Global Goods Partners Co-Founder Catherine Shimony on Connecting Women to the Global Marketplace

Catherine Shimony and Joan Shifrin launched the non-profit, Global Goods Partners, in 2005. It’s an ethical marketplace for gifts that give back to women around the world. Each purchase gives back 100% to women artisans in some of the world’s poorest communities. By providing sustainable and dignified income, they can send their children to school, provide for their households, and strengthen their communities. Read below to learn more about their story…

Katie Couric: Tell us the story behind Global Goods Partners. How did you come up with the idea?

Catherine Shimony: During more than two decades of working in the field of international economic development, Joan and I saw the impact that came from a woman earning an income for the first time. We witnessed the new sense of agency a woman felt in her family when she was able to pay her son and daughters’ school fees and the strength she felt when speaking up in her community.

We launched Global Goods Partners, a not-for-profit social enterprise in 2005 to connect women to the global marketplace and provide training to help women-led groups in resource-poor communities create sustainable and reliable sources of income for women.  We focused on artisan crafts because in many communities there are fewer barriers to entry than many other forms of paid work. When women are able to earn an income and control how that money is spent, it can be a complete game changer in their families and their communities.

Today, we work with over 60 artisan communities throughout Asia, Africa and the Americas.

Why is women’s economic empowerment so central to realizing gender equality?

Globally, women and children suffer disproportionately from economic, environmental, political, and social hardships. When women receive the tools to learn a craft, manage their finances, or start and run a business, they gain experience, confidence, practical skills, and economic independence. These skills and experiences enable women to move beyond achieving simple economic improvements to making a real positive impact on the well being of their families and their communities. Becoming a wage earner with decision-making power also has the effect of empowering women to claim their rights, demand access and visibility and fight for equality within their families and their communities.

How do you find the artisan groups that you work with? Tell us a little bit about this process…

When GGP first launched, we identified our initial artisan partners through our previous work experiences in international development. Through our travels, professional networks, speaking engagements and the advent of nearly universal internet access, we have met artisans whose work we love and admire.

As a not-for-profit organization, our impact is greatest when we devote our expertise and resources to supporting and promoting artisan organizations that are relatively young and seeking to expand beyond their local market.

GGP’s priority is to find strong women-led community groups with quality handmade products that have the potential to be marketed successfully in international markets. Our artisan partners are community-based organizations, social enterprises, and artisan cooperatives that produce handcrafted items as well as offer community development programs to improve the economic well being and quality of life in their communities.

Before we partner with an artisan group, we share information and ensure that their mission is aligned with ours.  All of our artisan partners abide by the principles of fair trade, have strong governance structures and are transparent entities.

Can you share with us a story or two about women who have benefited and seen their lives change for the better from working with Global Goods Partners?

Micaela is one of the extraordinary craftswomen we work with every day.

Micaela is a member of Mayan Hands, a cooperative in Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala, located on the shores of beautiful Lake Atitlán.

We first met Micaela, as she demonstrated her weaving skills and stepped aside to teach our design director, Jenn Wong, the ropes.

Micaela’s story is a special one…

As part of an indigenous community, she faces the double discrimination of being Mayan and a woman in Guatemala. Defying these very real barriers, Micaela decided that at the age of 33, she would start school.
“I always wanted to go to school, but I couldn’t when I was a girl. Later, when I was an adult, I sometimes thought about it, but I had no idea how to do it. I was afraid to even register because I didn’t know how to read or write, not at all.”

It wasn’t until one day that she was creating an invoice that she thought to herself, “this has to stop, now. I need to learn to read and write.” She applied for one of the scholarships offered through the cooperative and was accepted to school for the first time.

In October 2016, Micaela graduated from elementary school. She completed six grades in three years.

What are your hopes for the future for Global Goods Partners?

Our vision is all about equity: a fair and just world where human rights for all are respected and where women and all marginalized communities are granted full equality. There’s work to do on so many fronts—environmental, educational, health, political, legal. We’re going at it from an economic angle because that’s where we know how to make a difference. Our hope is that GGP will continue to help build and fortify women-led artisan enterprises that will in turn ignite economic growth in communities around the world.

Katie: Thanks so much for sharing your story with us, Catherine!

How to Identify and Reverse Burnout with Dr. Ara Suppiah

If work’s got you feeling frazzled and stressed out, it might be time for a trip to the doctor. That’s right, burnout is now an official medical diagnosis according to the World Health Organization and its main symptoms include “emotional detachment, hopelessness, loss of motivation and joy with a noticeable loss of work quality and efficiency.” Read below for my interview with Dr. Ara Suppiah to learn how to stop burnout in its tracks…

Katie Couric: The World Health Organization now recognizes workplace burnout as an official medical diagnosis. As a doctor, can you explain to us what separates normal job fatigue from something more serious?

Ara Suppiah: Great question! Fundamentally, job fatigue and burnout are opposite ends of a spectrum, burnout being the final stop after years of job fatigue. Think of job fatigue as the “check engine light” and burnout as smoke under the hood!

Job fatigue is usually temporary intermittent physical fatigue in an individual producing high quality work with full mental engagement. When it becomes persistent, job fatigue leads to burnout. This is characterized by emotional detachment, helplessness, hopelessness, loss of motivation and joy with a noticeable loss of work quality and efficiency.

Katie: What would be your recommendations for treating someone with burnout so that they can get their health back on track?

Recognizing and accepting the state is the first step back. Speak to your physician or occupational health specialist. It is part and parcel of work life and nothing to be ashamed of. It is far more common than one might think, affecting up to 40% of the workforce according to a Gallup survey. Once recognized, we can reverse it. When you are experiencing burnout, the body is at full capacity hanging on for dear life. It’s time to apply the brakes and take the foot off the accelerator. It is time for EMS–-Eating (nutrition), Movement and Sleep. Basic premise – no extremes. Avoid fasting or overeating. Avoid access heat or cold. Avoid exercising intensely or doing nothing at all.

