Cinnamon Girl

I really like cinnamon toothpaste. Cinnamon and clove, cinnamon and fennel, double cinnamon, whatever – I just feel like my mouth is cleaner after I use cinnamon toothpaste. I’m also very particular about my toothpaste, but you’d never know it. For some reason, when I’m in a relationship, toothpaste is the first line of defense to fall.

Well, that’s not exactly true. It’s not like there’s ever even a skirmish over it. Basically, as soon as someone writes their name in my dance card, and I just naturally assume that they will hate cinnamon toothpaste, and go out and buy a decent, respectable mint toothpaste that very day. Mind you, I keep some things sacred – I prefer a paste to a gel, wintergreen to peppermint, no weird colors, lots of scrubby texture and/or special whitening power promised on the box. Yes, I am a toothpaste snob. But, as I’ve realized this week, I naturally assume that my tastes in pastes will neither be appreciated, nor tolerated, by someone who wants to brush their teeth at my sink now and then.

Isn’t that sad? Not only do I willingly give up a thing that I typically find considerable joy in – I give it up without asking, and with no idea of whether I’m right or not. I automatically assume that my choices are invalid, and that I should make way IN MY OWN HOME for the obviously superior (and completely imagined) tastes of my visitors. My head is reeling at this. It’s one thing to be amenable to others, another to be a good hostess, another to take the desires of those we love into account. It’s something completely different to assume right out of the gate that you are absolutely in the wrong and must change a fundamental portion of your hygiene routine (something that wasn’t broken) to suit someone else’s tastes.

Ugh. So. I didn’t realize all of this last weekend – not yet. I just woke up with a mad desire to go and get new toothpaste, even though I still have half a tube left of some pretty decent mainstream mint. The urge to get new toothpaste grew over the course of the day, until I couldn’t really concentrate on whatever else I was supposed to be doing. So I dropped everything, went to the co-op, and bought the exact thing that I’d been dreaming of – cinnamon and clove toothpaste, with activated charcoal and bentonite clay. It’s black! It’s so fun to use, and it really does work. My teeth feel very clean, and my gums feel less irritated than they typically do. If you’re interested, check out My Magic Mud (no, that’s not paid placement). Along with the toothpaste, I bought a new mouthwash, cinnamon and neem. A tiny swig goes a long way, and caps off the whole tooth brushing experience quiet well.

There’s no real end to this story. My breath is warm and spicy, like my heart, like me. It has inspired me to look at other belongings I own, and products I use, and consider why I use them, and who that serves. How else have I been capitulating? Who else have I been bowing down to, needlessly?

Beautiful Is

Helen-Keller-quotes-about-beauty

It’s funny the things that we grow up learning not to say. When I was a little girl, my mother would have a fit whenever my father sometimes uttered “shit” or “damn” by accident. She wanted me to grow up to be a lady, and ladies never use what people in my neck of the woods call “cuss words”. In the end, her plan backfired. Every time she shushed my father’s errant cusses, it only served to make me more excited about the day I’d finally be able to pepper my own conversations with those juicy and forbidden verbal fruits. I actually added a few words in, just for good measure. Yes, Mum, I talk like a sailor when I’m not around you. Sorry about that.

The failure with cussing aside, sometimes her lessons worked. There were other things that I was instructed to avoid saying, things that still very rarely cross my lips. Two words that almost never see the light of day in my household are “ugly” and “stupid”. Even writing them feels unfair, crass, cruel. I mean, sure, every now and then I’ll describe an inanimate object as ugly, or an action as stupid, but when it comes down to it, I’d still rather use other words if possible. I don’t even like it when people talk about having an “ugly Christmas sweater”. It makes me feel sorry for the poor sweater. Guess that means I was programmed well.

That being the case, I’d especially never use either word to describe a person. But even though “ugly” is something I’d never call myself, neither is “beautiful”. Why is that?

Today’s prompt (Day 13) in Beautiful You is to talk about what the word “beautiful” means to us, and consider what it is that makes us use the word to describe other people. Maybe through exploring how we feel about beauty, we can be one step closer to understanding that we might just fit into our own parameters, and be beautiful, too.

To me, the most beautiful people I’ve met are those who shine from within. I’m picturing a handful of truly beautiful folks right now, and comparing them with each other in my mind. Each is kind, and would never be cruel intentionally. Each is willing to listen. Each is willing to help. Each is quick with a smile, and bounces back easily from adversity. Whether or not they believe in a higher power, they’ve each seemed to be a product of fate, as far as I was concerned. Each of the most beautiful lights in my life has appeared just when I needed them most, and imparted some kind of lesson to me. None of them are conventionally physically beautiful, but their attitudes and behavior make that kind of thing unnecessary. The light within gives them that kind of glow from which no sensible person can turn away.

