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Disclosure: I am a happy paying member of Ridwell. I am extraordinarily annoyed at every waste management company’s attempts to stop Ridwell from recycling items they refuse to/are to lazy to recycle (which also stops Ridwell from redistributing still-useful items). Some of the companies have threatened to sue or actually have sued.

Maybe you’re like me: I try to avoid excess plastic with my purchases when I can, I try to patronize businesses that try to avoid plastic, I don’t use the plastic produce bags. Yet neither of us can avoid generating any plastic waste at all–and for us (for me, at least) it’s not a realistic option. We can’t choose how our prescriptions are packaged (we can’t even avoid the totally unnecessary plastic birth control pill dispensers). We can’t choose a “plastic alternative” if we need to use an ostomy appliance or get a blood transfusion or need to be intubated. We can’t opt out of plastic

Curbside Recycling?

KNOW THE RULES! I’ve lived in multiple houses, dorms, and apartments in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Texas, California, and Oregon. In each place the rules for recycling varied wildly, sometimes differing dramatically from one town to the next one a few miles over. If you have access to curbside recycling (I remember in one place it was optional and cost extra–WTF??) I hope you’re both using it AND using it correctly. For most of my life to determine whether I could recycle a plastic I had to look at the logo with the arrows and see what number it was; mostly, #1 and #2 were a go, and the rest were a no.

Imagine my surprise when I moved (back) to Portland, only to discover that in Portland, the numbers are irrelevant and it is the shape of the container that matters!

Size and shape determine what’s recyclable in Portland, Oregon (image by City of Portland)

According to the official website for the City of Portland, “When sorting your plastics, ignore the recycle symbol and number: Plastics recycling in Portland is based on the size and shape of the item. Please rinse containers. They do not need to be perfectly clean, but should be free of food residue and dry before they go in your bin.” Um, really? Yes, really.

Oregon Metro explains it this way: Ignore the numbers. Ignore the arrows. Sort by shape. These items are OK in your recycling container–rinse thoroughly.

Plastic bottles, jugs and jars 6 ounces or larger, any container with a threaded neck (for a screw-on lid) or neck narrower than the base. This includes milk jugs, peanut butter jars, and bottles that held personal care and cleaning products (shampoo, laundry soap, etc.).

Round plastic containers that can hold 6 ounces or more, with a wider rim than base, and typically contain products such as salsa, margarine, cottage cheese, hummus, etc. (no drink cups).

Planting/nursery pots larger than 4 inches in diameter and made of rigid (rather than crinkly or flexible) plastic. Remove any loose dirt. 

Buckets 5 gallons or smaller. Handles are OK. 

(Incidentally: the fact that I can put something into my recycling bin does not mean it is, actually, factually, really, truly, recycled. Given the absolutely abysmal rate at which plastics are recycled–check out what Consumer Reports has to say about how little plastic was recycled in 2018–I doubt it’s very much. It didn’t get better when China started to refuse loads of plastics from the U.S. It didn’t get better during the global pandemic. I’d love Waste Management, my curbside provider, to provide data on when, where, and how much of the collected plastic is recycled. Unfortunately, that transparency remains lacking.)

What I Can Recycle in NE Portland

Okay, so both in Portland and the Oregon Metro area, I can avoid using a decent amount of recyclable plastic. I use shampoo bars, Blueland hand soap and toilet cleaner, and Dropps laundry products and dishwasher soap; I put my plastic deposit containers into a blue charity fundraiser bag and take them to a Bottle Drop drop-off location (like at the grocery store).These cover the main categories of what I can put into my recycling bin. I’m a bit stuck when it comes to some of the things that come in plastic tubs.

What I CANNOT Recycle? Everything else. According to Metro, that’s:

Any plastic that is not shaped like a bottle, round tub, bucket, or jug :

  • NO plastic bags or plastic film of any type: pallet wrap, bubble wrap, stretch wrap (think: Amazon bubble mailers, the air cushions in packages)
  • NO plastic caps or lids
  • NO plastic 6 pack can holders (all types, including rigid plastic)
  • NO plastic take-out food containers and disposable plates, cups, and cutlery
  • NO prescription medicine bottles and other plastic containers under 6 oz (think: no contact lens solution, no travel-sized anything)
  • NO disposable plastic or latex gloves
  • NO bottles that have come in contact with motor oil, pesticides or herbicides, or other hazardous materials
  • NO hoses, ropes, or cords

Some of these things are avoidable, but others are not. Just try to buy a loaf of bread (the regular sliced kind, not the fancy artisan rock-hard-in-two-days kind) without a plastic bag. Or a jug of milk without a cap. It’s not like you can order online and avoid bubble wrap or “plastic pillows” entirely.

Ridwell: Supplemental Recycling

Since I can’t avid plastic bags or film, plastic lids/caps, and many of the other items, what’s a smart woman to do? Join Ridwell.

My Ridwell box

Ridwell is essentially a supplemental recycling service. Every two weeks they pick up plastic film (that’s bubble wrap, bread bags, etc.), batteries (which should never go into a landfill or dump as they release chemicals that form a hazardous toxic soup), light bulbs (samesies!), and “threads” (clothing, fabric, shoes). These are part of my core service, and I paid around $100-125 for an entire year of service (26 pickups). I have a porch box, and a (washable, reusable) cloth bag for each of the core categories. If I have more stuff than my porch box can hold, I can add a bag for $1. I also have the option to add a (separate) bag of plastic clamshells (like strawberries come in at the grocery store) for $1, a large bag of styrofoam pieces for $9, or fluorescent light tubes (starts at $4).

In addition, each pickup has a “featured items” category. A few things I remember in that category: crayons, Halloween candy, corks (like from wine bottles), metal bottle caps, plastic bottle caps, prescription medicine bottles, holiday lights, winter coats, electronics, school supplies, sports equipment, bicycles and bike equipment, diapers, bread bag tags, toiletries, kids books, non-perishable food. There have been more. It includes many hard to recycle plastics. Many of these items are not recycled, because they are still reusable; so they are distributed to non-profit partners in my area.

Three of my Ridwell bags–the categories I use most.

Ridwell sends customers a newsletter with information on what percentage of the core categories gets recycled. There’s also a blog with articles about Ridwell’s activities, and my account page links to a page about the Ridwell partners in Portland, such as PDX Diaper Bank, Children’s Book Bank, and WashCo Bikes.

So, for example, in May I got an email that informed me: ” You packed our warehouse sky high with clean, compressed #1 PET plastic. Together, we diverted over 112,000 lbs (>56 Tons) of clamshell plastic waste from landfills. Instead, the clamshells were recycled by our partner, Green Impact, and given a second life as 2 million new containers, protecting your favorite berries and snacks. This is all thanks to 25,000 Portland members, like you. Happy Clamiversary!” It also had a link where I could learn more about Green Impact. This is one of many such emails I have gotten from Ridwell. Transparency matters. (Too bad Portland’s contracted waste haulers are too busy protesting Ridwell to let their customers know where the recycling actually goes, eh?)

By the way, if Ridwell operates where you are, I think I still have a few opportunities to give you one month of free Ridwell. Drop a comment, and then shoot me an email.

Other Supplemental Recycling in Portland: James

Maybe you can’t get Ridwell where you live. I hope you have another option like James’ Neighborhood Recycling Service. James is a Portland resident who works in certain neighborhoods here. He runs a pick-up service and operates at community events. James can take all sorts of plastics for recycling, including things like cassette tapes, empty contact lens blister packs, styrofoam, straws, plastic utensils, and more. He takes electronics like batteries, lightbulbs, power cords, laptops, and more. James also accepts some other unusual, hard to recycle items including: wine corks, cereal bag liners, toothpaste tubes, floss containers, toothbrushes (non-electrical), inkjet and toner cartridges, pumps (from lotion, hand soap, etc.) and spray nozzles from non-hazardous products.

If you’re not in Portland, try running a search for local recycling options, community recycling, or similar. You might even have a zero waste group in your area that operates on Facebook, NextDoor, or another social media platform.

Plastic Film Recycling–Near You?

Avoiding plastic film is really difficult. (Bread bags, bubble wrap, etc.) Check out Plastic Film Recycling for more information and resources. To find a drop-off location to recycle plastic film, try the drop-off directory. (I found 160 locations near me, searching by zip code.) The directory also has a page for what falls into this category (yes to product wraps, air pillows, and plastic mailers) and what is excluded (no to frozen food bags, “compostable” bags, and six-pack rings).

If it seems like a pain in the butt to make a special trip for a handful of bread bags, why not reach out to your neighbors? If you have kids, they could turn it into a community service project with their Brownie Troop, Cub Scout pack, church youth group, school, or other organization.

Disclosure: I am a paying member of Caveday. The link in this post is an affiliate link; while using it does not cost you more, it may result in a reward for me.

I’m not sure about you, but I feel like the pandemic broke my focus. I’m not talking about productivity–the cult of peak productivity, much like the cults of inbox zero and work-life balance, promotes an unattainable ideal.

(c) Styled Stock Society

It’s not like there are more distractions (email and social media have always been there) but more that I’ve become more distract-able. Perhaps the lack of in-office interactions and sounds led my brain to be on higher alert for the in-home ones, or the initial days of the pandemic trained me to always be on the lookout for the next update regarding the virus or the vaccines. Maybe not seeing people in person made me crave more online interactions. Whatever the cause, the ability to sit and work on one project continuously sort of evaporated. How is it that I spent hours in the library reading hundreds of pages during law school, but suddenly I had the attention span of a gnat?

No attention span = not a good look for someone whose work requires focus and presence. After adding more quiet, device-free, screen-free time to my day, I started looking for tools to help my focus during the work day. There isn’t a quick fix, of course. In my experience, mental focus is like a muscle that needs a workout to build strength and endurance. I’ve found two tools that work like dumbbells.

What Is Caveday?

A recent New York Times article described Caveday as “paying strangers to watch you work.” (You can read that article HERE if you missed it.) This hasn’t been my experience at all. Sure, you’re joining a Zoom call and most members choose to keep their cameras on, but it’s not so much that anyone is watching you–I mean I’m sure as heck not watching anyone else–but that you’re all there working together. Think of it like a virtual office or a timed team exercise.

(c) Styled Stock Society

A “sprint” lasts one hour. You can sign up for one or more sprints, with the “three sprint cave” being a popular option. The entire schedule for the week (and a decent amount of schedule beyond the week) is on the booking section of the Caveday website. I typically sign up for two sprints back-to-back and then have a planned break (out of the cave), as I’ve found three caves back-to-back is pretty draining for me. Since I have calls and meetings, I plan my caves around those each day. If your schedule is more rigid, you might choose to sign up for the same schedule each week (you have the option to make a repeat booking of the same time and day).

You DO need your own Zoom account, tied to the email you used to register with Caveday, but it does not have to be a paid account. Sign into Zoom first, then click the link to join your sprint.

How it starts. When you arrive, the sprint’s guide will welcome you and offer tips to first-timers. Members typically change their screen name to “First Name | Location | Project Description.” Next, some sprints have a breakout room where you can check in with a few other participants; typically there is an ice-breaker question as well as the opportunity to share what you are working on. Breakout rooms are optional. If there isn’t a breakout room, or you decide not to participate, you’ll likely have the opportunity to check in via the chat function. The guide will count down to the beginning and will generally choose a gesture to begin the cave, such as a high-five to your camera or a clap. After that, you’re “in the cave.”

