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My Favorite Quick Bread Recipe June 1, 2015

Filed under: Cooking — Meghan Hamilton @ 5:49 pm
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I think this may be my first cooking blog entry. And it probably won’t be a regular thing, but I thought I’d post this one. My family has a growing list of food allergies and this is a snack that often disappears in less than twelve hours. I like it because it’s easy to make as is, and easy to alter for different flavors. They say variety is the spice of life. I’ll start with the base recipe, which is rather cake like. Then I’ll throw a few variations we’ve enjoyed and how to choose a gluten free flour if you need to.

Basic Quickbread

2 cups all purpose flour (Wheat based or Gluten Free)

Optional for Gluten Free version *1 1/2 teaspoons Xanthan Gum* (SEE NOTE about Gluten Free Cooking before adding this.)

1 cup sugar (brown or white)

3 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup milk (or dairy free substitute)

1/3 cup vegetable oil

2 eggs

2 teaspoons flavor extract of choice (vanilla, almond, lemon, etc…)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Lightly grease a loaf pan.  In a large mixing bowl, add dry ingredients (If using white sugar, add here. Brown sugar should go in with wet ingredients.). Mix well. Add in wet ingredients. Stir thoroughly.  If a few small lumps remain in your batter, it’s okay. Pour into loaf pan and bake for 50-55 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean from the center of the loaf. Allow to cool then slice and serve.

*GLUTEN FREE cooking tip* 

  • Check your flour. If it has xanthan gum, guar gum or some other kind of gum in the ingredients, you do not need to add any more. More and more companies are putting it in.  If you make your own or it doesn’t have it in the mix that you bought, I recommend this one from Bob’s Red Mill.

Cinnamon Bread

  • Just add 1 tablespoon (more or less to taste) ground cinnamon to the dry ingredients. I like to use vanilla extract and brown sugar with this version.

Lemon Bread

  • Substitute 1/2 cup lemon juice for 1/2 cup of the milk (Use 1 cup total liquid).  Use 2 teaspoons of lemon extract and white sugar with this one.

Orange Bread

  • Substitute 1/2 cup orange juice for 1/2 cup of the milk (Use 1 cup total liquid).  Use 2 teaspoons of orange extract and white sugar.

The sky is the limit! I plan to try an almond version with almond extract and chopped/slivered almonds added in. I would also like to add chocolate chips. The basic recipe also lends itself to savory breads, but we have a craving for sweets around here, so I’ve yet to try it. What have you tried lately?

 

Going to Bed Angry May 26, 2015

Filed under: Family,Personal Growth — Meghan Hamilton @ 3:46 pm
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A popular bit of advice people like to give to newlyweds is, “Don’t go to bed angry.” I’m not entirely sure where this originated or how many people actually follow it. I long ago abandoned it. It doesn’t work for my marriage. In fact, a lot of standard advice doesn’t work for my marriage. Perhaps I don’t have a standard marriage. But let’s just stick with this one topic.

Let me break it down for you. I am a strong willed person. You aren’t likely to be able to talk me out of my opinion or a decision I’ve made. My parents and sister recognized this early. They generally state their dissenting view and then leave it alone.

Fast forward to my adult life and marriage. Craig recognizes my strong will and even appreciates it. He doesn’t want me to bend to his every whim. Given his psychiatric challenges, constant bending to his will could be disastrous. So what does this have to do with going to bed angry?

Well, another thing about my personality is that I think about things. Often I let them stew in my brain and in my heart. Instead of dealing with it in the moment, I sit on things. In some ways this is good. It often lets me see that I don’t have anything to be upset about and I can let it go. Sometimes it gives me time to be able to better articulate what I’m feeling. The flip side is that it gives some subjects time to boil over.

If my thoughts and feelings are the pot on the stove, then the time of day is the dial for that burner. You see, that control gets set at high once I get to 6:00 or 7:00PM. If I have not dealt with the contents of the pot by then, it easily boils over and my ability to think and speak rationally is lost. The two main ways to make it stop are to go along with whatever I say, or silently let it boil itself dry.

Sometimes, if I’m just asking for the dishes to be done, Craig is perfectly willing to go along with it to shut off my fit about not having enough help with stuff.  Other times, I am demanding he change his entire personality and there is no room in my mind for any compromise or change on my part. So of course he doesn’t go along with it. In those cases, he lets me bluster and rant and rave and cry until I give up and go to bed.

