4.25.2016

Menstrual Cups (featuring Lena and Sckoon)



I am lucky to never had any traumatic, embarrassing stories from the youth about menstruation, disabling PMS, horrible acne or bloating, carb-craving or binge, etc. I've been using tampons and pads without any cancer or ill-effect. Occasional migraine is my only complaint. However, after the birth of my son, my period suddenly got significantly heavier and longer. My Ob suggested that I use SoftCup (used to be called Instead) and I used it with much success. The downside is, SoftCup is disposable and around that time, I started to explore about waste-less living and came across a whole range of reusable menstrual products (RUMPs).

It's been said that an average woman will generate about 250-300 lbs in menstrual product waste in her lifetime, not to mention other environmental cost of producing these products. Now that I've been using menstrual cup and cloth pads for almost a year, I wish I have known and use them sooner! That is pretty much the sentiment of most women I came across who are using RUMPs.

This post is for you, who are thinking about making that jump to using RUMPs for whatever reason. I will focus on menstrual cup, but if you have any interest in knowing more about other RUMPs, please leave me a comment below. No, they are not gross and not the least bit cumbersome. On contrary, using them are quite empowering and certainly waste-free.

What is it and how it works

Menstrual cup collects menstrual blood and fluid while worn inside the vagina. The cup is first folded and then inserted into the vagina, just like using a tampon. The base of the cup sits clear past the pelvic bone with the rim below the cervix to properly collect the fluid. Once properly inserted, you should not feel the cup. The elastic vaginal wall hugs the cup in place and forms a suction so no blood can leak outside the rim. I found the diagram below (snatched from Reddit with some modification of my own) very useful as a mental tool on where the cup is supposed to sit, especially when I have to trouble-shoot some leaking.

I added the ugly grey ovals as representation of where the pelvic bone should be. Notice the body of the cup sits past the pelvic bone.

In order for the cup to work properly:
  1. The rim should be positioned below the cervix. If the cup's rim is positioned beyond the cervix (as in the wrong diagram above),  the blood dribbles around, and not into the cup. 
  2. The cup should be fully opened properly to collect the fluid (aka no folds on the wall). Popping open a cup is indeed the most important step to ensure that the cup won't leak. 
Keep these two simple ideas in mind -- most leaks and cup problems can be solved by applying these two principles.

If you have never seen one before, reusable cups are mostly made out of silicones. They have similar feel and pliability to the nipples of baby bottles or the silicone muffin cups. Some has smooth surface like baby bottle nipples, or fuzzy-satin surface like the silicone baking cups and the Lena cup, below. They are roughly about the size of a shot glass (approximately 30 ml or 1 fl.oz.).

Cup anatomy


I wish there are more stores out there where women can actually see, touch, feel, and play around with menstrual cups. For the most part, the cups are available for sale online. Even the ones that are readily available in store, such as Diva Cup, are usually sold sealed inside a box.

Usually the cup height is given in terms of measurement from base to rim. Keep in mind, when you research about cup sizes, the differences are minuscule (aka in millimeters) and while it seems like a big difference, it is mostly no big deal once worn/inserted. Also, take cup capacity with a grain of salt: I do found that even when I'm using size 2 (the larger size) I still have to empty my cup every 2-3 hours during my heaviest flow.

The stem is there to aid retrieval. It can be trimmed to fit. Be sure to wear the cup for a few days/cycle before trimming the stem as there is no going back once trimmed. Not all stems are made equal. Some are sturdy tabs like Lena cup above, some are stretchy, rat-tails like Sckoon, which does not help with retrieval (in fact, I have accidentally pulled the stem and it snapped inside me, OUCH!!). Some company like Meluna offered different stem styles which can be helpful.

Lena and Sckoon cups -- cups usually come with cotton pouch to store them in between usage.

