Thursday, October 3, 2019

Climbing Up the Learning Curve: Ten Things I’ve Learned on my Horse Farm

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to live on a farm or at least in a rural area.  When I was young, we visited my grandparents on their farm in North Carolina several times a year.   I loved going to the garden with my grandfather to pick strawberries or heading to a nearby farm to see horses.  Even at a very young age, I always felt a sense of peace when I saw fields of corn or cows in a pasture.  I know that my dream of living on a farm was born during those family vacations in rural North Carolina. 

Barn apartment
Since I was raised in the suburbs of Washington, DC and knew exactly nothing about farm ownership, I wanted to try living on a horse farm before seriously considering purchasing one.  I rented a small apartment in a barn on a horse farm in Laytonsville.  Yes, I lived IN the barn, above the horse stalls.  I LOVED it.  Hearing the horses munch, stomp and snort during the night was like music to my ears. 

Barn apartment

After nearly two years of living in the barn, I felt I was ready to strike out on my own.  When a nearby farm that abuts a County park with seven miles of trails went up for sale, I quickly signed on the dotted line.  And so Copper Penny Farm became a reality.

My friend, Phoebe decided to board her horse, Deja on my farm.  Phoebe became my indispensable right hand since she was raised on a horse farm.  I truly couldn’t have gotten my farm and boarding operation up and running without her.

I’ve owned the farm for over five years and have learned more things that I can count.  However, I sorted through my acquired knowledge and chose the 10 biggest lessons I learned as a horse farm owner. 

1.  $$$$$$ - The very first lesson I learned after purchasing the farm was to always keep my credit card and checkbook handy.   I had to open my wallet extra wide to purchase a new tractor and mower ($$$$$$!!!).  Since I needed a place to keep the tractor, I bought a large shed ($$$$!!).  Of course, I needed to have a base of crusher run stone for the shed (more $$$).   And that was just in the first few weeks!
Putting in the base for the tractor shed

2.  “Money can’t buy happiness but it can buy a tractor, which is pretty much the same thing.”   There isn’t anything on the farm that is more useful than my tractor.  I use it almost every day to do chores such as de-pooping (notice the use of the highly technical farm term) fields, turning the compost pile and mowing the pastures.

My farm fleet
Like everything else, I knew nothing about buying and operating a tractor.  I did a lot of research, compared prices and considered dealer financing options.  I chose a 32-horsepower John Deere tractor with loader and mower.  I admit that it took a while to learn to operate the tractor.  "Thud!  #$!%#$%!" became a familiar refrain when I misjudged distance and bumped the loader or mower into fence posts, gates, buildings, etc. in those first few weeks (okay, I confess.  I still do it sometimes). 

Huge learning curve aside, when I climb up into the seat and start the engine, I know I am truly a farmer!!

3.  Holy Sh..!  An average horse will produce as much as 50 pounds of manure a day or nine tons a year.  I have four horses on the farm so that's -- oh heck, I don't want to even think about all those tons of poop!

For most of the year, we pick (clean) the fields daily to reduce internal parasite contamination, eliminate breeding habitats for flies and maintain pasture availability (horses won't eat where they've pooped!).  There are only two stalls in the barn but if Queenie and Deja have been in for 24 hours, it can feel like I'm cleaning 20 stalls.

They are sort of the Oscar Madison and Felix Unger (The Odd Couple) of the horse world.  Deja politely leaves her piles and urine in one corner of the stall.  Cleaning her stall takes about 10 minutes.  After a night in the barn, Queenie's stall always looks like there's been a manure explosion.  Queenie has Cushings disease so she drinks a LOT of water.  Since what goes in must come out, I have to remove buckets of wet sawdust after Queenie spends the day in her stall.  On average, it takes me about 30 minutes to clean her stall. 

4.  Smokin!  We dump the 200 pounds of poop a day in a compost pile in the back pasture.  I like to use the tractor for cleanup because it's much easier on my back.  However, there are many muddy days when I can't use the tractor so we pull several muck buckets with about 100 pounds of manure out to the compost pile.

Google "composting horse manure" and you will find lots of articles such as Nine Steps to Composting Horse Manure.  NINE?  I use the "dump, turn, decay" method.  We dump the manure in the same pile for several months.  I use the tractor loader to turn the compost regularly.

Depending on conditions, turning the compost can result in a LOT of smoke due to the heat generated by the decay process.  My son was in the barn one day when I used the front loader to turn the compost.  He thought the tractor was on fire!
When the pile reaches about six feet high, I start a new one while continuing to turn the other pile(s).  It takes about 12-18 months for the manure to break down completely into usable compost.

5.  Neither Rain nor Snow nor Gloom of Night – This well-known saying for the Post Office definitely applies to horse farm owners.  In 2018, however, I need to amend the motto by adding, “Nor Mud.”  Record rainfall created swamp-like conditions in many areas of the farm. 

Besides mud, I’ve trudged to the barn through blistering heat, torrential rains, howling winds, subzero temperatures and of course, snow.  Adverse weather conditions sometimes create problems that require good old-fashioned farmer ingenuity. 

A tunnel from the house to the barn after the 2016 "Snowzilla" storm 
Take the “Snowzilla” storm in 2016, for example.  Almost three feet of snow made completing daily chores a challenge, to say the least.   