1. Let’s start with Eating.

Most burnout patients experience intense sugar and carb cravings, have food addiction and, as a result, are likely to be overweight. In an attempt to address this, most will seek out the latest fad, currently intermittent fasting. That’s not going to work for you. It’s too harsh. You need to gently feed the body with frequent non-sugary non-processed organic food. You are better off eating regular small meals instead of fasting. Also, now is a good time to load up on vegetables. Juicing or green vegetable powders are great options. Two groups of supplements I’d highly recommend during your recovery – omega 3 fatty acids (fish oil) for its anti inflammatory effects and adaptogens. Adaptogens are herbs that help you adapt to stress. Every major culture has their cherished version. You may have heard of some of these – ginseng, rhodiola, ashwagandha. Many companies do organic adaptogenic blends and these help your adrenal glands regulate stress. And finally, limit alcohol to one very slow drink a day if you must drink.

2. Next, make Movement a high priority

But avoid high intensity (an intensity where you feel out of breath). It’s too harsh. Walk, run or bike slowly. Work on slow deep breathing through your nose. Stick to 30 minutes max.

3. Thirdly, make Sleep a priority.

This is huge. Sleep is free medicine. Sleep nourishes the brain, reduces aches, increases energy, and boosts immunity. Three mandates to get you going – no electronic screens 90 minutes before bedtime, make your room completely dark (think hibernating bear), and leave all electronic devices outside the bedroom. No exceptions. Make YOU a priority. The calls and emails that put you in this state can wait. Additionally, consider supplementing with Magnesium citrate and Valerian root tea before bed, and I highly recommend you learn box breathing to help you switch off faster.

I love your approach to medicine and its focus on small changes that can make a big difference in our health. What are some things we can all do to avoid getting burnout in the first place?

Be consistent with the basics. Great athletes are great because they never get tired of working on the basics. I call them masters of the mundane! Applied to burnout – be consistent in practicing these three habits –  Be creative – everyday do something that engages your creative side. It can be something as simple as taking a different route to work or trying a different coffee shop. Next, vent. Get your frustrations out. Find an outlet that works for you and do it everyday. One caveat, if you’re venting to a person, limit it to 10 minutes. Finally, if you feel safe, go for a walk outside at night for 10 to 15 minutes, even if it’s cold. It will calm you down and the darkness will help you sleep better. Be consistent with these. Everyday. No days off. Just like brushing your teeth!

Tell us more about your philosophy of health and medicine in general…how has it been shaped by your experiences both as a doctor and as a person?

After graduating medical school in Liverpool, I trained initially as a surgeon, then in Emergency medicine, sports medicine, functional medicine and acupuncture. My guiding principle comes from Dr. William Osler who said: “It is much more important to know what sort of person has the disease, than what sort of disease a person has” and from Hippocrates who said “Let food be thy medicine.” Medicine is an art, one that combines heartfelt understanding, empathy and meeting the individual where they are and for who they are. Somehow, it has become a rush to a diagnosis and “a pill for an ill.” As an ER physician, I totally understand the need for timely diagnoses and treatment. But with most chronic diseases, we need to figure out who has the illness and why? What lifestyle and dietary changes can we implement to help manage their condition?

With that perspective in mind, what changes would you most like to see in the healthcare system in this country?

I’d like to see two changes at a bare minimum apart from the obvious tort reform. Firstly, physicians being given time to talk to their patients. Secondly I’d like physicians to develop a better understanding and the ability to evaluate a patient’s lifestyle, environment and diet as a source of illness and be reimbursed accordingly.

You treat both regular, everyday patients as well as some of the world’s most famous athletes…what’s something that we all tend to get wrong about how to be our healthiest selves?

Great question. Stop looking for shortcuts. There are no magic pills.  Health is your greatest gift but also your most important responsibility. Earn great health by doing the basics right. But that is tedious and boring and so all of us, including great athletes, look for shortcuts – pills, devices, apps. I’m here to report that nothing replaces fresh whole colorful foods and pasture raised meats. Nothing replaces sunlight. Nothing replaces movement. Sure we can add to this, supplement it…but those things don’t replace it.

What would you say to someone who hasn’t been able to make the commitment to better health, but wants to?

Be kind to yourself. Accept that you are human and you are going to fall off track repeatedly. I’m blessed to work with great athletes. You would be shocked if you saw how much great athletes, the iconic superstars, fall off track and struggle to get back up. No one is immune to it. We all get off track. It’s the beautiful human condition. So start small and keep going….and find someone to champion you. That’s the key. Great athletes are made great by their support systems. Find people who will help you keep on track and get you back on it when you invariably fall off. Remember, if you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go with someone.

Author and Advocate Keri Vellis on Foster Care: “I Was Determined to Get Everything and Anything the Kids Needed”

Did you know that more than 690,000 children spend time in foster care each year? May is Foster Care Awareness Month and a great time to shine a spotlight on these children who are so often forgotten as well as the thousands of foster parents who open their homes and their hearts to them. Keri Vellis has fostered 19 children and adopted three of them over the past 6 years. Read below for our conversation and find out the moment she knew she had to “hit the ground running to help these children.”

Katie Couric: How did you first get involved with foster care? Tell us your personal story about when you knew you had to do something to help these kids…

Keri Vellis: Eleven years ago, my husband, who works in law enforcement, came home from a call where a baby died. The death occurred because the unsupervised ten-month old drowned while his parent was using drugs and not watching the child. It was heartbreaking and I felt a huge tug at my heart to do something. I knew we had an amazing home and could provide a safe place for children. We waited until my youngest of three children started kindergarten five years later, and then went through the process of becoming a licensed foster home. The first two children we took in, a sibling set ages two and four, were horrifically abused and neglected. It was the kind of abuse you hear on the news and it makes your stomach turn. I was told it was the worst case that our county had seen in 13 years. From that moment on, I hit the ground running trying to help these children. I was determined to get everything and anything the kids needed: from dental surgeries to speech, physical and play therapies. One child managed to have 72 appointments in one month. To say our first placements were challenging is an understatement.

