Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Time is Money . . . or Is It?

The previous post took me at least six hours, spread over nearly a week, to write and the only reason it made it to the blog at all was because I became so frustrated that I finally just hit publish to stop looking at it.  What was intended to be thoughts on making my home my sanctuary instead turned into a list of chores.  The chores need to be done, and I do need to get into a routine, but it just wasn't what I intended.  This whole "life re-do" thing isn't as easy as I thought, and it's a lot more glamorous in my head than in reality.  But, more items have been added to the pile for the garage sale - tentatively scheduled for Saturday;and I have kept up the 3-part daily rule - make the bed, wash the dishes and clear the table - for the most part; so that's progress.  Onward!
You can't steal second base and keep your foot on first. - Frederick R. Wilcox
While I continue to work on the "home as haven" plan, I'm working on my self as well. My "blueprint" for this area contains four points that I want to work on.  I'm sure there will be more as I progress, but this is my launching pad:

1.  Wise use of time
2.  Faithful stewardship of money
3.  Improve my health
4.  Maintain a "quiet spirit"

This post is going to cover numbers one and two - and money can be dealt with in just three rules.  I know how to practice stewardship, I just need to do it!  First, tithe (Malachi 3:10) - no cheating.  Second, help those less fortunate (and we live in an area where there are many.)  Third, "things" are never going to make me happy, so stop trying to buy contentment.  Cutting down (or ending) recreational shopping means less clutter (!!) and more money for important things.  If I have less, I can have nicer.
We buy things we don't need, with money we don't have, to impress people we don't like. (attributed to various sources)
Unlike money, time is a finite resource.  There is no way to earn more time, or to pinch minutes like we do pennies - trying to make them last.  Time marches on, whether or not we are using it wisely.  And there is no bank account for time - we can't check our balance to see how much is left, so wise use of each day seems crucial.

I'm hoping my retirement isn't too far in the future but, for now, I work an 8:00-5:00 job. Including prep and drive time, and a reasonable amount of sleep, that leaves me, at most, five hours of discretionary time each week day.  Five hours out of twenty-four to buy groceries, cook, keep house, do laundry, mow the lawn, get my hair cut, exercise, take the dog for a walk, call my mom, work in the garden, water the flowers . . .  And I didn't even get to "fun" activities.  And weekends fill up just as fast.  

I need to "declutter" my time, as well as my house.  In order to spend time on those things that add value and beauty to my life (as I stated in my original LUC post) I have to get rid of the things that rob me of minutes. The biggest culprit is easy to identify - smart phone!  It's not the phone itself - I mean, not like I'm making phone calls - it's Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest and games.  I already broke the habit of games that attach me to real people (like Words With Friends) because that just guilted me into playing more.  But it's still easy to think I have time for "just one" game of solitaire.

I enjoy Facebook as a way to keep in touch with family and friends that I don't see on a regular basis, but it can also be a time thief.  If I had to go to the computer to access Facebook, I would only look at it once a day, at most, so why not just remove the app from my phone and take away the temptation?  Because 90% of what I want to post involves a picture, which is on my phone, making it so much more convenient to post from there.  (There is a negative, "drama" side to Facebook that I'm sure most of you have encountered.  That falls under the "quiet spirit" section that I'll get to on another day.)

Pinterest is one of my biggest time bandits.  I'm sorry to keep teasing (or threatening?) you with future posts, but creativity is one of the largest areas of focus in this life I'm trying to build and Pinterest fuels that drive.  However, at times it fuels it with Mountain Dew and chocolate, and I end up with creative ADHD - bouncing from one project to another and never completing anything.  Is there any reason to browse Pinterest several times/day?

I'm sure I waste valuable time in other ways, but they pale in comparison to the minutes that slip away as I stare at my phone screen.  So the next change in my Life Under Construction is to step away from the smart phone.  If time allows, I can glance at Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest during slow times at work, when I'm forced to stare at a screen anyway.  But during those precious five hours each day, I will look up, look around, and actually live this Life Under Construction.  

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Life Under Construction: Home

Morty:  There's only two of us.  How much dirt can we manufacture?
Lee:  More than you'd think!