Consideration to choose the first cup

  • Know that this is an investment: time, money and skill. It takes time and trial and error to use menstrual cup comfortably. Give it a few cycles before deciding to quit. It took me around three cycles to get the cup to work, and I still have to trouble-shoot every now and then. I didn't mind it, the benefit way outweighs the cost and the hassle.
  • Know your anatomy and your period. Forget about cup sizes based on whether or not you have given birth, etc. and focus on your body. How heavy is your flow? How many days do they last? Do you have low or high cervix? Do you have a touchy bladder? Toned pelvic floor? Learn and find out -- the only shame is the shame of not knowing yourself and your body. Knowing your body is empowerment and freedom. 
  • Familiarized yourself of the different style of cups, but don't get too hang up on it. These companies design the cups with the majority of women in mind, in terms of sizes, shapes, and material. You will never know right away whether the cup is right for you without first investing time and skill to use it (the first bullet point). 
  • Where the cup is made. I have nothing against China -- my better half and thus half of my family came from there, but I do not purchase the generic Made-in-China cups for a variety of reasons. I do, however, chose to support U.S. made cups. Both Lena and Sckoon have excellent customer service, per my experience, and they ship very fast.
Let's apply those ideas to my situation:
I have a high cervix and my flow is heavy for the first two-three days of the cycle, then tapered down toward the end. Despite having a vaginal birth, I do have a good tone on my pelvic floor (I rarely experienced incontinence, for example). With these information and without knowing how it will work on my body, I decided to try out two different cups: ones that are softer (Sckoon) and ones that are firmer (Lena). I ordered each in both sizes to accommodate the variable flow throughout my cycle. While in theory one only need one cup, having several cups on hands turned out to be a good decision.


What to do before first time use:

  • Clean the cup.
    You can either boil them or rinse them. I didn't do much other than washing with regular, unscented hand-soap (I use Dr. Bronner Castile soap for hand wash at home).
  • Check that the air holes/vents are opened and punched out.
    The air holes are there to help open the cup and to displace air when menstrual blood flows into the cup. It is important to keep these holes clean and open.
    I found that the Sckoon cups have little film of silicone covering the air holes that I needed to poke them through (using a clean toothpick or such). And to ensure that holes are open when cleaning, fill cup with water, put the cup face down on the palm and pfft! push out the water out of the holes while holding it tight on the palm. Shake the cup dry, then cover with the palm of the hands and pfft! push cup again to clean out residues. Some suggest cleaning interdental brushes (tiny brush that looks like a short pipe cleaner, available in the pharmacy).
  • Do a dry run.
    Before your period, watch a few videos (resources below) and do a trial run. Try out different folds of the cup and find out which one fits you and your cup. Use water-based lubricants (such as K-Y) to help with insertion. Find out ways to check whether or not the cup is open and stays in the right place.
    While doing a trial run, don't forget to practice retrieving a cup. I found that cup retrieval is more troublesome, at least in the beginning, than insertion. Just imagine that when your actual period started, things can be quite slippery and trying to dig around and grip for the cup can be quite painful. Finding a comfortable way to retrieve the cup is as important as making sure the cup is inserted properly.


Most Helpful hints

Before giving up on the cup or deciding to purchase a different cup all together, I found that with these few hints I was able to make my cup work all the time.

  • Try out different folds that work for your body and your cup. Try facing the fold in different directions while inserting. Softer cups are harder to open, but with a little tweak it can definitely work.
  • When retrieving, bear down (as if you are pushing something out) as you grab the stem and wiggle the cup down to release the contact between the rim and the vaginal wall (some may refer to this "releasing the suction"). Never try to grab and pull the stem to retrieve without breaking the suction first -- it can be downright painful!! 
  • Do not rely on the stem alone to retrieve (stretchy stem can snap, read above). If possible, pinch the cup down by the base to release the rim contact. If that is not possible, hook the base of the cup against the vaginal wall while slowly dragging the cup out.
  • When trouble-shooting a leak, pay attention on how far you insert the cup (see diagram above) and whether the cup is fully open or not. Try out different fold, insert it a different way, or if you have more than one cup, try a different cup. There were days when one cup leaked on me no matter what I do, and the other did not.
  • Water-based lubricant is your friend, especially in the beginning. They key is to get the lubricants on your body and not to get it on the cup (because slippery cup = harder insertion).
  • Doing a few Kegles will position the cup on the right place.
  • Just because the cup can be worn for 12 hours does not mean it should be. I found out during the heaviest part of my flow, I needed to empty the cup every 2-3 hours (Hint: when the cup is almost full to the rim, it feels like something "burping" or air pushing out in the inside and I know I must empty the cup).

