Lather, Wash, Rinse, Repeat

 Mr. Loves to Play in the Dirt.

Mr. Loves to Play in the Dirt.

If there’s a never-ending story around my house, it’s about the laundry.

Chapter 1: I live on a ranch. We work outside in all sorts of weather, and we get more than a little sweaty — winter and summer.

Chapter 2: My husband is a mechanic and heavy equipment operator who likes to play in the dirt, grease and oil.

Chapter 3: We have horses, cows, chickens, pigs, sheep and wild animals such as bears, foxes and geese. All of these critters leave their “leavings” all over the place.

If you have to get in the pig pen, you can expect to get covered in pig "leavings."

If you have to get in the pig pen, you can expect to get covered in pig “leavings.”

Chapter 4: In the winter we have mud, in the summer we have dust, both of which deposit themselves on every article of clothing worn. The dirt in this area tends to be high in iron, which means it leaves stains very similar to rust stains.

Chapter 5: We frequently indulge ourselves in veterinary operations, butchering and other activities involving blood and guts.

I have no doubt there are plenty more chapters, but these will do for the moment. As with any other skill, when you do a lot of something, you eventually get good at it. You also find out which tips and tricks are darned good information and which ones are good only for a laugh. Here’s what I’ve learned in the last 40-odd years.

  • Cold water is for drinking, not ranch laundry. The only thing I can use cold water on is my towels, and even those tend to get grubby fairly fast (which is why I NEVER choose white towels). Nor can I use cold water without first dissolving the detergent in it. Since I frequently forget to change the water temperature once the detergent is dissolved and discovered the warm-water towels came out cleaner, towels get washed in warm water. Jeans, Carharts and work shirts get washed in hot water.
  • It does make a difference if you sort properly, especially if you dry clothes on the line. The dryer might take off the bits of lint from the towels you tossed in with your Levis, but the clothesline won’t.
  • It does not make a difference what detergent you use — trust me, I’ve tried ‘em all. Buy the cheapest stuff you can find in large quantities. I can’t see any difference between powders and liquids, either.
  • It does make a difference if you add salt or borax when you have hard water. Both of these soften the water and make your detergent work better. Clothes rinse cleaner, too.
  • ALWAYS CHECK POCKETS! I cannot tell you how many times I have discovered grease rags, ballpoint pens, markers, crayons, nails, screws, toothpicks and small tools in various and sundry pockets. By the way, should you miss a ballpoint pen, a good dousing with hair spray or rubbing alcohol just prior to washing will usually take the ink out completely. Learned that one back in the day when nurses had to wear white uniforms.
  • Use a knotted pillowcase, secured with a safety pin, or one of those zippered laundry bags for lingerie, socks and other small items. It keeps them from snagging on other clothes in the case of bras, protects delicate lace and prevents socks from jumping over the edge of the washer tub and getting stuck between the tub and washer side, which creates all sorts of havoc in addition to the odd looks your children will get because they’re wearing one yellow flowered and one green-striped sock.
Butchering chickens; please note the state of the clothing!

Butchering chickens; please note the state of the clothing!

  • If you buy used clothing with stains or have to deal with something that the regular wash cycle just couldn’t handle, use this trick on everything except blood (for blood, rinse it immediately in cold water and then slosh hydrogen peroxide on it; rinse; repeat until the water runs clear). It came from Amy Dacyzcn’s book, “The Tightwad Gazette,” and it really works. Dissolve one cup liquid dishwasher detergent and one cup Clorox II in one gallon of hot water. Dunk the item of clothing in it and get it thoroughly saturated. Soak overnight, and then wash as you normally would. I reuse the stain solution; just store in the gallon glass jar I use for soaking and reheat prior to use. If the solution starts to look a little tinted, don’t use it for whites – in fact I keep one on tap just for whites, as it will last practically forever.

Hope you have fun doing your next load of wash!

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Old-Fashioned Cooking: Red Velvet Cake and Butter-Rich Frosting


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In this modern-day-take-it-out-of-the-freezer-and shove-it-in-the-microwave world, we often lose sight of what real food tastes like. Not too surprising, when you look at the ingredient lists on most prepared foods. Many so-called foods have more chemicals than food ingredients. I figure if you can’t even pronounce half the ingredients, you shouldn’t rely on it as a major food source. On the other hand, just think about beef stew or chili simmering slowly through the day, ready to warm the cockles of your heart – not to mention your cold hands – come dinner time. Or home-made breakfast burritos or Cornish pasties, stored in the freezer for those mornings when you can barely find the kitchen, let alone think up a menu.