That Swiffer commercial makes me laugh every time.  I am constantly amazed at the amount of dirt and clutter two people can generate - especially when assisted by two dogs

I have chosen to address the Home category of my Life Under Construction first because it feels more attainable than some of the others.  My home is my haven.  It's the place where I can have the things and activities and ideas and people that make me feel comfortable, safe, accepted and happy.  I'm not naive (or deluded) enough to believe that all troubles go away just because I come home and lock the door.  I am also aware that I am not the only bird in this nest, and we often fly to our own drummers. Compromise is key to building this "second half" life that we can share, yet where I can be "me".   Fortunately, I have an understanding, low-maintenance nest-mate.

So let's get practical.  The home I am working for is:
  • Peaceful
  • Simple
  • Beautiful
  • Efficient
What steps do I need to take to create and maintain that home?  I tried and tried to lay out a four-point plan, with steps to take in each of the four distinct areas, but I found that the areas overlap too much for that, so it became more of a list of ideas that touch on all four areas.

I love visiting my sister, Teri.  Her house feels peaceful as soon as you walk in the door.  She is an excellent housekeeper and she attributes what I feel to the lack of clutter - even her closets and cabinets are organized.  I know that Teri has days when things pile up, but her ability to keep "stuff" pared to a minimum and organized makes it easier to recover from those days.  On the flip side, my constant searches for items that "I just saw the other day" drives me nuts and certainly isn't peaceful or efficient.  Another peace-wrecking habit at our house is dropping everything on the kitchen table, where it remains until I get annoyed enough to clear it. 

Step One towards the home I want is:

  • a thorough sorting of every cabinet and closet and STORAGE SPACE (putting more stuff into boxes to store doesn't count)
  • paring our possessions to the minimum
  • disposing of what we don't need/want (garage sale or donation to thrift store)
  • organizing what remains
I am making headway on this step, but there's a ways to go.  And I need to cut a little deeper - not only because I don't need this stuff but because someone else might.  If I can clear closet space while helping someone else, that's double the blessing.  Next step - get the pile of donation items out of the basement.

Step Two:  Make the bed every morning, do the dishes every night (I don't have a dishwasher), clear the table daily. I have been implementing this rule for a week now and it makes a big difference.  The house feels more under control.  

Step Three:  Once the major organizational stuff is complete, the next step is a chore plan.  My mom is a Saturday cleaner - 4-5 hours, once a week, every room.  It works for her, but we're gone on weekends frequently, so I want to develop an idea for keeping housekeeping chores (dusting, vacuuming, laundry, mopping, etc) done on a regular rotation.  I'm still working on that and open for suggestions.  Anyone have a flexible schedule that works?   I'm not aiming for a spotless house, just avoiding panicked cleaning when company's coming, and that overwhelmed feeling that comes from having too much to do on a weekend.

Those three steps are a good base for an efficient home.  They even touch on simplicity, peacefulness and beauty, but those words have more meaning than just "a place for everything and everything in it's place".   

 "Peaceful" = free from strife, commotion or disorder.  We've covered disorder, so how about strife and commotion?   Television is probably the leading cause of strife and commotion in our house for two reasons:  a.  we disagree on what to watch and b.  we disagree on the volume at which to watch it.    Honestly, I could probably . . . maybe . . . conceivably . . . give up TV altogether.  I have actually started a blog post on that subject so I won't go in to detail now, but the point is that I find 90% of what's on to be very "unpeaceful".   Dave, on the other hand, enjoys some of the unpeaceful shows and, being hearing-impaired in one ear, he enjoys them loudly.  Frequently, I use that time to read or sew in another area of the house, but that's not always possible, so that area requires some compromise.

Of course the world is not a peaceful place.  Whether it's local, national or world news, there's very little that's hopeful and certainly nothing peaceful.  I suppose I could chose to put my head in the sand and pretend everything is hunky-dory, but being ignorant of evil doesn't keep me safe from it.  I keep up on headline news, however, the endless vitriol that makes up the majority of news channel programming is not welcome in my nest, so I refuse to watch.  When Dave does, I leave the room.  It's not a perfect solution, but we're working on it.

