Monday, July 7, 2014

29 Celeb Impressions: How'd he DO that???

This video, where the talented Rob Cantor sings an original song whilst impersonating 29 different celebrities, went viral this week. In just one week it's gotten over 6 Million views and audiences are raving. Mr. Cantor certainly has a talent for shape shifting his voice! What is it about impersonations, specifically GOOD impersonations, that fascinates us? It seems to be tied in with our excitement at being "tricked," the same human condition that makes us giddy over a well executed magic trick or makes us lean in and smile at a really good ventriloquist act. Many of us love those moments when we "can't believe our eyes"!

But how does he do it?? We are all born with our own voice, our personal and one of a kind instrument. But we CAN change the way it sounds. Some people start using their voices a different way as a compensation for an injury or trauma to the voice, and they often develop secondary problems and need to work with a speech therapist to relearn healthy vocal technique. Other people, consciously or unconsciously start using their voice differently to fit in (eg. women in politics using a deeper harsher way of speaking). Others choose to change their voice consciously to match the persona they are inside (eg. people who are transgender). And a handful of people have a natural or developed skill for being a voice chameleon, like Mr. Cantor! 

This video is a great way to explore the different parameters of the voice and discover what exactly makes each person sound like their self.  Watch the video below and then read about the different aspects of voice and communication he uses (probably mostly subconsciously) to achieve these excellent results!

Fundamental Frequency (Pitch Range): It's not that important! If you listen carefully, Cantor is not changing his average pitch much at all. The women's' and men's voices are very close in pitch range. Some men even have higher sounding pitch than some of the female voices (eg. Willie Nelson (0:45) sounds higher than Billie Holiday (1:07). However, while the length of the vocal cords (the aspect of the voice that creates varying pitches) is remaining mostly in a constant range, his voices do create the experience of different pitches based on the other aspects listed below. Bjork (3:06) sounds higher because she is breathy and forward (see phonation and resonance below) and Randy Newman (0:19) sounds lower because he is chesty and harsh.

Resonance: Probably the most crucial aspect of these impressions (and also crucial to anyone modifying or improving their voice). Resonance is where the voice is "happening" in the body. Christopher Walken (2:24) has a low front focus, giving him a "deeper" resonance. There are many other "places" the voice can be focused, and subtle shifts make a big difference. Gwen Stefani (1:45) has a high central focus, while Shakira (2:04) has a high forward focus. Kermit (0:30) and Schmegel (0:57) are both high back focused, but Schmegel is MORE back than Kermie, making them have a completely different quality.

Phonation: Phonation is the quality of the sound. Anatomically this is created by the style in which the vocal folds are coming together and vibrating. If there is air leaking out between them you get a breathy sound, like Britney (2:07). If they change shape quickly, you hear pitch breaks, like Cher (2:40). If they are coming together forcefully with other muscles around them getting involved, you hear a rough sound, like Louis Armstrong (0:35). If they come together gently with plenty of air passing through, you get a clear sound like Willie Nelson (0:45). 

Prosody & Rhythm: Communication has a melody to it and the different patterns of emphasis and pitch give many of the characters their unique sound. Christina Aguilera (2:35) has a very open, legato rhythm. While Jeff Goldblum (2:13) has a choppy and staccato rhythm. Frank Sinatra (1:13) sounds almost "syncopated."

Vowels and Consonants: Generally what we think of as a persons "accent." Peter Griffin (1:19) has the open /a/ and /r/ that are the Hallmark of his Rhode Island Dialect. Adam Sandler (1:40) has a particular aspiration of his /s/ and /t/s that makes him instantly recognizable. And all the Englishmen, like Ian McKellan (1:58) have a more closed and forward set of vowels. If you want to hear more about the British vs. English Vowels, check out this great video. 

Each voice has it's own combination of Phonation, Prosody, Accent, and Resonance that makes it sound "spot on." The above are just notable examples of each of those aspects. 

