Noozhawk Talks: Leslie Dinaberg Sits Down With Amy Kovarick

Amy Kovarick (courtesy photo)

Amy Kovarick (courtesy photo)

As a wife, mother and life coach, Amy Kovarick is a master of multitasking, and she’s helping others find balance in their lives, too.

By Leslie Dinaberg

Wife, mother, life coach, counseling psychologist, radio host and author of Baby on Board: Becoming a Mother Without Losing Yourself, Carpinteria-based Amy Kovarick knows a lot about multi-tasking.

Leslie Dinaberg: So you got started as a life coach after leaving the corporate world?

Amy Kovarick: Yes. I got married at 39 and Matt was born when I was 40, so it was a tremendous change. And finding where the ambitious kind of career Amy fit now with all of these other hats was part of my journey. One company I have, Empowered Motherhood, ( is very much about that. How do you keep close to yourself and true to who you are and yet bring your best to your kids?

… that’s kind of the heart of coaching, whether it’s Empowered Motherhood where it’s a mother community … or my private coaching practice ( where I work with people across the country. The coaching part, no matter who I’m working with, is looking at that balance across your life.

… I’ve got folks who come for career issues, relationship issues, health issues, really right across the board. But it always comes down to balance, which one is falling off the load and have you even stopped to think about where you fit in and what you want, what’s interesting to you nowadays?

LD: It sounds like we could all use some of that.

AK: (Laughs) I think the best coaches are the ones that truly believe they don’t have answers for someone. They think you know deep down inside what’s best for your life and are good at just bringing out who you are. But the tricky part or the tough part about coaching is that there’s all that self-reflection and kind of the touchy feely part, coupled with a bunch of accountability and action items. That’s what drew me to coaching was the combination of the soft side with the no nonsense lets move side.

LD: What kinds of people typically come to you?

AK: A good example is the owner of this restaurant (Corktree Cellars in Carpinteria). She didn’t need to be fixed, she didn’t have a problem, she had a goal … I’ve worked with a lot of entrepreneurs, both men and women and a bunch of executives. I do corporate contracts where the corporation is paying me to coach some of their top leadership in reaching their peak performance if you will. But what I love about that is it is still the same, it’s one on one, there’s nobody there on the phone but them and I’m not working with their board of directors or their boss, it’s still weaves in issues from across their life.

I have a new woman that took on her first president role and so she’s been VP, she’s been this and that, but she’s a mom, she’s got two kids and she’s got all of the issues with that, plus she’s a new female president, in a new company that she doesn’t know these people, a bunch of men that are working for her and reporting to her and the coaching with her is full of all of the things you would imagine.

There are a lot of practical business things but there is the okay, how do you show up and be your full self and be as bold as you want to be and don’t be afraid of stepping on toes, but yet be effective. That’s what I love about my work.

One of my favorite long-term clients was a young girl going through college in New York and her father was footing the bill because he wanted her to be very successful. There’s a different kind of pace of just really working through her journey of becoming an adult and she’s graduated and is down in Australia at the Great Barrier Reef, she’s a conservation biologist.

… So the dreams differ, one wants to be the best leader, one wants to open a restaurant, one wants to be a marine biologist, so it sounds very different, different ages and walks of life, but it is all the same thing of who are you, what do you want to do, how are you going to get there–and that’s what fascinates me. That’s what keeps me in it is every person is different and no two coaching sessions look alike.

LD: In a way it sounds like what writing does, you sort of get to live other lives because you’re finding out so much about what other people are doing.

AK: Yes. And I get I thrive on one on one, real conversations, not a lot of superficial stuff. I’m terrible at networking or parties where you have to just chitchat. That’s my worst thing. So when I get to do my coaching, these people share a lot. And they come pretty unguarded, even my tough male executives.

LD: Do you get people that are motivated to change something?

