Success Has Many Fathers … and Mothers, Teachers, and Mentors.

My daughter sent me a cartoon today, the day after she and many others participated in the successful and somewhat unfathomable feat of landing a rover on Mars.

Countless people have reached out to congratulate me with phrases like—Proud Mom, Rockstar Applause, or #dreamcometruekudos. They are all lovely and wholly touching sentiments that are full of genuine warmth and well wishes. And I have received every single one of them with the same affection they have been delivered.

But I also understand now more than ever, and certainly see crystalized in the cartoon above, how each one of us is such a small part of the larger picture. Our accomplishments are a composition of all the people who have touched our lives in big ways and small.

And although there are no moments when her and her team have a red-carpet opportunity to say thank you to the countless individuals who helped land them where they are today, I have been lucky to hear myriad conversations where endless individuals unrelated to the team have been singled out with gratitude and admiration.

If we live with fortune on our side, we may traverse down a long path where we first begin in need of great assistance—and it is provided—then turn the bend where we become part of a team, helping to shoulder the load, and finally, march at the head of the herd, leading with confidence birthed from experience.

I think most of us would agree there are few people who claim they deserve solo credit and are entirely self-made, as we simply need to reflect for mere moments to discover that at some time, somewhere, someone opened a door for us—even if just a crack.

Perseverance, the Mars 2020 rover, and the red planet’s newest resident is an ideal example of how collective desires came together to create something extraordinary. It was first envisioned, then built by loving hands, meticulously developed for a far-reaching and incredibly ambitious purpose, and finally unleashed, propelled forward with trepidation, but ultimately with immeasurable fingerprints of hope attached to it. We wait with bated breath and watch from afar, occasionally offering support, but mostly crossing our fingers that Perseverance will do what she was always meant to.

It’s true, not every child is built by loving hands, or has the opportunities we know would be most profitable and rewarding for them, but the model is there. And reaching one’s potential is a much more arduous challenge, if not an impossible accomplishment, if one is faced with a solo journey.

As our planet swirls with the ebb and flow of prosperity and unrest, we are continuously reminded about the importance of the investment in our future. And our children are clearly our future. They need us to dream them into reality, to nurture them toward potential, and open the doors to their success.

Each one of us has something worthy of contributing to this planet’s collective children whether we are their earliest preschool mentors, the physics instructor who hinted you might not be capable of work in his classroom knowing it would be used as a motivating phrase to prove him wrong, or the person who gave them a summer job in a field they had no idea they’d soon develop an interest in. We are all teachers in some realm. Big and small, positive and negative, impactfully lasting or eventually forgettable.

And it is with these words that I am encouraged. Our roles in life may differ, as we may never be the individual who wins the contest, who is elected to the post, or who discovers the earthshattering cure, but we are part of the journey where others reach those heights. Every rung on the ladder makes the toilsome climb less cumbersome and more realizable.

Therefore, not only do I send a massive congratulations to all who made this spectacular and otherworldly feat a reality, but I cast a wide net of gratitude to all the people who helped to develop my child’s dreams and earthly purpose.

Thank you for your loving hands, as it is up to all of us to play our part, wherever we are on our individually calibrated path of life, to participate in the projects of building great things, or maybe more importantly, building great people.

~Shelley

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Snake Slayer or Civil Serpent?

I like to think of myself as a fairly capable woman.

Okay, that’s a lie. I’d give my left lung to have other people think of me as a fairly capable woman.

Uh … okay that needs even further correcting. I’d give my left lung to have other people think of me as a kickass master virtuoso in most all areas, wielding life skills that leave my friends and family open mouthed with astonishment. I’d like people to look at me and say, now if Thomas Jefferson and Hildegard von Bingon had a child,

and that child was tutored by Joan of Arc,

and sung to sleep by her fiercely feminist nanny Beyoncé,

that would be Shelley.

All right, I may have gone beyond the beyond with that one.

