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Period Talk: Plastic Free Periods & Switching to a Menstrual Cup

Sunday, November 11, 2018
Welp, we're just gonna dive right into this one today. Let's have a chat about periods and menstrual cups.

I, like a lot of women, have used pads and tampons for every period since I got mine at age twelve. Pads and tampons were what my mom used, what her mom used, what my sister and all my friends used and what I was taught about in Girl Scouts and school health class. They were easily accessible, simple use and they worked pretty well. In short, I never knew any other options. The only strong opinions I formed about pads and tampons in the last 18 years of menstruating were that I hated those big mattress-sized pads, that paying extra for plastic applicators instead of cardboard was totally not worth it for me and that Target's Up & Up house brand tampons were weirdly way too long for my apparently tiny cervix. Not a lot to write home about really.
When I got to college I met a few people who said they used a Diva cup, but I never really knew anything about it, how to use it or why you even would. It wasn't until earlier this year that I found my motivation to look into menstrual cups more -- the environment. And boy did I learn a lot. I learned that a single pad can have up to 4 plastic bags worth of plastic. I learned, or rather just took the time to think about the fact that each tampon produces 4 different pieces of waste. I learned that for every 100 meters of shoreline, the Marine Conservation Society found on average 20 female sanitary items. I even branched out from environmental issues to read some about the pink tax and period poverty and how tampons suck everything up, including the fluids your body naturally produces and wants to have around! The information overload convinced me it was time to do something differently.

I decided I was going to try out a menstrual cup. I did some research about fit, firmness, price and company (fantastic chart here) and settled on the Lena Sensitive Cup in size small. It's made in California from 100% medical-grade silicon and comes with a cute patterned cotton carrying case. I bought mine on Amazon for $24.90 with Prime shipping.

The only care this cup really needs is a good 5 minute boil before and after your period and to be kept in the breathable pouch that's included when you're not using it. When you're on your period you just want to make sure it stays clean (a quick rinse in water when you're emptying the cup) and that the four tiny holes at the top of the cup are not obstructed by any period fluid. It's pretty simple and it's all laid out in the included instructions and on Lena's site.

So how the heck do you use these big giant squishy things?? It was definitely pretty intimidated at first, but it's turned out to be pretty easy after a little practice -- just like using tampons for the first time. Generally speaking you just want to fold the cup down in some way, push it up into your vagina so it's completely inside you and then release the fold so it pops open and seals to the sides of your vaginal wall. You then check that's it's completely unfolded by running your finger around the cup once it's inserted. I also like to try to turn it from the base to make sure it doesn't budge before I consider it good to go.

The biggest trick is finding a way to insert the cup that works for you. There are tons of different folds that the community have come up with and it definitely takes some trial and error to find your perfect fold. I started with a c-fold and I just didn't like how wide it was and I wasn't having a lot of luck getting it to unfold completely. I watched a lot of YouTube videos (just search "menstrual cup") about different folds and finally ended up trying a punchdown fold which I've stuck with ever since. You can see how it looks in my last three photos. This fold plus wetting the the rim of the cup with a little water has made insertion a breeze for me.

Once you've inserted your cup you don't need to change it for 12 hours. I was thoroughly convinced by tampons that you actually bleed quite a bit during your period so I really did not believe that the cup could hold a full 12 hours of period blood but with my average flow I have only ever gotten it about halfway full. I was also worried about spotting, as they warn it can take a few attempts to get insertion down pat where it completely seals, but I haven't had any issues at all. The only thing I've noticed is that when I'm wearing my cup I take a lot longer to pee. There isn't any sensation or feeling like I have to go more often, I just definitely don't want to leave it until I'm bursting for a pee because it'll take a lot longer to get that sweet relief.

Removing the menstrual cup is quite easy as well. I just locate the stem of the cup (which I have left at it's original length) inside me, the pinch the base of the cup and start to pull down. If pinching the base doesn't break the seal, I just run my finger around the sides of the cup and press inward. I haven't had any issues keeping the period blood in the cup with I'm removing it. I always insert and remove mine while seated on the toilet so even if a little were to fall out it would be completely fine. Here's another nice trick -- put a couple squares of toilet paper in the bowl first so that when you dump out the blood it doesn't spread or splash. After I dump the cup I just rinse it out in my sink (I have only ever changed my cup at home or work where we have sinks next to the toilets), then fill it up with water, place my hand over the top and turn it upside down to squeeze the water out of the holes at the top. And yes you're going to have to get used to your own period blood. It's really not gross, I assure you.

