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October 12, 2007

Using the cup

I am sitting here thinking about how my period felt before I used the cup and I don't remember much. I guess the system shuts out unpleasant memories quickly! This post is long due and is another attempt at talking about the keeper cup (my attempts at getting folks to use it by gifting them cups hasn't gone anywhere), an amazing product I have been using for almost 2 years now.

Last Jan, I was browsing through Aravinda's articles and I came across one called "Greeting Aunt Flo". She talked about the keeper cup and I looked it up immediately. The website had pictures of a cup with a little stem that you essentially insert in, so the menstrual blood is collected inside your body. The cup essentially acts as a seal, a plug. The principle is different from the rest of the sanitary products for women - pads and tampons, both absorb. The cup, on the other hand collects.

I used various pads as a teenager, always hating the wetness and perpetually in fear of a leak. Pads with wings weren't all that great either. Then came the thin ones, again not very different. It atleast seemed better than using a cloth and washing it each time, the way my mom described her experience. I started using tampons when I started running. I was training for the marathon and did not want to miss runs because of the chaffing caused by a pad. The tampons worked fine, though they made me feel a little dry. Since I had already used tampons, the idea of using the cup didn't seem so different, from the point of inserting something in. So I decided to give it a shot.

After a few attempts, all their instructions of push, twist and tug made perfect sense. It really is a simple process. The only problem here, and a big one at that, is your mental block about the product. I just don't feel the cup. I love not having to deal with wetness, smell, rash, leaks that were so common with the pads. I have run with it, gone swimming with it. In short, its been great with letting me do all the things I want to.

That is one aspect. The other, very important aspect for me is having a product that is reusable. All I need to do is wash the cup with some warm water and soap and reuse. I have been trying to reduce the amount of waste I generate and am really glad finding an alternate to chucking pads and tampons every 4 weeks.

The cup also makes sense from an economic point of view as well. It is supposed to last 10 years (Mines 2 years old and seems fine). It cost me about 30 dollars, I would have spent that much in 4 - 5 months on pads!

For those of you who use tampons, this is a no-brainer. For those using pads, you don't know what you are putting yourself through unless you try the cup! You won't dread your period, infact, you will hardly notice it.

You can buy menstrual cups at:
Keeper Store
Kristas Cups

Great running, bloos!

Four of my running buddies have been running crazy terrains and distances this whole year (Running rim to rim to rim on the Grand Canyon should make you sit up!). They are planning to finish it off with a 100 miler in Bandera, TX this November. This is the longest distance any of them has ever run. The distance by itself is crazy. And Bandera is certainly not a walk in the park - exposed to the elements, rocky, hilly. A challenging run. Sure they are doing it for the challenge, for the fun of running, for being for nature, for living in the now and so on. They are also trying to raise money for some developmental initiatives in India that Asha supports. I draw a lot of inspiration from all of them, to push your limits, to continuously challenge yourself. And none of them are trained athletes, they just picked it up along the way...

Santhosh was one of the first people I met when we moved to Austin. We started talking about having a marathon training program as a fundraiser for Asha and thought we should perhaps train too, else how can we get others to run. And did he look concerned about training for the marathon! Santhosh has this helpless, innocent look that he can turn on at will and he had the bamby-eyed expression all through the meeting. After the Austin marathon, he has been just hooked! Then followed another Austin marathon, Chicago, Rocky Raccoon 50k, Sunmart 50 miler, Big Horn 50 miler, Pikes Peak, Grand Canyon...phew! With his parents around, the 100 miler is sure going to be an interesting one!

After we decided to go ahead with the marathon program, we met Vinod at an AID meeting. He looked very excited about a marathon training program (he had trained with Asha Silicon Valley) in Austin and pretty much took over! A good thing, coz the rest of us had never run such distances before and didn't know what was involved. He spoke to Steve Sisson and got us under the Rogue umbrella. He was the grand old man with lot of running experience, telling us about the illiotibialband and whatnot! I keep hearing that he is the brain behind this year's running schedule, picking the crazy races mentioned above, upping the distances and elevations, pushing everyone to run with no sleep etc :) Not surprised he just took over ;)

Met Ganesh once the program started (he was one of the few people I didn't already know who had registered for the program, many being volunteers, so was curious to meet him). The one thing I remember clearly about our first chat was he said he regularly ran about 10 miles around Town Lake. That was a big deal! (Apparently he also showed up for his first run without his shoes on :)) Its been crazier since the the ultra bug bit him. Running 20 miles in a pair of jeans proves it no?

