Batteries, Boyfriends, and VW Bugs

This last month I learned a few new things about cars:

  • Jump starting a car battery is dark and semi-dangerous magic nearly anyone can do.
  • Wrestling out and replacing certain car batteries is a little bit like squishing a bloated elephant into a shoebox.
  • YouTube can teach you how to do both and come out mostly alive on the other end of it.

It all started around the time finals were happening for most college students in my neck of the woods with my own college student up to her earballs in textbooks, tests, and giant tubs of Ben & Jerry’s. Nothing alleviates an overheated thermogenic thought process like two pints of Hazed and Confused on a daily basis.

I received a text from said college student’s boyfriend:

When’s the last time you started Chloe’s car?

I scratched my head. Six weeks ago? Eight? It didn’t really matter because that thing was dead. Like unrevivably dead. It would be like digging up Beethoven or Mahler or Schubert and fist pounding on their chests screaming, “NONE OF YOU HAVE FINISHED YOUR SYMPHONY NO. 10!”

Yeah, that kinda dead.

I texted back an emoji shrug.

I could hear Ben’s eyes roll to the back of his head, and I don’t blame them for doing so.

He finished off: I’m coming over with a new battery. It would be nice for her to have a working car when she gets home from school.

I agreed. I also thought that it didn’t really matter if all the car parts were functioning if one did not have money enough to fill it with “go juice.” It kind of puts you in a position where you’re All Hat No Cattle.

But they’re college kids. They’ll figure it out.

I was working at my desk when Ben popped in. “I’m here. I’ve got the battery. I’ll be in the garage.”

“Need help?” I asked.

“Nah. Easy peasy.”

Super. I could keep writing. And I did.

For about sixty seconds.

“Do you have any gloves?”

Got Ben gloves. Went back to writing.

For about sixty seconds.

“Flashlight?”

You betcha.

Work … sixty seconds.

“How bout a magnet?”

Search for magnet: Old toy boxes. Drawers. Next to credit cards, computer hard drives, people resting in my living room with pacemakers.

“Nope. Sorry.”

Ben shrugged. “Never mind. I’m sure that piece will fall out of the engine block eventually.”

I looked at Ben with eyebrows that reached to my hairline.

Back to work. I counted to sixty twice.

“How small are your hands?”

Oh dear lord. I pushed back from my desk. “Let me find some shoes.”

I entered the garage and saw Chloe’s little VW bug with its hood popped. A miniature PAC-MAN of motorcars. Ben, whose height most telephone poles will nod with deference to, was almost in a downward facing dog yoga pose, hovering over the engine block.

There was a lot of grunting going on, but it might have been coming from the bug, as whatever Ben was trying to tug out of it seemed super important for that little roadster to cling to.

Apparently, it sensed the ongoing, effortful labor of disassembly and finally decided to put up a fight. It’s a little bit like going to the dentist for one defunct tooth to be removed and when you finally have a moment of anesthetic clarity, hear, “Oh, good lordy there’s another one. Well, she really doesn’t need that guy for chewing anyway.”

Yes, I think in a blind panic, but what about for maintaining social norms like speaking without sounding like I’m an eight-year-old whose face just met a tree trunk after a bike crash?

“What can I do?” I asked.

Ben explained to me that we just needed to slide the battery into place and then voilà, back to work I go and he’s outta here. Easy peasy.

Except he was finding it just a teensy bit tricky to slide this particular battery into place.

“How come?”

He gestured at the ground which held oddly shaped bits of plastic, metal, screws, caps, and hoses. It looked like the car had thrown up onto the garage floor. “A lot of stuff had to come out in order to remove the battery.”

“I assume all that stuff is essential?”

Ben shrugged. “Yeah, it all has to go back.”

I looked at the disassembled engine parts. I really really hoped he remembered where all the bits and pieces originally lived because none of them were color-coated, or Post-it note labeled, and there were no IKEA directions to be found anywhere.

