Monday, August 31, 2015

A Review of the Dive Cup



OK, so what I am about to do is THE definition of a humbled idealist!

I have been wanting to try the Diva Cup for years. And I even mentioned it in the blog post prior to this to motivate myself to try it out!

Welp, I've tried it out. And I was NOT in love. I really wanted to love the thing and be converted for life! It sounded like such an awesome money saver, not to mention a safe product that wasn't constantly putting my intimate lady bits in touch with bleach and potential toxins that increases crmps and the duration of my menstration!

Alas, trying it out really, really freaked me out! And that is because, dear readers, it kinda got stuck up there. I had to use my muscles to push it down. A cold sweat broke over me in the process, and even though I knew I was being completely irrational, a wild panic erupted within. After a bit of finagling, it finally came out with a loud POP! I wanted to throw it into the trash immediately, but I just can't stomach the idea of throwing away almost $30. So for now, it has been "set aside" for another time.

I still think in theory its a great product....but in reality, I will probably stick to my "glad rags" for bit longer.


How about you? Have you tried an alternative to disposable feminine care?

Friday, August 21, 2015

Four Little Ways to Reduce Waste and Save Money

When I was an idealistic high schooler, I'd pester my mother every time I saw her using a paper towel, or buying non-organic foods. I had just taken Environmental Science and thought I knew a LOT about saving the earth. And to a certain extent, I did. But boy did things change once I was running my own household. Suddenly, I realized that cloth diapers would be overwhelming for me, that paper towels were easier to use than kitchen towels, and that I couldn't always afford fair-trade, organic, cage-free, non-GMO foods.

Fast forward to now. I finally feel like I can breathe now that my youngest is almost potty-trained, saving me some extra cash and reducing some landfill waste! So here are some of my top picks for using reusables to both save cash and reduce waste:

--Trader Joe's super absorbent towels
These suckers last way better than paper towels and even normal cloth kitchen towels b/c they are SUPER absorbent! They are great for cleaning up the MULTIPLE puddle incidents that happen in my kitchen and bathroom on a daily basis. I wish I had seen them earlier. (Side note: The Mrs. Meyer's cleaner in the pic below is awesome!! A wonderful geranium smell encourages me to clean.)
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--Dive Cup
This little gal can save hundreds of dollars in sanitary pad money over the course of a year, about $360 for me!

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--Mama Cloths
For the slightly squeemish, or for those who have light and irregular spotting between periods, these are a nice option. (There are so many brands! This one is I Love My and they are very soft.)

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--Silicone Baking Sheet
I bake A LOT and go through rolls of parchment paper fast, so this is a great way to help slow things down in terms of trash. The silicone mat is supposed to be very easy to wash, so you don't find yourself scrubbing a burnt-on mess from the baking tray, or using a ton of grease.

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A Fresh Look at Hijab

Have you ever tried to explain hijab to a non-Muslim, only to stop b/c there is no "one" way to wear hijab? I see so many different kinds of hijabis these days that it might be confusing for me to say what is and what isn't hijab.

This one covers her body, but not her hair. This one covers her hair, but looks like she can't breathe in her outfit b/c it is so tight! This one wears so much make-up she'd put a Latina news-forecaster to shame! This one wears the occasional T-shirt. This one only wears something fit for a burlap-sack race, and gives the stink eye to the rest of women who don't dress like her!

These days, it seems like any of the following outfits can be considered hijab:

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So here is what it means to me, on a pragmatic level.

Growing up in a very conservative culture, I was taught strict hijab standards:

--looong shirt to cover your butt!

--sleeves must come down to your wrist bone

--shirts must be loose

--not a single strand of hair should show

--feet shouldn't show

--the outline of your legs should DEFINITELY not show

Today, I have adjusted these rule for myself by wearing sandals (but not sexy ones), and exposing some skin when no one else is around b/c I need some Vitamin D and you don't produce enough just showing your face and hands. So you could catch me with my arms--elbows down--exposed, on the occasional stroll.

I don't wear leggings, and try to stay away from tight pants (but if the dryer shrinks my only good pair, I try to make it work with a longer top!)

I still cover every strand, but if a few make their way out there if I am sweating up a storm while hiking up a mountain or something, I don't freak out!)

While I grew up with super strict standards, I try to first defer to the feeling of modesty in my heart, instead of just hyper-focusing on the material side of hijab. And this takes it away from being merely ritualistic.

