chapter 16 – vanessa, paradise farm, and the finale at soap creek valley

 

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I arrived in town one afternoon fresh from the Greyhound bus and waited on the side of the road in Corvallis for Vanessa to come and meet me. I knew she was married, so when a truck pulled up with a couple inside smiling, I knew it was them straight away. The man gave me a welcoming hug and said “You must be May, I’m Bob” I said “I’m Jane, are you Vanessa’s husband?” He said “No, but welcome to Corvallis anyway! Are you here on vacation? Where are you from? Oh and this is Elizabeth” His wife Elizabeth smiled, greeted me with a little wave from the passenger seat, relaxed and open, like it was every day they met and greeted random strangers off the bus….and so the conversation went on.

When Vanessa arrived (and they had found May) we waved each other off like long lost friends. That was my introduction to Corvallis.

Vanessa is a natural beauty; gentle peaceful energy kind of Celtic goddess-looking women, with auburn tousled hair and a big smile. She is the first woman I have ever met who studied with Susun Weed; having spent a Summer at the Wise Woman Centre near Woodstock over 12 years ago, and who I learned SO MUCH from in the short time we were together….

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We soon arrived on Paradise Farm; an organic vegetable garden with a few poly-tunnels and the most delicious fresh fruit veg of the knobbly organic variety and flowers; I had a blast walking through the poly tunnels and picking the odd raspberry and strawberry and admiring the courgette (the BIG aromatic tomato vine smells reminiscent of hanging out with Judy at dear Trigonos in North Wales). Smells have this ability to ‘take me back’ somewhere in the most powerful way.

Soon I had I met all the plants and animals (and people) in Vanessa’s care…Charlie Artemis Mama Ninja Apollo were first in line for strokes; and suddenly I felt the warmth of the day and this beautiful relaxed vibe from the land come over me and I started yawning endlessly! I felt so cared for by Vanessa, who supported me immediately in getting some rest, laid out a blanket for me under the tall tree next to her home, and invited me to stay there as long as I wanted to, no agenda, nothing to do. I lay down gratefully, my body on the earth, and I drifted off into a doze.

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Charlie the Labrador was also having a snooze in her favorite nap-spot underneath the house and was snoring like an old man(!) The sound of her contented grunting was often heard from various places around the house as a distant rumble, an endearing background sound; a contented dog who loves sleep as much as I do!!

Later we put up the tent that was going to be my home for the next two nights which I got giddily excited about because the flap opened out to a view of a beautiful field; and then we fried up some delicious fresh chard and courgette with brown rice and some of Vanessa’s yellow dock herbal vinegar which blew my mind – a completely new flavour, herby incredible and healthy.

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Vanessa’s kitchen in her mini-home (built beautifully on a flat-bed trailor and in theory, moveable!) is what I dream about – jars of tinctures, infused herbs, fermented things concoctions and brews on the surfaces; the kind of place I would have got very excited about as a child… Things brewing, different wild herbs used appreciated and loved.

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I followed her as she moved gracefully and slowly through the flower garden, smiling gently and greeting her plant allies one by one, whispering how beautiful they are and introducing them to me sometimes by their Latin names and sometimes by their common one, stroking the leaves and speaking beautiful greetings to the flowers. She explained the Shamanic Practice Susun had taught her of sitting in meditation next to the herbal ally that calls out the strongest to be worked with, sitting with it every day until you feel the message coming; how it can assist you, what it has to communicate. I approached Vanessa’s plants with a love and reverence I have never experienced with plants before. We picked flowers at the height of the sun’s course across the sky and dropped them into a huge jar with water and left them in the sun for the energy of the light to infuse the water with the perfume and scent of the flowers. The taste was divine; like honey nectar and perfume. A drink of the Goddess made with love and care for the workshop slowly gently and with respect and it felt soooooo good gently exploring and selecting chamomile, calendula, fennel flowers, spearmint, peppermint, rose, lavendar, californian poppy, marsh mallow, yarrow, daisy, dandelion, montbresia and motherwort.

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Over the couple of days I spent at Vanessa and Peter’s place I sat outside in the sun a lot; the weather was dreamy and the porch was shaded by the big old tree giving us gentle cool breezes through our hair as we chatted.

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We also harvested some Calendula flowers for massage oil infusions; a glorious basket of sunshine, and soon it was time for the women’s gathering and the finale on my tour.

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We headed over to Soap Creek Valley – home of Andrea – a gorgeous soul who loves to open her beautiful space to like minded people to share and unwind there. This was the stunning view from the deck where the workshop was held.

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We set the place up and the women came; a wonderful group and the best ending to the tour I could possibly imagine.

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It was a celebration of sorts; several of the women were in their menopause and described it as like going through an initiatory process, as a mixture of being 12 again with joy and energy, but with this cosmic sense of deep one-ness and worldliness. What a powerful positive experience and something so encouraging to us not yet there. We need more of THAT support in our culture.

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What started as a sacred circle for sharing became a wonderfully participatory workshop. Debbie from Bell Pine Art came all the way from Eugene and it was INCREDIBLE meeting her at long last and I truly hope we get to meet again one day at Bell Pine Art Farm.

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I also got to meet with Rachel – a woman who had made the initial connection with me and was willing (but unable) to host me while I was in the area, and who I loved finally meeting.

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The workshop was so rewarding and special; one woman explained how she now saw she been holding on to her pre-menstrual experiences and carrying them through into menstruation, making it more difficult for her during the time of ‘release’. Something I could really relate to.

Another felt it was an empowering experience for her as a menopausal woman to feel a solid and new place for her in the circle, to be able to support those menstruating as they come through.

Others said they felt ‘grounded energised and and inspired’ and were appreciative of my reference to menstruators and bringing up gender around these kinds of workshops. I couldn’t be more happy to have shared this work with such a genuine fabulous group of people (and the youngest man I have ever presented this to – sweet sleepy baby Leif at 4 months old on his first ever social outing…! What a guy!)

And the women also really loved the ecofemme products I had brought to the workshop too – I love demonstrating them and talking about how to look after them. They are soooooooo the way forward in my mind!!

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Thank you dearly women!!!! And farewell for now XxXXXX

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chapter 15 -dreaming in the woods with sam zipporah and friends

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Life flowing through Portland is a beautiful dream. The silence here is punctuated only by bird-song on this wooden porch. I sit still, surrounded by forest; a banana and kale smoothie in my hand, the warm morning breeze enlivening my body, and I know my spirit has landed somewhere very special.

My few days here, in a house with wonderful super-chilled kind and open-hearted room-mates Elizabeth Dusty and Patrick are perfect. I am being charged back up again. Here I am restoring something that I know in my bones has been missing from this cycle so far because of overdoing it while bleeding. The ability to receive. And so it is here I can fill back up, relax, doze, dream, read and rest.

Last night we had a shared meal and I was reminded once more of the ease and flow when people come together working peacefully and with a focus. While Elizabeth cooked, Sam chopped, I picked and prepared freshly grown chard from the garden, and Patrick set up the table. Very soon we had an outdoor meal that was both beautiful and seemingly effortless! Simplicity. I invite more of this way of living into my life.

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I’m at Tikkum Olam Sanctuary, the home of beautiful Sam Zipporah; a genuine soulful visionary woman who lifts my spirits, and who’s work excites me. The work that heals the world; I encourage you to take a look. As well as her magnificent contribution to womankind around fertility and her many years of being a doula educator and supportive carer (that started when Sam was 16!), Sam has been recently called to work with women around holistic healing for abortion. Women spontaneously started coming to her about this and she knew she had to fill this very deep societal wound with her gentle care and knowledge.

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Sam is supporting and educating women with her sovereignty sessions around the whole ‘womb continuum’ menstruation, sex, orgasms, ovulation, abortions, birth, and is inclusive of all, no separation between them; they all deserve respect and reverence, they are all sacred.

Sam’s vision is to build a school for women to come to, unwind and learn; a sacred sanctuary around womb consciousness, and somewhere, some day, I know it will happen for her. I would love it if you wonder-readers could please send love to this vision that Sam holds so dear:

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I have learned loads of things while I have been here. From Sam’s cool housemate Patrick who is currently drying out an ‘artist’s conk’ medicinal mushroom he harvested from a nearby tree (a great big woody beast of a shroom about the size of a melon, great for boosting the immune system, dealing with viruses, cancer and calming the spirit). He is also an acupuncturist, super-knowledgeable about herbs and an expert in Chinese Medicine. From him I learned that the liver energy is fundamental in menstrual health as the liver is in charge of detoxifying the blood at night when we rest, and so supporting the liver through detoxification, rest, expressing or transforming anger, or by herbs we can help cut down on menstrual pain (dandelion, milk thistle, burdock. Lets support our liver, folks.

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Sam’s studies with Cultural Anthropologist Cynthia Ingar revealed a fascinating menstrual fact indigenous tribal women of Peru gave her an unique insight into the power of menstruation; something I have not yet heard before but something that has affected me deeply with regards the spiritual aspect of menstruation.

Indigenous tribal men, at their coming of age ceremonies, would take ritualistically take Ayahuasca to connect them with the sacred pachamama energy… whereas women? They would not take this plant medicine. Instead they would connect to the Mother Earth through ceremony during menstruation. YES!!!! Altered states of consciousness achieved during ritualistic menstruation ceremony is an EQUIVALENT experience to taking ceremonial Ayahuasca in these cultures… Not just historically, but in present day practices.

The act of ceremonial bleeding and the creation of quiet space to connect and listen to the divine wisdom of the Earth Mother is somewhat lacking from our culture. The lack of support we are often able to give ourselves at menstruation, and the lack of support we receive from society at this time has often led women to experiment with Ayahuasca to explore consciousness… But what if we were able to tap in to this deep connection within ourselves? By creating space, time, and a sanctuary at menstruation. The idea and the exploration around that depth of connection with pachamama through my bleeding as  blown me away and opened me up to infinite possibility.

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It is with great privilege that I come in to contact again and again with wise and knowledgable doulas midwives and healers on this journey. I am learning over and over afresh and new of women’s blood mysteries, and it is here in Sam’s woods that, filled up again, I am really ready to let rip with my writing flow and spill everything out. Its like menstrual flow only with words and it feels so timely and so right. I have been overwhelmed with so much happening, so much abundance yet no access to a computer or space to write about it. This is my thinking time and it has been special. I thank you infinitely wonder-people of this house and wish you dream-fulfilling blessings Xx

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Chapter 14 – rose grove with amber and portland with susan and kaya singer at moondays red tent

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Soon after leaving the glow and warmth of the retreat I entered another loving home. Amber (a wonderful cook, super mother and now a lovely friend) and her doting husband Stevie! Also three children Kaleb Noelle and Zeke, plus dogs Tank and Dude. Over the next couple of nights at Rose Grove Mobile Home park I felt taken in and cared for by the whole family.

Life with a busy park to take care of is never straight forward, and Stevie and Amber were over the moon to have a couple of weeks off work to catch up on all their house jobs. They live in a beautiful area where I was free to roam the Mcmanemins pub with it’s beautiful Japanese spa and huge gardens and have an ‘admin day’ using the wifi and endless coffee refills st the pub (Honestly I had about 7 cups).

There is a lot of tour planning that goes into any magical menstrual tour and things change on a day by day basis and some days my eyes are spinning at looking at the tiny screen on my phone. A lot seemed to have happened while I was unplugged in the retreat (where phones blissfully didn’t work). We were all joking about the overwhelm we might experience when we came back into range and mine was pretty intense!!

I’m just feeling lucky that Amber answered my call and still was cool about me staying last minute even though she thought I had somewhere else to say for those nights. That’s the kind of people her and Stevie are – generous and open-hearted. I’d also like to thank Noelle who slept on the floor of the lounge to let me have her bed for the two nights Xx

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Time passed happily by in this home, with beers and wine by the fire outside at night, and under the shelter of the porch in the early evening. Amber and Stevie even took me to Hagg Lake in the morning of the Red Tent, which was so cool!! Tank ploughed his way in and generally swam after sticks and Stevie took a dip too. I loved sitting on a log in the sun and looking out over the deep blue yonder; a lake surrounded by some of the tallest and most special big pine trees I had ever seen.

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Afterwards we went to the largest Red Wood sequoia tree in the whole area and I stood under it’s shade for a while. It was magnificent!!

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Soon it was time to cook and prep for the Moondays Red Tent and Amber and I set about chopping things while Amber created lovely food. It was fun in the kitchen making salad from Steve’s home grown leaves – huge abundant crops of leaves that only took 6 weeks to grow… Aw I wish that were the case in Wales (Lee would love it). Steve is a green-fingered man passionate about growing food organically and cultivating beautiful flowers. He is trying to grow the elusive Moon Flower this year – a rare beauty that only opens it’s flowers at night.

