MY NAME IS ETHEL

A Children’s Book

Imagine a young girl who loathes her middle name. 

Imagine she never fully gets over that feeling, despite many decades of living a carefree life with her first name.

Then one day that grown girl meets a goat with the same almost-forgotten middle name. 

“Poor sweet kid,” she says, and they become very good friends.

The goat is full of mischief and wears her name like a badge of splendid royal-badness.

Imagine the grown girl writing a children’s book about this goat and their shared name and the goat’s escapades as she grows up.

Grown girl has a blast. First making the photos, then writing, then more photos and more writing. Then drawings by a most gifted illustrator.

And then? My Name is Ethel.

The story of a goat who doesn’t like her name.

Meet Ethel…

August 2015. It was love at first sight for the little kid with a heart on her head. (Maybe a little pity too.)

Two Ethels (photo by Elizabeth Wegmann)

Ethel arrived at Tucker Farm with her sister. The kid with a heart on her head had been escaping through fences and climbing on neighborhood cars. The previous owners were at wits’ end.

My friend Karen has Tucker Farm and is ‘Mama T’ in the story. She’s got a thing for wayward animals. She also has a thing for Hollywood names and like me, she loved the old I Love Lucy show.

Meet Karen and Ethel’s sister, Lucy…

Right from the start, Ethel had a larger-than-life personality. Lucy is demure by comparison.

As Ethel’s daddy Steve says, “For Ethel, fences are mere suggestions.”

At Tucker Farm the goats share a pasture with the donkeys. There are also horses, chickens, dogs, cats, ducks and geese; many of whom have been rescued.

Karen and I talked about a children’s book set at Tucker Farm. But what would the storyline be? Then one day it hit me. Ethel! Our shared name. Her mischievous ways. Why of course! There were already built in subplots. Her fence line escape-ades, her insatiable curiosity, her love of cars, and by then, Ethel had become a real poser. I had accumulated a nice variety of photos.

Frederica Ethel and Ethel (photo by Janice Worth)

I did some research and discovered there are very few children’s books that use photography, especially with a look that’s beyond straight documentation. The SheepOver by John and Jennifer Churchman was a great source of inspiration. In the story, real animals in dreamy settings depict a real event on the Churchman’s farm. It’s impossible not to fall for Sweet Pea the sheep, and her colorful friends.

I experimented for days on end using different textured backgrounds and effects, often adding elements, filters and colors until I had my look. A single photo might take all day, as I’d create layer upon layer in Photoshop.

Before…

After…

Not only did I add birds and clouds and fun colors to the photo above, in the text to accompany the photo, Lucy says to her sister, “Chin up buttercup.” My pasture happened to be full of buttercups so it only made sense to snatch a few and drop them in.

Ethel meets the fainting goats, Lena (upper left) and Grace (front left)

The fainting goats are inseparable but as luck would have it, I had a fun photo of Ethel sticking her tongue out as Grace (white goat) appears to be listening in earnest to what Ethel has to say. But where is Lena? (black goat). She was just outside the frame. After I added Lena, I dropped out the background and added colors and swirls and textures. As with many of the photos, I slightly increased the size of the goats’ eyes for greater effect. Just a little.

Ethel was puzzled by the fainting goats’ behavior. The spread is entitled, A Good Mystery. After doing rough layouts on the spreads, I realized there was plenty of white space for some drawings. I worked with the talented Joni Ray, to custom-illustrate a theme from each spread.

Joni did great job with Ethel as Sherlock Holmes…one of my favorite drawings in the book.

Okay…got the hang of a consistent look, time to write the story. Writing doesn’t flow as easily for me as putting a spin on photos. My boyfriend would be dispatched to the man cave so I could pace in peace…and stare out the window with nothing outside in focus.

The inseparable Lena and Grace…

Then great googa mooga. I strapped myself in and over 6000 words came tumbling out! Whoa. Final version…approximately 4000 words. Good for several bedtimes in a row, if you’re a mommy doing the reading.

While I wrote and edited photos, things were happening on Tucker Farm. Not only did we create photo shoots to include everyone in the pasture and follow the storyline, the goats and donkeys created their own stories.

As if begging to be in the book, Shelby carried Ethel’s bucket around for me to photograph.

There are three pygmy goats at Tucker Farm and two of them are the biggest bullies in the barn. Head-butters. Butt-butters. Butt. Butt. Butt. Daisy and Rose. Don’t let the flowery names fool you.