(c) Styled Stock Society

How it goes. While you are “in the cave,” you work on your one project. No one is watching or paying attention (though most of us stay on camera) but the designated guide is there if you have technical difficulties or other questions. Do your one thing.

How it ends. At the end of the designated sprint–usually 50ish minutes of work time–there’s a pleasant chime or musical sound, and the guide will encourage you to share your accomplishments in the chat box. The guide will typically also lead the group in a stretch or other movement. I think this is pretty brilliant, as I’ve found I need to get up and move (especially in the afternoons) to continue to turn out good work. There’s a short break (just enough time to hit the bathroom or refresh your drink) before the next sprint, so you do have some extra time to move around. Some people leave, some people arrive. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Principles of the Cave.

Eliminate distractions. The idea of the cave is to monotask. Put away your cell phone, turn off email notifications, close the extra tabs on the browser. Whatever distractions are available to you, handle them before the cave. Set up everything you need so you are ready to go.

Arrive on time. There’s something to be said for everyone starting together. It’s like you’re all on a team, just doing different aspects of the project. I feel oddly more committed to a cave when I’m there from the very beginning, from the check in. If you arrive late, the guide can choose not to admit you.

(c) Styled Stock Society

Do ONE thing. Well, one thing at a time. (I’ve often had two tasks to work on, each anticipated to last less than an hour, but I do them one at a time.) The idea is monotask. (After all that glorification of “multitasking,” it turns out multitasking is a myth.) People work on all sorts of things from discrete, defined, quantifiable tasks (“write x pages/words”), to a step of a bigger project (“outline argument for brief”), to an activity (“clean the upstairs bathroom”). Some people have a list of things that need to be done and they work through the list, one at a time. You can use the time to do pretty much anything.

Move when you break. We all know that sitting for hours on end is not in our best interest. I’m betting most people don’t act on that advice. (Same with the advice about taking time to look into the distance for 20 seconds after a long period of staring at a screen.)

Caveday: Why I Like It

It’s a game. For me, this makes working on something more like a game with rules: eliminate distractions, show up, commit to an hour, do one thing. I’m sure a lot of people are thinking, “um, can’t you just do this anyway?” Sure, theoretically. But there’s something about getting together with other people who are doing the same thing–one hour of focused work–that changes the game for me. It sounds dumb when I say it out loud. I don’t care. It works for me.

It’s like external self-discipline. Someone else is in charge of watching the clock and reminding me to stop and move. It’s not like anyone else is going to check up on what I got done though–but I do like to have a “win” to put in the chat box at the end of the sprint.

It’s flexible. I’ve been known to work non-traditional “office hours.” Caveday operates across time zones. This coming Thursday, for example, there are sprints scheduled from midnight-thirty to 6 p.m. (ending at 7 p.m.). It’s pretty easy for me to book two for the morning and two for the evening, guaranteeing four hours of focused work.

(c) Styled Stock Society

It’s something different. I like that it gives me the opportunity to interact with people who are working on something completely unrelated to what I’m doing. People make friends via Caveday and there is a robust community forum. One of the forum sections is “asks and offers” and people trade expertise and experience there. Maybe you need someone to test your app, for example. I’ve also learned some tricks and tips from other members. (It’s how I found brain.fm for example–separate post forthcoming.)

Bonuses. Caveday is also experimenting with “community caves” (that’s a scheduled small group cave without a guide) and “solo caves” (a sort of on-demand experience). There are even designated “procrastination” caves where members work on something they have been putting off or avoiding.

Special Offer: If you use this link here you can choose from one of three offers. (1) A free three-sprint cave. (2) $1 for one month of membership. (3) Three months for $40.

It is the end of summer, and my favorite fall weather is on the way! While I don’t miss paying tuition, I do miss back to school shopping…maybe I’ll treat myself to a new backpack. If you’re not training for a fall marathon, or if you had to drop out of the marathon you hoped you’d run (darned COVID-19), the end of summer is the perfect time to seek out a new challenge. This year it seems like everyone and their brother is hosting a fall charity challenge. I’ve gathered up a few of them that might interest you (and maybe your dog, too?).

STEPtember

  • The Challenge: 10,000 steps per day
  • The Cause: Funds raised during support Cerebral Palsy Alliance Research Foundation (CPARF), the foremost nonprofit in the world focusing on research and innovation for cerebral palsy.
  • More: https://www.steptember.us/

100 Mile Challenge

  • The Challenge: run/walk 100 miles
  • The Cause: Stop Soldier Suicide provides a proactive approach, meeting individuals where they are. The team provides personalized care and continued case management, with met health support, housing assistance, resources, and referrals among other services.
  • More: https://stopsoldiersuicide.org/facebook-challenges and https://stopsoldiersuicide.org/

32 Mile Dog Walk Challenge

  • The Challenge: walk 32 miles with your dor
  • The Cause: FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education)
  • More: https://www.foodallergy.org/ (search facebook for the challenge form)

Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

Run Across America Fall Frenzy

  • The Challenge: choose your goal
  • The Cause: End hunger. Funds raised go to Feeding America, which delivers more than 4 billion meals each year to people facing hunger in communities across the country; they are continuing to meet the increased need brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic
  • More: https://nationwiderun.org/ and https://www.facebook.com/nationwiderun/

Pushups for PanCan

  • The Challenge: 20 push-ups a day
  • The Cause: Funds raised go to Pancreatic Cancer Action Network which provides support and education to individuals facing pancreatic cancer, and leads large-scale, groundbreaking research initiatives to change the way pancreatic cancer is detected and treated
  • More: https://pancan.org/ and https://www.facebook.com/pancan (search Facebook for signup form)

The Million Mile 2022

  • The Challenge: run, walk, or cycle with others to reach one million miles
  • The Cause: Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation’s mission is to change the lives of children with cancer through funding impactful research, raising awareness, supporting families, and empowering everyone to help cure childhood cancer.
  • More: https://www.alexslemonade.org/campaign/the-million-mile-2022

Run-Walk-Roll Steptember Challenge for Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month

  • The Challenges: (1) run/walk/roll 110 miles; (2) 2200 lunges; (3) climb 110 flights of stairs; (4) 2200 box jumps/step ups
  • The Cause: The GALEA Foundation supports law enforcement personnel with healthy avenues for engagement.
  • More: https://www.galeafoundation.org/ and ttps://www.facebook.com/galeafoundation

150 Mile Cycle Challenge

  • The Challenge: cycle 150 miles
  • The Cause: The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society is the largest funder of cutting-edge research to advance cures. LLS is the leader in advancing breakthroughs in immunotherapy, genomics, and personalized medicine.
  • More: https://www.facebook.com/LLSusa/ and https://www.lls.org/

The 40 Mile Dog Walk Challenge

  • The Challenge: walk your dog 40 miles
  • The Cause: September is Muscular Dystrophy awareness month. A caring and concerned group of families started Muscular Dystrophy Association in 1950, and continues to relentlessly pursue their promise to transform the lives of people living with muscular dystrophy, ALS and related neuromuscular diseases, through research, care and advocacy.
  • More: https://www.facebook.com/MDAOrg and https://www.mda.org/

The Great Cycle Challenge

  • The Challenge: choose your distance
  • The Cause: “Riding to fight kids’ cancer.” Funds raised go to the Children’s Cancer Research Fund, a national nonprofit dedicated to ending childhood cancer. Since 1981 CCRF has contributed over $200 million to research, support programs for children and families, and education and awareness outreach.
  • More: https://greatcyclechallenge.com/ and https://www.facebook.com/GreatCycleChallengeUSA/

108 Miles/30 Foods in 30 Days

The September Challenge

60 Mile Challenge

  • The Challenge: walk 60 miles, representing the 60 women diagnosed with ovarian cancer each day
  • The Cause: Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance is on a mission to cure ovarian cancer, advocate for patients, and support survivors
  • More: https://www.facebook.com/OCRAHOPE and https://ocrahope.org/

38 Miles for NICU Awareness Month

Are you up for a challenge this fall? What are you going to try? If I missed your favorite fall challenge, drop a link in the comments!

Disclosure: I bought these products with my own money, because I wanted to try them. I’m writing about them because I like them. Affiliate links are clearly identified. (If you use one, there’s no cost to you; I may receive a small compensation.) Also HEY! Look at me getting a “Plastic-Free July” post out during the month of July for the first time ever!

Replace Disposables with Reusables: The Zip-Top Bag

Stasher bags drying on a rack

Single use Ziploc-style bags may seem innocent, but they produce a TON of waste. One source does the math like this: “The average United States family uses 500 Ziploc bags each year. With 325,719,178 people living in the United States as of July 2017, and an average family size of 2.8 people, that means that the United States alone uses an average of 58,164,139 Ziploc bags per year.” (internal citations omitted) The number might be even higher; this blog cites the EPA for 100 billion such bags used per year. This isn’t to pick on Ziploc–a brand name owned by Dow Chemical–because Glad’s Flex n’ Seal, and Hefty’s Slider Freezer, and Target’s Up and Up, and every other brand of single-use zipper-top bag is just as bad for the environment. It’s not just their creation–plastic bags are made from crude oil, the manufacturing process can include trips through multiple countries, and their production and transportation create greenhouse gas emissions. While zipper bags are theoretically recyclable–the Ziploc bag website loves to tout how they can be recycled–you can’t just throw them into the recycling bin (if you even have recycling bins). The percentage of bags recycled is super tiny, maybe as low as 0.2% of bags used.

A stack of Stasher Bags

Stasher. Single-use plastic baggies–whether zipper type or not–are simply not your best choice in the vast majority of circumstances. (Nothing is an absolute in this world.) I’ve started to use Stasher bags instead. Stasher is made from food-grade platinum silicone, and made to meet the higher EU food package standards. In addition to food storage, you can use Stasher bags to cook (they are safe for the microwave, stovetop use like sous vide, and more). Stasher holds up to the freezer and the fridge. I prefer to wash mine by hand in hot, soapy water (I got a drying rack with the discount bundle I bought) but you can also put them in the dishwasher.

While some will argue silicone is plastic, it is made from silica (you know, like sand) and not from fossil fuel materials. Stasher bags are reusable and have sturdy seals (but don’t turn them inside out–it puts too much stress on the seal). Even if your puppy manages to get a hold on one and chew up the seal, you can still use the bag for storage (you just can’t seal it up). Once your bag is totally useless (maybe the pupper did more than chew up the seal?) you can even send it to Stasher for recycling through their partnership with Terracycle. No plastic baggie company does that.

A Stasher bag (rear) and a Stasher bowel (front)

Stasher comes in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. Some bags stand up, others do not; some Stasher bags are more like bowls. You can find them online, in stores like Target, and in some grocery stores. The only downside is that Stasher bags cost a lot more than plastic baggies (but they also last a lot longer too!). My first was a snack sized bag in blue, and I paid about $10. (That was five years ago; I still have it.) You can get a better deal by choosing a set, or subscribing to their email and stalking the sales. Stasher donates a part of each sale to non-profits like Surfrider, and the Emeryville-based employees pitch in to community service projects like the Save the Bay waterways cleanups.

Ready to try Stasher? Use my affiliate link HERE to get 20% off of your first order.

Beyond Stasher. There are multiple other brands of reusable bags you can try beyond Stasher. Not all are created equal–some are less sturdy construction, others cannot be recycled. Investigate before you buy.