It was sad setting off from this vibrant family home. Even after Moondays ended and it was time to leave I still didn’t quite feel like letting Amber go!! Here’s Amber’s food.

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The Magical Menstrual Tour workshop at Moondays was short but sweet…. I was given this cool little slot right at the beginning of the tent, usually reserved for ice-breaking – and breaking the ice was exactly what I intended to do! There is no other topic that I know of that invokes such a pent-up and grateful outpouring of personal stories and conversation than speaking about our menstrual cycles!! I was fully charged and ready to go!

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I knew I only had an hour and new women were joining the circle randomly as they arrived so I spoke lightning fast in and rarely took a breath, in order to share as much as humanly possible with the women there… and although I didn’t cover as much as I wanted to (but when do you ever?) I still feel the message of self-care had resonated with many of the women, from their excited reactions nodding heads and in the sharing of their stories. It was awesome to have some very knowledgeable women in the audience too; always an utter blessing, thanks especially to you Sam for your hormone knowledge Xx And thank you dear women for contributing your stories too. It was wonderful to share some pre-menstrual tips with you!

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I loved that a few women came to me afterwards and asked to see the menstrual products I had offered to talk about. I showed them a menstrual cup and my trusty EcoFemme pantyliner pad explaining the benefits of using one or both. They were excited about helping the environment and using these products and it made me very happy to imagine more plastic pads NOT being used 🙂

It was then time to open the official red tent circle for the 17 or so women present. We sang “Earth my body, Water my blood, Air my breath and fire my spirit” (such a beautiful chant I’m taking home to Wales with me) then we sat down to a short guided meditation designed to ‘land’ us in the space. Like my dear friends in Wales who run their own Druid ceremonies we finally called in the four directions evoking the energies of the four seasons.

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We were very lucky to meet Kaya Singer, guest speaker at the tent and author of her new book Wiser and Wilder: A soulful path for Visionary women entrepreneurs. Check the book out here!

Kaya spoke for a while about the three archetypes of the woman’s life cycle; maiden mother and crone giving the message that we mature over the years (especially at our second Saturn Return/ages 57 or 58) into our role of becoming a ‘mentor’ . At this point we know ourselves and can be there for others:
Maiden – Feel invincible, risk-taking, feeling free, not responsible for anything, not worrying about things, ends around the first Saturn Return.
Mother – Connected to the mother Earth, helping everyone, working really hard, figuring out your role.
Crone – Energy is going within, Becoming a mentor, knowing yourself, being there for others in a support role slightly different from the Mother role.

Then she invited us to connect with our own inner wise women to identifying our own ‘vision’ and what might be holding us back in achieving it. We had a focused sharing around the circle; 2-3 minutes speaking about what drives us and what we feel our contribution to be in the world. There were a lot of wonderful visions, wonderful non-visions, and honest sharing in the circle.

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Afterwards we had a scarf dance!

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Susan, her daughter Jewel, Amber, Noelle and I had beautifully set up the space for the 17 women at the pretty Soma Space in Portland city, and during setting up Susan had shared with me what had lit up her desire to provide a space for women to rest and renew. It was her discovery of The Red Tent by Anita Diamant; a book that had unintentionally set off the entire Red Tent movement. I resonated with that, as I was moved deeply by that book too. And as for me – Why did I choose to set up the Red Tent at home in North Wales? Alexandra Pope directly dared me to at the apprenticeship training!! Who could refuse that call to arms?!

Susan’s wider vision is very expansive; to create a ‘bricks and mortar’ tent; a permanent womb like beautifully decorated space for women to go to, bleeding or not, for a pamper or just a cup of tea. It would be a woman only place of retreat, the heart of which would be a central meeting place/café with juices teas and certain delicious themed alcoholic drinks (like bloody Mary cocktails!), and light food and snacks.

It would be bohemian, silks, velvets, lush reds… On either side of this café space would be quick affordable spa treatments and services like massages, foot rubs and hair braiding, henna, tarot/divinatory readings. There would also be a meeting space for events classes ceremonies blessingways and workshops and a boutique selling remedies, reusable menstrual products, books, tea blends, and Moondays merchandise with some profits going towards a scholarship/fund for women who aren’t able to attend due to Red tent entry costs etc. Susan is currently working towards this goal and believes in shifting the paradigm of negativity around our cycles and righting the paradigm of the divine feminine in our society.

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Wishing Susan the best in her endeavor to make the Red Tent Concept more mainstream and thanks for having me at Moondays Red Tent Xx

chapter 13 – Suzanne McQueen, Native American sweat lodge, and the breighten-beauties

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With the waters of the outdoor hot-springs relaxing and nourishing my naked body on the night of the Summer solstice, under the bright sky of the full moon I sent out deep gratitude and love into the world.

My gratitude for this life, this opportunity to sit in deep soulful silence, gratitude towards meeting Suzanne and the other 18 beauties, gratitude for mother Earth, father Sky, the people I know and love, the people I don’t know and love, my work that I have now formed a very deep and special relationship with, and who’s value I am beginning to see reflected back to me in the shining faces of the women I teach, watching excitedly their ‘aha’ moments and receiving their excited feedback. I am grateful for it all and hope for the opportunity to let this work come through me more and more over the coming months and years!

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Wow(!) so being one of the 19 women on Suz’s 4s4w retreat which began the day after my 38th birthday was utterly perfect. As soon as I had decided to go (causing me to change all my dates for the West leg of the Magical Menstrual Tour) a miraculous thing happened. The tour, which up to then just wasn’t working (with many people out of town/unavailable on my suggested dates) suddenly all fell into place easily! Magically and before I knew it I had an entire itinerary completely planned! Also it meant I had more time than I expected to travel around wonderful and beautiful Oregon. Some things are meant to be and this felt like one of them from the outset.

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It was a deep honor to be in the Breitenbush environment, sharing a cabin in the giant forest with another sweet woman, waking up to the smell of pine sap, the sound of birds, and light dappling through the trees sending a tapestry of leafy shadows down onto the earth.

The sun shone, and at night the honey moon glowed brightly giving us their energy at this potent time of the year.

Our workshop space was a delightful circular building with rays of sunlight flooding down through the roof and onto the medicine bowl in the centre. I sat in circle with Melody, Wendy, Moriah, Rowan, Lauren, Tracy, Ilene, Jade, Rose, Laura, Harmony, Cynthia, Anna, Lauren, and Mary and listened to their stories. The beautiful space was held by Suzanne, Jaya Eagle Heart and Samar and all of us.

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Each time we entered the room we were smudged with a mixture of Sweet Grass, Tobacco, Cedar and Sage (the four grandfathers) by Samar and Jaya Eagle Heart, who drummed and sang at the same time. As we were smudged with herbs, eagle feathers and loving smiles, it felt like a very special and formal welcome. Jaya later explained smudging as being scientifically proven to help centre us on a cellular level, putting us in our hearts and helping us to focus. The Lakota tribe say that the spirits don’t come near you when you are burning smudge.

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Suzanne then introduced us to the healing Native American medicine bowl that asked to be in her care. We were very honored to have access to it through the retreat as it is old and a very very sacred healing vessel. For me, as a European having never experienced Native American Spirituality before, this felt like a moment I had been hoping and waiting for ever since I had first dreamed of the majesty and power of this culture as a child.

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A former river stone, this bowl was once chosen and created; chipped and carved out by a healer of the Native American tradition. It is not known how old the bowl is, or how many people have come to it for healing over the many many years this tradition has been vibrantly alive. Water and flow represents the divine feminine and so the bowl is ritually filled with water for healing ceremonies. The bowl is stone and the stone people are the story people; they hold the laughter and the tears and support us whenever we ask them to. Suzanne told us the story of how the bowl came to her; it asked to be passed to her by Star Wolf a wise Elder of the tradition in the light of all the healing Suzanne’s work will bring to people. I couldn’t agree more.

In the spirit of flow being healthy and stagnation being disease and with blessings of flow and abundance to all I was bestowed the honor of adding some drops of spring water from Chalice well, Glastonbury; representative of the sacred feminine, for our ceremony. We each added a stone to the water to be infused with the healing energy and had a moment to connect and introduce ourselves to the medicine bowl. That night the full moon peeped between the trees finally rising in its majesty over our cabins as we slept.

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This and many other special experiences happened over the next few days at the Breightenbush retreat. I was refreshed and revitalized by the fresh perspective and energy that Suzanne gave in her 4seasons in 4weeks workshop. I loved that her work danced and entwined itself so beautifully with the work I share too, though it was still different and fresh, and that the reactions from the women present were of personal revelation, understanding, empowerment and intention. I loved the light and laughter that Suzanne managed to bring to the work and the laid back and balanced way the work came through her. She is AMAZING!!

One woman described meeting Suzanne as feeling like she had just met a friend, and how Suzanne is one of those people who just makes you feel like you are her ally and companion right from the word go. I wholeheartedly agree with that; the moment I met Suzanne in the car park of Breightenbush she made me feel exactly the same. If you ever have a chance to meet this woman I suggest you seize it with both arms!

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Cynthia led the most wonderful movement and meditation, centred around the work of Suzanne and gave us all beautiful home-made gifts; a foot rub for nurturing, a delicious herbal tonic, an essential oil perfumed spray, and a candle for reflection. Perhaps the biggest gift of all was the time within the exercise to reflect on our inner 4seasons in 4weeks, fill in our lunar rhythm journal and identify our needs for each phase. It was done beautifully Cynthia, thank you Xx

Soon it was time for Moriah to lead our voice workshop; a powerful collective exercise that focused around releasing stuck energy in the throat chakra. It was so interesting listening to my inner responses to these sounds escaping from between my lips, then listening to the sharing by the rest of the group. A similar thing happened when Queen Ilene (who makes me laugh without trying) and Rowan held the laughter yoga workshop outside vand we experienced the exhausted tummy muscles and (eventual) surrender to the giggling. Here Jumping Jane was born!!!!! Thanks for the bubbles Rowan.

We had a Hawaiian chant and dance led by Jade, and I did a short spontaneous workshop about eco-alternatives to disposable menstrual products passing around the menstrual cup EcoFemme pad. We had a lot of fun laughing at the practicalities of menstrual blood management, and I felt utter joy at the freedom to really let rip in front of these women and tell them EVERYTHING. We had a lot of laughs; no warming up exercise needed at this product workshop, hahaha!!!

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Then we all got to make a talking stick! The teachers brought to the retreat a touchingly large and beautiful selection of things to create with – the sticks collectively were incredible and were all colors and sizes and designs by the time we had finished playing with them… This was one of my favorite things and I played around with a giant piece of lichen and strips of ribbon for hours in a deep and very peaceful space. I could have gone on all night!

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Samar later held a womb dance; a sacred and incredibly beautiful workshop, that, despite all of us being exhausted, was a deep and special moment where we danced meditatively three at a time in front of/witnessed by the other members of the group. The idea was not to think about our movements like in normal dancing, but move with closed eyes, mindful of the breath and of our subtly rocking pelvis on the in-breath and out-breath, and naturally allow our bodies to move the way they wanted to. I witnessed much beauty that evening that will stay with me for a long time… dreamy touching sweet powerful movement.

Slowly and surely over the course of the retreat hair became tousled, faces brighter, eyes shinier, feet muddier, shoulders lower, foreheads open and spacious.

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It was time to be anointed with Ochre for the Native American Sweat Lodge Ceremony led by Jaya Eagle Heart. This was a huge honor for me having never experienced a Native American Ceremony of any kind before. There was a fire pit, hot river stones, antlers, ancestors, an altar, prayer ties, herb filled pipes. We sat on the dusty dry cool earth inside a dark lodge entering clockwise on our knees, herbs were burned ceremonially on the red stones. Steam billowed, we were led through four sacred practices with love and care by Jaya. A magical self-care experience and chance to go within that no words could describe. With deep gratitude to all XxXxX Aho Xx

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And then it was time to leave, with friendships forged and stories told…

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Huge love and thanks to all the teachers. With huge thanks to Lauren for driving me there and back from Portland and generally taking me under your wing. Your support and kindness in helping me explore the springs and waiting for me when I was dithering about was much appreciated! The coat you gave me when it was raining and cold meant the world to me.