Now I want to reconsider the WHY of hijab. I feel like the WHY of hijab has been lost, somewhere along the way. Its almost like an epidemic of people removing their hijabs these days....I haven't conducted a survey, per se, but I know that some major foundational beliefs about hijab have either been flawed, OR lost,....or both!!!

They "Why" of hijab that I grew up included some or all of these beliefs:

--Allah commands us to cover our hair and body and beauty in the Qur'an

--your hair can cause lust b/c of its beauty, in the way it frames your face and inspires sexual beauty

--we don't want men to objectify us so we cover up our curves

--its our job to distract men from lusting over us

So again, I mostly agree with these. But if you tell a girl or women that she is covering herself up b/c of how a man will react to her, it slowly begins to feel like this, its our job to regulate men from their feelings. NO. Its the man's job to regulate his own feelings. To control his eyes and thoughts.

But while Allah never explicitly says in the Qur'an: "you women, I command you to wear a scarf securely around your face and don't wear makeup and don't wear tight clothes, " He does use more eloquent language to appeal to our sense of taqwa to reach the conclusion that He loves modesty.

So, what exactly does modesty mean?

To my non-Muslim friends and family, it means no booty shorts or halter tops in public. Or, no Brazilian bakinis, just a modest one-piece swim suit on the beach. To some Muslim ladies, it means a simple long-sleeved shirt and some jeans that don't have tons of glitter on them. To others, it means not wearing anything other than black.

I am by no means the fatwa police, or hijab expert! But here is what instinct, experience with guys, and a little basic Islamic literature has taught me.

Ladies, we all KNOW when we look good! Not good as in polished and well groomed and neat, but goooooood. Whether there is a scarf on your head or not, you know when that dress hugs you in all the right ways. You know if that shirt is giving you the perfect hourglass figure, shrinking your waist or highlighting your ample decolletage.

And there is NO SHAME in being beautiful!!! There is no shame in the beauty that Allah gave our forms.

But, we know what is in our own hearts. We know when we are flaunting ourselves for other men and women, and when we are being reserved for Allah's sake.

We know when we are HONORING ourselves by recognizing Allah's rules and authority over us, and when we are trying to exploit what He gave us.

One day, we won't have our good looks to give us that confidence. Why not start now to base our sense of self-worth on our persona, our thinking, our behavior, humor, kindness, and intelligence?

But some of you might say, "its not fair!"

Its not fair to cover ourselves up when women all around us are exposing themselves.

Its not fair to feel frumpy when women around us are looking gorgeous and sexy!

Its not fair to cover up my charms while I am young, no one will see them before they are gone!

Its not fair to see other women flaunt their beauty in front of my husband while I have to cover it up!

Its not fair to cover up in the hot sun while I am doing X,Y, Z....

Its not fair to be held back by my hijab to do certain activities....

I don't know about you, but these are some of the things I have heard over the years, and even, to be honest, some feelings I have had.

But you know what?  A lot of what has held me back, personally, is my OWN perception of myself, not hijab.

I can play sports, go bike riding, go camping and hiking, go swimming in a pool or in the ocean. These days, we are so so blessed to see Muhajibas doing everything from riding motor-cycles to doing ballet to being body-builders to being professional fencers for the US team!

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I can feel put-together, polished, even trendy (not that I'm a trendy chic), and look attractive without drawing attention to my figure or my sex appeal.

I can be a part of this modern society and experience SO MUCH while being covered, MORE SO than was possible 10-20 years ago, b/c there are constantly people of faith who are finding ways to make it work!

For me, hijab boils down to these things:

--Women have a deep desire to reveal their beauty, find someone who appreciates it. Men have a desire to LOOK at the beauty, to appreciate it. So a woman's greatest struggle and jihad is to not exploit herself, and not draw a man's attention upon herself. A man's greatest jihad is to not seek out a woman's beauty. That's not to say that women don't seek to look at a man's beauty, or that a man doesn't seek to feel appreciated for his beauty. I'm sure we've all seen plenty of examples of this behavior! But our OVERALL, deeply ingrained drive, is to do what I have mentioned above.

--Anything that enhances my sex appeal belongs in the privacy of my own home, or with my closest lady friends and family.

--Sex appeal is NOT the same as being attractive. A scarf framing your face perfectly can be called "attractive," but it doesn't add to your sex appeal. I believe exposed hair DOES add to your sex appeal b/c it is part of your intimate, private beauty.