I can only hope to be as beautiful as that one day. Until now, it’s never occurred to me that I was hoping for that kind of thing, but I’d love to be someone’s beacon one day. If it happens, it happens. But if not, that’s OK. I feel good about being me. It’s hard not to, when you realize how much beauty surrounds you.

 

Green Beauty Review: Pachy by Rustic Maka (Part 2)

Patchy Deodorant by Rustic Maka (sample sizes)

Keep reading to get 15% off from now through December 10th, 2014!

If you were reading on Tuesday, I posted Part 1 of this Green Beauty review on Pachy Deodorant by Rustic Maka. I promised to post again yesterday, but I have a head cold that’s been getting the better of me this week, so I’m running a day behind – sorry. It might be a good thing to be running late, though, because I found out something so cool about Pachy in the mean time! It turns out that Pachy is pronounced something like “Pax-y”, and actually means “armpit” in Polish. If you’re a lingo geek like me, you’ll probably find this endearing. If not, well, keep reading to find out more about why you should love Pachy 🙂

So you guys know that my typical go-to brand is Schmidt’s Natural Deodorant, though during the summer, there’s no natural product out there (that I’ve found) that can keep me staying dry enough to not get a rash within a few weeks of constant use. Most of the year, I use a natural deodorant and carry a jar of cornstarch or arrowroot powder with me to dust my underarms periodically throughout the day, and coconut oil to soothe skin irritations. However, by late August, when I received the samples of Pachy, I’d already returned to my yearly summertime habit of over-the-counter antiperspirant use (I know, I’m awful, but if it’s the choice between maybe getting cancer one day and definitely having red, burning, achey, and insanely itchy armpits today, I’m going to take the gamble).

Then it occurred to me: Let’s use this as a chance to do an experiment! I’d try Pachy in New Orleans’ hottest and most humid conditions, then try it again when the weather had cooled a bit and I wasn’t sweating buckets.

Trial #1: August 20th through 27th
Temperatures ranged from 94 degrees Fahrenheit down to a lovely, cool, 88 degrees (that’s a joke, btw), with average daily humidity levels in the 80% range. My daily activity level is pretty high – I walk about 2.5 miles to work every morning along a route that doesn’t offer much shade, walk another 2.5 miles back home in the evening, plus go to the gym for a few more miles’ run, weight lifting, etc. I also spend my day working in an un-airconditioned building. In other words, summer is an extremely sweaty affair.

Trial #2: October 20th through 27th
Temperatures ranged from 83 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, down to around 62 degrees at night. Humidity dropped a bit, too (thank goodness) – to only around 50% most days. My activity level didn’t change, but due to not feeling like I was trying to run a marathon under a heat lamp, I was sweating a bit less.

The results? I loved the way Pachy smoothed onto my skin. It’s not crumbly or dry, and it also wasn’t sticky and waxy the way a lot of natural deodorants tend to be. I love to be able to just put my deo on and go – no holding my arms up to let my pits dry out for a minute, like with a roll on deo, and no worrying about getting it all over your clothes if you’re getting ready to put a shirt on, etc. Pachy is perfect in that regard. I could easily put a bit on and walk out the door, and I loved it.

As far as smelliness on my part went, I found that the active ingredients in Pachy kept me from getting stinky for a long time. I’d put some on before leaving the house, get super sweaty on the way to the gym/work, then wash up a little and put on some more. I wouldn’t be stinky at all when I was reapplying, just sweaty (and sweaty to me means getting an underarm rash, so I always like to wash up, get dry, and reapply after an hour or so of constant sweating). Once the weather got cooler, I found that especially if I wasn’t doing anything strenuous, I could apply once and not have to “treat” for stinkyness for 24 hours or so. In other words, this stuff really works for odor prevention.

Pachy only fell short for me in two highly-personal regards. My personal preference is for spicy, musky scents. I prefer a scent profile that some might find more manly – sandalwood, vetiver, patchouli, amber, balsam – and though Pachy smells lovely and clean, I like to be a little spicier. It’s wonderful if you’re looking more for a “fresh out of the shower” scent, though. My favorite of all of the scents was the Rough Rivers scent, which is sold as the men’s version of the deodorant. I’d recommend that if you want to try Pachy out and you’re also into something stronger/spicier, take Rough Rivers for a spin.

