See, I knew that’d get you to read!  I am extremely pleased tonight to be able to announce that I located a furry octupus toy for my kitty at Cub Foods.  The toy consists of a fuzzy ball in the middle with eight dangling “legs” hanging off of it and a tiny bell.  Serena LOVES it!  But this is not her first octopus.

Several years ago Serena got an octopus from “Santa”.  Now, you often will find Serena playing fetch with a ball, or whacking a mini-mouse off of the coffeetable.  But, with her octopus it was different.  It was the funniest thing, but you rarely saw her playing with it, and yet it just showed up in strange places.  For instance, after a day at work I might return home for my afternoon nap and find the octopus in my bed.  Or, we might wake in the morning and find it right outside our bedroom door.  Once I even found it in the dirty clothes hamper!  Yet I can count on one hand the number of times I have actually seen the cat play with it.

Her last octopus was mauled down until it was practically furless and held together by a few sodden stitches, so we had to throw its remains in the trash.  Then the hunt for a replacement began.  I couldn’t find one anywhere!  Finally, after months of searching, I  was tickled one day to find something that resembled it.  It had the dangling legs, but this toy had more of an oval head, rather than a fluffy ball, in the center.  To me the head resembled a lobster head, with beady little eyes.  It could have been a squid, or a jellyfish perhaps, with its dangly “limbs”, but I believe it only had six of these, which would have made it, at best, a hexapus.  I brought it home.  Serena was mildly interested at first, but soon turned her furry little whiskers up at it.

Many more months passed, and then, today, I found an octopus at Cub!  When I got home I located Serena curled up, asleep, on one of the boy’s beds.  When I held it out to her, she reached out her little paw to bat it and immediately started licking the furry center part.  I have already found it on the stairs, and in the doorway to the girls’ room.  It makes us smile whenever we see it, so it’s a sort of win/win for the whole family.

When my daugher, Maggie, was little, she carried a Pooh bear with her wherever she went.  Panicked that she’d lose Pooh bear, we bought a second one at a garage sale, which she promptly began carrying around with her, too, which sort of defeated the purpose, but oh, well.  Drawing on my past experience I purchased two octupi, but this time, I hid one away.  Older, and wiser, you see.

Does your pet have a special toy? Does it go into mourning whenever that toy is lost? 

As I sat here writing this, Serena came bounding in with her octupus.  She is so happy!  Long live octopi!

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If I were to hold a position in the President’s Cabinet it would be Head of the Department of Transportation.  This weekend the Mommy Shuttle was going so much that I felt like I needed a football coach’s white board, with all the X’s and O’s, to show where everyone was going. 

Starting with Friday it went something like this.  Meet kids at West, lead Maggie to doctor’s appt., drop her off, take Hannah to Gordman’s to look at Homecoming dresses, take Mitch to get flowers for his girlfriend for their one year anniversary.  Back to get Hannah, back to lead Maggie partway home, pick up Don.  Maggie’s friend, Alexis, comes over, scarf down dinner, head to West’s football game.  Mitch leaves football game with Courtney and her mom, so we lose Mitch, but pick up Emma, Maggie’s friend.  If you’re following, that’s down one Schiller, up two friends.  Home from game, Mitch arrives home, Hannah leaves with Courtney and her mom to spend the night there.  Even swap for Schillers.  Bed.

Saturday, wake up, make Bee Sting Buns for girls, shower.  Pick up Courtney and Hannah at 11ish, take shopping (still looking for that elusive dress), hang at Starbuck’s while girls shop.  Take Courtney and Hannah back home about 1:15, and found we have picked up the neighbor boy, Walker.  Eat frozen pizza, Emma gets picked up, Alexis and Maggie to LeRoy for fall festival at 2:00 where a band they want to see is playing.  Grab food for Don while in LeRoy to take to the winery where he is going with the neighbors and hang at Mickie D’s for a bit, waiting for girls.  Pick up Maggie and Alexis at 4:00, take home.  Pick up Mitch, Ryan, Hannah, and Courtney and take to the mall to, you guessed it, shop for Homecoming dress.  Hang in food court while they  shop.  Take that group home, pick up Maggie and Alexis at 6:30, take to party in Heyworth.  Hang until 10 in Casey’s parking lot with window rolled down while I’m reading my manuscript out loud, pretty sure police were notified.  Pick up Maggie, come home, tumble into bed.

Maybe next weekend everyone will want to just stay home.  Oh wait, next weekend we’re going to St. Louis for my sister and brother-in-law’s 25th wedding anniversary party.  Hmmm…maybe late September….