AK: Yes. Change, grow. It’s people who even though they all look so different on the surface, the common thread is this desire to grow, to not just be successful because it’s not always about people wanting monetary success, it’s this almost fierce desire to not be static, to not stay the status quo. They want to keep pushing out their barriers, and some people for sure come with a problem, come with I’m really unhappy at work, I’m really unhappy in my relationship, I would like to meet someone, I would like to lose 50 pounds. Sometimes there is a very specific problem and they are all willing to look at themselves to take responsibility. By the nature of no one is going to hire me and pay my fees if they are a victim. … People who show up and want to work with me, they’re serious about their life.

… Often I get asked, well how is this different than therapy … the big difference is therapy often is about healing or fixing and it often goes into the past and the whys. How did I get here? Whereas coaching is about where are you now. Coaching is much more about present and future and very seldom do I go to the whys or what happened with your parents. That’s just not part of the conversation even though that’s really valuable but it’s not what I do.

LD: If you could be invisible anywhere in Santa Barbara, where would you go and what would you do?

AK: If I could get into my husband’s head. He’s a very private guy and as he said last night, “you know more about me than anyone in my entire life has every known.” But it’s like pulling teeth.

Vital Stats: Amy Kovarick

Born: Newport, Rhode Island, April 23

Family: Husband Mike Musson; Stepdaughters Layla, 20; Fina, 18 ; and Meli, 15; and son Matt, 2-1/2.

Professional Accomplishments: Author of “The Empowered Mother,” host of the radio show “Empowered Mother,” MA in Counseling Psychology, PCC (Professional Coach Credential), member of the International Coach Federation, has worked with hundreds of people in North America helping them reach their dreams.

Best Book You’ve Read Recently: Age of Turbulence, by Allen Greenspan

Little-Known Fact: I was in the Air Force and worked at the Pentagon.

Originally published in Noozhawk in July 2008. (Click here to read the story online.)

The remote truth about men

Image courtesy of Photostock /

Image courtesy of Photostock /

My son snatched the remote control out of my hands with the same vehemence I might have for rescuing the very last Dark Chocolate Bordeaux in a box of See’s Candy, and I said to myself–for the zillionth time this week–“Oh my God. I really don’t understand men.”

What could possibly be so enticing about controlling that remote control? I thought we had already picked a show. Why did he need to be holding the remote?

I couldn’t figure it out. Was it the power control aspect of being able to pause the show or control the volume at will? Or was it the “ooh, look at all the pretty buttons” technology gadget aspect that makes it so appealing? I had no idea.

My son was too busy furiously flipping through channels–while watching Boy Meets Grill in the picture in picture screen–to be of any help.

If sitcoms–and now reality TV–are any indication of reality, then it’s pretty obvious that men like to be in control. Things like asking for directions, going to the doctor, or getting professional help to fix a leak in the kitchen sink are seen as signs of weakness, as well as comedic gold mines.

That’s probably why my Dad is so enamored with his GPS navigation system. It gives him help without his having to ask for it. So what if it directs him to the house next door, and he follows those directions instead of turning into his own driveway? It’s all about the illusion of power, and the cool remote control gadgety thingee, of course.

Plus, with GPS, no one–except a computerized voice, which apparently doesn’t count– is telling you what to do. At least that seems to be Dad’s logic.

My husband seems to be a pretty typical member of his species in that he HATES when I tell him what to do. It doesn’t matter what it is. A burning Ferrari could be falling from the sky about to hit him on the head, and he’d be annoyed if I told him to watch out.

He might even be planning to do exactly what I tell him to do, (“You should duck, a burning sports car is about to hit you!”) and he would still hate me telling him what to do, maybe even more because he was already planning to duck and I should have realized that.

It’s the oddest thing. As soon as the words, “You should …” or “Would you …” or “Could you …” start to come out of my mouth, he becomes a rebellious teenager and I become his nagging mother. This is not one of those fun role-playing games at all. Plus, he refuses to do whatever I’m asking him to do on principle. It doesn’t matter if it was something he wanted to do or not, the point is that I’m asking him and therefore taking control away from him and violating his free will, and I may well just cut off his manhood right then and there. I guess.