I go to bed very very angry. I go to bed sure that I am going to get up in the morning and file for divorce.

But do you know how I wake up? Even if I’m still tired from the previous night’s rage, I wake up with the understanding that I was over reacting. I may still have a legitimate issue that we need to work on together. But when I am in that place of rage, we can’t work on it. I need to be in a place of calm to do the hard work this relationship sometimes needs. If I lose that calm, it’s generally due to fatigue. You know what cures fatigue? Going to bed and getting some sleep.

So, I say, go to bed angry. Maybe you’ll get just enough rest to calm down and have an adult conversation with your spouse the next day.

 

Homeschooling – Ending 1st Grade and other thoughts May 21, 2015

Filed under: Homeschooling — Meghan Hamilton @ 1:01 pm
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A few months ago I wrote about beginning our homeschooling adventure. It has certainly been an adventure.

Now that the school year is drawing to a close, I am seeing posts in an online forum for local homeschoolers from parents that have decided to withdraw their kids from public school for the next grade. They are looking for advice on how to do it. I love giving advice! I am rarely insulted if you don’t take my advice, but I’ve always been eager to jump in with my thoughts and experiences. For once, I have little to offer.

You see, dear reader, this homeschooling thing is full of choices which is a double edged sword. At the base of the homeschooling decision is the knowledge that public schools (or even private schools with a similar model) are not working for your family. But the reasons for that are so varied. For some people, there is not enough religion in public schools and private religious schools are too expensive. For others, the curricula don’t fit with their child’s learning style. For others, the material isn’t rigorous enough. For still others, it’s too rigorous. That means that there are hundreds of choices for text books. There are many styles of teaching. Some people do great recreating a classroom in their home, but using the texts that fit their values and their childrens’ pace. Some people throw out everything that smacks of a formal classroom and go with an unschooling model. Most of us fall somewhere in the middle of that spectrum.

Where do you start? Search for curricula for your child’s grade and see what appeals to your style and your budget. Also look at unschooling. But be aware that many parents have found that as their children grow and mature, they need to change curricula from year to year or even in the middle of the year. And that’s ok. It can be hard to see an expensive book languishing on a shelf. But it doesn’t do any good to force your child into doing something that’s torture for him or her. Find another way and you’ll both be happier. Maybe you’ll luck out and hit the magic formula for your kids immediately. Maybe they’ll be that rare breed that loves the material from the same publisher year after year. It has been known to happen.

You’ll have to let your local school system know that you are going to homeschool. Every state has different reporting requirements. So, make your search engine your best friend and find sample letters that fit your local laws. Call your local superintendent to find out where to send the information. Be prepared that some of them do not understand your rights under the laws of your state and will demand more than they have a right to demand. Many homeschooling parents insist on avoiding phone calls and only communicate in writing/email so that they can prove that they have followed the state’s requirements should a truancy officer come knocking on the door. That rarely happens, but it can. The writing thing also keeps things much calmer in the face of opposition to what you know is best for your child. We are blessed to live in a district that makes it easy on homeschoolers.

Now we are wrapping up our 1st grade year. It has been rewarding and wonderful to see Alex grow and learn without the things that stressed him out at our local public school.

Alex loved some of the text books I chose and hated others. Some of those books got replaced immediately. Some have been replaced as of 2nd grade which we will start in the fall. Many homeschooling families don’t take a summer break. Where I live, the weather is only warm for a short window of time, so we’ll be enjoying that as much as possible. As it is, Alex has completed his 1st grade book work with the exception of science, so, we’re finding things to do outside of book learning. He hated the science book I got him. So we abandoned it and are watching videos and going on field trips. We’ve taken advantage of the ice melting away to get outside and go on nature walks. We live on Cape Cod and can hit the beach, a kettle pond, the woods, and grassy areas all in one day.

These are some pictures I took at the Long Pasture location of the Mass Audubon Society over the weekend.

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Looking out to Sandy Neck Lighthouse. There is a beach just below the trees in the foreground.

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A pond where we heard frogs and saw baby Eastern Painted Turtles

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Spring comes late to Cape Cod. This tree is just starting to leaf mid-May.

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Part of the trail we took leading away from the beach and pond.

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Soon, this field will be home to several species of butterfly.

On their website they had a “quest” that you can print out that serves as a guide through the trails and points out many different aspects of the environment. We followed it, but didn’t do the contest this time. In a new environment, both Alex and Craig seem to like to charge ahead rather than slowly take in the things going on around them. That doesn’t mean Alex isn’t paying any attention. He asks great questions and gets very excited about the things he sees. This was a new place for him. On our next visit, I’m sure he’ll see more.