If it were me, I would have labeled everything with Garanimal tags—like the clothing line my mother used to buy for us when we were little kids. Each piece of clothing had some anthropomorphic animal code attached to it so you could find something that matched to make a set. Make sure the alligator shirt is not paired with giraffe shorts and then feel confident sending that child on off to school.

Yeah, there were a lot of things on the ground that looked like they needed to be remarried to their original partners.

“You’ve done this before, right?”

Ben flashed me a smile and held up his smartphone. “YouTube.”

Oh, good heavens.

For the next three hours we battled with that little bug, trying to slide, shove, inch, hitch, and bang that new damn battery into place. It was like trying to get a cat to swallow a pill. That battery refused to go down.

We, as instructed by the warning words of the World Wide Web, did not tip the battery. Which would have made things so much easier. At one point I suggested to Ben that if we couldn’t tip the battery, maybe we should tip the bug. Seriously. It would have been so much easier.

He did not agree.

At long last, we did manage to get that SOB back into place. In fact, we managed to do it twice, because after the first time—once we’d reconnected all hoses, screws, and pulleys—we discovered a small piece we’d left out on the garage floor. Something akin to an OR nurse tapping an open-heart surgeon on the shoulder just as he’s tying off the last stitch of flesh together and pointing to the pan that still held an essential organ.

But we did it.

Easy peasy.

~Shelley

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Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up.

 

 

 

 

And How Did That Make You Feel?

Writing a book involves a different recipe of elements for every author. Some folks must write down their story in a longhand format—

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handwritten on legal pads,

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printed in their super-secret diary, or even pieced together on a dry erase storyboard complete with enough 3M sticky note details to plaster a full-scale papier-mâché replica of the Empire State building.

Some of us owe trees a massive apology letter.

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Others are all about their space. They need absolute quiet—or absolute chaos. They need three screens, two dictionaries and a bottle of scotch at their elbow. Maybe they can only write on rainy days so the gloom of a gray day won’t allow the sun to reflect an enticing sparkle across their monitor and make them yearn for two hours of mowing the lawn. Or maybe the rule is that they only write on days when there’s a full moon, their desk is clean and they’ve just found a copper penny.

And some people need deadlines: a class, a critique group, an editor sending threatening daily emails asking where the damn pages are.

It’s a unique process and it’s individual to each writer.

Me?

I just need a therapist.

Seriously. That’s it. My go-to guy.

The way I see it, who knows more about the human condition and all of our frailties than someone who studies the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders for a living? Someone who can gossip at the water cooler about some miserable bloke with serious issues while legally define the gossip as “work?”

Yeah, I figure I’ve hit pay dirt.

So our conversations usually go something like this:

Him: So, what’s on your mind today?

Me: Ugh. How long have we got? An hour? Fifty minutes? Where’d you put your clock? You moved your clock. Did you paint in here?

Him: *silence*

Me: Yep. Smells like fresh paint. I wonder if paint fumes are something that kids can manipulate into drug experiences these days. Are you finding kids are coming into therapy with an addiction to paint fumes? Have you been treating anyone for that lately?

Him: Are you concerned that one of your kids may be struggling with an addiction?

Me: No. Well, who knows, right? There are a million different kinds of addictions so chances are they’ve got a few, but let’s just say they were—no wait, let’s not make it an addiction. Let’s say one of them was struggling with a transgender issue. Yeah. Much more interesting.

Him: Are one of your kids struggling with a transgender issue?

Me: No, but for the sake of this hour today, let’s just say that they are. Tell me everything about it. Wait. Let me get a pen.

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That’s my method.

It doesn’t work for everyone, but I’m not everyone. Unless you were to see the notes my therapist keeps on me, in which case, you might conclude I’ve got some multiple personality disorder. Seeing him each week and discussing “other people’s issues” might have my therapist thumbing through the back pages of his manual in an attempt to discover just how many times a brain can fracture and how many identities it can support.

