Friday, July 20, 2018

Why is Plastic Free / Zero Waste so Hard?

Several years ago, I went through a big plastic-free and zero-waste phase. I even had a blog with weekly tallies of my plastic waste! Over time, while I retained some of those habits (like my reusable take-out container), others gradually slipped away (such as declining straws). So many plastic-ridden things are so ingrained in our culture! I've found it tough for a few reasons to really reduce single-use plastic and other avoidable waste.

Social anxiety

What will the Starbucks barista think of me bringing in my own mug? Is there a protocol about using your own mug there that I don't know?! I have yet to ask the employees at the Elephant's Deli in my office building whether they'll service lunch into my own container - I see them so often and I don't want them to think I'm weird. 

This is a particularly tough one for me; I'm sure for others it is less of a big deal! But cultural norms exist for reasons (sometimes good reasons! sometimes not), and I really have a hard time breaking, or even bending, them. There are waves of social pushback (like recently with straws) that will make declining certain plastics more mainstream, but overall it's not what's expected. 

Instant gratification

I'm getting better at this, but it's soooo easy to just run out to Target or order with two-day free Prime shipping on Amazon, whenever we think of something we'd like to buy! I'm trying to go through the priority of the 5 Rs (hint: it starts with refuse and reduce), and when we do actually "need" (/want) something, to take the the time to look for used items at Goodwill or consignment stores first. 

Sometimes, the time it takes to find something used can feel like forever! I wanted to get a balance bike or tricycle for N, and after only sort of looking (I've never seen one at GW, but kept an eye out there, and I'd been deliberately stopping by the consignment store when it was convenient and not finding one the right size), I very nearly gave up. I hadn't really been looking that long! But finally, after one fortuitous stop on the way somewhere, we found a great trike! 

Accepting the status quo

I grew up with a family that used cloth napkins at the table and cloth towels to clean up. I can't even remember having a roll of paper towels around for occasional use. So for me, that is the status quo and makes it easy to avoid that kind of waste. But I know for plenty of others, paper napkins and paper towels is what they grew up with, so it's hard to think about doing otherwise. Straws, grocery bags, ziplocs - lots of things fall into just using what you're familiar with using. You have to really think outside the box to consider how easy some different options might be.

Being lazy

In the name of sustainability, I've been focusing on transportation alternatives. Although we didn't specifically look at walkability per se when we bought our house, being close to various amenities was definitely in mind, and tons of stuff is within a mile, and even more within a couple miles. Walking might be a little iffy sometimes, but biking is very often feasible. 

Riding a mile or two, even as a not-that-experienced cyclist, is not a big deal. Even slowly, that's maybe 10 minutes, probably closer to 5. But. It feels so much easier to drive! Recently we were meeting people for dinner at Veggie Grill which is one mile away. It was warm, I was tired, whatever. I tried to talk Abe into driving instead of biking as we'd planned. I finally talked myself out of talking out of it, and we biked. And you know what? It was fantastic. It was a warm day but biking creates a breeze, we avoided the street with bad traffic. Seriously didn't regret it at all.

Lack of vigilance

Even with the best of intentions, if you look away while your groceries are being bagged, you might end up with a plastic bag. Go get ice cream, and you might get a cup and spoon before you can ask for a cone. Even if you make avoiding plastic your default, it still isn't the default of society in general, and you've got to be on top of things when other people are involved, and trash will become your responsibility.

Unfortunately, I don't think there's an easy answer to any of these challenges, beyond - be motivated and pay attention! You need to think through and solidify your reason and motivation (for me, it's very much about the recycling crisis), and then you have to stay diligent! Hopefully our small actions will eventually add up to a societal level change - but we have to stick to those small actions for it to happen! 

Linking up today with Fairytales and Fitness and Running on Happy for Friday Five 2.0

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Toastmasters: #PlasticFreeJuly

There's a "curriculum" so to speak, for Toastmasters, and you follow the outlined projects by completing speeches (and other leadership projects) to achieve certain levels of accomplishment. You can just give any random speech (and people do that most often when they're practicing for some event - like a work presentation or wedding toast), but you're encouraged to do a "manual speech" to work towards the goals.