--In the Qur'an, Allah instructed women to take their outer garments that were ALREADY covering their heads, and draw it over their exposed bossom. Only parts that must appear naturally can be exposed, so I take it to mean that feet are OK, as long as they aren't being presented in 6 in long, glittering heels, b/c we all know what shoes like that are associated with--sex appeal!! So whatever I wear, from my scarf to my occasional make-up to my shoes, I make sure that it doesn't contribute to sex appeal.

--In hadith, the Prophet instructed that nothing should be showing of the woman except her hands and face, as opposed to the shape of her body--these are parts that appear naturally and are needed for everyday life and work.

--Men who do not practice hijab will always find ways to ogle women. Even if you are covered head to toe in a burqa, if the wind blows against your body and there is a pervert around, he will find ways to try and objectify you. So wearing the articles of hijab will not automatically stop rape or cause immediately pious behavior.

--When I purposely, intentionally try to please Allah with my appearance before I leave the house, I end up dressing a little differently, and feeling VERY differently about myself. I feel empowered!!! And I feel blessed.

--Allah has authority over us. So if He wants us to be modest in our demeanor when in public, who am I to neglect the wishes and guidelines of my Creator?

So how do we create a community of people who are observing hijab? How do we support each other to observe hijab properly?

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First off, we have GOT to stop the judgmental approach. We can NOT inspire anyone to cover themselves up with shame and guilt. (Granted, I have only actually heard this approach from the 50 year-olds and not from the 20-30 year old generation.)

But that doesn't mean we stop using our sense of judgement. We just have to focus on ourselves first, making sure that we are doing things for the right reasons, and if we aren't, then we ADJUST that.

We ask Allah to guide us to do what is right instead of what is practiced by a majority of people in society. Allah's laws enhance the quality of our lives and create strong communities, whereas society doesn't always have the best standards, and increasingly, our standards are just going down hill. Will we just follow along or stick to Allah's timeless values?

We don't stop wearing a scarf just b/c we've been wearing it for the wrong reasons. We change our inner thoughts and start to wear it for the right reasons!!

We don't shame others for makeup, then give in to the peer pressure and suddenly show up with the famous cat-eye to the masjid. You just gotta persevere in the standards that you know to be correct! Don't give up!

We have to remind ourselves that we are HONORING ourselves as nafs (souls), as khalif-ullah (vice-regents of God), as women, mothers, and daughters by trying to please Allah and drawing attention to our other human qualities.

We find APPROPRIATE places to enjoy sharing our beauty, like throwing a girls-only party with close friends to try out new makeup and fun styles. No one said we have to stop caring about beauty and fashion, or not take care of ourselves!! The key is in the WHERE and HOW we reveal this beauty.

We seek to find our worth OUTSIDE of our image and appearance. Through our mental, moral and physical strength. Through our creativity and other abilities. 

We remind ourselves that we are also honoring our husbands (present OR future) through hijab by not drawing other men's attentions to ourselves.

Together, we can help create positive reinforcement and positive peer pressure for not getting all glamorous and sexy in the wrong environment. 

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How do you try to honor yourself and Allah with your hijab? What feels acceptable and unacceptable in terms of hijab? How do you contribute to a community of women who want to practice modesty?

We're all growing and learning, insha'Allah. While I welcome different perspectives on this issue, I will NOT accept responses with a mean, arrogant, or sarcastic approach.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Top Advice for The Wedding Night & Newlyweds

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I've had a few friends get married this summer, and each time it brought back memories of myself when I was in that situation. I was the first of my friends to get married, and with no sisters, so I never really got any useful tips on what to expect. I remember trying to do research on how best to approach the, ahem, conjugal activities, but ended up with Kama Sutra-type instructions, which was totally not a beginner's place to start! It slowly dawned on me that there weren't many good resources for women starting their journey as wives. In this society, many young women become sexually active in high school or early college, so by the time WE (women of faith who have NOT become sexually active before marriage) are getting married, much of the advice is for...shall we say, advanced practitioners. And many women in the community become tight-lipped when it comes to sharing advice b/c no one wants to potentially reveal something about her own sex life. Or the reverse :can happen, some people love an opportunity to over-share (and potentially scar you for life!). The topic quickly becomes taboo, and you can be left to figure things out on your own as generations of women have done in the past.

