3/20/2014

An Experiment in Oil Pulling, Pt. III


I am now two full weeks into my experiment in oil pulling. Originally, I had set out to try oil pulling for two weeks, but I have decided to push forward and continue for at least two more. While I must admit that there's not too much new to talk about, I would like to say that I'm really enjoying this experiment. At first, I was a bit skeptical and thought that twenty minutes seemed like a really long time. Now, I've actually come to look forward to oil pulling! It fits nicely into my morning routine and something about it calms and relaxes me. Yes, the process itself is rewarding as are the benefits, so what's not to like?


My teeth are even whiter.
Yup, it's true. My teeth just keep getting whiter. So do the husband's. It's pretty great.

My complexion is improving. 
You may remember in my last post that I broke out during my first week of oil pulling. This hasn't completely subsided, but it has definitely improved. While I do find myself waking up to tiny blemishes (which is odd for me since I'm usually the girl who gets those big, under-the-skin ones if any ... gross), my pores and blackheads are reducing in size and number, and my complexion seems to be more even (read: not too many red areas). I feel like I've advanced through the cleansing phase and that it will only be uphill from here. Fingers crossed.

No migraines this week.
Not only have I not had any medication-requiring migraines, I haven't had a headache all week! I can't remember the last time I had a week like this, and it feels great.


Nothing to report!
I probably didn't need to include this graphic when there's nothing to report, but I wanted to anyways, just so I could type "Nothing to report!" Ok, moving on.

I also checked back in with Stephen and Bethany. Here's what they had to say about their experiments:

Stephen, age 28, is an acupuncturist living in Washington. Stephen is now on Day 13 and it's smooth sailing for him! His teeth continue to look better, he's noticed that his gums feel healthier, and his breath has improved. He did have a couple days of unexplained muscle soreness that he attributes to possible detoxification, but that has passed now. All in all, he plans to continue his one month challenge and feels that it's going well.

Bethany, age 29, is a stay-at-home mom and nanny living in Minnesota. Bethany has also noticed that her teeth are whiter and that her breath has improved. She also had a very positive experience after a night of too much fun. After waking up feeling terrible, she oil pulled for 10 minutes and felt a remarkable improvement in her condition. She also noticed that the consistency of the oil had changed a lot, so she couldn't complete the full 20 minutes. She thinks maybe the oil was working overtime to detoxify her that day. I had read that oil pulling can help with hangovers, and now we have some proof!

Lastly, I heard back from the dental hygienists I contacted to see if oil pulling is harmful to existing cavity fillings. While the hygienists reported that they hadn't experienced or found any research confirming any risks, one of my reader's (as you may recall) did have a bad experience. That said, continue at your own risk if you do have fillings.

Well, that's it for Part III of my experiment. Stay tuned for the next update, and happy pulling!


Previous installments:
Part I
Part II




3/13/2014

An Experiment in Oil Pulling, Pt. II


Today marks a full week of my experiment in oil pulling. My reaction at this point? Mostly positive. (If you're thinking it seems like I just started on Monday, well, that's when I published the post about it, but I had already been at it for a few days. I'm tricky like that.)

The first few days were the hardest / weirdest, but I have now successfully worked it into my morning routine. I start right when I wake up, and then go about my morning activities like feeding the cat, making coffee (so it's ready the minute I finish oil pulling), taking a shower and getting ready. The first time I got in the shower while oil pulling was a huge shock. You see, I didn't realize that I'm a mouth breather in the shower (maybe we all are?), but after a few seconds of choking and gagging, all was well.

A friend of mine had a similar gagging reaction: "I gagged so much in the first 30 seconds. I couldn't do it." It's definitely a foreign feeling to have the oil in your mouth in its solid state, but once it melts into a liquid, I promise it gets easier. You can also try melting it first if that helps. The same friend said, "I think a tablespoon was too much to start with. I think tomorrow I'll try with a teaspoon and see how that goes..." I think the lesson we can take from this is to start small, people. You can always work your way up.

