Ranch Life, Soapmaking

So Fades the Scent of the Lilacs

LilacSpring on the farm brings new life and one of the first signs of that among others is the bright fragrant lilac blooms. We have a row of lilac bushes (part of a windbreak- where trees and shrubs are planted to block snow and wind, protecting the farm yard) that tower about 10 feet high and line the dirt road that goes to a cow pasture. When in full bloom, they form a tunnel of sweet fragrance and the boys and I always take in some big whiffs as we drive past aboard the 4 wheeler.

The science of scent has sought to uncover why we connect so powerfully to it or why it brings up memories of long ago. Brain anatomy is likely the answer, where incoming scents are first processed by the olfactory bulb. This region has direct connects and association with the two brain areas that play a key role in emotion and memory, the amygdala and hippocampus. None of our other senses pass this way so it seems that our anatomy has primed us for our sense of scent to trigger emotion and memory more than any other.

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My hubby arranging a farm fresh Mother’s Day lilac and dandelion bouquet

Spring is making way for summer and this past weekend of hot weather faded the vivid purple blooms and so faded that characteristic floral fragrance.  Where once had been the towering shrubs of cheery blooms and a wall of comforting, memory-triggering odor now stands untidy shrubs whose job is purely utilitarian…block the wind. I had prepared myself for the reality of their departure. I had preserved some of the blooms in a infused oil and had gathered inspiration to make some soaps that would keep that scent alive just a little longer.

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My first attempt at liquid hot-processed soap swirls. 
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Lilac hot process soap with mica veining 

Everything has its season and the farm brings that more to reality than any other location. While the scent of lilacs is fading, the blooms of the peonies are readying, waiting to open and release their own fragrance. Peonies are one of my favorites and I had chosen our wedding date to coincide with the peony bloom. There just might be a peony inspired soap in the works.

Memories, imagination, old sentiments, and associations are more readily reached through the sense of smell than through any other channel. ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes

 

 

Motherhood, Ranch Life

“Do We Farm in Heaven?”

IMG_6819panoramicThe Kiddo was riding in front of me on the 4-wheeler as we journeyed to the sheep pasture to check the newly turned out flock and to ensure their water tank was sufficiently filled. We had awoke before 6am to the sound of noisy cows escaping to green grass and the promise of bull romance. The hubby had left early that morning to help at a friend’s branding and my brain was smarming with what needed to be done for the day without him and hoping the boys would be agreeable after such an early and out-of-routine start.

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As we pulled up to the gait, the Kiddo who has fully embraced the persona of an old western cowboy with his plaid snapped shirt, denim, and boots turned his little head back, tips his dusty black cowboy hat and asks, “Do we farm in heaven?”. He goes on to say, “The grass is tall and shiny. The sky is blue and the sun is shining. The sheep are sooo happy!”

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It was one of the those mom moments when your little person says something so profound that you stop in your tracks. I am a bit of an emotional gal anyway so it doesn’t take much to bring a mist to my eyes and his observation did just that. Here was this little guy so in tune with the wonder and beauty around him and recognizing the wonderful blessing this moment and day was. I sometimes think God gave me these little beings to remind me of the extraordinary within the ordinary and to teach me to embrace the blessings amongst the chaos.

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The Kiddo asks things like “Was today a good day?” and the only requirement for a good day is that we spent the day as a family or he got to ride his bike an extra hour before bedtime…those simple joys I have so lost in the to-do list of life. The other day he declared it “The Best Day Ever” with as much enthusiasm as I reserved for my wedding day or the day my kid was born. I don’t know when we loose that childhood enthusiasm, where the simple joys really make the day “The Best Day Ever”. In adulthood, we strive for mammoth moments that make us take note of a day well lived.

“The Farm” as it has long been called (though now we don’t farm a single acre, just livestock and hay) can be this monstrosity of to-dos, where there is never enough time in the day and where time and nature always seem to get the upper hand. There have been times I resented where we live, with the commute, and the aging farmstead that called for more time and money to restore it then we had to give.