Thanks all Xx Aho.

chapter 12 – the bay area with kyle, kimberley and helynna

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Back in Frisco Bay!! This is the hardest day of my life to try to capture because it was such a full day with rich conversation and wonder-people…here goes…

I arrived in San Frisco with Donna Wolper and managed to get the train to Berkeley and Kyle, who’s mum’s place I would be staying for the night. It was the day before my birthday, I met so many people all in one go (Kyle’s mum nan and family, some family friends, and wonderful menstrual activists) then flew out of town early the next morning to Portland!! It was a whirlwind in San Francisco…

Hanging out with Kyle and her mum for the brief time we got was wonderful, it was like coming home! By the way Kyle is a wonderful fellow EcoFemme ambassador who I had met in Boston and who I was lucky enough to be meeting up with again, albeit briefly in Berkeley.

Kyle’s family home is like a casa in the Mediterranean… none of the rooms are square but kind of octagonal; the whole thing is traditional Hispanic architecture and I loved it there..! I could have spent many happy hours chilling out with the family sitting under the shade of the tree in the courtyard, drinking vino blanco with the lovely folk that they are…

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It was also a gorgeous sunny day with no fog whatsoever so we got an awesome sky, a warm day, and Kyle and I were very much looking forward to meeting Kimberley from Natural Flow, Helynna from the Red Web Foundation and anyone else from the Bay area who responded to the menstrual call to arms!!

We met at Cafe Leila; a beeeeauuuutiful little place with an outside garden and fab coffee. There was sun sun sun which Kyle and I soaked up all day while chatting. Helynna came bearing treasures; a cool zine, some red web foundation red ribbons, and pens which she gave to Kyle and I. I got so excited at the Red Web pen I almost couldn’t contain myself (those who know me understand my enthusiasm for stationary)!!

We had a BALL chatting excitedly about all the work we are currently engaging in, and as ever when a group of menstrual activists get together things get interesting…!

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The Red Web Foundation is a vitally important organisation ‘dedicated to supporting and promoting a positive and healthy view of the menstrual cycle, while honoring the diversity of individual and cultural views and practices around menstruation.’

The Red Web website is a go-to resource of information about, and supporting of local and worldwide Red Tent, menstrual activism, alternative eco-menstrual products, authors of books around menstruation…. and as if that weren’t enough The Red Web Foundation is serving as a network to support people in their lives with all issues around menstruation. To Join them and become a member click here

What I loved about our time together was in sharing ideas on how to take the Red Web foundation further; indeed how to support each other in our various work. We are spread far and wide geographically and sometimes it’s easy to forget that we are there for each other, or get so busy doing our thing we forget to connect with like minded people.

I must introduce Kimberley, from Natural Flow who instigated this wonderful conversation about how we can all support each other better. Such a genuine bright lively smiley person and literally EVERYONE I had met throughout the USA plus Kathy and Jessamijn from EcoFemme were recommending we connect. Meeting her was like being reunited with an old friend! I was so happy that she and all the women found time and opportunity to come and hang out in Cafe Leila…

One of the things Kimberley is super-excited about is her new project of counselling menstruators to be in tune with their bodies better, broadening our knowledge on cycle/body awareness strategies, tracking our cycles and learning to understand what the body is trying to tell us, how to implement new changes into our lives, and creating and explore our life’s vision!

And the great news is Kimberley is offering a complimentary Discovery Session to menstruators right now! If you want to explore your relationship with your body and how to implement that in your life with Kimberley, click here. Don’t hesitate!

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We also met Emerald from Eosoma who has developed a new eco-friendly conception prevention method, and who came straight from her workshop to meet with us. Her passion for her subject was quite amazing and I wish her much luck!

Afterwards, Kyle and I were pretty exhausted with all the excitement, and met with her family for a Mexican meal – the Corona never tasted sweeter on the eve of a beautiful Californian Summer’s day! Salud!

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chapter 11 -santa cruz with donna wolper author of ‘the moontime harmony workbook’

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Sitting on the bus from San Jose to Santa Cruz, and after an 8 hour megabus ride, I (for some reason) was ecstatic and found myself scribbling on a piece of paper the following:

“I am in love with America. Nothing is too much trouble for people, people react with joy here, no-one rushes you on buses when you’re fumbling for change. People have more time for strangers. The South American vibe has infiltrated this place and things are fun! People are so polite and respectful and they look at you in the eye. They hug and it feels safe. I feel free to be happy – people are not intimidated. The nature is shining, the air is warm the sun is bright and people sell fruit by the side of the road….”

I drifted off into a contented silence looking out of the window at California at it’s best. It was sunny, the palm trees were hazy light green yellow in the light, the evening was drawing in, and I was about to return to Santa Cruz, one of my favorite places on Earth.

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When I got there I was greeted by Donna Wolper who took me straight to a taco place in a downtown bar and we sipped corona with lime and feasted amongst the good vibes. I heard more Spanish than English and it made my heart sing and crave for South America. I knew I was going to love this experience just from the moment we met. It was Thursday night and the bars were already heaving, ready for the weekend.

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Donna is a kind, caring and nurturing person, a deeply modest and incredibly gifted writer, a wise woman and wonderful mentor. She is extraordinary actually; a woman who’s passion for life and experience (and love for the sun) and travel took her on an incredible journey that led her to discover a tiny Mexican fishing village with no roads (only accessible by boat). This is where all this womb magic and deep healing wisdom began.

Donna, who lived in Quebec for most of the year started to visit this village in Mexico each year to escape the harsh winter and she soon integrated herself and her children into Mexican life. She made friends with local medicine men and women, schooled her children with the locals and lived out her winters in this peaceful friendly village with her new ‘family’ away from light pollution, walking the blissful beaches at night, listening to the moon. She was totally in touch with natural cycles peacefully living her life in rhythm, in flow.

The amazing thing about Donna’s work is that literally she was ‘spoken to’. As she describes finding this special village in Mexico then coming back again and again with her children (home-schooling all the way) each year, another chapter of what was to finally become her book made itself known to her. Its like she was channeling some kind of wisdom and each time another piece ‘happened’ to her. All this happened over 23 years ago and her book is now published and is on sale at several bookstores in the USA along with Amazon. Have a look at her website for more information.

Donna’s story continued when she decided she would like to rent a place in Santa Cruz fairly close to her family, and she has been here for a while now offering moontime counseling and workshops and menarche celebration counseling. She is also doing a Moontime Harmony Retreat in February 2017 back to that fishing village… click here for more information!

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I am lucky enough to have a copy of The Moontime Harmony Workbook and found it an incredible read, and a book I am looking forward to working through through my own menstrual journey.

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Donna’s house-mates were also wonderful kind and generous enough to let me sleep on their couch in a spacious and comfortable living room with a huge front window overlooking other beautiful big Santa Cruz homes in their cul-de-sac. The back garden at Donna’s place is kept beautifully with flowers and herbs, delicate scents and color and light. An oasis of sorts. The first day I arrived I was tired, and spent my morning among the flowers. I rose early and the quality of light was magnificent on the leaves and petals.

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Over our two days together we discovered and shared much about our work, walked amongst the giant trees of the Redwood forests, took the trolley (a cool old-fashioned looking shuttle bus) to the beach with it’s holiday vibes, strolled the boardwalk of the sea-front Santa Cruz with it’s antique (and still running) 1920’s timber rollercoaster and art deco buildings of a time gone by.

We also celebrated Santa Cruz downtown for what it is now – a humming buzzing town with musicians on the street from classical mini orchestras to full on rock bands and hippy folk strumming jamming and playing bongos. ‘Pizza my heart’ restaurant, art deco cinemas, Jamba Juice, a fast food Indian place, noodles, you can have it all….

It was a trip down memory lane for me, as my buddy Jane and I travelled here when we were fresh faced and goofy 15 years ago. We got ‘stuck’ in S.C in our delicious routine of lazing in the day on the beach getting tanned, watching the surfers on the incredible break there (surfing came to Santa Cruz from Hawaii and there’s a whole museum about it in Santa Cruz lighthouse), rooting round the thrift/Salvation army shop for comfy clothes, strolling down the street for an afternoon Jamba Juice before drinking pints with Eddy and Blobby in the Poet and Patriot (still there, still an old man Irish pub with darts in the back room – love it!) We would then stumble back to the Youth Hostel, wake around ten, and the next day the whole thing would happen over again. Like a Californian fantasy groundhog day.

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This time, after a beer with Donna on Friday night I even got to pop in on Blobby; our old friend and Jazz pianist at the ‘grog shop’ where he was working that night. It was quite amazing and a short and sweet blast from the past!

All good things come to an end and Donna was heading out of town to visit her son and daughter in downtown San Francisco the next morning. She kindly offered me a lift and we left the happy mellow buzz of Santa Cruz, headed out on highway one and wound in and out of the coves and beautiful views of cliffs and rocky sandy beaches. The sky was blue and it was a gorgeous drive. Our entry into San Francisco was just as stunning. The Haight area of town where Donna’s daughter lived was utterly gorgeous with houses on the street all painted different colors and designed totally differently from each other. I fell in love with this wonky city and headed out to the metro where I was to meet with Kyle and several rad menstrual activists of the Bay…

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chapter 10 – ‘holy hormones honey’ it’s leslie botha!

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I could type all day about the work that incredible Leslie Botha does and STILL not manage to tell you everything! How I came about being connected with her? Neither of us know(!) but someone recommended I contact her, and I thank you whoever you are, because it was a WONDERFUL time and one that will remain long in my memory!

Oooh where do I begin?

Leslie is a sweet kind and wonderful powerful knowledgeable open minded open hearted interesting woman with a fiercely big heart. She’s worked for a solid 30 years around hormone health (physical and emotional cyclic changes) and has an INCREDIBLE website; a go-to resource. She has written books, has a radio show, is a journalist and a publisher, speaks at numerous huge conferences, writes hundreds of helpful and informative articles, is a member of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research and is internationally recognised at the work she does. She is an expert in the cognitive factual world of research and also a wise woman of the blood mysteries too!

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From the moment she drove out to pick me up from a random bus station in the middle of nowhere wearing her red flowing dress, she gave me so much information I could not possibly absorb it all, but loved listening so much. Hanging out with Leslie for a few days would be an exponential growth curve in knowledge and I only had a night with her to make the most of… and it was to be the night of Fort Collins Red Tent where I was to share my work! I couldn’t wait to attend my first official Red Tent meeting in the USA.

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Leslie’s place in Fort Collins is absolutely gorgeous, as are the dear people who live with her and around her. When I think of Leslie working in that quiet upstairs office with the view of trees leaves and flowers, and Margaret (her wonderful and sweet room-mate with the most amazing energy) and beautiful Kiri and Mark next door, I just smile. I love meeting people, seeing where they spend their time, and if it is extra special like Leslie’s place I feel so so happy for them that they have found their own slice of paradise!

After a wonderfully full and deep discussion just the two of us during which time FLEW it was suddenly time to get the red tent set up! I was pretty exhausted to be perfectly honest; this was to be the last workshop of the triple in three days but I was definitely on a high and the excitement (and a nap) carried me through and the evening went wonderfully.

I liked the relaxed arrival of the women, the ‘pot-luck’ meal like the one at dear Red Tent Gwynedd, the eating chatting and sharing. Instead of things being too formalised the women at this tent share how they are/how their month has been over food at the very start, with the other women listening to them.

We were 13 strong; a number recognised by indigenous cultures as being the number of the sacred feminine, there are 13 moons in a year. After 13 cycles of no bleeding, women are said to have reached their menopause. A wonderful number for this workshop!

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In the group there were several people who had reached menopause, and a few who had hysterectomies or were on birth control. Some (but just a few) were cycling naturally. I felt this was the perfect group to speak about the art and practice of charting one’s personal cycle, no matter what hormone cycle (if any) they were experiencing. This reasonated with the women no longer cycling within their bodies, and who were curious to see if a pattern existed. We discussed the possibility of using the lunar cycle as a ‘Day 1’ to see if there was any correlation with it, wondering whether this could assist people keen to build in a phase of resting back into their lives.

Two of the women were living in motor-homes all year round and had taken to a life on the road. I loved hearing their stories at the beginning; about the twists and turns and synchronicities that had taken them on the road in the first place, the people they had met, their perspective on life, and the many stories they brought to the group. “To me, I’m not brave” replied one of the women who fixes her own van, lives in the wilds, and has done so for 12 years… love it.

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Collectively there was a great deal of wisdom in this group with some really strong knowledgeable women dispersed throughout the circle. The discussions that unfolded over the evening were some of the deepest most engaged and revelatory experiences of this tour; they gave me so much richness and a chance to sit back and get in the mix in the spirit of discovering new things for myself which I loved. We spoke of pre-menstruum is holding the tension, listening to the VOICE, honouring the VOICE…The voice is truth… but it’s hard to put it into words because we were all so ‘in the moment’. Next time I would love to record such meetings and write the dialogue down. Several of the women asked if I had or was planning to write a book – this could have been in a book!