Gaurav decided to run just after he started volunteering for Asha. He started off saying a half marathon would be good enough and quickly became the A+ around! Wouldn't miss a workout, would do everything as should be done, ask questions of Steve till the latter threatened to saw his leg off! He has to date not been very convinced about upping the distance but does it nonetheless - the 50k quickly turned into a 50 miler and the 100 miler which was not even being considered sometime back is now happening!

All very quirky weird characters yet down-to-earth folk who also want their personal endurance challenges to mean something more. They have a fundraising target of $40,000 for the 400 miles they plan to cover together come November. Read more on their blog to support them...

October 04, 2007

Composting at home

Composting at home
About Daily Dump
Composting experience: it is better to do the right thing wrong

Daily Dump's website

About Daily Dump

Daily Dump is based in Indiranagar, very close to our place and I went there to buy my first composter (I eventually hope to have a cow that can eat my kitchen waste but thats later and I'll stop before some animal-lovers pounce on me for this utilitarian view of a cow!). Poonam Kasturi, a designer, started this initiative. The product that I bought, the Kambha, has three terracotta pots one on top of the other. The pots have tiny holes in the side that are covered with a mesh, to enable air circulation. It is beautiful! Poonam's house, where this is based, was full of kambhas of various designs. I was given a demo, was shown waste in various stages in the kambhas they have in their backyard. They told me about tending to the composter every 3-4 days, to use neem powder for any undesirable life forms, using lemon grass spray for flies etc.

Poonam has made this design along with some students of hers (from the Srishti School of Art where she teaches). The interesting thing is she is open to sharing the design with anyone who wants to take it up. (This is important stuff and makes sense, no IPR and such here please!) Here is what she says on the website:

"We can delve into another tacit knowledge system that has stood the test of time because of reasons that cannot all be articulated - the technology of small production - with terracotta. If I really wanted to enable this existing network and system, I had to design a production and distribution system that I would not eventually control - hence the decision to create an open-source method for knowledge dissemination - of drawings, communication material and business information." Read more

Daily Dump holds demos in residential areas, apartment complexes and schools (get them when they are young!). I think what they are doing is needed in the urban set up today. The entire garbage problem would seem less intimidating if it could be dealt with locally, in a decentralized manner rather than all the trash getting shipped across the city every day! It would be great if apartment complexes are designed with composting pits...we'll probably get there in a few years.

I loved this quote on the Daily Dump website:
“The distinguished systems theorist Russ Ackoff describes a common trap that guides all the work our globalised world tends to do as "doing the wrong thing righter."
"The righter we do the wrong thing," he explains, "the wronger we become. When we make a mistake doing the wrong thing and correct it, we become wronger. When we make a mistake doing the right thing and correct it, we become righter. Therefore, it is better to do the right thing wrong than the wrong thing right. This way we learn and actually get righter. Most of our current problems are, he says, the result of policymakers and managers (and designers) busting a gut to do the wrong thing right.”

Composting experience: : it is better to do the right thing wrong

I naively assumed that we just feed the mud pots our kitchen waste, add some dry leaves and Eureka, we get compost. For the first few weeks, nothing much happened to the kitchen waste. I added the leaves, the neem powder religiously and the waste just dried up inside. You could see dried onion peels, dried banana peels and so on, not that I gazed into my composter that often! Then suddenly, we decided to eat more fruit and indulged in papaya (never liked it as a kid for it looked like a mango and wasnt - felt cheated). We both started devouring a papaya every other day. The peels and seeds went to the composter and they were promptly covered with dry leaves.

Around this time, Sanjeev's mom was visiting us and I was proudly showing off the composter. She wanted to look in and I enthusiastically decided to add more leaves and turn it around. Little did I know what effect the papaya had had. And then I saw them - white creepy crawlies aka maggots. I freaked out, closed the lid and ran to consult google. My dear composter that had been dry so far was suddenly all wet (thanks to the papaya) and housing these creatures. How did they get there? And what do I do now? Most of the links on google had people as squeamish as I was about maggots. I didnt get much help on what I was to do. One suggestion was to put a slice of cheese and all the maggots will come for it. Then pull out the slice and feed it to the chickens! Great! Where am I going to find these chickens now? I sent a help email to Garima and she told me they get maggots too. That was good to hear but I wanted to know what happens to them. According to google, they are fly larva and will eventually fly away.