I could not understand why the doors didn’t fly open to help us find services for them. They were, in fact, closed. We did what it took to help these children who we have since adopted. We have continued to foster and have had 19 children come through our home; from drug exposed newborns to neglected teenagers. Along the way we adopted our third, making us a family of 8.

My experience over the last 6 years was a catalyst to writing two self-published books for foster and at-risk children. I am currently writing my autobiography, Saving Michael, which candidly shares our personal story.

How has the reality of foster parenting differed from what you might have expected? Tell us about your experience and what you’ve learned…

Most of these children had little to no experience with the normal things that other families do daily: sitting at a table for a real meal, running through the sprinkles, playing with other kids, brushing their teeth, a parent to read at bedtime. They had no structure in their lives and we were amazed that our daily activities and care were foreign to them. One of the children couldn’t speak at age four. We didn’t even know her name. A nine-year-old had never been to school. Their health was poor. I just never imagined a child would be so neglected that they couldn’t say their name or enjoy playing with other kids. I naively never thought such things our family took for granted was a life they never experienced.

Half of foster parents quit within their first year, with 40 percent citing lack of institutional support. What would you suggest can be done so that foster parents can feel more supported?

I absolutely can see why foster parents quit after the first year. It’s a tough job, I’m not going to lie. One of the challenges I found is that everything is confidential, so you can’t reach out to family or friends to share what you are going through. It can be very isolating. Being a mom comes naturally to me, so parenting the kids is not the hard part. I feel like I really have that down. Another challenge is continually being placed on waiting lists when your foster child is in crisis, and services are so impacted that you are waiting on help and support. It is a huge problem with the system. A lot of foster parents give up which leads to a failed placement and a lack of foster parents available. If we didn’t have the financial resources to pay out of pocket for our little guy, he wouldn’t be where he is today. I needed to look beyond what was offered and not delay therapies and professional mental health assistance.

Tell us about your children’s book for foster kids…what message do you hope it conveys to kids who feel afraid and uncertain about their futures?

I always read to my kids at bedtime and I found that there weren’t any books that these children could relate to. It instantly inspired me to write one for them. I connected with an illustrator who was a former foster youth, and I created the book Sometimes. This is a story about a child who is removed from his or her home and how they might feel and what they might expect in their new environment. The book provides the children with a hopeful message while validating their fear, sadness and confusion.

There are 450,000 children in foster care in the US. This book is not only a tool for the foster children, but it is also helpful for other kids to learn how to support these children who may be in their class, on their sports teams, or in their community. One thing I have learned when volunteering my time in classrooms teaching children about foster care is that they may have preconceived notions of what they think foster care is, or how their personal stories can relate. After I read my book aloud and I start the dialogue, many children open up about their experiences which they might not have otherwise shared. In some cases, childhood trauma or difficult situations are rarely addressed. By getting these children to talk about an identifiable situation, they are instantly validated.

May is National Foster Care Month…what can people who might not be able to foster kids themselves do to help?

There are many organizations, such as my non-profit Keri’s Kids, that work with or support foster children. Some ways of helping are by donating to these causes, volunteering time or resources and simply spreading the word to others to do the same. Our goal for 2019 is to get every foster child a book. I started Keri’s Kids to get these books distributed and this takes innumerable support and effort. Please visit my sites and to purchase or sponsor our efforts.

Sleep30 Challenge Wrap-Up with Sleep Number CEO Shelly Ibach

The Sleep30 Challenge has come to an end. I trounced Molner with an average SleepIQ score of 81 to his 71! (Sorry/not sorry.) If you missed out, it’s still available to anyone who wants to improve their sleep habits. Read below for my conversation with fellow sleep warrior, Sleep Number CEO Shelly Ibach, who told me one small change can make a big difference in getting some serious shut eye…

Katie Couric: So, how did you do?! Tell us all about your experience with the Sleep30 Challenge and what you learned about your own sleep…

Shelly Ibach: I learned that there is a correlation between higher quality sleep and turning the TV off 30 minutes before I go to bed. When I took this action, I averaged a higher SleepIQ® score, and I had several nights in the 90s. Overall for the month, I was slightly above my average SleepIQ score of 82. I am happy about the improvements I made and feel inspired to make this adjustment more often to improve my SleepIQ score. It was exciting to see so many people participate in the Sleep30 Challenge and share their journey – Katie, I loved reading your stories that you shared in your PJ’s from your 360 smart bed. It is great to see the competition for high SleepIQ scores between you and Molner!

It was a lot of fun! I love how this Challenge brought so many people together to make positive changes in their lives and it really fits in with your philosophy that “if we can improve people’s sleep, we can make this a kinder world.” Tell us more about this idea and why it’s so important to you…

Sleep is the center of well-being – it renews your mind, body and soul. The more well-rested you are, the more balanced, empathetic and kinder you will be. Quality sleep also prepares you for the trials and tribulations of life, it helps you effectively lean into adversity and respond to difficult situations. With higher quality of sleep, the world will be kinder and more productive.

Taking a more personal turn, I was so moved by the piece you recently wrote about your grief journey since losing your husband less than two years ago…how have you been able to use sleep to help you heal?

The thought of losing George, my constant companion since the age of 19, was unimaginable. It was the worst thing that could have happened to me, and it did in October 2017. His death felt like the end of my life – it crumbled the world beneath my feet. To protect myself from sinking into the abyss his absence left in my life, I went into survival mode. For me, that meant seeking and finding solace in the restorative power of sleep. I stopped using an alarm clock and allowed myself to sleep whenever I could with no barriers. That set the stage for my healing, and my ability to receive the wisdom that would help me move through my grief journey with grace and strength. Life’s shared fundamentals of sleep, diet and exercise have all played an important role in my healing process.