Replace Disposables with Reusables: The Shopping Bag

One of my first Chico Bags, still kicking (carabiner still works)

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably know that single-use plastic shopping bags are a major source of pollution. What you probably don’t know is that paper bags actually aren’t that much better. The BBC points out some fun facts in this article, including that it takes more energy to make a paper bag, the extra weight of paper bags uses more fossil fuel to move them around, and paper bags need to be reused four times to make them more environmentally friendly than a single-use plastic bag–and it might not be durable enough to last that long. The Flexible Packaging Association reached similar conclusions–which you might expect, since they make plastic bags. The Columbia Climate School also reached similar conclusions about paper versus plastic, and noted that cotton tote bags aren’t that much better. One thing everyone agrees on: reusing a bag of any kind is better than getting a new one.

The Ben & Jerry’s bag on the left is a bit larger than the original Chico bag, and made with recycled fabric

The key to choosing a shopping bag, then, is to pick one you will re-use. (That’s in addition to choosing one that will last a long time, and not end up in a landfill.) For most people convenience is a key factor–it’s one reason I try to keep a stack of reusable bags in the trunk of my car–so my advice is to pick bags you like and can put in a handy place. If you don’t drive to get groceries, putting the bags in your trunk won’t help.

Chico Bag. My favorite bags since the early 2000s have been Chico Bags. Initially I purchased a few of the originals, and later I received several co-branded bags as swag. It’s now 2022, and I still have the first bag I purchased. I like that I can throw them in the washing machine (but I won’t gross you out with any data on the germs and such living on your unwashed reusable bags). I’m also particularly fond of their built-in stuff-sacks (you don’t have to fold up the bag, you just stuff it into the pouch) and carabiner clips; I’ve stashed Chico Bags in my backpack and briefcase, and I’ve clipped them to my backpack, handbag, wristlet, and zipper pull.

Professor Nick Sterling inspects one of my original Chico Bags for damage

Original bags, like the kind I have, are made from a durable polyester in bright colors. I think I chose from 4 or 5 colors and paid $8ish for my bags; currently there are 10 colors and one bag $10 on the website. (Go in with some friends on the 25 pack for $200.) The reviews for the original bags have many from others who have had their bags for 10, 12, or 15 years or more–so you don’t have to take my word for it, or rely on Chico Bag’s estimate that one Chico Bag can replace 1,040 single-use bags. The fabric used to make rePETe Chico Bag products is made from recycled plastic bottles (the PET kind, get it?). Chico Bag has come a long way since I first bought their bags. They now make may products other than shopping bags: sling bags, shoulder bags, travel bags, backpacks, reusable snack and sandwich bags, and more.

One of my favorite things about Chico Bags is that they have committed to reducing post-consumer waste through the Zero Waste Pay It Forward program. When your bags are broken (or you’re bored of them) you can send them back to Chico Bags. If they can be reused, they will be given to someone who can use them; if they are truly dead, they will be repurposed or recycled.

Replace Disposables with Reusables: What’s Next?

There are still a few disposable things I’m not willing to swap for reusables. (Toilet paper is one, though I might change my mind.) Where possible, I’m trying to “vote with my dollars” by purchasing durable, reusable items that will last me a long time.

Do you have a favorite disposable/reusable swap? What should I try next?

So far, my holiday gift guides have all revolved around running, sports, and fitness. But what do you get for your favorite person who is owned by a cat? Obviously, something for the cat.

Gifts the Human and Cat Can Enjoy Together

Anything from Purrfect Play. https://purrfectplay.com/ My old cat, Mr. Potter, preferred the wool ping pong balls (they are solid, not hollow). I remember once when Mom was visiting, they played a game for hours: Mom would roll the ball into Mr. Potter’s cardboard box, and Mr. Potter would roll it back out again. My current master, Professor Nick Sterling, rather prefers the wool dust bunnies. There’s usually one under the bed, and one under the dining room table, thought which is where changes every so often. I don’t have a doggo, but I assume the products for puppers are equally awesome. Purrfect Play specializes in toys made of natural materials that are made in the USA. Basically Pam is terrific, her products are quality, and she gives 5% back to animal shelters. So you pretty much cannot go wrong. Support a small business and get the kitty in your life (or your friend’s) some toys.

Professor Nick Sterling, Space Kitty Express customer

Gifts for the Cat Who Just Needs to Get Stoned

Anything from Space Kitty Express. https://spacekittyexpress.com/ Got a cat? You need some Space Kitty Express toys. Especially if your cat doesn’t seem to care for catnip. Before I got Mr. Potter, I assumed all cats liked catnip. Nope, not him. Not regular catnip. Not organic catnip. I even went so far as to get fresh catnip for Mr. Potter, and his response was to pick it out of the bowl and throw it on the floor while berating me for trying to make him eat vegetables. But then my friend Cherylanne and her cat Phasma turned me on to Space Kitty Express. Professor Nick Sterling is partial to silvervine, which I use to refill his Kick Stick, though he also likes the special blend. I also like to give him silvervine sticks, in the hopes he will stop stealing my pens. (Not yet. I’m optimistic though.) He also enjoys the refillable fuzzy mice, while I enjoy one less toy that will end up in the garbage when it loses its scent (because I just refill the mouse, and the Professor acts like it is brand new. If you have any doubt that there are acceptable alternatives to catnip, just check out the Space Kitty Express instagram feed. (Pro tip: that’s also a great place to go if you are having a bad day.) Another small business that deserves your love.

Professor Nick Sterling is definitely innocent.

Gifts for the Discerning Decorator

The Scratchy Ramp. https://scratchypaw.com/product/scratchy-ramp/ Mr. Potter LOVED to scratch, and he took great pains to extensively “personalize” the first sofa I had. (This is why I chose denim slipcovers–easy to mend with old jeans, and automatic shabby chic cred, right?) I thought I’d try to make Professor Nick Sterling at home in the new house by getting him a ramp (he previously used a stack of boxes as stairs up to the bed) but he was NOT at all interested in using this ramp to get up to the bed, so I thought it was going to be a fail. Turns out he just needed to be incentivized to scratch on it (I sprinkled it with some catnip alternatives from Space Kitty Express). I also learned he prefers horizontal scratching (whereas Mr. Potter preferred vertical scratching). Currently the ramp is flattened out and held aloft by a cube storage unit from Target in front of a window, great for birb-watching and hissing-out the neighborhood cats. It’s scratched on daily and shows no wear after a year. The new model has a replaceable carpet deck. They also have a 30-day return period, so if your cat hates it (unlikely), you can send it back. I don’t know if it is still going on, but I saw there was two-for-one sale last week, so you might look.

Professor Nick Sterling has decided that collar are canceled, but he has a lovely bowtie collection.

Gifts for Felines with Cattitude

The handsomest cats wear bow ties. Try Business Catual https://www.businesscatual.com/ or Sweet Pickles Designs http://www.sweetpicklesdesigns.com/ for a variety of fetching kitty bow ties. (You can probably put them on a smaller dog too. I won’t tell.) Bonus: both are based here in Portland, Oregon. For kitty’s sake, please choose a breakaway collar. If your cat is exceptionally clever, he may invite you to play a game of hide and seek with collar and bow-tie as the “hider” and you as the “seeker.”

Gifts for the Cat Who Has Everything

A charitable endowment. If the cat already has everything, you can also donate cash or presents to your local animal shelter. I’m currently partial to the East Bay SPCA because that’s where I met Professor Nick Sterling, but there are any number of pet, cat, and kitten rescues that could use your help. Many keep a wish list on Amazon. You can also check your local pet shop for a pet “gifting tree” or other opportunities to donate goods to a local shelter or rescue operation.

Got Cats?

What are your best finds for the owned-by-a-cat-people in your life? Bonus points if your recommendation is from a small business!

Disclosure: I attended the free online Gluten Free Festival as a blogger; bloggers were given access to special sessions to chat with company founders as well as previews, press releases, and samples from some companies. Because the festival was online, I did not have the opportunity to taste or try products during the festival, but I have since been able to try a few (at my own expense).

Food festivals are really fun! This year I went to my first online food festival. It’s not nearly as fun as wandering down the expo hall trying yummy new things, but I’d definitely do it again.

A Few General Observations…

Online cooking demos were more interactive than live ones.

Cooking Demos Online Are Awesome! Ever feel like you can’t see what the cook is doing when you’re at a live demo? Not a problem with an online demo. Disappointed that you don’t get to see the final product at a live demo? Not a problem when it’s pre-recorded–you get to see the actual thing you just saw made, not one made yesterday for show. Extra fun, the person doing the cooking can use the online chat during the demo (it’s pre-recorded, so they can comment/answer questions in the moment). My favorite was gluten-free pizza with Jenny Ching from Laulima Kitchen (she teaches gluten-free cooking and has great resources). The expo is live, and I think you can re-watch the classes? Click here through December 3, 2021.

Non-GMO Obsession, WTH?? Companies continue to be obsessed with sporting the Non-GMO label, even if they make a product that does not contain one of the few crops that are available in the United States in a GMO format (sugar beet, potato, canola, corn, soybean, summer squash, cotton, papaya, apple, alfalfa). If you pick up a product that is NOT one of those items–an orange, asparagus, rice, flour, spices, salt, vitamins–it is already guaranteed to not have a GMO ingredient inside. When I wrote to one vendor expressing my disappointment in their use of the Non-GMO butterfly of deception label, specifically citing the widespread slavery involved in cultivating the biggest brands of cane sugar available in the U.S., that vendor wrote back that they use cane sugar because it is “less likely” to be GMO. This shows the total ignorance of this individual (there is no GMO sugar cane at all, anywhere–the only form of sugar that could maybe be GMO is sugar made from sugar beets), and she did not even bother to address the slavery issue. I’m not naming names, but I’m also not buying that company’s cookies. A full explanation of what’s wrong with the Non-GMO Project is too big for this blog, but suffice to say it’s disingenuous and scammy to sell your non-GMO “certification” for use on products like salt and water. I was very disappointed to see at least 19 companies making non-GMO statements–even a CBD company when HELLO there is NO GMO-format hemp!–and another six with the Non-GMO Project’s trademark, which many in the food communities refer to as “the butterfly of deception.”

Gluten-Free Products Aren’t Just For Celiac Disease. It hadn’t occurred to me, but certified gluten-free products are often attractive to people without a gluten allergy. Gluten-free baked goods (or baked good substitutes) are often suitable for people following a paleo or keto diet. Many products that are gluten-free are also free of the top allergens (soy, peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, wheat) and therefore friendly to people with other food allergies. I don’t have food allergies, but I was there to learn more about what products are available and what techniques and knowledge I need to host my friends with allergies and keep them safe.

Bain’s Best of Gluten-Free Festival Awards

Not that anyone asked, but here are my picks for best-of-the-fest. All would make great gifts, all would be appreciated by gluten-free guests, and all are safe for people with Celiac disease. Bonus: all of these are small companies you can feel good about supporting this year.

Travel can be challenging when you have a food allergy

Best Product for Allergy-Friendly Travel

Going to Germany but don’t speak German? Can’t find “I’m allergic to Shellfish” in your Berlitz book? Never fear! The Allergic Traveler has customizable wallet cards and luggage tags available in 20 languages, so you can easily communicate to your server, bar tender, or other restaurant personnel exactly what you need. They also contain a cross-contamination statement. $12.95 for a set of two. www.allergictraveler.net These would also make a great gift to help keep your friends and family safe.

