Author Archives: maisymak

The Absolute Necessity of A Free Press

In a serendipitous meeting of experiences this last month, I write to pay tribute to the news. Yeah, I know. News organizations can be obnoxious. They can recycle the same tired stories. They tend to lean toward the dramatic and dark, and not all of them are legit. But still – for our democracy to survive, the free press is an absolute necessity.

You may have noticed:

Women are speaking. A lot of them.

And who are they turning to? Writers. The free press.

The success of #metoo and #blacklivesmatter? The free press.

With the click of a button, a single needed voice can spread like lightening across continents.

We need the media. We need their fact checking. We need whistle blowers because we humans have a tendency to let power and money and status corrupt our souls.

Here’s where my serendipitous free press journey began:

Last month I began reading NFL quarterback Steve Young’s memoir, QB: My Life Beyond the Spiral (and excellent read, football fan or not.) I enjoyed many things about the book, including Young’s striving to do “the right thing.” I was struck by his photographic memory and ability to memorize over a hundred plays and know where each man should be on each of those plays. I appreciated how he wrote about his near-debilitating anxiety before each high stakes game.

 

I noted that the book was co-written with New York Times best-selling author, and journalist, Jeff Benedict. This is common practice: we turn to journalists to help write our stories.

You know what Young suffered a lot of? Concussions. (Seven!) After the last one, he never played again.

“As I finished writing these pages, the NFL’s top health and safety official admitted for the first time that there is a link between football and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a brain disease found in dozens of retired players. CTE is real.”

And here came the serendipitous part. While reading Young’s memoir, I began the brain unit with my Anatomy and Physiology class. A student mentioned we should watch the 2015 movie, Concussion, with Will Smith. A movie I finally viewed this weekend.

I began researching the history of the film and was soon watching the 2013 PBS special League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis. I was riveted, disgusted, up in arms. Oh sure, I knew something about concussions and the NFL’s reticence to connect a link to obvious: repeated trauma to the head is NOT GOOD FOR YOUR BRAIN.

But what was most disconcerting was the way Nigerian-American neuropathologist doctor (with several more advanced degrees,) Bennet Omalu, was treated. He was shunned, threatened, banned from presenting, asked to retract his findings. Basically the NFL tried to completely discredit and destroy him until finally, the research could not be denied.

I didn’t know this story until it was written about.

Enter two brothers. Journalists. Investigative reporters Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada. Steve has a Pulitzer Prize for reporting in Iraq. Mark broke the Barry Bonds steroid scandal. Going up against the NFL, which surpassed $13 BILLION in revenue in 2016? “It cost us everything,” the brothers say.

Did they report anyway? They sure did.

This post really isn’t about football or sports (of which I am a big fan) per se, but the people, specifically writers (and in this case, also a scientist), who sought to right a wrong, to expose the corrupt, to tell the truth.

As one team doctor said, “Your work suggests or is suggesting or is proving that football is a dangerous sport, and that if 10 percent of mothers in this country would begin to perceive football as a dangerous sport, that is the end of football.”

I’ll let you do with that as you will.

Another breaking news headline this month: the so-called doctor with the last name of Nassar, who the USA Gymnastic Association inexplicably continued to employ after reported abuse (they deny wrongdoing.) Read this. Or don’t. “The 156 women who spoke in open court this week, chronicling Larry Nassar’s 20-year career as a sexual predator, seethed. They were unsparing. They were implacable. They were also brilliantly sardonic.”

Who did these girls go to when those with the power and money continued to abuse? The free press.

Who took down wall street? The free press.

Who finally brought the Catholic church abuse to light? Writers at The Boston Globe.

Google images

Think of our battlefields. Think of our young men and women on those battle fields. Freedom of speech, a tenet of American democracy is a privilege we’ve paid for with our lives.

At this moment, how many thousands of people are there around the world who are sitting in a jail cell for having an opinion? While I so easily publish a blog post.

As E.E. Cummings wrote, “The theory of the free press is not that the truth will be presented completely or perfectly in any one instance, but that the truth will emerge from free discussion.”

Converging with all of these thoughts was watching the wonderfully acted, heart pumping film, The Post, this past weekend, starring Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep. Watch a trailer HERE. Ah, I’m such a sucker for stories about the newsroom.