The combination of rapidly falling snow and high winds meant the run-in shed offered little protection for Ace and Newton, the horses that were out 24/7.  Normally the run-in stays dry but during Snowzilla, the shelter was quickly filling with snow. Since Ace and Newton were both older (27 and 30), I struggled to figure out how to keep them warm and dry.  Panic is the mother of invention……

Ace and Newton were pasture buddies for 15 years and Queenie and Deja for 5 years, so I decided to take a chance on putting boys in one stall and girls in the other.  I stayed in the barn for some time (brrr!) to make sure everyone would get along but doubling up was no big deal to the horses. Luckily, they were roomies for only 24 hours.

Deja and Queenie snuggled up for a snowy night. 

 6.  To Each His/Her Own -- Diet, that is.  Every horse on the farm has different dietary needs, including supplements and medicines.  There are times I feel like a mad scientist, mixing different feeds, medications and supplements and making warm feed mashes in the winter.  Queenie gets three medications, two supplements and two  types of feed.  Thunder is on two medications, three supplements and two types of feed. 

But all the complicated meals don’t begin to compare to Newton’s.  His diet was unique because of his age (30).  He had experienced a significant over-winter weight loss once before he came to the farm and I was determined that it would not happen again.  Three times a day, he ate five pounds of food comprised of high-fat feed, rice bran, beet pulp and oil.  I fed him four times a day in the winter.  Newton was always a happy boy at meal times and he looked sleek and healthy until the day he died.

7Research, read, repeat Purchasing the farm meant I was suddenly responsible for the care and feeding of four horses.   I needed a zero-to-sixty education so I read and researched constantly (and still do) about the basics of caring for horses and running a boarding operation.  The learning process is ongoing because problems are the one constant on a farm. 

I’ve researched such varied topics as pasture management, Cushing’s disease, founder, optimal diets for older horses, laminitis and---get ready for this—"poops that look like a string of sausages.” That’s exactly what Newton’s manure piles looked like. Even the vet said that he’d never seen anything like it but as long as he was “eliminating,” I shouldn’t worry about it. I decided based on how Newton died (I’ll spare you the details), that he may have had a growth in his colon.

8.  "Horses are born.  Then they spend the rest of their lives trying to find new and interesting ways in which to commit suicide."  As any owner will tell you, horses have an uncanny ability to injure themselves.  You can take every single precaution and a horse will come in from the pasture with a gash on a leg or a swollen eye.  And there is an unwritten rule among horses, that they will injure themselves or become ill on a weekend so that the vet's barn call fee is nearly twice as high. 

And so it was that I opened the barn door on a Saturday morning expecting to see the usual empty barn aisle.  Instead I was staring directly at Queenie’s big behind.   She had broken out of her stall and wreaked havoc in the barn in her search for all things edible.  Queenie knocked everything off the shelves, took the lids off all of the feed cans, threw two bales of hay around (they were still tied or I’m sure she would have eaten both) and uncovered a bowl of soaking beet pulp (she ate part of it). 

Given how food-focused Queenie is, she must have felt like she was in heaven. But I knew that the consequences of her gluttonous behavior could be hellish.  Depending on how much she ate, she was at high risk for laminitis and colic. And so one very expensive emergency vet call later, Queenie was fine and her stall now has two stall guards and a lock. My vet says her stall door looks like a New York City apartment.  No more escapes unless she’s Houdini. 
I've taken lots of precautions to prevent Queenie from breaking out of her stall again. 

9.  Love Hurts – Fortunately for the horses and their owners, I love and care for all of the horses as if they are my own.  But that’s the very reason that losing a horse is so painful for me.   I’m always a little reluctant to tell people that two horses on my farm have died in the past five years  It wasn’t negligence; just a function of providing care for senior horses.  


Ace died of cancer and Newton died suddenly on one of the coldest nights of January, 2018.  I went to the barn around 10 pm to check on the horses and found Newton shivering in the run in.  I fixed up the barn aisle so he could be inside and hopefully, a little warmer.  At 7 am the next morning, I found the barn door was blocked.  I went around through a stall and discovered that Newton had suffered some catastrophic event and simply fell over in the barn aisle and died.  I just threw myself on his body and sobbed because I truly loved that goofy old horse. 


And I will answer the one question that people always ask.  What do you do with the body?  Some owners bury their horses on the property but it obviously requires some serious excavating equipment.  There are also cremating services that pick up the body and return the ashes a few weeks later.  Newton's and Ace’s owners opted for composting.  A farm about 25 miles away picks up the horse and composts it on their property.  “Dust to dust, ashes to ashes…..”

10.  What’s in a Name? --  A few months before he came to the farm, Ace had surgery to remove cancerous tumors in his sheath (the pocket of skin that protects the horse’s penis).  A few days after Ace arrived, I noticed an abscess on his sheath.  For the next week, I had to put an antibiotic cream on the area and it healed well. 

And so I got in the habit of checking the area every few days to make sure that an abscess or the cancer did not reoccur.  For my due diligence, the barn ladies jokingly gave me the nickname, “Pecker Checker.”  I suppose there are worse monikers (though I doubt it). 

A year later, my twice-weekly checks revealed significant swelling in THAT area.  Ace’s cancer had returned.  The vet performed a second surgery and again removed the tumor and implanted chemo capsules.  Ace did well and Queenie and I continued to enjoy many rides with Ace and his owner, Laury.

A few months later, I found Ace down in the field and it took a while to get him up.  I called the vet who determined that Ace’s cancer had spread and there wasn’t anything that could be done for him.  Laury was in Florida so I called her and she made the most difficult decision for a pet owner.  The vet put Ace down in May, 2016.