Secondly, as I’ve already mentioned, I tend to get armpit rashes if I’m not really careful about keeping them dry and protected from chafing. For me, it felt like once the product soaked into my skin, it didn’t leave enough of a creamy barrier to protect my armpits from rubbing and creating a rash. Like I said before, though, I always carry around cornstarch or arrowroot powder for that, so it wasn’t that big of a deal – I just dusted some on. It’s just something to keep in mind if you’re also a delicate flower who has to pay way more attention to her armpits that she’d like 😀

Overall, I loved Pachy. I wish that they had a few more scents in the roundup, but the product itself was effective for long periods of time and generally felt great on. If you’re in the market for something new for your pits, try them out! Here’s an even bigger incentive – from now until 12/10/14, my readers can use code PACHY2014 to receive 15% off your orders at RusticMaka.com. Pretty awesome, right?

Green Beauty Review: Pachy Deodorant by Rustic Maka

Pachy Deodorant by Rustic Maka (sample sizes)

Keep reading to get 15% off from now through December 10th, 2014!

Recently, I found out about a new player in the vegan, organic, non-toxic deodorant market, called Pachy. Created by boutique brand Rustic Maka, Pachy is handcrafted and cruelty-free, two of my favorite things to see on a label when researching new health and beauty products. Kasia Rothe, one of the owners of Rustic Maka, graciously sent me a sample pack of the brand’s five deodorant scents, so I could try Pachy out on my (notoriously picky) pits.

By now we all know that drugstore brand deodorants and antiperspirants typically include aluminum, parabens, talc, propylene glycol, triclosan, TEA, FD&C colors, and DEA, chemicals that have been linked to dermatitis, Alzheimer’s, cancer*, liver disease, kidney disease, antibiotic resistance, and disrupted thyroid function. In direct opposition to the drugstore brands, Pachy’s formula is free of toxic chemicals, parabens, aluminum, gluten, corn, soy, GMOs, triclosan, and propylene-glycol, so I felt great about applying it to my delicate underarms and giving it a go!

Product Packaging: My first thought at seeing the samples of Pachy were that the packaging was adorable. The labels could be affixed a little better (I don’t believe this is the case for the full-sized containers, which look like they’re packaged differently), but the colors and design are pretty, and I love the idea of having deodorant samples in containers about the size of a tube of lip balm. Each container gives you enough to apply several times a day for four or five days, making these perfect for packing in your purse or saving room in your travel bag for a weekend getaway.

Product Scent: Pachy currently comes in five different regular scents – Calming Fields (primary scents of lavender and spearmint, with hints of coconut and shea butter), Naughty Butter (unscented, with hints of coconut and shea butter), Sweet Lemonade (primary scents of lemon, orange, and vanilla, with hints of coconut and shea butter – I thought it smelled a little like Love’s Fresh Lemon), Wild Meadows (primary scents of bergamot and vanilla, with hints of coconut and shea butter), and Rough Rivers (primary scent of bergamot, with hints of coconut and shea butter).

There’s also an additional special edition scent called Morning Breeze (primary scents of lavender, spearmint, orange, lemongrass, and vanilla), the sales of which benefit Angels of Hope, a family cancer foundation. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to smell the latter, but the other five smell amazing, so I can only imagine that Morning Breeze would be a great buy, both for scent and to benefit a great charity.

Test Parameters: I had the unique opportunity to test out Pachy in two New Orleans seasons – late summer (which is really our midsummer around here) and early fall. Tune in on Thursday to find out how it performed!

In the mean time, head over to Rustic Maka’s site to find out more about their company and products. While you’re there, use code PACHY2014 to get 15% off of your total order from now until 12/10/14.

*The FDA and the National Cancer Institute dispute the connection between deodorants and breast cancer, but studies have been inconclusive thus far.

On The Sixth Day Of Detox, My Caffeine Withdrawals Gave To Me…

…a strikingly non-committal headache. This headache is so lame. It’s more like the ghost of a headache; it’s not going to do any real harm, but it will hang around and force out some weak moaning and a bit of chain rattling. It’s so lame that it’s like the headache version of Hugh Grant’s acting versatility. Let’s just leave it at this: I’m annoyed by the flimsy, yet surprisingly cloying, nature of this fucking caffeine withdrawal headache. Give me a decent migraine any day – at least then I don’t have to feel guilty about suffering debilitating pain. Now it’s just me, both bored AND annoyed by that boredom, trying to kick a headache that’s been hovering around like a little Bart Simpson, “I’m not touching you! I’m not touching you! I’m not touching you!” Ugh.

