Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Importance of Gratitude

This post originally appeared on Have Your Health, a past blog of mine active from 2013-14.

When I was younger, my mother would always say to us four kids during dinner, "All right, two good things." And my siblings and I would go around the table, each required to tell two good things that had happened to us that day. It's just what we did.

Some days I loved it, excitedly sharing something neat that had happened at school. Other days if I were in a sour mood, I would grudgingly give a thoughtless answer. As we got older, moving into middle and high school, meals together became rare. Between the four of us kids we had jobs, music lessons, rehearsals, co-curricular events, and so on. So at some point, the "two good things" dinner routine stopped.

Writing Thank You Notes

Another "forced-gratitude" element of my childhood, if you will, was writing thank you notes. After every birthday, Christmas, and any other occasion in which we received a gift of any sort, we little ones had to write thank you notes to each and every giver.

At the time I did it because we had to, and it would get added to our chores list. If many days had passed since receiving the gifts, we probably couldn't watch TV until we finished writing those thank you notes, or something like that.

But now, I willingly and gladly write them, snail mail lover that I am. They're fun to make and decorate, and it simply feels great to express gratitude. I love putting that energy into the card or letter, knowing that it'll create even more good feelings when the recipient opens it.

Because of my upbringing, plus personal experiences since, I've learned that gratitude is so important to have and share. Here are a few reasons why:

The Many Benefits of Gratitude

  • Focusing on something positive, like what you're thankful for, makes you happier. It just does. So if you want to feel better? Appreciate what you've got.
  • Gratitude lowers your stress levels, making your body healthier and resulting in better sleep at night.
  • Focusing on gratitude shifts your mind, filling it with positive thoughts. This shift helps you solve problems and deal with others in a kinder way during the rest of your day.
  • The goodness of appreciative thoughts take up room in your mind, leaving less space for negative thoughts. There's a direct increase in self-esteem because of this.
  • Gratitude also strengthens your relationships. By honestly and openly telling your friends or significant others what you appreciate about them, you'll create positive emotions all around.
Have I convinced you yet? So what are some simple ways to add more gratitude into your life right now?
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Sunday, November 23, 2014

Camino de Santiago 101

If you've been following the blog for any amount of time, you probably know that I walked the Camino de Santiago in Spain this Sept/Oct. (That's what the sneak peak of photos back in October were from).

I know that most aren't familiar with this pilgrimage, so my first post of several about that month will try to cover the basics. If you have any lingering questions by the end, please ask!

What is the Camino de Santiago?

The Camino de Santiago (English: St. James's Way) is a pilgrimage of dozens of routes across western Europe that all end in Santiago de Compostela, Spain.

Image Source

The earliest recorded pilgrimages along this route date back to the 9th century, and during the Middle Ages the Camino was an important Christian pilgrimage.

I walked the Camino Francés (The French Way), which is the most traveled route. It begins in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, France, and runs across Spain from east to west, crossing through some bigger cities like Pamplona, Burgos and León on the way to Santiago de Compostela.

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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Where Do Vegetarians and Vegans Get Their Protein?

This post originally appeared on Have Your Health, a past blog of mine active from 2013-14.

So while I haven't called myself vegetarian or vegan yet, the first meat I've had in over two weeks was in my chili on Tuesday night. My aunt and uncle had taken me out for dinner, and I'd decided to stay in town - which means not many options. I saw chili and salad on the menu which sounded so good, especially considering the freezing cold outside, so that's what I ordered.

In that moment, I completely forgot why I hadn't been ordering meat out: I want to know where it comes from! I want it to be grass-fed and treated right if I'm going to eat any meat! Which, in my budget, will probably translate to cooking it at home. I feel like all of the restaurants around here that are conscious of where their meat comes from are way out of my budget.

But anyway, so I'd spaced out, which wasn't a big deal - since I haven't established any particular diet that I'm following yet. My aunt works as a dietician in a nursing home, and knew that I have been changing my diet. During conversation, she asked about me eating meat, and then proceeded with, "So how are you getting your protein?"

As soon as she said it, I knew that I had read about this very question in at least one of the books I've read this year, but could I remember the details of what it had said? Of course not. All I could muster is, "Plants and fruits." Later, "Oh - and beans! Legumes! Everything has protein." She said, "But it's not the same type of protein." And I think that conversation ended with a weak "I get enough protein" or something from me. It's fuzzy now.

Later that night I remembered that elephants, the strongest land mammals, are herbivorous. Should have spouted that fact! I also remembered something from one of the books about the fact that protein was the first nutrient discovered, and extra importance was placed on it because the lab rats died without any. This is how my memory usually works in cases like these - I can't remember the specifics of what I've read/seen unless I write it down and study it.

So today I wanted to look into the topic more, be sure that I was getting "enough" protein, and learn how to answer the question better next time.

How much protein do you need each day?

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend the following daily intake of protein in adults:
  • Women: 46 grams protein
  • Men: 56 grams protein
Government health recommendations are too often littered with political agendas, but I think this is all right to go by.