“Hysteria is the word used to make women feel insane for knowing what they know” Eve Ensler (spoken by Leslie Botha in our circle)

Leslie also shared something I did not know; and that was the ‘Prison Period’ phenomenon experienced by young women offenders. Usually, because of difficult life circumstances and/or a history of abuse these teenagers go wild pre-menstrually and commit crimes which land them in prison, where soon afterwards (if not the first day in prison) they menstruate. It’s that tipping point, the last day of the cycle, that can be such a volatile time for people to navigate their way through. It was interesting to hear that this trend supports exactly what I was taught about the phase of intensity (or conversely extreme fogginess) just before bleeding. These vulnerable women need to know about this cycle work and I thank people like Leslie who have actually been there and encouraged these young women to look at their cycles and patterns of behaviour! It goes back to the reason I am out here doing this – this knowledge is our birthright. We should learn this stuff from our ancestors who are living their lives aligned with their natural cycles…!

There was a really poignant moment during the workshop. One of the women, now post-menopausal and originally joking that she had come to the wrong workshop(!) remembers rejecting and hating her menstruation and loving her ovulatory energy. At the end of the workshop she said quietly “I feel like I’ve really missed out on something.” She was so happy about the idea of charting with the moon, and towards the end became one of the stronger voices urging me to take this work further, into schools, onto paper, out there in any way I could, which was wonderful.

One of the most fabulous things I took away from this meeting were stories around menopause; seeing it as a new phase, a new territory. The women shared such positive stories about this process. One woman who pretty much lost everything around the time of her transition was forced to start afresh which gave her the opportunity to experience her menopausal self completely and presently, and so she had a very positive experience of it. Another feeling shared by the group was the idea of release from a bodily cycle which felt freeing and new. I love these stories; they rise up like a breath of fresh air blowing the stagnancy of our societal attitudes of negativity about going through these informational life changes.

Leslie and I celebrated that evening with wine and more great conversation, and I fell straight asleep in Kiri’s place in her homely comfortable guest room surrounded by Sufi sayings, and evidence of a full and much loved life with love and travels. I then awoke for a morning stroll round the flower and vegetable gardens; a fragrant dawn of the most perfect day. Blooms and twitters, breeze and sun. Poppies. Heaven Xx

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Thank you women of Fort Collins for this discussion and wisdom. It felt really really special and I wished I had more time to hang out with you….

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And before I go I must tell the story of meeting Margaret, Leslie’s room mate and author of HEAVENLY blog Pachamama’s beautiful food. Margaret and Lee and I (Beach House Kitchen) are blog buddies from way back, commenting on each others posts, and generally appreciating each other as good cooks… Well it was only after I left that Margaret put two and two together and made the connection! Amazing! I was blown away – what are the chances of meeting a blog buddy like that?!

P1010697Lovely Margaret, floating on air!

chapter 9 – boulder with ixeeya and the women of the red tent

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It was an exceptionally hot and sunny day when the Magical Menstrual Tour came to Boulder area. The bus unceremoniously dumped me on a main highway intersection underneath the frazzling sun at around noon, and to be honest I didn’t really know where I was. A well meaning man asked me if I was waiting for the bus and I suggested I was waiting in the wrong place… I assured him I was OK and that my friend would be there any minute. Surely enough she was.

I was picked up in style. For those of you who have had the honour and privilege of meeting Hootie the Beauty, our old soulful set of wheels in the UK , I believe I found Hoot’s soul sister out here. Not a Peugeot, but an old well-loved car with the same brilliance, bright red and chugging happily away, with Ixeeya Beacher behind the wheel smiling at me; bright eyes shining.

Put simply, Ixeeya (who organises a lot of the events for the Boulder Red Tent) is gorgeous. If you ever get the chance, I encourage you to connect with this beautiful soul, attend her events and allow yourself to be touched by her light. Her work can be found by clicking here.

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Ixeeya’s space in the countryside is magical and it is also her home, permanent retreat space and creative artistic space (she’s a wonderful artist too). As we were setting up, I was laying out my cloth circle (and we were wondering what numbers we might get for the gathering – you NEVER know!) Ixeeya shared with glee that whenever people ask her what she does for a job she tells them she is a professional cat-herder. When I asked why, she explained that women are like cats – they simply cannot be herded! All cat owners know this; even if there is a big full plate of delicious tasty salmon they will NOT be forced to go eat it…! I love the analogy; women’s gatherings are just like that!!

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The space and the intimate group of 6 allowed us to truly dive into the work. I was thrilled to have a 13 year old girl and her mother within the group today; such a great opportunity to share and open up the story of menstruation with her.

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The circle was opened by Ixeeya herself; who introduced me and then let me fly. I encouraged everyone to share a menstrual story to open the circle with; it could be a funny one, have happened to someone else.. anything to let the conversation flow. We had some great stories in this group…

One woman told of a time she was backpacking (I think in a small village somewhere in Latin America) with her period and the pain and exhaustion got too much under the weight of her heavy bag and she just collapsed on the side of the road, like an upside down ladybird…! A man came to her aid and asked her if she needed to see a healer to which the woman replied “Yes!”. She was taken to a woman in her home who started rubbing her belly, soothing it, stroking it and doing all these wonderful healing practices that made the pain go away. When it was all done the healer asked “Are you feeling better now?” The woman replied “Yes I am” and to her surprise the healer whipped off her top, jumped on the bed and said “OK, it’s my go. You do me!” We all laughed! The storyteller went on to explain how this had deeply touched her; how in this different culture there was no need to become ‘certified teachers’ in things, the community helped each other out and anyone could heal. In the act of the woman saying “You do me” she trusted that this foreign backpacker was already a healer just because she was a human; something very empowering that our culture with it’s allopathic approach doesn’t support.

Another woman told us a hilarious story that made us all cringe and roll about laughing. About her first tampon experience/possibly first menses experience too. She was on a dive boat of all places (don’t menses come at the most unpredictable/inconvenient times?!!). She noticed the first blood and didn’t know what to do; there were no toilets on board and there were a lot of boys around. She managed to find a tampon from a friend and then had to find somewhere to figure out how to use it, then insert it. I was cringing for her; I think we were all were actually!! She found a place at the very front of the boat, just about hidden behind a sail(!) Well just as the tampon was about to ‘travel North’ a wave struck the side of the boat causing it to get launched out of her hand and into the water…! On acquiring a second tampon she managed to achieve the impossible – balancing on the rocking boat, hiding from boys, and learning how to insert a tampon…! The things young women have to go through, huh? I was glad this young woman was there to hear us howl with laughter at these stories.

I shared my story of washing cloth pads out and then watering my house plants with the blood; quite tame in comparison but nevertheless a great story in that it opens up the conversation about using cloth pads (and passing my EcoFemme pantyliner and menstrual cup around), and gives people ideas on how we can give our blood back to the Earth. People are loving this practice and are loving the products too – a most valuable part of the work I do.

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It was a wonderful lively humorous atmosphere, with incense smells and trickly water sounds, and I so enjoyed giving my workshop to such enthusiastic fun kind attentive people. Also I appreciated that many of the woman there were already ‘menstrual experts’ involved in teaching others about the cycle, but they truly listened to me and allowed me to speak – although I am certain they had a lot they could input and share with me. I really appreciated this and felt completely free to really let rip!!

I was in ‘Day 3’ of my cycle in Boulder, so I was actually feeling COMPLETELY exhausted from the bus ride; and having given a workshop the night before (and with one planned for the next day) I knew I was burning the candle at both ends too much. But how could it be any different this month? These workshops are planned out weeks in advance and menstruation happens at unpredictable times for me, with some cycles around 26 days and some 33 making it pretty difficult to plan! An acceptance of ‘it is what it is’ helps me in these situations.

So I decided to see it as an experiment – to see how I would feel when I payed menstruation no special attention and just pushed on through it like I used to. As I type I am on Day 28, and on reflection I have had the worst month for years in terms of energy levels and general feelings of buoyancy, and resurgence of some old pre-menstrual traits that feel very real and very uncomfortable, but I now know to be due to tiredness. I have been completely exhausted this month! To think that people are walking around drained all the time is what motivates me to continue sharing this work. It’s truly and utterly all about menstruation for me now; allowing rest and renewal – it’s essential to our health and well-being and it has been a great reminder for me to know that again in a physical sense.

Actually this workshop could have gone on for a very long time; longer than the time we had. The time I had allocated for discussion of the images from the guided ‘four seasons’ meditation was suddenly gone and I wished I had been able to give a little more. But the work had really ignited something and had inspired the people present, and so we closed our circle, cheered “Go team RED” and soon I was on my way back to Denver and the sky decided to do this over the Rockies….. it looked 100 times more amazing in real life but I couldn’t capture it fully on my phone!!

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Ixeeya beautifully wrote in one email that in gathering together and sharing our wisdom stories we are healing and transforming ourselves and the planet. I truly feel the same way, and this amazing experience has filled me up from the inside in a way I have never felt before.

One woman said “Know you planted seeds that will continue to be nourished while you continue on your wonderful and magical journey spreading the beauty of our cycles and our blood.”

Another said “Please know that what you shared landed in so many life-giving ways”

Ixeeya said “Go team RED  – lets keep riding the underground red river together!!”

I had so much fun with you all, thank you for being a full and vibrant part of the tour – Ixeeya I still have some of the rose petals and they have been present at many more Magical Menstrual Workshops since! Xx

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chapter 8 – denver with vicki the detox expert, happy times with casey and tommasina

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My flight from LA to Denver felt so mixed – I was waving goodbye to Carol, my companera muy especial (Lee’s mam), yet I was back on the road again and about to start the Western leg of the tour of my dreams….so I was also excited!

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Woahhhhhhhhh…..

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The scenery from the plane blew my mind especially flying over the Grand Canyon and The Rocky mountains close to Denver. Denver airport is one of the most confusing airports I have ever been to, but my goodness, the plethora of delights there in the food and drink department was unbelievable! I bee-lined my way over to the Jamba Juice counter and ordered my second Jamba (or was it my third) since arriving in the USA! Happily I slurped the litre or so of goodness while contacting Vicki and arranging where and how to meet her off the airport sky train.

My bag felt REALLY heavy today. It was stuffed with all manner of jars of Chia seed infused Peanut butter from Trader Joe, and Tahini from Beirut that I had bought along with some juicy dates (now long gone) in an underground shop beneath the best fruit and veg market I had seen since Spain! I had faithfully carried this jar around since Boston…

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Here was the glorious Union Station in Denver – I stood amazed at the size and majesty of this old building and immersed myself for a while learning about the Gold prospectors of the Wild Wild West who came here and settled and mined. I had no idea all this happened in Colorado and so my imagination drifted off a little; a romantic idealistic view of a probably very brutal time; cowboys, saloon bars and people wandering around in Victorian clothing saying ‘howdy! and Yippie-yi-yo-ki-yay’ What would old Denver have looked like?

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New Denver is unbelievably modern. Glassy tall sky scrapers are springing up all the time making a strangely beautiful modern skyline as the city copes with a mass influx of people. Industry is on the up (but I’m not sure what industry we are talking about; Colorado was the first state to make marajuana legal to anyone over the age of 21 in 2013, maybe that’s the reason to explain the dramatic population increase…)! Medicinal Marajuana, anyone?

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As soon we arrived and had greeted each other Vicki and I set off to Idaho Springs; an old fashioned and very well preserved and actually very pretty Victorian gold prospecting town set in the hills above Denver with many original buildings. Beaujo’s the now famous pizza establishment has it’s own disused mineshaft in the floor of the restaurant (real, I am assured). I loved the night, the conversation, and the pie crust pizza (something I have never had the fortune to sample before…) It’s a giant crust that makes the whole pizza look like a pie. And when you have eaten all the tomatoey bit you can then eat the crust afterwards as ‘dessert’ with honey, which they bring to the table. A very cool yummy tradition!!

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Over the table Vicki excitedly asked me about the tour so far, and told me a little about her work too – she is into detox in a big way and founded Toxin Clear several years ago; a clinic in Denver. She also represents Touchstone essentials, a company who sell some very interesting products – they use organic vegetables to make vitamin pills that are completely chemical free and able to be absorbed into the body. Vicki, who is one of the most passionate people I know on the subject of health shared with me a great deal about nutrition and this mineral Clinoptilolite, which is used internally as it attracts positive ions, hence helping us rid our bodies of toxins. Also externally in disaster zones like Chernobyl where it has drawn positively charged radiation out of the land. Wow.