Ever get a headache trying to figure out the logistics of getting your family where they need/want=need to go?  Ever schedule things so tight that if one thing spills over into the next the whole day’s thrown off-kilter?

Bottom line is, everybody got to do some of what they wanted, maybe not all, but some, and we all got safely home.  In my book, that’s a win.

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Another Contest Entry

Gabriela Lessa is hosting another contest!  Below I’ve posted my four entries in order to get feedback before I submit them.  The great thing about this contest is that the judges are editors, so even if you lose you win, having gotten an editor to look at your work.  The entries are supposed to be your first paragraph, and a one sentence pitch.  Wish me luck.

Name: Mary Jean Schiller

Title:  Abandon All Hope

Genre: single-title romance

Manuscript word count: 88,698

Judge:  Deb Werksman

One-sentence pitch:

First paragraph: 

After eight years of trying to forget her, rock star Chase Hatton is to be interviewed by photo-journalist Hope Creswell, the woman who was his childhood friend, turned high school flame, but ended up mysteriously walking out on him the night of their senior prom.  

New, shorter pitch-

Hope, having spent the last eight years trying to forget her childhood friend/high school flame, Chase Hatton, has now been assigned to interview the rock star for the newspaper.

Even newer pitch-

Hope spent eight years trying to forget her first love turned rock star, Chase Hatton, whom she abandoned the night of their senior prom, and now she must interview him.

Most recent pitch-

Rock star Chase Hatton had spent eight years trying to forget Hope, his first love, who had disappeared on prom night, and now he would face her in an interview.  

Chase Hatton had been bewitched by Hope from the very start. 

            He was…ten…no, twelve…definitely twelve, as he was playing American Junior League baseball that summer.  There had been a break in their schedule, so his mom had asked the new neighbor lady over for dinner, along with her ten-year-old kid.  Chase’s mom had told him that he couldn’t go over to Bobby McGraw’s to play catch, as he was needed at home to entertain, of all things, the new neighbor’s daughter.  A girl! 

Name: Mary Jean Schiller

Title: To Hell in a Coach Bag

Genre: single-title romance

Manuscript word count: 110,000

Judge:  Deb Werksman

One-sentence pitch: 

First paragraph: 

When they set off on a cross-country trip, four Midwestern lunch ladies have an opportunity to learn more about themselves, and they also discover romance along the way.


Plan A to get backstage at the Chase Hatton concert was a dismal failure.  By the time Chase took the stage, our sign was beer-soaked and trampled underfoot.  I bent down, as best as I could in the space we had carved out on the floor of Chicago’s All-State Arena, and scooped up the poster-board, being careful to avoid Samantha’s “cheetah-skin” heels.  The “Lunch Ladies Love Chase Hatton!” side had a size-eleven boot-print right in the middle of it, and the “We Have Access to Government Meat!” side was completely smeared.

Name: Mary Jean Schiller

Title: Lady of the Knight

Genre: single-title romance

Manuscript word count: 110,042

Judge:  Deb Werksman

One-sentence pitch: 

First paragraph: 

When two Knights of the Order are sent to the planet Faador to rescue a princess, they both fall in love with the gutsy woman, which changes their lives forever. 

Darrius Lee bolted upright in bed and listened intently to the darkness.  What had interrupted his sleep and caused him to become so fully awake?  Several seconds elapsed while he held his breath and waited, but he heard no noise.  Still, he was aware that someone else was in the suite he shared with his young novice, Orrion Quinn.  He focussed on his Spirit Within to get a feel for the level of danger they were in.  He sensed at once that the outside presence he felt in the room was not threatening.  Yet he knew that something must be amiss for someone to enter their rooms unannounced in the middle of the night. 

Name: Mary Jean Schiller

Title: My Name Is Peter

Genre: middle-grade fiction

Manuscript word count: 4,693

Judge:  Aubrey Poole

One-sentence pitch: 

First paragraph: 

Peter is a gregarious, fallible, big-hearted fisherman and he tells us about the day he met Jesus, and the days that followed.


            My name is Peter and I’m a fisherman.

            It’s a hard life, up before the sun has breathed life into a new day and to bed long after the shadows have fallen across the land.  And the work is physical, leaning over the edge of the boat to pull in nets full of streaming fish is hard on the back–and that’s on a good day.  On a bad day we row and row in search of fish, putting our nets in and hauling them up, each time with precious little to show for it.  It is work that brings you to God.  You have to trust in Him when the sun beats down on you, and you’re hungry, and you know that your family is hungry, too.

