Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Resolutions Checkpoint 2014: December

Before I regroup and get my 2015 resolutions finalized and posted, I wanted to do my final resolution checkpoint of the year, which tends to get forgotten with the buzz of a fresh new year and new resolutions.

At the start of December, here are the things I'd wanted to accomplish during the month, with the completed items in bold and comments in italics:

1. Digestive health

  • Revisit IBS books from my bookshelf, now that I'm home. Any new info I can put into action? - Whoops, honestly never cracked those books open.
  • Continue to eat lots of plants and avoid dairy/meat.

2. Health site

  • Publish one post every Thursday - I published four posts this month, on my Thursdays!
  • G+ Updates too - Check!

3. Non 9-5 work

  • Get Korean Food guide to a complete rough draft stage, aka write, write, write! - While I did at least touch it this month, I think it was only one day. This will become a higher priority in 2015.
  • Read The Art of Non-Conformity

Background Goals

And here's my final overall progress on those bits and pieces that I'd also wanted to accomplish this year:
  • Read 32 books this year (2 in Spanish)
  • Gain strength & muscle, enough that there's a notable difference in a before and after picture - I went to 7 weeks of Pilates and Zumba classes this fall, plus a few weight lifting sessions, and have signed up for 13-week sessions of "SHAPE" and Pilates starting in January.
  • Add pull-down tabs to both of my Blogger blogs - Really need to update my template in 2015.
  • Walk the Camino de Santiago
  • Visit Hannah and Herm in London 
  • Make a Korea bucket list and post it (and do it!)
  • Unplug more oftenI deactivated my Facebook account at the start of December, it's been awesome! (Details to come)
  • Resume French study - I slowly picked up speed this month, have turned my phone language to French, and will be making this goal take center stage in 2015.

How was your December in terms of resolutions/improvement? Are you getting ideas for 2015 resolutions?
• • •

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014: A year in books

Just like last year and in 2012, I'd like to share the books I read this year, and which were my favorites. I've been keeping lists of books I read ever since I was little, and have tracked reading and made yearly reading challenges with Goodreads for the past several years.

In 2014, I set a goal of reading 32 books and reached it! Here are the books I read this year, starting with the most recent and working back to last January.

• • •

Sticking with Dietary Restrictions over the Holidays

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

Firstly, happy holidays!

Secondly, this week I wanted to share the difficulties I've found in keeping to dietary restrictions around the holiday seasons, plus some tips that have worked for me to make it easier. So which dietary restrictions am I talking about here?

My Current Dietary Restrictions

I feel like it almost goes without saying that processed/fast foods are off limits; they're hardly even a legitimate option in my mind of something to eat, which is huge progress from where I was at several years ago.

So my main answer to that question right now is that I avoid dairy. I simply can't digest the stuff, but surprisingly I don't miss it (still battling with chocolate, though). I've also been learning that dairy perhaps isn't as good or necessary for us as our country's food pyramid makes it out to be, which makes it that much easier to stay away from.

And one final restriction to add: Lately, especially since reading The Omnivore's Dilemma though, my diet is getting closer and closer to a meatless one. I haven't yet sat down and strictly decided to eat a vegetarian or vegan diet, but I don't want to eat meat from industrial farms. So I haven't been buying meat from the grocery store, and I look for vegetarian options when out at restaurants, though occasionally I'll eat a bit of meat if one of my parents makes something and I'm so inclined to indulge.

Difficulties of Dietary Restrictions During the Holidays

The biggest difficulty for me has been the surplus of food at my house. We were six for just one night, and the numbers varied as my siblings came and went, so my parents cooked lots of full meals (which we honestly don't normally do), plus we hosted one of our family Christmases on Sunday.

On top of all the food, my mom made a batch of sugar cookies a few days before Christmas, my aunt brought a big tupperware of cookies, the neighbors brought over cookies, my sister and mom's elementary students gave them cookies and sweets... so basically I've been surrounded by Christmas cookies and chocolate.