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The truth is “The Farm” has become our heaven, the place my kids run free to explore and discover, to learn to appreciate the extraordinary amongst the ordinary, to seek reverence for the land and animals we care for. I am glad for this little escape, where I can appreciate the simple joys of quiet evenings spent with my kiddos and menagerie, and see the beauty of the light hitting the farm yard buildings, or feel alive in a sea of green grass blowing in the breeze.

Where is your “Heaven on Earth”? Maybe it isn’t a grand location but a favorite chair to rest and relax or the porch where evenings are spent watching the kids in the backyard.

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Ranch Life, Soapmaking

Dandelions…Fields of Weeds or Dreams?

DSC_1771 copyDandelions are these persistent sunburts of exuberance against the backdrop of a perfect yard of green.  Do you see fields of flowers and future dreams or fields of weeds to be destroyed? For myself, dandelions bring back memories of childhood with afternoons spent plucking the stems, braiding them into crowns, and fashioning impromptu bouquets to be delivered to all the female loves in my life. When their sunny cheer was over they provided these perfect orbs of weightless seeds, ready to catch sail, and bring reality to my dreams.

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The farmyard is “alive” with dandelions. Much unlike the HOA sanctioned yards, our farm yard is large and functional and not a sea of perfectly manicured Kentucky Blue. We water enough to keep it green, mow enough to keep it tidy, fertilize enough to make it grown, and embrace the fact that is one season away from reverting to its natural self. The grass in the pastures and hay fields gets far more attention and thought.

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Normally, the dandelions bring this sense of annoyance and reluctant acceptance of their existence. Do you dig them, spray them, mow them? I would prefer to avoid chemicals and really my efforts all seem so futile since the seeds float on winds from miles away to repopulate.

I have discovered soapmaking and so when I saw a recipe from  The Nerdy Farm Wife for  “Dandelion and Honey Soap” I actually eagerly awaited the arrival of the dandelions. My new motto became “If life gives you dandelions…make dandelion soap!”. The Nerdy Farmwife has a fantastic blog, published books, and ebook which have great photos and step-by-step instructions for many natural home and beauty recipes.

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The good news is we have a lot of dandelions so the kiddos and I have been busy picking buckets of these sunny blooms to make teas and infused oils (the dandelion tea lye mixture is added to a variety of oils including the dandelion infused olive oil and thru the magic of saponification you make soap). If you are interested in soap making I recommend checking out a hot process soap like this “Dandelion and Honey” using a crock pot. Other than some patience needed while it cooks, it is pretty easy to get good results.

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DANDELION BUCKET

 

The soap is a rustic sunny yellow and perfect as a “gardener’s soap” to wash those grimy and muddy spring-time hands of my hubby and kiddos. I added Ylang Ylang essential oil so the soap has this bright and cheery scent with earthy undertones.

So instead of seeing fields of nuisances this spring I see abundant fields of cheery ingredients for all sorts of  dandelion recipes ( 12 Things to Make with Dandelions).  My next scheduled dandelion project is a liquid soap made with potassium hydroxide.

What are your dandelion memories? Do you use or eat dandelions?

 

Motherhood, Ranch Life

Party Like a Pioneer

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The Evoniuk Brothers General Store

We love a party and better yet if it is a themed party! So in the spirit of the homesteaders, we thru a Pioneer Party to celebrate the kiddo’s 5th birthday. Friends and family obliged and dug out their pioneer garb to celebrate.

Brad’s great-great grandfather homesteaded our ranch in the late 1800s after his arrival from the Ukraine. We currently live in the fourth home to be built on the homestead and grow much of the same crops and livestock today that were first produced here. By walking the same ground Brad’s family did before, there is a reverence for the land and an importance in carrying on the story and traditions of the generations before us.

 

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The Kiddo designed his own cake

 

 

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Frankly, by living here it sometimes feels like we still live in the pioneer era. I joke they have internet in the jungle and on top a remote mountain but we still don’t have internet on the ranch. I use my cell phone service and we ration “data” just like the pioneers of days before rationed sugar or flour. Neighbors actually live miles away and when something goes down in the ‘neighborhood’ like a fire or downed power line there is a “party line” of phone calls to half the county.