Of course, women figure out what they need to eventually, but sometimes it could take months, or even years, before they make certain discoveries. And in the meantime, they might think they they, their bodies, and their relationships with their husbands are sub-standard. Seeing as how there are enough challenges when you first embark on your marital life (such as becoming accustomed to someone with a different family culture, in-laws, different temperaments and habbits, etc), why stress over something that easily can be apprehended?

Here, I've rounded up some of the most vital tips for your wedding night in hopes of empowering Muslimahs who are preparing for their weddings! They are the tips I hope to share with my own daughters, and I would share them with anyone who is receptive to advice b/c I feel like they make a huge difference in your level of preparedness! To your empowerment, inshallah.

First-Time Intimacy

1.  Family Planning

Before you even think about your first time together, you need to have your family planning choice ready and working so that you have one less thing to learn about on your first night together. This should be done one--three months in advance. If you are open to starting a family immediately, that is fine too, its just good to be intentional about the whole process.

2.  Fertility & Anatomy/ Reproductive Cycle Awareness

Learn about your body—trust me, there’s a lot about fertility and the reproductive system that you were never taught and need to know. This book is a great resource. It also outlines a form of family planning that uses fertility awareness, instead of hormones or barriers. Ladies, anytime there is a chance to avoid artificial hormones, please consider it!!! Artificial hormones can really do a number on ya, for years to come. 

3. Work Up Your Confidence

 Do what you can to feel confident for yourself and in front of your husband! Whether that is excellent grooming, wearing something pretty, or shutting the magazine so you don’t compare yourself to air-brushed images, many women need to find ways to boost their confidence. Exercise is an amazing way to pump up your mood: you feel strong, you become more aware of your body, and the added circulation gives you an unbeatable glow. Try doing cardio a few times a week for a month before getting married. Knowing you look good will also do amazing things for your confidence when you are in front of your hubby. The best way to be confident is to OWN IT, even if at first you are only pretending. Practice being confident until you really feel it.

4.   Set Realistic Expectations

Your first time together will NOT be like a Hollywood movie!! It takes couples many practice runs to figure it all out and make it work for both people.

5.  Intimacy

Your first time together will most likely be about intimacy, getting to see each other for the first time and not have any boundaries separating you. So focus on getting comfortable, relaxing, and being in the present instead of reenacting some unrealistic scene from your favorite movie. Your first time together highlights your emotional as well as physical vulnerability (for both of you!), so be gentle and loving.

6.   Take It Slow

The first time does hurt for many (if not all!) women, so go easy and slow. Don’t be afraid, it won’t hurt forever. Many couples do not actually have full intercourse on their first night together, and that is fine! What is important is enjoying the process.

7.  Lubrication

You might find artificial lubrication really helpful in these early times. You can purchase this in the birth control section of the pharmacy. Whole Foods has an all-natural one with aloe vera gel instead of petroleum-based ingredients. The reverse could also be true: some find that lubrication facilitates penetration very quickly, and that could also be painful. But its good to have it on hand in case it ends up working for you.

8. Have a Towel Handy

This activity is quite messy! Keep a towel/ special blanket/ cloth nearby or beneath you. Panty liners are a helpful item to have on hand for afterwards as there is some leakage up to several hours after the fact.

9. Communication

Use really good communication to express what feels good and what doesn’t. Don’t assume that he’ll figure it all out magically. He doesn’t live in your head.

10. The Big 'O'

There are (at least?) two kinds of orgasm! The clitoral one and a vaginal one. Experiencing either or both is fine. But please don’t get caught up on terminology, it’s just good to know that there is more than one way to feel good. Don't feel like you have to accomplish something in a textbook in order to have 'succeeded'! The goal is to meet each other's needs and express love, and there are many different ways of doing that.

11. Skills

Making love is a skill that people develop over time, it’s not an all-or-nothing experience where you’re either “good” or you aren’t. It only gets better as you learn to listen to your body, get comfortable with your spouse, and be open to trying new things.

12.  Relax

The biggest obstacle to enjoying yourself is…your brain! So learn to relax and focus on your immediate sensations instead of fears or anxieties. Do something beforehand that relaxes you, if possible, like take a bath, get into something comfy, do some deep stretches, etc. Yoga is a wonderful tool to generate circulation throughout the body, and make you feel limber and aware.

13. Ghusl

Know that for women, the Ghosl of Janabah is only required if there is penetration. And that it counts as wudhu!

14. Stay Clean

Be careful not to allow bacteria from your backside to come into contact with your vaginal area b/c it can give you a painful UTI. If you do experience painful burning when you urinate, immediately drink lots of water, and consider a cranberry concentrate pill or (unsweetened) cranberry juice. If it doesn't clear up within a few hours, make an appointment to be seen by your doctor.