I was actually surprised by how little I was tempted by lots of these sweets I would have devoured even a year ago. The Hershey's kisses don't even tempt me. Yay for progress! But I really don't like to waste food, and with so much coming in, I often thought that I had to do my part in not wasting said food.

So how did all of this come into play over the holidays? I'll fill you in on some happenings that went down while sharing tips for sticking with dietary restrictions during this time of year. And yes, I realize it would have been loads more useful to put this list together before the holidays, but you live and learn.

Tips to Sticking with Dietary Restrictions over the Holidays

Prepare healthy alternatives for yourself

If you know you're going to be surrounded by lots of things you can't eat, plan ahead and surround yourself with things you can eat. Even go ahead and spoil yourself with a healthy treat, which for me would be a Naked or something.

I had (and still have) dried mangos on hand, which have been my latest treat when I'm itching for something sweet, plus other fruits, hummus, and various good snacks.

Purchase substitute ingredients

If people around you are going to bake some traditional holiday recipes, they could easily substitute ingredients if you have them. So this is another one where it's easier if you plan ahead. Family members are much more likely to substitute an ingredient for you if you have the alternative right there in the kitchen, versus needing to run out to the store after someone's already begun cooking. 

This holiday season, my two biggest substitute ingredients I always had in the fridge were Earth Balance (butter substitute) and rice/almond milk.

Notify hosts ahead of time and make it easy for them

If you're going somewhere for a Christmas meal, talk with your hosts a few weeks ahead of time to find out what they'll be serving, and discuss your dietary restrictions. If you feel comfortable asking, see if the host is willing to use any of your substitutes when making any of the dishes, if you provide them, of course.

If the menu is not yet decided, you could recommend dishes that are safe for you to eat, and delicious for everyone else. A specific recipe would make it so much easier for the host.

Host your gathering or offer to bring dishes

You can go a step further, and offer to bring dishes to the gathering, as I did with one of our Christmases. My grandma was really concerned about there being things I could eat, so at first I mentioned two new recipes I'd copied from this vegan cookbook I had checked out from the library. As the event got closer, I decided to make the two sides at home on my own, and just bring them to our family gathering. This way, I knew there would at least be two safe dishes, and I saved my grandma the headaches of having to figure out what she could/couldn't make.

Bringing a dish or two is probably the preferred option when going to someone else's house, though I suppose each host has his/her preferences. If possible, you could also offer to host the meal/event yourself, which would put all food preparation under your control.

Bring your own meal or eat beforehand

If you're not as lucky as I am, and don't have understanding family/friends, you can always pack yourself an entire meal to bring to the event. Explain that you have special dietary restrictions, and you would never hold others to the same restrictions, so you've brought your own meal.

I'm actually going up north tomorrow for New Year's to stay with some extended family, and I'm bringing two tupperware of "safe meals" for myself just in case there are limited options for me based on my dietary needs. Plan ahead and help yourself make it easy to eat the right things. Depending on the gathering, you could also eat at home before you go, so that you're not hungry when you arrive.

Be grateful for your understanding relatives

Finally, be grateful for your understanding relatives. I was not home for the holidays last year, so this is my first year at home with stricter dietary restrictions. My family was really awesome about it this holiday! Check it out:
  • My mom used my Earth Balance spread instead of butter when she made sugar cookies and chicken pot pie (yup, that's one of the meat dishes I did eat).
  • My dad made a special non-cheese quiche with almond milk just for me at our Christmas brunch, with my red and green peppers I had left in the fridge.
  • My aunt always gives all of the grandkids chocolate candy and a $5 Culver's gift card, among other Christmas trinkets every year. This year instead of chocolate she gave me a bag of energy bites from and $5 at Trader Joe's instead! It was so very thoughtful and considerate, and I loved not being tempted by the chocolate candy.
  • My grandma was super worried about what I'd be able to eat—both at Christmas and Thanksgiving—and was willing to make whatever I said.
All in all, it was a pretty successful holiday on the food front. Did I eat things I shouldn't have? Yes, for sure. Since my mom used "my butter" in the sugar cookies, I felt obligated to eat many of them. I had some Christmas cookies and a bit of chocolate and fudge.