My son HATES when I tell him what to do too. I really don’t understand this. It’s my job to tell him what to do and how to do it. But he doesn’t see it that way, and my husband is no help in this regard at all.

The two of them are usually as full of MANswers as they are of gas, but not today. When I ask them about their need to hold on to the remote control, they both shrug their shoulders and grab for it immediately.

“Not so fast, boy,” says my husband with a “get the hell out of Dodge” tone to his voice. My son relents control of the remote immediately. I’m still baffled.

Later that night, after much persuading, I finally get my answer.

It turns out that while I was busy delivering Koss, Zak called out “Dibs for Life” on the remote control in the hospital room. Aww, how sweet, he still remembers his first words to his newborn son.

Unfortunately, now I sort of understand.

Share your control issues with email . For more columns visit
Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on July 25, 2008.

The happy-ish place on earth

DisneylandIs it possible that the happiest place on earth is now just a happy-ish place?

From my first visit to Disneyland as a 4-year-old, to the hundreds of journeys I’ve made there since, I’ve always thought Disneyland was an E-ticket ride.

The thing about going to Disneyland– sweaty bodies that aren’t your own, outrageous prices, long lines and theme park feet aside–is that it’s a chance to spread a little magic pixie dust and journey back to your childhood.

But this time, even though our recent trip was a blast, it was also a sad reminder that while I’m still a kid from the moment I spot Mickey from the freeway, my own kid is growing up way too fast. He didn’t even want to buy mouse ears because he’d “have to take them off on Thunder Mountain.”

Excuse me? Mouse ears are mandatory.

Back in the 70s, when I was rocking white Go-Go boots, pigtails and a Partridge Family lunchbox, my Grandpa Alex did the dry cleaning for Disneyland. This meant we got free tickets to Disneyland. We must have gone a dozen times every summer, but I still got mouse ears every time–and that was when your choices were with or without a bow. Now the ears (37 styles) snap on to 1,569 different hat options, and don’t even get me started on the patches. Yet Koss was not particularly interested.

Hmm … maybe it’s a boy thing? At least he still skipped with me.

New stuff comes and goes in the real world with alarming frequency, but everything in Fantasyland was just where I left it when I was 7. Watching Alice’s teacups spin brought back some of the happiest memories of my childhood–but if some kind of extreme thrill isn’t involved, then Koss wasn’t willing to wait in more than a five-minute line. My husband Zak got queasy just looking at those saucers spin.

I realize that not everyone digs Disneyland the way I do, but Zak was more excited by the free soda refills at one of the restaurants than the new Nemo ride. Admittedly, it wasn’t the best ride ever, but still, it’s a NEW RIDE at DISNEYLAND! To which he responded, it’s FREE REFILLS at DISNEYLAND! Point taken.

I think Zak’s happiest moment of our three-day adventure was when he saw that “It’s a Small World,” was closed for re-theming. I was crushed, but soon realized that even without the ride I could still hear the echoes of my dad singing, “It’s a Small World After All.”

Just so they wouldn’t feel left out, I sang it a few times for Zak and Koss. They were amused for the first ten minutes or so, then, I don’t know what happened. Some people don’t recognize fun, even when it’s screaming in their ear.

Like I said, it was a happy-ish place this time.

Still, I got them off the roller coasters and into the Tiki Room for a little while. The line for the pineapple froth was too long, and Koss thought it sounded icky, but inside I could almost see Grandpa Alex’s belly jiggling as he danced along with the birds in the “Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Room,”

Koss rolled his eyes when I shared the precious Disney memory of when he was a baby and I gracefully managed to spill an entire strawberry slushie on his tushie and then used the very last diaper in all of Disneyland to clean him off.

While I think that one of the greatest things about being a parent is getting to re-experience magic through the eyes of a child, I guess I also have to remember that as a child it’s not that much fun to hear your parents’ stories over and over again.

But seriously, this is a story that involves Disneyland, bodily fluids, and mom being embarrassed. You would think he’d be a little more amused. Where’s the pixie dust when you need it?

