I wear a cup

A warning to my dad and anyone else who’s not keen on reading about menstruation in general and mine in particular: you may want to skip this post. If you feel up to it, though, by all means read on! This is human biology: the topic and your interest in it are nothing to be ashamed of.

Here it is, with the cute (and handy) little storage bag that came with it. Overall length of cup is 2.75″. And, yes, my bathroom countertops really are purple. (sigh)

It is estimated that modern women experience about 450 periods in their lifetime[1]. At 5 days a piece, that’s 2,250 days with Aunt Flo, or 322 shark weeks. More than six years of my life will be spent bleeding from a major orifice! If I live to be 70 that will be almost 9 percent of my life on the rag. I will spend significantly less time, say, brushing my teeth, but I have no qualms about talking to the strange woman beside me at WinCo about floss and bristles. If we were ten feet further down the very same aisle, however, (in front of “feminine hygiene”) chances are we wouldn’t even make eye contact with one another. While I can acknowledge intellectually that this is a total crock, I cannot force myself to throw aside conventional manners and strike up a conversation with a real life person about vaginas in the grocery store.

That, my friends, is the beauty of the blog. Even someone with social anxiety such as mine can pose as a self-assured woman of the world in digital print.

* tosses hair triumphantly and looks into middle distance *

(Or, to paraphrase a text post from Tumblr: Some things are so private you can only share them with 17,000 strangers online.)

Longtime readers know of my obsession with natural alternatives and all things reusable. I use washable cloth coffee filters. I go nowhere without at least one canvas tote bag. I wash and reuse zip-top baggies. I bring my own mug to the espresso stand. I special-ordered a reusable K&N air filter for my beloved Volvo. But until very recently I was still using disposable pads and tampons — and putting myself through paroxysms of guilt and anxiety about it. Guilt for continuing to create unnecessary landfill waste once a month and anxiety about the alternative methods that would prevent that waste. (In my defense I was using Natracare products, which are organic, plastic-, perfume-, and chlorine-free and just about as awesome as disposables can hope to be.)

I had toyed with the idea of reusable pads for yeeeeeeeears. They are easy to make if you can so much as sew a button, and are plentiful online in sizes and colors and shapes and fabrics galore if you can’t sew so much as a button or just enjoy supporting cottage industry. Initially what kept me away from reusable pads was the mess: without a plastic layer there is still a chance for soak-through if you aren’t diligent about changing them. Also, the idea of a bucket under the sink full of water and used pads was too much even for this home butcher of backyard livestock. Many pad makers use PUL (polyurethane laminate) fabric on the backside of their pads to prevent the evil from wicking into your panties, and while the cloth diaper movement has made PUL fabric widely available, machine-washable varieties were not available until fairly recently.

But what finally pushed me past the “intermediate” step of washable pads to the greenest of all menstrual options, the cup, was yoga and my bum shoulder.

I have kvetched in a previous post about hurting my shoulder in the spring of 2014 (and subsequently re-injuring it twice). I have regained almost my full range of motion but I still cannot sleep on my right side. This means that for 5-7 nights a month I can only sleep in one position (on my left side) unless I employ le tampon. Without “shovies” (thanks, MST3K) I am also unable to do pretty much half of the yoga poses in my favorite routines. (Half an hour of nothing but mountain pose and the various warrior stances is kinda boring, to be honest. Yoga without downward dog just doesn’t feel like yoga.)

So I did it. We had a few extra bucks and Amazon was having a sale on Diva cups ($27.99 + free shipping, and they were $49.99 on the shelf at the local Hippy Connection*) so I placed an order super duper quick before I could change my mind.

(I was a little disconcerted when a ring of blinding light radiated rapidly out from my heart chakra and a disembodied voice boomed “LEVEL UP!!!” I haven’t been keeping track,but I think this makes me a level 4 or 5 hippy. I’m not a vegetarian or vegan (although I’d say I’m a flexitarian these days) but I drive a car that can run on alternative fuel; I have a fully paid membership in a natural foods cooperative; I garden organically; I don’t use commercial shampoo, conditioner, or deodorant; I bake my own bread; I have made my own soap; I have made my own yogurt; there are two active carboys of homebrew bubbling away in the house right this minute; and I have raised and butchered my own meat . . . and now there’s this thing. I don’t think I can level up again until I finally purchase a brick of tofu. CHEAT CODE: Installing a PV array or wind turbine will take a level 1 hippy directly to level 10.)