Other than that, going off of coffee, alcohol, meat, wheat, dairy, and processed crapola has been pretty easy. Weird, right? No cravings yet, unless you count having a dream about eating potato chips while shopping for the perfect po-boy earlier today. The worst bit has been managing expected cravings. You know, when you know you have a social situation coming up, and you have to run through all of the ways your resolve might be tested at said social situation? I’ve been putting myself through mental exercises for all kinds of emotional eating/drinking hazards – the feeling of needing a sandwich when I’m super stressed at work, the feeling of needing a glass of wine after a long day at the office, the feeling of needing a drink just at thinking about hanging out with more than one or two people at a time, the feeling of needing pizza/bread/fried food to be able to watch TV at the greatest level of comfort, what it’s going to be like to be sober at a bar, etc…

Today the headache kind of ruined my plans to hang out with a big group of people who were on a drinking tour of Decatur Street. Typically, I’d be first in line for a bar crawl of that magnitude, especially with those specific people, who’re amazing. But not drinking either of my two favorite classes of beverages kind of puts a damper on fun, and adds a LOT more social anxiety to the mix. I’ve been preparing myself all week for how to handle any situation that I’d come up against, and was kind of looking forward to trying out my resolve. As it turns out, the headache had other plans, and that’s probably good. I only have $20, anyway, and I’m not really sure how much club soda that would get me. And I’d need A LOT. Maybe 15 refills or so to help handle how overstimulated I’d feel in a 50+ person crowd.

So now I’m at home alone, sober and a little hungry, at 10:20 on a Saturday night. My temples are throbbing gently, keeping time to the spin cycle on the washing machine next door. Those bastards have a washing machine! I walked four miles today to get all of my laundry done. FOUR MILES! I’m not actually complaining about the walking – it’s how I work out. But seriously, a washing machine would be golden.

I guess I did forget to mention how tired I’ve been. Part of that is going off of the caffeine, part is (I’m sure) boredom, and I’m guessing that part of it is not having the right combination of nutrients yet. I’m getting in a lot of fresh vegetables, and a good amount of protein, but I’m not sure that I’ve got carbs covered as well as I should. I’m probably going to start supplementing with a daily protein shake to get my carbs and protein both up a bit more. It’s still less than a week in, too. I’m sure just learning how to live without stimulants is confusing my body. A few days ago, I smelled a cup of coffee and my arms went numb. It’s going to be awhile before my body is completely back to normal.

 

Clean Days

So yesterday was the beginning of 30 days without alcohol, coffee/Diet Coke, meat, bread/pasta/processed foods, or dairy. I’m sticking to whole foods. Lots of veggies and fruits, water and green tea, and I’m sure a lot of lethargic mid-afternoons until I learn how to live without stimulants again. Not to mention really boring evenings as I trade in my wine for herbal tea, or whatever it is that people typically drink at the end of a long day when they’re trying to avoid chugging liquid sugar for a month.

Yesterday was Labor Day, and I went to a house party. To avoid drinking wine or beer with the rest of the guests, I brought a 12-pack of coconut club soda. That worked pretty well. I stayed hydrated and still had a drink to hold the entire time. I polished off all but two last night, and made short work of those remaining cans today at lunch. No coffee yesterday or this morning, either, which probably explains why my eyes are feeling so heavy right now. I could really use a nap.

Since I was at a party, and didn’t feel like hating my life completely, I went ahead and ate whatever I wanted yesterday (bison burgers, sausages, chips and fruit w/yogurt dip). Figured for Day 1, it was a big enough accomplishment to be avoiding liquor and coffee. Today, however, I haven’t had anything that’s on my “no” list. So far, I’ve had steel cut oatmeal & fruit for breakfast, and a big bowl of miso soup with tarrow root and tofu for lunch. My head is swimming right now, though. I’m feeling majorly worn out, which is probably a combination of not enough food, and my body detoxing from coffee. Sigh.

OK, time to figure out what I’ve got to do to keep myself alert and productive for the rest of the afternoon. So much work to do, and definitely not enough time for napping or indulging in brain fog.

Creating a 5 Year Plan – Part 3A (Health)

If you’ve been following along as I attempt to build a comprehensive 5 year plan, you’ll know that I started piecing together the plan by writing out my overall life goals, with a plan to then break each goal down into sub-goals and smaller sub-goals. Are those called sub-sub-goals? Tasks? Mini-goals? I don’t know. Give me a break, I’m still figuring this stuff out.