What about beauty?  Don't go looking for my home in the pages of House Beautiful.  I'm sure many would find our collection of mis-matched belongings anything but beautiful, and to be totally honest, sometimes I would agree.  :)  
Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful. - William Morris
"You ... believe to be beautiful"  That doesn't say have nothing that is not approved by  Nate Berkus or that costs less than $1000.  Just that YOU believe it to be beautiful.  That includes the macaroni art your 5-year-old made.  What it doesn't include - and this is where I've gotten stuck over the years - is the gift from Aunt Tilly that you sincerly DON'T find beautiful, but you display it anyway.  So, as I'm sorting and disposing, I'm also asking myself "Do you find this to be beautiful?"  If the answer is no, it goes.  If the answer is yes, but I have no room for it, it goes anyway - or replaces something else that I find less beautiful.  It's a dog-eat-dog world in a small house!  

I used to watch House Hunters on HGTV and nearly every perspective buyer wanted a bigger home so they had space to entertain.  Obviously these people are living a different life than we are.  We rarely entertain, and when we do it's usually around the fire-pit. The majority of our visitors are family and a few close friends and with age has come the knowledge (and I'm still working on implementing it) that I don't have to impress them.   My home needs to be beautiful ONLY to me.   

My daughter gave me a dresser tray for Christmas.  She made it from an ornate gold picture frame that she filled with vintage fabric, pearls, buttons, etc.  I love it and sat it on my bed-side table to hold some lotion, a couple bookmarks, my glasses, etc., but it was just a bit large for the space.  After six months it dawned on me that it didn't HAVE to be in the bedroom just because it's called a dresser tray.  I find it to be beautiful on my coffee table where it catches my Nook, a small book of crossword puzzles, a pin cushion, a cup of coffee and various other small items. And it makes me smile every time I see it.

Regardless of what house we live in, my goal for my Home is tostop thinking "what will people think?" and ask myself "do I find this to be beautiful?"

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Life Under Construction: The Inspiration

The only constant is change.  My children are now college graduates with lives of their own.  Like it or not, my life is changing again. I am facing the "mid-way point" I wrote about in my last post.  The challenge of the mid-way point is getting beyond the "tiredness, lack of motivation and loss of vision" for the future and forming a new vision.  I'm not in a position to make huge changes.  I'm not going to explore the Amazon or take a year to try some stunt then write a book about it.  But I do need to get out of my "mom" spot.  I don't remember where, but I read years ago that moms stand still so that their children can hang onto them and grow.  That's a beautiful word picture and I believe I did that for my children (and loved it!), but they are strong enough to stand on their own now and I'm an empty trellis.  It's time to move and rediscover me.

One of the joys of aging is the ability to know and accept myself.  I'm not there yet - that's what this project is about - but there are areas where I can say "This is me, deal with it."  I don't mean that in a mean-spirited way, but in the sense that I have stopped apologizing for the things I like or don't like.  Life Under Construction is a journey further down that road - to create a life where I'm comfortable.

I spent some time considering what I really want in and from life in this next phase and I concluded that, for starters, I need a physical and metaphorical closet cleaning to rid my home and life of the things that no longer serve a purpose, and start fresh with only those things that add value and beauty.  I thought about the "things" I have and want to keep, those I want to add, those I am forced to give up - willingly or not - and those I can't wait to throw in the trash.  Unfortunately, there are some areas that are beyond my control.  As much as I would like to do a Reverse 360 Double Pump Slam Dunk into the dumpster with them, that's not possible. So, my plan needs to include a way to cope with those things without derailing everything else.  I laid out a general "blueprint" for constructing the life I want, divided into five areas:  Faith, Family, Home, Self and Fun. 

I am reading Never Too Late: Your Roadmap to Reinvention by Claire Cook as part of my
life re-do.  The book is mostly career focused and, heaven knows, I'm not looking for a second (or first) career.  You will notice that work did not even make my list.  That's because my job falls into the "wish I could slam dunk" category, but at the moment that is not fiscally responsible, so I show up, I do my assigned tasks to the best of my abilities, I go home, rinse, repeat. Obviously, it eats up a huge portion of my time, without contributing much in return except money.  One of my challenges will be to find the value in my job. The advice offered by Ms. Cook applies in other areas as well, so I'll be sharing tidbits as I go along.  

Remember, this is an ongoing project, not just a series of posts that will be over in a week.  I will be sharing my starting points in each of my five categories in the near future, but I will continue to post updates as I learn and change . . .   Watch for posts with the Life Under Construction banner.

