07 December 2010

Get Your Wool Off

 Well, I goofed.  I had this post all set to go in May and never hit "Publish"!  So here's a little springtime for you, now that the Northern Hemisphere is plunging toward winter.  Enjoy.

'Tis shearing season again--yippee, yahooie!

While I respect the option of not getting excited by this news, I can't say I'll ever understand it. The multi-sensory pleasures of sheep, goat, llama, rabbit and alpaca coats (especially once the animals have given them up) utterly make me swoon.

And I am not alone. Remember my friend Kristen who won the Goat Giveaway? Well, last weekend her goats had their first shearing since they've been in Vermont and I was on hand to photograph the momentous occasion. You can view a bunch of the more downright upright photos on Kristen's blog, Gilead Goats. I, however, am about to reveal the dark underbelly of fiber fanaticism.

I wish I could say we spent the entire weekend huffing mohair, but there was a lot of hard work involved too. After trimming her goats' hooves, applying insecticide, and moving them to a new pasture, Kristen received her first shearing lessons from the kind neighbor who had sheared her goats.  As a former small animal veterinary technician, I understand the challenge of convincing creatures to let you do strange things to them with electric equipment.  The thrills and perils are multiplied when the animal weighs 175 pounds, but Kristen was awesome and threw herself right into it.

By the end of the day she was flipping those sheep around like they were beer caps. (Apparently, she could barely move her left arm for a few days after, but it was worth it.)

I will leave you with this image of head down into happiness.

Some of you are very jealous right now. You know who you are.

30 April 2010

Calling All Anglophiles and Linguists

Ever catch yourself wondering what is the sound of one word meaning two utterly opposite things? Well, I have your answer: it's [chuhft].

Having listened to a possibly inordinate amount of Harry Potter on audio, I occasionally find short British phrases running around loose, managing mischief in my head. Today for instance, I was writing an email when I heard the words dead chuffed ringing through my cranium. So I dutifully transcribed them into my message.

I was about to hit SEND, when something made me pause. Delightful as it is, I don't generally use British English, and I didn't actually know what chuffed meant. How stupid would I feel if I threw such an idiomatic word into my email only to have it turn out to be something completely other than what I assumed? You know, A-S-S-U-M-E: making an ass out of you and me. (Though in this case it would be me alone.)

So I did the right thing. I looked it up.

1. chuffed [chuhft]

–adjective British Informal.
delighted; pleased; satisfied.

2. chuffed [chuhft]

–adjective British Informal.
annoyed; displeased; disgruntled.


I don't know how to deal with this. Would I be telling my email recipient that I was pleased by what he had written me or annoyed? Or both? Is that how chuffed works-- a super-sneaky way of layering one's speech with conflicting textures and meta-messages? The ultimate in passive-aggressive power words?

Maybe chuffed requires a modifier so that the listener gets a clue how to interpret it. So one automatically knows that dead chuffed means truly delighted because the word dead carries such a strong connotation of happiness?

Despite the fact that I have been fluent in English for many years and that I probably should have learned this in 7th grade grammar, I have discovered that there are dozens of words like this in common English parlance. They are known, variously, as auto-antonyms, contronyms and, my favorite, antagonyms. (Words that antagonize themselves? Or words that antagonize the reader?)

Many auto-antonyms are so common that I have never noticed their inherent contradictions and use them with reckless abandon. Their definitions sometimes depend on one's position in time or in a transaction. To lease is to rent, either from someone or to someone. The wind came before the rain (in the past), but the lightening is still before us (in the future). Simple enough.

Other contronyms are also readily understood via context. Aloha can signify both hello and goodbye, but no one shouts hello! as they are taking their leave. (Except my old friend Eddie, but he enjoyed being a smartass twerp and we all knew that.) Likewise, when someone seeds a lemon, I never think they are planting something in it.

But several antagonyms are contrary enough to give chuffed a run for its money. Wikipedia claims that dollop "can mean 'a large amount' or 'a small amount' depending on its usage." Adumbrate signifies "to disclose" as well as "to obscure". And then there is pitted, which means both to have a pit and to be without one. (No wonder I have never understood fruit.)

Not til chuffed came along did I recognize this linguistic pitfall for the wide and deep hole it is.

So if you have a favorite auto-antonym, please leave it in the Comments. But more importantly, if you can share any guidance on using chuffed with style, grace and clarity, I'd be ever so...chuffed.

01 December 2009

Bless the Web!