Gorham was a small town just north of the ranch. It was in its heyday around 1937 when 5 families and 5 businesses made up the town, including the Gorham Store and Post Office. The store operated until 1972 when the post office was lost and eventually Gorham became a ghost town. The store building now sits with shelves full just like it did decades ago at the Dickinson Museum Center. So of course our pioneer party needed a General Store. The kiddos were “paid” for doing pioneer work and could use their pennies to “shop” at our General Store.

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The first activity was making butter.  You just need cream and some mason jars, patience, and strong arms. The kiddos tired after about 2 shakes so the adults took over but at least there was work was rewarded with homemade fresh butter for the Easter bread and homemade bread made by the Grandmas.

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The kiddos then headed outside to collect eggs. The weather was not so agreeable but unlike finding anything lost within the house, they made short order of finding all the eggs.

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“Collecting Eggs”

 

The next activity was to be handwashing clothes on a washboard. The weather didn’t cooperate and having wet kiddos didn’t seem like such a great idea so that was tabled for another day. Another activity they had planned for was hunting for wild game but the wind and rain kept the party pretty much indoors.

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Each kiddo received a handmade pioneer journal. We also made spinner toys… I practiced and finally got the hang of it a day later. We used about 36″ of string and some cut wood with two holes drilled in the center. Large buttons would have worked well too. The kiddos weren’t as enamored…honestly there is probably an app for this now days.

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Each person receive a “quilt square” (Oriental Trading purchase) and worked together to make a quilt. I was actually surprised how popular this activity was.

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Making their Friendship Quilt

 

We still have an Outhouse but due to weather we allowed everyone to use the indoor plumbing…just kidding. We have had indoor plumbing and electricity for a few decades now but the Outhouse still sits in the yard.

It was great to celebrate a traditional meal with family and friends…ham, scalloped potatoes, corn, homemade breads.

The Kiddo so wanted a hay ride so Brad put a rack together and we tested it out. In typical North Dakota style we experience all four seasons in the 30 minute hay ride…snow, sleet, rain, sun, and rainbows. Everyone was a trooper and we cuddled up under the quilts. Our “farm safari” took us thru the pastures to see the new calves. One thing I didn’t prepare for was the cow that choose to pee next to the trailer with 40mph wind gusts. Cows are large creatures and produce a fair bit of urine. It was a urine shower but worth a good laugh and a memory for sure.

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The All-Seasons Hay Ride

 

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Thanks to all the family and friends that were able to join us to celebrate! It was a great day!

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Motherhood, Ranch Life

Kids and Cows

 

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I have “Sunday Syndrome”. I am not sure it is a real condition but I am definitely afflicted. The day starts with lazy smiles and lingering conversation over coffee but by afternoon my stomach tightens, my mood sours, and I start to panic about the to-do list that is still a mile long. The weekend is ending. By night, I am usually pissy, thinking about Monday. Mondays guarantee to be busy at work, with most conversations starting with my pet has had “X” for the past 3 days…

So in search of life’s purpose and happiness I rethought how I would respond to today. I have been addicted to Ted Talks, as they quickly fill the empty minutes of drive time. There are some pretty brilliant people with some great thoughts on happiness and so I thought “What do I have to gain?” if I started implementing some of these ideas.

The suggestions range from “staying in the moment” to “choosing positivity”. One Ted Talk speaker, Shawn Anchor laid out some happiness exercises I decided to try. Real exercise is actually one so today we went outside- fresh air and sunshine usually brightens my mood. Exercise #2: The Doubler…You take the positive and write down and share the details of your experience…. so here you go… our Sunday.