With Ace’s death, I gave up the title of “Pecker Checker.”  Okay, not entirely.  I keep an eye on Thunder since he is 30 years old.   

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Edmund Longen: A Life Well Lived and a Father Well Loved

My father, Edmund Longen would have been 100 years old in October.  Though he’s been gone since 1997, I still think about him every day and remember the many lessons he taught me, both in words and actions.  He lived a good and honest life and he provided the moral compass that I strive to follow and that my sister Monica and I tried to impart to our own children. 

In 1991, Monica wrote my parents’ biographies based on interviews with them, my aunts and uncles and others.  I’m so glad that she took the time to compile their stories because not only is it an invaluable record of their histories but it is a way for our children to know and appreciate their grandparents.  And some day our grandchildren will learn about their great-grandparents, raised in a time so different from their own.  Monica recently prepared an addendum covering Mom’s and Dad’s lives from 1991 until their deaths.  And so I borrowed from the two biographies and added many of my own memories to tell my father’s story.    

Dad was, without a doubt, the kindest and gentlest person I have ever known.  He was the very model of patience and honesty.  Monica’s husband, George always said, “Your dad would never think of breaking a rule, taking a shortcut or telling a lie.”  Monica puts it this way, “There’s probably only one man who had more patience than my dad and he hasn’t been around for 2,000 years.”

As my brother-in-law stated, my father was unfailingly honest.  As a Federal worker, he would never have thought of using any office supplies or equipment for his own benefit.  In 1962, Xerox machines were a new and expensive technology and while co-workers apparently copied the occasional personal document, Dad always considered it stealing. So when Monica (age 10) and I (age 7) began squabbling over a magazine photo of our television idol, Andrew Prine (one of the stars of the short-lived TV series,Wide Country), Dad offered a variety of peaceful solutions.  All of his ideas failed miserably as Monica and I yelled and cried over who deserved possession of our heartthrob's photo.  Dad obviously reached his breaking point because he took the photo to the office and made a copy.  It must have been so difficult for him to violate his principles even if it did make his two daughters happy.  

Andrew Prine
No story illustrates my father’s honesty better than his disagreement with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) a few months before he died.  Dad prepared his own taxes each year, carefully checking everything over before filing.  In early summer 1997, he received a letter and a $225 check from the IRS saying that he had overpaid the previous year’s taxes.  Dad painstakingly went through his return again and was certain that he had paid the correct amount.  He sent a letter with the check enclosed to the IRS saying that he believed their calculations were wrong.  (I’m sure the IRS folks are still talking about the only taxpayer EVER to return a refund check!).   The IRS again wrote and said that Dad had overpaid and enclosed another check.  By that time, Dad was so sick with pancreatic cancer that he gave up and said, “I guess they don’t need the money.”   

I cannot remember a single time that my Dad yelled at us, even when he had every right to.  He definitely never cursed.  Instead, he gave us “the look” that registered anger, frustration and yes, disappointment.  Honestly, I think I would have preferred that he had yelled.  Even when Monica and I tried his patience as teenagers, he remained every calm and uttered an understated (but memorable) rebuke.  Two instances have stayed with us and our children know the stories well. 

My mother was an excellent cook and we sat down to a full meal every night—salad, entrĂ©e, vegetables and dessert. So one evening, Monica (about 15 years old) poured Thousand Island dressing on her salad, set the cap on the bottle and began eating.  Dad picked up the bottle and gave it a good shake.  Dressing flew all over him.  Honestly, it’s been more than 50 years and Monica and I still laugh when we think about Dad with Thousand Island dressing dripping down his face.  He sat for what seemed like an eternity in stony silence and then turned to Monica and said, “You big ape.”  (An expression he copied from the three-year old boy that I babysat for often).

My mother’s culinary skills also were reflected in her “Mamo cookies,” as Monica’s and my kids referred to them.  She made dozens of delicious cookies every Christmas.  She would store them carefully in cookie tins in the basement freezer and we usually enjoyed those tasty treats for months after the holidays.  As kids, Monica or I would go to the freezer every night after dinner to get a sampling of cookies for our dessert.  Once when it was Monica’s turn, we sat at the table patiently while she went downstairs.  Suddenly we heard Monica scream. We realized our initial concern that she had been attacked by an intruder was unfounded when she came up the basement stairs laughing uncontrollably. She told us that she had dropped the tin of cookies.  In a quiet but stern voice, my father announced, “As a result, we have no cookies.”  Poor Dad.  I think he wanted us to be respectful of my mother’s hard work, but we were teenagers so of course, we found Dad’s remark hysterically funny.

I wish I had one-tenth of my father’s patience and fortitude.  Teaching Monica to drive was apparently an act of great courage.  She had a trouble judging distance so would often nearly skim the door handles of the parked cars as she drove down the road.  I’m sure Dad’s voice was a little louder than usual when he jumped away from the passenger door and said, “Judas Priest.”  In addition to being afraid of bodily harm, I'm quite certain he was trying to figure out how he would explain the destruction of an entire street of parked cars to the insurance company.  

His patience with my driving took a different form.  I loved cars and knew every make and model on the road.  So even before I got my learner’s permit, Dad would take me up to the nearby junior high school and sit on the passenger side quietly while I drove around and around (and around and around) the parking lot in our 1968 Rambler American.  I think we went every evening for weeks until I got my learner’s permit.  He never said no when I asked if we could go even though I’m sure there were a whole lot of things he would rather have done. 