There are more than a dozen brands of menstrual cups out there. I chose Diva for the simple reason that I am not very good at making decisions. Diva is the #1 seller on Amazon (and worldwide, I think) and it was also on sale at the time that I made my purchase. I could have made one of my very extensive charts but then I would have lost my nerve again. I can’t tell you which brand is right for you or how to make that decision.

So, for those of you not in the loop, what the hell is a menstrual cup? It’s a silicone cup worn inside the vagina to catch menses. (Cue Flora Poste.**) You put it in before the show starts, empty it 2-4 times in each 24-hour period until the river runs dry, store it, and reuse it again the next month. Modern cups are made of medical grade silicone and can last up to 10 years. Somehow I had gotten the idea that these babies were invented in the 70s but in researching for this post I found out that the first menstrual cup was patented in 1932! They were on the market back in 1937 and new models were introduced sporadically from there on out, but the first the mainstream heard of them was in the 1980s with The Keeper. Cups were generally made of rubber until the last decade or two when manufacturers started making them out of silicone, which has the dual advantages of being hypoallergenic and much more durable than latex.

My cup arrived on a Monday and Aunt Flo was due on Thursday morning, so I had some time to experiment before show time, as all the blogs and FAQs suggested. I was nervous but determined: I am not afraid of my own body (anymore) but every single source I had consulted on this topic warned of a steep learning curve. I knew I was going to fail a lot before I succeeded. So why did I persist? Because I have yet to find a single woman who does not, once she has found the right brand and mastered the technique, emphatically, evangelically rave about the cup. Those who use them are very very insistent: It’s sooooooo worth it. You will be soooooo glad you switched. You will die before you go back to pads and tampons.

My very first experience with the thing was unpleasant to say the least. I followed the directions on the package insert but both insertion and wear were super uncomfortable. The next day I consulted the oracle of YouTube and got some magnificent tips that made my next attempt a breeze. From there on out, as long as I remembered to “bear down” when inserting and then allowed my body to put the cup where it wanted it was 100% leak free and so comfortable I couldn’t even tell the thing was up in there. (If I insist on positioning it where I think it should go it both leaks and feels absolutely bizarre. I want to put it in like a tampon but the vagina, when you are sitting, is almost horizontal — not vertical — so that’s 90 degrees of wrong. Let your lady parts do the work and you’ll all be happy.)

The videos that helped me were from a short series on YouTube channel Dirty Diaper Laundry. She has a magnificent visual aid: a menstrual cup full of fruit punch in a champagne glass so you can really see what’s going on in there and finally feel confident (when she flips the glass upside down and shakes it vigorously) that it’s really really really not going to leak.

Every woman who uses one has her favorite thing about the menstrual cup. For some, the best part is the money they save, for some it’s the lessened environmental impact. Some women claim that their cramps have disappeared since they started using the cup. Some like that they only have to fiddle with it once or twice a day and many enjoy the peace of mind that they’ll never be caught unprepared again (Aunt Flo at the door, an empty sanitary pad box, and five miles of snowy roads between you and a store that sells feminine hygiene products). Having now survived one period with a cup I have to say my favorite thing is feeling clean. I shudder when I think of all those hours sitting on a soggy, warm mess. Even with a tampon I wasn’t free of that feeling since they leaked without fail. (And then there’s that tickly, dangly string soaking up pee and getting all up your undercarriage.) Ughhhhhh. Blech. Twenty years of my life I have spent a week a month shuffling around like a newly-infected zombie about to turn, expecting someone at any moment to point at me and recoil and shriek “Unclean!” None of that anymore!

— Amanda

[1] “Menstruation and Menstrual Suppression Survey”, Association of Reproductive Health Professionals, (https://www.arhp.org/Publications-and-Resources/Studies-and-Surveys/Menstruation-and-Menstrual-Suppression-Survey/Executive-Summary). Accessed 01/07/15. Excerpted from Thomas, Sarah L. and Charlotte Ellbertson, “Nuisance or Natural and Healthy: Should Monthly Menstruation Be Optional for Women?,” The Lancet, 355, March 11, 2000, 922-24.

*The natural foods co-op.

** Miriam (derisively): What would I look like in a little rubber bowler hat?
Flora (gently, but patronizingly): You wear it inside, Miriam.
Miriam (recoiling in horror): Nah, ma’am — ’tis flyin’ in the face of nature, that is!

(Please, for the love of all that’s good, go rent Cold Comfort Farm already.)