But did I eat a million times better than any previous holiday in my life? Heck yes! Only ate one peanut butter cup cookie from my aunt this year (who always brings a boatload). Didn't eat any Hersheys anything. Didn't eat ham or sausage at our brunch, even though I was tempted.

So I'm definitely making progress, yet there is still a ways to go. Luckily, a fresh blank slate of hope and motivation is just around the corner with 2015 in sight.

How was your holiday season food-wise? How do you handle diet restrictions at this time of year?
• • •

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Thankful Thursday: 12/25/14

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

Happy holidays, you guys! Today I'm so thankful that I got to spend Christmas Day with my entire family. Yes, all four siblings under one roof with the parents, plus a visit from grandma and my aunt in the evening.

What did we do with our precious limited time together? Why we re-created family photos, of course! 

It was more exhausting than you'd think, to first find all of the necessary props and clothes, reorganize that part of the house to match its past self, and then getting everyone all lined up in just the right positions for the retake. It's a pretty awesome outcome though, if I do say so myself. Totally worth it!

Here are the three we did yesterday:

• • •

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Omnivore's Dilemma

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

Last month I finished reading Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural history of four meals—named one of the top 10 books in 2006 by the New York Times.

The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Fascinating Read

The Omnivore's Dilemma

Just like Pollan's other books I've read this year (In Defense of Food, Food Rules, and Cooked), The Omnivore's Dilemma was a fascinating read. Pollan is a gifted writer who conveys important information in a clear, honest, and entertaining way. What I love about Pollan is that he always dives right in and gets involved with the source of whatever he's researching, learning first-hand from various people. Living and working on a "grass farm" and learning to hunt wild boar are just two examples of such involvement from this book.

The Omnivore's Dilemma is split into three sections: industrial corn, pastoral grass, and the forest; with their accompanying four meals: fast food, grass-fed, industrial organic, and hunter-gatherer. I never knew reading about corn or the word "organic" could be so interesting! Throughout the book, Pollan points out the problems with the modern American diet, and how they came to be. In the introduction, he writes that this book is the answer to the question "What should we have for dinner?," as well as an exploration of how this basic question became so complicated.

I highly recommend this book for any American eater. Since a summary could in no way live up to or correctly explain concepts learned through reading the whole book, I'll just share some of my big take-aways using quotes that I highlighted while reading. (Note: Book quotes are italicized and blocked.)

Big Take-aways from The Omnivore's Dilemma

The problem with corn

I mentioned earlier that it was so interesting to read about corn in the United States (though also a bit depressing and hopeless). Pollan introduces that section by going through a grocery store and common American food items, tracing each back to the same origin: corn. Basically corn is overproduced and also subsidized by the government, and most is used to make high fructose corn syrup, a cheap and unhealthy sweetener for processed foods.
A farm family needs a certain amount of cash flow every year to support itself, and if the price of corn falls, the only way to stay even is to sell more corn. Naylor says that farmers desperate to boost yield end up degrading their land, plowing and planting marginal land, applying more nitrogen—anything to squeeze a few more bushels from the soil. Yet the more bushels each farmer produces, the lower prices go, giving another turn to the perverse spiral of overproduction.
I liked that I had this background before watching "Fed Up," as the book explains in depth how corn became so cheap, which made it the key ingredient in sodas (high fructose corn syrup) and so many processed foods.