Chances are, I’m adding a little zing to his day by not coming in with the same ol same ol “I’m just not feeling fulfilled and I think my kids hate me” routine.

That’s what I tell myself anyway.

But my point is—and I pray I have a point—I’m neck deep in the writing process again and it’s a time frame that usually puts me into a time warp. I bury myself so far down rabbit holes with research that I usually come out the other side and discover I’ve come up for air in the middle of a Chinese chicken coop.

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Yeah, deep.

It is incredibly easy for me to lose my “self” within the process and sharply disturbing to have phone calls like this one:

Daughter: Mom? Where have you been? Are you okay?

Me: Fine. What’s up?

Daughter: Seriously? I’ve phoned you four times in the last three hours and sent you eight texts. Did you not get any of my messages?

Me: Wait—I have a phone? Red flag. That would never happen in 18th century Scotland. Thanks for the anachronistic heads up.

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Daughter: *sigh* I need to talk to you about whether or not I can come home for Thanksgiving.

Me: Wait—hold on—I totally forgot about the beef tallow on the stove. I’ve seriously got to get cracking on those tapers. I’m turning meat scraps into Christmas candles. God, the holidays are going to be fun this year.

Daughter: Never mind. *click*

If you’re going to be a successful writer, you really have to dive into your characters. You have to live their lives, have their problems, embrace fleas.

Well, at least for this book.

You have to apologize to your friends and family for being unreachable, unpredictable and for effusing the personal odor of barn animals.

And you also need a therapist. Someone who will help you dig deeply into the problems of “others,” someone who will help you discover the backstory and motivation of your characters,

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and someone whose water cooler conversations will be highly sought after purely for the opportunity to shake their heads and mutter, “If only Freud could see us now.”

He’s my doyen, my muse, and my research assistant.

I owe him a lot.

Seriously.

He’s gotten, like, all of my royalties.

~Shelley

*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.

 

Phoning It In

As a writer, it is a mortal wound to have your words identified as cliché.

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To have nothing new to say, and nothing novel to offer, is to look down and see spurting lifeblood flowing from the femoral artery of your quill. You might as well place your hands upon your chest and lie flat with the waiting of the inevitable.

As a human being, to live a clichéd life is to miss out on the depth and breadth offered when handed the menu of all that is available whilst you still draw breath.

Would Madam prefer beef or chicken tonight? Or perhaps the fish? The chef has a lovely bit of Dover sole.

“No, tonight I shall have cricket as my protein.”

As you wish.

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But sometimes, no matter how hard you try to order ‘off menu,’ you are snapped back to form as if your life were fired in the kiln of shape memory alloy.

Turning the page will reveal a predictable, cringe-worthy, mulish experience. Sometimes there is nothing left to do, but soldier on.

And then blog it.

Words are everything to me. They are the more than one million flavors of communication available at my beck and call. They reside on my shelves, bound between covers in several ‘parts of speech pantries’ I never need to restock. But I have a preference as to how I like to use them. I rarely dish them up straight from the pan, hot and bubbling, but rather allow them to cool, their flavors to meld, taste-tested a dozen times before serving.

I like to write. Not so much to speak.

Which is why I detest … THE CONFERENCE CALL.

And if you have ever spoken to an individual in business that is part of an organization consisting of more than two people, and those ‘more than two people’ must communicate a lot of information that needs addressing soon and fast, you’ll likely have heard about just how bad conference calls can be. Or annoying. Or snooze-worthy.

Or disastrous.

I’m getting used to them. But I hate them more than I hate the thought of eating a slice of stinkbug pie—

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with a side of cowpie patty ice cream.

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Really.

I like to be prepared. Over-prepared. I don’t like surprises. I like to know what’s going to be discussed, and will have given it all a great deal of thought with most of those thoughts written down for handy reference. Spontaneity is not my friend. It is as if spontaneity and I met one day at a snow cone shop and spontaneity grabbed my cone and threw it down on the side walk. And all I can do is look at my cone melting in front of me with no idea what to say or do because I didn’t rehearse this part of life.