Best Breakfast Bagel, er, Pagel

Pagels! Photo courtesy of The Pagel by Bedrock Bakers

Bedrock Bakers is a Certified Gluten-Free, Paleo, Vegan, Kosher baking company whose signature item is Pagels. I got to “meet” the founder during the festival, and he basically started experimenting with paleo baking and really wanted a bagel. He describes the pagel as “a clean, premium bread product.” A plain pagel contains cassava flour, almond flour, potato starch, organic tapioca syrup, yeast, and sea salt. They also come in “everything,” sesame, and cinnamon raisin. The products are shipped frozen and come with instructions (basically you can re-freeze or they last in the fridge for 5 days). Oh, and did I mention you can get a subscription?? And that English muffins just launched? And that there’s a recipe for French toast using the cinnamon pagel?

You bet I ordered some pagels to try out for myself (and maybe share with my friends who choose a low-carb lifestyle), though if you know me you also know I’m going to keep eating bagels. So far I’ve only tried the cinnamon pagels–tasty! A pagel is smaller and denser than a typical kettle-boiled bagel. It arrives by FedEx, semi-frozen, with instructions to slice and re-freeze promptly. My first pagel taught me that if, like me, you prefer your bagels basically blond with a tiny amount of toasting to make only the top layer crispy, that’s NOT how to cook a pagel–toast that baby much toastier. The second pagel was perfection (toasted all the way through), and I doused it in butter. I’m not sure if it is the resistant starch, but I felt full for a MUCH longer time than I do with a plain bagel.

Use code GOPAGEL 20 for 20% off through December 31, 2021. https://www.bedrockbakers.com/

Best Product To Spice Up Your Life

Two of the Camino Spice gift options

It honestly had not occurred to me that my friends with Celiac disease have to avoid gluten in places I don’t even think to look for gluten, including spices (which do not naturally contain gluten, but might be processed on “shared equipment,” meaning equipment that is also used for wheat products). (Did you know there is gluten in some cosmetics and lipsticks??) If you don’t know whether your favorite spices are gluten-free, contact the company and ask. Or try the spice blends from Camino Spice. Divine Inspired Spice contains cayenne, cinnamon, cumin, a curry blend, ginger, turmeric, clove, and nutmeg–sounds yummy, right? The Not So Spicy variation has no nightshades, which are harder to avoid than you’d think. Add a few ingredients to Not So Spicy–cardamom, black paper, cayenne, and nutmeg–and you get Epiphany Spice Blend. Camino Spice isn’t just a company for spice mixes, though the story about the original spice mix is a good one!

During the festival I ordered a gift pack with all three of the Camino Spice blends, but I haven’t been able to test them out yet. I like to open spice blends, give them a sniff, and then experiment with them. The website also has a few suggestions if you need a place to start.

In addition to their spice blends, also check out the Last Best Chocolate Bar, spiced pumpkin seeds, and Epiphany Mexican Hot Chocolate. There are a ton of great gift options, with several gift packs such as the Divine Trio of spice mixes, but I suspect any of these products would make a great gift. https://www.caminospice.com/ and if you happen to live in Montana, available at select stores.

Three of the offerings from Celestial Cocoa Company

Best Cozy Pandemic Calm-er

One of the very best things about winter is a good cup of hot cocoa, especially if you live in a place where it gets cold. You may also know I am a HUGE fan of putting good cocoa into my coffee. Celestial Cocoa is only sold online, which is why you haven’t heard of it yet (or at least I’m assuming you haven’t–I hadn’t!). Again, if you’re not required to live gluten-free to stay healthy, cocoa is a place you might not think to look for hidden gluten.

Celestial Cocoa’s 18 different cocoa mixes are made in a dedicated gluten-free facility. Options include Hot Cha Cha Chocolate (Powdered Milk, Non-Dairy Creamer, Sugar, Cocoa Powder, and Cayenne Pepper) and Peppermint Twist. I couldn’t wait to try, so I ordered these flavors. They have adorable 4-serving gift bags that would make great stocking stuffers, and 12-serving and 20-serving bags (for bigger stockings?). https://www.celestialcocoa.com/

Have You Attended A Gluten-Free Festival?

If you haven’t, keep an eye out for both future online (or hybrid-model) festivals and (hopefully) the eventual return to “in person” festivals celebrating allergy-friendly foods.

Regardless of whether you’ve been to a festival, what are your hot tips for gluten-free gifts this year? Got a lead on a cool small business that makes products safe for those with Celiac or other allergies? Share!

Disclosures: I paid full-fare for this race and all associated expenses. Yes, I went into this race under-trained which was 100% my own fault. I’m not upset that I took a DNF (despite the 3:14:11 that shows in the race results). I AM pretty salty about some of the apparent mismanagement of the event itself, as well as the blatant lie that was the “3.5 hour course limit.” The TL; DR here is that if you are a slower runner–someone who either plans to walk large segments, is at or near a 16-minute mile pace–and want to do the full distance I absolutely DO NOT recommend this race because your chances of getting to finish are zero.

The ongoing global pandemic rescheduled thousands of races, from local favorites to the iconic Boston Marathon. While this created conflicts for some, it created opportunities for others. When I learned in April that Napa to Sonoma–one of my favorite half marathons, one that in years past sold out promptly–was moved from summer to December, I asked a friend to join me on a December getaway. I last ran this race, then owned by Destination Races (more on that later) in July 2014 and sang its praises in my subsequent blog review. I just knew we’d have a blast based on my past experiences with Destination Races in the past in general, and Napa to Sonoma in particular–gorgeous course, generous 3.5 hour course limit… Yeah, hold that thought.

Napa to Sonoma is Spendy

Let me start by explaining that this is an EXPENSIVE race. My bib was $195. (Compare a pre-sale not-Vegas Rock ‘n’ Roll half marathon at $65, or the local-to-me Appletree Half at $70-95 depending on when you register.) In order to avoid crowds at the Saturday packet pickup, I also opted to pay $25 to have my bib and shirt mailed to me. (Worthy.) I also paid $19.99 for a photo package from Finisher Pix. (In hindsight, a Bad Idea.) Add a donation to the American Cancer Society (the official charity partner) and a $20.47 Active processing fee (I’m an Active+ member, but they only gave a $10 discount) and I put down $270 before I even booked airfare, a rental car, and lodging.

To be fair, the $195 plus processing fees covers more than many half marathons. In addition to the usual shirt and medal, runners are shuttled to the starting line because this is a point-to-point course. After the race there is a wine tasting festival with live music, and each runner is given a wine glass. (Based on Instagram posts from prior years, it looks like they bought the glasses in bulk a few years ago; the glass we received this year looks just like the one from years past.) This year the fee also included use of a coaching app called Bird, free to all runners. (While I did not make full use of Bird, I imagine I would in the future–but that’s a post for another day.) That said, $195 plus fees is on par with what Disney charged for the 2021 fall half marathon–still very expensive.

What’s the Motiv?

No More Destination Races. Next, I should note that Destination Races (who I knew as the owner/operator of Napa to Sonoma and other runs in wine country) was acquired by Motiv Running. Or perhaps Motiv just bought their races, I don’t know exactly. What I do know is that Motiv Running, in turn, is owned by a big conglomerate named Black Shamrock Partners (formerly known as Consumer Concept Group). I was familiar with Motiv because they began to buy up a bunch of races that had been local to me before I moved from California to Oregon in 2017. All I really knew is that they were a big Denver-based conglomerate of some sort, and based on the rate they were buying up events in California I assumed they had some sort of venture capital or other outside funding. According to this 2018 press release, at that time they had already purchased a bunch of races the company referred to as “investments,” including “the Sydney Marathon, Love Run Philadelphia Half Marathon, Napa-to-Sonoma Wine Country Half Marathon, The Surf City Marathon and Half Marathon, The Wildflower and Malibu Triathlons as well as the Denver Oktoberfest.” You can see a list of some of their current “investments” on the Motiv website linked above. (I’m sad to learn they now own Portland’s Shamrock Run.)

Yes, it’s a wine-themed race, but I discovered this delicious beverage as well.

In hindsight, I probably should have paid more attention to Motiv between its creation in 2015 and the buying spree they took up during the next two years. (If I had, I might have chosen a different race.) Instead of taking a hard look at the changes to the races, I was wowed by their roster of “content creators.” (The content creation seems to have fallen by the wayside, since there are no articles or commentary on the Motiv website right now.) Initially the company seemed to be all about preserving the “local race” experience–ironic, since it was in fact eating up actual local race companies–but the more recent press releases I found are all extremely corporate “identifying opportunities for growth” and not about presenting the best possible running experience. Priorities noted, Motiv.

Let’s Talk Pre-Race Weekend

Communication prior to the race seemed excellent. Emphasis on the “seemed” part. About ten days prior to the race I received an email with a very clear schedule of events, including information on the on-course amenities (water, nuun, Base gel) and a link to the detailed final participant information (where to park, etc.). The email also included links to pre-order race merchandise and wine developed for the race by Meadowcroft wines.

As I mentioned, I paid to have my packet shipped to me. Communication there was also excellent (I received tracking emails before the packet arrived), and everything arrived in November–plenty of time in advance of race day. Bonus: I got to run my race shirt through the wash.

Ominous Weather! As race day neared, I received multiple emails warning me that the weather forecast was for rain, and advising me to dress in layers, consider bringing a cover-up layer to shed after the start, and to pack dry clothing to change into after the race. At least one email also mentioned the cooler temperatures (race day high temp: approx. 47 degrees). I had planned ahead with layers for race day–long sleeved shirt, quarter-zip, jacket–and plenty of medical tape and Squirrel’s Nut Butter (to prevent blisters on my feet). I also packed a full set of dry clothes, including shoes and socks, for after the race.

Comedy Tonight! The first moment of “oh this is ridiculous” was the night before the race. I went to lay out my race kit and discovered that I had left my bib on my dining room table in Oregon. After putting it there so I could not possibly walk out of the house without seeing it. After planning for weeks to use it as a bookmark in the book I would take for the plane. D’oh! But hey, at that point it was way too late to do anything about it, and I just figured it would all work out.

Race Day: Let’s Start At The Very Beginning.

Parking and Shuttles. I personally thought communication about parking and shuttles was fairly clear, but others may disagree, and it doesn’t seem like Motiv followed through on their shuttle plans properly. In any case, this is a point-to-point course with runner drop-off but NO PARKING at the starting line. As I did in 2014, I chose to park near the finish line and take one of the shuttles to the start. There were three identified parking locations (not including plentiful on-street parking).

It was raining on race morning, as we got up in the dark and made our way from the Air BnB to Sonoma. Sunrise was supposed to be 7:17 a.m., and the last shuttle was supposed to leave at 6:20 a.m. in order to make the 7:00 a.m. start time, so we planned to arrive between 5:45 and 6:00 a.m., aka Ouch O’Clock. I had intended to park at the Sonoma State Historic Park, but the address provided (and which I pumped into Google Maps) did not lead to the parking lot, so I ended up on the street, which was fine. There were shuttles waiting right across the street from us, waiting to transport us to the starting line. Since masks were required on the shuttles–I’m fully vaccinated and have my booster, but I expect races to follow best practices vis a vis preventing COVID-19 transmission–we planned to use the shuttles.