What it means to be "organic"

'The organic label is a marketing tool,' Secretary Glickman said. 'It is not a statement about food safety. Nor is "organic" a value judgement about nutrition or quality.'
While some organic foods are made on smaller farms that take into account natural systems, the book also explored "industrial organic" farms, as the author names them. These industrial organic farms cause many of the same problems as industrial farms, and aren't much more humane to animals and the land. Pollan shows with specific examples how the picture painted on many organic food labels can be just as misleading as non-organic labels.

The magic of a grass farm

I loved the chapters that Pollan spends on Joel Salatin's "grass farm" in Virginia, Polyface. It's often called a grass farm because the various species of grass are so important to the overall health of the farm's ecosystem. Everything is connected, and it was a wonderful reminder of nature's beauty to see the interconnectedness of all species and plants, big and small.
The reason Joel moves his cattle at the end of the day is because that's when sugar levels in the grass hit their peak; overnight the plant will gradually use up these reserves. It seems the chickens eschew fresh manure, so he waits three or four days before bringing them in—but not a day longer. That's because the fly larvae in the manure are on a four-day cycle, he explained.
Joel says that this gives the fly larvae enough time to fatten up for the hens to eat them, but not enough time to actually hatch into flies. He explains how the forest on the northern side of the farm impacts all of the plants and creatures, for example, as well as numerous other elements. It was so eye-opening and refreshing to see that nature's default is health. Here's a snippet of what we learn about Budger, a cow on Joel's farm:
Chances are Budger has also chosen exactly which grasses to eat first, depending on whatever minerals her body craves that day; some species supply her more magnesium, others more potassium. (If she's feeling ill she might go for the plantain, a forb whose leaves contain antibiotic compounds; grazing cattle instinctively use the diversity of the salad bar to medicate themselves.)
We also see how this drastically contrasts to cows raised in industrial farms, which are force fed corn (their stomachs are specifically meant to digest grass) which basically kills them. They have to be kept "healthy" by so many antibiotics and shots (there goes big money to the pharmaceutical companies) which in turn gets absorbed into your body when you eat meat from an industrialized farm. It is absolutely cruelty to animals what happens on such farms, and while it's certainly not pleasant to read the details, I'm really glad that I did and am no longer living in ignorant bliss. Without even consciously deciding to change anything, I haven't been ordering meat at restaurants nor buying it from the grocery store.

The environmental impact of industrial farming

I think the biggest thing most people think about when it comes to industrial farming is the negative impact on animals. What I had never given much thought to before reading this book is the entire environmental impact, and how farming is connected to global warming.
For example, if the sixteen million acres now being used to grow corn to feed cows in the United States became well-managed pasture, that would remove fourteen billion pounds of carbon from the atmosphere each year, the equivalent of taking four million cars off the road. We seldom focus on farming's role in global warming, but as much as a third of all the greenhouse gases that human activity has added to the atmosphere can be attributed to the saw and the plow.
It was also important to see how these impacts, both environmental and human health-related, aren't taken into account at all when pricing food items.
The ninety-nine-cent price of a fast-food hamburger simply doesn't take account of that meal's true cost—to soil, oil, public health, the public purse, etc., costs which are never charged directly to the consumer but, indirectly and invisibly, to the taxpayer (in the form of subsidies), the health care system (in the form of  food-borne illnesses and obesity), and the environment (in the form of pollution), not to mention the welfare of the workers in the feedlot and the slaughterhouse and the welfare of the animals themselves. If not for this sort of blindman's accounting, grass would make a lot more sense than it now does.
I think many people don't buy organic or grass-fed items because you can get off-brands cheaper, but Pollan makes the point that as a consumer, you can choose to either pay for "honestly priced" or "irresponsibly priced" food. I now keep this in my mind when I'm grocery shopping.

While shopping I also remind myself that Americans spend the lowest percent of their paychecks on food compared to any other country, which always gets me to go for the better option. I'm paying for my current and future health when I make good food choices, as well as helping the environment and reducing our country's future health care costs.

