Clearing the Clutter!

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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!)

Beat The Flu and Keep Away The Vampires!

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Posted by Judy Moon

Since there are still some colds, flus and viruses floating around here in Philadelphia, I thought I would share a recipe that I received from my sweet sister in law who is a hospice nurse. I am not sure of the original source of this recipe, so thank you to whoever came up with it.

My husband Joe was recently down for the count and I pulled this baby out of the recipe file and was not disappointed.

It was quick, simple, smelled divine, made my hubby feel better and I think it may have helped me too! (I somehow managed to dodge the flu!)

It may sound intense, I know – 4 whole onions and 2 heads of garlic- it sounds like a lot but it definitely mellowed as it cooked.

The recipe instructs you to strain it and just use the broth, which I did since Joe just wanted broth, but I tasted it with the onions, etc, before I strained it and it was mighty good. I will be adding this soup to our regular repertoire of go to recipes.

Old Fashioned Garlic and Onion Soup 
For colds, flu, respiratory infections or for prevention especially in winter season
4 large white or yellow onions, thinly sliced
2 whole heads of garlic, separated and peeled
2 tsp. thyme
4 tbs. olive oil
6 cups vegetable stock
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 bay leaf
2 tbs. honey
4 tbs. each fresh basil and parsley
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper (optional)
sea salt, fresh ground pepper to taste

In a large stockpot sauté the onions, garlic and thyme in olive oil until golden brown. This step sweetens and mellows the intensity of the garlic and onions. (To peel garlic cloves, smash the individual cloves with the flat side of a chef’s knife and slip out of the skins.) Add the vegetable stock, white wine, and bay leaf. Slowly cook for 2 to 3 hours. Strain liquid, and then add honey, fresh basil and parsley, sea salt, fresh ground black pepper and cayenne.

Onions and garlic are both antibacterial in action, as in the herb thyme. Cayenne pepper is recommended if there is a fever present, while basil and parsley are detoxifying herbs.

This is an excellent soup to drink during any type of infection or cold, or to simply enjoy as a first course to a meal.

Enjoy and be well!

List Makers Rejoice!

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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!

Cheers!

*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!