One morning Karen discovered Rose was missing a horn and clearly Daisy was the culprit. Losing a horn can be very painful for a goat. Rose was isolated for a month while she healed.

Before Rose was reintroduced to the gang, Karen taped tennis balls on Daisy’s horns. First red duct tape, then purple. Purple balls. Hmmm. I could have some fun with that.

Goats tend to reestablish hierarchy when someone joins the herd, even a familiar face. The tennis balls were a safety precaution should Rose and Daisy get into it again. What a photo opp…although I may have gotten carried away when I decided to paint the entire fence pink.

As it turned out, Ethel won the butting contest.

I thought a sombrero party would be a grand way to end the book. After many adventures, Ethel-the-goat learns to appreciate her name. Her friendships even more. And along the way, she even taught me how to appreciate that silly name.

Time for a fiesta!¡!

I thought I’d bring a bunch of sombreros and line everybody up, behatted, and have an easy shoot. I’d be in majority-control. Leading the troops.

I was delusional.

Sombreros were nibbled and chomped and mutilated and there was much hiccuping and laughing going on.

I decided to go with the Tucker Farm photo booth look.

Do whatever comes naturally…

Plan it out…

Wear it well…

Throw in a couple of cacti…

I won’t give away the ending or any of the other Ethel adventures along the way. See for yourself! Meet the goat with the heart on her head in My Name is Ethel.

You can find My Name is Ethel on Amazon…

Or for a personally signed copy, please visit my Animal Garden Shop site and be sure to tell us Ethels who too make it out to…

For ages 4-104. Hardcover, 48 pages. $19.95

TOTAL ECLIPSE OF THE BRAIN

By now, two days after the solar eclipse, I have seen so many gorgeous photos on FaceBook, TV and the Internet, I am feeling total syzygy. That’s a new word for me. I like it. Syzygy…the alignment of three celestial objects.

May I please be a celestial object?

I have some photographer friends who went to great lengths to make exquisite documentations of the solar eclipse. Their imagery is breathtaking. Their preparation, noteworthy. Their dedication, admirable.

Me…on the other hand? I was mostly in it for the picnic lunch date on top of my favorite nearby mountain. Recluse Man and I hadn’t even bothered to round up some Eclipse 2017 glasses. We just wanted ‘the experience.’ While making lunch I thought; well what the heck, maybe I can get some kind of depiction of the eclipse. We were not in the ‘total’ zone but not that far away either.

I packed my cameras and tripod with lunch. This favorite mountain of mine has a bald top and is truly stunning with a 360º perspective on the world below. Very quiet up there. Very solitary. Very magical. In maybe a dozen visits, I have only encountered a young couple once at daybreak and they skedaddled in such a hurry when I showed up it made me wonder. Am I that scary with yesterday’s clothes and bed-head-hair? or…hmmm…what were they up to?

When we arrived, after passing through three gates and navigating some very rough terrain to drive to the top, (I usually hike the last steep stretch), much to my horror there were ten ATVs and a truck parked at the very spot I thought of as mine-all-mine. Sheeeeit. Music blasting. People everywhere. Not a private spot around.

I scouted a good rock and proceeded to boss Recluse Man around since he would be doing the actual shooting. “Get a great silhouette…are my hands reaching for the sun? DON”T LOOK AT THE SUN!…LOOK AT THE ROCK!…got it?…lemme see!”…and on and on as we passed the camera back and forth so I could check exposures and composition.

It got a little dark. Like a thunder cloud had passed overhead. I looked for nocturnal animals to rise from their daybeds. Nothing. I looked to my dogs to see if they would howl at the moon. Nothing. I looked at my skin waiting for goosebumps. Nothing.

Then I checked my watch. Two minutes after the full effect of the eclipse had passed. It would have been a letdown had I not been so into making photos. Oh wait a minute. Recluse Man was the one making photos…I was just posing like a bossy diva in baggy shorts. Is there such a thing?

We had our lunch afterward as the ATVs rambled around. It was anything but a sexy lunch date. I had a commitment in Virginia so we didn’t stay long, and of course the ATVs pulled out right as we did.

I got home about 8pm eclipse night and looked at the photos. Big yawn. Small Diet Coke. Wake up. Engage brain hidden behind penumbra.