I was starting to worry that Koss might not have inherited my Disney gene, when we stumbled onto the parade. His skinny legs bounced along to “Under the Sea” and he grinned as he explained to the crowd that the starfish were doing some of the aerial moves he learned at Circus Camp. Then he waved to Peter Pan and Tinkerbell, forgetting for a moment that he’s almost 9 and too old to get too excited. This place has still got it.

When we finally got home, with throbbing feet and empty wallets, I was too tired to wash the theme park film of saturated fat, sunscreen, sweat and spilled sugar off my body. Koss is still smiling when we carry him to bed and still clutching a couple of magic rings we bought him instead of the mouse ears. Who needs pixie dust? Disneyland’s still got it.

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on July 18, 2008.

Bringing up Babies

Claire Bloomfield photo

Claire Bloomfield photo

I was interviewing this fascinating, accomplished, professional woman and it was going great. Our conversation had a nice rhythm, she had some anecdotes and zingers I knew would jump right off the page. Oh joy, oh boy, this profile was practically writing itself. Then, when the interview was just about over, I dropped the bomb. A conversational dud that fell with a big fat thud: Do you have any kids?

It sounds like a pretty innocent question, right? It’s not like I asked her about her favorite sexual position. But she didn’t have kids and that simple truth made me feel like I had crossed a line and was intruding into her personal life.

How is it that we can live in a society that teaches the four R’s–Reading, ‘Riting, ‘Rithmetic and Reproduction–and yet asking someone whether they have children can be considered rude? I wanted to explain to her that even though I’m now on the mom side of the fence, I’m not so far out of her neighborhood.

It wasn’t that long ago that I was childfree and working late nights at the office, cursing my colleagues who got to leave at 5 to pick up Timmy and Susie from daycare, while I had to work late to pick up their slack. I remember what it was like. As much as I love my son, I do sometimes long for the days when every dining out experience didn’t come with complimentary crayons.

There’s been so much written about “the mommy wars” between the stay-at-home moms and moms who work, but nobody really talks about the “my life choices are better than yours” tension between the women who have children and those who don’t. Like it or not: I could feel it in the air as I awkwardly ended the interview.

Now I’m not one of those women who believe it’s everyone’s fate to procreate. I can certainly understand why everyone doesn’t want a baby on board. Not everybody pines for progeny. I know plenty of cheerfully childless people, I thought. Look at Oprah, and Mother Teresa. What about Condoleezza Rice? What’s the big deal? I wanted to explain all that to this woman and couldn’t find the words. It just felt too personal, like I was asking her how much money she made or whether she believed in God.

But as I flipped through my address file later, I realized that the vast majority of people I hang out with have kids. It’s not that I don’t know a lot of childless people, but we don’t really run in the same circles. Apparently, they like their conversations uninterrupted by shouts of, “Stop stabbing your sister with a fork!”

The moment I walked down the aisle and got married it seemed like people started asking me about “the pitter-patter of tiny little feet.” It was amusing at first, but became progressively more painful and annoying as we struggled to have a baby, and the ticking of my biological clock joined in the pitter-patter chorus.

When I was struggling with infertility it seemed like the whole world was pregnant or potty training. I began to cringe inside every time someone asked about kids. Was this what it was like all the time for people without kids?

How do you keep your cool in a world filled with drool? My friend Cara, who gets asked all the time about kids, laughed, “I usually just tell them I’m raising kittens instead.”

Daisy, a college friend who tied her tubes in her 20s, said when people ask her “why don’t you have any children,” she simply retorts: “why don’t you have any class?”

Angie, who’s approaching 40 and is cheerfully childless, says she’s been asked, “Aren’t you getting to the age where you should be having babies?” Her favorite response: “Nah. But aren’t you getting to the age where you should have better manners?”

But my favorite response came from Camie, who said, “I’ll consider having a baby when maternity clothes and minivans are sexy.”

Hmm … I wonder what Angelina Jolie drives?

Is it rude to bring up babies? Share your thoughts–and horror stories–with email.

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on July 11, 2008.