Now let's talk results. After one week, I've noticed a few things ... both good and bad.
Let's start with the good, shall we?


My teeth are whiter. 
Or at least I think they are. The husband says he can't confirm this as he didn't really pay attention to how white my teeth were before. Can you believe that?! Anyways, the husband is pulling with me, and I've noticed that his teeth are whiter. That must mean that mine are too, right?

My mouth feels healthier. 
Both the husband and I have noticed that our teeth feel cleaner, our breath feels fresher, and our gums feel healthier. I realize that these are all feelings and not necessarily things that we can prove, so we'll just have to wait until the next trip to the dentist for proof. The other night, however, I burnt my mouth pretty badly while eating dinner, and after oil pulling the next day, it felt absolutely fine.

My headaches have improved.
While I have still had one medicine-requiring migraine this week, I must say that I've seen an overall improvement in my headaches. Last Saturday, for instance, I had a glass of wine and two beers. In the morning, after oil pulling, I didn't have the dull headache that I usually do after three drinks. In fact, I haven't had any dull headaches this week, and I usually have at least one or two. I'll be very interested to see if this trend continues, and whether there is any more improvement.


My complexion is worse.
I was really hoping that I would have beautiful skin after a few days of oil pulling, but this hasn't happened yet. In fact, I've actually broken out in a few places. Not quite the results I was looking for, but we're still early on in the experiment.

I still have migraines.
While this isn't a bad reaction, it's not an improvement either. As I said before, I had a migraine this week. My two main triggers (dark beer and a change in hormone levels) were at play during the onset of this migraine, but it is clear that one week of oil pulling isn't enough to offset these triggers. This second factor could also be affecting my complexion.

May be harmful to cavity fillings.
This is not my experience (I'm 29 and I've never had a cavity, thankyouverymuch), but one of my readers reported that oil pulling was harmful to her existing fillings. I did some research on the good old interwebs, but couldn't find anything to support this. Because I don't want to recommend anything that could cause an increase in your dental bills, I have asked a few dental hygienists whether they can confirm this. I'll get back to you as soon as I know more details.

So there you have my first reactions to oil pulling. But it's not all about me, right? After receiving quite a few replies to my previous post, I decided to gather some outside opinions. Two of my friends, Stephen and Bethany, have also recently started their own experiments in oil pulling, and this is what they have to say.

Stephen, age 28, is an acupuncturist living in Washington. Stephen plans to oil pull every day for one month, with his main motivation being that he is considering recommending oil pulling to his patients. He is also doing it for general detox, to clear persistent sinus congestion, and to whiten his teeth. He fits oil pulling into his morning routine, and does it while making breakfast, checking emails, or taking a shower. After four days, he has been told by his girlfriend that his teeth are whiter. Other benefits are unclear, but he hopes to see more progress with time.

Bethany, age 29, is a stay-at-home mom and nanny living in Minnesota. After Bethany's first experience with oil pulling, she exclaimed "I love how my mouth felt afterwards!" Her main motivation for oil pulling is to improve her overall well-being. As much as she tries to eat nutritious, whole foods, she knows that there are always toxins to flush out, and hopes to do so through oil pulling. Bethany also pulls in the morning while making breakfast, folding laundry, and tidying up. She finds that it's much easier to pull for the full 20 minutes while keeping busy. After three days, she hasn't noticed any drastic changes, though the sore on the inside of her cheek that had been bothering her for the past week is now healed. "Coincidence, maybe," she noted, "but I really think the oil helped."

Well, that's it for Part II of my experiment. Stay tuned for the next update, and happy pulling!