And then it got crazy. Goosebump crazy. I started messing around and didn’t stop messing until 1am. Unheard of…that kind of bedtime for a farm chick. Could blame it on the Diet Coke but I was having a Celestial Experience of my very own making. I was orbiting in galactic adventures having stellar vibes and feeling COSMIC BABY COSMIC!!! Do you read me? OVER!

For the inquisitive technical minds, I started with my RAW images and either moved the temperature slider all the way blue or yellow, depending on what I had in mind. I adjusted the exposure and blacks and shadows to mostly get a silhouette, which made it easy to keep as much solar definition as I could. I’d open the image in Photoshop to tweak local areas, and then for many of the following I used textured backgrounds in ON1, or vignettes, cross-processing, glows and grunge filters; a whole variety of effects, either in ON1, Photoshop or Nik filters.

Often, as you will see, I tried different effects on the same image and had a tough time deciding which version I liked best. You decide.

At times I was breathless. Seriously. Totally. My brain felt eclipsed.

Presenting…Tah Dah (drum roll)…Eclipse Photos (not really)….

I can’t wait till 2024. Surely Recluse Man and I will have our eclipse glasses by then. Can’t forget the pig, the dogs, the horses…can forget the cats for sure…lazy critters snoozing all day. Might have a unicorn by then. Better get on it.

PHOTOS FROM YESTERDAY – HOMECOMING – AT LAST

We did it. Star and I completed a month of learning with the illustrious, indefatigable, incredible horse trainer, Jim Frazier.

The man is unending. His stamina. His dedication. His knowledge and experience. He’ll turn seventy on 9-11-17 and he kicks my butt for endurance. A truly remarkable guy.

I think some people send their horses to Jim for training and expect to pick them up a month later all ready to ride and go. Not me. Not my dear friend Janice; who had her horse there with Jim the month before Star burst onto the scene. We knew we needed to learn as much as our horses…in tandem…in harmony…lessons with Jim and our horses in a huge arena never to be forgotten. Lessons imbedded in our minds to go home with and practice, practice, practice.

Jim’s words ring in my ears. “THERE’S THE EASY WAY AND THE HARD WAY.”

At first it was, “WHY DID YOU GET YOURSELF A SADDLEBRED?!”  um…me in a small voice…”he was a rescue of sorts and I fell in love”…Jim sheeshing me. (his body language…nutso horse-lover-girl doesn’t know better). Then admitting, “WELL I TRULY BELIEVE THE 3 SMARTEST BREEDS IN ORDER ARE ARABIANS, SADDLEBREDS AND THOROUGHBREDS…THE 3 MOST HOT-HEADED BREEDS…BUT ONCE YOU GET THEIR HEADS CONNECTED TO THEIR LEGS THEY CAN TURN INTO SOMETHING GOOD.”

In my opinion, we got good. Good enough to come home with Jim’s approval and encouragement to; “KEEP GOING WITH HIM. YOU CAN’T GIVE HIM VACATION TIME. HE’S GREEN. HE NEEDS WORK.” Roger that.

However…I am giving Star the 4th of July off. He’s been ridden and worked and scolded and praised for many days in a row now. In my humble opinion he deserves to snooze in the barn with his girlfriend Gypsy, graze and lollygag around, and maybe pluck a few apples from the trees with his endlessly long neck.

Last night I hung out with them in the barn, Gypsy on one side of me, Star on the other, stroking their necks and heads and talking silly love-gooberish. I think Gypsy yawned a dozen times as their eyes got droopy and their bodies started swaying. I almost fell asleep too.  I think we were all feeling blissful-zoned-out-tired-contentment.

I texted Jim this morning… ‘It was a happy barn this morning and I am gonna spend the 4th pampering my pig who has been highly neglected and we are gonna eat watermelon together’.

That’s tough for a horse trainer to swallow. He said, ‘Holidays are made for eating pork sandwiches’. I may disagree with my fabulous horse trainer…but I will never argue. (well almost never)

I was steadfast in my insistence on loading Star in the trailer of Janice’s we had such a hard time with many moons ago. It’s a narrow two-horse trailer with a ramp and divider and a heavy gate to lift. Recluse Man has been giving this trailer a face-lift and I must say…it looks truly TrAshe county in appearance all covered in primer and painters tape, but who cares when you are a horse wanting to go HOME? (OK…it took a few flighty balks…like Star thinking… YOU ARE TAKING ME HOME IN THIS???)…never mind!