I am a big believer in Synchronicity. I've simply lived through too many what an amazing coincidence moments to not start thinking that the universe is leaving a very clever bread crumb trail for me to follow and that I should be grateful.

The latest evidence that there is a massive conspiracy of goodness? Gabi, Brian and Dr. Alex.

My story begins (as so many do) with Brujo.

A few weeks ago I looked up to realize I was tardy in getting B a visit with his beloved vet. So I called the clinic, only to be told that Dr. Alexandra Barrientos no longer worked there and that no further information was available.


We adore Dr. Alex. In addition to being incredibly knowledgeable, intuitive, skillful and kind, she is one of the few veterinarians I have ever met who treats me like a valuable and intelligent partner capable of fully participating in the maintenance of my dog's health. She listens well and is happy to work with me, instead of insisting I let her do whatever she wants behind closed doors and then use my opposable thumbs to write the check.

And she loves our dog! She thinks he is cute and accommodates his needs. Instead of calling in a technician to wrastle him to the ground, Dr. Alex is happy to let Brujo stand on the table with his front paws on my shoulders because it keeps him calmer during the exam. She thinks about his total well-being, not just his lab results.

So, despite the 2 hours we had to travel each way, B and I always made at least one pilgrimage a year to see her, and returned home happy and reassured.

But suddenly she was gone.

I didn't know what to do. I took a few days to let the shock settle in. When I could no longer delay making an appointment, I decided to try one more time to find her. Short of hiring a private investigator, I figured my best bet was the Internet. So, I googled Dr. Alex.

I found one dead link to her bio on the old clinic's website, a few mentions of a different Alexandra Barrientos on LinkedIn, and this post on the Dog Dayz Playhouse and Retreat website about a dog in Indiana who had been a long-distance patient of Dr. Alex, dated February 2009. Not very encouraging.

Feeling desperate and having only this outside chance, I sent Dog Dayz an email.


I happened upon the good news about your dog Gabi marking 3 years cancer-free while googling for Dr. Alexandra Barrientos of Smith Ridge Veterinary Center. That's wonderful! My dog, Brujo, is a patient of Dr. Alex's too and we adore her and feel very confident in her treatments and advice. Sadly, I just called to make an important appointment with her only to find that she recently left SRVC. They were unable to tell me how to reach her, and I am wondering if you know where she may be working now or have any contact info.

Congrats on Gabi's continued good health.


Three days later, Brian wrote me back. Unfortunately, he'd had to put Gabi down after three and a half years of fighting her cancer. He hadn't had contact with Dr. Alex since. But he did happen to have an email addy for her, as she had worked so closely with him and Gabi through their ordeal. He didn't know if it was a personal email or one from the clinic, but he tried it. And she answered.

She'd left the clinic to start her own practice, which, coincidentally, was to have its Grand Opening four days after I got Brian's email. He gave me Dr. Alex's contact info and I immediately made Brujo's appointment. Within a week of sending that blind email to a total stranger halfway across the country, Brujo had seen his vet.

It was a web-based miracle.

So, the next time you (or I) think that your little blog posts or other bits of Web ephemera "don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world", think again. You may never know whose life you touch nor when, but, given how close together the Interweb has brought us, it's bound to help somebody sometime.

In that spirit, here is the contact info for Dr. Alex's new clinic. Just leave us at least one appointment slot a year, ok?

Earth Angels Veterinary Hospital
8 Nancy Court
Wappingers Falls, NY 12590

ETA: I just found out that Earth Angels Veterinary Hospital is hosting an Open House this Sat, December 5, 2009. Lot's of fun stuff going on. B and I won't be able to attend, but say hi to Dr. Alex for us if you go.

17 November 2009

I'm Back in Blogland...But Who Got The Goats?

Hello All~

Yes, it's been a long while since I updated this blog, however a lot has been cooking while I have been silent. I'm not spilling the beans (hmmm...lots of cooking metaphors...) quite yet on the new and exciting projects, though I will drop the major hint that they involve Creativity, Self-Expression & Actualization, Quantum Physics, and Special Guest Stars, so do stay tuned for lots of Goodness.

In the meantime, a giant Thank You to everyone who took the time to vote for my dear friend Kristen in the Goat Giveaway. Your efforts were not in vain 'cause she won! I got to be there on the day she picked the sweet critters up.

Can you imagine a happier new goat mommy?

You can visit the herd and congratulate Kristen over at Gilead Goats.

More coming soon...