Thanks for reading!

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All families have their own special way of communicating (I’m sure that monkey researchers would concur).  My sister’s family has so many peculararities that someone could probably develop a handheld electronic translator for them.  Being no shirks in the made-up vocabulary department ourselves, we Wilkinson/Schillers have a few of our own.

For example, I have a huge, antique buffet which I bogarted sometime ago from my parents’.  This piece of furniture is commonly known around our house as “the Jimmy”, as in, Jimmy Buffet.  Clever, eh?  You might also hear a Schiller refer to “the North Pole” of our house, which is the slotted thingie that the mail ends up in.  All roads lead to the North Pole. 

On top of our made up vocabulary, you also have our allusions to movies, which some people may get, and our allusions to past family events, which only insiders understand.  For instance, at this period in time you will often hear a Schiller adding, after someone else’s comment, with a nasally, yuppy intonation, “That’s amaazing, Jeremy, but I have to go home now and bleach my mustache.”  This comes from the scene in Date Night when the Steve Carell character and the Tina Fey character are at a fancy restaurant watching their fellow diners and making up conversations that might be going on around them.  Why this particular line stuck with us is a mystery, but it can be pretty funny when we use it.  “That’s amaazing, Dad, but Vampire Diaries is on right now, so I have to go.” 

What is also interesting is that there are times when a word has become so ingrained in my conciousness that I believe it belongs to the world, so I say something like, “There was a bunch of graudoo in there,” at work, and my co-worker looks at me askance.  “What, you don’t know what graudoo is?”  (Undoubtedly you are dying of curiosity, so I’ll just let you know, “graudoo” is that waxy/slimy stuff that collects between the floor boards in your kitchen that you have to remove with a toothbrush or toothpick.  Actually, as a rule, if you are removing something with a toothbrush or toothpick, it’s probably graudoo).  This phrase goes beyond our immediate family and might also be used by the Wilkinson/Jonagans, the Wilkinson/Muchows, and, well, the Wilkinsons.

This phenomena of making up words to suit yourself can also be seen at work, or in any environment where people spend a lot of time together.  At my job as a lunch lady, any other lunch lady would know what I meant when I referred to “The Beast”.  “The Beast” is our gigantic braizing unit that is a pain in the patootie to clean, thus the name.  We also made up a name for our Cammies (containers used to transport food).  We call them, “RTDs”, or “Rolling Transport Devices”.

Sometimes these unrecognizable words and phrases are colloquial.  I have used the words,  “willy-nilly” and “pell-mell” and had people ask me what I meant, while others have understood me completely.  My girlfriend from Chicago sometimes refers to “skitching”, the act of grabbing onto the bumper of a car moving along an icy surface and having it pull you along.  In my book that’s called “bumper-surfing”, or, just plain stupid. 

What are some of your family words or phrases?  Can you imagine what life must have been like around Dr. Seuss’s household?  Language is fascinating!  Take the time to think about your family’s special words and maybe even write them down for posterity.  Who knows, the list might come in handy the next time people come to visit.

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Those of you who have read my Facebook posts in the past are well aware of my documented loathing of the strawberry vine that perenially plagues the ivy bed that runs along the side of our house.  It is, in a word, my nemesis.  And I thought that there could be nothing worse.

Until this year.

This year the ivy bed was visited by a new, even more twisted, weed.  It is in the strawberry vine family, I am sure, as its leaves are similar.  But there are no berries, and this one has a nasty habit of rerooting itself about every inch or so.  It wasn’t until I began working with it that I understood how dense it was, and how it had choked out a large section of the ivy.  It’s hard to remove this weed because it’s thick as thatch and, if you want to get all of the roots, you are tugging every inch, and then rolling it up to pull up some more.  Every once in a great while you run across one of the mother weeds which have roots about ten inches long.

I have to admit, when I find one of these mother weeds my heart begins to beat a bit faster and when it finally releases its hold on the soil you can hear me scream, “Ha!” as in, “Ha, take that!”  As in all battles, collatoral damage is sometimes sustained.  Still, we mourn the loss of each ivy vine that was lost, torn up along with the evil weeds.  When I find a section of ivy still alive underneath the weeds my heart swells with pride for it, holding out until help arrived, sigh.

