Gwyn MacDonald

Simple Reminders

Young woman enjoying winter

Simple Reminders

Posted by Gwyn MacDonald

Every morning our kitty Lewie runs around the apartment like a little demon. She jumps up on her shelves in the bedroom, scans for any pigeon action and then jumps down and races into the living room at least 5 times. When I finally drag my butt out of bed she weaves in and out of my legs and then races around again, jumping out from behind a corner to gently tackle my legs, asking me to play in her own cat like way. And since I am usually still half asleep, I say “Ok Lewie, we’ll play in a bit”. And we almost always do, but I usually do a bunch of other stuff first, some of it not important AT folding laundry..ugh! Yes, I do need my tea first, let’s be honest, but really? I think play should come before laundry, and so it seems does Lewie!

Could it be any simpler? Wake up, eat, run around a lot, play, play play, sleep, eat a bit more, sleep, play….etc, etc. Why do we humans make it SO complicated? Yes, of course we have things we have to do, but in general, I’m thinking I need to learn from the cats and dogs and the dolphins of the world. Do what’s necessary, don’t stress about the rest, enjoy your meals and PLAY!!!!!!! SNOWBALL FIGHT!!!!

Layers of Nourishment


Layers of Nourishment

Posted by Gwyn MacDonald

Back in the Fall, my husband and I were in the garden picking veggies and clearing away the spent plants to make way for what’s next. This winter I really wanted to let the beds rest and feed them like crazy! Layers of compost, chopped leaves, manure and mulch to slowly break down over the colder months and nourish the soil to set the groundwork for next season. One bed down and four more to go. Look out next weekend!

This endeavor to give the garden a head start inspired me to do the same for my immune system. For the past few winters I have gotten sick for at least a week. Last winter it was two weeks and feeling lousy continued for 2-3 weeks after that. Yuck! So this season I’ve started with a few basics to “prep” my body to fend off all that it can.

I began in late September by making a batch of fermented veggies* and incorporating them into my diet each day. Fermented products are great for a healthy digestive system and to feed the beneficial flora in our intestines, both linked to improved immunity. I also started drinking a mixture of raw apple cider vinegar (also a fermented product), local honey and freshly grated turmeric each morning. I put a large amount of equal parts vinegar and honey and a few tablespoons of turmeric in the blender and then keep it in the fridge for the week. A tablespoon or two mixed with 6-8 ounces of water is my morning wake up drink.*

There’s quite a bit of research on turmeric* and it’s immune boosting and anti-inflammatory properties, so that gets added to smoothies and soups as well.

Once or twice a week I take a blend of herbs that support and maintain my immune system, either in tincture form or as a tea. I’ve also been trying to do my best to get quality rest (says the gal who has gone to bed at midnight for the last few eves! Yikes!) and to eat more seasonally. Nourishing and warming soups, root veggies, greens and squashes and a bit less sugar.

Doing my best to prepare before the holidays and before a cold knocks me down instead of playing catch up once it strikes!

So that’s my plan for prepping the layers in my own “garden” to nourish and sustain me through the winter. What’s yours?

*Great website to get you started with your own fermented veg! Lots of good info. –

* This little mixture was inspired by the “secret detox drink” that Judy turned us on to last season.-

*Read more about turmeric, again from our archives, in this great post from former associate Debi Philpotts – 

The Color Shift


The Color Shift

Posted by Gwyn MacDonald

In the spring my husband and I took on the slightly insane project of painting our apartment. It’s been feeling drab in here for a while. He has always been excited to add some color to our walls. I on the other hand was a bit resistant. It’s my nature, what can I say? Part of my reluctance was to the bright and vivid colors hubby was suggesting. We have high ceilings and a long front room so that’s A LOT of wall space to live with. My first thoughts were “what about a softer shade of this or that”? Don’t get me wrong, I love brilliant and vibrant colors (I have a vast fabric collection to prove it!), but the thought of them on my walls, I couldn’t wrap my head around it.

After talking it over quite a bit and lots of patient yet continuous coaxing by my husband (he’s kind of a saint on that front) I realized that we had been in this space for a long time and had talked about painting forever. Why not step out of my comfort zone? Many of my alarm bells were ringing, but I did it anyway and I am SO glad!

We decided to paint two main walls and leave the rest a creamy white color. We narrowed down the two colors we wanted fairly quickly, but then it took several weeks to decide on the shade of each color. During that time we painted the white walls and the change in the feel of the apartment was immediate! We hadn’t fully realized how dingy the place had become. Now we were really excited to get to the colors! (and man do I have some serious respect for people who paint for a living! No joke!) Suggestions from friends to buy a bunch of small cans of paint samples and roll big patches on the walls to live with for a few days was worth every penny and probably saved us from a few arguments.