Be good to yourselves!

07 April 2009

MVFF Portraits: At Rest and At Work

This is the second of a multi-part post. I haven't even gotten to the adorable animal photos yet! Check out the farm's Lamb Cam to see the new babies in the nursery.

Susan Gibbs, NYS Sheep & Wool Festival, Oct. 2008
(This is the one I promised you, Patrick!)

Patrick Manning,
Running the Angora Goat Show at the NYS Sheep & Wool Festival, Oct. 2008

Erin McCabe, Martha's Vineyard, MA, Oct. 2008

Martha's Vineyard Fiber Farm, Martha's Vineyard, MA, Oct. 2008

Susan Gibbs, Martha's Vineyard, MA, Oct. 2008

Martha's Vineyard Fiber Farm, Martha's Vineyard, MA, Oct. 2008

Martha's Vineyard Fiber Farm, Martha's Vineyard, MA, Oct. 2008

Susan Gibbs & Erin McCabe, Martha's Vineyard, MA, Oct. 2008

Susan Gibbs, Martha's Vineyard, MA, Oct. 2008

Gulliver, Martha's Vineyard, MA, Oct. 2008

The Boots, Martha's Vineyard, MA, Oct. 2008

14 March 2009

Martha's Vineyard Fiber Farm

Last October I had the pleasure of photographing Susan Gibbs and Erin McCabe hard at work tending their flocks at Martha's Vineyard Fiber Farm in MA.

Though their days in the field are long and strenuous, Susan and Erin kept me laughing so hard, it's a miracle any of the photos are in focus! I was so impressed by the strength of their caring for the animals and tried to capture images that reflect the deep bonds they have developed with their charges, as well as the details of their busy lives.

I returned home with dozens of fabulous images. Several of them can be seen in the new (May/June) issue of Hobby Farm Home magazine accompanying a great article about the origins and maintenance of MVFF, which is the first Yarn CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) in America. It is an inspiring story and I highly recommend it.

In this and subsequent posts I will share some additional choice moments from that shoot, so you can join in the fun...and the love.

Susan hand-feeding one of the angora goat boys

Erin providing transport

Tired of waiting for lunch to be served

Back you go

And how are you today?

Puppy love

Click here for the ferry ride back.

09 February 2009

Spoken For (Part 2)

In my freshman year of college I received my first ever F on an exam. It was Intro to Art History, a class I had been terribly excited to take, having no idea it would entail memorizing the names, dates and construction details of countless medieval churches, all of which looked exactly alike. What a bore! (Naive thing that I was, I had assumed we would philosophize rhapsodically about ART, not dissect it and categorize its parts as if it were an earthworm.)

Having always been an assiduous student, I was horrified. Not one minute of the previous 13 years of schooling had prepared me for this. An F! Only half-way through my first semester of college and already I was a failure. (I know, I know, your heart bleeds for me.) Depressed and mortified, I dragged my leaden feet to a lonely bench under a tree and sat down to contemplate the fullness of my degradation.

I took my sandwich out of its bag and held it in my dead fingers, staring but not seeing. Across the courtyard, people talked and laughed as if no tragedy had occurred. I felt the despair of utter isolation.

But I wasn't alone. A bushy-tailed gray squirrel had hopped onto my bench and was looking at me. Not at my sandwich—at

I returned his gaze, wondering what it was he wanted. He just looked. At a loss, I broke a piece of bread off my lunch and held it up. He moved closer. I lowered the bread and the squirrel climbed up onto my thigh and gingerly took it from my fingers, never dropping eye contact with me. He ate the bread noisily. I offered him another piece. Moving my arms to break off more bread did not scare him away. He simply sat on my leg and waited, still examining my face. And then he spoke.

Exactly what he said, I may never recall. But his gentle, wise presence served to pull me out of my torpor and see my situation in a more realistic light. When the sandwich was gone, we gazed at each other very earnestly for a moment and then said our goodbyes. His included a thank you, as did mine.

Was it real? Did the squirrel talk to me? Did he use words? To this day, I don't know. While I doubt that I could have been comforted by a human voice in that moment (my agony was so over-blown I don't think I could have let a person in) I am certain that, by extending the paw of friendship when I needed it most, a small mammal made a big difference in my life.

I didn't quit school. I went back to the dorms and, before the next test, memorized all those damn slides. I pulled out a B, despite the failed mid-term, and I never took Art History again. I'd learned my lesson.

See Spoken For (Part 1) here.