Amongst many other things Vicki has been a midwife for many years, having delivered over 500 babies (had 4 babies herself), and has worked in women’s health since 1978, which is why she intuitively felt she had to host me on my tour! Vicki’s work is in helping pregnant mothers to detox; explaining that there has now been a proven link between toxins and autism which is why we need to take environmental pollutants seriously all the time.

Her website for Toxin Clear is here and her site for mamas called toxin clear moms is here

Vicki is a serious force of nature. She happily admits her age which is around the 70 mark and grandma of 8, yet she is fit and active and looks great! She often gets up at 5.30am-6.00am bounding around the house with tons of energy. If anyone can be living proof of these vitamins and supplements working then Vicki is a good advertisement for them, and I am a witness to that cos I have lived with her – I was premenstrual during my time there (a very tired version of me) and I had trouble keeping up!

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Vicki definitely kept me going with her enthusiasm and lessons on hormones (she is a hormone expert too) and day-trips to the Botanical Gardens and out to town with her friends, all around the same age, and such a blast to hang around with!

It strikes me again and again that women are great when you get ‘em together. Though I usually mean this is an sacred intentional context I couldn’t fault my day out with Vicki Sandy and Sally. We ate lunch in downtown Denver in this historical haunted Cowboy-style pub. In the cellar of the pub there is also a secret doorway to underground tunnels that extend all over the city (used for smuggling of contraband goods and prostitutes back in the day!). We chatted a lot over lunch. I asked them all to talk about what life was like when they were young, what their houses were like and where they lived and they told me a lot… I must say they seemed more interested in the handsome bartender though, Hahaha!

Over my time at Vicki’s I went to one of her presentations, we ate super-healthy salads, watched movies together at night, and I slept in the ‘bed of all beds’ that I never wanted to get out of!!

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I also gave Vicki a walk-through of the menstrual cycle workshop for her knowledge and also for her to pass onto her daughter who sadly couldn’t make it. Vicki loved the work because it focused on the emotional side of the cycle and not just the hormonal side. Vicki instantly saw it’s value for women and menstruators, and gave me enthusiastic feedback recognizing the work’s value for people with severe PMS in that it helped to explain normal day to day things better. She also loved looking at the products – my cloth pad and menstrual cup and we spent some time discussing the benefits of using these for women’s health.

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Soon it was time to leave Vicki’s and she took me to a very pretty part of town near the botanical gardens (which are some of the most stunning gardens I have ever seen) and to the home of dear Casey and Tommasina, connected to me via Anita in Washington – THANK YOU!! – a beautiful pair of peace loving vegan souls and their darling sociable purr-y and adorable ‘Buster lookalike’ cat called Ollie and their other shyer more demure sweet puss-cat Fiona.

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Many happy evenings were spent with these two beautiful individuals who kindly let me sleep on their comfy couch in their lounge surrounded by the joy, positivity and loving-vibes of their apartment.

One evening I spoke to them both in a nice chilled-out private cycle workshop and was grateful for the opportunity to do so. This was another utterly affirming experience of how speaking to a couple can be so rewarding and open up conversations about the menstrual cycle (and it’s challenging bits) in a safe and intimate way and give language to the cycle that can be understood by both people. I feel ready to take this element of my work further and continue to speak to couples because it feels right to me. I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that this is something I want to do.

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It was really cool to hear that people are so blown away by the cycle being a tool that can be used for planning, and that you can use opposite phases to talk to another and make balance with each other. That there is actually a predictability to women’s cycles after all the societal conditioning had given us the opposite message (that women are unpredictable). Also the way the layers of the cycle can be discussed simultaneously through different lenses/levels. What really blew me away about Casey’s reaction to the workshop was that he said he felt a lot of this work was familiar somehow; it made a lot of sense, especially the mindfulness stuff around noticing our inner emotions that dictate our behavior and reactions to external circumstances. I loved that he felt more men should hear this work because that’s exactly how I feel, and I feel ready to share this with more men who would like to listen… so if you are one, or if you know one, please get in touch!!

What was also wonderful feedback was that they both loved the visual representation of the cycle with the cloth and ribbon, because it brought the cycle to life; made it turn from something not seen and abstract to something very real and present. Ollie loved it too. He couldn’t stop rolling around on it 🙂

Thanks for everything guys, from the chill-out opportunity in your beautiful space to all those lifts you gave me in your car to various buses around town. Your kindness will never be forgotten, cooking with you was so much fun, and I hold you very dear to my heart Xx

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chapter 7 – meeting kiran gandhi, and copious toast with diandra from untabooed

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Upon arriving at Diandra’s place in NYC I knew I was going to feel very at home. This woman appreciates toast in all it’s forms and especially lathered with chunks of avocado. Toast in the morning, toast before bed, and fine fine bread. I was in heaven there, in her NYC pad for a while!

Would you believe it I have just stopped writing this article to actually put on some toast! (Yes you probably would believe it actually!) The very memory of spending time with lovely Diandra; quick witted, informative, to the point, super-efficient and very sweet helpful New Yorker has made me peckish and I have one piece left. I’m toasting you as I type, Diandra, quite literally (FYI with olive oil and balsamic vinegar)!!

Diandra came into my sphere and became a part of my Tour thanks (once more) to connections from Kathy and Jessamijn from EcoFemme – Oooh BUY AND USE CLOTH PADS everyone! Remember – no toxic chemicals, better for the environment, no odours, easy to fold up and carry, cheaper over the long term. I know we have to wash them, but that should be a joyful process now you know how amazing they are!!

OK, so back to the story of NYC… Apart from lots of catching up on blogging, tour-organising, and basically sleeping at Diandra’s place(!) she also took me to this cool event:

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Jennifer Weiss-Wolf is a Lawyer and is interested in policy, because ultimately big policy changes end up affecting the most people’s lives. She shared that 14 US states have now introduced tampon tax legislation to eliminate people having to pay tax when purchasing menstrual hygiene products. She was still adamant that this could be improved and is also campaigning for legislation to support women with no income (there are still no free products available for women at homeless shelters).

Thanks to organisations like Diandra’s project UnTabooed which is centred around awareness, education and distributing free eco-friendly reusable products like cloth pads and menstrual cups to economically disadvantaged and homeless girls and women, there is a lot of valuable and amazing work being done already. But Jennifer argues that more would happen if law dictated that these people be taken care of better. She is also an advocate of free menstrual products being available in public areas to reduce the stigma around menstruation.

Oooh it was turning into an inspiring evening…

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And then Kiran Gandhi spoke! Feminist and musician (drummer for MIA) who free bled during the london marathon! I had posted all about her marathon on FaceBook last year and yet had NO idea I would be meeting her!!

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She told her marathon story; that she had an idea menstruation would be coming during the race and there was no way she was going to miss something she had worked so hard to train for; pads would not be an option because of chafing, tampons would not be an option because there was no privacy to change them en-route (competitive runners even pee themselves on the racecourse to not lose their position!) So Kiran chose to free bleed while running in the comfortable clothes she had worked so hard in to train for the race (what’s the difference between that and peeing on the move!!).

I LOVE her reaction to some of the (unfortunately negative) press she got at the end of the race. Her attitude? Its about what you do yourself to make the change. A defiant and definite “talk to me about it after you have run 26 miles” attitude. Go sister.

So what, in Kiran’s eyes can we do to make change? 4 things.

Radical activism: Shocking acts/making statements, like the marathon.
Use Media: This makes the topic relevant and accessible to many more people.
Policy and legislation: Campaign for tampon tax etc
Innovations: Ask people “what is your experience so I can help you?” Making new products / developing social enterprises, like pepole making their own cloth pads for example, or sustainably providing education.

And what, in the panel’s eyes can the average woman do about social justice change?

Prioritize our own comfort and advocate for the same comfort for everyone. Be brave enough to talk about menstruation with each other, for example continuing to talk about menstruation related topics even if a male colleague comes up to you. Being truthful. Instead of saying we have a ‘bad stomach’ explain that we have ‘severe menstrual cramps which are making me uncomfortable and I need an hour off work to feel better’ Honouring that and ourselves enough to do that.
Learning to to believe in the power of your own voice – creating a dialogue. Being brave. We are privileged to have a voice so let’s use it.

YESSSSSSSS!

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Women in the audience ranged from menstrual activists and business women alike; Vera Papisova wellness editor of Team Vogue, Jill Miller head of the NYC chapter of Days for Girls, and a woman representing Maxim organic disposable pads, plus Diandra and me!

Huge cities like NYC have Menstrual Activist evenings almost every night of the week, but for me it was a refreshing blast of no-nonsense common sense debate. I enjoyed every second.

I mustn’t go without showing you a pair of sustainable cycles socks on a real life sustainable cycler’s feet – Ruby’s! She modelled this pair of the funky ankle variety and then kindly gifted me a pair to take home. What a privilege!

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Next I meander into Wild West Country to Colorado where things hot up and I attempt 3 workshops in 3 days…!

chapter 6 – couple workshop in philly with rachel and her beau

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“Frooooooooom West Philadelphia born and raised…” Good Ole Big Willy Yoh. This fab rap tune, reminiscent of my childhood and I’m sure many people’s childhoods (for me it was sitting in a rural village in Staffordshire UK, gazing in wonderment at the TV and seeing life in this very different and magical place, America) was reverberating in my head as we zoomed past the infamous sign to Bel Air. Yo!

The 4 hour bus ride from Washington DC went oh so smoothly and dreamily (and cost $1 which made me smile all the way)!! I was tired and still recovering from the horrible fluey bug that had made my time in Washington so snot-ridden, but when I got off the train and met with Rachel on the platform in the most beautiful suburb of Philadelphia I could imagine, I knew it was going to be wonderful! Especially when I discovered that good food was something we had in common. Rachel, that impeccable Italian takeaway was DIVINE!

North Philadelphia where Rachel lives is uh-huh beeeeeeautiful; there is a park with loads of turtles in the lake, many beautiful tall trees, and fab houses that we decided to pretend we lived at by posing for photos outside them…(!) awesome coffee shops, and an organic food shop outside which wowed me with it’s selection of beans and outside of which I sat happily for a while, sporting a rather fabulous crispy lettuce! Here are a few pre-workshop snaps of all the frivolities and the little turtle-dude…

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The Magical Menstrual Tour workshop by now had blossomed into quite a well-oiled event, if I do say so myself, hahaha… But what was really cool about my time in Philly was that I got to speak to a very special couple about the menstrual cycle in a private workshop of their own. Having been in their loving and close relationship for many years, and with Rachel’s partner working as a Psychologist I thought it might be interesting to ask him if was interested in being included in the workshop. I was delighted when he said yes!

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It was wonderful! To be able to give a visual presentation about the energy dynamics of the cycle and the archetypical energy patterns that people who menstruate go through. To describe how it all works; the ups and the downs and how they all have their value, and for the discussion to be opened up around Rachel’s unique cycle. I was so happy to hear feedback from a man’s perspective and also to be involved in the discussion around ideas Rachel could be more supported during the different weeks.

Of course it helped that he was kind sensitive and interested, but he completely resonated with the workshop and said that it made a lot of sense retrospectively with regards women in his family, friends, and previous relationships. I loved this opportunity to speak to a couple about the work and show them the products I have been carrying around in my bag. He later thanked me in an email for everything I shared both individually and as a couple to make the cycle more enjoyable and bearable for both of them. Words like these touch me deeply. Thank you 🙂

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I can’t end this blog piece without sharing a little about Rachel’s work – she is a designer and an inventor and she has come up with a foldable bike helmet! Those of you who know me well are fully aware that I am actually allergic to bikes (unless they are motorbikes) but I definitely see the value in her work; getting people to work and back safely on the busy USA city roads without then having to lumber a helmet around with them. Rachel’s ingeniously squishes down to the size of a laptop. Her project is AnneeLondon and I wish her every success Xxx

Now back to NYC for some happy times with Diandra from UnTabooed and an unexpected and awesome encounter with Kiran Gandhi

chapter 5 – commune living in washington dc with ecofemme ambassador anita, and happy times with narendra

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Meeting Anita was a great experience and one that will stay with me for a long time. Anita, another EcoFemme ambassador and menstrual activist (who was pretty instrumental in designing EF’s cloth pad range, starting to get them made, and was hoping to distribute them in the USA at one time) had also spent a good amount of time in Auroville, India with the women of EcoFemme and Sadhana Forest Project. I knew we would get on well based on just this…

Its always great to meet someone who has been on the road themselves; they instantly know what a tired traveller needs on arrival; usually a shower, tea (if British) a wifi code and some space for an hour or so to get settled! Anita gave me just this; in fact she shared her own little bedroom with me and was cool about me collapsing there for a while to try and get over my fluey-ness. I’d had a pretty pants journey on an overnight bus from Boston to Washington DC and hadn’t yet slept properly (yup, the ride was about 10 hours and the Megabus air conditioning was fearsomely cold and shivery).