At the beach closest to us, he can spend long stretches of time looking in the same small pool of water or under the same rock, observing the way the water moves and what the snails or other creatures are doing. He’s been there countless times, so he’s quite familiar with the environment there. I never quite know what will capture his attention on any given day.

He spent close to 20 minutes in this spot.

He spent close to 20 minutes in this spot.

Alex doesn’t enjoy the woods as much as he enjoys the beach. But sometimes I insist on a walk in the woods because that’s where I feel most at home. About a month ago a friend told me about this nature preserve. Before we left for a visit a couple of weeks ago, he had watched a video about erosion. He noticed the trail was exhibiting signs of erosion in some places and told Craig and me all about it. It’s great to have that kind of evidence that he’s paying attention!

Making use of the binoculars he got for his birthday

Making use of the binoculars he got for his birthday

Sometimes I wonder if we are doing enough to teach him the things he’ll need to know as an adult. Then he surprises me with some bit of knowledge that he stowed away from one of our lessons. And I know. Yes, we’re doing enough.

 

Pet Peeves: Social Media Guilt Posts March 5, 2015

Filed under: Opinions No One Asked For,Thoughts — Meghan Hamilton @ 1:59 am
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If you’re on a social media site like Facebook or Twitter long enough, you’ll see them.  The Guilt Posts.  Here’s one I saw today:

guilt post

There are others like this:

Put this as your status if you or somebody you know has suffered BABY LOSS or INFERTILITY. The majority won’t put it on, because unlike cancer, baby loss/infertility is a taboo. Break the silence. In Memory of all the ~Angel~ babies gone too soon but never forgotten, and the babies who were not possible but are so loved.

Then there are the snarky ones:

PLEASE put this as your status if you know someone (or are related to someone) who has been eaten by penguins. Penguins are nearly unstoppable, and when hungry, also breathe fire. 71% of people won’t copy this into their status because they have already been eaten by penguins, 28% are hiding in their showers with fire extinguishers awaiting the coming penguinocalypse, another 3% can’t do math, and the remaining 1% are awesome and will re-post.

So, what is my opinion?  Thank you for asking!  I would certainly miss the person who posted the first one.  I know and love people to whom the second one applies.  I may have reposted the third one at one point.  In general, you won’t find me reposting or doing whatever the instructions say to do.

If I am your friend, you know it.  If you are my friend I know it.  If you’re not my friend and would like to be, maybe you could try communicating with me directly so we could actually get to know one another.  Then we might become friends and that would be great!  If you find yourself needing validation from these sorts of social media tests, then perhaps it’s time to rethink how you form friendships and what you expect of your relationships.

I feel very deeply for people suffering from illnesses, ailments, and the sucky things that life throws at us.  I will not repost a status out of the misguided belief that it will better show my compassion.  If a person tells me or writes about a difficult situation they are dealing with, they will receive a dose of compassion and love in whatever form seems appropriate (hugs, kind words, etc…).  If you have a helpful and informative article about a sucky thing like baby loss or cancer, I will probably share that on my Facebook timeline.  I will not, however, go on your guilt trip.

I will not repost these either:

I Asked Jesus, “How Much Do You Love Me?” Jesus Replied, “This Much” And Strenched His Arms On The Cross And Died. If You Believed In God, Put This On Your Status. 97% Of You Won’t Put This In Your Status. What Jesus Did On The Cross Was Because He Was Thinking Of You. 3% Of You Will Stand Up For Him And Put This In Your Status.

It’s not that I don’t believe that Jesus loves me that much.  It’s not that I am afraid to let people know about my faith.  It’s that Jesus came to relieve us of sin and guilt.  I don’t need to add to the tremendous guilt people feel in the name of my religion.  And these numbers are made up as far as I can tell.  I’m not interested in statistics someone pulled out of their butt to try and make themselves look great.  Elevating yourself also goes against what Jesus said.

I do love humor and snark and will repost  things about ridiculous situations like getting eaten by a penguin.  It also helps if the thing you want me to repost is reasonably free of grammatical errors.  I’m not asking for perfection, but the one about Jesus hurts my head to look at.