For starters, the blog got a new look that I'm excited about. A custom blog theme has been on my wish list for several years.  The blog content is getting a makeover as well.  I have let the creativity drain out of the blog until even I didn't want to read it.  But, writing falls under Fun, so we'll get back to that later. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Life Under Construction

Just One More Thing will soon be wrapping up five years of publishing posts about books, crafts, family, life and utter nonsense.  Hard to believe!  In those five years, Mitch and Amanda graduated from high school and college, we moved to Green Acres, I left my dream job as a librarian, I turned 50 ... and 51... and 52 ...

So here I am at 53.  My children are adults.  What now?  Time to regroup.  A dear lady, Nancy K. Grace, wrote about mid-way points in her e-newsetter, GraceNotes, 
"One of the challenges of the mid-way point of a project is pressing on to finish in spite of the setbacks of tiredness, lack of motivation, or loss of vision for the completed project."
I realize 53 is most likely not the "mid-way" point of my life, but I am feeling a decided tiredness and loss of vision for both the blog and life - so, both are getting an overhaul. Not just a facelift, although that is part of the plan (figuratively for me and literally for the blog) - but a true remodel, tear away those things that are not necessary for the next chapter and start fresh with only those things which add value and beauty to my "second half".

This process could take a while, and you may have to suffer with me through some of the rehab, but I hope you'll stick around - or return if you were a follower in an earlier era - and see the results of a Life Under Construction.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Needlework Tuesday: Babies, Blocks and Headaches

Tuesday came and went last week without so much as a thought of posting for Needlework Tuesday.  Don't know where my brain was, but it left me with a lot to share this week.  

1.  The baby blanket is done!  It's not perfect, but it's done - and done with love.

And just in time. My great-nephew, Ruger, arrived 7/18/2014 and I will get to see him for the first time tomorrow.  

2.  Grandma's Quilt Blocks - I have posted before about the jackpot of Kansas City Star quilt patterns I discovered in a trunk in my dad's basement.  My grandmother had clipped and saved during the 1930's-1950's.  She passed away in 1954, before I was born, so this small connection to her was special to me.  I set out to make a quilt using a variety of patterns from Grandma's collection - all cut to the original specs in the pattern, and all sewn by hand.  I gave up after 6 blocks.  Those six blocks of varying sizes have been in a drawer waiting for me to get inspired to do something with them.  I finally got sashes added to make them all finish the same size (17 1/2 inches), and put them together.  

I'm not sure what's next for this odd assortment.  Do I add more blocks?  Add borders?  Finish it the size it is (51x34)?  Do I quilt by hand or machine?  Hopefully it won't take another 15 years to figure it out.  

3.  I shared a couple weeks ago about my new obsession with "hexies".  I've made dozens and dozens of 1" hexagons and sewn some of them into flowers which are destined to become a table runner, but I hadn't found a layout that really struck me until I visited my favorite antique store the other day.  Two fun finds will combine to become a runner for the antique buffet in my living room.  Find #1 is a vintage white table runner - very simple, with lace edging.  Find #2 was a plastic bag of fabric scraps already cut to just the right size for 1" hexies.  I love the delicate colors so I have started a whole new batch of hexagons which will be made into flowers and appliqued to the vintage runner.

4.  While pondering the 1" hexies, I also made some 1 1/2" hexies out of leftover Christmas prints.  They, too, will be made into a table runner, and this one is already coming together.

There are rows one and two of eight.  Each flower contains the same six prints plus a black center.  They are joined by the dark green hexies to represent leaves.  This part is all done by hand, but will be machine sewn to a backing when complete.

5.  And finally - what do you do when you are awake at 4:30 a.m. with a killer headache?  Make a random quilt block, of course.  Dave had to be on the road by 5:00 Monday morning to help our daughter move out of her apartment, so I got up to make the coffee and see him off.  Like a total idiot, I forgot to take my medicine the night before, so I awoke with a throbbing head - not much chance of going back to sleep.  To distract myself while waiting for the after-headache medicine to kick in, I started perusing pattern books and was struck with brilliance - or what passes for brilliance at 5:00 a.m. when your head is pounding.  I will work myself through my pattern books making random "practice blocks" out of scraps as practice on cutting and assembling with precision.  