Hold it

I have failed Selfie 101.  For starters, I should have taken a picture yesterday when I was all fluffy and voluminous.  But I think you can almost make out (through the blurriness) how shiny and almost-curly my hair is.  This is dry, crunchy hair, before finger-combing through the initial gel stiffness.
What appears to be a rogue curl sticking out of my temple is in fact the camera strap dangling down from my raised arm.  For those of you who are wondering: yes, I dye my hair.  Religiously.  I’m going gray at warp factor ten.  The crew have abandoned the ship and the disembodied voice of Majel Barrett-Roddenberry is calmly counting down the self destruct sequence.

I have changed my hair gel!  This is big news because I make my own.  For the last three years or so I have used plain, unflavored gelatine as my “sculpting product” but I have recently made the switch to flax seed gel. It needs to be kept in the fridge between uses (truthfully, I should have kept my gelatine gel in there, too, but I didn’t).  It’s not any more time-consuming or expensive to make the flax seed gel and it, like the gelatine, does not have any noticeable smell on its own.  But best of all is that when I really gob it on it works just like the storebought stuff in the plastic tube, but without flaking.  Plus, the omega-3 fatty acids in flax seeds really and truly is good for your hair and skin, whereas the long-held idea that gelatine is good for hair and nails turns out to have been a marketing ploy that dates back to the era before enforceable truth in advertising laws.

Here’s how I made a week’s worth of flax seed gel:

Combine 1 tablespoon whole flax seeds and 1/2 cup water in a small saucepan over medium heat.  stir constantly (to keep the seeds from permanently adhering themselves to your pan) for about five minutes or until the water begins to thicken and the spoon leaves a “comet trail” of froth (like the stuff that forms on top of your fruit when you make jam or jelly).  Promptly pour the stuff through cheesecloth and squeeze to extract all the gel.  Don’t wait too long or the stuff turns into Flubber and you can’t sieve the seeds out.  Store in the fridge between applications.

Here’s the warning: the texture of the finished product is pretty gross.  Very mucous-y.  Exceptionally snot-like.  It doesn’t bother me, but if, like someone with whom I cohabitate, you are very sensitive to heinous textures, you might not want to attempt this.

— Amanda

Vintage hair removal

I have wanted a safety razor for a long, long time. (I don’t have the skills to use a straight razor and I’m tired of bags of plastic sticks with skin scrapers on one end.) Lots of companies still make safety razors, but they also abound in junk and antique stores. However, I kept running across the ones that were either gunky bronze or had the little serrations like a hedge trimmer, which I incorrectly assumed were for giving yourself film noir stubble. (It turns out that these are called “comb-edged” razors and they still give you the highly sought-after baby’s-bottom-smoothness, but are recommended for men with especially bristly faces.) Matt found a closed-edge, double-sided stainless steel jobber in great condition at a junk store over the holidays and put it under the tree. I didn’t have a chance to use it until today, though, because my blades only just arrived. Razor blades for razors (as opposed to razor blades for paint scraping or craft implements) are no longer sold at the corner drug store, so I had to resort to online commerce. On the upside, the blades are ridiculously cheap and plentiful on Amazon. (Seriously. I paid $0.04 for two packages of ten new blades.)

Which brings me to my next point. How did these things get replaced by the plastic things most folks use today? Having just used this thing I can tell you that convenience and ease of use — whatever Gillette, Bic, and Schick may tell you — are not an issue. (See next paragraph for raving.) You buy one shaver (mine was $5 or $10 but fancy new ones range from $40 to hundreds each for the platinum or elk horn handled models) and then feed it blades at a cost of practically nil to somewhere around $0.10 each and it lasts you a lifetime. Somebody may have used my razor their entire adult life before it ended up in a junk store by way of an estate auction. I think the profit factor is definitely the motivator here. What red-blooded capitalist wants to sell people one razor and a few packs of blades a year for chump change when they could make a cheap plastic handle (which isn’t going to last forever, natch) and then charge $20 bucks for a handful of complicated cartridges? Or, worse, they get you to do what I did: too goddamn lazy to change cartridges I bought the giant bags of entirely disposable razors. (Al Gore has a place reserved for me in his special environmental offender’s ring of hell.)