Because the reality is far from that equation. No offense to the parental units as they worked their backsides off trying to encourage the mass of reluctant neurological connections I housed within my skull.

They did their best. Working with what they had to make a human being as independently capable as they could before they sawed at the fraying tether between us and cast me off to manage my own life raft.

But they still worry.

And I do not make it easy on them.

Sometimes purposefully, because that, in and of itself, can be fun. I like to push the boundaries a teensy bit to show them just how much their overall disappointment with me should lessen each day. Oftentimes this backfires.

Like when I announce to my dad that I’ve successfully replaced the flapper in a toilet.

He’s thrilled. Then I announce that in doing so I accidentally broke the overflow tube and the fill valve. He’s less thrilled.

Next time I’m editing that last bit out.

Or when I told my mother about how I just spent the last thirty minutes fertilizing all of the gorgeous spring bulbs she spent an entire day planting last fall. She was elated. I did not tell her that there was a 50/50 chance that I “fertilized” all the bulbs with weed killer because I’d recently transferred both liquids into unmarked spray canisters and neglected to label them before putting them away.

I’m learning.

Usually, most of their wide-eyed panic comes from my retellings of the Wild Kingdom episodes that regularly occur where I live: all alone, in the woods, up on a mountain, with not a stitch of people to borrow a cup of sugar from anywhere close.

I love it this way.

They are not nearly as delighted.

My latest run in with one of nature’s more hellish horrors (my mother’s words not mine) actually occurred on their property and not mine. So they were both there to witness the depth and breadth of my bravery and level of skill.

They live in a house that occasionally has indoor plumbing. But when functioning, those pipes can be fractious. They require me to regularly crawl under the house in order to beg and cajole (read: bang) those pipes into cooperation (read: submission).

Under a house is not a place most folks like to spend their free time. Sure, it’s got a variety of puzzles that will either entertain or flummox your synaptic connections for a spell. Like miles of wiring, or ducting, or hosing. And myriad dead things that cursed their curiosity that led them to a glue board. But maybe it’s the poor lighting. I never feel the urge to hang out longer than I have to.

Shortly after I announced to my parents my intention to have a “come to Jesus” meeting with the water filter in the crawl space, I decided to rethink my handyman chore list and shouted up into the house, “Hey, Dad? Can you give me a quick list of bullet points on venomous snakes?”

I heard my mother shriek above me.

“How big is it?” he responded.

“Them,” I corrected.

Kill them! (I think we all know who shouted this.)

How big are they?”

“Huge.”

“How big is huge?”

“At least 18 inches give or take a foot. Maybe take.”

“So not so huge then?”

“Well, not so huge but in a really big way … And they have a lot of teeth.”

“What type of teeth?”

“The kind orthodontists would marvel at.”

“Did you actually see teeth?”

“No,” I shouted, “But they conveyed teeth.”

“They conveyed teeth? In what way?”

“In the way women do when they are elbow to elbow in a shoe sale.”

Kill them! (Again, not me or my dad.)

I looked around for something to use as weapon. Not because I really wanted to end the life of some sad beasts that happened to find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time, but because I recognized the same look in these snakes’ eyes as the big black bear I’d recently encountered at home that conveyed the identical message of One of us is going to wish we could back up and start this day all over again with a whole nother path.

I found a shovel. I quickly realized two things. One—shovels are not the most ideal deterrent to use against a pile of snakes. Two—snakes are springy.

Yeah, that whole coiling thing is not just to keep warm like dogs and cats practice. That’s a preparatory pose.

Duly noted.

I found an ax.

Now we’re talking. An ax is an immediate confidence boost. An ax shouts, “You have no idea what century I come from and the talents I possess. But go ahead and roll the dice, buddy.”

I’m going to assume we can all deduce the outcome. After all, I’m still here and spinning this yarn.

I am also a newly minted superhero in at least one person’s eyes.