Previous installment:
Part I




3/12/2014

Shopping in Amsterdam: A Love / Hate Relationship


I have a love / hate relationship with shopping in the Netherlands. I definitely love the abundance of flower stands and open air markets, but unfortunately the shopping is not all sunshine and tulips. Growing up in the States, I've been pretty spoiled by the convenience of American shopping. Shopping in Amsterdam, however, is a completely different story, and I attribute this to three main reasons:

1.) The hours and days of operation
2.) The store-specific availability of products
3.) The reality that I have to carry all purchases on my bike

In Amsterdam, most shops are open Monday through Saturday, from 9 or 10 am until about 6 pm. Grocery stores are an exception, opening for limited hours on Sundays, and often staying open until 10 pm every other day of the week. Another exception is Thursday, when stores will stay open until 9 pm to accommodate shoppers who work during normal shopping hours. Shops in Amsterdam's center are also open on Sundays, but believe me that unless you can navigate through crowds of tourists or fully embrace the virtue of patience, you'll want to stay far away.

At first, I perceived these limitations as inconveniences ... and I hated them. But then I changed my mind. I realized that they aren't necessarily inconvenient, they just mean that shopping has to be more of a planned activity. It also means that people are spending their time doing things other than working or shopping on evenings and Sundays. And I think we can all agree to love that, right?

Another thing that took some getting used to was going to many stores to acquire everything on my shopping list. Very often, my shopping list looks something like this:



In the States, this is a one-stop shopping list. In Amsterdam, however, I have to go to at least three stores to make these purchases ... possibly four if the grocery store doesn't have the specific light bulb I'm looking for. It's making these multiple stops to cross everything off my simple list (this is a pretty simple list, right?) that I like least about Amsterdam shopping.

I'm getting used to it though. And I'm actually starting to love the fact that Amsterdam doesn't have the one-stop everything stores so commonly found in the States. Instead, the city has a whole slew of neighborhood shops that specialize in specific items and offer a huge variety. While it takes a bit more effort, I never have to bike more than 1 km (or just over half a mile) to find all the items on my list. Plus, my neighborhood's butcher shop, seafood shop, cheese shop, flower shop, and pet shop (to name just a few) easily allow me to shop local and interact with store owners who are (usually) more than happy to help me make the best selection for my needs.

Lastly, there's the bike situation. This one is mostly love. I love being able to hop on my bike to go shopping. I love relying on my own legs to get me where I need to go, and I love getting exercise and fresh air while doing so. I also love that only being able to carry so much means that the husband and I buy groceries more frequently, and that this results in us buying more fresh foods.

There are times, of course, when I hate it. This mostly happens when it's raining, my bike decides to give me troubles, or I have a long list of items to buy resulting in multiple trips back to the flat. Like that one time I was planning a wedding and had to get ten vases back to our flat without breaking them. In the rain. Uphill both ways. Ok, maybe that last part wasn't true, but at that moment I was in the thick of my hate relationship with Amsterdam shopping. Thankfully, these times are few and far between. Usually, I'm the girl with my tote full of goods, slightly annoyed from going to a variety of stores, but mostly just happy to biking home in my new neighborhood.





3/10/2014

An Experiment in Oil Pulling


I'm not usually one to hop on the natural remedy train. I have nothing against natural remedies, herbal healers and the like, but the feeling I get is that it takes a lot of research and money to do it right. Lately, however, I've been reading about oil pulling and feeling very inspired. For those of you who are absolutely clueless like I was the first time I heard the term, oil pulling is an ancient Ayurvedic remedy that reportedly pulls toxins from your body by swishing oil around in your mouth. Yes, it sounds a bit strange, but it is claimed to have a whole slew of health benefits.

Want to whiten your teeth and fight bad breath? Try oil pulling.
Want to prevent cavities, gum disease, and gingivitis? Oil pulling works for that too.
Want to clear up your acne or improve your complexion? Pull that oil.
Want to fight migraines, sinus infections, arthritis or joint pain? Swish some oil around your mouth.
Want to improve your overall immunity? I think you know what to do.

I know this sounds pretty spectacular, but the more I read, the more benefits I discover. Plus, I've yet to find something negative about it (except maybe that the feeling of oil in your mouth isn't the most pleasant thing ever). For me, the main reason for trying oil pulling is to see if it can curb my migraines. I've suffered from migraines for as long as I can remember and, frankly, I'm pretty sick of the pain and my reliance on prescription medication to ease said pain. I also won't complain if it whitens my teeth and improves my complexion.