I suppose diving in to these different aspects of Cantor's performance are a little bit like "looking behind the curtain" at a magic show, but they also give us a fascinating look at why we sound the way we do. Also really important evidence that we can actually change the way we sound! Believe it or not, you are in the driver's seat of your voice and communication!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Disorder vs. Difference

Often when people find out that I am a Speech Language Pathologist they ask lots of questions about their own speech and communication. "I had speech therapy for a lisp when I was a kid. Can you tell? Is it still there?" or "Is my voice too quiet?" or "Can you fix my accent?" And I always explain one of my favorite SLP fundamentals: Disorder versus Difference.

Everyone communicates a little differently. Since sounds like /s/, /l/, and /r/ are formed by the tongue assuming a vaguely particular curve in the mouth, there are multiple ways to shape them and still sound "normal." This is different from sounds like /b/ and /n/ where the shape depends on your articulators meeting together. (Try it!) No two voices are exactly alike because every person has his or her own unique instrument. And technically speaking, every region and maybe even every person has its own distinct dialect. Fun fact: linguists generally finds that Midwesterners' speech is closest to "Standard American English." But, it's important to know that in this case Standard and Divergent don't mean "correct" and "incorrect"!

I was recently asked to evaluate a bilingual child's speech. I had worked with this same little guy years before, helping him learn to make an /s/ without air leaking out the sides. This type of "lisp" is developmentally atypical (but common) and he made both his English and his Chinese /s/ in this way. After months of therapy and practice he got it! And I sent him on his way. But then he was back, and his mother was very concerned. She worried that people wouldn't understand him and speech would get in the way of him being a successful adult. Another SLP had worked with him in the interim, and she was targeting all the sounds that are typically produced differently by Speakers of Chinese. By the time he got to me this second time, he sounded fantastic. That pesky /s/ was coming out perfectly every time, and to my ear he had a moderate Chinese accent. He was very sharp and articulate and when I asked him what his goals for Speech Therapy were, he said "I'd like to say 'umm' less when public speaking." This guy has got a bright future, and I have no doubt there will be some great public speeches in it.

My little friend does have a different way of speaking, but he's 100% intelligible. At that point we are talking about "accent modification" and not a "speech disorder." I explained everything to his mom who was very relieved, because after all she just wanted to see him healthy, happy, and successful. I didn't recommend any follow up therapy for him. And frankly I think it would be a better use of his time to be focusing on his many strengths, like swimming and chess, than on this so called Problem. Plus, I personally delight in hearing speech differences in real life, they are part of what makes communication so rich and fascinating! (Have you ever noticed how a friend from a different region says "Mary, merry, and mary"? Or heard a New Yorker say the word "Orange"?).

No matter these differences, big or small, language and communication is such a unifying force (even if it's just a smile, the same in every language as they say!) What would it be like if every time we felt self-conscious of a perceived difference, we chose to see it as a plus? And then what if we could do the same for the differences we see in those around us? Show your stripes, and your speech, proud!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

AUDIO CLASS: Holistic Approaches for Parkinson's Disease

Healthy nutrition and lifestyle habits are important for every body, and especially for those living with a diagnosis like Parkinson's Disease (PD). And more and more healthcare consumers are seeking out Complementary and Alternative Medical (CAM) Approaches for treating this progressive disease. 

Download this Audio Class to learn some health habits and attitudes that can help you thrive, despite having PD!
  • Learn about how healthy eating can slow the progression of PD
  • Hear how you can be a change agent for health in your family
  • Get research based info on CAM approaches like yoga, massage, and acupuncture.
  • Get inspired to try something new and live it up!

Your Packet Includes
  • 42 min audio class (MP3)
  • Text/Graphic Handout
  • Resource List 
Listen to the class at your own pace, as many times as you like! Contact me with questions before, during, and after completing the class.

Cost: $5

Your packet will be emailed to the address on file with PayPal. If you have special instructions/requests, or if you are purchasing as a gift to someone else, email me at Please allow up to 12 hours after purchase to receive your packet by email.
Special Thank You to the Parkinson's Support Group at St. Joseph Hospital for allowing taping.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Apple Celeriac Potato Soup (what's CELERIAC??)