 

Body Soap Bar vs. Shampoo Soap Bar? February 24, 2015

Filed under: Natural Products,Soap — Meghan Hamilton @ 7:18 pm
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I was recently asked to make shampoo bars.  They are increasing in popularity these days with the realization that handmade soap is gentler on our bodies than many big brand soaps.  When I told my friend that they were the same as the regular soap bars, she was quite surprised.  So why do we differentiate?

A few years back I learned an important lesson from my mother’s pottery business.  People often need to be told what to do with products.  I’m not going to delve into what causes this phenomenon.  For the moment, I’m simply going to accept its truth.  My mother learned that if she didn’t use some sort of a label, as seemingly unnecessary as it seemed, she would have a lot of conversations like this:

Customer: “This is beautiful.  What can I use it for?”

Mom: “It’s a bowl.  You can serve food in it or use it as a centerpiece.”

Customer: “Great!”

I wondered about this for quite some time.  She primarily makes functional pieces whose uses should be obvious to the customer, like bowls, plates, mugs, etc…  But without fail, if it isn’t labeled, someone will ask.  She is very gracious and answers the questions, but more often than not, she labels her products.  It’s just easier.

Onto the subject at hand – soap bars.  The reasons we label them for hair or body is either a misguided belief that there is a difference, or because so many people have been conditioned by the bath product industry to want more than one product.  So it’s just easier to sell specifically labelled soaps.  Since I started making my own soap, I have used the same formula to wash from head to toe, as have my husband and son.  Whichever soap bar I have in the shower is what I use.  Truly, there is no practical difference.  Not too long ago, I explained my love of Castile soap.  But whatever you choose, it will work for your hair and your body, no matter its label.

But what about conditioner?  You’ll find that just as natural soaps don’t strip your skin of nutrients, they’ll leave your hair healthier than many shampoos as well.  When my hair was long, I needed a detangler, so I keep a spray bottle filled with apple cider vinegar in the shower to spray after washing.  I still do this as I like to add a little mint and lavender essential oils to make it smell nice.  I just spray it on, massage it into my scalp, then rinse.  Any remaining vinegar odor goes away as my hair dries.  I’m told that if you have heavy product build up from commercial hair products, it can take a week of using natural soap to get rid of it and there may be a few days of less than stellar hair.  The process is worth the effort.

Do you have colored hair?  You may find that natural soaps help the color stay true much longer than commercial shampoos.  Again, your hair won’t be treated as harshly as you’re accustomed to.

So, you will probably be seeing “shampoo bars” in my line of soaps in the near future to help customers know they can use it on their hair.  But now you know, there is no difference.  Choose the scent that you like and wash away the grime!

 

Feminism? Yes Please! February 19, 2015

Filed under: Opinions No One Asked For,Thoughts — Meghan Hamilton @ 1:32 am

Let me start by telling you what feminism is not.  It is not hating men.  It is not telling women who enjoy being housewives and stay at home moms that they are worthless.  So what is feminism?  According to Merriam Webster, it is:

the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities

After many years of women not getting to choose whether they pursue a career or stay home and take care of the house and children, some women are upset when they see a woman choosing that life.  I prefer to celebrate the fact that anyone gets that choice.  I enjoy staying at home with my son (most days).  I enjoy the fact that I’m not required to.  I could wake up tomorrow and start applying for jobs and leave him with a public school, daycare, etc… if that is what will work best for all of us.  Why do I have that choice?  Because women before me stood up and said, “We deserve the same choices men get!  We are people too!”

Education?  Yes!  I had the privilege to learn to read and write and choose higher education.  As little as 80 years ago, women going to college was controversial.  Today’s American women don’t have to fight to go to college based on their gender.  We can base that decision on the same criteria as men do – ability and money.  If you are female and can read this, you have earlier feminists to thank for that skill.  As few as 150 years ago, girls didn’t regularly learn to read.  They had to hope that the classes weren’t too full of boys in order to obtain a seat in school.  And then they had to hope that their fathers deemed their academic education worth their time away from housekeeping and demonstrating what wonderful wives they would make.

I got to choose my husband.  If ever I deem him not right for me, I have the option to divorce him without everyone wondering what I did wrong.  In many places, we still arrange marriages and even expect women to stay in abusive relationships because marriage trumps spinsterhood.  In many places, men are still considered superior to women.  Women are treated as slaves and used for baby making with little to no thought of their dreams and desires.  Because of feminism, I wasn’t forced into my marriage.  I truly appreciate that.