The LOLs Continue! As I got my post-race gear bag out of the car and took out my rain poncho, I realized…it wasn’t a rain poncho at all. I’d somehow managed to pack one rain poncho (the kind you buy at Disney World when it rains on race weekend) and one…shower curtain liner. I still have no idea how a newish, clean shower curtain liner ended up in my closet packed with my rain ponchos, but I just laughed–after leaving my bib at home, I guess anything is possible!

Step Two: The Starting Line

First, The Good. The race begins at the Cuvaison Carneros Winery in Napa. I have mostly good points for the starting area. (1) The bag drop truck was easy to find–you had to walk past it to get to the waiting area–and there were plenty of clear plastic bags, bag tags, and markers available. The area to stuff and mark your bag had one of those square canopies over it so the supplies stayed dry. (2) There was another canopy nearby with coffee and enough cups for everyone. (3) I went to race day packet pickup and explained I’d made a mistake and left my bib at home, and they quickly assigned me a new one. (4) There were plenty of porta-potties.

Now, The Bad. (1) It wasn’t a great idea to leave the paved but lumpy path from the bus to the runner holding area at the winery, up a hill, completely in the dark (no lights at all and with sunrise more than a full hour after the first arrivals). I’m not sure who failed to think that through, but runners did stumble and fall. (2) Since the race organizers had repeatedly emailed the runners to warn us it was going to rain, I thoroughly expected that the race’s starting line would also be prepared for rain, with some dry pre-race accommodations–inside the winery, under some big rental tents, or otherwise a cover to keep runners dry. Nope. I get that you can’t control the weather, but after all of the extensive email advice about dealing with weather I expected the race would also make accommodations of some sort. (3) The speakers on the P.A. system were terrible. Even 10′ away they sounded like an adult character from “Peanuts” talking through a broken Fisher-Price toy. It was difficult to hear and understand the pre-race announcements, to the point where my friend with less race experience could not tell what was going on; I was barely able to piece it together based on the hundreds of races I’ve done. (4) There were a few of those outdoor gas-powered heater-trees (like you see at restaurants) but there were not nearly enough for all of the runners–by the time I arrived, there wasn’t space near enough to get warm. (This was fine by me–I brought plenty of clothing–but distressing to some of the runners who waited more than an hour for the race to start.)

Finally, The Ugly. The published starting time for this race was 7:00 a.m. I heard a garbled announcement that I interpreted as a 15-minute delay, and later heard “7:30 or 7:35” and–based in part on lack of movement back down the hill towards the starting line–assumed that was further delay. I’d left my Coros back in Oregon (charging in my office) so I don’t know what time we moved down towards the starting line but some people had been waiting long enough to need to pee again and with the porta-potties way back up the hill and no indication when the race might really start there was quite a bit of peeing in the vineyards of Cuvaison! As a slowpoke I was near the back, so couldn’t hear anything from the speakers at the starting line itself. Eventually, runners were released in groups–a smart move, to prevent bottlenecks and crowding–with a minute or so between groups. Group 6 (mine) crossed the starting line at 7:42 a.m. but I wasn’t worried since there was a published 3.5 hour time limit and there were PLENTY of people behind me–not to mention those still arriving at the bottom of the hill as shuttles continued to drop off runners after the start. (Listen, I don’t know what the problem was here, but this race has been going on for like 10+ years; to have the shuttles turn into such a cluster was pretty much inexcusable.)

Step Three: It Was A Dark And Cloudy Morning…

The Course is Beautiful. Even in the rain. Due to the point-to-point nature and limited road options there are a few features that most runners find somewhat unfortunate. For example, the course starts on a downhill leaving the winery, turns, and then immediately begins a hill climb. Another example is the transition from well-maintained, flat asphalt to a road made almost entirely of potholes; this transition happens exactly at the point you move from Napa County to Sonoma County (and you can tell because it is spray-painted on the road). Pretty minor annoyances though when you consider how gorgeous the wine country is! Even with grey skies, wrapped in a shower curtain, I loved being out on the course. How often do you get to run on a semi-closed course (the race had half of the road, vehicles had the other half) in such a beautiful place? Sure, I liked it better in the sun we had in July 2014 but I still loved the scenery.

Oh look! New goodr! Wine-colored glasses!

On Course Support Was Solid. The pre-race emails identified the aid stations by mile marker and on a map of the course. In addition, the emails spelled out which aid (water, hydration, gels, bars) would be available where, and the brands, so there was no excuse for arriving unprepared on race day. I knew my tummy liked nuun, but I also brought my Orange Mud pack and filled my bottle with Hydrant. I packed Honey Stinger chews, also friendly to my tummy, for fuel. At mile 8 there were gels, bars, hand warmers, rain ponchos, and other assorted supplies. The hand warmers and rain ponchos would have been a million times more useful at the starting line so I’m not sure what the race director was thinking.

About that 3.5 hour course time limit…it’s a lie. Or at least VERY misleading. The website with the race FAQ states: “The half marathon course limit is 3.5 hours.  You must maintain a pace of 16 minutes per mile to finish the race.” If you do the math, this is accurate. As far as my experience of 100+ half marathons has taught me, the course time limit is measured from the time the last runner crosses the starting line. If you’ve run a Run Disney event, you know those last runners as “the balloon ladies,” runners who carry balloons and keep a strict 16 minute pace. Other races use literal “balloon ladies” (the last runner carries balloons), though some just have a final pacer. That is NOT how this race works…

…which I learned when I was swept nearish to Mile 10, around 10:30 a.m. Instead, the 3.5 hours is measured from the published start time for the race–not even when the first runner starts! So the 3.5 hours began to run about 45 minutes before I did. The poor runners who got stuck in whatever problem the shuttles had? Some of them did not start until 8:00 a.m.!

Again, I knew I wasn’t properly trained for this race (all on me, 0% on Bird), and it was cold and wet. (A pre-race email advised, “Respect your limits. Cold temperatures restrict blood flow, which can cause muscles to contract and even cramp.”) According to the one timing mat (okay, bib scanner thingy) I was a 17:00/mile at the 10k mark–definitely behind pace, but only by 6 minutes at that point. I passed mile 8 and the aid station and was well into mile 9 when a truck pulled up and a race official told us that they “have to get the runners off the course by 10:30” and so the shuttle bus behind us was going to pick us up and “bump us forward.” Since I know how much work goes into planning a race and how stressful race day can be, I will not give a race official any smack talk on race day. So I got on the bus.

There were already a dozen runners on board. We picked up another dozen as we passed the markers for mile 10 and 11. Frankly, at that point I was disappointed–I paid $195 and had certainly not had 3.5 hours on the course–but the weather was crap and I was developing a weird, new blister in an inexplicably puzzling location on my right foot, plus again with the not giving smack to the race officials–but I determined that I’d have a good time anyway. I made new friends on the sag wagon and we all cheered each time a new person boarded.

Honestly I don’t know if they ever intended to “bump us forward” or if that was a lie too (given I boarded around 10:30, which appears to have been the actual course cut-off, 3.5 hours from the published start) but they took us all the way to the finish area. The bus dropped us off one block from the finish line (which we all then ran across and yes I accepted a medal, and no, I’m not adding this to my Half Fanatics record since I did not finish). My friend Melissa later told me that after she crossed the 12 mile marker she heard there was a head-on collision at the intersection just before that, which may explain why we were sent to the finish line. Or maybe not? The starting line was such a mess I’d believe almost anything.

Step Four: The Finish Line

Finish Line Food Was NomNom. I picked up a bottle of Oxigen water (the one time I drink bottled water because that’s all they had), a banana, Bob’s Red Mill peanut butter coconut bar, squeezable apple sauce pouch, and a bag of Sonoma Creamery cheese “crackers.” Despite the encouragement to “take as much as you want” I knew the people who were not scooped up by the sag wagon would also want snacks, so I limited my grab to one of each. I saw the nuun truck was nearby with four flavors on tap and made a note to head back. Then I went to find the gear check truck, which was all the way across the entire park–literally as far from the finish line and chute as possible.

Naively, I Expected A Changing Tent. In every race where I’ve been advised to pack dry post-race gear, there’s been a changing tent. Most races do not have such a thing, so why did I expect one here? Motiv told me to! For example, the December 7th email contained the following advice: “Check some warm gear. Be prepared for outdoor conditions at Cuvaison Winery before the race starts. Wear your warm clothes to the start and then check them at gear check, which closes at 6:45am. We’ll transport your gear check bag to the finish line so you can get out of wet clothes immediately after the race. It’s important to change the clothing closest to your body to stay warm and dry. Plus you’ll have a much better time at the post race wine festival.” Also this: “Make sure you change out of cold or wet clothes before attending the wine festival.” This seems to imply there will be a place to change clothes, no? Actually, NO. There was no place to change clothing. No tent, shelter, building, or other area to change clothes. I suppose I could have stood in the rain and changed outside in the park, but then I didn’t want to get arrested. So I enjoyed the post-race wine festival in my wet racing duds, shower curtain, and an added heat sheet.

The medal is sort of Christmas ornament themed; it’s got a ribbon to hang, and the middle bit is a spinner.

Wine Festival! In July 2014, the wineries were distributed towards the edges of the downtown Sonoma plaza/park. This ensured that the line for one winery didn’t impede traffic flow. This time, all of the wineries were crammed into the center of the plaza. Since it was still raining, and there were zero other covered places to stand, people tended to jam themselves under the little tents that had the wine. While there were some larger wineries, I was thrilled to see smaller winemakers present as well. I did go back to get some more nuun, and I also took the opportunity to try the other Sonoma Creamery cheese crisps. Michelob Ultra was in a beer tent and since I dislike beer I wasn’t going to go there until I saw that Michelob Ultra now makes hard seltzer. Surprise! It is actually delicious. I tried two flavors (because I’d also been sipping wine and I had a brief but winding drive back) and the spicy pineapple is my favorite. I’m looking forward to finding this locally.

The only completely covered place that wasn’t crowded to the gills was the merch tent. Pre-orders were ready and waiting for pickup. I scored some new goodr, which I clearly needed because I only have like 20 pair. It was still raining, I was still wet, and after grabbing a cup of coffee we headed to Sonoma’s Best for a grab-and-go breakfast (mocha and an egger) before heading home to showers, a nap, and the Air BnB’s hot tub!

What Others Said

The following are direct quotes from the race’s Facebook page, posted in response to a race-day announcement that the company knew about the delay. I have used the initials of the names as used on Facebook (which may or may not be a person’s legal name). So far, there are no response from the race.

  • “Really disappointed in this race. Reeked of greed with no regard for the safety and well-being of the runners. Between the poor transportation, late start leaving underdressed runners standing in the cold rain for an hour waiting to start, and having cars driving both ways on the course, you’re lucky someone didn’t get seriously hurt. And a $200 ticket price? No thanks. Never again and will never recommend to anyone.” B.J.
  • In response to B.J., above, J.G. wrote: “well said. A total slap in the face.”
  • “Last shuttle arrived at 8 am to start after waiting an hour in the rain. Just to be told “run that way” no warm up no excitement no start line experience.. Doomed to get picked up by a van to drive us to the finish because “despite the late start” they had to open the roads. I feel cheated out of what should have been a great experience.” J.P.
  • “Ran this one in 2017. Enjoyed my time there, but the race was not well-managed. Would not recommend.” A.T.B.
  • “This was such a disorganized mess of a race. No lighting on the walk to the top of the hill waiting area. Tripped on a wire the guy was installing at the starting line as I had to use phone flashlight to try and see. Delayed start waiting 30+ min in the cold after having warmed up AND my checked bag was lost. I love this race but this was just too much. Hoping my bag gets found!!!!” W.J.
  • “This is the worst company – all they really care about is signing you up for next year! They actually pretended there was NO wetgear concern at all[.]” J.D.
  • “Stood in the cold rain for 30 minutes trying to get a shuttle… now the shuttle driver is blasting the A/C… is this a joke? I’ve run many many races… so far this one is a double thumbs down[.]” J.G.

