Dirt and the Dress Code


Nothing hubby likes better than playing in the dirt.

A ranch wife must be able to make her peace with dirt. Dirt is ubiquitous, permeating, omnipresent, pervasive and abundant. It comes into the house on work boots, irrigation boots, tools, animals, small children, vegetables and the slightest breeze. If you relax your vigilance for a few days it will overwhelm you, but at the same time, if you try to achieve floors so clean they can be used for a dinner plate, not only will you fail miserably, you will never achieve anything else. My ranch wife mother-in-law used to sweep the floors after every meal; she said if she tried to do it only once a day the mess was so disheartening it made her want to throw her apron over her head and cry.

Of course those muddy paw prints aren’t ours!

And about that apron — when you are constantly shuttling between cow milking, cooking, bread baking, gardening and critter catching, an apron is not a bad idea. The best kind is either the standard butcher’s apron, which amply covers both chest and tummy down to the knees, or the classic old-fashioned bib apron style beloved of farm and ranch wives in the period from about 1920 to 1950. The ones I remember were the kind that had a sort of yoke around the neck, sometimes with fluttering half sleeves, always with big pockets and usually in pretty flowered or gingham patterns. In an era when many women had only a few clothes — sometimes just one or two dresses for the workaday week and one for “good” — and when washing was likely to be a once-a-week activity and dependent on good weather to dry the clothes, an apron was vitally important. Not only did it protect you from kitchen spatters, it could be used to dry the tears of the child whose sister had just clobbered her, gather eggs or fresh asparagus and, in a real pinch when the halter was out of reach, lead a balky horse off the front lawn.

Zoot suits — the rancher’s most fashionable rain wear.

If you are the sort of woman who requires weekly manicures, facials, pristine white blouses and perfectly ironed linen slacks, think very carefully before deciding to marry a rancher or farmer. It’s nearly impossible to maintain a manicure under the daily onslaught of dishes, gardening, fence mending, grease — the sort that comes from helping hubby replace a bearing on the tractor — wood hauling and similar sorts of grubby or hand-intensive activities. I always used to wonder how it was that I could clean my fingernails, get in the car and go to town, and they would be dirty again by the time I finished the drive. I finally decided that the dirt had been absorbed internally and was just making its way back to the surface.

The classic apron.

As for clothes, wear a pristine white blouse (or pristine anything) and I guarantee you will have to go catch a wayward piglet or the cow will give you a kiss. Wear shorts and you will need to climb through a barbed wire fence. Wear sandals or flip-flops — a chicken will mistake your toe for a large worm or you’ll drop an egg on your foot in the process of gathering them. There’s a reason the stereotypical rancher wears a big hat (sun protection, egg carrying and waving at critters to get them to move); long-sleeved workshirt (mosquito and fly deterrent; keeps the hay from getting in your shirt and pants when you carry a chunk somewhere); Levis (barbed wire fences, thorny brush, etc.) and boots (big-footed horses, cows and the occasional rattlesnake). Yes, the ranch wife has a dress code – it’s just a bit different from that of most women.

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Radar the BatCat in less smelly days.

It’s inevitable that ranch animals will make the acquaintance of skunks. While older animals may be smart enough to take a whiff from a distance and pass on by, puppies and kittens tend to want to play with the interesting black and white critter. The latest of our animals to do so was Radar, The BatCat, who bounced in the door not long ago stinking to high heaven. Luckily, he’s very quick on his feet and I think he only got a glancing blow, but he was still rather odoriferous. So Mom grabbed the de-scenting makings and whipped up a quick wash.

Don’t you “kitty, kitty” me!”

When dealing with skunk scent, time is of the essence. The longer you let it sit on the animal’s fur, the more the oils embed themselves in the hair shafts. For dogs, straight tomato juice is quick and easy, although it is the least effective of the odor removers. The wise ranch wife always keeps a few cans around just for this purpose. You can also use one part cider vinegar mixed with two parts water. Pour it on the animal and rub it in well. Let it sit for an hour or so and follow with a nice warm soapy bath and a good rinse. If the dog still smells, mix a quarter cup of vanilla extract with a quart or two of water and repeat the dousing process.
Cats, however, do better with the following recipe. (You can also use this on dogs, but it takes a lot, especially if the dog is long-haired):
1. One quart hydrogen peroxide
2. ¼ cup baking soda
3. 1 tsp dish liquid soap
Use this immediately – you can’t let it sit or it won’t work – as the chemical reaction between the baking soda and H2O2 is what neutralizes the odor. If you have the sort of cat that is used to regular baths, you can use this mix to wash the cat in the bathtub and then rinse with warm water. My cats are definitely not enamored of baths. Instead, one person holds the cat (good stout leather gloves are an asset). The other dips a hand towel into the cleaning solution or pours it onto the towel. Rub the wet towel into the animal’s fur – dodge teeth and claws as necessary. Repeat with a towel saturated in clean water. If your partner is still able to hang onto the cat, you can dry with a third towel. Since I had to do Radar alone – hubby was in town – I dispensed with the drying part.

Mom, now I’m all wet!

The cat still smells very faintly of skunk, but it’s diminished to the point that we can live with it. However, I am definitely on the feline fecal roster.

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Hurry Spring!


I don’t know about the rest of you, but I could do with a little spring instead of snow, ice, hail and winds. In honor of the upcoming equinox, here are some pictures meant to encourage Ma Nature!

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