Read The Omnivore's Dilemma This Month

I highly recommend The Omnivore's Dilemma; why not pick it up from your library this week and start reading it? While the book communicates must-know information about America's food sources, it's engaging and fun to read at the same time.

Has anyone else read The Omnivore's Dilemma? What did you think?
• • •

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

South Korea pros and cons: What I will and won't miss from the Land of the Morning Calm

The end of December will mark four full months since leaving South Korea.

In some ways, it doesn't feel like it's been that long; I actually just had a dream last night that I was teaching a group of my Korean students. Yet in other ways, Korea feels like a lifetime away—almost as if the whole year had been a dream, some alternate reality of sorts. I recently talked about this feeling with friends who also taught in my program when five of us (the "non-renewers") got together for lunch this past Sunday.

We commented that overall, since sliding back into U.S. society has felt as simple as hitting the "play" button again, at times we ask ourselves if Korea actually happened. At least, that's how it feels for me, because it was this completely separate life and hardly a hint of it remains visible today.

My bizarre upside-down Korean life!

• • •

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Common items in a Korean elementary school

I've sprinkled bits (and sometimes dropped massive bits) of advice about teaching in a Korean elementary school over the past year. But what will it look like visually? What daily items can you expect to see?

Here are some items found around my Korean elementary school, that I believe are universals in elementary schools around the country:

Korean elementary school

School drinking fountain

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Friday, December 12, 2014

Fed Up: It's Time to Get Real About Our Food

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

For the first time in the history of the world, more people are dying from obesity than from starvation. That's one of the earlier lines in the movie "Fed Up," which my food blogger brother wrote about in October.

Documentary-lover that I am, and with my interest in nutrition and health, I borrowed his copy of the movie and watched it myself. I highly recommend the film, especially for Americans who have never thought about their food before. It's a great, simple introduction to many of the complex problems surrounding the average American's health and diet today.

Here's the trailer:

Fed Up with Childhood Obesity and Diabetes

The movie focused on the problem that more children today than ever before in history are becoming diabetic. This is also the first generation expected to have shorter lives than their parents. Why? It's because of what children are eating.

The movie follows the stories of a few severely obese children and their families, observing how each is trying to fight the problem. One is a 12-year-old girl who weighs 212 pounds. Another is a 400 pound 9th grade boy from Texas. It was hard to watch at times, only because most of their families were going about helping their children lose weight in the completely wrong way, hence no results.

For example, the 12-year-old swims four days a week and walks her dog on the weekend, says she's "eating healthy," but still no change in weight. Her doctor told her to join Weight Watchers, but when they looked into the program, they found out she's not old enough. So they stopped going to the doctor. Instead, the parents check fat content on boxes, always sure to buy low-fat products, and fortified cereals with whole grains in them. At school she eats the school lunch, but that's often a cheeseburger and fries. (More on public school lunches in a bit.)

As the rest of the movie explains, this is the wrong way to lose weight and have your health. But I suppose this was part of the point—that directions from our doctors and physicians, coupled with what items in the grocery store are mislabeled to make you think, aren't clear. Society blames people for not exercising enough, they blame the obese person's lack of will power. But that's not the problem. So what's to blame? This film says that sugar is the main culprit, and I believe it.

Fed Up with Sugar and the Processed Food Industry

In order to look at the present day sugar and processed food problems, we need to first go back to 1977. The McGovern Report from that year was the first time the U.S. government sat down to write dietary guidelines for the country. But the egg, sugar, dairy and beef industries didn't like the suggestions in the report, as it would have hurt business (surprise, surprise). So under industry pressure, the recommendations in the report were changed. It encouraged Americans to buy more lean products instead of less processed and sugary products. So that's what prompted the '80s to boom with "low-fat" products.