I had also had the onset of menstruation to deal with in a physical sense, en-route, with no decent toilet and cloth pads buried deep down in the backpack… One of those ‘Nooooo’ times when menstruation starts and you are not prepared for it. “Not noooooow!”

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The bus ride seemed endless that night. You know how some journeys fly by? Not this one. I managed to score a double seat to lie on, but could I get comfortable? Noooh!! One of those nights where I was just getting to sleep and the driver pulls over into the services area and without warning flicks on the bus lights (the glare of which can be seen from space) and shouts “Be Back at 4.30am” like an army general. Looking at the guy he was built like a tank and did actually look a bit like one so us passengers didn’t argue… bleary eyed looks of disapproval were exchanged among us though. It must be said it reminded me of unceremonious wakings on Indian bus journeys too…!

And speaking of India, I simply have to mention dear kind Narendra here, although he has absolutely nothing to do with the ‘menstrual’ part of my tour. His wonderful shiney self welcomed me into his home for a glorious afternoon, fed me, let me sleep on his bed when I was feeling poorly. He nurtured and cared for me and cooked the most delicious food that sent me straight back to India in a way I rarely get with flavours! Narendra; the shiny wonderful soul, met Lee and I at the Sivananda Yoga Ashram near Madurai in South India where he has since completed his Yoga Teacher Training. He lives in a dreamy house in the woods just outside of the city, close enough to this stunning water fall… Happy times indeed and many thanks to you Xx Here is the feast!

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and the beautiful walk we had together…

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OK so back in Anita’s room and after a snooze, a reminisce about my bus journey, and generally feeling grateful to be lying down horizontally(!) I took to gazing out of the window at the clouds drifting by in the big blue sky. It got me on to the Buddhist idea of impermanence and change; as the clouds drift and change so do we… (I was feeling very spacious thanks to Day 1 and the Flu and was allowing myself to connect to something deep spacey and spiritual).

I finally decided to get up, so I could meet Anita’s housemates. Anita’s attic room was in a house in which an income-sharing commune were living, in the middle of Washington. And I was kindly invited to join them as a guest for two nights. Their kindness was truly appreciated especially considering I was completely tired ill and down-beat and not very up for helping out (I noticed this lack of motivation, but because no one else had never met me before they didn’t know I was down-beat and thought I was quite energetic; hahaha!) Still, it felt all wrong, to go into a house with no energy enthusiasm and no oomph and no JOY.

I did feel pretty honoured to be welcomed into the house by these forward thinking people though; folk trying to find out a way to do things/live differently. They had all signed a legal contract between themselves; agreeing on sharing everything – from cars to financial income. Meaning those involved with domestic work, helping out on the land or round the house could live from the wages of those working and that all roles were seen as valuable as each others. The community would do each others chores (ever noticed how it’s so much more fun doing someone else’s jobs than doing your own!), they’d go skip-diving for groceries, and they would work together building and doing house maintenance. It was amazing experience for me as I had never stayed in a true communal space before. They were working extremely hard converting the loft into rooms during my visit, and I attempted to help them out with some light lifting which spiraled me into dizzy fluey feelings!

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The following day I was due to give my workshop to the people of Washington! I was so excited to be doing it but the excitement was muffled by my hoarse voice and nasty cough. I managed to get it all out though, and you know – it went great. It was at Maddy’s commune house in another part of Washington. Maddie is such a shiney bright sweet person. I loved looking up from my explanations and animated descriptions and jokes and seeing her smiling face. It was great and the workshop once more left me with a feeling that I am doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing at the moment, passing around cups and cloth pads and talking about periods. A wonderful feeling to have, especially when two weeks into a 3 month trip… The trip had been a long time coming and had involved months of planning but i loved being stuck in it, in the mix.

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Its funny being on the road; you meet such wonderful people and then you have to say goodbye to them again. I found it hard to say goodbye to Anita and her vegan cheesecake treats – yummmm – thanks so much for that Anita, and thanks for also connecting me with Tommasina and Casey in Denver who’s story is coming up, and also with Kimberley Schroeder the menstrual activist literally everyone has asked me to connect with… and who I did manage to meet in San Francisco! 🙂

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…and thanks to you again Anita for some bad-ass driving round town and for getting me to my bus! (For a horrible moment I thought I wasn’t going to end up making it to my event in Philadelphia because of appalling Washington DC traffic)!

The tour continues… Xx

chapter 4 – a morning at harvard with chris bobel and ecofemme’s ilana at brandeis university

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My meeting with Chris auspiciously aligned with the publishing of a very special edition of Newsweek. The April 29th edition with a red cover and a tampon on it; a joyous moment of celebration for menstrual activists around the globe! At last Periods had hit the big media! The Newsweek issue, called ‘There Will Be Blood’ reported in a very excellent article that in no uncertain terms….. ‘the crimson tide is turning.’!! Yessss!!

Having taken the train to Harvard (on the very aptly named ‘Red Line’ hahaha!) surrounded by hundreds of exceptionally brainy students, and forced to listen in to technical conversations about web-building, engineering and other such baffling-ness, Kyle and I made our way to meet Chris who had kindly made us time out of her massively busy schedule around graduation. Graduation sends everyone within the vicinity of a University into a frenzy of busy-ness and I remember it well. So a HUUUUGE thank you, Chris – I had a blast meeting you!!

We found her upstairs in an extremely crowded but very gorgeous coffee shop and we both had the pleasure of a wonderfully warm and rapturous hug-welcome from this fantastically bubbly and bright energetic woman. Chris is a VIP in the Menstrual activist world; president for the Society of Menstrual Cycle Research and a professor at the University of Massachusetts, author of incredible books such as New Blood – Third Wave Feminism and the Politics of Menstruation, and as if that weren’t enough, a mother…! How do you fit it all in, Chris?

We chatted a little about our work (Kyle with her Thesis on EcoFemme’s study about Menstrual Hygiene knowledge behaviour and practices among school girls in rural Tamil Nadu, India and me about my Happy Tour bumbling around this huge country with a back pack) and it was not too long before Chris pulled out a copy of the famous Newsweek and flicked excitedly through it’s pages. It felt VERY EXCITING to see a woman who has done so much as a menstrual activist waving around a copy of Newsweek in which she had been interviewed and which she ended up gifting me – utter glee! A breakthrough of sorts! Periods hit the headlines!

So happy to see her smile – this is what it looked like from the other side of the table!

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Kyle and Chris, both extremely knowledgeable and academic got into some deep discussions about issues around menstruation, eco-products, solving problems, breaking the taboo, politics, organizations like EcoFemme out there doing their bit for the environment, and sustainability around menstruation. I loved listening in, learning about the different articles they discussed, different points of view, and the different work they had both done. Kyle had read Chris’ book (link above) and a very interesting conversation soon sprang up around feminism, gender and the queering of menstruation. Since my session in Bluestockings Bookstore in NYC when we were invited to introduce ourselves as a name then personal pronoun (for example “I’m Jane and I identify with she/her”), my learning curve about using words like ‘menstruators’ rather than ‘women’ and not assuming that everyone coming to my events is female has been steep rewarding and interesting.

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Thanks to the Bluestockings event and some excellent conversations with Sarah and Ruby (Sustainable Cycles) Diandra (UnTabooed) and Rox (embodyperiod) I have started to use non-gender specific wording in my workshop literature, as I believe it is most important not to exclude anyone who menstruates. I want to be inclusive and try to deepen my understanding of people and how they relate to the menstrual cycle from many different personal circumstances backgrounds and societal conditioning. Like in every circumstance in life – to try to be open to listening – and not assuming that people’s backgrounds or the way the experience the world is in any way similar to my own! I have made a bit of a pact with myself to try to do this by using better language in my workshops but not to beat myself up about it if I get something wrong! Language is wonderful and needed for us to communicate anything and labels are needed to describe ourselves and how we see the world, but language is not infallible and can easily be misinterpreted.

So far I am happy to tell you that the response to this has been terrific! I have had feedback from people who see my facebook events and comment how glad they are written in a  gender-neutral way. In several workshops people who identify as she/her have often expressed their appreciation at my approach with gender issues. For me these are very encouraging remarks and are helping me to develop how I deliver my work in a more inclusive way.

Anyway back to Chris and the story – well, after that chat I have never left a coffee shop so enthused buzzing and excited! I immediately phoned Lee to tell him I had met Chris Bobel Supreme Menstrual Activist and that she had officially welcomed me to the “Menstruati” (a phrase coined by her’ friend and menstrual activist Chella Quint)

Oooh I must have babbled away for at least 10 minutes about it…!! Lee, (the most wonderful and supportive partner I could ever wish for in my wildest dreams) celebrated with me from Spanish shores and raised his glass from afar… Thank you Lee XXXxxxx

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So the workshop that followed this wonderful meeting (which ended too soon, but hey Chris is a busy woman and to have met her was indeed a bucket-list honour!) was at another Boston University called Brandeis….. Brandeis HERE I COME!!!!!

Hello Ilana!!

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Ilana is a fellow EcoFemme ambassador!! She had a room pre-booked at the University, which upon arrival appeared a little sterile compared with the wealth of homes and apartments I had given my work in before. However quickly, and with Ilana and my skills of serious creativity (proving ourselves to be interior designers extraordinaire); we got on the case and it soon became clear that this little room was going to be a very cool place to have the workshop indeed…. The group before us had left a lot of coffee and some snacks behind which we happily munched and sipped as we set up (how could one waste a GALLON of coffee?)

My cloth circle looked beautiful on the table; and when Ilana had finished laying out her EF pad range on the window sill we had a very cool looking room ready for the women to walk into complete with tons of snacks for everyone to munch on courtesy of Ilana! Thank you millions and millions for those tasty bits and pieces, it was very thoughtful kind and perfect. All in all I felt very honoured that there was a cosy warm room for us in the University anthropology dept surrounded by Native American artifacts like a hopi bowl… it felt very special indeed! And by the way, Boston was FREEZNG! I have never been so cold after deciding (in all my wisdom) to leave my warm clothing with Ruby in NYC..!

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And what a wonderful group stepped in through the door; average ages were little older than the workshop before. I think (from memory) these women were more or less experiencing natural body cycles as a result or either leaving birth control or having not been on it in the first place.

When I asked the general question ‘which part of the cycle do you feel least at home in’ there were very decisive answers! I felt these women knew their bodies reasonably well but they were still super-open to hear what I had to share. It was an honour to meet and work with these people; a super group.

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We whipped through the cycle work once more and then we did the visualization which seemed to have a great deal of impact on the women. They were all willing to share their images; many of which were the same/similar to other members of the group! I found this psychic link extremely interesting as it had occurred at another group too, seemingly with no suggestion or prompting and with very random images that everyone saw….The power of the collective mind?!

This time the Summer / Ovulation image depicted a huge vast space with a tiny person inside; like a glass dome kind of thing; people were feeling lost in their ovulatory phases. Interesting stuff, Ovulation to me is a bit of a dark horse; a time (archetypically) to be so ‘big and out there’. But what if our personality doesn’t like being big and out there? Just realising this kind of subtle info about yourself can help navigate the stages of the menstrual cycle so much…. and this is why I do this work – it REALLY helps people!

Again, the women were happy that they had given themselves some ‘me-time’ in hearing and experiencing this work at a very busy exam time, and I felt it had really been useful especially after all the excited supportive feedback. Ilana, the ever professional EcoFemme product demonstration expert did a talk afterwards about eco-alternatives to plastic disposables and one woman (who fell in love with EF’s cloth pads as I had done when I first saw them) was heard to exclaim “I cant wait for my next period cos I get to use these lovely cloth pads”!! Just hearing this comment made me happier and more committed to telling everyone about these wonderful products than I have ever been before. And that’s saying something!!

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Afterwards we drove into the city and Ilana treated me to a vegan meal at The Red Lentil, Boston. We sat in the restaurant eating fresh and beautifully cooked food with a chocolate dessert to die for – oh my goodness it was GOOD. We were almost the last ones in the restaurant and didn’t want to leave. There seemed so much to find out about each other, and life on the road is often like this – a series of wishing I could have more time with each and every person!

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My time with Ilana was short but sweet and she kindly drove me back to Fairmount and my bed on the sofa at Kyle’s. I was sadly about to leave Boston (after a few more free meals at Tufts University and getting ill with a fluey cold…) and in truth I didn’t want to leave – it a wonderful rich and fun time with new and very cool friends.