What IS this ugly looking vegetable?? 
Meet Celeriac, also called Celery Root (though it is not simply the root of the common celery plant that you know and love). A hearty root vegetable that often shows up in winter farm shares due to its storability and long growing season. It has a distinct flavor, sometimes described as a cross between celery and parsley. Additionally, half a cup contains only 30 calories, no fat, and provides an excellent source of dietary fiber. It can be prepared many different ways, even eaten raw in some dishes. See my favorite way to prep celeriac below, warm and comforting Apple Celeriac Potato Soup. Perfect to warm your bones during this lingering early spring chill!

Recipe gratefully borrowed from Cedar Circle Farm.


  • 1 lg celeriac peeled and chopped.
  • 2-3 med potatoes washed and chopped, leave skins on. (any kind of potato)
  • 1 lg carrots chopped.
  • 1 lg apple peeled and chopped.
  • 1 med onion peeled and diced (red or yellow onion).
  • 1 qt unsalted vegetable stock (or 1 unsalted bouillon cube)
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1/2 t dried thyme
  • 2 T maple syrup
  • 2 T salt use 2 T per gallon, adjust if desired.
  • to taste pepper Make it hot pepper if you like that.
  • 2-3 lg collard greens stack the leaves and then roll them tightly. Slice the 'roll' into very thin ribbons. (Collards are optional. They add great color, and are delicious.)


Sauté onions and thyme in oil over medium heat for a few minutes until the onions are browned and translucent. Add the celeriac, carrot, and potatoes. Sauté for 5 minutes, stirring often to keep it from burning, until all is infused with the thyme oil. Add stock, apples, salt, and pepper. Add more stock (or water) if needed to cover all of the vegetables. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 15-20 minutes until potatoes are cooked.
Add maple syrup. Blend with an immersion blender, or blend in batches in a blender and return to soup pot. Stir in collard ribbons. Let stand on very low heat for 15 minutes to soften the collards. Serve hot, garnish with hot chili flakes, cheddar cheese, and/or parsley as you like.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Asking for Help

Communication allows us to give AND also to receive. But what is it about asking for what we need, or asking for help that is so challenging sometimes? Maybe we don't want to impose on people, or we would rather avoid the yucky feelings that come with being rejected. But if we don't ask, we take away the opportunity for the people in our life to show up in the way we need.

I hear this all the time from the patients I work with. An older patient who needs a ride to the clinic might never ask her children because "they are busy with their own lives and families." Or a patient will decline certain activities, like attending a support group for their problem, because it's "too much of a burden" on their spouse. And I am guilty too. I often hesitate before asking friends or family for help that occurs to me as inconvenient or presumptuous. But I can see how this is not serving us as people and communicators.

There are three hidden secrets to healthy and satisfying Asks:

First is getting clear and honest with yourself about what you need and who can provide it. When I hear my older patients say they can't ask their children for help I think (and sometimes say) "How many baseball games did you drive them to in their youth?" Or when people get concerned about burdening their spouse I think "Would you want to help them if they needed the same?" It seems acceptable to me for these people to at least have the opportunity to respond "yes or no" to The Ask. But sometimes in the moment it's hard to see this logic, when our own fears and concerns get in the way. Getting clear on exactly what it is we need, and then recognizing that none of us needs to "do it alone" can help clear the path for your Ask.

Second, share your story. Share the reasons why you are asking, and maybe even share about how difficult it is for you to ask. When people hear your story, hear how important the situation is, and hear how crucial they are to making it happen, they become enrolled in the outcome. When we belittle the request, quickly adding "but it's ok if you are too busy". Or when we make ourselves small and silent by not sharing the importance of the job, we dilute our communication and can't come through clearly. Breathe, stay calm and clear, and Ask from the heart.

Finally, we must let go of the outcome. If we can Ask with a spirit of invitation (and not of expectation, self deprecation, or guilt) we allow much more space for the response. If someone says "yes!" we must trust that it's because they can and want to help, and they see the importance of the Ask. If they say no, it means they can't or don't want to, and/or they don't see the importance. Either way, it's simply the facts, it's not bad or good, doesn't prove they love you more or less, and doesn't mean you should or shouldn't ask for something else in the future.