This is exactly what our 1968 Rambler American looked like.
My dad was always my hero but once he actually saved a young boy’s life.  We were on our way home from George Washington Hospital after my dad was released following hernia surgery.  The boy had climbed on to a bridge in Rock Creek Park while chasing a pigeon and slipped on the railing. By the time we drove near, the boy was losing his grip and dangling far above the ground.  My father stopped traffic and he and a couple of men pulled the young boy to safety.   Some men might have told the story often but in his humbleness, he never spoke of the incident again.

My father was a devoted family man.  He was home every night by 6 pm sharp, then helped us with our homework after dinner and watched TV with us for a few hours before bedtime.  On summer evenings, he liked to take us to the neighborhood recreation center to play tennis.  He was also a graceful ice skater and took us often to the “duck pond” near the University of Maryland. 

Skating at the duck pond with neighbors

He refereed many disagreements with the three women in the house.  As the volume of an argument rose, Dad would hold up his hands and say in a serious tone, “Peace, Peace.”  Monica and I can’t remember how well it worked but we have used the same approach with our own children in settling arguments. (Come to think of it, it never really worked very well with them but at least we tried the Ed Longen way first).

Dad was always there when we needed him.  When we were married and had homes of our own, Dad was always at the ready to help with a project.  He definitely was our “slow and steady” repairman.  He was meticulous to a fault and took great pride in his work.  He couldn’t have done a “quick and dirty” job if his life depended on it and “loose ends” was not in his vocabulary.  We used to say that Dad was a “measure five times, cut once” kind of guy.  After he and his brother, Bert installed a newel post at Monica’s house, we laughed and said that if the city were annihilated by a nuclear bomb, that newel post would be the only thing still standing. 

While my dad was close to perfect, he was not demonstrative and never said, “I love you” and he did not do well with emotional issues.  I still laugh when I think about how he tried to console me when I broke up with a boyfriend.  The only thing he said was, “Men are like streetcars, there is always another one coming along.”  And my response was, “Dad, there hasn’t been a streetcar around since 1962.” 

But there was never any doubt that his family was everything to him.  His deep love and devotion to his family was obvious even in the treatment he chose after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  Doctors told us that radical surgery to remove his pancreas, gall bladder and any tumors on his liver was his best chance for living beyond a few months.  It was a difficult operation and not an easy recovery.  He also had chemotherapy and radiation.  He lived 18 months.  A few days before he died, I told him I was sorry that he had to endure so much pain and misery.  He didn’t hesitate a second and said to me, “It was all worth it to spend more time with my family.” 

Children and grandchildren together one month
before my father's death 
Dad was meticulous in his personal grooming and he had the same expectations for us.  Hair uncombed or messy clothes meant we would hear one of his favorite expressions, “You look like the wreck of the Hesperus.”   To say Dad held that standard to the end is no exaggeration. 

My father’s condition deteriorated rapidly in the last three weeks of his life.  He became so weak that my mother called one day and said that he wanted to go to the hospital. (I believe now that he was certain that he had very little time left and he did not want to die at home because he knew my mother would never be comfortable in the house after).

After we arrived in the hospital and were in the ER waiting for a room for him, Dad asked me to give him a comb.  Even though he was so weak that he could barely raise his arms, he combed his hair and then looked at me and said, “You could really stand to comb your hair too.”  He died two days later.  We stayed with him after he died and I combed his hair one last time for him. 

My dad adored my mother.  He was always concerned with her happiness and well-being.  He also knew that she could get very anxious very easily so he never wanted to upset her or give her cause for worry.  After his cancer surgery, he wanted to go to his favorite place, our beach house on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.   Dad and Mom made the trip and had several enjoyable weeks there.  

My mom and dad in 1984 after spending two months at their
beach home in Kill Devil Hills, NC
One night before they were due to come home, my Dad called on the phone in his workshop (so my mother couldn’t hear the conversation).  We chatted a bit about the beach and my kids and then he quietly said, “I’m not sure that I can make the drive home.  I’m just too tired.”   I said, “Don’t worry, Dad.  We’ll come up with a solution.”  I hung up and turned to my husband and said, “We are going to the beach tomorrow.”   I never told my mother that he called.  Instead we said that the kids had time off from school and we decided to make a surprise trip to the beach.  We stayed a few days and then I drove Mom and Dad home. 

Our beach house on the Outer Banks, NC
That was Dad’s final trip to the beach but just before he died, he asked my mother when they could go back to the beach.  It made me feel better to know that his final thoughts were of the place that made him so very happy. 

Cancer was not the only health issue my father faced but he handled each crisis and problem with his characteristic stoicism, never complaining about anything he had to endure.  He developed diabetes in his early 50s.  He followed a sugar-free diet without fail, no matter how many delicious Christmas cookies or other sweets were on the table.  His heart issues meant he had to follow a very low-fat diet.

He had open heart surgery in 1978 and 1991.  The first surgery was done at the National Institute of Health because coronary bypass surgery was still in the experimental stage.  A single incident just before the second surgery so sums up my father’s polite and gentle nature.  As two nurses were wheeling him on a gurney into the elevator on his way to surgery, one nurse said, “Get the door, will you?”  Dad got up on one elbow and reached out with the other hand to hold the door open.  “Not you!” one of the nurses said, laughing. 