It’s inspiring to hear how you navigated such a devastating experience while also running a company. Speaking of which, you’ve been a real leader in merging technological innovation with helping people sleep better…where do you see this relationship heading? What’s next in tech and sleep?

We are at the beginning stages of merging the intersection between sleep, technology and health. The Sleep Number 360 smart bed is the starting point of this intersection. We’re using connected technology and highly accurate data with a dynamic product experience to help people effortlessly achieve proven quality sleep. At Sleep Number, we hold ourselves accountable for delivering innovation that moves society forward as we shape the future of sleep and wellness. It’s also exciting to see the healthcare industry beginning to focus on the importance of individuality and prevention or wellness.

Is it true that your mattress technology originated as biometric sensors used to monitor premature infants in the hospital? That’s so fascinating! Tell us about this…

Seven years ago, with the anticipation of the digital revolution, we placed a big bet on integrating biometric sensor technology into our Sleep Number beds. We partnered with a Silicon Valley start-up, which was the pioneer and world leader in biometric sleep monitoring and had been using this technology in neonatal units with premature babies. At the time, the value of sensors and artificial intelligence was still considered a moon shot. But my instinct told me that this was the future, and the right investment for Sleep Number. Long story short, we acquired BAM Labs – now called SleepIQ Labs. Our SleepIQ technology is at the heart of our smart beds. As you sleep, the bed senses your movements and reads your biometrics. Powered by the algorithms of the SleepIQ platform, measuring heart rate and breathing rate, the firmness of your bed adjusts automatically to ensure you have the highest quality of sleep.

That’s really incredible. So, now that the challenge is complete, what’s up next for you and Sleep Number in the mission to achieve a more rested and kinder world?

Society has started to realize sleep is important to their overall well-being. The next step is to have people understand that the quality of your sleep matters. We need to move to this next stage of the sleep revolution, from awareness to action. At Sleep Number, we believe this starts with what you sleep on. Having the right comfort and support for your individual body results in higher quality of sleep. We have proven this with our SleepIQ technology and feel strongly about using technology to accomplish more with less effort. We also need to change incentives. It used to be a badge of honor to be loud and proud about how little you sleep. It is time to be loud and proud about your SleepIQ score, just like you and Molner are. I love when you banter back and forth about who is achieving a higher score. We see this with the NFL players too, they are proudly competing with their sleep scores or talking about how they prioritize their sleep — because they want to perform at their best.

Dr. Herbert Benson on Sleep and the Mind-Body Connection

It’s week four of the Sleep30 Challenge by Sleep Number! I’m so proud of all the work we’ve done to get here and it’s definitely not too late to join us. This week, mind-body medicine pioneer Dr. Herbert Benson is helping us manage our stress for better sleep. We first met when he was on the Today show, and my husband Jay was very sick. He sat with me in my office while I cried and gave me this mantra to repeat to myself to help with the trauma and sadness: “God, please heal thy servant, Jay.” Read below for our conversation about his work and his step-by-step guide to help all of us calm our minds and get a better night’s sleep…

Katie Couric: You’ve been a leader in Mind Body Medicine for more than forty years! What drew you to this work and what do you hope it can do for people?

Dr. Herbert Benson: I was finding I could not treat high blood pressure with medications at all and I wondered whether or not stress was involved. I believe that health and well-being should be dependent on three features – 1) pharmaceuticals 2) surgery and procedures and 3) self-care. With well over 60% of visits to healthcare professionals being due to stress, we need mind body approaches integrated into our healthcare system as a measure of prevention and wellness.

We all know how difficult it is to get a good night’s sleep when we’re stressed, but can you help us understand why exactly that is from a physiological perspective?

The stress response can affect hormone productivity of the nervous system (specifically production of the hormone cortisol), which directly impacts the brain and sleep. When we are stressed, we also have poorer quality of sleep which further enhances stress as negative feedback.

You developed the technique known as the “relaxation response.” Can you tell us what that is and how you were able to identify it?

The Relaxation Response (RR) is the opposite of the stress response, or “fight or flight” response. This is an inborn capacity that counteracts the physiology and genetic changes of stress. During stress, the body experiences increased metabolism, heart rate, rate of breathing and brain wave activity. During the RR, the changes are the opposite.

People have been evoking the RR for millennia, starting with yoga and meditation. We defined the RR by studying meditation, but it is but one of scores of techniques that bring this about and allow the body to combat the harmful effects of stress.

And what’s the connection between the “relaxation response” and sleep?

When people evoke the RR during the day, slower brain waves are stimulated, making it easier to turn off stress so that sleep can be brought about.

Can you take us through the steps that you recommend to practice mindfulness and achieve a “relaxation response?”

To achieve the RR, one has to break the train of everyday thinking; this is most frequently done by the repetition of a word, sound, prayer or phrase and to disregard other thoughts when they come to mind. It should be practiced once or twice daily for 10 or so minutes, often before breakfast.

When you evoke the RR, it takes your mind off daily worries and alleviates stress. It also affects a number of changes in your genes’ activity – and these are the genes that include energy, inflammation and insulin production.

How long does it generally take for someone to develop these techniques well enough to see a difference in their stress and, ultimately, their sleep patterns?

When we evoke the RR, we can begin to feel its calming effects immediately. But for the long-term, genomic effects to take place, daily practice is necessary.  Some people can achieve those physiologic changes as soon as they begin practicing the RR, but for most people, it normally takes about one week to improve their sleep. Your posture determines the outcome of the RR; when you evoke RR while seated, you are able to reduce stress. When you evoke RR lying down, you are often able to achieve sleep.

Mindfulness and meditation has become so popular in recent years, but you first developed this technique in the 1970s…what was the response in the medical community and in the public back then? Are you heartened by the growing acceptance of mindfulness since that time?