Finally we came to our colors…a blue and an orange. “Blue lagoon” and “ Hawaiian passion”… do I sense a theme here? The orange wall was painted first and needed a few coats. WOW! did it pop and I loved it. Next came the blue, really more like turquoise. I took a deep breath, dipped my roller in the tray full of color and rolled a long, luxurious streak of “Blue Lagoon” on my wall.

“I LOVE THIS COLOR!!!!!” I screamed to my husband. He chuckled and agreed. The paint totally transformed our living space! And inspired us to move things around a bit, get rid of the old stuff that had been lying around, sucking up space. I bought a new rug to compliment the colors and am in the process of making new pillow covers for the couch cushions.

I’ve always felt the effects of color on my mood or in the garden, but this was such a positive shift in how I felt about my space, it was like I had forgotten how color affects us. There are lots of cool articles out there about “color psychology” and color theory and how they really can shift our perspectives. I have felt it first hand! And everyone who has come into our space feels it too. “The energy feels better in here” has been said more than once.

I’m so glad I took the plunge and invited color into our space!

*Thanks to Pinterest and Design Seeds (see above photo) for TONS of great ideas!

Celebrate the 3-day!


Celebrate the 3-day!

Posted by Gwyn MacDonald

Ages ago I worked for a woman who often said that a three day weekend can work wonders for your state of mind. I used to be skeptical, thinking only that two weeks a year could bring you back into balance (ahhhh, the young ). But really…it’s often quite a long wait for that vacation break and giving ourselves a mini-vacation a few times a year is a much better way to strike that balance and refresh your spirit. And if those long weekends include hanging out with folks that you love, all the better!

We recently returned from a long weekend in upstate New York. We stayed with some dear friends, celebrated their son’s 5th birthday and went to the Sheep and Wool Festival.

It was SO nice to get away and spend quality time together as a couple and with friends. We laughed like crazy, ate yummy home cooked meals and got super silly with their son (nothing like hanging out with a 5 year old to remind you how to “be”!). We allowed ourselves to relax and fully embrace the time away from work and our usual routine. And the leaves were just incredible!

Sometimes giving yourself downtime feels like a luxury that can happen only when the “list” is complete. NOPE! It’s a necessity and if it feels like a luxury as well, I say that’s a bonus! Happy 3 day weekend!

Sweet Spring Songs

Posted by Gwyn MacDonald

Have you heard the birdsongs lately? They have changed, just like the weather. Suddenly cardinal is singing louder and longer and earlier then a few weeks ago. I hear it in the mornings outside my window and in the garden too. All the birds sound brighter, as if they were announcing with joy that spring has arrived.

And it is getting on time to find a mate so that’s definitely something to sing about!

Hearing this change of sound is one of my favorite parts of spring. It always makes me stop and take notice. Slow down and really listen. And it also always makes me smile!

Soon mockingbird will be running through his repertoire and red winged black bird will arrive as well. But it’s those first brilliant sounds that I love best, the ones that remind me a new season is arriving and to pay attention!

Thanks birdies!

Saved by the Fermented Veg!


Posted by Gwyn MacDonald

Well, it seems winter is leaving us and as much as I love it… I’m really ready for spring! I do my best to keep up with my fresh veggie consumption in the winter, making yummy salads with shredded kale and cabbage, but sometimes I really crave that brightness that new spring veggies provides. So in those last two very long months of February and March, before the

new spinach, radish and pea shoots, I made a few batches of fermented veg.

Super easy and yummy, fermented veggies are crisp, bright and a bit tart, all the right things to perk up a meal and my taste buds. They are also a great source of the good gut bacteria that we could all use a bit more of.

I made them regularly many years ago but fell out of the practice. Plus we have a nice selection of fermented veg makers in the city so the convenience of grabbing a jar off the shelf may have had a little something to do with it (a favorite is Cobblestone Krautery).

But I decided to get back to it myself. There are many websites and books out there to get you started. I went to Cultures for Health, just to refresh my memory.

There are a dizzying array of fabulous products on the site, but also a TON of great recipes to get you started and a good bit of information about cultured veggies and other products and the process of fermentation itself. I started with a variation on this Carrot Kraut recipe and I added red cabbage and leeks just for fun.

Fermented foods have been around for thousands of years and are used in every culture. Fermenting prolongs “shelf” life of foods and also bumps up the good bacteria that are already present in many foods by creating an environment for them to grow and flourish. These good bacteria feed our guts, improve digestion and enhance our overall health.