Well screw all that angst and worry. I have a way better product now. Here’s the rave you’ve patiently waited for: this thing practically shaved my legs for me. I’m blind as a bat without my glasses, and the steamy, dim light of the shower is especially difficult for me. (Yes, I gave this dangerous-looking implement its inaugural run in the shower. I shaved with Ivory soap, too. Why do a test run in less than authentic conditions? If I’m going to shave my legs at all it’s going to happen like this.) I was afraid I was going to end up looking likeMichael Palin’s barber character from the Flying Circus, but it turns out that you’d have to actually tryto harm yourself with this bad boy. I watched a dozen videos and read a dozen articles before attempting this feat, and one thing they all advised was to “let the weight of the razor be all the pressure you apply”. Which, like a new knitting stitch, didn’t make any sense until I tried it. The razor is really heavy — I wouldn’t be surprised if it has a secret lead core and if you just touch it to your skin, holding the end of the handle very lightly, and drag it around (in straight lines, mind no side to side stuff) it pivots where your fingers grip the handle and glides over your skin, leaving absolutely nothing in its wake. What takes some getting used to is not the technique, as it turns out, but the sensation or lack thereof. No scraping feel. You can’t feel the hairs being cut. Why? Because hair doesn’t have nerves. It’s dead, Jim. What you feel when you shave with a regular razor is skin cells being shaved off. (Which isn’t a bad thing, actually if you are a light touch and use a sharp blade you get outstanding exfoliation. If you push down or use a dull blade you get razor burn.)

And for those of you who learned in school that the safety razor was invented by Gillette purposely for troops in WWI, I learned today that our teachers were only half right. As the name implies, the safety razor was originally intended “to reduce the level of skill needed for injury-free shaving, thereby reducing the reliance on professional barbers for providing that service and raising grooming standards”. Patents for safety razors were applied for as early as 1847 (and not by Gillette). But the rest is largely true. Gillette invented the double-edged razor blade and was awarded a military supply contract to manufacture the 3.5 million safety razors issued in personal grooming kits to troops. Why worry about the state of your facial hair when the Germans are shelling you? Because they were also lobbing in canisters of mustard gas, and a gas mask is only as effective as its seal. For a good seal against the skin, smooth cheeks are essential. When the men came home they brought the kits, and their new shaving habit, with them.

— Amanda

Source: “Safety razor”. Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Safety_razor

Pantry cosmetics Pt 2: Homemade lipstick

I have been working on this one all week.  It took ten tries but I finally hit on the perfect proportions this morning: thick but creamy, not streaky, with rich color that’s not too orangey.  How?  Crayons.


There are a lot of variations on this recipe all over the internet and I tried more than a few.  On Monday I hit on a super simple version from a YouTuber named Ms. Toi.  From there I melted and remelted until I had just what I wanted.

Amanda’s Vintage Red Homemade Lippy

1 whole red Crayola® crayon
1/4 purple Crayola® crayon
1/2 tsp shea butter (packed)
1/2 tsp jojoba oil

In a tiny double-boiler (a very small tin can, such a 6 oz tomato paste can or a little glass jar from pesto or capers inside your smallest sauce pan or a 1 cup steel measuring cup) heat all ingredients over low to medium heat.  The crayons will melt faster if you break them up.  Stir with a toothpick.  When thoroughly melted and thoroughly stirred remove from heat, pour into whatever container you are going to keep it in (mini Altoid® tins are excellent) and allow to cool (15-30 minutes).  Apply with fingers or a lip brush.

I skipped a step by both melting  and storing my lipstick in little 0.2 oz pimento jars.  You can add a drop or two of essential oil for flavor if you like.  Peppermint, lemongrass, chocolate, vanilla.  You get the idea.

Lessons learned:

  • Crayola® is vastly superior to knock-offs and generics.  I tried the crayons they give away at Denny’s (which I think are RoseArt®) and they were greasy, orangey, and had nowhere near as much pigment as Crayola®.
  • This stuff cleans off of glass (with a dousing of boiling water) way easier than off of metal (good luck there).

I got this worked out just in time to wear it to Kevbo’s wedding tonight.  Very excited!

— Amanda

It’s the pits

I am loving my nothing-but-baking-soda deodorant.  Matt, understandably, is less than thrilled about the idea of his underarms and a froofy powder puff coming into contact with one another.

So for him I whipped up a homemade deodorant stick from One Good Thing by Jillee.  It was remarkably easy. I halved the recipe (so that I could make a single stick) and melted the ingredients in a regular saucepan over low heat on the stove.  No double boiler no special equipment no thermometer.  Clean up was easy, too.   I made this first batch unscented because I didn’t have any essential or fragrance oils on hand that I thought Matt would enjoy reeking of.  (Lavender?  Naw.  Tomato leaf?  Um, no.  Rose geranium?  Pass.)