For hundreds of years, the medical community had separated mind from body, so there was resistance to this clear, mind body effect. As the years progressed and the scientific changes were proven valid, prevailing opinions have shifted in the medical community. Harvard Medical School, which was not largely supportive of my early research, now requires all first-year students to take our stress management and resiliency training course.

Among the public, many people who were using excessive medications and under great stress almost immediately recognized the value of the RR. And The Relaxation Response became an instant New York Times best-seller because people needed a way to take control of their own health.

Do you think we all possess the ability to sleep better if we’re able to curb our anxieties and stress responses?

Yes. Stress has been proven to exacerbate all types of medical conditions from anxiety and depression to high blood pressure, irritable bowel syndrome to cardiac arrhythmias and infertility. To the extent that a disorder is caused by stress, the RR is a useful intervention.

Laurie David on Her New Documentary, “The Biggest Little Farm”

So many of us dream about escaping the daily grind and living off the land, but John and Molly Chester actually did it when they fled their cramped LA apartment to start their very own working farm. They chronicle their journey in the inspiring new documentary, Biggest Little Farm, which can sometimes feel like a modern take on Charlotte’s Web (complete with a breakout performance by a pig named Emma!) Watch the trailer and then read my conversation below with my friend Laurie David who executive produced the film…

Katie Couric: This film has been a breakout success…why do you think it’s touched so many people?

Laurie David: I think The Biggest Little Farm has two important things going for it…spectacular cinematography combined with skillful storytelling. You don’t know in advance what you are going to experience when you watch this film and you leave surprised, moved, in awe. Several reviewers have nailed this with comments like “truly food for the soul” or “this movie is 91 minutes of the best kind of church.” I can’t tell you how happy those quotes made us.

There’s also a really important message about biodiversity and the environment, but it’s delivered in a subtle and entertaining way…do you think this approach might actually be more effective?

I think there is room for all kinds of messages delivered all kinds of ways. The issues facing our environment are so vast, I think we need the entire tool belt to reach people. The Biggest Little Farm actually feels more like a narrative film than it does a documentary  and with breakout stars like Emma the Pig and Greasy the Rooster, I think the film is resonating with viewers of all ages.

President Trump has called for major cuts in EPA funding and a number of deregulatory policies…what are your concerns about the long-term impact of this administration on the environment?

I am filled with rage ever single day usually starting around 7 am on twitter (ok, really 6:30)!  but at the same time I am feeling more hope than I have in years. It wasn’t that long ago that there was zero discussion of global warming during election cycles, I mean not even one lousy question during a debate! Right now climate ranks in the top 3 most important issues to voters. That gives me hope. Also, the climate organizing that kids are doing, the Sunrise Movement, the leadership of the extraordinary 14-year-old  Greta Thunberg and the push for The Green New Deal are all positive signs that we are getting to the ‘enough is enough’ stage.

What’s one thing that we can all be doing that would significantly help our planet and the environment?

VOTE VOTE VOTE…for candidates that are committed to climate action. En masse the Republican party has a horrible record on environmental issues and climate in particular. That isn’t a partisan comment, it’s the truth. Vote them out. And while you’re at it, eat less meat! That is an action you can take every day.

You’re supporting Pete Buttigieg in his presidential bid…why has he earned your support?

This may surprise you, but I have known Mayor Pete for almost 3 years! He is absolutely the real deal, a once in a generation leader and I couldn’t be more excited about him. It’s so refreshing to watch a politician answer a question directly, from the heart with such a depth of knowledge and intelligence. He is the anti-Trump in every single way! I don’t see ambition driving him, I see purpose and service and it’s a beautiful thing to watch as he introduces himself to the country.

What makes you hopeful when you think about our collective future?

That makes me think of Emily Dickinson! And she has a perfect answer to your question that reflects how I feel…

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all.

Heidi and Gina Nortonsmith on 15 Years of Marriage Equality

Today marks 15 years since Massachusetts became the country’s first state to legalize same-sex marriage. Read my conversation below with Heidi and Gina Nortonsmith, one of the seven couples who sued the state back in 2001, and learn what it took to make that happen, and the future of the LGBT movement…

Katie Couric: In 2001, you were one of seven same-sex couples who sued the state of Massachusetts for the right to marry…how did you become part of this case?

Gina Nortonsmith: Heidi was pregnant and we were working with our lawyer to draw up all the legal protections that were available to us to protect our growing family, and we discovered that the law considered us to be “legal strangers” to each other. We could draw up wills and Powers of Attorney, but there was nothing in the law that said that the state had to respect our relationship, our family, our belongings, or our intentions, if anything bad happened to one of us. If Heidi had encountered a medical complication during childbirth, or at any time when our kids were young, they would have had no legal relationship to Gina, and could have been taken away from her.  Even now, decades later, it’s gut-wrenching even to think about…

Because we had been working on this with our lawyer, she helped put us in touch with the legal team at GLAD Legal Advocates and Defenders when she heard they wanted to talk to couples like us. After meeting with their legal team, it was clear that we wanted to be involved in the case if we could be helpful.  We both have tremendously loving and supportive families, and had secure jobs with supportive management, so we figured, “if not us, who?”

Reflect back to the moment when it was clear that marriage would be legalized in Massachusetts…what emotions did you feel?

Well, first and foremost we felt elated by the win and the prospect of being married.  We were overjoyed and relieved that we could continue our parenting with the protections that marriage could bring to our family. And we felt proud to have been part of an effort that could help bring more joy, love, and security to so many others across the state over time.

That said, our feelings were complicated by the fact that politicians immediately tried to deny that the court ruling meant what it did, and instead tried to interpret the court ruling as establishing civil unions. So those six months between the court decision and the date it went into effect were very fraught because politicians and religious organizations tried to stop the ruling from taking effect.  It made for a bittersweet time in celebrating the victory and planning for our wedding and the weddings of many other beloved friends.