Here are some favorite photos from our homecoming…many thanks to my friends Janice and Karen for making the photos of me with my red-headed beauty and an even bigger thanks for making the journey home possible.

Here we go…

My Philosophy…Dessert First. Here is my favorite photo from yesterday depicting Dessert First…THE HOMECOMING!!!!Jim Frazier….riding Star at the end of our month of lessons…Last lap around the arena…Seriously…I always took him seriously…A few final instructions…“Anybody Home?” (Jim’s famous question)
It took 8 minutes to load Star in the trailer of our nightmares….So yeah….get on board…
Loaded and almost ready (one more balk)… Yup. Here we go….Home Sweet Home.Photo BombGypsy…way beyond just strutting her stuff…Pretty boy rolling and soaking up his turf…

Hay. You got the day off. No worries until the neighborhood fireworks go off.From all of us at the Funny Farm…

Have a happy, totally FREE-RANGE INDEPENDENCE DAY!

PHOTOS OF THE DAY – THIS DAY I’VE BEEN DREAMING ABOUT

It finally happened. This day I’ve been waiting for. This stellar day. This unforgettable, magical, splendorific, day. This huge deposit made to my memory bank day.

This I-rode-Star-for-the-very-first-time day.

Yup. After first meeting this wild and scrawny two year old Saddlebred in early January 2015, then taking him on as a rescue project of sorts, then bringing him to the Funny Farm in December 2015 when Recluse Man bought him for me as a Christmas gift, then gentling him and getting him healthy and strong and acquainted with the ways of humans, then putting him in the hands of a great trainer for a month of lessons…today was the day I have been dreaming about. Today I climbed on that handsome boy of mine and rode him safely and assuredly for the very first time.

We walked and trotted and turned half circles and full circles and backed and stopped and did pretty side passes. And this was only the fifth time Star has had a rider aboard. The first four times, Star’s trainer Jim Frazier, rode him and in fact started him out today under saddle with only a halter and lead rope to guide him.

Despite his sometimes crazy and skittish Saddlebred ways, Star has been a remarkable student with a rider up. A quick study. He has a soft mouth and responds with great willingness to leg pressure. To get to this point wasn’t always easy. We worked doggedly together, the three of us, and now we’re here.

Ask me if I’ve been smiling.

Aaaah yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. I knew you’d ask.

A very happy rider indeed…
Could it be that even Star is smiling?

Perhaps the happiest girl in the whole wide world. Me. Today. Yes.

PHOTOS OF THE DAY – NEARLY EVERYDAY

Some days I really miss the silliness of Mama E and her Pips.

(like nearly everyday)

(Cheech and Chong got nuttin’ on these mustaches!)

PHOTO OF THE DAY – THE MOST PERFECT PLACE TO BE

 

 

I couldn’t imagine a more perfect place to be at 7:18pm this evening.

Where were you?

 

PHOTO OF THE DAY – FLOWER POWER

Photo Of The Day is also Pick Of The Day.

From my morning walk to the beautiful New River meadow…

…a little Flower Power for you.

(Dear D.O.G. the pig…please don’t eat the daisies)

PHOTO OF THE DAY – JUNE 21, 2017

HELLO SUMMER!

Summer has returned and so have I.

Yes Please…bring it on!

2017 WITH THE PIPS … A CALENDAR TO MAKE YOU SMILE!

In my ‘what the heck…better late than never‘ approach to life, I decided to do a 2017 calendar. This decision came out of the blue and was inspired by a total stranger…not so long ago. I can count the days ago. OK…maybe weeks ago. Where does the time a…go?

This is the eighth calendar in my photo career.  For my last calendar in 2014, I used 86 photos and such complex layouts, I nearly strangled myself with baling twine. Or was it hari-kari with a pitchfork? When it was all over and done with, after the calendars arrived and I ripped into the box from the printer…I was proud. It was the most unique calendar of mine…ever. It was funny. It was charming. I got great feedback. I was so proud and exhausted by it, I told myself I would never do another.

Yet here I am. Again.

Without further ado, let me introduce the pages of calendar-2017…The Pips.

It started off all over the map. Initially I pulled 60+ photos as prospects. It was going to be a farm calendar…then a Pips calendar…but mostly in the end… it is a Pockets calendar.

