Gwyn MacDonald

Pen to Paper

Image Map

Posted by Gwyn MacDonald

I heard a fabulous interview a few months ago with writer Richard Ford. I’ve never read any of his work, but he is now on my “books I must read” list. He spoke with clarity, wit and with the wisdom of someone who has explored the mystery and wonder of language, emotion and the human experience.

Mr. Ford talked about writing quotes that interested or intrigued him on 3×5 cards and reading them every now and again. He chuckled when Terry Gross asked him why he didn’t organize them on the computer. He then told her that he writes his novels by hand. On paper. With a pen. No computer.

This made me smile, a great big goofy grin and then I gave the radio a big thumbs up and a YES! Why?

Because I’m really a luddite at heart (as I type away on the keyboard! HA)?

No, I just related to Ford’s feelings about putting pen to paper, that writing is thinking out loud(I think that’s a quote from one of his 3×5’s).

When I have a large amount of writing to do, I write by hand. It makes me feel more connected to the thoughts, the emotions and the subject I’m writing about. When I write this way I don’t edit as I let my thoughts flow.

I create these blog posts at the computer most of the time and I find it hard to just type without editing. The thoughts don’t flow as easily, which isn’t bad it’s just different. Don’t get me wrong, I love that delete button and cut and paste is magic in my mind! Writing on paper takes more time and most of us don’t have much to spare these days. So I’m very grateful to have the luxury of this machine (I liked typewriters too!) but I have been thinking that I want to write more regularly, because I want to not just when I have to.

Journaling or writing letters, trying to do a bit each day. More than a shopping list scrawl or notes in my client’s files. Bringing back the pleasure of putting pen to page. Maybe using it as a form of meditation, a creative endeavor to keep my mind sharp, my eyes bright and my heart and hands connected.

Happy writing!

If you are interested in reading about the “how to” of writing, Natalie Goldberg’s book “Writing Down the Bones” is an excellent resource and a fun read too!


The (Not So) Fading Beauties

Image Map

Posted by Gwyn MacDonald

My nephew and I were driving on a recent autumn day, admiring the still fabulous but beginning to wane colors of the leaves. He said that soon everything would look drab and depressing with winter and wouldn’t’t it be cool if the trees kept their colors until the new leaves arrived in spring. I agreed that it would be cool but it might make spring less exciting as we would have nothing to look forward to after all of that dark and cold. Those first few electric green leaves spark our spirits and get us up and moving!

As we continued to talk I thought about our yearly trips to upstate New York for the winter holidays and the long ride when I have plenty of time to gaze out the window. Fields of burnt orange and sandy colored grasses, icy purple and brownish red raspberry canes and brambles, mountains covered in as many shades of green, gray and blue as you can imagine. I always feel inspired by these wild colors and it often spurs a drawing or sewing project once I get back home.

I was glad to be reminded that even though the skies may be heavy and the deciduous trees seem so skeletal in winter, there is still so much color to be seen all season long (even before the witch hazels, hellebores and snow drops show up!). And if we can’t make it out to the woods, maybe it’s the red brick building that glows in the late day sun or the pattern on the moss green and gray bark of the sycamore trees that brightens our spirits.

Sometimes it’s just a matter of looking a little longer and allowing that spark of color to find you.

Enjoy the colors of winter!


Setting the Table for the Spring Feast!

Image Map

Posted by Gwyn MacDonald

I just finished ordering a few bulbs for fall (soon to be winter!) planting/spring blooming. 800 is a few, right?!

Yes, I am serious! My dear friend (and gardening partner in crime) Carolyn and I always plant lots of goodies for the honey bees and other pollinators to feast on when they start to venture out after the wilds of deep winter. And also, let’s be honest, to cheer our human spirits after the long, dark days. Crocus are a favorite for the bees, so we decided to plant a bunch. 300 to be exact.