How does low fat lead to sugar? Well, as the film explains, if you remove the fat, the food tastes worse. So to make it taste better they add sugar. Lots and lots of sugar. If you take a look at all of the products sold in grocery stores today, 80% have added sugar in them. In fact, from 1977 to 2000, Americans have completely doubled their daily sugar intake. D-o-u-b-l-e-d. And we wonder why there are so many health problems today...

Well, how do we know that all of this excess sugar is bad? What are the dietary guidelines about sugar? How can so much be in all of this food if it's bad for us? In 2002, the World Health Organization (WHO, division of the United Nations) put together a document called TRS 916. Original name, I know. The TRS 916 included the recommendation to restrict sugar intake to 10% of your total calories. This is nearly a repeat of the McGovern report, because once again, the food industries didn't like the health recommendation.

So because of all their pushback, Tommy Thompson went to Geneva himself and actually told the WHO that if they were to publish the document, the USA would withhold the 406 million dollars they'd promised the organization. Wowzer. So guess what happened? The WHO completely removed the sugar recommendation from the report. Surprisingly (or not?) the USA now recommends that 25% of your daily calories should come from sugar.

Yeah, it got bumped from 10% to 25% in our country: two and a half times the original WHO recommendation! How did all of this sugar creep into our diet? Easy, check the nutritional label of anything. Find the sugar line and look at the grams. Now look at the Daily Value %. Oh wait, there isn't one! Yes, food companies are somehow magically exempt from reporting the daily value percent for sugar. On many products, the sugar percentage would be super high, often over 100%—and that's with the daily recommended value that's already 2.5 times the World Health Organization recommendation!

The bottom line is that sugar is addictive, it's cheap, so the food companies are thriving off of it, while our health is suffering incredibly. Food companies are here to make money, not to make us healthy. The food industry does not care about your health, no matter what their boxes, labels, and advertisements may try to trick you into thinking.

Fed Up with Lies from the Processed Food Industry

As I've learned earlier this year from reading several books (especially "Whole") and doing some nutrition research, a calorie of x is not the same as a calorie of y. "Fed Up" compares 160 calories of almonds to 160 calories of soda as an example. The almonds have fiber naturally built in (nature knows what it's doing, folks), meaning that it's not absorbed immediately by the body, so blood sugar rises lower for longer. Soda, on the other hand, is absorbed directly through the portal system to the liver. This causes the liver to have a sugar rush, so the organ immediately turns it into fat. A calorie is not a calorie, yet all of the soda companies and processed food companies will tell you the opposite. They want you to focus on calories, calories, calories—because they can turn those up or down as they wish.

The documentary also briefly touches on the political muck surrounding fast food and processed food companies. Many, like Coca Cola and Pepsi for example, fund university research and donate to professional societies. This allows them to get studies showing the results they want—which is neither science nor the truth. These companies have teamed up with Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" campaign, to keep her from attacking their industries. The First Lady's original campaign was set to tackle both diet and exercise, but quickly became solely focused on exercise when the big companies heard the message she was going to spread. So companies like Kraft, Coca Cola, Hersheys, Kellogs, etc. signed an agreement with her to remove 1.5 trillion calories out of the market place in 2015. This only comes out to a bite a day for the average child, but that's besides the point. See what their focus is again? Calories. They're taking out a few calories, but these new products have the same amount of sugar.

Fed Up with Processed Food Ads Targeting Children

"Fed Up" actually compares processed food and fast food companies to tobacco companies 30 years ago in the way that they target children in ads.

They use cartoons, have toys in kids meals, fun play areas in the restaurant, etc. But kids have never seen a commercial for fruits and vegetables, and this completely changes their whole conception of food—which I can attest to, as I was born in 1989. All people born in the '80s and on have been surrounded by these processed food and fast food advertisements their entire lives. Candy bars in check-out aisles of every type of store, fast food in school lunches. I didn't know what real food was until I left the country for the first time my junior year of college and my eyes were opened.