That said, what the projects give you is goals for the presentation of your speech, not the actual content. You can speak about anything! I've found it can actually be kind of challenging to come up with topics - things that are interesting to you, that you know enough about to not require tons of research, and will also be fun for the audience! So when something is going on in your life - like plastic free July - when you're scheduled to give a speech, obviously that's the right topic! 


We can’t just ship everything to China any more. 

You’ve probably seen seen it in the news over the past year or so - we used to ship our recycling overseas to deal with, and they’ve now refused to take it. Items that are recyclable - specifically, plastic - is piling up, and sometimes just being dumped into landfills, because there’s nothing else to do with it. 

With this in mind, a couple weeks ago when I came across the hashtag “Plastic Free July” campaign, to avoid single-use plastics, it was the obvious thing to do. Several years ago I had put some focus on trying to be plastic free and zero waste, but it gradually slipped away - I retained some habits but definitely not all. I was generating my fair share of plastic trash; while it was generally recyclable it was easier to justify, but if it’s only going to the landfill I just can’t do that anymore. 

It’s still definitely a work in process, but there are a few things that are helping me reduce my plastic already: (1) be prepared to avoid plastic by having alternative products or options available, (2) think outside the box as to what’s actually necessary or what you can do instead of a disposable product, and (3) choose simple over convenience, and you might be surprised at what you actually “need”. 

The first thing is to be prepared with reusable stuff! Here are just a few of the things I have - some of these I carry around, like this collapsible container in my purse for leftovers and one stuffable shopping bag. Others I’ll take as needed, like a water bottle or snack bag. Nowadays you can really find lots of options like these readily available, in stores or online; start with replacing whatever you use the most in single-use items - straws, water bottles, coffee cups - and replace that first, then more as you’re able to. 

You can get creative and second-guess yourself as to what is really necessary. For example, maybe you’re used to taking a straw when you get a drink at a restaurant. Do… you really need a straw? Don’t you drink straight from the glass at home? Why not just do that when you’re out as well? You might also need to think outside the box to realize what reusable replacement products are even out there. Buying a glass or metal water bottle is probably obvious at this point, but not everyone knows about solid shampoo bars. Do some looking around and you might find some great products and ideas. 

The last thing I would recommend is simplifying your life. And… simple doesn’t always mean convenient. It’s convenient to go to the store and grab a loaf of bread. But there’s a simplicity - from enjoying the process, being in control of ingredients, as well as reducing waste - to nurturing a sourdough starter and making your own bread each weekend. You may have to re-learn patience - I know I struggle with not having the instant gratification I’m used to! - but you might find your life all the better for it. 

Just by taking some easy steps here and there, you can form new habits, and make bigger steps from there. The result is avoiding plastic trash that will sit in our landfills forever. Unlike organic items that will eventually decompose, plastic just breaks down into smaller pieces of plastic. It gets into our waterways and harms animals, not to mention putting chemicals into the world that negatively impact human health. 

For more ideas and support in forming habits, you can check out, or #plasticfreejuly on social media. Now is truely time for us all to take responsibility and take action.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Week of July 9 - 15: RLRF 5k Training Week 10/10

Race week! Ended up being a crappy race, which I'm planning predominately on the heat. 

On the plus side, I got to the pool twice! 


Monday: Swim 800 yards + yoga (10 min)

Tuesday: Tap class (60 min) + Nike app strength (20 min)

Wednesday: Stroller run 1.5 miles (14:51 pace) + bike 1.2 miles + ballet class (90 min) + core (5 min)

Thursday: Rest day

Friday: Bike 4.5 miles + swim 600 yards

Saturday: Bike 7.75 miles (12.2 mph) + bike 1.6 miles

Sunday: Portland Parks 5k - 36:15 for the official race which was short (2.97), 37:48 with an extra lap around the parking lot for 3.1 per my watch. 