Anyway, my first stab at this was all about debt, and getting out of it. You’ll be happy to know that since I last posted, I’ve generally been pretty good about staying on target – I’ve cut back on social spending, stopped buying so much food, and I’m set up to start making more money in the near future. All of these are good things, and actually affect some of my other major life goals, like going on pilgrimage, seeing the world, and eventually having the freedom to do more writing, sing in a band, and who knows, perhaps even have my own home. We’ll see. It’s going to be a slow and steady process – at least 5 years, lol. (See what I did there?)

I’ve been holding off on writing this post for a couple of weeks now, mostly because I had some kind of harebrained idea that if I just took a little more time to think about it, I’d magically come up with all of my health-related subgoals and how to achieve them. Since the point of constructing a 5 year plan is to help you effectively sketch out your goals and start mapping out how to achieve them, procrastination didn’t get me anywhere but two weeks late on posting. That being the case, I’m just going to start throwing out ideas, and possibly have more than two blog posts related to the goal of health. It’s not like there are solid rules here, so let’s get going!

One of the things that’s had me stumped is that there are a few different things going on in my head when I think about my health. Health can be physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual, so beauty and femininity and lifestyle issues all kind of fall into the “health” category for me. It’s a LOT to digest. Here are some of the things I’ve been considering, in no particular order. Many of them overlap, so bear with me, here:

  • Legitimate health concerns, based on family history (Hypothyroidism, Anxiety, Obesity, Macular Degeneration, Cancer, and High Blood Pressure, for instance)
  • Legitimate health concerns, based on current physical/mental symptoms (Hypothyroidism, Anxiety, Obesity, Back Pain, Eating Issues, Concentration Issues)
  • Other health concerns, not based on family history or personal history, but rather just general fear (Alzheimer’s, Dementia, Type II Diabetes, Cancer, Fertility Issues, Autism (potential future children))
  • Beauty / Perception of Femininity, which includes elective procedures based solely on vanity (braces, Lasik surgery, laser hair removal) plus other pretty regular stuff, like hair styling, mani/pedis, facials, waxing, makeup application, and of course, my weight.
  • Living a chemical-free lifestyle (household products and health & beauty products)
  • Being in great physical shape, then maintaining that to age gracefully
  • Obtaining a greater range of motion
  • Stress-relief
  • Mental wellbeing
  • Sleep issues that affect my daily routine (mostly not being able to wake up before 10, no matter how early I go to bed)
  • Reproductive health
  • Aging concerns (mostly vanity-related, but also related to mobility and weight)
  • Sexuality

That’s a lot of stuff to think about, and I’m having trouble finding a good way to break it all down into bite-sized chunks. Most of it seriously overlaps in multiple ways, as well. For instance, my sleep issues and procrastination are intertwined, and cause major stress on a daily basis. Both of those most likely affect my concentration, and definitely affect my eating issues. Those, in turn, affect my weight, which affects my mobility and perceived beauty, leading to more stress/mental issues/aging concerns, PLUS negatively impacting my health and leading to Diabetes, heart issues, impaired thyroid function (which is a two-way street, since it’s possibly the reason I’ve got the sleep issues and anxiety to begin with)…and so on.

It’s way too much to nail down in one blog post, but since I’ve been holding back on finishing this one up for so long, I’m just gonna go ahead and post it, then move forward with maybe revising the way I’m thinking about all of the different layers of health. Maybe I should think head to toe, inside out, and ignore diseases while looking to repair the core issues first. Whatever that means. Have patience with me, folks! And in the mean time, let me know if you’re working on your own 5 year plan for health and wellbeing, and how you’ve tackled it. I’d LOVE to know what other people are doing in this realm.

 

Weight Loss Presents #1 and #2

I’ve been thinking about it a bit today, and have decided what I’ll be giving myself for reaching my 5 lbs. and 10 lbs. goals. First off, a little background. I started concentrating on losing these stubborn pounds on Sunday, June 30th, at which point I was 179.4 lbs. I’m working to lose 2 lbs. a week, which means that I should (hopefully) reach my first 5 lbs. goal (174.4 lbs.) around July 15th if everything goes right. That’s 13 days from now, slightly less than two weeks. Who knows, maybe I’ll do what I’ve done historically and drop that initial weight quicker – typically I end up losing the first 10 lbs. super quickly, then my body slows down and goes back to the normal 2 lbs. a week thing. Sometimes it will be as much as 10 to 15 lbs. in a week, which would be fun but is definitely not necessary. I just want to keep this gradual and ongoing for the next four and a half months. Anyway, so if everything runs on schedule and I lose 5 lbs. by 7/15, I should lose the next 5 lbs. (putting me at 169.4 lbs.) by the beginning of August. I know, I know, this is all very boring and full of numbers. I’m not too fond of numbers, either, but it’s kind of how this thing works. Just wait until I start taking and posting body measurements – now that’s gonna get super irritating, right? 🙂

Anyway, on to the more exciting stuff – my presents!!!