I may not be a proficient plumber, nor a great gardener, or even capable of bullying back a black bear, but as of today I stand proudly before you as … slayer of serpents.

Who no longer require diligent dental detail.

~Shelley

For the time being, our blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor (NOW FOR HIRE- so do go check out his gallery!)–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance

“Oh good lord she’s going to visit me now, isn’t she?” my mother had said as we were driving toward one of her many doctor appointments.

“Well …” I began, rolling my eyes skyward, “if you say so.”

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I don’t say so!” she insisted in a slight panic. “That’s just the way things happen in our family.”

“Um hm,” I muttered, glancing out the window, hoping to make eye contact with one of the many trees we rushed by on the freeway. Surely one of them would gaze at me in sympathy, or slap a branch onto their proverbial lap and give me the signal that this truly was an absurd conversation.

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But I suppose if that happened—or if I actually expected that to happen—then it was a clear indication that I was a bone fide descendant of the line of people I was inwardly scornful toward.

I flashed my mother an incredulous squint. “I just don’t get it. Why must all the dead women in our family pay a visit to all the alive women in our family?”

My mother shook her head. “I don’t make the rules.”

I snorted. “I kinda beg to differ here, but okay. Then who does?”

She was getting heated. “Well … it was the Church while I was growing up.”

“And now?” I asked.

“As far as I know they’ve not loosened the reins on too many issues.”

“So you think the pope has rubber stamped some sort of decree on post life apparition appointments—some sort of soul session, or a revenant rendezvous?”

I looked over at my mother. The lines between her eyebrows furrowed gravely enough to qualify for the depth of spring seed planting. She glared at me. “I don’t think this is funny. I’m not sleeping and I’m very anxious.”

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“So your sister is just going to pop up at any point, perch on the end of your bed, and stare at you like a cat until you feel the heat of her gaze and open your eyes?” I asked.

“I can see what you’re doing.” My mother held up a very pointy finger. “You’re setting this up. You’re trying to trap me into revealing some sort of solemn and serious family belief so that you can exploit us and write about it on your blog—or make me into some crackpot character in one of your books.”

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“Will you still give me that lovely speckled gravy boat once you die if I answer yes?”

She was silent. I sighed. I was on the verge of losing that gravy boat.

“Listen,” I began, “I’m really sorry to hear that Aunt Marci has shuffled off this mortal coil, but you two haven’t spoken in a bazillion years. What makes you so certain she’s going to want to have a pajama party with you now?”

“Unfinished business.”

“What does that mean?”

“My sister always had a lot to say, and when I cut off communication with her I’m sure an enormous backlog built up. It was easy enough not to answer the phone when she was alive, but now …”

“Yeah,” I nodded, “I can see how challenging it might be to patch a poltergeist straight through to voice mail. You know, with that whole omnipotent viewpoint they now possess, they can actually see you press decline.”

One more glance at my mother made me feel certain that the gravy boat was slipping through my fingers.

But I couldn’t be serious about this. I stopped being serious about it the second I heard about it. Which was probably when I was around seven or eight—some of my earlier memories of when my flamboyant and glamorous aunt would come to visit. She was the stuff of bewitching silver screen cinema. She was part movie star mixed with Romanian gypsy sprinkled with the hand gestures of a crystal ball gazing oracle.

She walked in a cloud of perfumed smoke from her long, slim, brown cigarettes. Her clothes were as vibrant and flowy as a clothesline behind the United Nations on flag washing day. Her voice was hypnotic and breathy, or like a fishing line that lured you right up to her magnetic gaze. And once she had you hooked, you were paralyzed.

Until she’d say something like, You’re an old soul that has lived a thousand lives and has been rebirthed to do some sacred and venerable deed. You know you’re an angel, right?

*insert record scratch here

“Okay, this has been fun,” I’d say as I’d get up and back away slowly from the kitchen table and then realize, once back in my bedroom, that all the quarters from my little coin purse that attached to my wrist were now missing.

She was good.