This process takes a certain amount of authenticity and vulnerability which can be hard and scary for some, but also very rewarding. By asking, and making space for any answer that comes back, we create the opportunity for our loved ones to express themselves and also to contribute to our lives. This is a powerful thing and a gift!

What are your experiences with asking for what you need or want. What have you learned that has helped with this process? Comments warmly welcomed below!

Friday, February 21, 2014

"Take Care"

A few years ago, I wrote this post about automatic language, the phenomenon by which we speak certain scripted statements and responses with little thought. It happens everywhere, when we say "I'm sorry" after bumping into a stranger, when we say Namasté at the end of yoga class, when we say "I'm good" when we are really not. I noticed myself using automatic language frequently, but one phrase has jumped out at me recently: "take care" (used as a salutation when parting with patients and friends).  Maybe I have even uttered the words to you personally.

Although I've noticed myself automatically spouting "take care," it actually has a lot of meaning for me. Because the problem with this phenomenon is not the use of words like "have a nice day" and "take care." The problem is when we do so mindlessly without being present in the moment and without being intentional about what we're communicating. So I'm calling myself out and taking this opportunity to fully explore this phrase and share it with you.

When I say take care, I truly mean it as a invitation for my communication partner to take care of themselves. Take care of yourself by not slipping in an icy parking lot after you leave, by making sure to eat a healthful meal that evening for dinner, or by asking for a hug or some quiet time if you need it later that day. I hope that true meaning comes through when it leaves my lips, I am asking you to please take care your mind body and spirit. Because after you leave my care and company, the rest is up to you.

I also say take care as an instruction. Inviting you to take care of the people around you, the small animals in under your charge, and the earth. Treat the living things around you with love and compassion. Listen mindfully. Spread health and security. Because as the Buddha said, "Happiness never decreases when shared"

I also mean "take care" as a sort of blessing. I am asking the universe take care of you after you leave my company. We can be met with so much out there in the world including physical and mental obstacles. I send you away with this tiny prayer for the universe to look after you.

I hope the salutation works on many levels. I hope you hear it and think to yourself "yes, I will take care of myself tonight in whatever way I need". I hope that the universe hears my prayer and makes an extra effort to put a cushion of care around you. Whatever comes your way. And I hope that you hear it as an invitation to also take care of the ones around you. Because we all need to do that for each other with love and compassion.

So time I say next time you speak or hear "take care" consider all of the many meanings of this phrase. I invite you to explore the phrases you use automatically, ponder the multilayered meanings, and breathe greater intention into your speech today.

And... Take Care. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Medicinal Spices

My mother, brother and I took a "Healthy Indian Cooking Class" with a group of people from her gym last month. The class was held at Food & Fashion of India in Nashua, NH. It is a small establishment, hidden in a strip mall on a busy commercial highway. Half Indian Grocery, half commercial kitchen, Food & Fashion is the type of place where you can buy gold bangles and Fenugrik Seeds and get a side of life wisdom. The cash register is facing North, and the painting of Ganesha is pointing East, because that is according to Vastu Shastra (an Ancient Indian doctrine for architecture) to promote successful business. The owner, Indira, is passionate about serving healthy flavorful food and sharing her message about the medicinal and health benefits of eating this way. She invites groups of 10 or so people at a time to teach her methods.

Indira, working her magic
The event as a whole was lovely. Indira danced around the kitchen, giving us each jobs to pour, toss, sprinkle, and stir. The kitchen smelled like garlic and spices and our mouths watered as we frantically scribbled notes on the method and measurements for each dish. The my classmates often chuckled as we tried to turn Indira's measurements ("a little bit" or "a lot" or about twice that much") into cups and teaspoons so we could recreate the masterpieces later at home. The morning ended with a big meal of Dahl, Cabbage Poriyal, Saag Paneer, Aloo Gobi, and Basmati Rice. We were full. And we spent some time chatting about the medicinal properties of the spices she uses.

Here are some of the gems that she shared

Turmeric: Anti inflammatory properties. Excellent for preventing pain from inflammation, arthritis, and dementia.