Heidi, you’ve said that it did “feel differently” when you and Gina could say that you were married – how so? What was the difference?

We never expected to be able to say we were married and just have people understand all the things that tells you about who we are. It’s a tremendous marker for who we are to each other and how we intend to be for each other over our lives. To use any other term that was available to us at the time – dating, partners, or the awkward “civil union” (“civilly united”??) – automatically conveyed something inaccurate and lacking. It was so liberating to be able to claim this word for ourselves and our relationship. We both feel this way.

Same sex marriage has faced many challenges over the years…do you worry that at some point it could be reversed?

I’m an optimist. I’ve seen so much growth and progress and acceptance for this movement over the past two decades. As our society has embraced the dignity of LGBTQIA individuals and families, our collective hearts have grown and our love has multiplied. That genie isn’t going back in the bottle, in my opinion.

Like any right, it depends on the people who defend it. The people on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court at the time of the decision were defending the ideal of equality for all citizens. You hope that the people with the power to make decisions will want to protect the rights of everyone. Whenever we vote, we give people the power to make decisions about our lives. And when we stop voting and acting as if those things are important, we’ve given power to the wrong people, haven’t we?

While support for same-sex marriage continues to grow, do you worry that there’s a sense of complacency about the very real discrimination that the LBGQT community still faces?

It feels like there are a lot of human rights that are under siege in our society right now, and at the same time, people seem more insular in their self-interests. As a nation we’re divided, and encouraged to divide ourselves, instead of seeing past differences to our commonalities and a shared human interest. So yes, we worry about people being complacent about LGBTQIA discrimination, as well as many other kinds of discrimination, injustice, and suffering.

At a time when the basic mechanics of voting and participating in American democracy – and even citizenship itself – are being threatened, how can any group of people not worry that their rights are in danger?

When you look forward, what work still needs to be done? What do you see as the next milestone for gay rights?

While we played a role in moving the equal marriage issue forward 15 years ago, we’re really not on the front lines of setting or advancing gay rights at this point, so it’s not for us to say what those next milestones will be. Certainly LGBTQIA folks still get fired, assaulted, and denied health care, and those risks need to be overcome.  As has been said many times about human rights, “none of us is free until all of us are free,” and we’re aware that queer folks of color, those who are disabled, and gender non-conforming people face extra challenges and dangers. Our community continues to work to be treated with dignity, and that need didn’t disappear with the advent of equal marriage.

What has being married for all these years meant for both of you?

There are two aspects to this answer. The first is that we’ve been happily legally-married for 15 years (together for 29), that our kids have grown up within the safety and love of that union, and that we’ve known the joy of celebrating equal marriages for friends, families, and others all over the country. People have told us that their children have a different life path because marriage is legal, and we’ve witnessed families that earlier might have struggled or fallen to pieces in shame instead embrace their gay children as they come out, because they have a roadmap to even imagine a future with the choice of having loving marriages and becoming parents.

And on another level, it goes way beyond marriage. For 15 years we’ve been free to carry out other aspects of our lives with the person who loves and supports us openly at our side. That’s such a huge thing, to go to work at a demanding job and participate in community life with the ability to bring one’s whole self – including spouse and family – in full view. It multiplies the contributions we can make in the world, and the joy and connectedness we feel in our day-to-day lives.

How to Raise Successful People with Esther Wojcicki

“How did you do it?” That’s the question people always ask Esther Wojcicki, the mom of three exceptional women – Susan is the CEO of YouTube, Janet is a professor at UC San Francisco, and Anne is the CEO of 23andMe. Read our conversation below about her new book How to Raise Successful People and learn her TRICK for parenting and building positive relationships with everyone in our lives.

Katie Couric: People are always asking you for parenting advice, so you finally decided to write it all down for this book. What did you learn about yourself during the process?

Esther Wojcicki: I learned a lot about myself and realize that  many of the things I did were on automatic pilot. I realized that I was lucky that my gut reactions were good for the most part. In fact, I made mistakes just like everyone else. I am not perfect and no parent is perfect. That is one of the reasons I stress in the book that your parenting decisions have to be on the conscious level or you will, without thinking, do things that you later may regret. If you keep in mind the TRICK acronym [Trust, Respect, Independence, Collaboration, and Kindness], it helps. I actually created it not only for my book, but for myself….it just encapsulates the way I think about relationships in general, but especially about family relationships. When you write about yourself or keep a journal, it helps you understand yourself more than you ever expect. And looking back over your writing, it shows how your thinking progresses. It is a very easy, fun way to see how you are changing.

We’re both the parents of girls. Do you believe there’s any difference in raising girls rather than boys? What advice would you give specifically to the mothers of young daughters?

These are generalities so take them with a grain of salt. But over all girls are less physically active than boys. While my daughters did not fall into that category of less physically active, most little girls do. That is a plus and minus—-on the plus side it is easier for parents to control them and, on the minus side, they’re not as big risk takers as boys (that is, if you want to encourage risk taking, and that is a good idea). To mothers of young daughters, I would encourage sports, biking–large muscle activity–and would encourage toys that teach thinking–legos, blocks, Rubik’s cube, puzzles, arts and crafts, apps that encourage thinking.  Minecraft is actually a good game for kids. I would not encourage Barbie dolls, but if you want to buy a doll, buy one that looks like a baby not like Barbie. I would encourage trust….giving the girls an opportunity to make decisions …what to eat for dinner, what to buy for dessert that night. Why? Because it builds self confidence and that is what you want. Kids who feel confident. I would encourage all parts of the TRICK model…

We’re living in the age of helicopter parents and snowplow parenting and tiger moms. Why do you think parenting has become so anxiety-ridden?