“Mom,” I said, taking my hand off the steering wheel and resting it on her arm. “Try not to worry. What’s a little ghost visit? Every time I’ve heard any one of the old aunties talking about these weird ancestral ‘on their way to the grave’ stopovers, none of them have said that they were freaked out by the ghosts, right?”

“No. I don’t care what anyone else has said. Whenever someone dies, the first thing I do is pray they don’t come visit me. And then I say it out loud several times. Just to make sure they hear. I don’t want the visits. No ghosts. Period. I think I’d die of fright right then and there if Marci’s ghost suddenly appeared.”

I nodded my head. “If it would help, I’ll come sleep on the floor in your bedroom tonight. And I’ll keep the gravy boat right by my side.”

She looked at me like I’d just suggested we both slip into some leopard print leggings and see if we couldn’t hitchhike our way to the nearest trucker stop for some fun.

“And what help would the gravy boat provide?”

“Oh that,” I waved off innocently. “Well, it’s symbolic really. You know—it’d be a reminder to the ghost of Aunt Marci that it’s a boat. And boats signal you’re on some journey. Like crossing from one side of something to another. And that she’s supposed to continue hers and not stop off at your bedpost to chew the fat.” I shrugged. “Plus, if you do die of fright, at least you can rest in the afterlife knowing that the gravy boat is in good hands and where you intended it to be.”

The look on her face suggested I missed the boat on the opportunity to comfort her through this whole conversation.

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I looked out to find a sympathetic face from any of the passing timber one last time. I wonder if I’d improve my chances of one day getting that gravy boat if I told her that she was being driven to her doctor’s appointment by a celestial seraphim.

At least I wasn’t a ghost.

~Shelley

For the time being, our blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor (NOW FOR HIRE- so do go check out his gallery!)–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

Magical, Musical, Maleficent Mayhem

Hello, Peakers.

It is I, my mother’s nefarious, cupcake-baking daughter.

I have returned.

I know you missed me.

Even better: this is one of three guest blogs I’ll be writing over the next couple of months to give you a taste of our glorious summer adventures. I’m also subbing cause she’s been kinda busy with her book that will probably put an end to all sugar.

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Still not sure if that’s a good thing or not, but regardless, you should buy it immediately because the only college care packages she has sent me this year have been socks.

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(Shout out to my grandmother for secretly mailing me my massive stuffed rhinoceros pillow named James Franco when my mother scoffed at my childishness.)

Anyway.

The first installment of this epic adventure collection involves satanic worship, children in cults and good old fashioned family time. And it all began when my mother made the fatal mistake of agreeing to play the piano accompaniment for my grandmother’s music recital.

For those of you who didn’t grow up in a classical music cult, allow me to enlighten you about the Suzuki Mafia, or, What My Grandmother Does When She’s Not Gardening.

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She runs an illicit ring comprised of small children whose parents willingly give their time and money in exchange for pint-sized violins and children that can imitate chicken noises on a musical instrument.

These children are called “Twinklers,” owing to the omnipresent, haunting theme of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” that is repeatedly drummed into their heads. I believe it has hypnotic power, and that whenever its dulcet tones are imitated, the kindergarten sleeper agents are summoned to serve their evil overlord. In our story, their commanding officer is my grandmother, who goes only by the code name “Mrs. W.” Probably for tax evasion purposes.

These Twinklers are disseminated throughout their hometowns, and with their persistent chicken scratching, day in and day out, slowly work to break down the mental stability of those around them, converting them to the cult under the guise of “musical education.” And then, once every season, the ring coalesces in a local church to perform mass rituals and provide sacrificial offerings to Mrs. W and their parental network. Then, over brownies and fruit punch, they all discuss their progress on the front of world domination.

I know all this because I was once a Twinkler.

