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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.

 

Early Photo Editing? February 1, 2015

Filed under: Opinions No One Asked For,Thoughts — Meghan Hamilton @ 4:19 pm
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We recently took a trip to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.  It was, in part, a chance for the family to see some cool stuff and, in part, a chance for Alex to see some ancient Egyptian art that corresponded to his history lessons.  As I thought about how much detail I wanted to share about how the ancient Egyptians placed a lot of meaning into all aspects of their art (Thank you countless art history courses!), I realized that all of this editing of people’s looks for “important” projects has been happening for thousands of years.

Prince Ankhhaf wasn't important enough to lose the bags under his eyes.

Prince Ankhhaf wasn’t important enough to lose the bags under his eyes.

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King Mycerinus and his Queen had perfect complexions and designer clothing.

Long before people wrote the program for Photoshop, Egyptians were smoothing out laugh lines from the faces of their kings and queens.  If a statue showed anything short of smooth skin, perfectly coiffed hair, and well tailored clothing, the person may have been rich, but they certainly weren’t the king or queen.  Didn’t that in some way amount to setting an impossible standard?  Did people’s self-esteem crumble in the face of these statues and paintings?  Or did they learn to say, “Wow!  Look at that!” and then go on with their day?

One of the major differences between then and now is the number of “perfect” images the average person is exposed to.  In an era where paper was precious and literacy was low, there were no magazines lining market shelves for the ancients to stare at while they waited to pay for their purchases.  There was no internet or television with a constant stream of altered images passing in front of their eyes.

So what’s the point?  Perhaps the thing we need to change is not our desire to present “perfect” images of people.  Perhaps we need to change how often we look at them.  Perhaps we need to turn off our televisions, buy fewer magazines, and interact with the real people and the natural world that surround us everyday.  Artistically altered images have their place, but each of us determines what that place shall be in our lives.

 

Homeschooling Begins January 16, 2015

Filed under: Family,Thoughts — Meghan Hamilton @ 5:10 pm
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Hello, Dear Readers!  It’s been too long since my last post.  Through the holidays I was sick with one minor illness after another (colds, stomach bugs, etc…).  Then I started home schooling Alex.  What a big change!  We are loving it so far.  I think that’s what I want to talk about today.

Why did Craig and I withdraw him?  For one thing, we always wanted to do this from the time he was born.  When Kindergarten rolled around, I realized it just wouldn’t work out.  I didn’t have the energy to keep him motivated.  At the time I had no idea that I was sinking into one of my deeper depressions.  In hindsight, enrolling him in public school was the right decision for that time in our lives.  I would never have been able to teach him through that first winter.  When it came time to make a decision about first grade, Alex really wanted to go back to our local school, so that’s what he did.

That brings me to our main issue with our local school system.  Alex ran into teachers with a very hands off attitude during free time like recess or lunch.  If someone isn’t being physically beaten or breaking an arm while falling off the jungle gym, the kids are often left to figure out their problems for themselves.  There is little to no guidance from the adults when it comes to disagreements and arguments among the students.  Though I certainly think that they should be given a chance to work things out for themselves, I know that they often need guiding through that process.  How many adults are in marriage/family counseling because they weren’t taught to communicate effectively?  People aren’t born knowing how to work out their problems.  We need to be taught a lot of these skills.  An assembly with an entertaining presentation telling the kids to be nice to one another isn’t enough.  The adult staff need to back that message up as situations arise.

Overall I am happy with the curriculum our town has chosen. Kids graduate from our local high school knowing a lot more than those from other towns.  But, as with most schools, there is a lot of bureaucracy.  In Massachusetts we require all teachers to earn a Masters Degree.  Yet when it comes down to teaching, they are handed a curriculum and told to use that and too bad if it isn’t working.  Why all the education for these people if they aren’t allowed to actually use it?  I’ve met some very smart teachers whose hands are tied when it comes to deciding what’s best for their students.  They know when the program isn’t working.  The parents know when it isn’t working.   But everyone is stuck until the entire system slowly makes changes.  With one child at home, I can make changes on the fly when things aren’t working for him.  I love that flexibility.  It’s why I teach music lessons individually.  I have my “go to” books.  But if a student isn’t learning from one method, I can try others until we find what works.

Given that I can tailor Alex’s work to his interests and strengths, we are already finding what works for him.  He easily does twice as much math and five times as much science as he did in public school.  Those are the subjects he currently loves.  While he is on target for reading, it’s not his thing.  He doesn’t enjoy it.  So I have the flexibility to sneak reading into his day without forcing him to read tons of story books that he hates.