But then I saw the grape hyacinths, added another crocus variety, the scilla siberica, some anemone blanda… and I couldn’t help it, those bright species tulips that called to me, Sirens that they are! Honest, it all started with my love of the bees…

We’ve been focusing more and more on flowering plants for the bees. And not just our honeybees at the garden. There are many varieties of native pollinators that need help these days. These amazing creatures are part of the backbone of our food supply, pollinating fruit and nut trees and many of the fruits and veggies we consume. Even though we are getting into hibernation season, soon enough we’ll be back out there with our fingers in the soil. So remember the pollinators and plant a few extras for them this fall and next spring. Let your herbs flower (especially mint, thyme and chives!), let a few lettuce and radish go to seed. And plant some crocus! And then buy some local honey! Makes a great gift, since we are fast approaching the holiday season…

And I just learned something new about pruning away old hollow stems. Many pollinators use these stems to lay their eggs for the next season, so leave some of those stems in tact until spring (raspberry canes seem to be a favorite). I often do this just because I like the “sculptures” created by the old seed heads and stems. Gives the winter garden form and texture and looks super cool dusted with snow.

Happy planting!

P.S. I ordered everything from a larger company this time since I waited until the last minute (arrgghh!), but one of my very favorites for heirloom varieties of bulbs, corms etc. is Old House Gardens up in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Good for them, they are sold out of most bulbs for the season! I order Dahlias and gladiolas from them most years. Lovely company, excellent product and an always helpful and very dedicated staff.


Here’s to Daydreaming!

Image Map

Posted by Gwyn MacDonald

Well, it’s finally happened. Science has proven that what I’ve been doing for most of my life is actually very important and beneficial to our brain health. I’m talking about daydreaming (Not to be confused with procrastinating, which I can take to Olympian levels, believe me!).

You know what I mean. Wandering around in the valleys and mountains of your mind. Building your dream garden or meditation space in your mind. Creating that spectacular clothing line in fabric that you designed or dyed yourself. Starring in that movie or novel you’ve been concocting for a few years now. Or just traveling around and embracing what ever shows up.

We all do it, but most of us stop ourselves and get back to being more “productive” as soon as possible. Daydreamers have gotten a bad reputation in the past but check out some of the benefits of daydreaming, excerpted from a cool article in the Huffington Post, How daydreaming can actually make you smarter:

These rewards include self- awareness, creative incubation, improvisation and evaluation, memory consolidation, autobiographical planning, goal driven thought, future planning, retrieval of deeply personal memories, reflective consideration of the meaning of events and experiences, simulating the perspective of another person, evaluating the implications of self and others’ emotional reactions, moral reasoning, and reflective compassion… From this personal perspective, it is much easier to understand why people are drawn to mind wandering and willing to invest nearly 50 percent of their waking hours engaged in it.

I say, get back to daydreaming, right away! You know you were going to….

Tell Me You Love Me

Image Map

Posted by Gwyn MacDonald

It’s short and sweet today folks, but very, very important.

As I’ve said before, all we have are moments and before we know it many moments have passed before we realize how long it’s been since we’ve seen a dear friend or called a distant relative or thanked someone for helping us when we needed it.


Tell the people you love that you love them! Freely and Often!

And if you are with them, give them a hug too! Don’t think I need to add too much more here, do I?

With Love,



Image Map This photo shows some of my personal favorite handmade items!

Posted by Gwyn MacDonald

I am a lucky woman. Everyday (yes, everyday!) I drink out of a cup or eat from a bowl that was made by a dear friend. I wear earrings or rings or scarves and hats also made by people I love. Everyday I have these lovely people in my heart (or my ears..heehee).

Thank you! How sweet is that!

These amazing folks, aside from being my beloved friends, are fabulous professional artisans and crafts people and I am honored that they have shared their work with me. Their passion for their craft, for beauty, form and nature is present in the work and when I wear a piece or sip my tea, I feel that energy, that vibration.

Our home is filled with beautiful mementos that friends and loved ones have created for us; cards, ornaments, drawings, photos, clocks, pottery, magnets… I could go on but I think you get it! So special.

There is nothing like handmade/homemade. Whether you are talking cookies, a knit hat or an intricate wooden sculpture made by a pro, holding handmade in your hands is powerful!

To see more work from the artisans above check out their sites:
David Voll Pottery
Lisa Havelin Metals
Dana Zeck Weaving

If you’re located in Philly, check out Art Star! This excellent boutique and gallery is all about the artisan and hand crafted work. Local and national work is represented in this unique space, owned and operated by two amazing ladies – Erin Waxman and Megan Brewster – they are fabulous artists and my friends!