Mustard Seeds: Treats diarrhea. Swallow a spoon full four times over the course of 2 hours.

Anjuman Seeds: When added to cooked foods, prevents gas.

Methi Seeds: Prevents or treats constipation.

Hing: Helps digestion.

Jalapeños: Blood thinner.

Currently, it seems that there is so much information out there about avoiding certain substances and ingredients in out diets, or else there will be grave consiquences. This can make food and eating feel dangerous and scary. But learning about the powerful properties of the spices above reminded me once again about the incredible medicinal power of food. Whole healthy ingredients and flavorful spices can add to our lives and help our bodies stay healthy and strong!

What I Learned From My Yoga Injury

One of my most prized possessions is my health and vitality. I didn't think I took it for granted. No sir. Especially in my line of work, where I have the privilege to work with people during devastating illness and injury or at the end of their life. But when I experienced my own (relatively minor) physical injury last month I had an opportunity to learn a few lessons about myself, my body, and how I can live my life.

I started the year off with action. On January 1st I completed a Yoga Mala Practice of 108 Sun Salutations with a dear friend and teacher, Jenn Maniates. It was tough but amazing! And I went home and rested and soaked in epsom salts, as advised. Then my partner and I travelled to Kripalu for a long weekend of yoga and hiking (and also some dancing thrown in). I felt great! My body felt strong and my mind was clear. So ready to take on the new year. But then, a few days after returning home, I hopped out of my car to walk into work and something happened. All of a sudden I could barely walk (let alone do dozens of poses or hike a mountain). I am lucky enough to work with some really skilled Physical Therapists and as soon as I walked into the building I heard "what happened to you??" You can't sneak any gait disturbances past them!

It turned out that there was a fancy name for my injury: I "overdid it." Too much flexibility and not enough strength around my hip caused irritation and pain in the joint and nerves. It was weeks of rest and rehab before I was pain free. And I was so impatient, I thought I would never feel better again. As I started to ease back into my normal activities, the many gifts that came with this injury came into the light.

I finally went to a yoga class last week. I did the whole practice but took a lot of modified poses. I approached my teacher after class to tell him the whole story, how I was recovering, and all I was discovering in the process. When I was done, he said "congratulations!" I smiled and thanked him, because I did uncover many gifts in this experience.

1. You don't know what you've got till it's gone. I thought I was grateful for my health and physical body. But once it was not available to me, then given back, THAT'S when I was REALLY grateful. Trotting up the stairs, sitting cross legged without pain, and just generally moving around pain free is such a blessing after knowing the alternative. I will treat my body with tenderness and gratitude.

2. My injury colored everything. This particular lesson works in two directions. First, it reminded me that there is much more going on for people than meets the eye. My pain and lack of mobility made me cranky and sad, but it was pretty much invisible to others around me (except my rehab therapy friends who could detect my limping a mile away). Compared to some, my injury was brief and mild, but it had a major affect on me. Especially because I was exploring it as more than just a physical injury, and lots of thoughts and feeling were coming up around it. There is a quote I love "be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." And I will.
But also, I had an opportunity and a responsibility to put aside my thoughts and fears about this injury, put it in perspective, and (as the now famous British WWII poster says) "Carry on." I will keep calm and carry on.

3. Even something healthy can cause injury when not in balance. As I hobbled around I thought "but I was doing healthy things!" I am naturally flexible, but others are naturally strong. And we tend to prefer exercise that comes more easily to us, so even in my strength building yoga classes, I was tending to sink more into flexibility work and skip the heavy strength stuff. Now I know, when you stretch yourself, you have to protect yourself... or you wreck yourself. And yes, exercising is healthy, but too much of any one thing can throw us out of balance. The same goes for healthy eating. When choosing food becomes so strict that there is no pleasure, we miss out on one of the important ways food and other things we consume "feed us." I will seek balance in all my affairs.