Yeah, meta.

But if I’m going to have one of those spontaneous, disastrous moments occur, I want it to be MY moment. And not a repeat of the cosmic collection of moments everyone else has already had and tweeted about.

But I didn’t. It was so … predictably, boringly normal.

Was I prepared with all my notes that I’d been gathering, writing and crafting for the last three weeks? Check.

Was I sufficiently caffeinated for focus, and now holding a brimming cup of chamomile tea to counter the effects of the previous jittery drink? Check.

Had I used the bathroom? Was my phone plugged into the socket so that soon it would be fully charged? Did I have a timer set to make sure I’d not call in late? Check, check and check.

I was ready.

Did my alarm not go off, and being fully immersed in work, I would not recognize it until ten minutes passed the call time? Check.

Once integrated into the call, did the house phone on my desk begin to ring with shrill hysteria, and did I suddenly discover that this phone had no ‘off’ ringer switch? Check.

Did the answering machine on the other side of the room kick in at full volume making it sound like someone else joined the call? Check.

Did the above scenario repeat itself verbatim sixty seconds later? Check.

Did the doorbell ring and set the dog into an absolute frenzy because someone unexpectedly showed up at a place that requires a travel agent and a spirit guide to gain access to? Check.

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Did I embarrassingly have to excuse myself to answer the door and calm the dog and yank the answering machine from the drywall? Check.

Did I return to find my phone had died because it hadn’t been properly secured into the outlet and therefore I’d dropped off the call from battery failure? Check.

While plugging it back in beneath my desk, did I bump the desk so hard that it knocked over my cup of tea onto all my well-prepared notes rendering them unreadable? Check.

Did I phone back in to join a group of people who were now seriously doubting whether I was firing on all cylinders? Check.

After sixty seconds of rejoining the call did my phone alarm finally go off reminding me and everyone else that it was time to phone into the conference call? Check.

Had I mistakenly allowed one of my girlfriend’s children to play with my phone the day before only to realize that the smarty pants had changed all my sound notifications to that of Pac Man dying? Check.

Did everyone on the phone call gasp in horror and accuse me of playing video games whilst on the call? Check.

Yes. It was disastrous. I failed miserably. And I have nothing new to offer the scenario of disastrous, failed, humiliating conference calls.

I am cliché. I am watching the lifeblood bleed out of what could have been an interesting story. I am resigned.

I am silent.

I am thoughtful.

I am determined.

Tomorrow, I eat crickets.

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~Shelley

*BONUS ROBIN GOTT CARTOON!* (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.

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I Have A Lot To Answer For

If I were to take a whack at describing myself in one sentence, it might sound something like: I have a zest for drama, a hunger for adventure, and a thirst for knowledge.

Perhaps it’s a bit pretentious sounding, but not so much once you discover my zest for drama may be nothing more dramatic than putting four drops of sriracha sauce into my mayonnaise.

And that my hunger for adventure may equate to simply switching to a tooth whitening paste instead of just cavity fighting, and then holding up a series of paint swatches next to my teeth each night to document the exciting voyage from drab to dynamite.

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But my thirst for knowledge is an unquenchable longing. The more I feed that fire, the more outrageous and irrepressible it grows. It’s like my curiosity is a tape worm that feeds on facts and data. And I’ve always been very maternal about that critter, so I nourish its gluttonous appetite to extremes.

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I have a lot of questions. And I’m determined to have them answered.

Using my own inquiring mind as a measuring stick, I’d have to say I’m hugely impressed with the depth and breadth of curiosity my publisher has regarding me and this zesty, hungry, thirsty life of mine. They casually handed me a smattering of queries to answer, and ended the request with the cordial advice not to stress over the questionnaire.

And I wouldn’t as long as I was the type who didn’t equate the measurement of the word smattering to mean BUCKETFULL, and who did not define the term stress to translate into FREAK OUT.