I am very happy I made the switch from tampons to a menstrual cup. There was a bit of a learning curve the first month or two, but I have been using it for 4 periods now and I feel like I've really got into the groove of things. I love not having to buy tampons every month or having a trashcan full of used tampons to deal with. I can't feel it when I'm wearing it and I don't have to worry at all about leaks like I did with tampons and their blasted strings. I won't be going back. The only time I do not wear my menstrual cup is at night. I didn't really like wearing tampons at night either, so I'm not sure this is really the fault of my menstrual cup. For nights I've been using up my pantyliners, but once those are gone I plan on looking into all the different period underwear or reusable organic cotton pads. I'll be sure to share my experiences with those later!

Resources & References:

Best Vegan Chili Ever

Sunday, November 4, 2018

One of the things I pride myself on is my ability to make an amazing chili. It's pretty much an essential skill when autumn hits in the Midwest, especially when someone volunteers to make a pan of cinnamon rolls to go with. It's a thing [link], I promise, and it's totally great. When I stopped eating meat I was worried my chili recipe, adapted a long time ago from this one here, wouldn't translate well into veggie-only land, but in fact it's just as delicious, so it's time to share the magic!

Best Ever Vegan Chili
Serves 8
Cooking time: 20-45 min

2 tablespoons oil
1 white or yellow onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
4-6 cloves garlic, minced
2 jalapeño peppers, minced
3 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano 
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
28 oz can fire roasted diced tomatoes 
15 oz can tomato sauce
2 15oz cans of chili beans in chili sauce (do not drain)
2 15oz cans of kidney beans, drained
about 1/2 a bag of frozen sweet corn

For serving (optional):
Diced avocados
Red or green onion, diced
Chips or tostadas 
Cinnamon rolls!

1. Heat oil in a pot over medium heat. Once hot, add the onion, green pepper, garlic and jalapeño and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft (about 4 or 5 minutes). 
2. Add the chili powder, cumin, oregano, salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper to the vegetable mixture and stir to coat.
3. Add the diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, chili beans and their sauce, and kidney beans. Bring the the chili to a simmer and let cook at least until completely heated through. The chili tastes great right off the bat, but if you let it simmer about 30 minutes the flavors will have more time to meld together. Tastes almost even better the next day!
4. Add the frozen corn to the chili. Let it simmer until it warms through, about 4-5 minutes.
5. Serve with diced avocado, red or green onions, corn or flour chips/tostadas and/or a side of cinnamon rolls.


October Highlights

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Here we are at the end of October, the spookiest time of the year and the only nod to my inner witch I can claim this year is my two black cats. I haven't really been getting into the Halloween spirit this year. It feels instead like September was just extended so I could finally fit a little relaxation into the busy month, with a few random days of full on winter thrown in (thanks crazy Nebraska October snow storms). And you know what? I'm totally okay with that. In fact, every single one of my highlights from this month centers around coziness and unplanned fun.

I started this month off with a delivery all the way from Morocco! I finally settled on a rug for my living room and it's 8x10 feet of fuzzy perfection. I bought it off Etsy from a shop called MoroccanLooms which is supposedly a woman's weaving cooperative. It still kind of amazes me that something a woman made halfway around the world and posted online could end up in my living room only a few days later, but I'm glad to be living in a time where that's possible! I love how unique this rug is, how soft it is underfoot and how it's not a perfectly symmetrical and synthetic rug like so many of the options we have in stores here. Check them out if you're looking for a new rug -- they have tons of options!

And then, the best event of the year finally happened: the annual library book sale! Every year I go and every year I come home with far too many books, even if they are only $1.50 each. Considering I still haven't made it through all the books I got last year, I did tame it down a bit this year and only got 16 books and a cookbook. Still a pretty good haul if you ask me! Even if you don't end up with a whole ton of books, there's still something a bit magical about a room full of tables upon tables of books and a whole crowd of book lovers pouring over them.