Resources

  • Precious Star Pads Youtube Channel is especially helpful for beginners. Briony/Bree is considered one of the leading voice in menstrual cup and RUMPs. She is explaining how to get the cup to open on this video, one of the most useful video in the beginning of my cup-wearing experience. 
  • Dirty Diaper Laundry does a lot of cup comparisons and videos on Youtube as well. She also has a site that is dedicated to menstrual cup here.
  • Amy Nix Holland's Youtube Channel is full of menstrual cup and cloth pads info, for those who are interested.
  • Your cup's brand/maker's website also provide useful information. Lena and Sckoon provided great customer service while I tried to trouble-shoot in the beginning. Take advantage by following them via Twitter/Facebook for sometimes they do giveaways or discounts.
  • Facebook groups Cup Love (a closed group -- you have to send a request and get approval) is very useful for real-time trouble-shooting. They also have a sister FB group of Cup Love B/S/T for buy/sale/trade of new and used menstrual cups.
  • Explore the resources above before you jump into the rabbit hole of Menstrual Cup Life Journal group -- I've only visited here a handful of time when I couldn't find any other solutions anywhere else.
I hope you have found this information useful. Have you used any alternative menstrual products? Feel free to share your experiences below!

3.21.2016

Minimalism with Children: Thoughts



We are a family living in an urban setting and we enjoy living where we are. We shop our share at big-box shops, drive daily to school. We watch cartoons. We love plastics. We own and consume our share of things to make our life possible. No, we don't dream of selling our possessions so we can travel the world.

Let's also be clear that I am not a perfect mom. On occasion, I have been known to: babysit or pacify the Tod with iPad, iPhone, toys, fed him junk food, let him cry-it-out, watch him fall from a place that is much higher than his height, cut his fingernails too short that it bleed, knock him to the ground while swinging the door open, do other horrendous things which resulted in the mommy guilt that keeps me awake at night.

In our household, minimalism is about living mindfully in the world that is not perfect, how we attempt to raise a child while we, ourselves, as parents are still struggling and finding our way to achieve the ideals that we have in mind. Growing up is a lifelong journey. And raising children by imperfect parents actually build resilience and character -- Of course, I am not talking about extreme case of parenting or abusive behavior toward children. Human being is extremely resilient. Just think of yourself and your own upbringing, most would say, "I turned out just fine. I turned out more than just fine because now I am a contributing member of the society despite my parents being x, y, z."

I hope my message to fellow parents come across as real -- life with children is often not-Instagram-able. You are tired, dinner is not made, children are not bathed, melt-downs are the norm at the end of the day. My posts in this series are the low-hanging fruits for anyone who would like to live more mindfully with children. Do small things often, as John Gottman would say.

These are my thoughts about minimalism with children. I am by no means an expert -- resources are included below. (I use the term parents and caregivers interchangeably because I realize some children spend the majority of their time with caregivers who are not necessarily their parents).