Leslie Dinaberg Sits Down With Gay Browne

Gay Browne

Gay Browne

The Greenopia founder publishes city guides to help consumers find environmentally friendly businesses. A Santa Barbara book is due out … soon.”

“Eat, shop, live green” is the mantra for Montecito mom Gay Browne. Her company, Greenopia, publishes Zagat-style city guides to help busy consumers find earth-friendly businesses. The Los Angeles book came out in 2006, San Francisco in 2007 and New York in 2008. She plans to expand to multiple cities across the country, including Santa Barbara, which “I promised the mayor I would do this year.”

Leslie Dinaberg: Tell me about the Greenopia books and website?

Gay Browne: It started because I have been a lifelong asthmatic and I’ve always been super conscientious about my health. … My oldest son was born with autism-related learning issues, and then I learned about him, and all of these illnesses led me to understanding that how you lead your daily life, can make a big difference in your health. … We built a house in 1994 that was the first environmental house in West Los Angeles, and in building the house I learned a whole lot inside out what goes into buildings and all of the environmental stuff and so I got fascinated about it.

…I thought I’ll create a guide, like a Michelin Guide and I’ll vet the businesses and services and I’ll give people a roadmap in clothes, in paints, in carpets in almost everything that they have an eco-friendly alternative solution.

LD: What has the response been to the books?

GB: It’s been phenomenal. … We have really done phenomenally well for being a new venture.

LD: So when you do a guide do you hire field researchers to go walk around?

GB: The way we do it is we go and we put an ad on Craig’s List or the local university, they all have environmental departments. …We’re trying to figure out a to work with universities to help cultivate their students, as well as help cultivate our criteria.

LD: That’s a great idea.

GB: The Bren School here at UCSB did a study of our research criteria of our 52 categories and they gave us some recommendations as well as a lot of good credits. And then recently we won an award from the EPA on our work for educating consumers for sustainability and climate change, which is good validation for us. But that’s how we go, we go into cities, we hire people and grid the cities, just like on a map. … And they have these 52 categories they use, they ask the questions, we put in all the data and then we come out with a leaf score of one to four leaves.

… The leaf score is not to penalize businesses for not being green, the leaf score rating is really for the consumers to know how much green is in that place, because if you were to look at a list of stores and it was McDonald’s, Shakey’s, Chinese food and a natural health store, the only reason you know that the natural health store has more health stuff is because of the name. Otherwise they could all have organic vegetables and fruits. So what we’re trying to do is give the four-leaf rating to those stores that offer more environmental friendly alternatives so the consumer who is more choosy will know.

LD: How would you think that Santa Barbara would rate?

GB: It’s small. I have to say I think we’re a little behind in the food department. There is not as much alternative for buying organic food as there is other places. Vons has a very small section of organic food. There’s the Farmer’s Market, which I personally never can get to because my kids always have sports on those days. … I think that Santa Barbara has a healthier lifestyle and the people are healthier but … I don’t see as many of the support services, like the pool guy, I want it to have no chemicals. They are not that experienced in doing that. Homebuilders, they are actually a little better, but certain categories are not as well versed. However the people that are here are more committed to living a healthy life. I don’t think that businesses have caught up with the desires that people have. … I promised the mayor I would do a guide by the end of the year, if not January 1st for sure by Earth Day.

LD: I can’t wait to see it.

GB: I started this because I became conscious about my life and I wanted other people to start being conscious about what their lives are … we have to start being really conscious of how we treat each other and how we use our resources and what our behaviors are to the planet. … My goal is treat the planet kindly, as well as each other, I think that somehow in businesses globalization that people forgot along the way that we can’t just swallow up everything.

LD: With these publications and this business that’s all over the place, how much do you need to travel?

GB: That’s a problem … there’s only one of me. … I do have to travel often. … I’m not unlike most moms with a passion. If you’ve got a passion and you’re a mom, you are dedicated to making it work. It’s hard on my kids when I’m gone. … But the good news is my husband is older and he’s semi-retired so he is around almost all the time. His office is in LA but because he’s semi-retired he goes in only every other week for two days, so it wouldn’t be possible without his financial support and his flexibility with his schedule.