15. Observe Islamic Sexual Etiquette

And make sure your hubby is on board! Ideally, a Muslim adult should totally know what to do and what is not allowed by the time he/ she is getting married, but there just might be a brother or sister out there who missed out on this chapter. Familiarize yourself with the sunnah and ahadith on the subject a month prior to your wedding night, if you haven't already.

Real Life Husband-Wife Magic

Marriage is half the Deen b/c it takes a lot of work to be self-less and create a unit with a person who is different from you! It’s not about your happiness, it’s about the overall effort you put into it and the long-term satisfaction you have from pleasing Allah by dedicating yourself to something He loves, which is marriage. “Happiness” is fleeting but contentment is what makes us feel good in the long run. But we are bombarded by messages from movies and modern culture in general that make us act in hostile and selfish ways, ways that would destroy the sweetness of marriage beyond the “honeymoon” phase. So here are a few simple tips from my own experience that help keep the marriage healthy and strong inshallah.

1. Leave space between yourself and your man. It shows trust and it leaves you both room to grow and breathe. It may be hard now when you want to spend a lot of time together, but down the line it’ll be really important to have your own activities and me-time, and let him have his.

     2. When you marry your man, you marry his family, too. While you won’t be living with them, know that they will forever be in your life. Foster good feelings. J

         3. Have NO EXPECTATIONS of your in-laws going into the marriage. If you have no expectations, good or bad, you will not be disappointed. If you expect certain things, like presents or to have a second mommy, you will be disappointed because families just do things differently. That’s not to say there won’t be good surprises, but if you expect them it does you no good.

     4. Forget ALL the romantic movies you enjoyed watching!!! They are totally designed to be entertainment. If you use them as the basis of a relationship, you will be disappointed. If you are rude to your husband then run out in the pouring rain, don’t expect him to come chasing after you! Men do not appreciate clinginess or immaturity. Unlike those movies, you are a real mature women married to a real, mature man. Just never compare your life or relationship with ANY romantic comedy! J

     5. Don’t shout at each other unless the house is on fire! If you BOTH come from cultures where loud speaking is usual and expected, then maybe it could be tolerated. But for most cases, having your spouse shout/ use ugly language is extremely disturbing to the other spouse.

     6. Don’t say things that you will regret in a few hours. Painful words or actions do not go away.

     7. Let the past stay the past, don’t bring it up out of curiosity or fun. This is a new chapter of your lives.

     8. It is not OK to be sarcastic to each other. Show mutual respect, even when you are upset. If you let out ugliness, it just goes downhill.

     9. Don’t keep score! Marriage is about sacrifice and forgiveness from both parties. Tit for tat is a petty way to treat your life-long partner! But if you see a specific pattern of behavior emerging, do pay attention to it b/c it may need to be addressed.

         10.  Be willing to grow with your husband. Be willing to accept that he will see your weak spots and he will point them out to you. You have to be willing to accept them from him and change yourself, even if it hurts your feelings or is annoying. J

   11. Read Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. A classic tale of how men and women are designed to approach issues and situations very, very differently. If you expect your man to approach an issue in the same way that you do, you will be disappointed (and frustrated!). Learn about your differences and anticipate them, it’ll save so much headache!

     12. Read The Five Love Languages, which discusses the different ways people seek out love. Find out how your spouse needs you to express your love for him. What he needs might be different from yours. You might need words of affirmation every day (“honey, I love you”), while he might need an act of service (like packing him a lunch).

     13. Guard your husband’s feelings. Sometimes we assume that men are macho, emotionless beings but they can be sensitive and vulnerable. If you pinpoint a trigger of his, guard it for him instead of using it against him.

     14. Guard your own feelings and your marriage from the jealousy or weakness of others. Some women will try to put you down and make you feel inferior in some way. Guard your heart and your marriage. Don’t share your intimate secrets with other random women, UNLESS you need a trustworthy and wise person to vent to in times of conflict. Don’t compare yourself to any other woman, and don’t let them try to make you compare yourself to them. We are all beautiful and sexy and loved in different ways. Some people have low self-esteem and they seek to bring you down in some way to make themselves feel better. Don’t let it happen!


I'd love to hear from you! Which of these would have been most helpful to know when you were preparing for your wedding night? Did you find any of these useful and eye-opening?