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But I do.

And I have.

So every day I am chipping away like a Lilliputian lumberjack at the plethora of probing pleas for info.

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There are the easy-peasy questions whose answers roll right off my tongue, like What are you reading right now? And What are your favorite books? Or even What did you have for breakfast?

Okay, that last one was not a bonafide question, but I did let them know the answer regardless, as surely everyone knows that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, next to lunch and dinner, and that if you’re going to invest massive amounts of capital into the mind-blowingly expensive campaign launch of that fairly unknown person’s book, you’re going to want to know that they’re eating enough fiber and not just surviving on the remnants of whatever is still in the half drunk tumblers scattered about the house from last night’s regular drunken spree and a pack of Marlboros.

See? I care about this job.

Some of the more challenging questions are:

What is your education? Your professional training? Have you earned a degree?

Again, I don’t blame the company for wanting to know these tidbits of historical interest, as they have agreed to publish a book I’ve written for children that has buried subliminal messages within the text. And parents are much less apt to purchase a book for their children if they discover the author took sewing lessons from Cruela de Vil and now sports a coat made from puppies, and who for a short, but unfortunate period of time in her life, shared a cell wall with Hannibal Lecter and is still Facebook friends.

Umm … yeah. It’s best to ask about your employee’s formative past.

They ask a million little detail questions that have me unpacking my brain of the detritus clogging the path to the tiny nooks and crannies that hold the answers. Out go the bits I just learned about new tax laws and regulations. Who needs to hang on to the abominable vaccination statistics I allowed to seep in whilst listening to the news this morning? And let’s shove aside that web site address that announced a sale on rare malt whisky—wait, hold on … yeah, I’m gonna need that one front and center.

I work around it.

Tell us all the places you have lived and when. List every club and organization you’ve ever had membership with. And explain to us why you did so poorly on that book report about Native American hunting traditions and trading practices in the fifth grade?

I thought I had that last one all trussed up and buried, but these guys are good. They are thorough. It’s possible I’m being vetted for a political appointment. I’ve watched House of Cards. I understand ‘talking points.’

It appears there may be a few things I’ll want to steer clear of when doing interviews.

What I have noticed mostly while going through this laborious process, is that putting together a successful marketing campaign for a book launch is a lot more involved than simply hanging a sign out the window that is the equivalent of “Lemonade for sale. 5¢ a glass.” Some of it is far beyond my realm of understanding and I’m relieved someone else is sitting in the captain’s chair for that part.

But still, it all comes down to the hankering for learning. Learning about building this campaign. Learning about breaking down monumental tasks into small bite-sized chunks.

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And learning that apparently sending a monthly supply of brownies to my high school’s secretary in exchange for “losing” my academic record might be a plan I’ll need to beef up.

Regardless of how I phrase it—the zest, the hunger, the thirst—it all boils down to nourishing one’s spirit and satisfying one’s soul. When I get the munchies, I shall slake my appetite by feasting on the buffet of life. But apparently I will have to slide over and make room on the bench for my publisher.

Please pass the salt.

~Shelley

*BONUS CARTOON FOR THIS WEEK’S 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.

Related articles

 

Give Me the Straight Dope

General words of wisdom suggest everything in moderation, right? But I’ve got an itsy bitsy, teeny weenie, steamy kind of dreamy need for podcasts. And I think my weakness might hover right on the edge of addiction.

I actually crave my daily dose with an urgency that suggests the necessity for an intervention. I’m a knowledge junkie, a story fanatic, an anecdotal zealot—I pine for the adrenaline rush of hearing my pushers’ voices break through the silence in my ear buds. There are four men in particular who have encouraged this uncontrollable habit of mine. Four men who all work for the great drug lord—NPR.

National Public Radio. Each country has something similar—their own kingpin. The BBC, PRI, ABC. I could go on, but I’d bet there’s no need. We’ve all got our source, and sometimes we need to keep it under wraps lest it reveal too much about one’s slant on the world.