Total swimming: 1,400 yards
Total biking: 15.05 miles
Total running: 4.6 miles

Average daily steps: 11,369
Weight: +32 (no change)

Monday, July 16, 2018

Gabriel Park 5k

Each summer the Portland Parks district does a series of $5 5ks. They're very low key, maybe leave a little to be desired in terms of organization and race-logistics, but, you get what you pay for, right? They are fun, and are a nice small race setting to participate in. 

I did one a couple years ago when pregnant - looking at that race recap after the fact now, it would have been good to have read that before doing this year's 5k - it would have reminded me that (spoiler alert) the route might involve some trail-type terrain and there are sometimes issues with the race setup. 

This time we signed up for Gabriel Park, as it's the nearest park to us. They had a "sprinters" 5k for people expecting to finish under 30 minutes first (Abe did that one), then the regular 5k. (There was also a kids race, but we didn't think N was quite ready to run a whole 1k!)

We arrived about 8:30 and easily found parking at the adjacent community center. We walked right up to get our bibs, and then tried to figure out what the course was. The sign above shows two options - 3 laps of the shorter loop, or 2 laps (actually, not clearly indicated as 2 laps on that sign, I'm realizing now) of the longer loop. I also hadn't seen this "tough runner" designation on any other materials leading up to the race. We finally asked someone at the bib table, who was only semi-helpful but after some prodding was able to tell me that the longer loop was effectively the default course; the shorter loop was if you had a stroller or otherwise wanted a slightly easier course. I decided that I'd do the default/main route.

I hung out on the park playground with N while Abe did his race, then it was my turn! 

At start time, a guy briefly announced about the two loops, but when someone asked to clarify the distances, he stated that the 3-loop course was 5k and the 2-loop course was "just under 5k". Uhh, news to me. If you can't line up the routes to be the same, maybe err on the side of longer than shorter? Or have two starts lines? I get that it's a "fun run", but some of us think fun includes accuracy. At a minimum, maybe disclose ahead of time on your website and signage if your distance won't actually be 5k. I wouldn't have minded doing a 3-mile race if I'd known that ahead of time.

My goal was to be under 11:00 pace - I was around 11:30 at my March 5k, and based on my current training I thought this improvement was feasible. I think it would have been on a comparable course under comparable conditions. (Or at least I'm going to claim that.)

Anyway, the first couple minutes of the race felt fantastic! The loop started off down hill and I was actually seeing sub-10:00 on my watch. Then I realized how hilly the course was, and the varying terrain (the majority was probably paved path, but there were also sections of dirt and sections of gravel). Did I mention it was already 80 degrees?! 

So, I quickly had a hard time keeping up my pace. I kept my first mile under 11:00, but just barely. Then there were more hills, I walked a chunk of the second mile and tried in vain to keep it under 12:00. Then while I occasionally sped up I basically gave up on the third mile. There were two water stations per loop, and I got water all but one time (would have had to wait for more cups to be filled), and also dumped water on my head for the first time in a race both times on the second loop. Icy cold and felt great, but dried too quickly!

As promised (/threatened) at the start line, the 2-lap course was short. My garmin showed 2.97, so a few minutes later I ran a loop around the parking lot to get to 3.1. So on the course itself my time was 36:15 - basically right on par with my March 5k. Stable time for racing in much harder conditions is actually progress, in my mind. But it is kind of frustrating to not actually have hard data that shows that progress explicitly. 

My next race is two half marathons, Portlandia (what's temporarily taking over for the now-defunct Portland Marathon) in October, and Rock n Roll Las Vegas in November. The Rock n Roll weekend will also include a 5k the day before - probably won't go all out on that, but hopefully the half training will improve fitness to the point of a post-baby PR regardless! 