Soon I would be in for the overnight bus ride from hell and living, for a while, in a commune in Washington DC… all in the next chapter :)!!

chapter 3 – boston with the fairmount ladies

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Blinking at the new day and having sunken deeply into the folds of my ever-deflating air-bed(!) I was woken by excited chattering and an invite to a house brunch! My first morning in Boston with new undergrad room-mates started with a pleasantly surprising Champagney bang! Corks flew, it felt like Christmas.

Today was the day that Kyle Rachel Hannah Harsha and Michelle were to celebrate the dawn of the hugest party day of the year for graduating students – a huge Spring bash, shots of vodka for breakfast and an afternoon gig all put on by the University (illogically just before the exams!). The Fairmount Ladies giddily left the house laughing swaying and explaining that this isn’t normal(!) for them and if I heard shouting and general mis-behaving around campus not to be surprised… I was intrigued and excited to see what debauchery unfolded when students of Tufts University let down their hair and was more than happy to be left in such a great vantage point for people watching! At this year’s gig  it was none other than Shaggy playing centre stage – yes Meeeester Lovva Lovva himself was in Boston!! I was intrigued to hear how Mr BoombasticShaggyMan went down with the students. As it turned out not so well; poor 50 year old Shag was only known for his most famous tunes by the students, which he ended up… erm… repeating… owch. Love goes out to you Shaggy Man – if it was a bunch of 40 year olds we would have gone WILD!

How to describe my hugely loveable room-mates; put it this way from the minute I walked into the home of the Fairmount ladies it just felt fun. Despite being hugely in the stress zone with their various exams and papers I felt welcomed cared for and incredibly nurtured by these energetic lively friendly welcoming women.

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Kyle, a fellow EcoFemme ambassador was the reason I had the fortune to be there, and had coordinated this whole thing with me months back. Kyle is one of the most incredible people I have ever met. So gifted ethical mature and sound. And sweet and funny and relaxed chilled and so hospitable… A very cool woman.

Graduating this year from an intensive sounding degree and having written a Thesis on EcoFemme’s study about Menstrual Hygiene knowledge behaviour and practices among school girls in rural Tamil Nadu, India, she has also lived studied and travelled solo in places like India Cuba and Mexico. Thank you Kathy and Jessamijn from EcoFemme for connecting us – we had a great time! PS Contact me on womanswheel@gmail.com if you would like to read Kyle’s thesis (I have a copy).

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Kyle had arranged for me to run my workshop at Michelle’s place down the road and was encouraging people to be there despite their many commitments. Tufts has many events at this time including numerous free lunches (that I benefited from several times, with chickpea salads sprouted salads and numerous slices of cake – woo hoo!)

Actually the end of the Magical Menstrual workshop clashed with a one day  FREE Fun Fair with free food vans including hummus from the Chubby Chickpea truck (genius). I have much respect for the women who chose their periods over such such sensual delights! Thanks Kyle, for being you. You are incredible and I wish you much joy and success in a full and wonderful life I know you have ahead of you. Keep Rocking!

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Harsha, one of the most genuine sweet people in the world made me laugh and feel touched straight away. At breakfast brunch she showed such interest in my work; asking me all kinds of questions. Harsha, I am still sorry that I was too ill to run through my work with you ‘one to one’ on my last day. (I caught a fluey cold and slept for about 14 hours on the couch). What I loved about Harsha was her ability to laugh at herself, not take herself too seriously, her sweetness, gentleness, and enthusiasm for everything. Also she was just as excited as me at the free food and whooped in delight when I gave her the fridge tour of all the left-overs we had managed to score after attending a lunch about microbiology.

Rachel, a very funny bright lively and very generous person was so caring of me when I was ill (a natural nurse who I am certain will be amazing in such a wonderful career). Rachel left me notes on the refrigerator to check I was OK, gave me some of her bananas when I was too ill to go to the shops, and let me use her Mac when I was in need and had an article to write about eco-products for menstruation for the Barefoot Vegan magazine. (Check out the article in the July/August 2016 magazine by clicking here and choosing either to subscribe or download the magazine as a PDF) Rachel is such a kind person! She is also a dancer and I was honoured to watch her perform Burlesque at the university theatre – Rachel choreographed the dance – it was so cool – legs kicking into the air like waves – she and looked amazing strutting her stuff to some booming beaty tunes; a talented woman.

Hannah, last but defo not least. A completely energetic and funny person; bouncy, full on, full of energy, a ‘life and soul of the party’ kind of woman but also into mindfulness and meditation which I thought was COOL… Hannah was always busy as a bee; working in the University coffee shop, studying for her dreaded Geology exam (I feel your pain), socialising with her boyfriend and her many friends. One night we had a phone call and it was Hannah inviting us all to join her and a group of rebellious students determined to keep the banned university tradition of ‘naked jogging in the freezing cold’ alive. Needless to say we declined. When she came home great big grin on her face and shivering and thankfully reunited with her clothes (she had forgotten exactly where she had thrown ’em off in the whoping excitement of it all) Hannah entertained us with stories of police presence at the impromptu event and the unbridled joy of not being body conscious. I loved that these women didnt have the hang-ups I used to have in my early twenties.

Truth be told when it was time to leave Boston I didn’t want to.

The workshop experience was so GREAT! There were about 10 or so students who attended; the majority of whom were on birth control and didn’t feel they had a deeper understanding of the cycle or alternative eco-friendly menstrual products. I felt it was a perfect opportunity to discuss everything I knew with them and soon the workshop was up and running, fast paced and squeezed into about 3 hours due to the prospect of an annual free food / fun fair event afterwards.

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I think I talked for just over an hour in a whirl about the dynamics of the menstrual cycle and the energies of the four ‘seasons’ which was related to well by the women. I went though some tips and tricks with them about the different phases of the cycle, and then we shared some stories about our own menstrual experiences, discussed the visualization and I explained to them how to chart the cycle to encourage them to find their own pattern to work with.

It felt very much that the Birth Control used by the women dampened down their cyclic dynamics and made the cycle less obvious. But there were still some physiological and emotional things that showed through despite the drug. Many of them reported premenstrual anxiety and feelings of overwhelm which was helped greatly by discussing the purpose of working with the ‘inner critic’ in the pre-menstruum.

There was also a midwife at this workshop who gave me an interesting insight of her experiences of birthing in the USA. These particular hospitals and woman’s stories that follow might be extreme examples but nonetheless are worrying to me.

She told me that a particular hospital in Boston has a 85% caesarian section rate. Yes, 85%!!! When I asked why – was it an emergency hospital where women are sent last-minute? – I was shocked to discover that no – it is apparently a ‘normal’ hospital. Scary!

I learned about this whole generation of women who want to have a surgical birth to avoid pain / changes to the size and shape of their vagina. There are also women who want a vaginal birth but are persuaded by the doctor to have a C-Section due to minor (and I mean minor) complications, delay or long labour. And they are so scared and vulnerable they accept the ‘help’ and their baby is born by surgery. I was amazed that doctors would do this, but apparently the reasons are it’s a lot easier for them, being able to schedule in births to daytime hours instead of unpredictable night-shift births and that the birth process doesn’t take so long the C-section way.

If this is true I am completely disgusted with the hospital. Denying the woman an empowered birth, disrespectfully cutting the precious womb organ open, denying the baby the normal flora and natural immunity by passing through the vagina, for schedules and efficiency? It shocked me and I felt saddened by this narrow view and lack of respect of this primal and sacred process.

I suppose I must accept that some women don’t see it as sacred and therefore why should they care? I still can’t help but think it is our very much patriarchal culture that is influential in this. Is it that women are being denied the opportunity to experience a process that is in reality nothing short of miraculous? Is our culture influencing us so much so that we favour these methods for looks and bodily comfort?

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It is with such feelings of disbelief I continue doing what I believe in – raising this feeling of empowerment around the cycle the process of menstruation and our physical and emotional bodies. Stories like this make me even more determined…

The Magical Menstrual tour continues…..

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(and this was my bed in Boston)…. 🙂

chapter two – hudson, rox and susun weed

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The bright lights and the buzz of NYC were dimming into the distance… I’d headed out to Hudson on the most chilled out train drive EVER with it’s luxury seats WIFI and power socket that allowed me frivolous endless FaceBook catch up time, lots of fun photographing EcoFemme cloth pads against the glittering backdrop of sunlight on water, and decadent naps; all the while warmed by the sun-streamed window and stunned by views of wooded wide open river valleys.
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Eventually we idled into Hudson where the polite conductor announced the stop and assisted people down the steep steps onto the platform. I glanced upwards under the weight of my burgeoning backpack across the car park, and there was Roxanne standing cool outside her Little Grey VW Rabbit.
How to describe her? I’m not certain I can encapsulate the energy of this rare glittering person! All I know is that despite feeling decidedly ‘under the weather’ this woman managed to make me feel at home in her house, welcomed as a fellow menstrual sister, and also gave me this intangible feeling of joy and friendship and an excited feeling of rebelliousness at breaking the menstrual taboo over conversations with coffee.
Serving as a venue for her project embodyperiod; in her words ‘menstrual and sexual empowered embodiment from the depths up & out’ Rox’s home Aletis House is not just any home –  it’s a sensual delight. An exquisite collection of all things beautiful; eclectic mixture of classic old fashioned furniture feminist art and indigenous artifacts… It was the kind of home I could (and did) run around for hours whooping enthusiastically at the utter heart and soul contained there. I Love Oliver; beautiful grey chilled out dude and Rox’s little guy for 10 years…
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Happy days passed in pure contentment at this place, my bed was so tall and comfortable I had to take a running jump just to land on top of the mattress. I had no wish to leave it’s four walls, or oasis-like back porch perfect for languid lounging in the warm spring sun. Leaves were unfurling in glorious greens and reds, the light grew hazy and orange and Hudson shone.
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Soon it was time for our workshop which felt intimate deep and peaceful as we explored the archetypes, the characters of the menstrual cycle (if you menstruate you will know what I mean). It was a gentle and dreamy process that worked beautifully within Rox’s cosy home. We stayed up late, discussed, talked and shared. Burned the midnight oil.
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I went to bed that night feeling wonderful – falling in love with this work more and more each time I go through it; finding my way, the words, my own flow.
(It must be said I also surprised myself from the depths of my being earlier that afternoon too – in 2 hours from beginning to end I cooked these three vegan dishes for the lucky workshop participants; something I didn’t hesitate to broadcast on Facebook at the time!  Mmmm beany goodness, salad, and a delicious rice dish from Lee’s wonderful cookbook Peace and Parsnips thank you love Xx)

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The very next day…

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“I’m chasing my womb around…” The husky deep tones of Susun’s deep and womanly singing voice filled the air as we approached the circle at Susun’s Moonlodge in Woodstock, late but licking our lips (for we had got a beautiful bite to eat in Woodstock after a fascinating drive in through all manner of Trump territory derelict collapsing houses and woodland). This is Woodstock.

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In the circle women were singing moving rotating twirling smiling flicking their hips and doing all the actions to some wonderful Susun-songs I only wish I could remember now to tell you all about.

I had a giddy feeling inside as I moved closer to see Susun dressed in flowing red, in the flesh. Doing her stuff. Telling us that Flax seeds and Red clover help with cancer. Giving us health advice, storytelling charismatically humorously captivatingly. Soon we were asked to sit in age order looking along the circle to our left to see where we had come from and to our right to see where we are heading… The oldest women started off the talking circle with a talking stick; the others listening to her wisdom and tales.

A mischievous chuckle erupted from Susun rewarding the storyteller every time she described anything slightly rebellious or told us of her wildest womanly behaviour. The more outrageous, the deeper the chuckle that escaped; sometimes a wheeze. Infectious. Laughter. I was dazed and overjoyed to be a witness to it all, and to be a part when it became my turn.

Stories, themes, ideas, experiences melded into one; however I do remember a woman telling us all that no matter how hard we try “You will never get it all done.”
There was a story which gave me goose pimples and told of a woman in an emergency room who protected her best friend from the surgeons knife. She boomed “I would not let it happen to her; NOT on MY WATCH” in such a deep tone it still affected me now as I type weeks later.
Women spoke of embracing the dark side, giving a voice to it, listening to it, not hiding from it… and there were younger women there listening wide eyed, learning. We all were.
(There was a story of ‘the woman who crossed the line’ set in a sweat lodge ceremony that got raucous laughter from Susun.)
There was also the story of the woman who did things that scared her – and she admitted that out of all the herbal courses she could do… of course the one with Susun TERRIFIED her. So she had to be here. More wheezes.
There were stories about not having a voice, stories about having a voice. Stories from the young, some from the old.
We headed inside to the wild woman centre when it rained.
On the way home Rox and I lifted a Trump sign.
I left Husdon happy and completely fulfilled, on a train bound for Boston…
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chapter one ~ sustainable cycles, new york, untabooed and my sisters in the sky

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The Magical Menstrual tour sparkled into existence when I met one Ms Ruby; as shiny and beautiful as her name suggests, a bright happy New Yorker, who managed to (despite my crazy jet lag) keep me awake and laughing; carried along by her wonderful energetic personality, stories from on the road (and episodes of Broad City)!

