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Smells Like Dirt

by | Feb 25, 2014


It has been my season for unexpected gifts. Last night I returned from a week with grandchildren to find a jar of homemade hand lotion. I opened the lid and breathed in the aroma. Maybe it was just my recent bout with Valentine syndrome, but it smelled to me like opening a box of chocolates. Mmmmmm.

I creamed it onto my hands. What a great feeling! It was no surprise to learn that raw cocoa butter was the first ingredient, along with shea butter and olive oil. Karen, my friend and relative in the extended Shenk family, had concocted it from memories of her grandmother Fannie. I well remember my own grandmother Emma—a Shenk as well—using olive oil as a precious skin emollient, never for cooking. Karen added balsam, rose, sandalwood, and lavender essential oils, meant to release their fragrances according to their respective evaporation rate. What a fantastic gift!

But when I offered Robby some of Karen’s amazing lotion for his winter-and-firewood-chapped hands, it was no, thank you. The box-of-chocolates fragrance just didn’t suit. Nothing perfumey or fruity would do. Recently, he dispatched the cherry-almond Jergens lotion (a scent he had reluctantly chosen) to the dark regions of the cabinet. He’s got something better—something that smells like dirt.


When my sister Anita gave him shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and hand cream with the aroma of mint and rosemary, he finally was content. To him, it did not smell like either mint or rosemary, but just like plain garden dirt. Perfect. Never again would he be stuck with unsuitable personal care products. Now he just needs to stay on good terms with my Aveda-giving sister!

Garden season heats up—today Lisa and the gals are already hand-weeding the spring flowers that have been hiding under row cover. It is definitely hand cream time for us on the farm and around the house.

Now I have “Grandmother Fannie.” Before that there was Burt’s Bees:


I also love lanolin, and its role in conditioning sheep wool and yarn. Someone gave me a tin of it that was just stubbornly hard and sticky. I set it on the wood stove to bring it back to a liquid form. Now it is sticky only until rubbed well into the hands, at which time it lends a heavenly softness.


While the smell of dirt, and even the feel of its soft dark texture under your fingers, can be a good thing, it sure is hard on skin. With Karen’s gift, I am all set for the season. It is going to be a great spring!