I planned to use whatever this 5k time was to set my training times for half training. I honestly think my fitness will allow a faster time that this would reflect. I think I'll stick with what my goal 5k time had been (34:10 per the Run Less Run Faster pace charts), which would be just under a 2:40 half time. Or at least start there and see how training goes! For it to work, I do know I need to work on improving my speed on my long runs (per the RLRF methodology). 

Friday, July 13, 2018

Plastic-Free Must Haves

Continuing today to discuss #PlasticFreeJuly! Today I have some of the critical reusable alternatives I have on hand to be able to avoid using single-use plastic items. 

I do want to caution to not get caught up in the commercialism of zero-waste! When you're getting into it and excited about the alternatives, it can be easy to go out and buy a bunch of reusable containers and bags and straws. But think first - do you really need it? Do you need a reusable straw or can you just go without? Do you need reusable snack bags, or can you use up (while washing and re-using multiple times!) the ziplocs you already have? But once you need replacements or more, by all means please go buy the durable instead of disposable!

Stuffable grocery bag - I have a bunch of Chico Bags, but there are tons of options like this - the key is one that packs up nice and small so you can always carry it with you! We also have regular grocery bags to take for big shopping trips, but I have the Chico bags stashed all over the place - one's always in my purse, in each car, in the stroller. 

Lined snack bag - These are lined with a plastic-y fabric so they're somewhat water resistant (you could pack a PB&J for sure), but you can throw them in the wash. Great for taking lunch components or snacks. 

Glass straw - You could toss this in your purse to use at restaurants, but primarily I use these for smoothies at home. I would not drink smoothies as often as I do without a straw!

Collapsible food storage - This is also always in my purse! It's from Tupperware but you can also find lots of similar things. It's flat in my purse, then expands to be a doggy bag. No more clamshells or styrofoam. 

Glass water bottle - I'm sure everyone has their favorite water bottle at this point! We have too many, for sure, but my favorite is this little 12 oz one that can fit in my purse (my purse isn't even huge, I swear) to take with me for errands or whatever. 

Linking up today with Fairytales and Fitness and Running on Happy for Friday Five 2.0

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Ramblings on the Meaning of "Weight"

When it comes to being overweight, I've been fortunate to generally have been in functional environments with supportive people (family, doctors) who understand that there are multiple indicators of health, and that merely being "overweight" by pounds or BMI is not the end all be all. 

In fact, one thing that my current doctor said (and this is a statement I've come across in many other sources) when I stated I was trying to lose weight but it was fairly static, and was getting back into exercise was to "don't forget muscle weighs more than fat! If you've increased exercise..." 

I was a little annoyed (though trusted good intentions) because that seems like a real beginner's mistake - if you do enough reading on forums/blogs/etc. about fitness, you definitely come across it, though, folks panicking about the scale not going down - even while mentioning that their clothes fit better or something, they're like "why isn't the scale moving?!" 

And, sure, I get it, as a general rule and in the broader scheme of things, your weight is relevant - a weight of 120 lbs is definitely going to be smaller than 200 lbs! But 120 versus 130? Totally depends on body composition. You might be fit, fat, skinny fat, anything in between. 

But when you've been working out for a couple weeks and you can tell your jeans fit better, why would you freak out that weight hasn't budged yet? Is it not obvious that you've lost fat by the way your clothes fit? Isn't what you really meant by "I want to lose weight" that "I want to be smaller"?

That's what I mean. "I want to lose weight" = I want to be smaller and I want to lose fat. 

I should include a caveat about the whole issue of women being culturally trained to not take up space, and therefore there is an issue with the goal being "I want to be smaller". And an issue with fat-phobia automatically assuming smaller = healthier. But, I want to be smaller because fat (to an extent) isn't healthy, and muscle is more compact than fat.

So not only is weight, in these types of conversations, actually a shorthand (consciously or unconsciously) for size. Size is itself a shorthand for muscle-ness. and Muscle-ness is a shorthand for fitness and health. 