I can vote!  Ok, I’m pretty jaded by the current political system.  But at least I can go to a voting booth and choose the options that make sense to me without worrying about being barred from entry or having to vote the same way as my husband.  American women weren’t allowed to vote until 1920.

Why do we ask pregnant women what they plan to do about work but often assume that the child’s father will continue to work?  My husband was a stay at home dad for the first few months of Alex’s life and I worked outside of the home because it made more sense at the time.  But people asked me what the plan was.  I see this over and over again as other women become pregnant.  Can we change the question?  Maybe ask, “Are you folks looking for daycare?  I have a recommendation.”  Or maybe, “Is one of you staying home with the baby?  I have some fun things to do.”  Take the gender based assumptions out of your line of questioning.

And what about single mothers?  Thanks to feminism, it’s okay to be a single mother.  Some mothers are single by choice, some by circumstance, but single mothers are no longer hidden away and forced to put their babies up for adoption if they wish to raise their children themselves.

Having children is a choice.  I enjoy that!  I can go to my doctor to get on birth control, or require my husband to use a condom, or choose to abstain from sex if I don’t want another baby.  Some women don’t have the choice of telling their husbands “no.”  They don’t have access to birth control.   If I want a large family, I can choose that as well.  It’s my body!  Thank you, feminists, for allowing me to choose how to use it.

In conclusion, I enjoy having choices.  I enjoy what freedoms and strides towards equality that women have made in America.  This isn’t exactly an exhaustive list, but it hits some major points.  Are we 100% equal?  Sadly, no.  But we have far more than some of our sisters in other parts of the world.  I do believe that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.  So, I am a proud feminist.

 

Words to Rethink: Gal February 9, 2015

Filed under: Opinions No One Asked For,Thoughts,Words to Rethink — Meghan Hamilton @ 9:19 pm
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imagesThere are certain words that bother me.  I wish they would disappear from our working lexicon.  Today I would like to talk about the word, “gal.”  It’s bothered me for a long time.  Over the weekend I finally figured out why.

Let’s start with a definition.  www.dictionary.com defines it as:

noun, Informal: Sometimes Offensive.

1. a term used to refer to a girl or woman.

They have some other information about its usage in science and it’s history.  But this is the common usage and the one that bothers me.  I realize that some people just see it as the opposite of “guy.”  However, guy has evolved over the years to include females and doesn’t carry the connotation of naivete that gal does.  When I hear women referred to as gals, I think of a bunch of airheaded children in adult bodies.  I don’t think of grown women with the maturity and experience that the word woman suggests.  I can’t think of a single time that I have heard female children referred to as gals.  They are usually called girls.

The situation that clarified this for me was a Facebook post a friend shared.  A church is trying to organize a mission trip to bring counselors to Iraq that can minister to women and girls who have been enslaved by ISIS.  This is a noble cause and I hope that they are able to do some good.  What bothered me was that the person who wrote the original post referred to these women and girls as gals.  In this particular situation, it just seemed to diminish the horror that these people have been through.  That sort of abuse more than deserves the most formal terminology.  Why?  Because in our culture, proper terminology indicates a certain level of seriousness.  (Thank you, Mark!)  When we use slang, we detract from the seriousness and gravity of a situation.

Ok, but what is wrong with the word?  Why would I have a problem with using gal when referring to my female friends?  Is it just too old fashioned?  NO!  I think that too often we needlessly separate genders.  There are very few instances when we need to differentiate between men and women.  Our language doesn’t have many gender neutral pronouns.  Guy is becoming one of them.  Though it has its origins in referring to males, it’s often used to refer to a group of people of any gender makeup.  When we separate people, it’s often to compare them in a way that makes someone look better and someone look worse.  There is a long history of making women look worse.

So when is it ok to use gender based wording?  It can be ok when you are directing someone to a specific person.  “Give this book to that woman in the blue shirt.”  It’s a descriptive term akin to blue shirt so that the right person gets the book.  Or if you are dealing with a medical issue, your doctor certainly needs to know what parts your body has.

We’ve made great strides towards treating women as equals to men here in America.  I realize that compared to how women are treated in some other parts of the world, my annoyance with this word is not a huge issue.  But I am here in America.  I would like us to take more steps towards seeing people as people and not defining everyone based on their genitalia and making assumptions about them based on what’s between their legs.  Our words can help that process or hinder it.  Please, do me a favor.  If gal is a word you like to use, consider referring to women as women.  Better yet, ask yourself if you even need to refer to women in particular or if the word people would work just fine in the situation.

 

 
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