Ta-da---- Block #1 is called Attic Window and, as you can see, was made from scraps from Grandma's quilt blocks (above) which were still laying on the cutting table.  

What are you sewing, knitting, crocheting or otherwise stitching this week?  Visit our hostess, Heather, at Books and Quilts and link up to share all your projects.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Jennifer Wixson: Author Interview and Give-Away

In conjunction with the release of her latest book, The Songbird of Sovereign (Book #3 in the Sovereign Series), author Jennifer Wixson has graciously agreed to answer a few of my questions.  She's also giving you the chance to win copies of her books and a set of these beautiful Sovereign Series Notecards.  (details below) 

But first, find out a little more about Jennifer and The Sovereign Series.

1,  Why did you choose tuberculosis and, more specifically, a sanatorium as part of Miss Hasting's story? 

My father's cousin, Leverett Wixson, met his wife at the Central Maine Sanatorium in the 40s or 50s when they were both being treated for TB.  When I was a child I always thought theirs was a romantic story.  Also, Leverett was one of my favorite people (he lived into his 80s) and, because of him, I became aware of this largely forgotten time period in Maine history.  I knew that Miss Hastings needed to undergo a dramatic, life-altering experience in her youth to make her the special person she is and so I thought that sending her to a sanatorium would allow me to weave some Maine history into her very special story.  In addition, I wanted to dwell on the importance of loving someone while we have them with us because we never know when the hand of fate might intervene and snatch them away. I also wanted to touch on the power of unconditional love, which allows us to love beyond the grave.

2,  The Sovereign Series was originally slated to be a trilogy, but a fourth book, Miss Hastings' story, was added due to reader requests.  Are there other Sovereign characters who may have a story to tell?

 Most of the characters in Sovereign are secondary characters and their personalities are pretty much fixed.  We feel as though we know them well, which is part of the series' appeal.  I do try to interject some secondary story lines for some of them in each book.  For example, in Songbird we come to know Leland Gorse quite a bit better, and in Peas, Beans & Corn Trudy Gorse (and outsider Ryan MacDonald) share the stage with our hero and heroine, Bruce and Amber.  Gray Gilpin will play a bigger role in Book 4, and so will Dr. Bart (he's the leading man).  But I do not expect any of the rest of the folks in Sovereign to get their own book like Miss Hastings has.  That is, not unless I get a hundred emails or tweets from readers who want to know more about a particular character! 

3.  I'm looking forward to the Sovereign Cookbook coming out next year.  How do you use food in your stories?  What do you think food adds to the reader's experience?  Are you creating the recipes for the cookbook yourself?  

 Food plays a big role in my novels because I love to eat and I love Maine food(s).  I come from a family of GREAT Maine cooks, and traditional dishes and recipes have been handed down from mother to daughter (and often granddaughter, in my instance) for a generations.  Some of my favorite memories with those I've loved and lost are the meals I've shared with them.  For example, I remember picking raspberries at my grandmother's house, a brick homestead in Norway (Maine) that has been in the family nearly 200 years.  I'd pick the raspberries that grew in the old barn cellar and then my grandmother and I would make raspberry jelly. And then she'd whip up a batch of Bakewell Cream biscuits and perk some hot coffee on the woodstove and we'd sit down at the oak table (upon which she was born) and stuff our faces with hot biscuits and raspberry jelly and wash it all down with fresh coffee and cream.  Just thinking of that makes me salivate now! It also makes my heart filled with love for my grandmother.  Memories like that have shown me that people we love never die, they are always with us, for whenever I eat biscuits or raspberry jelly my grandmother is always right there beside me, telling me to pass the jelly! 

The recipes I use in the books (and which will be in the cookbook) are mostly old family recipes. I also use a couple of old family cookbooks, and regularly "mine" other Maine and New England cookbooks looking  for ideas and interesting recipes, particularly old church cookbooks.  My sister, Cheryl Wixson, is the cook in our generation and her style is a fabulous mix of old and new.  Cheryl's daughter, Laurel (my oldest niece) is in charge of putting the cookbook together. 

4.  If The Minister's Daughter (book 4 in the series - due out in 2015) is truly the end of our time in Sovereign, what's next?  Do you anticipate continuing your writing career?  Do you have new projects in mind?. 