Dancing with Jillian at my parent's
50th wedding anniversary party
Dad’s second bypass surgery had gone well but he developed complications afterward.  It was the first time I thought about my life without him.  I was terrified.  When I went in to see him in intensive care, he motioned for a paper and pen.  With a very shaky hand he wrote, “Jilli?” asking about my 4-year old daughter, his first grandchild.  I told him she was in the waiting room.  I watched him struggle to write enough letters to make me understand.  His arms were filled with tubes and the tube in his throat made his head tilt back so that he could barely see the paper.  Yet he wrote, “I MISS HER.GIVE HUG AND KISS.”  He then wrote, “Tell Mom not to worry.  She was so bad last time.”  I left the room sobbing uncontrollably knowing that he was so close to dying and his first thoughts were of his family. 

My father’s politeness and respect for others did not falter even when he was dying of cancer.  The final night of his life, with a tube down his throat, he greeted the custodian who came in to empty the trash, saying “How are you, sir?”  and then thanked him when he left.  He could barely speak but he would not set aside the manners he had been taught so long ago as a boy in South Dakota.

I could go on for pages more about how truly blessed I am to have had such a wonderful father.  Instead I will end this blog post the same way my sister concluded my dad’s biography in 1991, “Ed Longen is a successful husband, father, grandfather, career man, son and soldier.  He is a calming, gentle influence and most definitely “the wind beneath our wings.” 

I plan on sharing the values and lessons that I learned from my father with my grandchildren so that he will live on for 100 more years. 

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Wilbur was Right--You can and Should Talk to Your Horse

Anyone above a certain age will remember the classic 1960s television show, “Mr. Ed.”   The palomino spoke only to his owner, Wilbur and episodes focused on the trouble-making antics of Mr. Ed. 

"A horse is a horse, of course, of course,
And no one can talk to a horse, of course,
Unless, of course, the horse, of course,
is the famous Mr. Ed"
Like Wilbur, I talk a lot to the horses on my farm.  Unlike Mr. Ed, they don’t answer me but I do find that talking to them is still very important.  I use “verbal cues” to let them know that I’m putting on their fly mask (“ears”), for example.  I clean their eyes every morning and all of the horses know what to expect when I say “eyes.” (Okay, I confess that I really say “eye boogies,” but I was trying to pretend that I maintain some level of dignity when I speak to the horses).

Deja is the perfect example of a horse that understands the spoken word.  Like Queenie, Deja came from Days End Farm Horse Rescue (DEFHR).  When she arrived at DEFHR, Deja had never been handled by any person.  Her owner had turned Deja and a large number of other horses out in a field to fend for themselves.  Phoebe fell hopelessly in love with Deja after she was rescued by DEFHR and adopted her despite the horse’s nearly feral nature. 


Working with an excellent trainer, Phoebe spent 18 months doing groundwork with Deja and teaching her voice commands before riding her for the first time.  At last count, Deja understands and responds to almost 30 words. 

I trained Queenie using many of the same voice commands which has worked out well in terms of herd management.  For example, if I want to bring the horses in from the front pasture, I walk out in the field and say “in” while pointing toward the barn.  I may have to say it a few times but Deja and Queenie will both head for the barn.  The other two horses inevitably follow.   Similarly, if the horses are in the pasture near the barn, I only need to say “in,” and Queenie and Deja will go in their stalls.    Both horses understand that a tap on their leg and the word “foot,” means that they should lift their hoof for cleaning. 

Queenie and Deja also understand “kiss.”  

I realized how critical verbal cues can be when a little Mustang named Thunder came to my farm two years ago.  Laury acquired Thunder after Ace, her quarter horse, died of cancer.  Thunder’s previous owner bought him almost 20 years ago in Arizona.  Thunder was trained by the Navajo Nation and had been part of a herd of Western trail riding horses on a ranch in Bumblebee, Arizona. 


Thunder's "N" on his left shoulder is a Navajo Nation brand

According to my research, this brand could
represent an individual tribe member or a ranch. 
It was obvious that Thunder is incredibly well-trained and unflappable on the trail.  Laury has never had a problem putting a halter on him or saddling him and he is perfect on the trail from his first day on the farm. Clearly he is very comfortable doing his “job.” It also helped that Laury is an excellent rider so she knew from the first day how to ride a very well-trained horse like Thunder. 

Thunder is fearless out on the trail
But Thunder was truly terrified of anything and everything on the farm.  When I put his feed bucket down, he stood at least six feet away until I returned to the barn.  Even then, he would keep an eye on me in case I suddenly decided to move back toward him.  He was equally nervous if I stood near a gate after opening it to let the horses into a different pasture.  He would stand frozen, staring at me until he thought it was safe and then he would gallop through the gate.  It seemed as though at some point in his life, he may have been smacked as he went through a gate.

Thunder’s previous owner did not believe in putting fly masks or blankets on his horses.  I take the opposite approach for the horses’ comfort and health.  The tiny flies that gather in a horse’s eyes and feed on the moisture there, for example, may carry infectious conjunctivitis, which causes red, swollen and itchy eyes.  Blanketing in temperatures below 40 degrees is more important for elderly horses like Queenie (at least 23 years old) and Thunder (26 years old).  

Queenie modeling the latest in fly masks 

My heart ached to see the fear in Thunder’s eyes anytime I came near him in those first few weeks.  I was determined to work with him so he would be less fearful.  And here’s where talking and verbal cues come in.  Consistently using the cues meant Thunder learned exactly what to expect when I said “ears,” "foot" or any of the other cues.  

I started talking to Thunder in a soft, calm voice whenever I was near him while I was cleaning pastures or feeding the horses.  Even if I was just moving from one chore to the next, I stopped to gently pet Thunder and talk to him.  We also had frequent “spa time” where I would brush him while softly talking or singing.  I can barely carry a tune but Thunder never complained. 