I’ve decided that Present #1, on or around July 15th if all goes well, will be a day at the spa, with a facial, massage, and mani/pedi! Yeah, I know it sounds like I’m setting the bar pretty high, but I’ll let you in on a little secret: I’m a member at Massage Envy, and I’ve got 6 months’ worth of services waiting for me to redeem them. Plus, my favorite nail place is right next door and it’s a bit of a hike to get there, so I might as well make a day of it, right? So I’ll get the massage and facial for free, and just have to pay for the mani/pedi. Totally worth it, since I’ve been doing my own nails for a couple of months now and it’s really just sad – I should not be allowed to dabble in nail polish. I think that this time around, I’ll treat myself to a fancier nail design than I typically get. Maybe rhinestones in my pedicure, or chevron nails, or something cool and different. I’ve always been scared to ask for a special design, so maybe this is the time to get bold with it.

As for Present #2, I’ve been jonesing for a seaweed body wrap ever since my last one back in January of 2013 (so sad that it’s been that long – ack!). For those of you who’ve never had a body wrap, they come in slightly different formats, but in general the process includes getting coated in a mud or paste infused with essential oils and other goodness, then getting wrapped up in saran wrap and covered with a blanket. It’s kind of like getting a mud mask, but on your entire body, and it generally is cold and weird and awesome. Afterwards, you shower and get a short massage, and you leave feeling like a million and one dollars. They’re supposed to help you detox, have tighter skin, and shed excess water weight, but really I just love being pampered. Plus, when you get out of that seaweed treatment your skin is unbelievably soft, like baby smooth. It’s amazing. I have a gift certificate to the spa that I’ve been waiting to use, so as soon as I lose that 10 lbs., I’m allowed to head on over to get the royal treatment. I might even put a little extra down and get a second treatment that day, like a short massage, or maybe a salt scrub to make me even more buttery soft. We’ll see.

So what do you think? Have you ever offered yourself incentives when it’s time to undertake an onerous task like weight loss? How’d it work out?

On Lady Shame and Menstrual Cups

I promised you guys this post back in January, and have been thinking about how to word it ever since. Part of writing blog posts like this is to help me get more comfortable with admitting I’m a woman to the world. Yes, I know that sounds strange, but bear with me.

I was brought up to believe that “ladies” don’t talk about their “private parts” and “lady-time” – i.e. vaginas, blood, secretions, cramps, smells, feelings, feminine care products, the whole kit and kaboodle. But here’s the thing: the ability to conceive and hold offspring inside of our bodies (whether or not a pregnancy ever occurs, for whatever reason) is one of the biggest differences between men and women. And if we can’t talk about the signs and symptoms (physical and mental) that come along with that difference, we’re denying a major portion of our experience.

Throughout history, many cultures found ways to write women off as unclean and shameful. My mind always goes back to the Church fathers of the early middle ages, who expounded upon the Mary Magdalene story to create a character who was not only flawed, but filthy. Yes, she was ultimately redeemable, but in her rewritten state she was a symbol of femininity’s lowness. She was also conveniently a way for the Church to give men permission to have sex with prostitutes outside the bounds of matrimony – allowing wives to remain as spiritually clean as possible through limited sex, only for procreation, while prostitutes were equated to sewers, existing as vessels that helped men empty themselves of sin, by way of semen. (For more on medieval prostitution and the Church, here’s an essay by Vincent M. Dever on the writings of 13th century theologian Thomas of Aquinas.)

Anyway, I’ve gotten off topic. But just remember next time you feel ashamed to talk about your lady bits that there’s nothing to be ashamed about. It’s not a dirty secret – it’s a beautiful part of who you are. Unless you’re a guy, in which case, sorry dude. You missed out.

So on with the show!

I bought a SckoonCup, for reasons you can read about in my post about choosing a menstrual cup. I took it out of its cute package, boiled it in water, and marveled at its squishyness. A few days later, it was time to try it out, and that’s where the learning curve got pretty steep. It suddenly dawned on me that I had never voluntarily touched menstrual blood before, and now here I was, not only getting ready to maybe get blood on my hands, literally, but also I was going to have to root around in there. This was going to get messy. I’m ashamed to say it now, but I almost gave up before I began. It took giving myself a pep talk that sounded a lot like the first few paragraphs of this post before I willed myself to get on with it.