The Sovereign Series will end (for the time being) next year with the advent of Book 4, The Minister's Daughter, and The Sovereign Series Cookbook.  This is mostly because I want to move on to work on other projects.  About 10 years ago I started an historical series of novels that centered around the life of Hannah Chase Bartlett, who with her Quaker family, were the first white people to settle in the late 19th century in the wilderness of what later became Unity, Maine.  Hannah was 16 when they settled 25-Mile-Pond.  She married one of the two brothers that arrived in the area not long after the Chases, for which she was excommunicated by the Religious Society of Friends because her husband was not a Quaker.  Others settled the area and Hannah and Lemuel and their families became leading members of the community.  Lots of interesting stuff happens, and Hannah eventually rejoins the Friends and becomes a noted travelling minister.  Anyway, I had the first book in that trilogy nearly written a decade ago when my life was interrupted by a personal crisis.  I've never been able to get back to it since, and I kind of feel as though I left Hannah standing at the alter.  When I leave Sovereign, Maine now I'm going next to 25-Mile-Pond where I've got a date with a very remarkable young woman. 

Will I ever return to Sovereign?  Well, I can't say for sure, but I can see myself returning to town in, say, about ten years or so, if only to find out what's going on with everyone.  Of course, something could happen to SOMEONE there before that that would make me want to return earlier.  Time will tell!

5.  And the real question on everyone's mind - Is the Annual Goldenrod Run a real-life event?  Come on, we promise not to tell a soul! 

The goldenrod run WAS real until reality stepped in and put the kabosh to it.  I used to take a run through the glorious golden spikes in the field next to my house every August when I thought that the goldenrod was tall enough to cover most of my, uh, particulars.  But one year my stepmother snapped a photo of me running buff as a baby through the flowers and the pic revealed just HOW MUCH of me was showing above the goldenrod! (Too much.) Ouch, ouch.  So I stopped my annual naked run.

The fund raiser I mention in Songbird is wishful thinking.  I'd like to do something like that.  Unfortunately my field of goldenrod is now one of our hay fields that we use to feed our Scottish Highlands.  I wonder -- How many of my readers would be interested in participating in something like that?  I would be interested in knowing.  My hunch is that it's pretty high!

To find out more about the Goldenrod Run, you'll have to read Songbird of Sovereign

For a chance to win one of our fantastic prizes, just leave a comment by midnight, July 31st.  Five winners will be chosen by random drawing and notified on August 2nd.  

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Virtual Book Tour: The Songbird of Sovereign by Jennifer Wixson

She's the most popular resident of Sovereign, Maine yet no one in this rural farming community of 1,048 souls has ever known the story behind Miss Hastings' seven decades of dedication to schoolchildren. Now Maggie, the town's minister, sets out on a quest to plumb the mystery of Miss Hastings' past before the retired music teacher -- nearing her 89th birthday and in failing health -- departs this world forever.  (from publisher's blurb)

Mayberry, Walnut Grove and ... Sovereign, Maine.  Sometimes the setting of a story becomes a character of it's own.  The third book ofJennifer Wixson's Sovereign Series welcomes fans back to the friendly village they have come to love.  

When I reviewed the first two installments of this series, I praised Jennifer's blend of old and new. This story takes that blend to a new level, alternating between present day and the early 1940's.  Since I am not normally a fan of historical fiction, I appreciate an author who weaves historical fact into a fictional story and teaches me something as I read.  Ms. Wixson managed to educate me painlessly.   I had no idea that sanatoriums for the treatment and isolation of tuberculosis, like the fictional Windmere, actually existed.  I was fascinated by the inside look at the life of patients who were confined there, separated from family and friends and, in some cases, with no hope of leaving.

The "thing" - for lack of a better word - that made this story so touching, to me, was watching the characters discover the "real" Miss Hastings.  How often do we, like the citizens of Sovereign, think that our surface acquaintance with someone means that we "know" them?  I loved watching the story evolve and the depiction of Miss Hastings evolve along with it.  

Once again, Jennifer has given us a story about time and place and connections that makes you want to pull up a chair on the front porch and just listen awhile.

Check out all the stops on this virtual tour and come back here next Sunday - July 27th - for an interview with the author and a chance to win the first three books of this wonderful series, as well as some other goodies.