Talking to Thunder
I had attended a seminar in which Linda Tellington-Jones demonstrated her well-known TTouch method.  Tellington-Jones developed the Tellington Method and TTouch as a form of communication between horse and human.  The method uses circular movements of the fingers and hands in different areas of the horse’s body to increase relaxation and decrease anxiety. 

Linda Tellington-Jones demonstrating TTouch

I practiced my TTouch skills on Thunder and he LOVED it.  He would start out with his head up and eyes wide with fear.  Within 10 minutes, his head would drop and his eyes would half close.  For a few minutes at least, I could TTouch Thunder’s fears away. 

I confess that I also liberally used treats to help calm Thunder’s nerves.  Some trainers strongly discourage training horses with treats for fear that they will become aggressive in their search for food. And it is true that there is nothing worse than a pushy 1,000-pound animal who thinks you MUST feed him.  But this blog post ( gives an excellent argument for the use of treats because they “enhance communication.” 

With Thunder, treats helped him learn that he had nothing to fear when I walked up to him.  It was also a good way to reward him for patiently accepting something he was afraid of, such as the fly mask or blanket. 

It took more than a year, but finally Thunder started walking up to me when I called him.  I felt like I had conquered Everest!  Thunder is still a work in progress.  Like Wilbur, I will continue to talk to Thunder and the other horses.  And they might even answer me in their own way with the occasional soft nicker.  

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Decorating a Small Bathroom on an Even Smaller Budget

Over the past five years, I've realized that owning a horse and more recently a farm can be an costly proposition.

Source: James Yang, New York Times, Nov. 18, 2014

All those necessary expenditures mean that when I redecorate a room in the house,  I try to "design on a dime."

As I detailed in an earlier blog post, the previous owners were very fond of wallpaper. So far I've stripped wallpaper in the dining room and foyer.  One more room was left--the small half bath off the laundry room.

The day I moved in I decided that the "woof woof" wallpaper had to go!

The ladies who board their horses on my farm use the small bathroom.  I told them that they were not allowed to come out of the bathroom without a piece of that hideous wallpaper in hand!  Even after two years of tearing it off in bits and pieces, there was still a long way to go when I finally was ready to tackle the bathroom update.

I'm quite certain that the paper was applied with industrial strength adhesive.  It took days to remove it.  As I cursed my way through stripping the walls, I had plenty of time to work out my plans for upgrading the bathroom from the dog motif.  I had almost a gallon of paint left over from the living room redo, so I decided to use that as my first cost-saving measure.  I painted the trim white.

The vanity was in perfect condition but it was a boring 1980s oak color.  I opted to paint it dark gray and change the knobs. I used chalk paint because it's perfect for the lazy or time-starved DIYer. You don't have to do any prep except wash the surface--no sanding or priming. With everything I have to do around the farm and for work, I really appreciate any time saver.

The dog mirror left by the previous owner was certainly colorful but not my taste.

The owner also left a small wood-framed mirror in one of the bedrooms.  It was the ideal size and shape so I painted it with the same grey paint as the vanity.

The most expensive part of the renovation was changing the beige vanity top and '80s brass faucet.

I thought about changing the light fixture but the $200-300 price tags were enough to spark my creativity.   The existing fixture was brass so I spray painted it brushed nickel to match the faucet and knobs. The spray paint cost about $7.

I honestly would love to buy something more appropriate for a farmhouse.  Maybe someday when I have some extra cash--oh wait, scratch that.  I own a farm and a horse.  No spare change likely any time soon.

Now it was time for the fun part--finding interesting decor.  In keeping with a farmhouse, I wanted rustic pieces.  I found this white ???? at a thrift store early last year.  I honestly don't know what it is or if it had a function other than decorative.  It was cheap, I liked the pattern and I knew I could find a use for it someday.  Sure enough, it's a departure from the usual choice of framed art to fill in the large blank wall.

I found the other two items at Home Goods (one of my very favorite stores although every time I go in there I have the urge to redo another room in my house so I can buy some of the very interesting furniture they often have).  My problem with decorating is that I can visualize exactly what I want but then get to the store and can't find anything like it.  I must have circled the store ten times, putting things in my shopping cart and then taking them out each time I found something better.

I finally stumbled upon this metal piece and then found three artificial plants that fit in each section perfectly! The plants are apparently very realistic because a friend asked me how I expected them to survive with no natural light in the room.

I decided to use what is supposed to be a coat rack for the hand towels.

And there it is!  The finished bathroom cost about $300.  A "new" bathroom and plenty of money leftover for feed, hay, supplements for Queenie, stall shavings, tractor payment, etc. etc. etc.

Another room done but I'm not resting on my laurels.  Next project--the family room.

My mother was always working on one project or the next while raising a family.  She would sit down for a short rest and after a few minutes, she would state, "this isn't getting anything done."  We used to call her "Hurricane Hattie" because she was always busy.  I think I inherited that gene and a little of her talent for "do-it-yourself" decorating.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Honoring a Life--One Stitch at a Time

My mother died in November, 2014 but I think of her every time I step into the guest room where I’ve displayed her “This is Your Life” quilt.  My sister and I made the quilt for my mother’s 70th birthday.  Each of the 30 blocks depict an important milestone, accomplishment or talent.