4. Mindfulness goes a long way. After learning all about the way hips work, and asking tons of questions about exactly what was going on with my pain, I began to notice all the ways I created this weakness/imbalance in my body. I realized that I often cross my legs tightly, or stand in a funny unsupported way, or move quickly in and out of twisty positions. Bad habits formed purely out of living day to day and not knowing the affect they have on me. It reminded me of teaching my patients abdominal breathing, and how they often say they had no idea there was any other way. Mindfulness is a practice, thus it is not meant to be done perfectly all the time, but the more mindfulness and awareness we can bring into our every breath, every movement, every interaction, the more we can create the experiences we want. Now, when I am standing in line at the grocery store I can check my posture for places I am sinking into those bad habits, forgive myself, breathe, and correct. I will bring more mindfulness into my physical body and my life.

5. Doing less can be so much more. I've been back to my regular activities for a week or two now, and the most important lesson I've learned is that "less can be more." Before this injury, and especially when I was new to yoga, I would always reach for the deepest expression of the pose, and that felt good. But now that I have more experience, I see the benefits of building a pose from the ground up and attending to the subtle alignments and micromovements within each pose. I really value exploring these subtleties and I can feel how this work is what makes me grow, not the fancy body positions (which can be a nice bonus of a developed and advanced practice). I took a class with a favorite teacher recently, and I gingerly moved in and out of poses, caring for my still-recovering hip. It was a powerful and centering practice. We ended with a simple spinal twist and I could feel this twist in a whole new way, just because of how attentive to my body I had been. It was divine! When I drove home, the snowy landscape made me happy in a new way. And once in my cozy house, my cup of tea sweetened with maple syrup tasted incredible. All of these thoughts and sensations were hightened because of my careful and thoughtful attention to the subtleties of my body. I will explore doing less to see what more it will bring.

These lessons came from my yoga practice, but I believe they are beautifully applicable to many situations in life. I can see many places where I can find more balance (in my schedule, my food, and my relationships). I can see where I can experiment with doing less (in interactions with friends and clients, in my daily activities). Can you? Can you see the gifts in an unfortunate or inconvenient situation in your life?

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Best Holiday Gifts

As an SLP, one of my greatest joys is to witness the success of the clients and patients I serve. Each of these individuals have left their mark on me, and I often tell them I am learning just as much from them as they are learning through me. I think of many of these strong and inspiring individuals after they complete their time under my care.

The holiday season is a popular time for communication (I write this as I count the greeting cards on display in my home, covered in bright images of wintery scenes and children smiling). And so, at the turn of the yearly calendar, I sometimes hear from a former client reaching out to keep me posted on their progress and express gratitude. What a gift!

This year I got three amazing gifts from former clients, all of whom suffered devastating accidents, and all of whom made incredible inspiring recoveries. All three were individuals with brain injury and all three have returned to their life activities from before the injury (work and/or school). This is a particularly noteworthy feat because the effects of brain injury can be life altering and often permanent. According to Velzen et al 2009, Only "about 40% of the people with traumatic or non-traumatic ABI are able to return to work after 1 or 2 years. Among those with acquired traumatic brain injury a substantial proportion of the subjects were either not able to return to their former work or unable to return permanently." But these three were shining stars!

1. First, I received an email from a young woman who I worked with over three years ago. She was in a cheerleading accident which resulted in a brain injury that severely affected her balance, coordination, and memory. All these years later, she had kept the "Good Luck" card I wrote her when she left the hospital and emailed me to share her progress. She has returned to college and is now completing her senior year! She writes about her story here [] and here []. 

2. Then I received a Holiday Card from a patient who was injured while riding a scooter on vacation visiting family. The front of the card showed was a photo of the whole family, smiling, and all wearing bike helmets.   And the text expressed gratitude for their blessings and wishes for a safe and healthy year. I'm so impressed at the loving and creative way they shared the message to "stay safe with a helmet!"

3. The third gift: Today, I received an email from a former client who was injured at work. His career is in engineering and needs to be very thorough, organized, and creative on the job. He wrote today with a happy new year message and shared that he has been recognized and given a bonus for an excellent job done at work. 

I treasure these messages from my former clients. Their hard work and tenacity inspires me that anything is possible! 

What can you achieve in 2014?

Velzen, M.(2009) How many people return to work after acquired brain injury?: a systematic review. Brain Injury. Jun;23 (6):473-88.