As if Nebraska knew that a new living room rug and a stack of books needed a cozy day in, we got a Sunday snowstorm that blanketed the area in a couple inches of big, wet snowflakes. We lit the first fire I've had in my fireplace, made some potato and leek soup and cookies and spent the afternoon reading and watching Bake Off. Perfection.

Fantastic weekends were kind of a theme this month. This last weekend was also one for the books. John and I had an impromptu date night on Friday. We grabbed ramen at a place he'd been wanting to try (delicious) and followed it up with a couple drinks at a bar where we sat and chatted. We met our friend later for another drink or two and John's very first, and incidentally Halloween-themed, drag show (I don't know how he's gone this long). The next morning we slept in and then wandered down to our local coffee shop for some caffeine, a pain au chocolate and some reading. We had delicious ramen leftovers for lunch and then walked under all the gorgeous fall leaves on our way to the Nebraska football game where we got to witness the first win of the season (yeah, let's not talk about that fact too much -- just focus on the positivity)! After so much walking and excitement we naturally needed to devour a veggie pizza while watching more Bake Off and Gogglebox before heading to bed. Sunday was the usual puttering around the house, going on the grocery run, meal prepping, etc, but this time we actually squeezed in a nice nap on the couch and even more reading (seeing a theme?). I'm not sure I could have come up with a better weekend plan if I had tried.

Have a happy Halloween everyone and enjoy the rest of your October!

Book Review: Versions of Us - Laura Barnett

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Versions of Us by Laura Barnett follows two characters, Eva and Jim, through three different versions of their lives. Each path branches off of a single moment: Eva riding her bike to lecture. In one version she swerves to miss a tiny dog, gets a flat and is helped out by Jim who offers to help her fix her bike. In another version, Eva misses the dog, Jim, walking by, asks her if she's alright and she carries on to class. In the third version, she gets a flat tire and then spends the rest of the afternoon with Jim at a nearby pub after he offers to buy her a drink. Each version follows them all the way through until the end of their lives. We witness marriages, births, deaths, loves, betrayals, successes and failures. Throughout each version, the only constant remains the magnetic draw between Eva and Jim.

This book is an expansive, sweeping story of love, but not the shiny, pretty love being packaged up and sold as an ideal. It's a messy, worn, often heartbreaking love that results after years of weathering storms together, getting annoyed and bored with one another, sharing life's good times, but also the hardest, ugly emotions. The depiction of love reminded me a bit of watching a fire burn down. At first it's well defined, tall and dramatic flames. It's unmistakable, it's simplistic, it's black and white. But as time goes on, the definition of those flames starts to blur and the fire isn't as mesmerizing as it once was. The wood starts blending in with the coals and it's not as easy to delineate the parts. Happiness might now have tinges of sadness to it. By the end, we're left with glowing embers. It's all a bit of a mess, with dark and light woven completely throughout. It's tamed, but it's warm. It's nothing like it started out as, but it's shaped everything about how it ended up.

Reading this book provided almost as many varied emotions as the story so accurately illustrated. I loved the story, but it was sometimes hard to keep going with. I took quite awhile to read this because while I think the author did an amazing job of painting a realistic life picture, sometimes it was a lot to bear. Living life in real time can often be hard enough to process the good and bad as they come, but reading about a life compressed down, with all those emotions condensed, packed quite a wallop. I kept taking several days off from reading this so I'd have time to digest, which then ended up making it a bit hard to remember what was happening in which storyline. I also sorted it out in the end, but the first chapter or so after returning to the book was always slow goings. By the time I got to the last 75 or so pages however, I tore through the book. It was one of those books where your partner has long since fallen asleep and you're up several hours too late reading in bed by the light of a single lamp. When I finished, I just cried. It was the best way I could process both the beauty and the sadness of the lives lived throughout the book.