So, how do you do it? 

It's pretty easy, actually. Start with an empty stomach and drink one cup of cold water. Next, put one teaspoon to one tablespoon of oil in your mouth and swish it around for twenty minutes. Swish vigorously, but resist the urge to swallow or the toxins will go back into your body. If you feel your mouth is getting full, just spit a little out into the toilet or the trash (spitting it into the sink can clog your pipes). When the twenty minutes are up, spit the oil out (again, into the toilet or the trash) ... And that's it, folks!


What kind of oil should you use? 

A variety of cold-pressed oils will do. I've chosen to use coconut oil, but sesame, sunflower, and olive oil are acceptable as well. It might be important to note that when you buy the oil, it comes in a solid, waxy form. It may feel a bit strange when you first put the oil in your mouth, but it soon turns to liquid and can be swished around easily.

For my experiment in oil pulling, I plan to do it every morning for the next two weeks. I'll check in every few days to document my process and let you know whether I see any results. If anyone else is interested in giving it a try with me, please let me know! I'd love to have some company.




3/04/2014

One tiny, seemingly insignificant, life-changing decision.

It's incredible to look back at your life and trace the steps it took to get you to a specific moment. Most often there is a chain of events that led you in a certain direction; a multitude of intertwined decisions that, when all working together, brought you to where you are today. But every once in a while, you can pinpoint one tiny, seemingly insignificant thing you did that made a huge difference. For me, that tiny, seemingly insignificant thing was bringing earplugs to a handsome, sleepy traveler as he relaxed in a hammock.

Let me back up a bit.

This is me at Erawan Falls, three years ago today.

After teaching in South Korea for a year, I decided to take the long way home by spending nearly six months winding my way through Southeast Asia and Europe. My first stop was Thailand, and by March 5, 2011, I had been in the country for about six weeks. The first two weeks were spent traveling with my parents. We visited temples and got daily massages in Bangkok, zip-lined in the jungle and visited the night market in Chiang Mai, and soaked up the sun and relaxed on the beaches of Phuket. The next four weeks were spent volunteering at the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project (GRP) in the tiny village of Bang Rong in Phuket. Here, I woke up early to feed small apes and clean their cages, learned and taught others about wildlife conservation, and camped in the wilderness with minimal supplies. The experiences I had in Thailand were exciting to say the least, and transformative if we're being completely honest. Yet little did I know that the most life-changing moment of all was yet to come.

Exactly three years ago today, I was traveling with a girl I barely knew. She was the childhood friend of a mutual friend who was supposed to be traveling with us, but who was stuck in Korea because of a broken leg. This situation left me in charge of planning the rest of our Thailand trip, and because I had been to a handful of Thailand's must-see places with my parents, I decided we should go to Kanchanaburi, a destination a little more off the beaten track, and recommended to me by one of the Thai employees at the GRP.

We stayed in Kanchaburi for only two nights, signing up for an excursion to visit Erawan Falls and the bridge over the River Kwai on our only full day. There were a handful of other travelers on this excursion, and throughout the day we mingled with them as we walked along and swam in the waterfalls, enjoyed a lunch of Thai noodles, and visited the Burma Railway, learning about the 100,000 Asian civilian workers and prisoners of war that died during its construction. At the end of the excursion, a few of us decided to take the train the whole way back to the city. A handsome French/Dutch traveler and I were two of those people, so we, along with an Italian couple and a Japanese girl, talked away the afternoon as we admired Thailand's lush scenery from the train's hard, wooden benches and reveled in the warm breeze floating through the open windows.

This is the husband sitting on the Burma Railway, three years ago today.

The handsome traveler and I were staying at the same guesthouse, so our conversation continued as we walked back from the train station. When we arrived, we were invited to a dinner planned by some of the other travelers on the excursion. We both accepted the invitation, and so our conversation continued into the evening, through dinner, down the street to a bar, and finishing with a walk back to the guesthouse.