In Conclusion

  • Pre-race: Good communication, timely packet mailing. Misleading published start time and course limit. Misleading statements about changing clothes after the race.
  • Race Day, starting line: The shuttles were inexplicably a hot mess. Do not wait until the last shuttle, please. If you do, don’t demand a late start. It is obnoxious. If it rains, expect to get soaking wet at the start, and possibly stand around for an hour in the rain–plan ahead for this.
  • Race Day, post-start: Do not believe the published course limit. You absolutely do NOT have a full 3.5 hours unless the race starts on time AND you are the first across the starting line.
  • Course: Beautiful! Lovely! Amazing!
  • Post-Race Festival: Have fun!
  • I’m not sorry I went to this race, but this will be my last year running it. The experience doesn’t justify the cost for me (and I can run other races and enjoy wine country).

Did you run Napa to Sonoma 2021? What did you think?

Disclosure: This post is inspired, in part, by the recent online Gluten Free Expo, sponsored by the Gluten Intolerance Group and presented by the Nourished Festivals. I was not asked to write a blog post–and per usual, everything in here is mine (thoughts, opinions, ideas).

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I can’t wait to see my family for Thanksgiving and many of my friends are just as excited for Hanukkah, Christmas, and all of the other winter celebrations. The first year we had our annual family Thanksgiving extravaganza after I stopped eating meat, my parents were very concerned that I was somehow going to starve during the week I spent at home. I love them for stocking up on all of the frozen veggie burgers and such, but it really wasn’t necessary (I was perfectly happy to gorge myself on the mashed potatoes, corn, green beans, turkey-free “stuffing,” cranberry sauce, green salad, and other meat-free items). Eventually they got used to the idea that I didn’t need special pretend-meat items for every meal. I’m lucky this isn’t a food allergy, and that the majority of the world is pretty easy to navigate as a vegetarian.

Later on in life, my Bonus Mom (that’s Dad’s wife, they got married long after us kids moved out of the house, so “Stepmother” sounds weird and also she’s not some meanie from a fairy tale) had to follow a low-FODMAP diet one year due to a health issue. We were all pretty baffled, as we found out at the last minute and didn’t have time to adjust our plans. When we asked her what was on the “no list,” she was frustrated and baffled herself, as it was a new-to-her situation.

What is a Food Allergy?

Let’s start at the beginning: a food allergy is not a personal choice. When a person with a food allergy eats that food, their immune system kicks up a fuss. The body produces extra histamines–the chemicals that cause inflammation–as they go on attack. The results might be itching, hives, or a rash; side-effects can include constipation or diarrhea or vomiting; severe side effects might include swelling of the throat (cutting off the ability to breathe) or an anaphylactic reaction–a severe, life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical attention. The symptoms might last a few hours or a few days.

Even a very small amount of an allergen can cause serious, life-threatening reactions in some people. A food allergy is very different from a personal preference (a la “I went gluten-free because [celebrity name here] told me it was the best”). Not that I’m saying you should ignore a guest’s food preferences, but an allergy is not the same as choosing not to eat something!

Food allergies are common! About 5% of all adults in the U.S. have a food allergy. Food allergies are more common in children. Since you can’t see a food allergy, your guest might not have an obvious need for accommodation. If you don’t ask, you won’t know. If you’re a guest, remember that–it’s important to let people know!

Know the Top Eight. The top food allergens are: cow milk/dairy, eggs, tree nuts (including but not limited to walnuts, pine nuts, cashews, pistachios, almonds, Brazil nuts), peanuts (which are legumes and not tree nuts), shellfish, wheat (including but not limited to gluten, a component of wheat), soy, and fish.

Be a Gracious and Communicative Guest

If you have a food allergy or other dietary limitation, or another allergy, please tell your hosts! Be clear about what your limitations are and how they can be accommodated. For example, most people do not know that “gluten free” is not the same as “safe for people with Celiac disease.” They don’t know they can’t use the same knife on the gluten-free pizza that they used on the wheat-pizza.

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Teach people how to feed you. If you can, make up your own “guide to safely feeding me,” with bullet points of tips and lists of “safe for me” foods. Offer it as a way to help your host learn, and make it clear you’re not demanding all food in the house follow “your” rules. Definitely include a definition of your allergy and how serious it is (will you sniffle, or is there a chance you’ll die?). You might include a link to your favorite medical website that addresses your allergy, a favorite food blogger.

Help keep yourself fed. The typical advice is to offer to bring a dish you know you can eat to the meal. I’m writing this in the context of allergies, but as a vegetarian I’m always bringing something substantial to ensure I get fed. If it’s appropriate, offer up a dish! Of course I’ve also packed emergency food in my suitcase (just in case).

Have an allergic-reaction plan and share it. This seems like a no-brainer, but if you have a plan and have not shared it, in the event you become incapacitated no one else will know what to do! If you have an epi-pen in your purse/pocket at all times that’s great, but someone else needs to know when to use it.

Be a Warm and Safe Host

Ask your guests about allergies. You don’t want to accidentally poison your guests! Find out what they allergy is, and ask how severe it is. Do they need the allergen to stay 6′ away from them? Or just not in their food. One of my parents’ friends was allergic to eggs. While visiting a friend in the hospital he was there long enough to need to eat a meal. In the cafeteria, he asked for a grilled cheese sandwich–no eggs in that, right? When he ate the sandwich, he went into anaphylactic shock. Why? The grill had eggs on it earlier in the day, and while the grill was scraped down/wiped down in standard restaurant practice, that’s not good enough to prevent cross-contamination. (He was in a hospital, so got prompt medical attention, and lived many more years.) ASK QUESTIONS. A guest with food allergies will appreciate you trying to accommodate them!

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Ask your guests for tips and suggestions. Maybe they have a favorite recipe, meal suggestion, online resource, or other pointer for you. Again, ASK QUESTIONS.

Educate yourself about best practices. This is super important if your guest has a serious food allergy (one that might kill them) or has Celiac disease. For example, you should assume that any kitchen implement that is porous–made of wood, stone, cast iron, etc.–is NOT safe to use on the allergen you’re trying to avoid. Assume your best bet is to use a fresh/clean pan for the allergen-free dishes (one that hasn’t just been used to cook something with the allergen in it). Head over to Laulima Kitchen for up-to-date information about a Celiac-safe kitchen (and grab her “10 Ways to Keep Your Kitchen Celiac Safe” while you are there).

Include allergy-friendly dishes. In most cases this isn’t that hard to do. I once made dinner for a group that included vegans (so no meat, dairy, eggs, honey in those dishes) as well as different people with allergies to potatoes, chicken, onions, and bell pepper. I wrote out my plan on paper to make sure I had enough options for everyone, and it wasn’t nearly as difficult as I’d imagined–I made two crock pot dishes and a soup, and served the meal with an appetizer cheese and veggie tray, bread, salad, store-bought hummus, and fresh fruit for dessert.

Learn about local allergy-friendly restaurants. Local bloggers are often your best bet for finding a safe place to eat a meal out, and this is especially true for those with Celiac disease. If you’re not sure about your favorite, call them up and ask. Do they have items on the menu that might be appropriate? What about kitchen prep? (If your guest has Celiac, potatoes cooked in a shared fryer–one where a wheat-batter-coated onion rings once fried–eating those potatoes can make them sick for a few days. Yuck.)

Don’t Forget the Non-Food Allergies!

While this post has focused on food allergens, there are plenty of people who are allergic to other things. Just like food allergens, non-food allergens can send the immune system into overdrive and produce symptoms from mild (runny nose, slightly itchy eyes) to the severe and life-threatening (anaphylaxsis).

Indoors: Pets and Pests and More, Oh My! The top non-food allergens inside your home include pets (cats, dogs, and others!), pests (dust mites, cockroaches), latex, pollen, mold, medications, perfume/fragrance (including essential oils), and medication. The number one thing you can do to help your guests with allergies is to deep-clean everything; rugs, carpets, drapes, and bedding can all harbor pet hair and pet dander, pests, pollen, and more. Mom used to choke when the air had strong fragrances and perfumes, as it exacerbated her asthma. (Not really an allergy, but equally unpleasant.) Hot tips indoors:

  • Steam clean carpeting and rugs
  • Wash drapes and bedding in hot water and dry thoroughly
  • Avoid scented laundry detergent and soaps for bedding and towels (I use Dropps unscented)
  • Dust using a microfiber cloth
  • Avoid using heavily-scented cleaning products (or air out the house after cleaning)
  • Avoid air fresheners, including essential oil diffusers
  • Stock your medicine chest with an over-the-counter allergy medication
  • If you live in a moist climate, run a dehumidifier and ensure air circulation in closets and around furniture to avoid mold growth (I live in Oregon–this IS a thing)
  • Groom your pet (a bath and a brushing go a long way to remove both dander and other items that may get trapped in pet hair/fur)

If your guest has a pet allergy, find out well in advance how severe the allergy is. I have a cat, and I have many friends with cat allergies. Some of my friends are fine staying in my house for a weekend as long as they have an over-the-counter allergy tablet; others are so allergic that they will break out in hives if the cat rubs against them. You might be able to keep your pet and your guest separated if they have a mild allergy, but for a more serious allergy your guest might be better off in a hotel.

Outdoors. The nice part about outdoor allergies in the winter is that they tend to be less of a problem, at least in places like Michigan where the air turns crispy and everything gets covered in snow. (If you’re out in the Pacific Northwest, mold allergies can still be ugly in the winter.) Top outdoor allergens include pets (hey, dogs go outdoors!), insect stings, and pollens. Insect allergens include biting (mosquito, horse fly) and stinging (wasp, bee, yellow jacket, fire ants) insects. Pollens from trees, flowers, and grasses can cause misery almost all year long. Hot tips:

  • Pollen can be problematic almost all year: tree pollen is most common in spring, weed pollen in summer and fall, and grass pollen in summer. If your guest is very allergic, it’s nice to move some of the party indoors.
  • To avoid attracting insects–you may attract them, but they can bite/sting who they choose–don’t wear perfume/cologne or use heavily scented products for outdoor events.
  • Have bug repellant products on hand for outdoor gatherings
  • Consider careful use of bug repellant products (such as candles, sprays, bug zappers, and sonic products) to keep pests away from your gathering.
  • In addition to an over-the-counter allergy tablet, add topical anti-inflammatory and anti-itch products to your medicine cabinet
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Got Tips?

What are your best pointers for hosting an allergy-friendly meal?

What are the best things you can do for a guest with allergies in your home to make them feel comfortable?

Really, the book is about yoga for chronic illness and chronic pain.