When my father turned 70, we gave him an album full of letters, cards, photos and small memorabilia from grade school classmates, former co-workers, friends and family.  My father was surprised and touched to hear from so many people that he had not seen in years.  We also prepared a similar book for my uncle for his 80th birthday.

As my mother’s 70th birthday was approaching, my sister Monica and I felt like we had “been there, done that” with the book of memories.  We wanted something that truly reflected our mother’s love of home and family.  Many long-distance calls later (Monica lives in Oklahoma), we had a brilliant idea—a quilt!  Ma Bell made a fortune (this was 1992, so no cell phones) as we discussed the important events in our mother’s life and how to represent them with fabric and thread. 

We mailed design ideas back and forth and decided how to get the job done in the nine months before our mother’s February birthday.  At the time, Monica’s triplet boys were three years old so she did more of the artistry and design while I made most of the squares.  I carried squares everywhere, stitching and embroidering at PTA meetings, gymnastics practices and meets, and summer swim meets (pausing only to cheer when Jillian and Brendan were swimming). 

By fall, we had 30 completed squares.  I felt entirely capable of sewing the squares together to create the quilt top.  And I even added a layer of batting and sewed the top and the back fabric together.  But the thought of the hours and hours and thousands of tiny stitches needed to do the actual quilting was daunting.  I found a shop in Ellicott City, Maryland that did machine quilting and with a huge sigh of relief, gave them the “raw” quilt and $300 (money well spent, I might add). 

A month later, I picked up a beautifully stitched finished quilt.  We threw a big 70th birthday party and presented our gift made with so much love.  Mom was thrilled!  Her life was simple—focused on home and family--but seeing all her talents and accomplishments reflected in the quilt gave her such a sense of pride. 

So without further ado, let me take you on a tour of Hattie Evelyn Longen’s life starting at the top left and proceeding (somewhat) chronologically. 

            My mother was born on February 5, 1922 in Churchland, North Carolina. She was named after her father’s youngest sister, Hattie, who had died 14 years earlier at age 12 from peritonitis.


      Hugh Leroy and Minnie Lassiter Greene were my mother’s parents.  Their oldest child, Bernice  Nadine was born on November 27, 1920.  My mother followed two years later.  Her sister, Alma Leigh was born January 29, 1925 and the only boy, Hugh Elzie arrived on August 7, 1928.

My mother was raised on a small farm.  Her father was a no-nonsense man who didn’t “cotton” to leisure or laziness.  The children were expected to rise early and do their farm chores, including slopping the hogs, milking the cow, tending the garden or my mother’s least favorite task, killing a chicken for dinner.  My mother flatly refused to continue doing that chore after she swung the ax at a chicken and only partially severed the neck.  The chicken apparently continued to run around the yard with its head at a sickening angle.  Chicken killing was henceforth done by one of her siblings or my grandfather.  (We opted not to remind my mother of her failure as executioner by putting a cow and milking stool on the square rather than a chicken!)  


In 1943, at the age of 21, my mother joined the Army.  She saw it as her ticket out of rural life and working at the textile mills in Yadkin, North Carolina.  She completed her basic training in Florida (all our lives we heard how much she hated Florida because of the temperatures and large and very persistent mosquito population).  


Following basic training, my mother was selected for a special assignment.  She spent nine weeks at Camp Crowder, Missouri, for training in cryptography and then was sent to the Pentagon.  She was a Signal Corp cryptographer, encoding and decoding top secret messages during World War II.  Post-war she was transferred to the State Department. When my father was discharged from the Army, he also worked as a decoder at the State Department.  I’ll take a moment away from my mother’s story to tell you about my father’s brush with history.  My father was working at the State Department as a cryptographer in 1941.  On December 7, my father received a fateful message.  “Of all things,” he said, “It came from London.”  The message said that Pearl Harbor had been bombed by the Japanese.  His supervisor grabbed the message out of my father’s hand and ran with it to the Secretary of State who was minutes away from meeting with the Japanese ambassador.  The Secretary called the ambassador and his entourage some unprintable names and kicked them out of his office.  According to David Brinkley in Washington Goes to War, “They ran awkwardly down the corridors trying to escape the press and the photographers.”  It’s a good thing for history that my dad was an efficient cryptographer and his boss could run fast. 

So now back to my mother’s life.   In 1946, my mother was working as a cryptographer at the State Department.  She worked days and my father worked nights.   One day, however, my father and a friend took the night off to attend a ballgame.  He jumped on the streetcar and there was a beautiful and stylish woman who would one day be my mother.  As kids, we always jokingly referred to their meeting on the “Streetcar Named Desire." 

 Hattie Evelyn Greene and Edmund Herman Longen were married in a small Catholic ceremony on November 13, 1947.  Because my mother had not yet converted to Catholicism, they were only allowed to be married in the rectory at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, DC.   

After their marriage, my parents lived in an apartment on P Street NW.  They saved diligently and were able to build their dream home in Takoma Park, MD.  They lived there for 45 years and it was their pride and joy.  

One year after their move to Takoma Park, their first child was born—a 7 lb. 14 oz. baby girl!   Monica Louise Longen was born on May 8, 1952. 

Three years after Monica’s birth, another baby girl.  I was born December 28, 1955. 

When I was five years old, a neighbor brought home two mixed Chihuahua puppies.  We took one and named him Little Bub after a famous racehorse (yes, my sister and I were very into horses at a young age).  Bub adored my mother.  In the rare moments when my mother sat down to rest or watch TV, Bub was always in her arms.