So much of this book is about the journey of the different versions not plot twists or where you end up so I don't want to say too much about what happens. However, having given this a few days to settle in my head, I do think I got to know Jim's personality, his inner struggles and aspirations quite a bit better than Eva's. She wasn't a flat character by any means, but she seemed a bit more closed off, whereas Jim bore it all, so to speak. I would have liked to see more of Eva's vulnerability, but throughout most of the book she seemed to just be getting on with it. Perhaps that's part of the point however -- she had mouths to feed at the end of the day. In all, I think the characters in this book are some of the most rounded, complicated and human characters I've read in awhile.

I think this is a lovely book. It's high quality writing on a grand scale and it's just a little bit different than your normal novel. Grab a cozy blanket and put a fire on in the fireplace, because this is a perfect poignant autumn read.


My Favorite Autumn TV Shows for a Cozy Night In

Sunday, October 14, 2018
I probably sound like a bit of a broken record, going on and on about how great this time of year is, but there's just so much to love about it! If you're a lover of a good TV series this is just one more reason to celebration the season because all the best shows seem to return now. Here's what I'll be cozying up with this year.

Great British Bake Off

There is no better show to watch if you're looking for warm, earnest, comforting television. Sure there's an element of competition, but everyone is regularly celebrating the highs of their competitors and comforting them when they're low. It's heart-warming, a bit cheesy and really bad for anyone trying to stick to a diet. Oh, and great for innuendo bingo.

Bob's Burgers

In a weird way, I think Bob's Burgers is kind of a heartwarming show as well. Sure it's an animated comedy that probably easily makes the most fart jokes on television, but in the end it's all about family. Louise is easily my favorite, but I really do love every character for their own brand of comedy.


I have never described this show to anyone in America without them thinking I'm insane, but I absolutely love Gogglebox. I love all the crazy conversations people have, watching their reactions to all the emotions of the shows and getting to know each of the families. It always manages to leave me with a sense that humanity is all so similar, no matter your background, and that we all can find common ground somewhere.

Will & Grace

I binge watched the original series last year in time for the reboot and I'm excited for the story to continue this year. I grew up on this show and it's shaped a lot of my sense of humor. The reboot brings that same sharp wit back, thank goodness. Let's just hope they squeeze in as many scenes with Karen as possible.

Vanity Fair

My favorite novel. British period drama. Main character shares my name. There's nothing else to say.

Modern Family

This show is probably not the greatest show to have ever aired, or the most impactful, but it's amusing, I love all the character story lines and I'm really invested after 9 seasons in the books. Who doesn't love a corny Phil joke?

First Dates Hotel

Apparently I just can't resist a heartwarming show, or think of a better way to describe them as such.
The original series, First Dates, pairs people up for blind dates and films them at the First Dates restaurant. At the end of the date they get to choose on camera if they're going to see each other again. Every episode has a great mix of funny, touching, awkward and ___ moments packed in. This series is a spin-off of the original and is filmed in a sunny resort location instead, and rather than deciding if they want to see each other again later, they get the opportunity to check into the hotel for the night. Scandalous.

Catastrophe - I hope?

Please, please, please let season 4 come back soon. I can't wait any longer to find out what happened!

Instagram Autumn Style Inspiration

Sunday, October 7, 2018

My Pumpkin Apple candle is burning, it's a cozy grey cool day and I'm sitting under a throw with my kittens cuddled up on my side. It's basically the perfect autumn day. I grabbed a berry crumble from Goldenrod Pastries, a hot coffee from The Mill with a little pumpkin spice almond milk creamer, put the football game on in the background and I'm ready for an afternoon in. These lazy afternoons are perfect for a little poke around the internet for some seasonal fashion inspiration and I love browsing through Instagram to see what kinds of outfits people are putting together lately. I spend more time than I should scrolling through Instagram and saving things to my collections, but I end up with a great idea of what I'm loving for this season. Here's a few of my favorite looks I've seen so far (and incidentally a great list of who to follow).