If you live with chronic pain, you’ve probably had at least one well-meaning friend tell you, “oh, you definitely need to do yoga!” (Or so I am told by my friends who live with chronic illness.) I was surprised to see Cory Martin, a person who lives with chronic pain due to MS and lupus, not just make this suggestion, but also write an entire book about it. Now to be fair, Ms. Martin was doing yoga (and teaching yoga) before she received either diagnosis, so she may have been more receptive to the idea than most; more important, she has the lived experience to back the suggestion to do yoga AND the chops to suggest appropriate practices and how to work with your body.

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Disclosure: I was lucky to get the opportunity to access an advance readers copy of Ms. Martin’s forthcoming book, The Yoga Prescription. This listed publication date for this book is January 11, 2022. Access to the ARC did not require me to do anything, though of course the publisher did ask for any private feedback I might want to share. I think this book has merit and may be actually helpful for people living with chronic pain, as it was written by an author who is walking in those shoes; this is a book most yoga teachers are 100% unqualified to write—I could try to write a book like this, but I would not be credible since I do not live with chronic pain. There is a lot of autobiography that I found educational or enlightening, but the target audience will likely recognize as similar to their own experiences. Because of this, I decided to write a review on my blog.

Prior to reading this book I was totally unfamiliar with Ms. Martin as an author (though I later realized I’ve seen/read some of her prior work, unaware it was hers). The introduction introduces you to Ms. Martin and the fact that she lives with multiple sclerosis and lupus. This is continued in chapter 1, “the diagnosis,” which is also largely autobiographical. Chapter 2, “understanding the treatment plan,” introduces basic concepts in yoga. The remainder of the chapters have a yoga-related or yoga-informed title that is also a mental attitude or practice and a physical practice associated with them (“be here now,” “just say no,” etc.) Each of these chapters also features one yoga pose or yoga-related practice suggestion.

The Yucky Parts.

On the theory that it’s best to end on a positive note, I’m going to start with what I disliked about The Yoga Prescription.

The title. This book is not a prescription; yoga is not medication. While some yoga may be “prescribed” by a qualified physical therapist, medical practitioner, or trained yoga therapist, this isn’t that kind of yoga. The book fails to “prescribe” anything  specific and in fact one of the main themes of the book is the exact opposite: yoga practice has to be personalized to your body on the specific day you are practicing.

The subtitle. “A Chronic Illness Survival Guide.” Only semi-accurate. Based on the title and subtitle, I expected to see more of a step-by-step process. Like “Chapter 1: How to yoga after your diagnosis” or something. Instead, the introduction and first chapter are autobiographical, as is about one-half to one third of each subsequent chapter. My read is that the chapters follow Ms. Martin’s experience somewhat chronologically, while the practice suggestions build on each other starting from chapter one. There’s not quite enough material to separate the biography from the yoga suggestions, and I do quite like the mix of experience plus practice suggestions. Yet I still find the subtitle as misleading as the title.

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The cover. I really hope this cover changes before publication (and it might—the cover mock-up on the ARC is often not the final cover). Since the book has not been published yet I do not have a photo to show you. The cover is a blue background with a horizontal rectangular box that is yellow, with three pill capsule graphics underneath (the kind where there are two colors, one for each half of the capsule). The word “yoga” appears in the yellow box, and each of the three pills has part of the word “prescription” on it (pre-, scrip, -tion). Not only does this feel pretty stale to me—I’ve probably seen a dozen books with pills on the cover in the past—it’s an active turn-off. If I saw the cover at a bookstore, I’d pass right by without picking it up.

The explanations of Sanskrit terms. One of my pet peeves is the gross oversimplification of Sanskrit words in general (and yoga terms specifically) in the western presentation of yoga. This isn’t a pitfall unique to Ms. Martin—to be fair—but as she has more than 500 hours of yoga teacher training, it’s a bummer to see her continue the trend of dumbing-down yoga. For example, in Chapter two, the introduction to yoga, Ms. Martin writes: “Put simply, yoga means to yoke or bring together.” Except that’s not true.

The meaning of “yoga” is more complicated than saying the Spanish word “rojo” means “red” in English. Yes, the word “yoga” comes from the same root word that led to our English word “yoke,” but that’s not an accurate translation of the word yoga. As I learned from Anya Foxen (PhD) yoga is a super basic, super generic word. It means fixing a bow; employment, use, application; equipping or arraying an army; a remedy or cure; and a means, device, way, manner, or method…among many other meanings. The concept of yoga as meditation doesn’t show up until half-way through a rather lengthy list of definitions, though many American yoga teachers tell their students all yoga practice is driving toward meditation. As Ms. Foxen explained, yoking and chariots were the high-tech of the time, and the word yoga as yoking a chariot was the appropriate high-tech metaphor of the time—much like in the Renaissance we see finely-tuned clocks as the high-tech leading to the analogy “runs like clockwork,” or how us moderns talk about the brain as a computer. This concept of yoga as yoke is more like the word “rig” (another definition of yoga) as used in the nautical sense, and also in the sense of a trick, stratagem, or fraud (like rigging an election or rigging the game).

It would have been really interesting to see Ms. Martin tie the complicated multi-faceted word “yoga” to the equally complex challenges of living with a chronic illness that is not visible to others. (M.S. and lupus rarely have visible symptoms; you don’t “look disabled” or “look sick” to others.) I understand that Ms. Martin is aiming for a beginner audience, but this gives her the perfect opportunity to educate instead of to repeat the tired half-truths of yoga teachers past. Even if she did not want to include this much information in the introduction to yoga chapter, she could easily have thrown it into an appendix or other supplemental material at the end of the book. It’s a pretty short book, there was plenty of room left. (I’m not even going to start on the “translation” of “namaste,” but suffice to say it repeats an American invention and is not a translation.) This is just one example of the watering-down of the terms used to talk about yoga that Ms. Martin repeats.

The Yummy Parts.

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Let’s talk about things I loved about the book.

This isn’t a book about “yoga poses.” (Yes, there are yoga poses included. But if you’re looking for a book about yoga poses, you might try Ms. Martin’s earlier book, Yoga for Beginners.) While the chapter introducing yoga does make it sound like Patanjali is the be-all end-all of what yoga is (he’s not, but most western yoga can be traced by to Krishnamacharya and/or western European esoteric practitioners, all of whom emphasized Patjanjali and more or less ignored other historic texts), it clearly sets out that there are eight parts of yoga. While I take issue with her Sanskrit “translations” throughout the book, I love the way she explains how each of the yamas and niyamas—these are the ethical precepts of yoga, sort of like the “thou shalts” and the “thou shalt nots”—relates to her experience of living with a chronic illness. For example, “satya” is a principle about truthfulness and not fooling yourself or others. Ms. Martin’s explanation of satya includes very practical, accessible examples such as “If someone asks you how you’re doing, you don’t always have to say you’re fine. Be honest with yourself and those around you.” The term “brahmacharya” is usually used to describe sexual abstinence or celibacy, but that’s actually an oversimplification as bramacharya is a bigger concept about protecting your energy. Ms. Martin points out this can also mean “ridding your life of the things that drain you.” She goes on to give specific examples of ways she has abstained from work, people, and relationships that drain her. It’s rare to find a beginner yoga book that isn’t focused ONLY on yoga poses, so this is a huge plus in my mind. In fact I think it would have been cool to see a whole chapter focused on each yama and niyama and how it relates to living with a chronic illness—I bet many people could relate to at least some of the explanations, even without a chronic illness..

The practices are doled out in bite-sized pieces. Lots of books on yoga practice start out with “practice for 30 minutes” or “do this whole set of yoga poses.” This one is pretty refreshing in that the message is a consistent “do what you can, when you can—and that might be different today and tomorrow.” The first practice doesn’t even come in until Chapter 3, and that first practice is “savasana,” often referred to as “corpse pose” or out here in America as “final resting pose.” These small bites can be explored one at a time, and eventually you might choose to string them together into a practice. A visual guide at the end of the book helps with this.

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The physical yoga poses are fairly simple: savasana, seated forward fold, sukhasana (seated cross-legged), cat/cow, balasana (child’s pose), adho mukha svanasana (downward-facing dog), side plank, tadasana (mountain pose), vrksasana (tree pose), utkatasana (chair or awkward pose), “be free” (chest opener/movement). Each pose is introduced with a relatively simple line drawing. Overall I like the line drawings, and find them more useful than the typical yoga stick-figures, but I dislike the one for vrksasana as it shows the heel of the raised foot pressed into the knee of the standing leg (a big yikes, especially if you have delicate joints). I’m also not a huge fan of the one for downward-facing dog, as it looks a lot like me in my early yoga practice—overly rounded lumbar curve/collapsed spine. Otherwise, I would have liked to see more of these line drawings, especially to illustrate the alternative suggestions for ways to adapt the pose to your body.

Every yoga pose has numerous alternatives. Early in the book, Ms. Martin advocates for using props (chapter 4, “prop yourself up”) to make the yoga pose suit your body, instead of trying to mash your body into the pose. This is advice all people practicing yoga should heed. (I’m reminded of a story where one of my yoga teachers was teaching a class and offered a block to a student in her Level 2 class. The student refused, saying: “But I’m a Level 2 student!” My teacher replied, “And this is a Level 2 block.”) Everyone’s anatomy is just slightly different, and your shorter torso many not allow you to do things my longer toros permits me to do; whether your hands touch the floor is a function of bone length, not just flexibility. Lest you think Ms. Martin is advising everyone buy a bunch of yoga props, she specifically suggests using many items most of us already have available to us, including a wall or sofa. Ample suggestions for modifications and substitutes makes the practice accessible to just about anyone.

The end of the book has resources that are useful to people who just want a refresher or reminder of what to do. The “Quick Guide: Daily Practice” lists five elements (Breathe, Move, Close Your Eyes, Meditate, Set an Intention) with a sentence or two regarding each. These five elements are things literally anyone can do, even if they do not have a lot of time, space, or energy to devote to a practice. The “Move” component doesn’t suggest you need a specific series of yoga poses, but rather says “Wiggle your toes, go for a walk, practice a few poses. Every day do what feels good for you.” This type of movement is accessible no matter what your body is doing or feeling. Next, there is a “Reference Library” which repeats the yoga poses discussed in each chapter and the philosophical point Ms. Martin associated with each, plus the line drawing that originally accompanied the pose in the text.

Conclusion: Give It A Read?

Overall, I think this is a worthy read for those who have been diagnosed with a chronic illness, even if they have no interest in yoga poses—you can ignore that content and still get value from reading the book. I appreciate Ms. Martin’s personal insight. If you, or a loved one, live with a chronic illness—especially one that is “invisible” or one that includes living with chronic pain—I do recommend you check out The Yoga Prescription when it is released in January 2022.

TL;DR: hell yes they are. Plant-plastic is not “green” or friendly to the environment in any way. (It’s also not vegan.)

The iconic American brand Coca-Cola–historically no friend to the environment or to consumers in foreign markets–just announced the first plant-based plastic bottle. Coca-Cola, the world’s leading producer of plastic waste, generating more than 2.9 tons of plastic waste per year, has recently decided to go green–by making plant-plastic.

I came across this article on the LinkedIn feed for Vegan Business News and immediately questioned whether this development is vegan (it’s not), and whether this development is merely green-washing, roughly defined as the practice of making something look very eco-friendly and environmentally conscious for the purpose of cultivating consumer good-will (it is). Green-washing is also called eco-washing, or referred to as trying to add a “green halo” to a product to make consumers think it is good for the plant or the environment. The more I thought about it, the more annoyed I got.