What are you making these days?


Here’s the Good News

Image Map

Posted by Gwyn MacDonald

Earlier in the summer I heard a great program on Radio Times, here in Philadelphia.

The topic was stress and the news and each of the guests had valuable information about how the media can affect our everyday lives and stress levels in both positive and negative ways.

As we all know, we are surrounded by media of some kind or another, and it takes a conscious effort to avoid becoming overwhelmed. The challenge is finding the balance between being informed about and engaged in our world, be it at the local or broader level, and taking control of the content that we allow in to our minds and bodies. Much of what goes on in the world is intense, violent and heartbreaking. And with an endless news cycle we are hearing and seeing these things repeatedly.

Research has shown that this inundation of stressful news events can cause as much or even MORE stress than if you were actually at the traumatic event. Let’s say that again:

Research has shown that this inundation of stressful news events can cause as much or even MORE stress than if you were actually at the traumatic event.
 Wow. That stopped me in my tracks, people.

So, what to we do with that information? 
Well first, please listen to that fantastic broadcast. Second, turn off the news today sooner than you did yesterday. Don’t read every tragic story in the newspaper. Check out the comics page first thing instead of last.

Join a group in your local community and volunteer at their next event. And check out The Good News Network.
Publisher and editor of this network, Geri Weis Corbly was one of the guests on that excellent radio show. She worked in the news industry for many years and at some point realized that while there were many wonderful things happening in the world, they weren’t grabbing the headlines like she thought they should. The Good News Network has been around for years and I’ve recently started to check it out on a regular basis. It’s very cool!
Don’t be fooled, it’s not fluff or blind to the realities of the world.
It’s just reminding us about balance. Reminding us that we have a choice in how we live our lives everyday. And of the goodness in the world and the power of the human spirit to love, support and be kind to one another, every day, over and over and over.

Now that is a cycle worth repeating!

For more on how to find balance in a stressful world, check out Voices in the Family with Dr. Dan Gottlieb. His archive is filled with some fantastic guests and conversations on this very topic.


Enjoy Every Sandwich!

Image Map

Posted by Gwyn MacDonald

Well, it’s official! I’ve had my first “best summer sandwich”. Best in my opinion at least! I know I’ve mentioned it before, maybe in the first ever post I wrote for this blog, the one about cucumbers, but the sandwich I wax poetic about is so simple and satisfying and SO summer it couldn’t be anything but the best.

Cukes, tomato, sweet onion, mayo, salt and pepper on bread/toast of your choice. That’s it folks. My summer memories are full with these perfect lunch delights. With the grandparents, the aunts and uncles and mostly with my parents, especially my Mom. 
I say “official” for today, but it’s more like pure. I’ve created a few variations in mid and late July, but the tomatoes weren’t that luscious and sweet yet and I think I added some cheese and maybe a few pickled something or other. Don’t get me wrong, all lovely lunches! But today’s sandwich was special. It tasted like the ones I remember my Mom making with veggies from the garden, warm with the mid-day sun that shone on us as we gathered them.

Today I used a stunning orangey/yellow tomato and a thin, Asian variety of cucumber that we had purchased on Sunday from the Headhouse Farmer’s Market (Thank you fabulous Farmers!!!). A sweet Vidalia onion, some mayo (whatever your favorite happens to be), fresh ground pepper and some lovely sea salt from McClellanville, S.C. from Bulls Bay Saltworks. The Charleston Sea Salt is the variety I happen to have (Thanks Aunt Linda!) but the smoked one looks lovely too.

I lightly toasted some sourdough bread, slapped it all together and… Wow! SUMMER! Pure, sweet summer flavors. What more can I say….

…I’ll let that wild man and sage storyteller/songwriter Warren Zevon send us off here with some words to live by;
 “Enjoy EVERY sandwich!”



Image Map

Posted by Gwyn MacDonald

I just had a lovely moment.