Common sense finally prevailed and I called Daily Dump. Poonam came on the phone and asked me if the maggots were white or brown/black. When I told her white, she said they were young ones (well, whatever, I dont want them in my pots)! She was a little amused that I had a maggot crisis. She also told me that they are ok and I should look at all the bacteria that work in my stomach etc. That was maybe it was natural. She said someone would come over and fix this. That sort of relaxed me. In the meantime, Sanjeev was enthusiastically turning the waste. He had been wanting to throw in some worms from when we got the composter and was excited to see some life (Too bad I couldnt share the excitement)! A person came the next day and he mixed the kitchen waste with dry leaves, added neem and put it in one of the other empty pots. He said in the initial stage, dry leaves need to be added to counter all the water that comes out. So what we learnt (it took a while to put it in practice)
- add dry leaves regularly
- turn the waste every 2-3 days. Otherwise parts of it, especially in the center, towards the bottom of the pot get very wet. A perfect breeding ground for the maggots (I still dont know how they are born. And no, they dont just come on rotting flesh as some folks told me. We dont eat meat. The maggots just come in our veggie waste)
- as the pot gets about half full, turn it, add more dry leaves if needed and put in a new pot. That way I get to the bottom. Sometimes if you try to turn the waste in the pot, you cant reach all the way to the bottom.

So, initially it is important to keep it dry. Now after the waste was put in a new pot, I checked it after a week and it was bone dry. There were some black dead maggots (haha, little did I know they were only sleeping. They would soon turn into flies!). I just left it that way. When someone from Daily Dump came for another check, he told told me the pot hadnt composted because it was left dry. So at this stage, it was important to keep it wet. He anyway sieved the dry stuff and there was about a kilo or so of compost. But there was a larger quantity (a nice big fat sack!) of dried waste. I could still see some dried peels and such. I wasn’t very enthusiastic about having bags of dried garbage in my balcony. That’s hardly called compost. He told me that we needed to add water to such dry stuff. I nodded vigorously (as I would do the next time he came for a service and repeated the advice) but did not add any water - the composter should know what needs to be done no?

Recently, when I went to Navdanya, I somehow got over my squeamishness and picked up some vermicompost with the worms. I could feel it so much wetter than what we have in our composter. So after I got back, decided to add water to wet the waste. We've done this twice already (once each week) and it does look like something is happening. We still have maggots and flies but am less squeamish about them. How they get there is something I’m just going to leave as one of the things I don’t understand. And probably I don’t need to. If we can manage the composter, so we don’t have too many of maggots and keep the stuff wet enough so it composts, it will be awesome!

Sanjeev had been talking about throwing in some worms into composter since we got it. I dont know if that will work in the pot scenario but will ask Daily Dump for suggestions.

We have been at this experiment for 6 months now and all in all, it feels great not leaving kitchen waste in a plastic bag out in the corridor every morning. Composting at home feels right, though we might take many wrong turns in our experiment. What is important is that we are learning in the process and trying to be responsible for some of the mess we create.

So, if you have a well-ventilated balcony, this is a no-brainer. It smells a little but it’s not bad (unless you haven’t turned the waste in a while) and you get used to it. And no, we haven’t had any cockroaches in the composter as some folks were concerned (only maggots:)).

Composting at home

Just after we moved to Bangalore, we were at Garima's place and she was separating the kitchen waste that she said goes into the composter. Got the contact of the composter people (the group is Daily Dump - what a name! :)) and promptly called them up. We had never composted at home before, so did not know what this entailed. Just wanted to do our bit in trying not to mix plastics and organic waste. In the US, I would sometimes use the recycle bins but not as a rule. I would just have to chuck my garbage and not know what happened to it. But in India, the garbage dumps are plenty and visible too. This sort of pushed us into action. It's easy not to worry about something if you can't see it but if you pass a garbage dump each time you are on the road, it can get to you. It bothers me when I see the people who come to take out our trash - they walk through this stuff, no shoes, no gloves. They sort things out by hand. We are externalizing our lifestyle on them and our surroundings. Anyway, we decided to try it out :)