With over 240 photos in the working folder, 67 made the cut. That little ponkey rules! It’s no wonder. She is incredibly photogenic and the most willing model around. And she loves wearing hats and beads. My kinda girl.

Here’s a little synopsis of the calendar, month by month, starting with the cover….

It was Mardi Gras season and Elizabeth, (Pips owner and #1 mama), was in her hometown of New Orleans. I was jealous. It was soooo cold on the farm. No better way to warm up than have a silly shoot with The Pips and celebrate Mardi Gras right here.

The Pips were all over-and-into the costume and bead bags. Grayson was fascinated by his ponkey-girl’s accoutrements. Pockets did not want to give up her orange shades and in fact did some laps around the pasture wearing them. Let’s have a parade! Krewe of Pips. That ponkey. That pony. We had a blast. Way better than being in the French Quarter for Mardi Gras. Well almost.

COVER 2017

This is one of my all-time favorite photographs…
front-cover

JANUARY

When we really get a good snow it’s a hoot to watch Pockets try to keep up with all the ‘biggers’. Those short little legs of hers! Sometimes the snow is up to her belly.

Run Pockets…RUN!1_2017_page-copy

FEBRUARY

Romance abounds on the funny farm. OH MY GWAD!2_2017_page

MARCH

What an in-between month. I had a hard time choosing the right photos. Is it still winter? Or is it spring? Can I be Irish for a day? Let’s talk. Pockets always wants to talk. And I always like to listen in. Whether it’s with Mama G or whoever else she’s yakking up. No matter how silly.

That ponkey has important things to say!3_2017-revised-blog

APRIL

Daffodils are sprouting. Tulips too. But who cares if you are a ponkey? So long as the grass starts growing again. Then…just like the rest of us…Spring Fever sets in.

It’s time to frolic!4_2017

MAY

Back in the 90’s, I photographed the Kentucky Derby three years in a row, right down on the track on the home stretch. Although I have mixed feelings about horse racing in general, it was an incredibly exciting photography experience that had just as much to do with the hats and the crowds, as it did the horses. Every year on the first Saturday in May, you will find me watching the Kentucky Derby on TV. Then, this year (2016), it dawned on me. Why not have our own little derby? Pockets was thrilled. Any reason to dress up and wear a big, pink, floppy hat is fine by her.

But the socks? They didn’t last long.5_2017

JUNE

Both Grayson and Pockets were born in June 2014, at Grayson Highlands State Park in Virginia. Great reason to party down! What a big-sticky-fun-molasses-and-carrots-mess. The Pips would love having a birthday every month of the year.

Bring on the balloons!6_2017

JULY

Who would have thunk? A rainbow-loving ponkey!!!7_2017

AUGUST

Just about every time Elizabeth comes out to visit The Pips, there’s a walk involved. It’s so pretty around here, with the New River nearby and a nice big meadow for grazing. Heck yeah!

Let’s go for a walk!8_2017

SEPTEMBER

Can you tell we are Panthers fans around here? Well at least when they’re having a good year…we are. Even though Pockets dreams of being a quarterback, I think she makes a better punter. A backasswards punter.

Budweiser Horses…move over! Bring on The Pips!9_2017

OCTOBER

So much for the Great Pumpkin. Right Pockets? I don’t think she’s a believer. Otherwise, she would not be chomping Great Pumpkin offspring. Agreed?

All she wanted was to be a unicorn.
10_2017

NOVEMBER

Aside from Thanksgiving, I’ve never been a big fan of November. The leaves have fallen, the days are shorter, and winter teases. Thank you Pockets, for sharing your good attitudes and bringing joy to November. Grayson too…you funny shag carpet…you.

Enjoying November Pips-style…yes!11_2017

DECEMBER

It’s seldom The Pips are naughty, and if they are, it’s usually my fault for leaving a gate unlatched somewhere. Mostly nice they are, and certainly full of spice. Just ask Santa. He’s stuffing their stockings with horse cookies and treats…

…and don’t forget the carrots-dunked-in-molasses…paleeze!12_2017

We have done a small run of calendars with only ‘backyard’ promotions. Heck we don’t even have an e-commerce site up. It’s a project for a few friends and fans to enjoy. If you’re interested, leave me a comment or shoot me an email (animalgardentribe@gmail.com) and I’ll see if I can reserve a calendar for you. They are $15, plus $5 shipping in the US.

Happy Holidays from the tribe at Freeka’s Funny Farm!