I was walking back to my house after visiting Fante’s in the Italian Market. A fabulous cooking/baking supply store, it also has a small coffee bar with one of those iced drink machines that is filled with the most amazing cappuccino granita!!!! It is so amazing that one (a.k.a. me) must be careful not to stop by everyday just to make sure the recipe has not changed… ha!

As I was strolling home, sipping my afternoon treat I was gazing up at the super blue sky and all of the fluffy, glowing white clouds and I realized… it’s so QUIET! For a minute, maybe two, no cars passed by, no compressor noise from the new houses being built across the street, no forklifts hauling wares back and forth. Just the sky and a mild breeze and a pigeon floating down from it’s perch on a near by rooftop. Now it wasn’t silent… the compressors from the giant butcher shop were running and I could hear the hustle and bustle from the market half a block down. But there was a quiet stillness, just for those few moments. I stood and watched the clouds morph and glide into a new configuration and smiled deeply. Then a car pulled out of a parking lot and some folks walked by and the moment had passed. But I was so glad I caught it!

I have this quote from Zen teacher Katagiri Roshi that I keep on my shelf of special things, “Every moment is enormous and it is all we have”. Just moments, lots and lots of them, but really just moments. Remembering to be aware and open to them, paying attention even when they aren’t as sweet as the one above, that’s the key!

P.S. Add this little moment to your musical playlist: Evan Lurie “Selling Water By the Side of the River”. Lovely album! And there is a song called “Moment”. It’s 51 seconds long and it’s gorgeous.


Get Outside and Play!

Image Map

Posted by Gwyn MacDonald

This past weekend I spent time with my nephew. He recently turned 13 and he is super fun to hang around with. We have similar senses of humor and ways of being in the world and I always feel refreshed after a visit with him. A few years ago he told me that both my husband and I are kind of like big kids. “Do you mean immature?” I asked. “NO!” he said, “because you both love to play, silly!” Heeheehee.

As I mentioned in my last post I have started a more focused exercise routine to get myself back in shape. Since one of the days of my weekend visit was a workout day I decided to recruit my nephew in the activities as well. He was totally into it! And… he made it way more engaging since we spent a good portion of the routine giggling and teasing each other between gasps for breath and sips of water.

After the real workout we made a “fake workout” video that was, I must say, completely ridiculous and hilarious! My Mom, who was sitting nearby in the yard (another bonus to the workout…OUTSIDE!), was cracking up – always a good sign of quality entertainment.

While I am serious about exercising, making it more playful made it seem more do-able and not just another chore on my list. We forget how important play is in our everyday lives. Focusing on the things we have to get done is important but it can drain our reserves when we don’t get a break from the “work first” mentality. Not only is it fun to play, it stimulates portions of our brain that have to do with creativity, structure, organization, imagination and concentration. Adding in a bit of playfulness may even boost your productivity.

Throw in laughter and WOW! There’s a recipe for great health!

So… get out there and play! With the kids, the dog, your spouse, friends, whoever! Add a game night in every once in a while. Skip down the street for a block or two, swing around each street sign you come upon (or tree), go to the park and SWING! Doesn’t have to be for hours, just a few moments can shift your energy and mood.


Posture Power

Image Map

Posted by Gwyn MacDonald

When I was kid, 8, 9, maybe 10 years of age or so, my brother who is several years older than me, would poke me in the back or the side and say “Stand up straight!” – Man, did I hate that! In response I would shriek something along the lines of “Leave me alone!” As much as I hated to admit it then, I did slouch and slump quite a bit. I was shy and awkward and that just felt a bit safer to me than sticking my chest out and strutting about.

I bring this up because while I have been thinking about posture for this blog post, it hit home this morning during my first workout with my personal trainer, Paula. (Woohoo!!! She ROCKS! and I get to say I have a “personal trainer”. Mind you this is not part of my usual vocabulary. Sweet!) As she was guiding me into one of the many exercises we did today she said “Now bring yourself into proud posture and then bring your arms back”…etc. Proud posture. Nothing earth shattering here but it just brought to mind the sense of well-being, confidence and groundedness that open, upright posture exemplifies.