“Cows and Kids”

Calving is at its peak so much of the day was spent with the cattle. Jacob and Brad play a game of “who will calve first” or “who will calve next”. Brad has the clear advantage and predicts with much accuracy and Jacob just chooses his favorite cow, the lone horned red. Jacob did predict twins last night and so shockingly the morning started with “TWINS”. With much ado, one of the twins was adopted by a poor gentle first calve heifer that lost her premie calf. With some tranquilization and careful suggestion, we are hoping it is a start of a beautiful relationship. Meet adoptive momma:

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The boys drug around some toys as we checked cows and found opportunity to do some driving as we waited on the hubby or while watching gates. The boys love the hubby’s old toys and I love their sounds, imagination, and chubby fingers finessing the truck’ s movements.

 

We welcomed a lot of babies today. They literally hit the ground ready to stand and suckle and are pretty self-sufficient.

 

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Jacob was assigned the important task of helping write ear tags…on the back of the tag. Each new calf is assigned a tag color and number based on the owner and his mother. Male calves receive their new bling in the right ear and the female calves in the left. While the boys know anatomy far to well…just ask… they also love to quickly declare if the calf in view is a boy or girl. Some have names. Most don’t.

Jacob has a pretty solid “Ranch Kid Education” and Caleb is following suite. As we started Pre-K education, we’d show Jacob an apple in a picture book and enthusiastically ask “What color?” A blank stare followed. But ear tags excited him and he quickly learned the colors and what each color meant.

Calves are largely “hands off” due to protective mommas with body-crushing skulls so when the opportunity to cuddle comes available I take advantage. Meet adoptee:

So tonight, while the to-do list remains disturbingly untouched and the dirt-coated kiddos literally collapsed where they sat, I reflect on a day well spent…with cows and kids.

Motherhood, Ranch Life

The Pioneer Community: The Power of Connection

 

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/credit: ND State Historical Society photo collection/

Pioneer life has this romantic allure of adventure and discovery in a simpler time without the complexities of email, Facebook, or Iphones.  The pioneers that came west had ambition, fortitude, and hope for a life better than the one they knew. There is a Ukranian Catholic cemetary just north of our place and some of the graves have images of these pioneer men and women, their faces hardened by the struggles of a life of hard work and loss, with successes measured in a home built and bushels harvested. These images bring a realism to my understanding of the families and persons that came before.

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Jacob and I have found interest in the pioneer era, where you harvested and hunted your food, made your own soap, and didn’t cook from a box. How 21st century and first world of me to look at soap making as this fascinating new hobby while a hundred years ago the homemaker likely burgrengingly mixed lye and wood ashes to make a soap suitable to wash the field dirt and grime from her family. No convenient Tide Pods for those ladies!

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In our 21st century the word “busy” has become synonymous with success. “How have you been?” “BUSY!”. A productive day is no longer defined by simply living and surviving, harvesting and hunting. Backyard chickens, Farm to Table restaurants, and glamping are common topics which seem to highlight our need to connect to a simpler time gone by. There seems this draw to homesteading, to reconnecting with the land and nature, to quiet this busy 21st century world our brain processes.

I read Jacob the book “Going West” as it told the story of a family heading west in search of more, of  a homestead of their own. How that resonates even today…. to make our own way, develop our own “homestead” of success and acknowledgement. The journey unfolds and tells of the mother leaving behind cherished possessions with just the necessities and a single sentimental piece. There was a loneliness in the story. How interesting that even decades later we still struggle with the universal theme of loneliness. Yet today we are connected by Facebook, Skype, Facetime, etc. and no longer by handshakes, quiet presence, and story-telling gathered round.

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/credit: State Historical Society, Columbia/

The story continues and the lonliness is healed by the new life of a spring garden and emerging crops and the visits of new neighbors. The family creates a community. Community and connection heals the lonely. As I started 2017, the word that arouse in me was “connection”. I want connection, to create community with my family, friends, neighbors, and clients. I hear stories of colleagues struggling to balance it all with family, careers, keeping a home as do I and hear the cry of “I am all alone!” in this struggle. They seek connection as do I and find it in a community online with those that are in this journey.