And so what does that mean in terms of food? From what I've read, basically if you eat a varied diet it's hard not to reach this amount. Most Americans actually get way more than the recommended daily value, and apparently it's not clear (or not agreed upon yet) if consuming excess amounts is harmful or not. So I wouldn't go out of your way to surpass this daily intake amount.

Why is protein important?

As I touched on above, protein has this extra importance placed on it, at least in the American society. That's because it was one of the first nutrients discovered. Researchers found out that lab rats died when they didn't have any protein, so it was seen as this special nutrient that sustains life. Yes, without any you will die, but the benefits of protein were very much exaggerated.

What's in this protein that sustains life? Amino acids, the building blocks of life. Our body can make many amino acids, but there are nine that we must consume from outside sources in order to have them in our bodies. These are called essential amino acids. There's such an emphasis on meats, dairy, and fish when it comes to protein because they carry all nine of these essential amino acids, and are thus labeled "complete proteins."

There is still plenty of protein in plant-based sources, but each of these individual sources will not contain all nine essential amino acids. That's why a healthy varied diet should be getting you what you need. So which vegetarian and vegan foods provide the most protein?

Where can vegetarians and vegans get protein?

Here are some foods where both vegetarians and vegans can get some of their protein. It is not at all exhaustive, and when there are categories, I've only listed a few suggestions.
  • Green peas
  • Edamame
  • Quinoa
  • Nuts and nut butter (almonds, walnuts, pistachios, pecans, cashews, pine nuts)
  • Beans (red, black, lentils, chickpeas)
  • Tofu
  • Leafy greens
  • Seeds (chia, sunflower, sesame, poppy)
  • Avocado
For those of you looking for longer lists, and breakdowns of exactly how much protein is found in each item (and even which amino acids), check out these awesome sources:
For Vegetarians: Vegetarian Protein Foods via No Meat Athlete
For Vegans: Protein in the Vegan Diet via The Vegetarian Resource Group  

So that's what I've compiled so far on this protein topic. Yes, we need it, and yes you can get enough on a vegetarian or vegan diet. Hopefully now we're all a little more prepared for the next time a well-intentioned family member or friend inquires about our protein intake.
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Thursday, November 13, 2014

James Clear: 18 Superb Posts for Better Health

This post originally appeared on Have Your Health, a past blog of mine active from 2013-14.

One of my favorite blogs I started following this year is that of James Clear. James Clear is an entrepreneur, weightlifter, and travel photographer. He writes about "science-based ideas for living a better life and building habits that stick." He publishes two posts on his blog every week, always on Mondays and Thursdays. He has done this for nearly two years now - talk about commitment and consistency!

The posts vary in topic, as you might guess from his interests and pursuits, but all share a common theme of improving yourself. So the posts show you how to build habits, increase productivity, boost health - become better. For those of you who are new to his blog, this week I've pulled together a collection of his best posts about health - both physical and mental. Enjoy!

18 Superb Posts for Better Health from James Clear 

Physical Health

Mental Health

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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The story of my pixie cut inspired by a buzz cut

Back in April, Sally at A Breath of Foreign Air buzzed off her long locks.

Well, she didn't buzz it off herself. Some newly-made friends at her hostel did it for her!

Oh, and to top that, it went down in a pub. In Ireland.

And for whatever reason, that event sparked the idea to cut off my own hair as well. I could do it right before I started the Camino, I thought, to make showering less of a chore during the four weeks I'd be living out of a backpack.

Why I Wanted to Cut Off My Hair

That logistical benefit was definitely noted, shower-hater as I am, but it wasn't the only reason why I was thinking to cut my hair super short - or buzz it off, or whatever.

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Thursday, November 6, 2014

Thankful Thursday: 11/6/14

[Thankful Thursday is a weekly segment that began 1/10/13 - read why here.  I invite you to join me in practicing gratitude!]

Today I am thankful for my town's village center. Along with having rooms and spaces for a variety of community events and a senior center, the village center also has a workout room and offers a selection of fitness classes.

So on my second day home (I'm in the USA now, in case any of you missed that detail), I went down there and signed up for 8 weeks of Zumba (meets 1x/week) and 8 weeks of Mat Pilates (1x/week) in the morning (I've never done either before). Then I went ahead and bought a 3-month membership to use the fitness center to weight lift on top of that. 

Why? Two reasons. First, not playing ultimate last year in Korea resulted in me doing close to zero physical activity. That was not good, especially in the winter. So I want to stay active this winter to prevent that from happening again, and I'd like to gain some muscle too. (Remember, my Korean traditional medicine doctor even told me I needed more muscle!). 

Secondly, now that I'm working from home on my computer, I have total control over scheduling my day. Since I signed up for two morning classes (8am), that both will force myself to be awake, and also should increase productivity the rest of the day since I'm getting the workout done first thing in the morning. My plan is to work out in the fitness/weight room the non-class days of the week, also at 8am - to make it a habit/routine.

Oh, and the cost is a steal compared to private gyms. 

The part I'm most thankful for is that it's located a mere 0.7 miles from my parents' house! That makes for a quick jog or a nice walk, meaning I can easily get there despite not owning a car. How awesome is that? Very awesome.