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I was one of the agents so deeply ensnared that it took me forever to escape. My childhood was a blur of itchy dresses, tightly braided hair, group bows, (“look at your toes and count to three!”) and broken strings. These mass rituals or “recitals” form some of my earliest memories, and so revisiting the scene to watch my mother play piano accompaniment for the tiny, unarmed yet powerful sleeper agents was quite the nostalgic experience.

The day before, my mother and I met Mrs. W in her underground fallout shelter (basement of the Music Emporium) to assess the readiness of the troops. Five of them, pigtailed and confused-looking, stood with their imitation Stradivariuses crammed under their arms, waiting by the piano for Mrs. W’s cue. On her mark, my mother sounded the first four chords that triggered the little ones to play.

As five bows collided simultaneously with five strings with the spirit and determination of invading Huns, I felt the earth open up beneath my feet and the welcoming satanic embrace of the underground climb up my chair. The little army of violin robots played on, sawing out their homage to Bach, Beethoven and Voldemort. Watching them rehearse, I felt the ability for and disposition to independent thought slip away, leaving me with the sole desire of joining their ranks and offering dissonant screeches to the evil overlord.

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The next day was showtime. Parents crowded the pews of the commandeered church, their faces worn with visible exhaustion from corralling their mind-warping musical maestros. My brother sat, skulking in the back, his face hidden by the flowers I forced him to bring, likely illegally streaming movies. My mother was attending to Mrs. W, addressing last minute crises like the fact that Tommy may have just stepped on Sara’s violin and now it doesn’t quite sound the same.

I sat in the front, readying my best snarkastic face to distract my mother while she attempted to accompany. I was prepared for a full, glorious 90 minutes of the audible equivalent of having teeth pulled. I watched as one of the tiny cult members took the stage, readied his violin and tried to reposition his knee-length tie. He tucked his violin under his neck, took a shaky breath, and with the bow hovering over the strings, hesitated for a moment. I saw his round puppy eyes glance at my mom, waiting for that magical, motherly look that is a combination of recognition, approval, and assurance.

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She smiled and nodded, and, with renewed vigor and purpose, he plunged into a hearty rendition of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat, Gently Down the Rivers of Blood of our Enemies and Stage Mother Tears.” No matter if he forgot a note, or a measure, or an entire half of the song, she would follow his musical diversions and remain a safe place to fall.

The rest of the recital was a whirl of Mrs. W’s recruits acting like adorable tiny humans and stepping on each other’s expensive horse-haired bows. Yet I remembered that quiet, singular moment of connection between a nervous little one and my mother. In my hectic tornado of lab work, laundry and cooking for myself, sometimes, those little reassurances that the accompaniment will always be there remain the strongest glue holding me together.

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That and Mrs. W’s magic Kool-Aid.

~Chloe (an ex-Twinkler)

*ROBIN GOTT’s NEW POST* (click)

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

 

 

A Reversal of Fortune

Tis time for one of my favorite festivals, folks. TWELFTH NIGHT! Therefore, Rob and I have had a little fun and, as is traditional on this day, switched jobs. Don’t be too hard on us. We have been humbled by the task put before us.

What do I get my Mum for Christmas?

It was Christmas Eve, 1991. I was working as a freelance animator’s assistant, a sort of “pencil for hire” around the small London animation studios. I’d got a nice little gig at Animus Studios in Camden, working with a team of eight jolly souls on a couple of TV commercials for an American insurance company.

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Animus Studios was situated in a couple of rented rooms in a classic London mews, owned by the Monty Python team. It was where they had all their publicity people, lawyers and accountants. I guess you could call it Monty Python HQ. A hub of insanity basically!

So, Christmas Eve. Five o’clock, and the question “What do I get my Mum for Christmas?” was niggling away inside my slightly inebriated brain. We’d been taken out for a fabulous lunch by the boss man, Tony White. We’d bought a couple of bottles of wine on the way back to the studio and we were all draped around over chairs and sofas, sipping lukewarm Riesling and exchanging slurred tales of our sightings of the various members of the Pythons.
“John Cleese was here last week. I only saw him from the back, mind you, but it was definitely him!”
“How’d you know it was him? Did he do a silly walk or something”
“Don’t be daft! He’s six foot five and he had his Bentley parked out there!”