You can ferment lots of stuff! My husband has been making kombucha, his own red wine and pear cider vinegars as well as a lovely raspberry shrub! Oh and a bit of beer and sourdough bread too… maybe he should be writing this post! Oh yeah, maybe he was part of my fermented veg inspiration too.

A book he loves, and may be the fermentation “bible” for some is, The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz. Talk about fermenting anything! This guy does it all and has written a very thorough and interesting book. Inspiring ferments from all over the world. Have fun!

“Pickled pea shoots” anyone?


Lovely Lavender

fresh lavender flowers pic

Posted by Gwyn MacDonald

We had a sneak preview of spring weather on Tuesday, with warm sun and cool breezes. I stopped by the garden between clients to get a boost from the crocus and mini iris that have been blooming steadily for a few weeks now. I walked around the garden, catching glimpses of little goodies slowly but surely poking out of the earth. So good for the spirit to see that!

And I really only intended to observe… but suddenly I found the clippers in my hand, my jacket thrown aside and there I was, pruning away the winter!

I cleared the old, withered leaves from the lambs ear, cut the dried stems from the chrysanthemums and straightened the wire frame that will soon be entwined with a lovely, low growing pink clematis. Then I noticed the lavender plant toppling out into the aisle. “ Oh my, do you need a haircut!” I made sure some new growths were beginning to show and then began to trim away last years ramblings.

And I’m so glad I did! In a rush, that sweet, dusty, herbal fragrance was all around me. I’ve trimmed this variety of lavender many times but don’t remember it ever smelling so sweet. I was already in a chill state of mind puttering around with my plant friends but this just enhanced it ten fold. As I continued to trim, the intensity of the fragrance grew and so did the smile on my face!

I, like many people, love lavender. The plants are beautiful, in all shades of greeny/grey, with flat, needle like or feathery leaves and all different variations in scent. Used for centuries to brighten the spirits and calm the nerves, as well as an antiseptic and addition to foods. Nothing like lavender shortbread cookies! Yum!

It is our most requested aromatherapy oil at the massage studio, helping our clients (and us!) settle their minds and bodies and get back in tune.

Here are my favorite ways to use lavender:

  • Last year for my birthday Judy gave me a bottle of Hauschka’s Moor Lavender Calming Bath Essence. WOW! It is so incredible. I use it, as she suggested, around my temples or just a light touch around my eyes, along my nose and cheeks and then down the jaw line, before I go to bed some nights. It is so soothing, I can’t help but relax (Thank you Judy!)!
  • I put 10-15 drops of lavender essential oil in an Epsom salt bath and then soak away the day. Or just a drop or two on my finger tips and then run them through my hair before I get into bed and ease into sleep.
  • Another favorite is lavender honey. A local lavender farm in Tabernacle, New Jersey, owned and operated by Toni and Steve Price, sells their honey along with sachets and bath salts at some of our farmer’s markets in the city. Lovely stuff! They also offer “cut your own ”lavender days so check out their website if you are interested. Very cool folks!

Happy Lavender-ing!

Clearing the Clutter!


Posted by Gwyn MacDonald

Today’s post is kind of a part two to the organization blog of a few weeks ago. As you may recall, the original inspiration for that blog came from a radio show. One of the other guests that day was Regina Leeds, professional organizer and author of “One Year to an Organized Life”.

She said many things that resonated with me, but one thing in particular made me sit up and take notice.

We all have stuff we don’t use or need anymore. And those piles of old papers, magazines, clothes and whatever else we keep shoved in the back of the closet or balanced tediously on top of the desk are really just “stacks of unmade decisions”. YIKES! And if I really consider this, all of that clutter does trap and keep our attention in the past, instead of allowing us to make a decision, move on and be present in the moment. It’s very difficult to feel organized with all of that “stuff” on your mind. (Full confession here, I have a lot of unmade decisions, it seems!)

Leeds also spoke eloquently about treating yourself kindly once you begin the process of organizing and decluttering. “Setting yourself up to win” by eating well, getting plenty of quality rest, hydrating, simple exercise and meditations to support you in making wise decisions and keep you focused on your task. Be nice to yourself! Don’t beat yourself up for creating those piles, just begin to sift through them. Sage advice, eh?!

