Our Family in 2016
Rylan (11); Jayden (14), myself, Bayley (17)
As I was remembering where our story began and where we are today, I saw how God purposely wove the people I needed to help me along the way into my life at the exact moment I needed them. This quote sums up our whole business:
“Trust that God will put the right people in your life at the right time and for the right reasons.”
I grew up on a farm with my family in the Arena/Wing area. I was blessed to not only have my parents raise me but also my grandparents who lived only five miles away from us. They all were very instrumental in the person I am today. While growing up on a farm you really don’t understand all the important life lessons you learn. Now as an adult, I look back and am so thankful for my upbringing – hard, challenging, but with awesome memories of my family as we worked together to accomplish the tasks at hand. Even though I moved to away from home for college and work for a while, I always wanted to return to the farm life and raise my kids just as I was raised and thankfully God had it all planned out – in His timing, of course.
It was in 2007 I found myself a single mom to three very energetic boys. I had been a stay at home mom since my oldest Bayley was a year old. We were attending Faith Evangelical Church at Crystal Springs, ND were we met an elderly couple. He wanted to continue to farm but needed some extra help and I needed a job. The best part of this job was the boys came to work with me when they were not in school which meant I could raise them how I was raised. Ah, Thank you God!!
So in 2008 we moved from Tappen to Buchanan and I began working on their farm. I was a quick learner and soon was operating all of the machinery – to the utter dismay of my grandmother. She even wrote my boss and told him not to teach me how to run the baler as that was not women’s work. Even though she did not agree with my choice of work since it was a man’s field of employment and not women’s, she was my biggest supporter. I enjoyed my job but really liked working with the animals. He had cattle and two goats, Maggie and Lilly, who soon became my pets. Maggie was the start of my goat herd. She was the sweetest little goat. She would find me and just stand there as I gave her a good scratching and massage. Lilly, her daughter was another story. Of all the goats I have had, she was the only one with horns. She knew she had them and she used them, not on us, but on the other goats to show them she was boss.
As soon as we moved in 2008 I inquired about the boys joining 4-H in order to meet new kids and for me to meet some of the parents. The first year was a learning time for all of us, but we soon figured out the boys could do a project on what their interest was at that time. Since I have always been a DIYer at heart, I was excited about helping the boys find projects they were interested in, which were mostly geared towards farming. In 2011 Bayley was interested in cattle so I suggested Jayden find a project which would be about the goats on the farm. After searching the internet we discovered you could make soap using goat milk. Jayden agreed he would like to try it and we found a recipe online, purchased all the necessary utensils and ingredients. We milked both Maggie and Lilly and froze the goat milk like it said. We took an afternoon and made the soap. The recipe said you could hand stir the soap batter until it became pudding consistency. Let me tell you that was the first and last time I ever stirred soap batter – it took forever to turn to trace, or turning to the pudding consistency. We poured it into a mold and put a towel on it and let it sit for a couple of days. We took it out and let it cure for a month. I took pictures while we were making the soap and had them developed and we typed up what Jayden was doing on each one and put them in a nice photo book. The Stutsman County 4-H days finally arrived and Jayden did an awesome job explaining his bar of soap and the process it took to make it. He was so happy when he was awarded the pink Reserve Grand Champion ribbon, which was for the entire animal science category. There was only one person higher than Jayden, and it just so happened to be is older brother Bayley. Right then and there, a fire was set in Jayden to one day win Grand Champion and have a purple ribbon just like Bayley.
This also set an idea in my head as I always liked making and giving gifts for family and friends instead of buying them. Since I was little I could remember my mom sewing, woodworking, or some sort of home improvement project. I thankfully inherited her DIY gene and followed in her footsteps of creating something from nothing. I liked sewing but woodworking has always been my passion.
For Christmas 2011, I decided to give handcrafted soap and used Jayden’s award winning recipe. Everyone enjoyed the soap and asked for more which set the wheels in motion again. I never imagined I would have a business as I just liked doing it for fun. Another person God set in my path also came from the church we attended. My friend from church had an aunt who worked at Gifts from the Heart in Jamestown. It is a small gift shop run by women who are always looking for handcrafters to have their products in the store. (On another note, the gentleman who installed our internet is the husband of the owner – so there again God placed yet another person in my life for this reason.) My friend took my soap to the store and they agreed they would like to have me as part of the store. In February 2012, I applied for a business name and sales tax number and HomeSpun Chick was born.