In my daily massage work I see the effects of poor posture. Forward head positioning, tight pectoral, scalene and sternocleidomastoid muscles. Strained posterior neck and shoulder muscles, tightness in the ribcage and diaphragm, and low energy. While one session of massage does not “fix” these issues, it can remind my clients how good it feels to lift their chins, open their chests and breath deeply and with ease.

Our posture says quite a bit about how we are feeling on the inside. But our posture also has the ability to work from the inside out. Try this: if you are sitting at your computer or on your smart phone reading this, take a moment and observe your posture. I mean really observe and take note. Are you slumped over your keyboard with your head forward? Are you looking down with your head flexed forward and your shoulders in your ears as you are walking down the street? Are you slouching in your chair with all of the above head/shoulder postures? Not trying to invoke your Mom or Grandma here (or my brother!) but straighten up!

Now take a deep breath…bring your head back so it floats above your shoulders. Let your shoulders fall away from your ears. Take another deep belly breath. Nice and slow. Roll your shoulders up and back and few times. Open your mouth and stretch your jaw. Tuck your tailbone and feel yourself straighten up. Remember that string that lifts you from the top of your head? (or how about Leather Tuscadero with the phone book balancing on her head? Gotta love Happy Days! Now the Fonz had POSTURE!)

Do you feel a difference? Practice for the next few days. Every 1/2 hour or so (or some other time frame that is realistic for you) during the work day check in with your posture and your breathing. Do you need to adjust? Do you notice a change in your energy or your mood when you open and shift your posture? Are you noticing a bit less tension in your neck and shoulders?

We may not be able to change what we have to do for many hours each day but we can change HOW we do it. My brother wasn’t just teasing me for the fun of it! (well… maybe a little) Our posture affects both physical and emotional well being. Gently reminding ourselves to lift our heads, open our chests and take a deep breath can change the way we see the moment, the day, the world.

After my workout and my massage (self care!!!!!!!) today I’ve been strutting around with “proud posture” like crazy – and it feels GREAT!

The Necessity of Touch

Image Map

Posted by Gwyn MacDonald

As a massage therapist I use touch to relax stressed out bodies and minds, ease muscle tension and guide my clients to a more grounded, centered and calm state of being.

As an infant massage instructor I teach parents how to massage their babies. We learn specific strokes for easing tummy discomforts and colic, general strokes to relax or stimulate the skin and why touch is so crucial to the process of growth and development, bonding and communication.

This last word, communication, is not always the first thing that comes to mind when we think of touch. But touch is communication and an important form of communicating at that.

When we touch someone, whether a simple gesture of a hand on a shoulder, a hug, or a full massage, we are stimulating a physiological response in our and their bodies and in turn both expressing and eliciting emotion.

Our touch expresses our concern or empathy, our love and joy, our support, strength and a sense of security.

When our skin is touched, pressure receptors under the skin send signals to the brain, specifically to the vagus nerve, which has branches that traverse the body. It’s connection to the heart is one place where we see the power of touch in action. Research studies have shown that people asked to perform a stressful task( taking a difficult test or giving a speech) had lower heart rates and blood pressure (both governed by the heart) resulting in overall lower levels of stress, when they had a partner there to provide a hug or hold their hands.

Touch also stimulates the release of oxytocin, that essential hormone that increases feelings of trust, bonding and deep connection to others. The connection/communication between the physical and the emotional bodies runs deep and the skin plays a fascinating and powerful role.

In my work I see clients who have lost a spouse and talk about the connection they feel through massage and how it helps them to deal with missing that everyday touch. I see parents connecting deeply to their new babies as they gaze into their eyes and massage a tiny foot or leg. I am grateful for these experiences.

Sometimes we forget that just the simple gesture of placing our hand on someone’s arm, shoulder or hand can change the way they go about their day. It can remind them and us to take a deep breath, to smile or cry and to touch the next person they see in the same gentle way.

To communicate, with our hearts and our hands.

P.S. To read more about the essential role of touch in our lives (and some of the inspiration for my work and this blog post), check out ‘Touching” by Ashley Montegue. Also the incredible work of Tiffany Field, director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami.

And a brief but informative article from NPR that I give as a handout in my infant massage classes: Human Connections Start With A Friendly Touch by Michelle Trudeau