He has always been a fiercely independent person who wants to make his own decisions.  Obviously as his parents, Craig and I need to make some decisions for him, but as a homeschooling family, Alex gets to make some choices with his work.  What order does he want to do it in on any given day?  Where does he want to sit?  Does he want to do a math coloring page or just complete a list of problems?  Does he want to get everything done all at once and have the entire afternoon to play?  Or does he want to take it slow and have a few breaks, extending the day, but having a nice easy pace?  Does he want an actual paper to work on or does he want a computer based program?  These choices allow him more control over his own life and make us all a lot happier.

Another problem I have with the public school system is the amount of homework assigned.  There is a growing body of evidence that kids don’t need homework.  In Alex’s case, he was already tired from being in school all day.  Getting him to do more work was very difficult.  Now that he’s home, Alex is able to complete all of his work during the school day.  This makes sense to me.  Most jobs don’t require that you work from home everyday after putting in a full day at the office.  Though there are a few professions where this is the case, most of us leave work at the office.  Yet here in America, we routinely demand that our children put in a full day at school and then come home to do more work.  It doesn’t make any sense to me.  If the students aren’t learning enough during the day, something is wrong with the educational system.

playground-service-play-structures-2013But what about socialization?  I don’t think that children are capable of teaching one another how to be responsible adults.  Isn’t that what we want our children to grow into?  If he is spending his day with children that are being mean to him or jockeying for the “boss” position on the playground, what social skills is he really learning?  Over the last few years, as home-schooled children have become adults, they have proven that they are perfectly normal and capable of being around other people.  This Washington Times article is just one example.  This academic paper also addresses this issue and states that home-schooled students do just fine socially.  Alex and I are not hermits.  We go places.  He plays with other children on a regular basis.  He’ll do just fine.

 

Love each other December 31, 2014

Filed under: Opinions No One Asked For,Thoughts — Meghan Hamilton @ 5:32 pm
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If there is one thing I could ask for this New Year, it would be that we could love each other a little more.

One of the sad stories whipping around the Internet today is about Leelah Alcorn, a teen who committed suicide because her parents couldn’t come to terms with the fact that their child, born a boy, identified as a girl. Her suicide note was left on her Tumblr page here. According to this report, suicides among trans-gendered people are at 41% whereas the general population in the US has a 4.6% rate.  Why?  Because we have failed to love one another.  We have failed to allow people to simply be who they are.  We want others around us to be just like us and have difficulty saying, “I love you as you are.”

What is love?  Well, I know what it isn’t.  It isn’t requiring that people change to make you more comfortable.  It is the opposite.  It is saying, “I love you as you are.”  It is accepting that you won’t be comfortable with every person on this planet, sometimes your own children.

Leelah’s parents looked to their faith for answers in this difficult situation.  Unfortunately, I believe they missed the pertinent parts of Jesus’ example.  He was a man who spent time with his society’s “untouchables:” a tax collector, a Samaritan woman who’d been divorced many times and was living with her current boyfriend, a prostitute, and probably others.  He loved them all equally and without bias.

Is there someone in your life who challenges your ability to love equally and without bias?  I do.  Perhaps we can all try to take a moment to ask ourselves how to love more perfectly instead of asking the difficult people to change for us.

 

Santa, The Christmas Spirit, and Business? December 23, 2014

Filed under: Business,Family,Thoughts — Meghan Hamilton @ 5:03 pm
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We celebrate several holidays this time of year.  As a Christian, Christmas is very important to me as it’s the day we celebrate Jesus’s birth.  (Yes, historians, I know it isn’t the actual day, but that isn’t very important to me.)  My husband has all but formally converted to Judaism, so I also celebrate Hanukkah.  I have Pagan friends and wish them a blessed Yule.  “Happy Holidays!” is a very appropriate greeting around here, gladly received and warmly given.  No one is trying to take away anyone’s right to say “Merry Christmas!”  Wish me what you will and I will accept and return the warm wishes.

As for Santa, we invite him over every Christmas Eve.  To us, he represents that spirit of giving that seems to go around this time of year.  I’ve heard several reasons for parents to not invite the jolly guy to their house.  Some of them I understand. He’s tied to Christmas and you don’t celebrate Christmas for religious reasons (You aren’t Christian.  You are Christian, but wish to focus exclusively on Jesus rather than Santa.  Etc…).  Perhaps you feel that lying to your child about a magical man that can fit through chimneys and unlock doors while everyone sleeps is hypocritical as you try to teach your child not to lie.  Maybe you just don’t want your kids to be very disappointed when they inevitably find out he isn’t real.  These sorts of reasons make complete sense to me.  These are the reasons that I have some reservations about keeping the Santa Myth alive here.