Just gonna say this right now: I’ve read quite a few stories about how long it takes to get the hang of using a menstrual cup. It seems like most women get it all figured out within a few days. However, it took me longer…almost three months to stop having spills and literally making a bloody mess out of things. What can I say – I’m not that coordinated.

At the time, my built-in shame machine kept telling me that it was my vagina’s fault. Maybe it wasn’t shaped like other people’s, or maybe it was too shallow, or too deep, or it didn’t have enough traction (huh?) to catch the cup, or maybe every time I shifted around or did something active I was making the cup move, etc. All of these half-assed excuses were just ridiculous ways to make me feel bad about myself, because that’s what I do (and am obviously working on not doing in the future). Yes, vaginas are all different, but not THAT different. If they were, we’d be seeing more square, triangular, or hell, even star-shaped menstrual cups (or – let’s face it – penises) to handle the issue. As it is, menstrual cups are all round because, surprise of surprises, basically so are our vaginas. Our inner workings are also intended to stretch and shift shape to a degree, so worst-case scenario, soft silicone menstrual cups bend a little bit and become ovals to make the most of the situation.

My problem, as I’ve discovered is the case with a decent subset of new menstrual cup users, was inserting the cup and not allowing it to open. After years of using a tampon, you get used to just shoving something up there and letting it do its thing. But when you’re putting a cup in place, you’ve got to think about it getting into position so that it can not absorb fluids, but rather catch them. If the cup doesn’t open properly inside of you, some of the blood will probably still get trapped in the cup, but more will make it past the cup and down the sides, and then – you guessed it – onto your fave new knickers.

If you’re like me, you haven’t felt that “uh oh, something’s going wrong up there” feeling since middle school and the days of pads (blech). Getting to the point where you feel basically in control of your period is a major stepping stone on the path to adulthood, so suddenly backtracking now, so much later, is a huge bummer. Needing to run to the bathroom to try to rectify the problem a couple of times each workday will make you want to seriously just give up, but don’t quit. Keep trying. You WILL get there. Some of you (you lucky, perfect bitches, you) will get there within the first cycle. Others, like me, will be much less coordinated. Here’s what you do:

1) Learn the different ways to fold the cup prior to insertion. You’d be surprised how many folds there are to accomplish this. I’m into origami, so this was a mildly interesting process. (Click here for photos of menstrual cup folds.)

2) Make sure that once the cup is in, it opens up. Many women say that the key is to rotate the cup once it’s inside of you, and this will help it to open. I don’t find that this helps at all. I’ve never given birth, and things are pretty snug up there, so turning the cup just rotates it without opening it. For me, the best thing has been inserting the cup a little way in, and letting it open almost as soon as it gets into the vaginal canal. At that point, I push it in all the way and it suctions pretty quickly. I can both hear and feel it suctioning, which is more than a little odd at first. It took me about three months, but once I got the hang of it, no more “accidents” and my period became about 99% stress free and not nearly as messy.

3) Remember to empty it. For the first couple of cycles, I wasn’t certain when this needed to occur. Though I’d been having my period monthly for almost 20 years, I hadn’t ever made note of typical blood flow each time. In fact, from what I can gather about myself in the old days, it seems like I did my best to completely ignore everything that was happening below the belt line for one week a month. One of the less-obvious things that I learned when I switched to a menstrual cup is what days of my period tend to be heavier, and just what “heavy” means for me.

4) Get comfortable with reaching up there. Most menstrual cups (all? I’m not sure) have a little stem at the bottom that you’re supposed to grab onto to pull the cup out when you need to empty it. Since the SckoonCup is made of silicone, the stem is very stretchy, and I snapped the bottom portion of the stem off of mine soon after I figured out how to use the cup correctly. Bottom line is that the cup works by suctioning in place, and sometimes that bond is going to need some help in unsuctioning. If you just tug the stem, you’ll either end up breaking it (been there) or hurting yourself (either by the suction pulling at your cervix, or by losing your grip on the stem and having it snap back at you in the vajayjay…so uncool). To avoid this, you’ll need to break the suction on the cup with your finger first. I’ve found that the easiest way to remove the cup, for me, is to reach in with finger and thumb, grab the bottom of the cup, and squeeze just enough to break the suction at the top, then pull the whole thing out from there. Some days that feels super easy, and others I feel like I’m undertaking a grand maneuver of some kind. Either way, it works, and weirdly, though I always expect a major spill, it’s mess-free.