She also introduced me to things called ‘Doubles’ from her local Caribbean food take away shop. The Double, for all who don’t know, consist of two deep fried flat breads served with a big ladel-ful of chickpea stew squidged together in a paper bag, best served as quickly as possible standing on the pavement outside the takeaway with plenty of napkins and no sense of shame (if people catch you dribbling sauce down your chin). Delicious and greasy this little munch filled me up for hours and made Ruby’s beer stash incredibly appealing. The first ‘proper’ night in NYC was shaping up nicely.

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Ruby continued to impress me in many ways; not just her takeaway prowess and food enthusiasm. Not only has she biked across the USA from Coast to Coast over 3000 miles raising awareness, educating and promoting the use of eco-friendly menstrual cups (Sustainable Cycles I’ll say it again, I LOVE you all!), Ruby also has a self employed sewing business, a fighting fish called Vlad and an impeccable eye for style. Her free entry pass to the Botanic garden also had me wowing my way round one of the most hidden unexpected gems of Brooklyn…! Cherry blossom was flowering pretty in pink, and the day was warm and bright. Spring in NYC was in bloom and it smelled divine.
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The second wonder-woman of my tour came by the name of Sarah, a sweet and cool stylish kind of chick, also biked enormous distances with Ruby, and who picked me up one glorious afternoon in a seriously cool GOLD car playing Cypress Hill through the sizeable speakers, as we cruised ‘windows down’ through the sunny streets of Brooklyn and beyond. To a place where there were at least 30 types of toffee apple, millions of food vendors selling candy floss, chips and ice cream; white sand, rollercoasters, and graffiti art… a place where all my childhood fantasies came true – even the ones I didn’t even know I had…This hip bike goddess and her sparkly Ruby had driven me to Coney Island; a warm beach with white sand… in NYC!!
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The following day we gathered for the first Magical Menstrual workshop at Sarah and Taylor’s cute homely apartment, on a red couch and beautiful Persian rug. And there we delved head first into the ways of the menstrual cycle, the highs and lows, and the rich and illustrious discussion that followed. Many womanly secrets were exchanged, and after several hours of focused cycle work and a visualisation we surfaced from the dream, blinking into the Brooklyn night.
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Little did I realise the red couch turned into a sofa bed and that was to be my very cosy home for the next few days. Happy time spent with Sarah and her lovely laid back kind welcoming boyfriend Taylor; guys I truly thank you from my home in the city.
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Our next event, a menstrual collaboration a very long time in the making with it’s roots in February 2016, was our ‘mega menstrual event’ at Feminist Bookstore Bluestockings in a chic/arty/cool/alternative part of town.
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For this mega event there were four of us presenting from three different projects. You know about the Magical Menstrual Tour, and Sustainable Cycles who focus wonderfully on menstrual products, so please allow me to now introduce Diandra – a fiercely intelligent super-sharp witty loveable and funny ‘woman-on-a-mission’ and fellow EcoFemme ambassador who really really cares passionately about menstrual stuff! Founder of her own project ‘UnTabooed‘ Diandra works tirelessly towards breaking menstrual taboo and helping disadvantaged women in NYC have access to sustainable products, prompting discussions about education awareness and the environment.
In short Diandra is out there day and night working so very hard doing unarguably essential grass-roots work; a boldly shining light in a hard world. As I observed her from the opposite side of our bookstore circle I admired how she seemed to take everyone through cloth pads whys and wherefores informatively and efficiently and with wisdom and finesse, a true force of nature and ‘getting things done’. The evening went very well indeed, with many memorable menstrual stories, exchange of experiences, visual aids in the form of more types of cloth pads and cups I had ever seen! I was so excited when I got home I couldn’t sleep.
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We did it, girls!
In the days that followed these marvelous Bluestockings moments I met with Tammy, a superbly knowledgable mother of three teenage boys who tells her story, the essence of which is that out of adversity and making healthy choices she has blossomed into a wise and wild deep and incredibly personable fertility expert! I was very kindly invited to her stunning open-plan city centre family home in the sky with it’s panoramic city views of buildings like the World Trade Centre in downtown Manhattan. This experience was made complete by the presence of none other than Mr Boo Radley an enthusiastic Labrador puppy, comedic in his approach to life, and super-naughty, with his wonderfully lanky legs and sofa-trampling big doggy paws. For a woman surrounded by all-males Tammy had this special ability to nourish me, Earth Mama style with the most wonderfully brewed female-hormone-balancing herbal infusion, and invited me to sit with her and be taken through the most wonderful hand drawn depiction of the fertility cycle I had ever seen, complete with diagrams and everything. I was treated to a summary of her work and wished I could stay longer. I left feeling joyful and more informed, and in awe of my body and it’s fertility.
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 My EcoFemme cloth is getting a holiday too – this time popping up in Chinatown NYC!
And Finally….. Before leaving for the USA I had the fortune to hang out with the sisters in the sky; a group of marvelous wonderful women from London who hosted me the night before I left. Our workshop at their beautiful home was stunning. Chapter one would not be the same without mentioning these sparkling women who started off my trip with generosity kind words and many smiles. Thank you all – our time was precious and I am sending you all loads of love!! Xx

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This journey is to be continued…

magical menstrual tour ~ the red school interview

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I caught up with my teachers Alexandra and Sjanie of Red School who asked me some questions about what makes a menstrual pilgrim go out there on the road…

 When did you first come up with the idea of the tour?

Hahaha no surprises here, it came to me during my bleed(!) one September day. It was particularly warm, and sunny enough to lie in the grass outside our little cottage in Wales. I was gently pondering and dreaming to myself, imagining unexplored lands far and near and feeling utter love for menstrual cycle work. Then the idea just came, and in a heart-beat I know it was something I would DO.

How are you going to get around?

Buses, trains, cars, on foot… but probably not on bicycles (I cant be trusted and have already had far too many bicycle-related escapades – none good!)

Where are you visiting?

For the Eastern Leg of the tour I am visiting New York, Boston, Philadelphia Washington and Atlantic City meeting fellow menstrual activists doulas students and wonder-women! In the Western Leg I am heading North from L.A to Seattle via San Francisco, Portland and probably many more places – all to be confirmed 🙂 Its amazing, the response and the overwhelming invitations to crash at women’s places, share knowledge, and meet their friends just shows the need for this work in our society.

Why do you think it’s so important to spread the message of menstrual awareness?

Menstruation can be empowering – it helped me with the confusion and desperation of PMT so it must be powerful! All we need is a few tools, a few methods, confirmation that the knowledge we already have coursing through our bones is valid… We can completely change the way we live our lives if we practice menstrual cycle awareness.

Tell us a bit about your own menstrual journey.

An unbelievable transformation over 4 years from crippling menstrual pain and devastating PMT working in a male-dominated and quite unforgiving environment working at height and in confined spaces safely…. to a menstrual pilgrim happy to travel to the USA – a country I know no-one – and speak about menstrual awareness and eco-activism and re-usable menstrual products whatever the time of my cycle! Wow, huh?

Why have you chosen America?

I felt a connectedness with the States; the people, the land. The sense of open-ness and enthusiasm, diversity, and the wealth of menstrual activism already taking place there. I was drawn to my American sisters!

What are your other interests outside of menstrual activism?

I’m interested in red tents, how nutrition/food relates to menstruation, mindfulness and menstruation…. Oh you said OUTSIDE of menstrual activism, right? Well I love the sun, walking, anything bright and fun, rainbow food, yoga/eastern philosophy, reading, experimenting with food, eco-houses, homoeopathy, massage… so much I could go on forever!!!

Good Luck and happy travels!

Thanks guys – actually I’d like to add that if anyone reading this hasn’t already checked out the work of Alexandra Pope and Sjanie Hugo Wurlitzer and you have a menstrual cycle, then visit Red School straight away. These women are my teachers – I have them to thank, along with many other shiny women I have met along the way….and of course my own menstrual cycle (perhaps one of the finest teachers of them all) and without which none of this would be possible!

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following my dreams… to the USA!

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The Magical Menstrual Tour (M.M.T) is heading out to the USA in just a couple of months!

The M.M.T is a menstrual cycle awareness workshop tour; with eco-activism demonstrations. It’s an opportunity for me to share what I have discovered about the menstrual cycle.

Take a look at this short video where I explain what motivates me to travel half way round the world to talk about menstrual cycle awareness / eco-activism… yay!

I’m a menstrual activist, graduate of Alexandra Pope’s, an EcoFemme ambassador (for more about me and these incredible organisations click here). I’m also an experienced backpacker with faith and trust that this experience is going to be very special!

TOUR VISION

“To throw on my backpack… be like a menstrual pilgrim on the road!
Hang out with menstrual activists, wise women, ‘red tent’ groups, ‘moon mothers’, and visit their Red Tents/Groups.
Deliver my menstrual cycle awareness workshop, give my eco-activism presentation in exchange for voluntary donations (a roof over my head, a bite to eat, travel money to get me from one place to the next) so that everyone can come and listen without financial pressure.
Trust that it can work, meet happy sunny open welcoming women all over the world…. and make it a pilgrimage of sharing and giving!”

TOUR DATES – I’m over the moon to announce my dates as follows:

First leg: N.Y.C-Chicago 21st April-14th May

Second Leg: LA-Seattle Dates to be confirmed 

So…

If you run a red tent or a woman’s circle and would like me to visit, deliver my menstrual cycle workshop/eco-activism presentation

or…

If you would like to support my journey by hosting me for a night

or…

Meet me for a coffee and a chat!

Please contact me on womanswheel@gmail.com, or leave a comment below! I can’t wait to meet you – Let’s connect soon!

PS – For a fuller juicier version of my vision please click here Xx

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workshop for the marvelously wise women of the valleys

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Saturday’s menstrual cycle workshop made me smile so much, inside and out, with its wonder women, beautiful food and peaceful vibe here at home.

It truly is my pleasure to talk about all things menstrual – to open up conversations, explore those difficult times of the cycle, to re-affirm why acknowledging and living with the cycle is healthy and supportive, to speak about the menstrual cycle with the respect it deserves, and to encourage intrigue into one of most important body processes.

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We are all different; our psyche, personality and circumstances all make us totally different in the way we experience the world. The cycle happens to all of us regardless; it meets us in whatever state we are in.

Menstruation work is mindfulness in action. Understanding the cycle helps us in our every day life whether it is planning what to do in alignment with the energy of the cycle or developing the skill to understand the spectrum of emotion we are experiencing.

I cannot wait for the Magical Menstrual Tour coming to a U.S city near you! April to July 2016! For more information email me on womanswheel@gmail.com or keep a look out for more posts about my tour plans!!

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A slice of India nestled between the mountains of Wales

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Make the switch, join the revolution, save the planet, choose health, buy a cloth pad and in doing so GIFT one to a girl in India!

Wonderful people over at Eco Femme your positive messages are shining out loud and clear from the beautiful Trigonos Retreat Centre Boutique – how happy I am to see your beautiful pad collection in there.

Quite possibly the most colourful display in a boutique that I have ever seen, I was over the moon that the ethically-minded owners of Trigonos saw the value of selling Eco Femme’s products as much as I did. Thank you Trigonos!

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the bigger picture…

We have such potential to collectively stop plastic disposable pads going into the earth, prevent toxins seeping into our soft gentle bodies, make a stand for empowerment for women worldwide by opening up the cloth pad dialogue, help disadvantaged girls in rural India…. It just depends on collective action. We can make a change.

The kinds of women and men who attend retreats and workshops at Trigonos, prioritise self-development, self-exploration and open mindedness… I believe that’s all it takes!

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I didn’t know about cloth pads until I was 32 but it is never too late to switch. In the last 5 years I have saved 960 pads from going into the earth and saved myself £190!! WOW!!

How about you?

As usual, I’d LOVE you to leave a comment – when did you make the switch? How many pads have you saved?

If you are in the USA I will be bringing all the cloth pad information with me when I start my Magical Menstrual Tour in April-July 2016…. Look out for my route on a post coming soon…!

Contact me if you are interested and I will speak to you and your woman’s group and deliver you my menstrual cycle workshop!

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