I was travelling home to my parents over the holidays so I was keeping an eye on the time. The commuter trains going out of London are erratic at the best of times, but on Christmas Eve you’d better be sure to be on a train by eight or nine o’clock or you’re dicing with the possibility of being stranded in the city over Christmas.

But there was no sweat. I had my rucksack packed and ready, all the family Christmas pressies wrapped and labeled. All, that is, except for my Mum’s! I’d clean forgotten her.

Just as people were starting to think about hitting the road, Tony White walked in and told us that the Pythons were having their traditional Christmas party for their employees and that we were all invited along as well.

Wow! We all thought. This was an opportunity not to be missed.

The party was a relaxed affair with a buffet, drinks table, background music. There were about 30 guests – admin staff, producers, directors and the gang themselves – John Cleese, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Eric Idle and Terry Gilliam, with respective partners and families. A nice cozy little bash.

We animators stood huddled in a corner, clutching our glasses of wine, somewhat overawed to be in the same room as a gang of comedians who for most of us were on the level of cultural icons.

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Within our huddle there was a lot of whispering and discreet pointing.

I watched as Michael Palin and his wife moved over towards the buffet table and in my slightly inebriated state I had one of those brilliant flashes of inspiration you only get when you ARE slightly inebriated. The solution to the problem of what to do about my Mum’s non-existent Christmas present popped into my head fully formed. Within the space of one nano-second I had a plan! I handed my wine glass to one of my pals, extricated myself from the huddle and sauntered over towards the buffet table. Towards Michael Palin!

“Hello, Michael!” I said. “My name’s Robin. Nice to meet you!”

True to his cordial reputation, Michael was very pleasant. I chatted with him and wife as we picked away at the buffet and loaded our paper plates. And then I popped the question.
“Could I have your autograph? It’s for my Mum. She’s a big fan of yours.”
“Yes, of course,” he said.

But we weren’t home and dry yet. There were a couple of hurdles to cross.

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First off was the question of what to write the autograph ON. I fumbled in my pockets but all I found was an old bus ticket and a receipt for a salt beef sandwich.

“How about this?” Michael said, holding up a paper plate.

Well, it wasn’t quite what I’d had in mind, but having got this far with my plan I decide to just go with the flow.

“Sure! Fine!” I said.

The next question was what to write WITH. Neither of us had a pencil or pen. It was Michael’s wife, Helen, who saved the day. “Will this do?” she asked, pulling a black eyebrow pencil out of her handbag.

Okay, I thought. Kind of soft and greasy, but I was still in go-with-the-flow mode.

“Great!” I beamed.

Michael took the eyebrow pencil. “What’s your Mum’s name?” he asked.
“Bridget,” I said.
Two minutes later and the deed had been done. I was back with my huddle of animators, paper plate safely stuffed into a plastic bag at my feet.

I did manage to get the train home to my family. And I did give the rapidly-wrapped paper plate with Michael Palin’s autograph on it to my Mum. And she did look extremely bemused when she opened it and saw the battered and crumpled plate with the smeared, almost totally illegible scrawl on it.

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I spent the rest of the Christmas holiday telling her the story and trying to convince her that the words DID read “To Bridget. Happy Christmas from Michael Palin”.

The paper plate was tucked away somewhere and I was certain that it was stuffed into a garbage bag as soon as the holidays were over.

A couple of months later I visited my Mum over a weekend. We were going through some old photo albums. There were a couple of albums missing. “They’re up in my bedroom,” my Mum told me. “In the bookcase. You can go and get them if you like.”

I went upstairs and turned the light on in her room. As I crossed the room to the bookcase, something caught my eye. There on the wall, opposite the bed, was the paper plate, framed.
~Rob

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

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