I know that not owning a car here will limit me in some ways (mostly social), but the fact that it's not holding me back from working out is very lucky!
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November Health Updates

This post originally appeared on Have Your Health, a past blog of mine active from 2013-14.

Three full months have passed since my last post. What have I been up to? Why the absence?

Accounting for My Time: August - October

During my school's summer break in August, my sister and grandma came to visit me in Korea for two weeks. We spent some time in Seoul and Gwangju, and then finished up in Hong Kong. I left my computer at home the entire trip.

Then I had my final week working and living in the country. I kept busy packing, cleaning, taking care of loose ends, and blogging about the recent trip with my grandma and sister. Then I spent five brief days in Tokyo where I visited a friend before continent hopping over to Europe.

I was reunited with my love, Madrid, before heading off to walk the Camino de Santiago across northern Spain for a month. And then the last two weeks of October I visited my dear friends in London.

On Halloween I spookily reappeared at my parents' front door here in the states. While I've journeyed to pockets of the globe, I've remained on this health journey as well. I'm looking forward to putting greater focus on my digestive health, now that I'm living in a place where I speak the language and have total control over how I spend my time and what I choose to eat.

November 2014 Health Update and Posts to Come

And now for the catch-all, I'd like to document where I'm at now and what you can expect in the coming weeks here on the blog.


I signed up for zumba and pilates (each meets once a week), plus a 3-month weight room pass at my town's village center. The plan is to get into a routine of going every morning at 8am, whether it's for one of my classes or lifting in the fitness center. This is good!

Fed Up

My older brother lent me the documentary "Fed Up," which I'll be watching and writing about soon.

Human Gut - American Food Project

I recently placed an order online to participate in the American Food Project - Human Gut. When the kit arrives (3-4 weeks), I'll be submitting a stool sample, and will eventually receive a list of the bacteria living in that sample, and their abundance. I'm hoping this will give me some insight to my IBS.

Soil-based Organisms Supplement

While I've previously written about why I stopped taking probiotics and other supplements, I just ordered a bottle of Swanson's Soil-based Organisms with 72 Trace Minerals. Why? My grandma told me that a distant cousin of mine had had digestive problems for many years. He started taking these capsules and within a few days felt better than he had in a long time. So I figured why not try it out, just in case? The bottle was only $10, so it's not a huge investment.

The Omnivore's Dilemma

I'm in the second half of Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and enjoying it so much. A write-up will follow.

Month-long Challenge/Experiment

I've been telling many people that I'm going to do some sort of strict month-long diet challenge/experiment. No dairy and no meat (and no processed foods) was the original idea, though it could change. I need to solidify this soon and START! 

So I clearly haven't even started this month-long "food challenge" yet, but I'm already meeting some resistance. My grandma keeps telling me to start it after Thanksgiving; she really wants me to eat everything she makes for the holiday, but I'm fine with skipping it. Also, living with my parents there's a ton of food around that I shouldn't eat. Certain things are really easy to avoid (Kraft Mac & Cheese, for example... there's no way I would ever open and cook you!), but others are a lot more tempting (like the dark chocolate M&Ms that live in the almond container).

So while I'm happy to be home (and not paying rent...), sharing a kitchen with others who eat very differently from me does pose its difficulties. I've got to sit down and make a plan, and then stick to it. I might be ordering a spiralizer, too, to help consume more plants. So that's where I've been, where I am, and where I'm headed. How are you doing?
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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

[Teach Abroad Blog Carnival] Slow travel: Low stress and high rewards

Today’s article is written for the Reach To Teach Teach Abroad Blog Carnival, a monthly series that focuses on providing helpful tips and advice to ESL teachers around the globe. I'll be posting a new ESL-related article on my blog at the start of every month, and the carnival is always published on the 5th by that month's host. Check back for more articles, and if you'd like to contribute to next month's Blog Carnival, please contact Dean at, and he will let you know how you can start participating.

This month's host is Heather Richards of Traveling Vanilla Bean, which is where you can read all of this month's entries.

Prompt: What are the benefits of slow travel?

I was reminded just a few weeks ago that not all are familiar with the term "slow travel". I've spent time in four different countries over the past three months, which has felt like a whirlwind for me.

So forgive me for the vague details, but someone (can't remember who), somewhere (no idea where I was at the time), asked me what slow travel was when it came up in conversation (obviously no clue what we had been talking about). I gave the best answer I could on the spot, and I'll try again now - with a little more time to make it coherent. I feel as though this definition could differ person-to-person, so know that you're getting one take of the general idea.

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Saturday, November 1, 2014

Resolutions Checkpoint 2014: September/October

I'm in Wisconsin, everyone! I got in yesterday evening, just in time for some surprise trick-or-treating at the parents' house.

And after two months of suitcase/backpack living, I'm ready to establish some sort of coherent routine again, and keep working on this year's resolutions.

As always, my key is as follows:
     Bold = Completed
     Regular = Not completed
     Bold + Italics = Completed, not originally on task list

September/October Progress

If you recall, I gave myself some loose goals for the month of September, knowing that I'd spend most of that month (and the following) walking the Camino de Santiago. Here's how it went:
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