Parents see the world as competitive and dangerous. That is the number one reason they are helicopter parents. They think that if they don’t help out, their child will fall off the narrow path to success.  They see dangers everywhere–the kid next door is doing better at potty training, or the girl down the street already knows her alphabet. They are constantly comparing. It makes them nervous wrecks and impacts their kids–every week day there is a planned lesson so they can get ahead. Ahead of what? Why is there a race to grow up? They became so anxiety ridden because of the internet and social media–how easy it is to see what other people and other kids are doing and then they compare their kid. They think everyone is better than they are and they worry about their kids not being able to compete. They need to relax and realize that every child develops on his/her own schedule and that is fine.

When you look at something like the college admissions scandal and the lengths that these parents went to to try to guarantee a successful future for their kids, what’s your reaction?

The college admissions scandal is the end result of helicopter parenting, the end result of parents who are frantic that their kids won’t succeed, parents who take credit and excessive pride in where their kids go to school. They forget that these are children who are entitled to choose their life’s path themselves. Trust, respect and independence are out the window for these parents, but they think that’s what they are doing. For many of these parents, where your child goes to school is a badge of prestige, almost like wearing a Gucci shirt. Parents need to remember that all kids are special, all kids have a right to be who they want to be, all kids have a right to respect and independence, and your kid is not your clone nor your pet. It is not a pet show.

I was struck by this line in your book: “We all tend to parent the way we were parented, but when I became a mother, the one thing I knew for sure was that I didn’t want to repeat the mistakes of my parents.” Tell us about your experience growing up. How do you think it shaped your own parental instincts?

I had a very difficult experience growing up. I had a loving, wonderful mother, but a demanding, dictatorial father who controlled the whole family. He was a product of his time and his own difficult financial circumstances so I have forgiven him. A Russian immigrant with few skills other than art, he couldn’t find lucrative jobs. We were always needy. He was always angry and the child rearing philosophy back then was spare the rod spoil the child. Also, as a girl in an orthodox Jewish family, I had no choice but to be a mother. There was no other path. When I rebelled, he abandoned me financially. If I wanted to go to college, it was up to me. I could easily have just gotten married at 18. It was tough for me, but I was determined to succeed, and thanks to UC Berkeley, I got a scholarship. It did not pay for housing expenses or extras and so I had to work.

What were the moments when you struggled the most as a mom and doubted yourself? How did you get past them?

The hardest time for me as a mom was when I had three kids 5 and under and my husband was gone all the time at work, at CERN (Center for European Nuclear Research) in Geneva. He is a physicist and they run experiments that run 24/7, so sometimes he would be gone late at night. We lived in a 2 bedroom apartment on the 3rd floor of a building with no elevator. In addition, my kids had to learn a new language–French. It was stressful. I took one day at a time and said to myself, “this is just temporary…it won’t last forever” and I was right.  They eventually learned French, I figured out how to work the washer in the basement (I turned all our clothes purple before I figured it out). I enlisted my kids to go get the baguette every morning (they become like rocks ove night…so you need to buy them daily). I had to be creative to solve the problems. The key was I believed I could do it….and I did

What’s the most valuable piece of advice you can share with young parents today?

1. Believe in yourself, trust yourself. If you treat your child the way you wish you had been treated as a child, you will be doing the right thing. Start with TRICK early on.

2. Deal with the electronic devices sensibly. If you ban it, it will become like forbidden fruit.  Collaborate about it. Do not give children under 2 an electronic device of any kind. Over 2, use only effective apps (see Common Sense Media) and only for one hour per day max. Over 5, suggest what your children should do and collaborate with them. No playing games all day….don’t let them start the habit and then say you will change it next year. Habits start early, last for a lifetime.

You Never Know What to Expect When Amy Schumer’s Expecting!

Amy Schumer’s got a new husband (a very cute chef from Martha’s Vineyard), a baby on the way, and she’s giving birth to a brand new Netflix comedy special, Growing. I checked in with my favorite prankster to chat about her problematic pregnancy and how she managed to do her best work yet despite throwing up about 980 times!

Katie Couric: This is a different special for you because you’re PREGNANT! I know you’ve been struggling with morning sickness. Did you have to take breaks to throw up when you were taping this? 

Amy Schumer: I threw up between shows a lot but my body held out while we filmed. I think this is my best special yet and I think it’s because you get better with hard work. I worked my ass off on it! Also being pregnant brings a different energy to stage.

I know you’ve been dealing with hyperemesis (an extreme form of morning sickness with severe nausea and vomiting), and you’ve joked people don’t know much about it because men don’t get it, but seriously, I’ve never heard of it before. How common is it and what causes it?

There is no known cause. It’s supposedly 2% of women but I believe it’s a lot more!

What have you been craving? I ate a lot of creamed spinach and chocolate milk when I was pregnant!

Same stuff I always want actually. Pasta and also chicken soup. But also stuff from my youth. Comfort foods that I haven’t had in a long time. My latest favorite is mozzarella grilled cheese with Campbell’s tomato soup.

When is little Katie due?

Katie is due soon!

How Diet and Exercise Affect Our Sleep with Dr. Peter Attia

Great news, my fellow Sleep Challengers – we made it to week 3 of the Sleep30 Challenge by Sleep Number and we’d love for more of you to join us! I’m so happy to report that the Challenge’s sleep tips have worked their magic and I’ve finally kicked my jet lag! This week we’ll focus on the relationship between food and exercise to your sleep. Read my conversation below with Dr. Peter Attia and learn why we all tend to crave candy rather than kale when we haven’t had enough Zzzs…

Katie Couric: Do you think most folks understand how interconnected diet, exercise, and sleep are? Tell us a little bit about this connection…

Dr. Peter Attia: No, I think most people do not appreciate this. Certainly, I did not appreciate this until probably the last six or seven years (and my entire existence is supposed to center around living longer and living better!). It would take a lot of time to go into this in great detail, but briefly, when a person’s sleep is deficient, and this can be deficient in duration and consistency of timing or deficient in various stages of sleep, it can often result in metabolic changes that alter nutrition intake. In other words, it can increase your likelihood of eating the wrong foods, but more importantly, it can drive suboptimal fuel partitioning, which is just a fancy way of saying you are more likely to store the foods that you eat as fat and less likely to access your fat stores when you exercise. With respect to exercise, the biggest detriment that incomplete or inadequate sleep would have on exercise is probably in reducing one’s drive to exercise.