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When I was much younger than I am now, I first made my husband his favorite birthday cake — Red Velvet Cake with Butter-Rich Frosting. I got the recipes from his mother, who was the sort of experienced cook who made many foods from scratch and by eye. I carefully followed her written instructions, presented the finished product to hubby, who tasted and allowed as how it didn’t taste like Mom’s. It was good, he hastened to add, seeing the glint in my eye; it just didn’t taste quite the same. Thus began repeated experiments. I doubled-checked the recipes with my mother-in-law, tried it again and got the same response. Then I watched her make it, taking notes all the while. Then I made it while she supervised. Each time, the response was the same: “It’s good, but it doesn’t taste quite the same as when Mom makes it.” The implication being, I simply wasn’t the cook his mother was. Thoroughly fed up, I finally snarled, “All right, you make the next one!” Hubby, a very competent cook, proceeded to do so. He then took his first bite and a very strange expression stole over his face. He laid down his fork, looked at me, and muttered, “It’s good, but it still doesn’t taste like Mom’s.” We laughed, but I was determined that the day would come when I got the ultimate accolade, so I searched for new versions and tried them all. Thirty years later, the cake below earned the honors. Happy Birthday, dear!


As Good as Mom’s Red Velvet Cake

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp salt

2 Tbs cocoa powder

½ cup raw milk butter

1 ½ cups sugar

2 large eggs

1 tsp vanilla

1 cup raw milk buttermilk from making butter (I suspect this is the key; it was not until we had our own milk cow that I baked with real buttermilk and butter)

2 Tbs red food coloring

1 Tbs vinegar

1 tsp baking soda

1 cup chopped nuts

Mix dry ingredients. Cream butter and sugar, add eggs, one at a time; beat in vanilla. Mix food coloring and vinegar into buttermilk. Add dry ingredients to creamed mixture alternately with liquids; begin and end with dry. Stir in nuts. Bake in greased, floured 9X13 pan or two 9-inch layer pans for 25-30 minutes.

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Butter-Rich Frosting

1 cup flour

1 cup milk

1 cup sugar

1 cup butter

1 ½ tsp vanilla

Beat flour into cold milk with wire whisk until VERY smooth. Cook flour and milk over medium-low heat, stirring constantly. DO NOT try to hurry the process, as it will quickly turn to large lumps. When thick, remove from heat and let cool. Cream sugar and butter, add vanilla. Beat in flour mixture and beat until smooth and light.

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I Need a Clone!

Future chickens, eggs, chickens, eggs, etc.

Future chickens, eggs, chickens, eggs, etc.

Those of you who hang around here may have noticed that my posts get pretty irregular sometimes. It’s most likely to happen in late summer, when schedules collide. The garden is producing like mad, the tree fruits are getting ripe, it’s haying and wood-cutting season and the kids are back in school, which means bus runs.  Although I try to stay flexible (to the point I sometimes feel like Gumby!) there are times when something has to give. As an example of what I’m dealing with here, here’s a rough idea of my daily schedule.

Ranch workhorse.

Ranch workhorse.

I spend at least four hours a day on some form of food production. These activities include milking the cow, collecting eggs, feeding and watering animals (I have to haul water to two sets of chickens, the pigs and sheep), watering the garden, irrigating (so the cows, horses and sheep will have grass to eat), working in the garden and processing the food that comes out of it. I make butter, cheese, ice cream and yogurt, bread and assorted other foodstuffs. Those are the regular-every-day chores. In addition, there are the major production kinds of food-related activities. Under this heading we have butchering a cow, pig, sheep or chickens, processing all those ripe whatevers and getting them canned/frozen/dried or getting a year’s worth of hay hauled and stacked.

Let's see the wind get that tarp off!

Let’s see the wind get that tarp off!

I spend another four hours a day writing – the kind of writing that puts money in my pocket. This includes research, rough drafts, and proofreading, final drafts and – sometimes – rewrites.

Chalk off another four hours a day (sometimes more) to ranch projects such as mending fence, building new chicken pens or putting a roof back on the sheep pen because a severe windstorm ripped it off.

Winter goodies for toast!

Winter goodies for toast!

So now I’m up to a 12-hour day and I haven’t even started on things like dishes, laundry, housework or this blog. And I refuse to short-circuit my sleep, because if I do (not being a spring chicken any more), I quickly lose the ability to keep up the pace. Add in the occasional consulting project (another way I make money) and one day a week in town, and it becomes pretty obvious that something periodically has to give. The two things most likely to wind up on the bottom of the list as housework and writing for fun, i.e., writing for the blog. If you think that means my house is often grubby around the edges — and at times, right down the middle — you would be 100% right. I figure the housework isn’t going anywhere. What I try to do with the blog is write extra when I do have some spare time, which is usually in the winter. Recipes, for example, are easy to stock up, but that means I might post a couple in a row when things get really hairy. I shoot for a post about once a week. So if it seems I’ve been quiet a little longer than usual every so often, I can assure you, it isn’t because I’m lounging around eating bon-bons and reading trashy novels…

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