LD: It sounds like you’re really, really busy, but when you’re not so busy, what do you like to do?

GB: Hang with my family. I love to play golf and tennis but I don’t play tennis or golf very much. I love to hike. I try to squeeze in a hike whenever I can, which is about once a month, and I do Yoga twice or three times a week. If I have free time I do something with the kids.

LD: If you could pick three adjectives to describe yourself, what would they be?

GB: I would say that I’m optimistic, energetic, and persistent or tenacious. If you ask my husband those are kind of an annoying three words. I tend not to get batted down until I really get batted down!

LD: I think to start any kind of a business yourself–especially something that no one has really done before–you would have to be tenacious.

GB: Right, or just naïve. You should probably be both. People say you never would have done this if you knew how hard it would be. I say not in a million years. It’s been way more work and way more money than I thought, but today when I heard that (green newsletter) Ideal Bite sold to Disney for $20 million and I have a meeting with Disney tomorrow, I’m thinking, well, maybe there’s hope.

LD: I would imagine that probably the money motivation is great, but it’s not just the money motivation.

GB: No, not at all. If I can get one mother to know that she should get her mercury tested before she has children to save her the headache and all the things I went through, or one mother who has a child with allergies to avoid allergy shots when she switches to an organic mattress because it has less molds and dust, it would make my life perfect. Money is a validation as a woman that I appreciate as an independent person, but I’m doing this because of my passion.

Vital Stats: Gay Browne

Born: Lexington, Ky., April 21, 1960, which is fitting since sometimes it falls on Earth Day.

Family: Husband, Tony; children Alex (Young) 19, Colin, 9, and Katie, 7

Civic Involvement: Works with local environmental groups such as theCommunity Environmental Council and the Environmental Defense Center. “I’m also trying to work more with the mayor’s office in supporting policies that have to do with the environment.”

Professional Accomplishments: Founder of Greenopia. Before that, spent five years working in public relations and 10 years in media advertising, including Star MagazineTravel and Leisure Magazine and the Los Angeles Times.

Best Book You’ve Read Recently: I loved Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love. I’m also reading The Comeback, which is case studies about women going back to work.

Little-Known Fact: “I just recently began telling people that I had an eating disorder at one point in my life. I didn’t used to actually admit that very often. … Given the chance of spending the day the way I choose, I will find a hammock or a couch and lie there almost all day and read. … People think because I’m energetic that I don’t need quiet time, but I really do need quiet time. They underestimate my need for quiet. That’s why I moved to Santa Barbara, because it was quiet.”

Did you know?

Healthful tips from Greenopia:

» If every American ate just one meal a week made of locally and organically raised meats and produce, it would reduce the country’s oil consumption by more than 1.1 million barrels of oil every week.

» Among conventionally raised produce, apples, bell peppers, celery, cherries, grapes (imported), lettuce, nectarines, peaches, pears, potatoes, spinach and strawberries are the highest in pesticides. The list of conventionally raised fruits and vegetables that are lowest in pesticides includes asparagus, avocados, bananas, broccoli, cabbage, eggplant, kiwi, mangoes, onions, pineapples, sweet corn (frozen) and sweet peas (frozen).

» Replace PVC shower curtains with a natural fiber or nylon alternative. That plastic smell comes from the toxic chemicals that make PVC (polyvinyl chloride).

» Pack leftovers in reusable glass containers instead of disposable plastic bags or containers, which are made from petroleum. Recycling helps a little, but only a fraction actually gets recycled. Additionally, items that are used once then discarded will sit in landfills or blow into waterways and cause harm.

» Buy local and reduce carbon emissions. The average piece of produce travels 1,500 miles to get a grocery store.

» Research has demonstrated that when compared with other household actions that limit carbon dioxide, taking public transportation can be more than 10 times greater in reducing the greenhouse gas. It takes one solo commuter of a household to switch his or her daily driving to using public transportation to reduce the household carbon footprint by 10 percent.

Originally published in Noozhawk on July 14, 2008.