Truthfully I had no idea what I was doing that first year. I had limited amount of knowledge on how to make soap as well as running a business, but I was having fun trying to figure it all out. I was hooked on soap making and started researching and reading everything I could find on the subject. Thank goodness for internet as it made it so much easier to “google” this and “google” that. I discovered Bramble Berry website which sells soap making ingredients and soap making equipment which is where I first started buying my fragrances, colors and my very first stick blender. Remember me telling you about how long it took to hand stir the soap batter – no more of that as a stick blender is your true friend when making soap.
People were finding out about my soap and really liking it which gave me the confidence to add more soap varieties – I added scents for Spring & Summer, Fall, Christmas, and Just for Men, to go along with my Everyday Scents. I even started offering some Shampoo Bars and Shaving soaps. Customers started asking for lotion made with goat milk, which I started researching on how to create it, but it wasn’t until God placed another person in my life before the lotion came to be.
In the fall of 2012 as I was purchasing lye at True Value in Jamestown, I noticed a brochure for a Farms Beginnings class being offered in Medina. I absolutely knew I wanted to continue to make soap and I dared to dream I could make it my full time job along with caring for my sons and my expanding herd of goats. I thought the class would help me figure it out so I signed up. It was there I met Keith Knudsen who has become a good friend and mentor. We worked together on my business through a Farm Business Management course. It was during that time he informed me of the grant/loans offered by FARRMS and in 2014 helped me complete the application. I was awarded the necessary funds to expand my business from just soaps to now include lotion. In February 2015, I hopped on a plane and flew to Bellingham, Washington to learn all I could about lotion making as well as some advanced soap making classes.
I arrived back home with so many new ideas for products to offer my customers. Lotion was top of the list so I ordered the necessary ingredients along with bottles and tops. As soon as my first batch of lotion was ready for labeling I knew I needed to make some changes as I was not going to have the patience to label each bottle one at a time. So back online I went until I found a hand crank bottle labeler which I promptly ordered and then set out to find a company to print labels for it. Again God placed another person in my life as I inquired about labels from a company in Jamestown who then just put me in direct contact with the person they go to for labels. After initial conversations about what kind of labels I wanted, we designed and printed them and soon I was labeling lotion bottles like a pro.
2015 also involved a move for my business. I had been making soap in my kitchen since the beginning; however, now with adding the lotion and all the additional ingredients I needed as well as packaging, our home was suddenly way too small for our family of four and our growing business.
A year or so earlier I had inquired about having a small barn to milk my goats in as were milking outside. To my surprise, my boss hired a good friend as well as the four of us to help construct a building on the farm which 1/3 would be my studio to make soap and lotion and 2/3 would be where I would milk the goats as well as where they would be when they kidded (had their babies). We all learned so much while building it – mostly general construction knowledge which my two older boys took to Haiti in 2016 to help build a church and homes as well as it is not a good idea to put me on the farm hand loader and raise it up as high as possible as my screams will burst an ear drum!!
The year 2016 would be summed up from a quote from A Tale of two Cities by Charles Dickens as “It was the best of times, It was the worst of times”
“It was the best of times” - We were finally moving in to our new space that spring, sales of soaps and lotions were increasing. We also had our products in two consignment stores – one in Bismarck, which also had a store in Medora during the summer months as well as one in Mandan. That summer I was contacted by North Dakota Living Magazine asking to write a story on our business for the Pride of Dakota business spotlight. I had no idea how life changing this article would be for not only me personally, but my family and our business as well. Soon after that interview, the Jamestown Sun also wanted to interview us for the front page of the Sun Country.