The other thing Leeds focused on as a key to successful organizing and clutter clearing is keeping a calendar. Sounds silly I know, but again, getting it all down on paper gets it out of the brain and creates a little road map to plan your day, week or month. I already do that for my work schedule, but including the other things (important or trivial) that have to get done in my day or week has been very helpful. Even the no-brainers like “exercise” in the 7:30 a.m. slot gives my morning that structure and a reminder that I have often chosen to ignore in the past, to my own detriment.

Included in clutter clearing my space are all of the emails I get from groups I’m interested in but never end up reading. I recently “unsubscribed” from about 15 of them. If I want the information I can always find it again. That’s the magic of the internet! And it felt really good to make that decision. One down, woohoo!

While I’d love to be organized in a snap, this is a process and old habits die hard, but just shifting a little bit has already helped. And having some compassion for myself in the process is a bonus that carries into all aspects of my life.

Best wishes on your way to a clutter free mind!

Get Your Zzzz’s, Please!

Young woman sleeping

Posted by Gwyn MacDonald

I just watched a new documentary about sleep (and you should too!) created by the National Institutes of Health and National Geographic.

Or should I say our insane LACK of sleep here in the United States! Wow! The numbers of folks getting 6 hours of sleep or less each night is staggering and frightening if we consider how many of them drive on our highways daily.

There are tons of facts to absorb in this documentary and I already know how important sleep is to our general health, but this was a real wake up call (oh, sorry for that pun…) to the negative health consequences that come from chronic lack of sleep.

According to the NIH, chronic sleep deprivation is linked to an increased risk of diabetes, unhealthy weight gain, heart conditions, cancer, hormone imbalances (especially those associated with blood sugar) and emotional and mental health instabilities. There is also ongoing research about the connection between Alzheimer’s disease and sleep’s restorative role in brain and overall health. Very interesting!

To paraphrase one of the documentaries many experts, a man associated with highway and traffic safety agencies; “Every aspect of human behavior is impaired and degraded by lack of sleep. Situational awareness, memory, communication, decision making and reaction time have all been shown to drop by 20-50%.” Chronic sleep loss also creates a 40% deficit in the capacity of the brain to make and hold on to new memories.

Again, wow.

I’m not trying to scare you but watching this documentary scared me a little bit. In a good way actually. I’ve started to take my sleep much more seriously. Now I’m not chronically sleep deprived in anyway, but I don’t sleep well on a regular basis. Most of that comes from having a very active and often anxious brain. Or from having a cup of caffeine at 4 in the afternoon, or that extra glass of wine with dinner. Or from staring at my computer screen right before I go to bed. All things I am aware of but have chosen not to take so seriously. Until now!

So I’ve begun to change some of these little things that will make a big difference in my sleep habits:

  • No computer 30 minutes or more before bed
  • No caffeine after noon
  • Less alcohol or none with dinner during the work week
  • Chamomile or other calming herbal tea 30 minutes before bed
  • Light, humorous reading or breathing & meditation in bed before lights out

I’ve noticed a difference! I am getting deeper and almost uninterrupted sleep. Getting more exercise during the week will help as well. One suggestion in the documentary that I haven’t tried yet is waking up at the same time every day regardless of when you go to sleep. This technique is often used for folks with insomnia but can be helpful for all of us to get us back in tune with our natural rhythms. Here’s to a good nights sleep!

Cheers! (with herbal tea!)

List Makers Rejoice!


Posted by Gwyn MacDonald

Lately I’ve noticed that my memory isn’t as sharp as it used to be and that little bit of stress that usually helps to finish the project starts earlier, lingers longer then I would like and seeps into my daily life. I finally realized there’s just too much in my brain vying for my attention and at times the mundane tasks and the very important ones gets all jumbled together, with none coming out the winner. (Weird sleep patterns are also a factor… but that’s another blog post!)

Now I’m not alone in feeling these things. According to Daniel Levitin, author of “The Organized Mind”, we take in five times as much information in a single day today then we did twenty years ago. There are thousands of t.v. channels and YouTube videos to watch, 40,000 or so items in the supermarket(only 150 or so that we actually need or consistently purchase!), emails and advertisements galore, txts, tweets and endless pieces of junk mail screaming at us daily. And all this on top of the things we need to get done for our family, work and selves. No wonder we feel distracted and stressed out!

I heard Levitin and two other guests talking about organization and the mind last autumn on a great broadcast of Voices in the Family. It inspired me to add his book “The Organized Mind” to my wish list for Santa. It’s a great read about organization in general but mostly about how the mind organizes the internal and external worlds. Why we create categories for things, how easily distracted we are and why, and some of the science behind why we lose our keys and get distracted and how to use our brain’s natural tendencies to help us better organize our lives.