It looks like this season will be chocked full of more high-waisted straight leg denim, blazers, loafers and warm-tone knits which is no surprise to me. I was in love with those same kinds of looks last season and I'm dying to wear all my clothes from last year again. What I definitely wasn't expecting was to be loving the look of a simple v-neck cardigan and jeans. I can't say I've worn a cardigan like that for a few years, but hey, I'll happily break out my staple black cardigan I've got tucked away in storage. I'll also be keeping my eye out for some good checked blazers, more brown accessories to pair with all my many black pieces, silk tops and some more straight leg jeans, this time with a button fly.

What kinds of items are you looking out for this season? Who are you favorite Instagramers to follow for fashion inspiration?

September Highlights

Sunday, September 30, 2018
Life is seriously good.

This season is like no other. The turning leaves, the perfect blue skies. The buzz of students returning to school, fall tv starting and football. Everything feels fresh and new. Gone is the oppressive humidity and scorching heat and in it's place is a cool, crisp air beckoning us to go out and explore. The way autumn treats us brings enough joy alone that every other pleasure seems trivial. But like icing on a pumpkin spice cake, the delights of this season aren't all I've been fortunate enough to enjoy this month.

The absolute highlight of the month was attending one of my closest friend's wedding. This group of friends has been causing mischief together since early high school and we've grown into our own little family. We all got to spend the weekend together at Hotel Deco in Omaha doing everything from consuming as much caffeine as possible to primping before the ceremony to watching the Huskers take a beatdown from Michigan while eating a healthy meal of crackers and cheap wine.

Everything about the weekend was perfect. Rehearsal dinner was made from scratch lasagna that the groom's mother home cooked herself, and was followed with an amazing Lithuanian torte cake. We all watched our breath in the cold evening air, stood around a fire and tried to wrap our heads around the coming day. On the day of the ceremony the whole bridal party enjoyed hot coffees, scones and macarons from Sweet Magnolias while getting our hair done at Victor Victoria Salon. Our small group of friends ditched the rest of the bridal party and returned to the hotel room to do our makeup, and it was a perfect last moment before the ceremony.

The ceremony itself went off without too many hitches (who needs a veil or flower girl bouquets in the long run anyway?). The weather was beautiful, the bride was gorgeous and no one cried too much. After photos we got to return to the hotel again to snack and have a drink, and then headed off to the reception at Sokol, where cocktails and appetizers greeted us. We dined, we danced and then we enjoyed probably one of my favorite concerts of all time -- The Faint played the reception!! This band was a staple of our friend group when we were younger and even the groom's side loved them as well. We've all got their third album practically memorized. Technically, The Faint are responsible for the whole wedding, because the bride and groom met at one of their shows! It was so so loud, so energetic and the absolute epitome of the couple. No reception probably ever top it. Sitting at brunch the next day with these friends I've known over half my life was surreal. I'm incredibly grateful for their friendship, all the laughs and even the bad times. I look forward to many more moments like this one.

Of course this momentous occasion was supported by a whole multitude of other small highlights throughout the month. One of the most grounding things was a return of a daily yoga practice. There's nothing like a Yoga With Adriene free series to get you back into the groove of things and her most recent free series Yoga For All with Commune did just that. We just completed the 14-day series and I've really been enjoying coming to the mat each day, getting back in tune with my body and my mind and learning so much from her, as always. As if the universe knew we were craving more yoga, we also got to do some free rooftop yoga on top of my work building and it was completely serene. The sky was clear and blue, the sun was shining and it was a perfect 72 degrees. At one point we were all on our backs watching a flock of birds far up above us, listening to the music and doing some deep breathing practice and in that moment, everything was so easy and carefree and beautiful.

Lastly, more materialistically, I'm also really riding the high of finally starting to clear out my office. I've donated home goods and bedding to refugee resettlement groups, I've sold off some old clothing and I've lined up a good cause to donate the rest to. I've got organized piles. I can see the floor again and walk from one side to the other. John gets all the credit for making this happen because my avoidance game is strong, but man am I happy to have the room back and not to feel guilt every time I walk past the closed door. Once I wrap that up (October goal), I'm finally ready to go full steam ahead on other interior projects around my house. I can already tell this will be a winter of interior design and I'm all about it!

I hope you've found many small moments to smile this month and feel like you're loving life. If you haven't, I hope you're finding the support you need and that soon you'll be laughing again.