Maybe the allure of the pioneer time is for that life of connection to the Earth, the animals and plants, to the community and family around us. They didn’t necessarily know what was on the other side of the world yet those pioneers probably knew who lived down the road.  For Jacob and I the allure is likely in that connection. To have found and be connected to your family, tribe, your village, your community.

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Dirt roads lead me home because those dirt roads lead me to my village, my tribe. I am striving for connection, to improve and strengthen my relationships to my children, husband, family, and friends. How blessed to have found these persons for my life. Do I have the answers of how to do that without conflict or pain…no. But I am trying, learning, becoming resourced. I do know we can’t go it alone…we need our village, our tribe, our community. Just as the pioneers arrived on the empty prairies in search of happiness and finding it in community and family, maybe we too need to turn to family, friends, and community.

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“If we know where we came from, we may better know where to go. If we know who we came from, we may better understand who we are”.

-Lessons from the Prairie

Motherhood, Ranch Life

Ingredients: 100% muddy puddle-loving kiddos. Tub wash warm. Mild detergent. Towel dry.

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Spring time in the country is the best…baby animals, greening grass, and muddy puddles. I grew up in a small town where our yard was bordered by a cow pasture. My fondest memories involve crossing that barbed wire fence, ready and eager for adventure in nature. We would collect sticks, rocks and bits of nature to construct forts, hop in drainage ditch puddles, and marvel at the birds and even the found remains of creatures.

 

I follow the Pinterest boards titled “Sensory Play” full of bins with beans, rice, water beads, etc. Nature is the ultimate sensory bin- full of smells, sights, and sounds. Mud may well be the ultimate sensory media. The boys investigated the goopy mud first. Their little boots suctioned into the goop and I watched the look on their face change to determination as they muscled their legs free. This was sticky mud, as Caleb soon found out when he fell and had to be plucked free.

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They then explored the puddles and watched as the mud swirled in the water, as it let free leaving their boots clean. There was a lot of splashing and running, exploring water depths and the sensation of water rising above their boot lines. Rocks were thrown and sticks used to stir.

The vet mom in me thinks of the millions of antigens they are being exposed to, all while hoping there aren’t any big bad bugs like E. coli or Salmonella floating around in that farm slurry they are enjoying. Plenty of studies have shown outdoor play and exposure to pets, farm animals, and just plain dirt builds stronger, healthier immune systems. If their little immune systems are too busy dealing with these antigens my hope is it will leave them alone and we can avoid issues like asthma.

With no concrete to blanket the ground and expanses of open areas to explore, farm and ranch kids have a wide world to discover and learn from. While research explains the benefits of outdoor play for kids, here are some of the benefits I see in my own kids:

  • Observational skills and awareness. My kiddos see and hear things I have looked away from or simply tuned out in the hurry of life. The other day, Caleb’s little face turned to the sky and his finger pointed searching for the object to match the sound he heard…the Canadian geese were making their return.
  • Engineering and building. Jacob’s imagination comes alive as he collects bits and pieces of nature and loose pieces from the ranch…building a sleigh, chute, alley, corrals, among others.
  • They develop their strength, balance, and risk assessment. Climb higher, run faster, giggle louder all while navigating obstacles. Fresh air and sunshine are good for the soul and sometimes I need to remind myself that after a rough week.
  • They get biology. They know where food comes from and how the animals lived. They know that potatoes get dug out of the ground, and the sun-ripened strawberries get plucked from the plant, and that the animals born this spring will provide us protein and nourishment when the time comes. They recognize animal tracks, the different grasses, and trees.
  • Compassion and reverence for those that live amongst us in nature. In nature there is life… and death. Brad had to assist a ewe this spring and Caleb’s anticipation was evident. When the wet lamb met the straw and started shaking his head, Caleb’s eyes were wide with excitement. But they have also known death and the missing of a pet or animal.

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/no actual children or goats were driving a 4 wheeler!/

Do any of your favorite childhood memories include mud? I can recall more than a few times being hosed off before being let inside! I really want my kiddos to enjoy that same outdoor fun and adventure!

 

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