I, myself, sustained several injuries, mostly do to the heinous hawthorn thorns buried amongst the ivy.  Nothing like reaching in for a handful of weed and grabbing one of those daggers!  For those who have never had the pleasure of seeing these thorns, they are sturdy, about four inches long, and honed to a deadly point.

Along with this new, evil, viny weed came a whole biosphere of bugs, from tiny, albino spiders, to translucent green grasshopper-type bugs that manage to look both space-aged and primitive at the same time.  Of course you still have the nasty earwigs, lots, and lots of ants, and I even had a wasp poking around.  I’m like, “Dude, like I don’t have enough to worry about without you getting your little brown wings all up in my business.”  He didn’t listen.

  I also had several run-ins with the dreaded chip-a-munks that lurk in our garage.  One ran over my gardening gloves, (I’m pretty sure the neighbors heard the scream on that one).  Later I saw one run out from underneath the base of our basketball hoop.  It puffed up its cheeks in what most would find an adorable way, but I know is just an attempt at intimidation.  I told him, out loud, to take his cute, furry, striped backside and hit the bricks. 

I spent well over twelve hours weeding the ivy, but it is finally finished.  It looks good now, in the places where it survived, but where the weed prevailed the hillside is now barren.  The ivy will grow back eventually, and retake those areas that it was pushed out of. 

As for me, I’m sore.  I took two showers today to wash off the sweat and dirt.  I have puncture wounds on the palms of my hands.  But, I am victorious.

Ivy, after weeding

This gives you an idea how expansive the bed is.

Healthy ivy, after weeds are gone.Large barren patch where ivy was murdered.This is about half of what I pulled.

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Dropped Don off at work and came home to crawl back in bed.  Perfect morning.  As I gazed out the window the sun was peeking over my neighbor’s roof and back-lighting patches of leaves in the trees, leaving places in shadow.  I love living in a wooded area.  The breeze was blowing, rustling the leaves and pouring straight through my window to meet me where I was buried in my comforter.  My tortoise-shell cat was curled up next to me, her velvet paws touching my elbow, the sun lighting up the gold in her mostly black, sleek fur, her face the picture of contentment.  At that moment I wasn’t reffing kids’ arguements, or worrying about cleaning the tub.  In fact, I was completely without stress for twenty minutes.  It was one of those instances when your heart cries out in thanksgiving to God– I might need to get up and face the day when that alarm clock goes off, but thank You for this one, beautiful, golden moment.

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I had the most wonderful dinner tonight.  Something I probably haven’t had in five years, and it will probably be another five years before I have it again.  Chef Boyardee Spaghetti and Meatballs.  I will have heartburn later, but it was worth it.  You see, the tangy taste of Chef Boyardee sauce not only gives me heartburn, it also warms my heart.  It makes me remember those days of youth when discovering that bright red can in your cabinet made your eyes light up in anticipation.  Because my mom and step-dad worked in the restaurant business, a full sit-down dinner didn’t always fit into the schedule.  As a result, my sister and I grew quite fond of The Chef, and he became our companion, of sorts. 

Now, am I right, or does eating The Chef almost always require one to make up a piece of bread and butter to go along with it?  Maybe it’s because the creamy coolness of the butter offsets the zip of the sauce, and perhaps works as a buffer to the heartburn that will come later.  They should do studies on that.  Unfortunately, nowadays it’s not real butter and Wonder white bread for me, it’s heavy, nutty, whole grain wheat bread and Smart-Balance with Omega-3.  Not quite the same, but I made it through, relying, a whole lot, on my abundant imagination.  Another thing that has changed since the 70’s when I used to relish this meal is the size of the meatballs.  Have you seen these things?  Man, they’re dinky!  And what about the size of a Kudos bar?  The packaging hasn’t changed, but they’re at least an inch shorter than they used to be, and narrower, too. 

Anyway, another favorite that we used to have, every New Year’s Eve at my Grandma’s house when my parents went out, was Jeno’s Pizza Rolls.  Do they still make those?  We used to always get heartburn from those, too, but we were too scared to tell Grandma.  Sigh, I digress (and digest, ouch!).

What are some of your favorite childhood foods?  Do you remember Chocodiles?  They were like chocolate-covered Twinkie’s?  Those were awesome!  Or Bubsdaddy’s (long, cigar-shaped gum)?  The only flavor I remember is grape, but they came in different flavors, too.  How about the infamous Dots, or Button candy?  You tasted more paper than candy, but, for some reason, we all loved them!  Let yourself reminisce for a minute and please share with us and leave a comment.

As for me and The Chef…I think we have a long night ahead of us!

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