“It was the worst of time” - It was during the proofreading of the article for North Dakota Living and looking at the pictures they took of my soaps did my world completely fall apart. During my research on soap making I read about DOS or Dreaded Orange Spots which are orange spots that appear on soap due to rancid oils. I never thought that would happen to me as I was purchasing my oils in smaller quantities and used them before they expired. My heart sank as I saw spots all over my soaps on the one photo. I quickly went to look at all of the soap I had made for Christmas and was shocked to see spots on ¾ of all the bars on my drying racks. Since I knew this article was going to be in the November issue of the magazine I had increased my soap production to double of the year before. I struggled to comprehend why this would happen. Here God had placed two awesome opportunities to spread the word about our business through printed articles and now all of my soaps were unsellable. Devastation and depression hit hard as I struggled to internalize what was happening. I reached out to a long time soap maker who couldn’t really help me. My lotions were fine, my soaps were not and I couldn’t understand why. The year ended in misery and 2017 wasn’t much better as I continued to struggle with spots on my soaps. The confusing part was some batches were completely fine; others had to be thrown due to spots. I was done – more than once – I threw in the towel and wanted to walk away and quit. I cried rivers of tears, yelled and screamed and prayed to God asking why this all was happening. Hadn’t he given me the passion and ability to make soap as well as brought people into my life to help me along the way and opportunities to share my story not only to the community of Jamestown and surrounding area but to the to the entire state of ND and beyond? Now he was taking it all away as he ripped the rug right out from underneath me.
I finally came to a place where I had to make a choice – either let life beat me down and walk away yet always wonder what might have been if I stayed and fought for what I wanted or I dry my tears, muster all my courage, gather all my determination, grab my bootstraps and stand up and fight for what I believed in and love doing. Since I am very determined, very stubborn and am definitely not a quitter, I set out on a mission to figure these spots out. It was not easy nor was it quick. It has been and continues to be a slow and painful process full of learning. I learned a lot more about soap making as well as I became a “mad scientist” as my sister in law likes to tell people I am, as I tried various different approaches to making soap. It’s been two years and I have come to the conclusion the spots are nothing more than burnt sugars in my soap. They may not look pretty but are thankfully completely harmless and definitely not dreaded orange spots. They still bring out the frustration in me as I am a perfectionist to the core. This has been a very growing and learning time God has placed me in as I am not perfect, nothing I create will be perfect, so I must accept it and move on to what really matters in my life – my faith, my family and friends and sharing myself with others through soap and lotion, one bar and one bottle at a time.
Remember back to when I said “I had no idea how life changing this article would be for not only me personally, but my family and our business as well. – referring to the North Dakota Living Magazine article? My life changed so much for the better because God brought one more person into my life that I had been praying and waiting for for ten long years. I met my now husband Todd because of that story. He saw the article in the magazine and we finally met on January 23, 2017 in the most amazing way. He was in Jamestown meeting his daughter and was on a mission to meet me. He looked all over Jamestown to no avail. He was at Gun & Reel Sports, which was just a few doors down from Gifts from the Heart where I was working that day. I was supposed to be at my son’s basketball game that evening; however, I had to stay and close the store due to my boss’s mom needing to have heart surgery. At 5:30 I was taking some of my stuff to my vehicle across the street. I saw another person walking out of Gun and Reel as I was walking back toward Gifts from the Heart. Our eyes met and the look in his eye was as if he knew me. I hurried back in the store and he soon followed. He asked if we sold the goat milk soaps and I said yes and showed him where they were. He asked about the soaps and how it started so I told him and we started chatting about farming and life as we both farm and ranch and have three kids a piece – he with 3 girls and me with 3 boys. The new and improved Brady Bunch gone farming!! He bought some soap and lotion and we ended up talking an hour past closing. A few days later he emailed me and we communicated that way for a week or so. I asked him to dinner at the Cheiftain in Carrington on February 5. We met at noon for dinner and spent the entire day talking. Our first date lasted until 8 pm that night. We started calling and texting each other every day. We were engaged on May 23, 2017 and were married in Carrington on June 23, 2018.
In preparing for marriage and moving my entire life, I felt like Abraham in the Bible as I had to move my family and our belongings, my business with everything that entails, as well as all of my goats, cows, and all the equipment you need when you have animals to Esmond, ND. Thankfully God gave me an understanding and accepting husband as Todd helped pack and move everything to our home and farm. We spent most of the summer in 2018 recreating a soap studio in a storage room in the garage – my commute to work is only like 12 steps, give or take, from the house through the garage to my studio. He is more proud of the space than I am as he shows it off to everyone who walks through our doors. He is my biggest fan and no one leaves empty handed as he loves giving my products to everyone. Gotta love him for that!!
As the calendar turned to 2019, we will begin year 7 on February 1st and I can’t wait to see what God has in store for us. With marrying Todd, I gained an awesome sister in law, Leigh, who is helping me, challenging me, and giving me her ear to bounce ideas off. The ideas we have for the future look very bright and it’s going to be an awesome adventure.