My mother had many talents.  She was a very accomplished seamstress who spent hours hunched over her Singer.  She loved stylish clothes and made most of her own clothes, adjusting patterns here and there to make outfits that fit her perfectly. 

Every year, Mom made Monica and I matching dresses for Christmas, Easter or other special occasions.  We went to church or family events beautifully attired in our matching homemade dresses and patent leather shoes.

Monica and I took several years of ballet and my mother made beautiful tutus for us, as well as our recital costumes.  We treated our parents to a number of special ballet performances in the basement.  One Christmas, my mother made us “evening dresses.”  They were long satiny gowns with plenty of sequins.  We were the belles of many a fictitious ball. 

In addition to her talents as a seamstress, my mother was a fabulous cook.  One Easter we rushed to find our baskets and there on the table was a large rabbit.  Even better, it was a coconut cake made to look like a rabbit.  My mother was creating fancy cakes long before all those baking shows elevated cake decorating to an art.

 Mmmm.  We all loved “Mamo cookies.”  At Christmas, Mom would bake a dozen different kinds.  We all had our favorites— Monica was partial to the date nut cookies and I loved the Mexican wedding cookies (the local organic food store carries a gluten-free version and I’m helpless to resist.)   My poor Dad watched as we savored each kind of cookie.  He was a diabetic and couldn’t enjoy the holiday treats.  And pies!!  My mother made the most amazing strawberry pie.  I couldn’t wait for strawberry season every year.  Of course, her pie dough was made from scratch.  She patiently taught me all the secrets to great pie crust, but I confess I look to Pillsbury on those rare occasions when I make a pie. 

My mother’s love of her home was reflected in her beautiful gardens.  She worked nonstop from spring to fall to plant, prune and fertilize her flowers.  In the spring, the yard was a riot of color from azaleas, tulips, and other flowers.  She was never satisfied and was always moving plants to find just the right look and location.  I inherited her love of gardening though now I focus more on maintaining seven acres and slowly (emphasis on slowly) restoring the garden areas around the house.  

This poem by Vernon G. Baker felt like the perfect description of the safety and security we felt growing up.   

In 1972, my parents purchased a vacation home on the Outer Banks, North Carolina for the whopping price of $18,000!  Like their Takoma Park house, my parents loved house projects—improving the porch so the screens didn’t blow out as often in the heavy storms and building a workshop by closing in an area under the house (it was built on pilings).  We enjoyed many family vacations there and my children grew up loving time with “Mamo” and “Papo” at the beach. 

One summer when I was 15, a small black cat wandered into my friend Wendy’s yard.  The cat was living in the sewer and would come out whenever Wendy and I were outside.  I started leaving food outside for the cat.  When it was clear she was going to stick around, my father decided to build her a “cat house.”  In his usual thorough and patient manner, he included a window and insulated it to keep “Samantha” warm.  The cat went in it once and decided that she much preferred to live in our house.  She stayed with my parents until her death at the approximate age of 13. 

Among my mother’s many talents was furniture refinishing and finding a bargain.  She loved to go to yard sales and score the perfect find.  One of her favorites was a drop-leaf Queen Anne table for $10.  She refinished it into a stunning piece.


      My sister, Monica married George Knudsen on February 13, 1982.  They had a small wedding at the University of Maryland Chapel and were married by a family friend, Father Regis Ryan.

      My parents took up ballroom dancing in anticipation of my wedding in 1983.  They met new friends and continued to take classes for many years.  I always enjoyed watching them dance. 


      I married Doug Lipton on June 4, 1983.  My mother’s gift for creating beautiful garments was evident in the wedding dress she made for me.  She spent nine months designing and making the dress and sewing thousands of pearls on the gown. 

Grandchild #1—Jillian Bernice Lipton arrived on August 20, 1987.  Jillian’s middle name is in honor of my mother’s sister, Bernice who died in a car accident in 1984. 

My mother complained for years that Monica and her husband were never going to have children.  Imagine our surprise then, when Monica announced that she was pregnant—with triplets!!  My parents went from one grandchild to four on November 22, 1988, when we welcomed the Knudsen boys:

Thomas Edmund – Tom is named after John Thomas Knudsen, George’s oldest brother and Edmund for our father. He is much like our Dad in personality and outlook on life.


Eric Peder – Eric’s middle name is from Geor Eric Peder – Eric’s middle name is from George’s grandfather’s name, with the Danish’s grandfather’s name, with the Danish spelling.


Michael Don—Mike’s middle name is for George’s Uncle Don who was killed in the Battle of the Bulge, January 1945 in World War II at age 28.

      In 1991, another grandson was born.  Brendan Avery Lipton arrived on June 24, 1991.   We had intended to name him Scott but when he arrived, we said, “he just doesn’t look like a Scott.”  We debated names for hours while I recovered in the hospital.  Finally, when he was three days old, we decided on his name.  Avery is in honor of my father-in-law, Alfred.  In the Jewish faith, you cannot name a baby after a living relative but you can use the first letter of their name. 


           Happy 70th birthday, Mom.  We love and miss you!


      Two years after we completed my mother’s 70th birthday quilt, Monica gave birth to Arla Elizabeth Knudsen on May 2, 1994.  Monica made a pillow with Arla’s name and birthdate to go with my mother’s quilt. Arla left Oklahoma behind to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology.  She graduated in May and will remain a “dyed-in-the-wool” New Yorker.  A photo of the pillow is forthcoming.  My sister is having her house painted and can’t get to the pillow in all the upheaval.