Most of all, remember that there’s more to this process than just choosing a new whatsit to stick up your hooha. (Yes, I’m laughing that I just typed that, but it’s the truth). I’m gonna go all Earth Mama on you here, but stick with it – this is all about the journey. Take this time to relish the fact that you’re finding out more about yourself. For me, the biggest change that’s come out of deciding to switch to a menstrual cup isn’t that my carbon footprint is a bit smaller (true), or that I feel more comfortable during my moon (also true), but that I’ve grown into the kind of woman who can write a blog post like this, post it to Twitter, and look forward to comments.

Many of my friends with children have described having a baby as this incredible learning process, both about themselves and the child. The thing is, we shouldn’t have to wait until we’re pregnant to start learning about our bodies – and we shouldn’t stop paying attention after childbirth, either. We’re complicated and beautiful and messy, but that’s only a fabulous, empowering thing if you see it and accept it about yourself.

So here you are, ladies (and any brave, mature gents who’re awesome enough to be secure with reading something like this). Please share your comments. I want to know what you’ve learned about yourself – physical, mental, emotional – while switching to a menstrual cup. Feel free to share horror stories, if you’ve got them. I’d really love to see good stories about being able to worry less, or feeling comfier. Hope to hear from you!

Choosing a Menstrual Cup – One Girl’s Story

SckoonCup

Seven months ago, I made the big decision to not only ween myself off of pharmaceutical birth control (read more about the FAM Method here), but also to make the switch from using disposable feminine hygiene products to using just one, reusable, menstrual cup. The latter of the two decisions was long in the making.

For years, I’d been uncomfortable with having to throw away so many used tampons and applicators each month. Research suggests that the pads, tampons, and packaging thrown away during a woman’s lifetime can add up to almost 300 pounds of garbage. Just as worrisome, if not more so, is the question of toxicity. Between the phthalates in applicators, bleach in the cardboard, and pesticides (plus more bleach) in the cotton, I was getting nervous about the chemicals I was exposing myself to, intimately, each month. When the only tampon I’d ever found that was actually comfortable and effective was discontinued this summer, I took that as my sign to move forward with exploring my options.

I’d heard that it was possible to get washable, reusable pads, but my memories of using menstrual pads as a girl are horrific, to say the least. The middle school-era embarrassment over the personal perception of the messiness and smell are just not something I’d ever like to revisit. A few years ago, I ran across mention of a thing called a “menstrual cup” somewhere online, and then about a year ago, a female family member basically sang praises to her DivaCup in conversation. I interrogated her on the product and the process, and learned that a menstrual cup is pretty much what it sounds like – a little cup that’s inserted in your vagina to collect fluids during your period. Depending on the brand and material chosen, the cup can last for years, they can be so flexible and comfortable that you don’t feel them, and depending on capacity, you might only have to empty the cup once a day during your period. When it came time to make my switch, it seemed like a no brainer.

Only one problem: which menstrual cup to choose? Since I had no clue, and the only one my family member had ever tried was the only one she knew about, I turned to an online forum for some of my answers. If you’re in the market for a happier cycle, I’d start at the really friendly community of http://menstrual-cups.livejournal.com/, and also check out the menstrual cup reviews and photos at http://menstrualcups.wordpress.com/. Both sites are chock-full of information on all sorts of questions typically perceived as embarrassing or risque, including FAQs like appropriate brands for different body shapes and sizes, tips for menstrual cup use on-the-go, insertion and removal issues…just about anything you’ve got a question for, someone else has the answer.

As for me, after lurking about the forums for awhile, reading testimonials and reviews, and looking through photos, I started to realize that I had some things in common with some women. I knew that I’d need something soft and ultra-flexible, suitable for sensitivity (no exposed seams or ridges that could cause irritation), something that has excellent reviews for staying in place while running/being active, a cup that had multiple sizes (most cups have a size for pre-childbirth and another, larger size for post-childbirth), and also important for me was a cup that was bright and pretty. Even though by its very definition, the menstrual cup is most likely never going to be seen by anyone else, I still wanted it to be something cheery and cute. If comfort weren’t an issue, I would have opted for something encrusted in Swarovski crystals – that’s just how I roll. 🙂

In the end, I opted for a brand called SckoonCup. Made of soft, medical grade silicone, the cup is touted to be one of the softest and most flexible menstrual cups on the market. It also comes in a variety of bright colors, and is made of one piece of silicone, so no exposed seams. The cup is made in the USA, and comes with an adorable organic cotton storage bag that makes it almost a pleasure to “unwrap” the cup once a month. Also, unlike many menstrual cup companies, SckoonCup not only sells menstrual cups, but a variety of other products for women and babies.

Buying a menstrual cup is one thing – learning to use it is another. Click here to read more about my (unfiltered) experience using SckoonCup.