romeo-and-juliet-salzburgThere is one reason to deny Santa that I will never understand.  There are some parents who want to make sure their children know that they are the ones who worked hard to make the money and spend the time acquiring those gifts.  They don’t want there to be any mistake about the origin of those presents.  To me, this is the exact opposite of giving a gift.  This is providing yourself with a stage for people to glorify you and give you attention.  When I give a gift, it’s because I want someone to have that item.  It isn’t because I need thanks or the adulation.  When I receive a gift, I am grateful and express my thanks.  But I hope that people are giving because they want to give, not because they need to receive some sort of glorification.  I’d rather give anonymously and simply let the recipient enjoy the gift without the pressure to thank me or feel like they need to reciprocate.  For me, Santa is an avenue for an anonymous gift.  Alex can simply sit back and enjoy those presents.  Then, when he gets older, perhaps he’ll have a taste for wanting to give for the sake of giving.  Isn’t that part of the original Saint Nicholas story?  Selflessly taking care of people and sharing what you have?

Selflessly sharing.  People have shared so much with me over the years with absolutely no expectation of anything in return.  I can’t thank them enough.  We have gotten through some difficult times with the help of family and friends reaching out in love.

imagesWhat does this have to do with business?  I am very turned off by typical corporate operating procedure.  While I understand that the point of a business is to be profitable, thus you must take in more money than you spend, there is so much greed.  Many gifts to charity are less about giving because it’s the right thing to do and more about saying, “Look at me!”  Additionally, many “successful” businesses look upon employees as expendable tools rather than people.  Some seem to look at customers this way as well.  “Oh, you want information or help?  Pay up!”  I want to do this differently.

One of the people that caught my eye a number of years ago is Marla Cilley of FlyLady.  I originally went to her site because I am not a natural born housekeeper.  I’m still not, but that’s for another blog.  What I like about her business model is that all of the information is free.  Perhaps it’s because she didn’t start out with the intention of starting a business, but information and access to the website is free and open.  You don’t need any sort of account to look at any article.  She supports herself and a growing staff by selling organizational books, cleaning tools like sweepers, and various other things they simply enjoy using.  It isn’t about getting attention.  It’s about her compulsion to share what works for her and if people want to try it, she makes it available.  That’s what keeps me going back to her site.  That’s what keeps me buying things from her site.  From what I can tell, her staff is more than cogs in a machine to be replaced whenever they break.  They are people to be cared for.  This is what I want.

How does that apply to a completely different business?  I’ll gladly share my knowledge.  If I learn how to make something from an online tutorial, I’ll share it.  If I find a supplier that I love, I won’t keep it a secret.  Would I like you to buy my products?  Of course.  Some of you do.  I hope more of you will in the future.  I hope to have a staff one day.  But I refuse to force people to pay for information.  I refuse to treat potential employees like machinery to throw away when I’m finished with them.  As my business expands, I want my advertising to stay in step with current markets and how things work.  I recently watched this video on YouTube.  It struck a chord in me.  Matthew Santoro has over 3 million subscribers on his main channel and over 300,000 on his vlog channel.  That’s a lot of people watching him.  I watch grav3yardgirl review products for her millions of subscribers.  She doesn’t get paid by those companies.  There are countless others.  They don’t want sponsors telling them how to talk about products to their audiences.

But what does that have to do with Santa and giving?  The products that these, and other YouTubers, are most likely to review were simply sent to them by the companies or were purchased by them independently.  There was no expectation of a review.  There was a package sent and if it made it onto their channel, it did.  Even sponsored reviews where there is an agreement to talk about the product are risky.  The reviewer may find it’s a faulty product and give it a negative review.  In this video, only a few of the products sent were even mentioned.  Makes you wonder what else was in the package that maybe wasn’t so awesome.

Word-of-mouthAnd again, how does this apply to selling soap and crocheted items?  Word of mouth still seems to be the best way of gaining new customers.  I have given things away to people because I think they will like them.  Some of it has gone as extras to paying customers.  Some of it has gone as samples because I wanted the person to have it.  Some items have been steeply discounted because it seemed like the right thing to do.  I don’t want to be stingy.  I don’t want someone to be forced into my script when they speak about products to their customers.  If you love my soap, tell your friends, customers, family, etc… in your words.  If you love a scarf I made, wear it, give it away, tell people.  This blog isn’t my stage, it’s my vehicle for connecting with people and sharing my knowledge and my opinions.  I don’t expect anyone to whom I give a product to reciprocate.  I give for the sake of giving.  Whilst I have no proof, I believe that this attitude is what has gotten me some very generous gifts over the years when I least expected them.

Happy Holidays!  May you freely give and receive love.

 

 
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