One of the main themes of the book talks about freeing the mind from as many distractions (emails to read, projects upcoming, Grandma’s birthday) as possible and externalizing them in the material form. All of you list makers out there, rejoice! Writing it all down is not a new concept in any way, but Levitin talks about the research behind why it works. Our brains can really only focus well and effectively on three things at once. When we keep adding to the list in our minds, attention jumps all over the place never giving the full attention required to the task at hand. And Levitan says portions of our brain have “novelty bias, meaning that it’s attention can be easily hijacked by something new -the proverbial shiny object we use to entice infants, puppies and kittens”. So this explains why we’ll drop everything when we hear the ping of a tweet or txt message! HA!

There is a grand amount of fascinating information to chew on and many suggestions on how to organize that information in Levitin’s book. It is also funny and very enlightening and we can all relate to much of what he writes about. Give it a read!

I’m starting with the basics (writing it all down) in my own life to re-organize this little mind of mine! Keep you posted!

The idea is to create some structure, using tools to divide your time in the best ways to deal with all of your information. Begin by externalizing all that stuff floating around in your brain! Write it down and get it out of there. Then prioritize it in a list form, or index cards, Ipad, whatever works for you. Then, put it on your calendar! Use this tool to structure your day, your week or month. I already do that for my work schedule, but including the other things(important or trivial) that have to get done in my day or week has been very helpful. Even the no-brainers like “exercise” in the 7:30 a.m. slot gave my morning that structure with a reminder that I often choose to ignore, to my own detriment.

Another thing to think about for the long term is to begin eliminating the things we don’t use, want or need anymore. All of those papers, clothes, etc are distractions and are basically just “stacks of unmade decisions” according to Regina Leeds, professional organizer, author of “One Year to an Organized Life” and a devout fan of the calendar idea above. This one really resonated with me…I have a lot of unmade decisions, it seems! That goes for all of the emails I get from groups I’m interested in but never end up reading. I “unsubscribed” from about 15 of them. If I want the information I can always find it again. That’s the magic of the internet!

Leeds also suggests “setting yourself up to win” when you begin this process of clearing and organizing; eat well, hydrate, good rest, exercise and simple meditations to help you be more focused and in tune with your needs so you can make those decisions wisely.

While I’d love to be organized in a snap, this is a process and old habits die hard, but just shifting a little bit has already helped. Best wishes on your way to a clutter free mind!


*The notebook pictured can be purchased at Little Red Press London.

Nurse Lewie to the Rescue!

Lewie blog post

Posted by Gwyn MacDonald

It all started with a text message sent to Judy last week. I was in the midst of week two of a mean cold. Judy was checking in to see how I was faring or if I was being smothered by the mountain of tissues that comes with such a cold. UGH!

I responded that “ Nurse Lewie is on the scene. Catnip mice are very healing!”

“haha! That’s a good blog post, lol” Judy returned… and so it is!

Even though I was feeling lousy, I did my best to play chase the string, bouncy ball and all sorts of other foolish but fun things to entertain this sweet little kitty. I improvised a bit while lying in bed or on the couch, but she tolerated my lack of energy and raised my spirits with her silly cat antics. Snuggling at my feet, purring like crazy and generally keeping this miserable soul excellent company was healing for sure. Lewie may not have “fixed” my cold, but I’m sure her presence dropped my stress/anxiety level about missing work (and feeling guilty about it!) and just feeling yucky in general and probably gave my immune system a much needed boost with all of the giggling and snuggling.

If you have pets you know how healing they are. Loads of research out there on how stroking a pets’ fur lowers anxiety levels and provides a sense of calm and stability especially to folks that are older, alone and /or very ill.

So here’s to the Nurse Lewies of the world! A hearty thanks to our furry friends!

Enjoy the Cave

Image Map

Posted by Gwyn MacDonald

It’s hibernation time folks, one of my favorite times of the year as I think I have said in the past. I do love being outside and active in the warmer months, carrying on in the garden, soaking up the sun. But I also love the hush of winter. Running around in the cold and then hunkering down indoors, warm and sleepy under a blanket and a cat, a good book by my side.

In the past few years though I find that instead of allowing myself to snuggle up and enjoy this time of being indoors, being internal, I fret that I should be doing something!

Getting things done!

Yikes. Give it a rest dear girl!

This year I’m giving myself permission to settle in to winter. To read the books on my shelves that have been calling me, to rest, to write (no, the next post will not be about arithmetic, I promise).

To be. We tell ourselves we don’t have enough time, but sometimes I think we just have to take the time. Make it our own.

Happy hibernating!