As the night came to an end we said our goodbyes, wishing each other good luck for our travels. We were both leaving Kanchanaburi the next day to head to Thailand's southern islands. I returned to my room, feeling very content after a day full of exploration and good conversation. But then, just as I was about to put in the earplugs that I rely on for a good night's sleep, I remembered that the handsome traveler had complained about being kept up the night before by his noisy neighbors. Looking out the window, I saw him relaxing in a hammock, and decided to go out and give him a pair of earplugs to ensure that he would get a good night's sleep as well.

And that was it. That was it! That tiny, seemingly insignificant decision I made to bring earplugs to a handsome, sleepy traveler ended up being the most important, life-changing moment of my life. For as I approached the hammock, the handsome traveler reached out his hand, placed it on the back of my head, and kissed me. And from that kiss stemmed emails, a few days on the Thai island of Ko Tao, a week in Bali, a weekend in France, two years of trips to Minnesota and Amsterdam, emails and video calls, a wedding, and now a life together. I never could've imagined that this tiny decision would be the best one I ever made ... but it was!

Now as I mentioned before, there is often a chain of events that create your life's path, and this is certainly true for this story as well. My dad, for example, likes to take credit for getting me to Asia in the first place. You see, he was the one who showed me the link to a job opportunity and encouraged me to act on it. Also, had it not been for my parents' trip to Thailand, I probably wouldn't have ended up in Kanchanaburi at all. In fact, had I not volunteered at the GRP and acted on the recommendation from an employee there, I wouldn't have gone to Kanchanaburi either. And then, of course, there is my friend who broke her leg. Had she not injured herself on a pre-school sledding field trip (true story), thus leaving me in charge of our itinerary and also encouraging me to go to Bali for a week while she recovered on a beach in Cambodia, well, who knows how things would've played out.

But, in the end, regardless of how I got there in the first place, it all comes down to the earplugs. For had I not decided to give them to the handsome, sleepy traveler as he relaxed in the hammock, I wouldn't be living in Amsterdam today, celebrating my three happiest years with the love of my life.





February Grateful

As the second month of my grateful project comes to a close, I find that it only becomes easier for me to express gratitude on a daily basis. In fact, I'm finding that my whole outlook on life has changed as I now look at the world around me through a critical lens of gratitude. Every day I find at least (at least!) one thing to be grateful for, and documenting it is becoming as natural as breathing air. The overarching goal of this project was to keep gratitude at the forefront of my mind, and well, there it is. 


So this month, instead of just looking for things to be grateful for, I also made an attempt to change my perspective and view life's mishaps in a grateful light. A perfect example happened last Friday when, as the husband and I were biking to the city center for a date night, my bike tire went flat. At first I was cranky (this was my fourth flat tire in a matter of months), but then (with a little push from the husband) I decided that not only was I not going to let this mishap ruin the night, I was going to let it improve the night as well. So, we locked up the bikes and started to walk to our destination.

If you've ever been to Amsterdam, you know how magical the city is at night. The streetlights bounce off the cobblestones and dance on the canal waters. The houses look friendly and inviting, with warm, yellow light streaming from their windows. And this night in particular was cool and clear, with a few stars twinkling in the dark sky. As we strolled along the canals, hand in hand, I realized we never would've enjoyed this moment had I not gotten a flat tire. Instead of slowing down the night, we would've biked quickly to the pub, and quickly home again. But that night, our walk led us to stop into a few places we never would have visited had we been on our bikes. We even decided to walk the two miles home, pushing our bikes all the way back to our flat. By the time we crawled into bed, I was grateful for the flat tire and the wonderful evening to which it led.

The funny thing about this story is that, despite how grateful I am that it happened, it didn't even result in a grateful post. In fact, I can't even tell you how many days I've posted a grateful photo only to find myself, later in the day, thinking "Oh! But I'm grateful for this, too!" It seems to me that gratitude increases exponentially, and as I continue this project I find myself not only grateful for a multitude of things every day, but also increasingly grateful that I decided to do this project in the first place.


Previous installment:
January Grateful