Fed Up with U.S. Public School Lunches

The U.S. Department of Agriculture got put in charge of the country's dietary regulations after the McGovern report, which definitely shouldn't be the case. (Conflict of interest, anyone?) Even though school lunch policy was recently "improved," did you know that both pizza and french fries count as a vegetable under our country's policy? You heard me: According to the U.S. government, pizza and french fries are vegetables.

Want to know how the pizza remained in that definition? Schwan, a frozen food company from Minnesota, makes 70% of its pizza sales to public schools. So if the government would have declared the truth, that pizza is not a vegetable, pizza sales would have dropped.

Another case of special interests being put ahead of public health. So many fast food restaurants operate in schools. If school cafeterias prepared food in the school, as they did years ago, that would fix so much of this health epidemic. Movie narrator Katie Couric asks near the film's end: What if all sodas carried a warning label, like cigarettes do now? What if fast food and processed food advertisements were removed from TV and taken out of public spaces? What if school lunches were cooked at school, removing all fast and processed foods from the building? What a wonderful world it would be!

The "Fed Up" Challenge: Sugar Free for 10 Days

The makers of the movie have created the "Fed Up" challenge, which is fantastic because people need a concrete action in order to change. People may agree with everything in the film, but unless you have a specific action to put in place, old habits will remain. So the challenge is to go sugar free for ten days.

Other ways to get involved and keep the conversation flowing would definitely be to watch the film if you haven't yet seen it—better yet watch it with someone (friends, family). Be aware of that sugar line on food labels, check for sugar in the ingredients list, and avoid "low-fat"/"reduced fat" foods. Better yet, stick to the outer rim of the grocery store (produce, fresh foods) and purchase more foods that don't come with a nutrition label.

And after you've seen the film, I'd love to hear from you—are you fed up?
• • •

Friday, December 5, 2014

Swanson Soil-based Organisms: A Worthy Supplement?

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

While my grandma was visiting me this past summer when I still lived in Korea, she inquired about my digestive health. This discussion resulted in her telling me something so huge that I wondered why I hadn't heard about it sooner.

She said my cousin (all right, a second cousin's son if we're being precise) had bad digestive problems for many many years, recently started taking some supplement, and his symptoms have totally left! Of course I asked what supplement it was, so she e-mailed his mother and got an answer within the day.

What did he take? Swanson soil-based organisms. Yeah, I know I've publicly sworn off supplements here on the blog before, but when you hear a success story like that from someone you know and trust—a relative—it's hard to ignore. So as soon as I got back to the states last month I ordered a bottle online. And at $9.99 per bottle of 90 capsules, it was an easy purchase to make.

Let's take a closer look at what's in these guys:

Swanson Ultra Soil-based Organisms

This dietary supplement is meant to promote "regular bowel function and immune system health." It has 15 strains of beneficial microorganisms and digestive enzymes. Here's the product blurb from the Swanson Health Products site:
"Regain the missing ingredient lacking in so much of the food grown today and enjoy steadier energy levels, easier digestion and improved bowel function. Modern farming techniques that impoverish soil together with cooking and heat processing destroy the microscopic soil-based organisms (SBO) that give our food its full nutrient potential. With over 5 billion live organisms per serving, plus digestive enzymes and 72 trace minerals, SBO will improve your intestinal absorption of nutrients and speed the body's synthesis of superoxide dismutase (SOD), a powerful first-line-defense antioxidant. The SBO retain full potential until you consume them, only activating upon exposure to liquid."
And here's the complete ingredient list from the bottle label: (Click the label to see it bigger and clearer)

[Image lost during move from Have Your Health]

Other ingredients: Gelatin, stearic acid, may contain one or both of the following: magnesium stearate, silica. Suggested Use: As a dietary supplement, take one capsule per day with water or juice. WARNING: Consult your healthcare provider before use if you are pregnant or nursing.