Every once in a while I take several body measurements, as a better indicator of my size. I don't even trust clothing sizes - between vanity sizing and the prevalence of stretchy fabrics, it's not reliable. But the inches around your body are. For example, I hit my peak post-partum weight around 7 months, which was right after my first post-baby tax season. At that point, I was finally able to put some time and energy into exercising and improving my diet. Over one month, I didn't lose any weight - but I lost an inch each around my chest and rib cage. That was progress! 

At this point, where I'm definitely, 110%, carrying excess body fat, I'm still in this frame of mind. Thinking ahead to when I reach my goal weight/size, though, I've been influenced lately by spending some time on r/xxfitness - there's a heavy (no pun intended) focus on weight lifting, and when you're at a low-ish body fat and building muscle - you might increase in size! But it's a total increase in muscle and not in fat, and definitely an increase in body strength and performance, in fitness and health! People post there about their progress and having to go up a size in pants because of building their glutes. 

I feel like it's similar to the losing weight versus losing size and overly relying on the scale --> replacing fat versus building muscle and overly relying on the size. Right now, I have enough excess fat that I'm decreasing fat while increasing muscle, and the net impact is still reducing size. At a certain point, though, I don't want to stop building muscle just because I've reached a low healthy body fat! Yet it's still hard to wrap my head around increased fitness could result in a bigger size.

Even if I haven't fully internalized it yet, I think I'm in a better place though because of being exposed to the idea that bigger is better, though. I've never had significant body image issues, but you can't help but be impacted by our society to some degree. 

As much as I state - and believe - that my goals are based on improving my health, of course it's also about liking the way I look, which is largely based on society's standards. I think the idea of muscular women is starting to become a positive societal standard, at least in some circles. I don't like the whole "strong is the new skinny" - because that's just replacing judgment on one criteria with judgment by another criteria. But having it be an option that's viewed positively is great.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Week of July 2 - 8: RLRF 5k Training Week 9/10

I really feel like I'm seeing progress with my running - on both the speedwork and a fast finish on the long run, I nailed the paces, and just in time for the race! One more week...


Monday: Stroller run 2.8 miles (14:04 pace, 70* and surprisingly breezy, late afternoon, 170 spm)

Run was to pick up some baking pans I got from my Buy Nothing group. Besides the whole re-using thing, and getting things for free thing, what's awesome is that they set up the groups to be "hyper local", so it's convenient to coordinate with folks (and it's your neighbors that you're interacting with). 

Tuesday: Tap class (60 min) + Nike app strength (15 min)

Wednesday: Bike 5.0 miles + ballet barre video (35 min) + core (5 min)

ThursdayRestorative yoga (30 min)

Friday: Swim 700 yards + family hike 1 mile + speedwork run 4.65 miles (13:17 pace, 75* and high noon, 164 spm) 

Run goal: wu, 3 x 1 miles @ < 11:00 with 0.25 recoveries, cd
Actual: 0.5 warm up, 10:43, 0.25 walk, 10:33, 0.25 walk, 10:48, 0.65 cool down

I got out for the run much later in the morning than would have been ideal, so to cope with the heat I stuck to a walk instead of jog for the recovery intervals. But I'm pretty impressed with myself for keeping up the pace on the running nonetheless!

Saturday am: Bike 3 miles + park Zumba class (40 min)
Saturday pm: Bike 2 miles + yoga (20 min)

Sunday: Long run 5.0 miles (13:00 avg pace, 73* and sunny, late morning, 176 spm)

Run goal: 5 miles with a fast finish - last two <12:00
Actual: 13:47, 14:17, 13:52, 11:43, 11:22

As I've mentioned, keeping up the combined speed and endurance on long runs (per the RLRF plan) has been challenging! So challenging I basically gave up on it and just doing the mileage at whatever pace. But as a sort of working towards that idea, I've been adding on fast finishes - did just one mile last week, but the last two miles this week! I was even just under 11:00 for the first half of the last mile but couldn't keep it up the rest of the way.

Total swimming: 700 yards
Total biking: 10.00 miles
Total running: 12.45 miles

Average daily steps: 15,286
Weight: +32 (no change)
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