But I’m revealing mine, and maybe it’s a desperate plea for help, but I have a feeling by admitting my podcast obsession, you all might just increase the volume and make it worse by offering up your own. And then I’m going to need to taste yours too. Just a small dose to see how it compares to the stash I already get. It could send me right over the edge, and come the holidays, when I’m supposed to be in the kitchen basting, stirring, baking and carving, one of my kids will find me sprawled on the floor, eyes glazed over, my ear buds doing the work of an IV drip hooked up to the bag of juice that is my smart phone on the counter.

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Firstly, let me correct two misconceptions I may have created. I’m not stating that I am a news junky, and only get my worldly knowledge from one source. That would be the near equivalent to feeding my body all its necessary nutrients only via chocolate. I’ve tried it. And it’s missing a few things. Like a good chunk of the building blocks for a functioning brain and body. But I gave it a royal go—for the sake of science. No, it’s not political issues, economic reports and scandalous headlines I’m after, but rather pure human interest.

The other fallacy is that all four men work for the organization. The big conglomerates only pimp their work. All this is nearly irrelevant, because I’d like to get down to brass tacks and introduce you to four men I would not like to live without.

Guy Raz. His geeky, chunky glasses with tape in the middle sound has me sigh with delight every time he begins his podcast and hosts The TED Radio Hour. The man has an extensive history, working his way up the ranks in radio, both in the studio and on the field, and has the accolades to match his efforts. And through this accumulation of experiences he’s developed an audio personality that people warm to immediately. He pulls out the best of his interviewee’s tale and hands it to you with a warm mug of just for you. As if TED talks could get any better, Guy Raz squishes the best parts of at least four of them into less than an hour. And because of this, I just want to squish him.

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Next up? Two fellas who share a mic, and with whom I would willingly share a last meal, my last bottle of wine, or a small row boat while we wait for the inevitable possibility that we will never see rescue. Why? Because so much that comes out of their mouths is rewind worthy.261014robert (589x800)

That’s right. I find them so interesting, and so opinionatedly creative, that I spend more time going backward in their podcasts than I do moving forward. Robert Krulwich and Jad Abumrad, the hosts of Radiolab, reel their audiences into a world where curiosity is deeply explored.261014jad (533x800)

Their descriptive tag:  Where sound illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience, neatly says it all. They are the answers to your inner, never-ending, five-year old self’s desire to ask, BUT WHY?

And finally, a man so well-known for his prowess in storytelling, I doubt there is an honor or award that has not found space upon his walls and shelves. To be a part of the production of anything Ira Glass creates is like being a part of something that might be canonized for future generations when wanting directions for building the ethereal soul of a story.

261014ira (497x800)A soft-spoken bard, Ira Glass takes you on a journey in the podcast This American Life with stories that talk of mostly everyday folks doing ordinary things, but he sprinkles extraordinary perspective around it. Ira can make the act of watching paint dry turn into an spine-tingling philosophical adventure. There is magic in that minstrel’s narrative, and he encourages me to look at life through a lens I’d like to make permanently mine.

And so it goes with each of these stewards in charge of spinning a colorful yarn. They capture my attention with their shiny, fluttering strings, weave a tapestry of turmoil, exploration, hypothesis and kismet into a large enough mat where we set sail upon updrafts and thermals. And their stories are as fickle and unpredictable as the wind. I never know where it is we will go, or how we will get there. I only know that when it is all said and done, I want another ride.

I am obsessed, I am devoted and I am happily under the influence.

~Shelley

October Gotta Have a Gott 

In January, Rob and I announced that his sketches will be available toward the end of the year in the form of a 2015 calendar! And our readers would get to be the judges and voters for which doodles they’d like to see selected for each month. We’ll reveal the winners one by one, and come November, If you’ve Gotta have a GOTT, you can place your order. See the cartoons in competition and to cast your vote.

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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