  • Minimalism and children are inherently compatible because what children need the most is attention and presence from their parents. The most useful parenting advice I've learned to this day is to place the relationship and connection with my child as the first priority. Everything else will fall into place when I follow this advice.
  • Activities and experiences can clutter true connection with children. Just like things, activities can be used as proxy of parents' attention or lack thereof. After-school activities can be taxing and cluttering to the family's dynamic and schedule. And how many of us are familiar with this picture: we go to the playground and witness caregivers siting on the perimeter, waiting and using their hand-held devices instead of actively making connections with each other? (But playground time is my break time! More about "taking a break" for parents and caregivers, below).
    Choosing activities mindfully is as important as limiting tangible things that clutter children space. I remember as a child craving a true moment of connection; a time when an adult listened to me, or just be there for me without any agenda or advice. 
  • Children are more capable than we think -- it is often not our job to entertain them. Children are, by nature, keen observers and curious experimenters. With limits and boundaries in place, children can and will entertain themselves. For example, when a safe play place is set up, babies can play on their own without much interference, eliminating the need for things to entertain them. I learned this valuable lesson from RIE teaching -- lots of parenting blogs are written with RIE philosophy that parents can ideas on how to accomplish this independent play time in different age range. 
  • Parent's own perceptions and attitude about material things matters. Just think for a second: when stuffs or gifts always present during "happy" times such as birthdays or celebrations, children will soon correlate the two together. Ditto with activities or experiences. We all grew up with less-than-perfect parent/s, but parenting a child can turn into a process of re-defining our attitude toward life and healing ourselves.
    Indeed, parenting, just like any other role we assume in our lifetime, can be an avenue for spiritual practice and personal development. One resource I use often is the book Parenting from the Inside Out by Dan Siegel (in fact, any book by Dan Siegel is my favorite). Another resource is online course Parenting as Spiritual Practice by Miriam Mason Martineau or similar (I will talk more about parenting resources in upcoming post).
  • Just like a baby can't skip rolling over before walking, in order to fully understand the cost of ownership, children need to experience ownership. Is it more important to own less things or to pass the lessons of healthy ownership of things? Lessons are often learned when mistakes are made. I prefer to have clutter than to declutter at the expense of valuable lessons of sharing, caring for things, etc. On the other hand, I proactively appeal to my child's developing reasons before bringing things home (such as new freebies, new toys, gifts, etc.). I continually educate myself on what my child is capable or not capable of doing developmentally (any book by Dan Siegel are especially helpful, so are many child development books out there).
  • In order to give, you have to have. Children are, by default, takers. They require so much of our energy and time. Parents who take care of themselves first are parents who can give more fully to their children. And taking care of self does not mean spending days in spas or nail parlors or shopping. To me, it is consciously and continuously doing things that fuel me intellectually and spiritually. To some, this includes pursuing highly rewarding careers and delegating child care to capable caregivers. Refueling can be a family event, too. Do whatever it takes so you can be fully present, the best version of yourself with your children when they are with you. Fuel yourself up so you won't have to steal mini breaks by looking at your phones/devices when you are with your children. 

What are your thoughts about minimalism with children? What resource/s have been helpful for you? What are your low-hanging fruits in achieving a more intentional life with your children? 


3.15.2016

momofuku milk bar birthday (cup)cake


The Tod and I have been drooling over cakes from Momofuku Milk Bar; but, judging from the complaints of several baking/cooking blogs out there, Momofuku recipes seem notoriously involved and touchy (recipes can be found here on Milk Bar's own website or on their recipe books).

To our surprise, the birthday cake was incredibly child-friendly. It is easy and quite forgiving, especially baked and measured with an accuracy of a four-year-old, and super, duper, quad-duper sweet (we will include our tweak to tone down the sweetness level). What's not to like?

I think the key to our success is making it in a cupcake instead of the regular cake form (which requires a ton of extra tools we don't want to buy). We follow the following sequence and by the end of the afternoon, we ended up with 2 dozen yummy, yet cloyingly sweet cakes (even with our tweaks):
  1. Make the cake crumb
  2. Make the cake, let it cool down
  3. Make the cake soak (the cakes are individually basted with vanilla-flavored milk, similar to making Tres Leches Cake) and soak the cakes
  4. Make the frosting
  5. Assemble (if there are still some of the above left)
To make it even more child-friendlier, here's a few note about ingredients: 
  • Clear Vanilla Extract. The idea of this cake is to mimic the white boxed cake mix from scratch, so clear vanilla extract is a must, said Christina Tosi herself. And surprisingly, yet another surprise, they are easy to find! Just go to big-box stores like Safeway, Albertsons, Walmart (we found ours just 1/2 a block away at local Safeway) and they often stock McCormick Artificial Vanilla flavoring. Yeah, don't use the organic good stuff, we want the white, artificial, vanillin kind. 
  • Glucose. Nah.. we don't use such thing nor we want to haul across town to buy it. We simply use extra corn syrup that is more readily available. 
  • Citric Acid. What? Is this a chemical experiment? No, we also omit this. Some bloggers use a wee bit of lemon juice to impart the nice, tangy taste to the frosting. You can use that if you like.
  • Grapeseed Oil. Surprisingly more available than we thought. We bought ours bulk from local co-op store, but they are also available at Whole Foods, Safeway, Albertson, QFC, etc. on the salad dressing aisle.

All recipes are from Momofuku Milk Bar's website, our modification explained or in bold face.


