in $500 or $5,000 this month, focus instead on the targets that will support the revenue. Maybe that's a certain number of Instagram followers or widgets made or Etsy store visits. Concrete, behavior oriented goals may be easier to visualize and focus on achieving

3. Map out your day to accommodate fatigue and naps.

If you deal with neurofatigue, plan for it. You're making your own hours and customer commitments. Fatigue planning, nap schedules, medical appointments, and home therapy are just as few things that impact our ability, energy level, and availability. You can and ought to build your business around these things

4. Plan how to handle bad days. Sometime we have great, high-energy days.

Sometimes we do not. On a good day, develop a plan for the bad days. Is that reallocating work? Is it getting someone to help you? Is it sub-contracting? Does it mean just delaying stuff? There are lots of ways to prepare for them. The important thing is that you do prepare

5. Be honest in advance.

Sometimes planning is not enough, and things do slip. Be honest about it. If you're not going to make a deadline, let the key parties know. Don't try to hide it. Managing expectations is the key to happy customers.

6. Over communicate.

This is related to number 5. People don't like negative surprises from their vendors. They like it even less when they find out you knew a week before you told them. Over communicating -- and doing so with integrity -- helps to set the appropriate expectations and reduce unpleasant surprises.

What do you mean by "Spoonie?"

Spoonies take their name from the Spoon Theory, first articulated by  Christine Miserandino. You can read her essay here.

Basically, it's a way of explaining energy levels folks living with chronic illness or disabilities have. Christine came up with the analogy while trying to explain to her friend what it was like going through a day with Lupus and how every decision we make affects other decisions later in that day.

You start the day with a certain amount of spoons, and everything from getting out of bed, to cooking breakfast, to getting dressed costs a certain number of spoons. When you're out of spoons, you're done for the day.

I'd encourage you to read Christine's essay.

Many disabled and chronically ill folks have embraced the analogy and call themselves spoonies.

Personally, I find it useful to explain why just because I can do something, it doesn't mean I should. For example, I CAN walk around outside without my cane, but it comes with a 2X spoon penalty. And personally, I'd rather save those spoons for something more important.

Hack of the Week

Post-it or Sticky notes are great, but they can clutter up a space. And your important reminders have a way of falling to the floor when you need them.

Trello is a digital alternative. It's a website where you can manage digital sticky notes.

These cards live in columns on a virtual wall and can have all sorts of different information on them. You can move them around from one column to another, change the order and more. It's a great project management system, tool for organizing procedures, or just a way to stay on top of the various things you need to do.

Plus it's a nice way to reduce the chance that something will slip our minds.


Where do we go from here?

Here is the latest episode of The Strokecast