But best of all is that it works!  Matt has been using this stuff for a week now.  He confirms the original article’s warning that you need to use less of this than commercial stuff (a single swipe is sufficient), but it does exactly what it is supposed to!

In case you were wondering where I got the ingredients: coconut oil (which doesn’t smell like coconut, and unlike most oils, is solid at room temperature) is now available in most supermarket baking aisles.  The beeswax pellets I had leftover from a candlemaking spree a few years ago.  I got mine at a great store called Zenith Supplies in Seattle (they ship, too).

— Amanda

Pantry cosmetics pt 1: the eyes have it

Yes, it’s all crookedy.  I can’t see a damn thing without my glasses so it’ll be a while before I get the hang of this stuff. 

I don’t wear a lot of makeup, but I suspect that if it were ridiculously cheap, didn’t involve solvents for removal, and was made entirely of things I can pronounce, I would wear a heck of a lot more.

My bizarre quest for homemade makeup started because I have a background project going on in which I document everything I put in the garbage can for the month of March.  Given that I am also working on a lengthy clutter purge some weird stuff has been getting onto the garbage list.

In the above picture I am wearing eyeliner made of charcoal (grind fine in a mortar and pestle or use activated charcoal from the pharmacy and dip a dampened eyeliner brush in the dry powder), eye shadow made of cocoa powder (dry brush in dry powder just as you would any loose eye shadow), and eyebrow color also made of cocoa powder (wet brush in dry powder).  I have read that if you would like to make cake eye shadow out of cocoa (or cocoa mixed with arrowroot to lighten or spirulina for a green shade) you can make a paste out of your powder and your choice of vodka or rubbing alcohol, press into tin and let dry.  (Mini Altoid® tins work great if you don’t have an empty eye shadow compact laying around.  I am keeping all of my stuff dry so I have the powders in little .2 oz jars leftover from red pimentos (an essential ingredient in tuna noodle casserole).)

Mascara can also be made out of the charcoal by adding a pinch of charcoal to your favorite oil (coconut, jojoba, vitamin e), but I didn’t have a mascara wand handy this morning so that will have to wait for Part 2: Lipstick!

— Amanda

Rag and bone cotton balls

My new “cotton balls” may be cotton (50%?) but they sure aren’t ball-shaped.

I take perverse delight in not buying things.  Mind you, I love to consume as much as the next person: just watch me go bonkers in the thrift store on books and sweaters.  But there is a strange satisfaction to be had in saying “no” — or, in my case “no thanks, I make my own.”

We now produce our own stock, bacon, veggies (to an extent), ham, eggs, shampoo and conditioner, hair gel, soap, jams and other canned goods, dishwasher detergent, laundry detergent, chicken, pork, pasta, bread, yogurt, sausage, sour cream, vanilla extract, and beer.  (Hot damn, what a list!) But we still buy these things from time to time.  Sometimes I really don’t feel like spending half an hour grating soap into flakes for laundry detergent, or slaving over a stove for a lengthy but indeterminate amount of time to render fat and saponify it.  Sometimes we don’t have any pork on hand to cure into bacon or ham.  Sometimes the chickens are sick or fussy and egg production goes down.  But by and large we make our own.

(Wow, that was a lot of tooting of my own horn.  On to the subject at hand.)

Those little white things are gun cleaning patches commercially made from underwear remnants.  This is what got me thinking.  And thinking is dangerous . . .

Inspired by the growing tower of discarded clothing in the corner of the bedroom, known as the rag pile, and also by the little cotton jersey squares cut from commercial underwear remnants that we use as cleaning patches for our guns I decided to forgo buying any more cotton balls.

When Matt is done with a T-shirt there is no question of taking it to the thrift store.  Because when Matt is done with a T-shirt it is well and truly done.  Swiss cheese.  Holey holey holey.  Positively indecent.  Fit only for rags.  And, apparently, cotton balls.

Wax on.  Wax off.

I am not a big user of cotton balls to begin with.  I have only recently started using nail polish again with anything approaching frequency and I rarely wear makeup (and when I do it doesn’t require cotton balls for either application or removal).  For the purposes of nail polish removal, Goo Gone® application, and cleaning up hair dye drips these little squares of old T-shirt work just fine.

When (if ever) we run out of gun patches I’m sure we’ll use T-shirts for that, too.

— Amanda