Cake Crumb


50 g granulated sugar (1/4 cup)
25 g light brown sugar (1 1/2 tablespoons, tightly packed)
90 g cake flour (3/4 cup)
2 g baking powder (1/2 teaspoon)
1 g kosher salt (1/4 teaspoon) --> we decrease the salt as we decrease the sugar
20 g rainbow sprinkles (2 tablespoons)
40 g grapeseed oil (1/4 cup)
12 g clear vanilla extract (1 tablespoon)

Preheat oven to 300 F. Mix everything together until clumpy -- yes, in fact we dumped everything in the same bowl, both wet and dry ingredients, and mix it with a wooden spoon. Bake clumps in the oven for 15 minutes until crunchy but slightly colored. Cool them down before using.



Birthday (Cup)Cake

The cake + the soak = a very moist, buttery cake. This recipe makes 2 dozen cupcakes

55 g butter, at room temperature (4 tablespoons, 1/2 stick)
60 g vegetable shortening (1/3 cup)
200 g granulated sugar (1 cup)
50 g light brown sugar (3 tablespoons, tightly packed)
3 eggs
110 g buttermilk (1/2 cup)
65 g grapeseed oil (1/3 cup)
8 g clear vanilla extract (2 teaspoons)
245 g cake flour (2 cups)
6 g baking powder (1 1/2 teaspoons)
3 g kosher salt (3/4 teaspoon)
50 g rainbow sprinkles (1/4 cup)
plus
25 g rainbow sprinkles (2 tablespoons) we omit this

Preheat oven to 350 F. 

Combine the butter, shortening, and sugars in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and cream together on medium-high for ... forever (at least 2-5 minutes). Then add eggs one by one, mixing well after each addition. 

On low speed, stream in the buttermilk, oil, and vanilla. Crank up the speed to medium-high and mix for at least 4-6 minutes, until the mixture is practically white, twice the size of your original fluffy butter-and-sugar mixture.... etc. etc. and yes, mix this batter for a long time. Mix it well. Literally, this is the way to entertain a kid in the afternoon. 

On very low speed, add the cake flour, baking powder, salt, and rainbow sprinkles. Mix briefly and scrape the bowl.

Plop batter 2/3-full into prepared muffin tins lined with paper and bake for 20 minutes, rotating half-way. We found better overall cake browning using metal muffin tins than silicone ones -- if you do use silicone muffin tins, line them with foil muffin cups for the same, even browning. Let the cakes cool on the rack while making the soak and frosting below.

Birthday Cake Soak

55 g milk (1/4 cup)
4 g clear vanilla extract (1 teaspoon)

Whisk together the milk and vanilla in a small bowl. Then the cakes are completely cooled, poke a few holes and baste them with the milk soak. Yum....


Birthday Cake Frosting

We make 1 1/2 times of the original recipe, enough to frost 24 cupcakes and a bit extra leftover. The following recipe has been edited to adjust both the amount and the sugar level, sorry for the mish-mash units. Don't be discouraged with all the quirkiness of the ingredients, we omitted a lot but this frosting still tasted buttery smooth (unlike the gritty butter + powder sugar American-style frosting) and delicious!

1 1/2 stick butter, at room temperature (12 tablespoons)
75 g vegetable shortening (1/4 c + 2 tablespoons)
3 oz cream cheese 
25 g glucose (1 tablespoon) --> we omit this
3 T corn syrup 
2 T clear vanilla extract 
200 g confectioners’ sugar (1 1/4 cups) --> we keep this amount the same despite increasing everything else, seriously, it is plenty sweet!
2 g kosher salt (1/2 teaspoon)
.25 g baking powder (pinch) --> we omit this
.25 g citric acid (pinch) --> we omit this

Cream butter, shortening, and cream cheese on medium-high for at least 2 to 3 minutes.

With the mixer on its lowest speed, trickle in the corn syrup and vanilla. Beat on high for 2 to 3 minutes, at least, or until your kid can no longer stand looking at the beating paddle. Don't forget to scrape down the bowl. 

Add the confectioners’ sugar and salt in a few batches, and crank up the mixer again until the frosting is smooth, fluffy, and super white.



Assemble the cake as you wish and enjoy!

Have you tried any Momofuku Milk Bar recipes before?