My Experience with Swanson Ultra Soil-based Organisms

You're supposed to take one capsule a day with water or juice, but I'm not great at swallowing pills (hence my Dr. Mercola's powder probiotics I used to take). And believe it or not, when you're out of practice you don't get any better.

The first day I was pleasantly surprised that I actually got it down on the second try! Maybe I could become a capsule-swallowing pro after all. All hope dwindled on the second day when I just couldn't swallow it no matter how many swigs of water I took. Soon the capsule started disintegrating in my mouth—which tastes oh so very great as you can imagine.

So I improvised and have been able to swallow a capsule with my first bite of bagel when I have breakfast. For some reason it's completely doable when I'm swallowing with food. But when that capsule is floating in my mouth with a bunch of liquid, my body just does not want to swallow it.

So I take it with food, and then drink a few swallows of water before continuing to eat my bagel. I hope this isn't affecting the results, though I did see one customer comment saying that you should take this supplement with food (but if that's the case, then why wouldn't they instruct it?).

So can I notice a difference? It's been several weeks now, I'd say, and I take one capsule every morning. The first few days I didn't notice anything, though a couple more days in and I noticed new smells and colors (hint of green) leaving me. So something was changing, at least; with the Dr. Mercola probiotics I used to take regularly, I never once noticed any changes.

And then after maybe a week I noticed a heftier change in my BM one day. All of a sudden that morning something solid left me! Small parts, but solid nonetheless. I was really excited that day, could this be it? Was this all I had needed to introduce into my gut ecosystem? And then things returned to "normal" the following day (my normal=liquid), and ever since.

I also noticed back when I first started taking the supplement that I wasn't very hungry. Normally when I'm home all day (which I am now, working from home), I'll snack and snack. Especially to procrastinate. But at the start I'd fill up on less than normal and not feel like eating until I'd be hungry again, which wouldn't be until significantly after American meal times (a good thing though, I think, to only eat when you're hungry).

So I'm not sure if that had to do with the supplement or not. I'd say maybe I'm still eating less than my "average" now, but it could be due to my new environment, new food, the winter season, new exercise routine, etc. I'm tired too, but I think that has more to do with the winter season, lack of light, and working as an editor (it's draining!) more than anything.

Supplements Aren't "the Solution"

I know that you can't just take supplements and expect things to magically be fixed, which was part of my reasoning last April to not take them anymore in the first place. Rather, you must change what you eat if you want to see changes in your health. Remember, in the words of Patty Yeager:

[Image: Patty Yeager health quote from "Food Over Medicine" - Have Your Health]

That said, I'm going to keep on taking the supplement every morning for now, hoping it will help my body grow a healthy flora as I experiment with food choices. I'm well aware that what I choose to eat always impacts my health—with or without the supplement. I'll be sure to update in another month or so regarding these soil-based organisms, and whether there's been any change or no change at all.
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Thursday, December 4, 2014

[Teach Abroad Blog Carnival] Crack a smile with some ESL student drawings

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 Samantha Baker of Samantha in Saigon, which is where you can read all of this month's entries.

Prompt: What were the most endearing/hilarious English mistakes your students have made?

Reach to Teach Blog Carnival: Student ESL Mistakes

So, I have to be upfront: You're not going to find any stories about hilarious English mistakes in this post. But you might still crack a smile.

Why don't I have any such stories?

Here's the scoop: I laughed a lot while teaching English at my elementary school in South Korea. Much, much more than when I taught English in Spain to students who were my age at the time and older (22+).

But most of my laughter in Korea wasn't at English mistakes, but rather the everyday goofiness of young kids.

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Monday, December 1, 2014

Resolutions Checkpoint 2014: November

Wow, here we are at the last month of 2014!

November especially felt faster than most months; the end really snuck up on me. I've been working much more on my "side editing gig" than I'd expected—around 30 hours a week, which also had something to do with the speed of this month I think.

As a result, I have more unfinished tasks than I'd like, but am still slowly making progress.

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