That’s really fascinating. Tell us more about this relationship between sleep and the battle to lose weight…

There are probably several factors that drive weight gain and the difficulty of weight loss in the setting of sleep deprivation. Experimentally, it has been demonstrated that depriving people of sleep produces insulin resistance, and insulin resistance itself makes it very difficult to lose weight because it comes along with hyperinsulinemia (high insulin) which makes it harder to utilize existing fat stores. Also, inadequate sleep drives suboptimal appetitive behavior, which means you are more likely to make worse food choices than you would be if you are well rested. It also reduces your drive to exercise, and it might even raise cortisol levels. All of these factors–insulin resistance, poor eating habits, less exercise, higher cortisol levels–would all promote fat accumulation, which is exactly what you don’t want if you are trying to lose weight (or prevent weight gain in the first place).

I think we can all relate to the idea of giving into food cravings when we’re exhausted! Can you talk more about what’s influencing these choices from a physiological standpoint?

This is a complicated question, but I think at a summary level, I could say the following: A number of studies have demonstrated that inadequate sleep down regulates leptin levels (a hormone secreted by fat cells), which may play a role in satiety. It also up-regulates ghrelin (a hormone secreted by the stomach), which leads to greater appetite, and it has been experimentally found that people will eat additional food calories the day following just one night of partial sleep deprivation. In a nutshell, sleep deprivation comes down to down-regulating or up-regulating hormones that push you in the direction to eat more. Furthermore, the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is the part of the brain that keeps our hedonic desires in check, tends to be impaired by sleep deprivation. In addition to just making poor decisions in general when we are sleep deprived, we are also more likely to make poor decisions about food, specifically.

What about alcohol and caffeine…how do they affect our quality of sleep?

Alcohol has a very clear detrimental effect on sleep. While you may fall asleep faster due to alcohol’s sedative effects, it has been demonstrated experimentally that as little as 1 to 2 drinks in the hours before bedtime will significantly reduce REM sleep and generally replace it with light sleep and greater periods of wakefulness throughout the night. Caffeine plays a role in sleep because the effect of caffeine is to block adenosine, which can be thought of as the sleepiness signal, in the brain. Adenosine rising is one of the factors that physiologically drives sleep. It’s also important to understand that caffeine has a half-life of 6 hours, so if you drink a cup of coffee at 4 pm, half of that caffeine will still be in the brain at 10pm.

Let’s talk about exercise. We know it’s good for our health, but why is it so good for our sleep?

As I alluded to above, one of the main forces driving sleep is the accumulation of adenosine and perhaps nothing more than exercise leads to the accumulation of adenosine. Therefore, the more active we are, the more adenosine we accumulate, the more we increase our drive to sleep. Parenthetically, the other things that play an important role in sleep drive are cortisol levels, which we want to see decline as we get closer to bedtime, and melatonin levels, which we want to see rise. In summary, optimal sleep is had when adenosine levels are high, melatonin levels are high, and cortisol levels are low.

What’s the best time to exercise for better sleep?

If there is an optimal time of day to exercise proven to improve sleep, I’m not sure I know of it. I do think there is better insight as to when you should try to avoid exercise, and that would be right before bed. In order to initiate sleep, your core body temperature must drop about 2 degrees Fahrenheit (think about trying to fall asleep in a cold room vs. a hot room). And post-exercise, your body temperature can be elevated for a few hours which could disrupt sleep.

Do you think we’re starting to better understand the relationship between lack of quality sleep and how it relates to chronic disease?

Yes, I think people like Professor Matthew Walker at UC Berkeley have done an incredible job in elucidating the causal relationship between sleep deprivation and chronic disease, specifically, atherosclerosis, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease. Even the World Health Organization now recognizes the impact of sleep deprivation on these diseases. For a more detailed look at these links, and for an overall robust discussion on sleep, please see my interviews with Dr. Matthew Walker, in three installments: part 1, part 2, and part 3. You can also see Matthew’s recent talk at TED here.

What’s your own sleep routine? As a busy and successful physician, how are you able to make sure you follow your own sleep advice?

Like any behavior, it requires deliberate attention and a conscious desire to prioritize it. In that sense, I would think of sleep the way one would think about exercise or nutrition. If you want to eat well, you have to spend more time planning your meals. If you want to exercise, first and foremost, you have to make the time to do it. For me, the key to getting a good night sleep is as follows:

1. I try to disconnect from electronics at least two hours before bed. If I am looking at them, I do so through the lens of a blue light filter (both a filter on my phone or laptop, but also glasses that filter out blue light).

2. I try to limit food intake at least 2, and ideally 3, hours before bed and avoid alcohol if at all possible (and if I drink, limit to one; more than one really destroys my sleep quality).

3. I keep my bedroom as cool as possible. I try to keep air temperature at about 65 degrees, and I use a cooling pad on my mattress that keeps the mattress at about 55 degrees.

4. I keep the room as dark as humanly possible and sometimes that requires even wearing a silk eye mask to eliminate any additional light. This is especially important in hotels which always seem to have too many annoying lights.

5. I go out of my way to keep a very consistent schedule of both bedtime and wake up time, both on weekdays and weekends, including my frequent travel. On the west coast I keep an “an early to bed, early to rise” schedule of about 8:30 or 9 pm to 4:30 or 5 am, while on the east coast I keep more of a 11 pm to 7 am schedule. I think the details of this are less important than the principle of similar time to bed and wake up as often as possible.