My Story

My heartfelt mission is to translate research into user-friendly resources and tools for children, youth and adults.  I believe the true potential of research is only realized when we share what we are learning with communities, listen intently to their feedback and adapt as needed.  One of my favorite projects, called “Take It to the Village,” received national recognition as a best practice.  The goal was to meet people where they were at not just in terms of where they lived but also to understand their challenges and priorities.  

Kids and adults who understand how their brains work are more resilient.  My crew of traveling puppets take audiences on a tour of the brain and nervous system.   I am the author of the internationally acclaimed “Amazing Brain” series, disseminated worldwide to help caregivers understand early brain development, how amazing the adolescent brain is, and the predictable and preventable effects of trauma.  I am working a new booklet for parents called “Our Resilient Brain” to explain how the brain and body respond to stress and share simple practices to calm the brain, teach self-regulation and help children and caregivers thrive even through hard times.

A growing body of research validates the effectiveness of many traditional practices that have been passed generation to generation—sometimes it takes a long time for science to catch up with cultural wisdom and people’s way of knowing!  There are new practices based on the latest neuroscience and related fields of research.   There are also integrated approaches that combine the old and the new and have been rigorously evaluated.   

My work is all about sharing simple tools that can be taught to children/youth and adults to harness the capacity of the brain to change and the body’s instinct to heal.  These skills and tools benefit everyone given the escalating levels of stress we cope with in daily life, and are essential for professions at risk for compassion fatigue and vicarious trauma.  I learned that lesson firsthand after working in the fields of family violence and trauma for two decades.  My mantra is that no organization is trauma-informed unless they have a prevention plan for compassion fatigue and vicarious trauma.

I left my position as a Senior Scientist in 2017 to focus full-time on teaching resilience-building skills.    Everything I have done and experienced in my life has led me to this moment.  From classrooms to board rooms to family shelters to military installations, there is nothing I rather be doing when I am not on our homestead in Homer, Alaska with my husband, Al.

I am twelve years old here, with my little sister, Sue Ellen, who is an ongoing inspiration in my life.

Leaving our homestead in the winter is not always easy but I always get there…you just have to get creative!! The roads to our homestead were blown in so Scout, one of my lead dogs, helped me haul my baggage to a plowed road.

Russia

Carrying a bucket of water to a hospital in far east Russia.

Winter camping with our dog team. Young adults from around the world came to stay with us as “dog handlers” and learn about Alaska.

Alaska

I have never been a big fan of warm weather.

1989: Yale University

I have “great expectations.” An important trail marker in my journey was when I completed my first Public Health degree.

Siberia

Believe in yourself and you can do anything and go anywhere!

Northern China

Believe in yourself and you can do anything and go anywhere!

This was a special event for families at the Smithsonian Institution where I shared my research I did as a Fulbright Arctic Scientist Scholar in Finland.

1990

I participated in the first medical expedition team between Alaska and Far East Russia. I would return many times to help set-up women’s health clinics with my colleagues.

After completing my doctoral degree at Johns Hopkins, I began speaking through the U.S., Canada and eventually overseas.

Brazilian Amazon

Believe in yourself and you can do anything and go anywhere!

Costa Rica

Believe in yourself and you can do anything and go anywhere!

During my Kellogg Fellowship, I interviewed women and families in Far East Russia, Alaska, Northwest Territories and the Yukon who had created their own economic opportunities by starting small businesses.

Some of my most insightful experiences on teamwork have been learned on the trail with my dog team. I bring my dog lines along to talks and have volunteers from the audience take the positions of dogs in the team to demonstrate “Lessons from the Trail” on teamwork and advocacy leadership. In dog mushing, the cardinal rule is “don’t let go!” I use this cartoon to talk about how we need to hold onto our teams and the concept of successful failure—learning from your mistakes.

Another grant allowed me to publish their stories in a book and donate this book to libraries, girls’ groups, employment programs and anywhere we could think that girls and women would be!

I love the Arctic in the summer and the resilient people of the North who seek adventure!

2019: Estonia

Waiting to board the ferry to Helsinki. My research and experiences with the Fulbright Arctic Initiative have transformed my world view. My husband and I go back as often as possible and I dream of doing a language immersion course there…

Another “prop” I use to talk about the extraordinary changes that are occurring in the teen brain!

I love the Arctic in winter!

I love sharing simple resilience-building tools that work with the brain from the bottom up. These tools are easy for adults and children to learn and adapt to different cultures and settings.

I use fruit, vegetables, nuts and a crew of puppets to talk with adults, youth and children about our Amazing Brains! I’ve heard people call me the “Cabbage and Grapefruit Lady!”

I use my “organ apron” to demonstrate the effects of unaddressed stress on the brain and body.

Home

The Howling Husky Homestead

Homer, AK

Wherever my travels take me, Alaska is home with my husband, Al.