My initial comment: “So…we’re going to continue to have microplastics pollution and regular plastic pollution, just now it will also be made from plants? I don’t buy it. Why not use glass or aluminum, both of which are much more easily recycled and have a longer useful life? This is greenwashing, plain and simple simple.  #greenwashing #notVegan #NotAVeganBusiness

One response I received claimed: “because the glass and can solutions are not clean either and the costs will not easily transfer to consumers. compostable would do…we are heading in that direction.” I’m not going to name the author of that comment, since he clearly had not read the article–this magical new plant-plastic will NOT be compostable.

Plant-Plastic is Still Plastic

Let’s start with the obvious: the plant-based plastic IS STILL PLASTIC.

Bottles? Unlikely to be recycled. Caps? NOT recyclable, despite that chasing-arrows recycling logo. Plastic bottle holder? Destined to choke wildlife.

Personally, I do not see how the solution to the single-use plastic problem is to make more single-use plastic. According to the article linked above, the plant-based plastic called bPET “is identical in molecular structure to virgin fossil-based PET.” This means that regardless of the ingredients, plastic is plastic. A spokesperson for Coca-Cola explained that the plant-plastic “can be mixed with rPET and virgin oil-based materials interchangeably including in the recycle stream.” These plant-plastic bottles will not be reusable or compostable. Coca-Cola is planning to increase its own capacity to recycle plastic (more on why that’s problematic below), but it’s still plastic.

Plastic is a “forever” product.

Since the plant-plastic is identical to the plastic we already have, with the same molecular structure, plant-plastic will pose all of the same problems as plastic. Plastic is not biodegradable and cannot be composted. (The corn-based “compostable plastic” forks and other single-use items you have seen? NOT compostable in municipal compost, where that service even exists. If you’ve experimented with composting these in your backyard composter, I’d love to hear how long it took them to fully break down. Oh, and some of them break down into micro-plastics!) The majority of plastic is not recycled, even if you put it into your recycling bin, assuming you even have recycling where you live. (People like to cite the statistic that “74% of Americans have access to recycling” but they always leave out the fact that data is based on access to recycle glass and aluminum–not plastic.) I’ve talked about this in prior posts, such as this one. In the past much of our plastic waste was shipped to China for recycling, but China started rejecting shipments before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Plastic is the wrong kind of “forever.”

Aluminum (made from metal minerals) and glass (made from silica, limestone, and soda ash) are “forever renewable.” You can basically reuse or recycle your aluminum beverage can or your glass beverage bottle until the end of time. (More on that when we talk alternatives.) Unlike aluminum and glass, plastic cannot be endlessly recycled. The article about Coca-Colas plant-plastic admits this: “While the majority of the company’s plastic packaging material will come from recycled content, some ‘virgin’ material will apparently still be needed to maintain packaging quality.” In other words, to continue using this plant-plastic, they will have to continue to produce more plastic! More single-use plastic is simply a bad idea.

Grow Plants to Eat, Not to Plastic!

I didn’t do a deep-dive into land use for this post, but if you’d like to, please drop a comment. A basic fact of planet Earth is that we have limited arable land, meaning land that can grow plants on it. Quite a bit of land is unavailable to grow plants for human use–deserts, swamps, wetlands, permafrost, etc.–so we should probably be thoughtful about how we choose to use the land that we do have available to us. I’m not going to argue we are doing a good job with this, but in a world where we’re already mowing down rainforest to start cattle ranches, shouldn’t we be focused on using our arable land for crops to feed humans and animals? (I’m not debating whether to go vegetarian or vegan here, that’s a different convo.) Doesn’t it seem like a bad idea to set aside land to grow plants to turn into plastic? Especially for the world’s largest producer of plastic waste (plastic that is not recycled)? It does to me, especially when climate change is threatening to take away some of the land we currently use, whether due to rising sea levels, change in the growing season conditions, or increase in severe weather events (including droughts and floods).

Plant-Plastic Will Likely Get Incinerated

According to the article cited above, Coca-Cola plant to introduce the plant-plastic in Europe. Unlike the United States, where few things are diverted for reuse or recycling and the remainder go to landfills, a large chunk of Europe produces less waste to start with and then deals with the rest using a trash incinerator. (Read about those here.) Currently many of them are “trash to energy” incinerators with environmental controls for many of the most dangerous pollutants and for particulate matter. That’s where single use plastic goes too—and “Burning plastic in a climate emergency, that’s insane,” said Georgia Elliott-Smith, an environmental engineer, according to that article. Even the most environmentally-friendly of these trash incinerators are falling out of favor in the age of climate change, as they produce CO2 (which we all know is a bad idea). As much as Coca-Cola claims they are going to collect and re-use this plant-plastic, in reality they have little impact on what consumers choose to do with empty plant-plastic bottles. The UK burns more than it recycles (across the board); why should we expect the rest of Europe to suddenly get on board with recycling for plant-plastic? We should not. Incinerated plant-plastic will contribute to CO2 production, which is the opposite of the eco-friendly label Coca-Cola has put on their plant-plastic. This, my friends, is greenwashing.

We Have The Alternatives

Glass

(c) Taras Chernus

Glass is endlessly recyclable. One article describes the state of glass recycling as sadly broken, and notes: “glass can be recycled endlessly by crushing, blending, and melting it together with sand and other starting materials.” The components are basically sand (silica), limestone, and soda ash. The article notes that about one-third of the glass in the U.S. is actually recycled (versus putting it in a recycling bin and then it goes to a landfill). This is a problem that is potentially fix-able if we–or Coca-Cola–can devote resources to expanding glass reuse or recycling. (The same isn’t true of plastic, which is not endlessly recyclable.)

While glass does have the disadvantage of being heavier than plastic, which has an impact on shipping costs (and associated fossil fuel usage), large companies like Coca-Cola already use a distribution system where products are bottled in multiple locations with an eye towards reducing the shipping distance. (Let’s not forget that beer, wine, and spirits are almost exclusively bottled in glass in the United States, with some notable exceptions for aluminum cans, and continue to be shipped from coast to coast.) Coca-Cola continues to distribute products in glass bottles in many non-U.S. countries. Have you ever bought Coca-Cola imported from Mexico? Always in a glass bottle. Coca-Cola has other brands in its portfolio that are bottled in glass (not plastic) so this isn’t a stretch at all!

Coca-Cola could even lead the pack by returning to returnable–not recyclable–bottles. You might not remember those, but Coca-Cola vending machines used to dispense heavy glass bottles. (In the 80s and 90s we had one in the basement of the church where my Girl Scout troop met.) These were returned, sanitized, and refilled. As a kid I remember getting all of our family’s sodas at a place called Towne Club, a private-label warehouse-type brand, where we returned the bottles not for a deposit but to be reused. In Portland, several companies dispense their beer or cider into refillable growlers, and a few are part of a glass bottle return program. (Those bottles are washed and sanitized, then refilled for retail sale.) This isn’t a radical concept.

Aluminum

(c) Alexander Antropov

You know about aluminum, right? The stuff all Coca-Cola cans–and even some bottles!–are made of? Aluminum is the most valuable thing in your recycling bin. (That article has a great summary of how reusable aluminum is, an how much energy is conserved by recycling it instead of making it from scratch.) Like glass, aluminum is almost infinitely recyclable. Nearly 75% of all aluminum ever made is still in use today. You cannot say the same for plastic, the vast majority of which is in landfills (or perhaps the ocean, or burned in European incinerators).

How valuable is aluminum? When I worked in the Texas legislature and a bottle deposit came up for a vote, the reason it always failed was aluminum. Why? Independent recycling centers rely on the income from aluminum recycling–the buy-back price more than covers the operations to collect and recycle it–to fund their operations and help recycle cardboard, paper, #1 and #2 plastic, and glass.

Coca-Cola already makes aluminum bottles, which are lighter than glass ones and not much heavier (if at all) than plastic ones. Again, this is not a new or radical idea! If they took a serious interest in recycling aluminum on a world-wide basis, they could easily use more aluminum bottles and maybe even use less plastic to make bottles. That would make a bigger impact than inventing a fake “eco-friendly” plant-plastic.

(Steel might be an option too, though I don’t know whether Coca-Cola would react with steel. Gnarly Sports Nutrition recently started a shift away from the plastic tubs most nutrition companies use, in favor of steel. According to Gnarly Nutrition, steel has the highest recycling rate of any material at 71% while plastic is at 8%. Their packaging is tin-coated. The switch from plastic to steel increased the price of the tub by 80 cents.)

Creativity: Concentrating or Dry-Shipping Beverages

With just the tiniest bit of creativity, Coca-Cola could shift many of its brands out of plastic OR reduce the amount of plastic they use instead of using more and making it from plants to look “green.” One option would be to only ship concentrated beverages. They already do this, shipping containers of Coca-Cola syrup to restaurants that use a system to add carbonated water to the syrup to make your beverage–all fast food restaurants, and nearly all other restaurants, obtain Coca-Cola this way. If you’ve got a Soda Stream or similar carbonation device, you can buy concentrated soda syrups to flavor your carbonated water, essentially making your own soda by just adding (carbonated) water. This solution has already been implemented by liquid laundry soap and fabric softener manufacturers, many of whom now sell concentrated formulas that require smaller packages and therefore last plastic. (Skip these and go plastic-free for your laundry though.) Again, not a novel or crazy idea–and Coca-Cola is already doing it on a small-scale.

Another option would be to create formulas that can be shipped dry. For example, Coca-Cola owns many brands that make tea. Historically, tea was shipped dry (either in bulk or in individual tea bags). There’s no real reason why Coca-Cola couldn’t ship tea brands as dry tea, and it would probably require fewer additives (i.e. colorants to make the product’s color appealing on the shelf, stabilizers so it can wait in a package before you drink it, etc.). Given the amount of money they must have thrown into making plant-plastic, surely they could redirect a few bucks to making dry mixes for their non-tea products as well. Coca-Cola classic only has like six ingredients, and 90% of it is carbonated water! These reformulated dry products could be shipped in individual compostable/recyclable paper packets (like sugar) or in bulk packing like a tin, steel tub, or a glass jar, avoiding plastic altogether.

Paperboard boxes and aluminum cans are both more likely to be recycled than plastic anything.

Conclusion: “Plant-Based Plastic” IS Totally Greenwashing

Plant-Based News recently wrote an article explaining that Coca-Cola is vegan except when it isn’t. A similar post at LiveKindly agrees, and notes that Coca-Cola is also an environmental disaster for using so much plastic. (LiveKindly notes that Coca-Cola has made a public commitment to use 50% recycled materials by 2030, but as the article that led to this blog post indicates, that’s because they’re planning to use more plastic!) There’s nothing particularly vegan about plant-based plastic (unless you intend to eat the bottle, which I’m going to assume Coca-Cola does not recommend).

Plant-based plastic is not compostable and has the same molecular structure as regular plastic. This means a single-use plant-plastic bottle creates the same problem as an oil-based plastic bottle.

There is nothing eco-friendly or “green” about creating more single-use plastic. The obvious alternatives, aluminum and glass, are both already in use and endlessly recyclable. With creativity, Coca-Cola could ship products that are more concentrated (they do for restaurants) or dry, further reducing plastic use. Instead, they have opted to invest in plant-plastic and using arable land to grow plants to make plastic instead of food.

Consumers should not be fooled by this blatant attempt to reclassify plastic as environmentally friendly, “green,” or any other version of good for planet Earth.