You want to watch bravery in action? Watch a terrified Meryl Streep surrounded by a room full of men, having to make what is likely the hardest and most dangerous choice of her life: expose the highest power of government (possibly face jail time and lose The Washington Post) or keep quiet and risk nothing. It took great restraint not to stand and clap right there in the Regal Cinema.

The Post Header via Film Stage

There’s a line that has stuck with me – “If we don’t publish, we will lose. The country will lose!”

Nixon was ticked (to put it mildly,) and attempted to ban the New York Times from ever covering another white house event. Well, we all know what happened to that guy.

It is a very very dangerous thing to let anyone, much less a sitting president, dictate what is and what isn’t news worthy. And when a president cries “fake news,” let us be very very wary.

Freedom implies the absence of interference from an overreaching government or any other entity which strives to silence truth.

There is no doubt the free press has great power. With that power comes great responsibility (said everyone from God to Yoda to Dumbledore). There are publications creating fake news for a click – and I find it disgusting and immoral.

For all their flaws, I take this side: The truth shall set you free.

As for who must keep the press in check? That’s on you and me. Because if there’s ever a time where we can “buy” the news…what is left?

Tonight is the State of the Union. The press will be in attendance. They will report. Will they get it right? We should tune in.

To those brave enough to speak truth, brave enough to write it, and brave enough to hit “publish:” American heroes.

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Favorite Reads of 2017

In an attempt to resurrect my foul mood regarding the month of January, let’s reflect on our best friend, BOOKS. Do you keep track of what you read? I wish I’d done it my whole life. It’s fascinating to know what I pick up next and see what kind of trends are trending in my brain…

Of course I have my trusty journal with pink uni-ball pen, but last year I also began keeping track through the Goodreads challenge. My goal was 50 books. I read 33. For 2018, I again put 50 as my goal again because I’m unrealistically optimistic and gosh darn it, there are BOOKS TO READ (and less People.com stories to scroll through. am I right?)

Friend Annie, has an app, and has the ambitious goal of 52 books (one a week!) Do you have a goal?

Let’s get really nerdy for a moment. Of the 33 books I read, here’s a breakdown, with my favorite book for each category (SO HARD to decide!):

Children’s: 3 books. Favorite: Mrs. Piggle Wiggle by Betty MacDonald

Middle Grade: 3 books. Favorite: Waiting for Augusta by Jessica Lawson

Favorite Illustrations: Eloise Wilkins Stories, the Little Golden Book Collection

Young Adult: 4 books. Favorite: 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher (break your heart good. An important read for parents.)

Adult Fiction: 11 books. Favorite: Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult (incredibly relevant. sadly.)

Short Stories: 1. Dear Life by Alice Munro. (superb)

Poetry: 1 book. Bright Exit by Laurie Zimmerman (powerful)

Writing Craft: 1 book. Favorite: The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maass

Memoir: 7 books. Favorite: Lit by Mary Karr AND The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

Inspirational: 2 books. Favorite: Proof of Heaven by neurosurgeon Eben Alexander (WOAH.)

Most anticipated book that was way over my head: Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (his obvious brilliance eludes me :()

Male Authors read: 11

Female Authors read: 22 (one author read twice)

Interestingly, of the nine memoir/inspirational reads, only 2 were male authors (Clayton Christenson and Eben Alexander.) Memoir is dominated by female authors, which makes me wonder if men are writing their stories down…

It’s very obvious that I’m drawn to stories with family drama. Favorites will make me laugh AND cry. ALL of the books read this year were realistic fiction or nonfiction. I read no fantasy, speculative, or dystopian. As for my children? Nobody but me and Gregor likes realistic fiction all that much. Does this mean I lack imagination??? But even as a child, I disliked it. Judy Blume couldn’t get write fast enough for me!

I only read one book with one of my children: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh by Robert C. O’Brien. This makes me kind of sad as daily reading with a child dominated much of my activity in earlier years. I’m determined to find books to read with Brynne and Paige this year (Brynne is reading The Help right now, on my suggestion.)

Since we’re breaking down the entertainment, here were a few other 2017 Favorites:

TV Shows: Mercy Street (LOVE), John Adams, Chicago PD, Blue Bloods, Hart of Dixie (so cheesey, but that Lemon!), The Crown, Poldark, Victoria, This is Us, The Good Doctor, Turn.

Geez, I could get a lot more reading done with all that time the above, ahem…

Movies: Wonder, Darkest Hour, Dunkirk, and The Greatest Showman (although historically suspect, I loved the acting and the music is tremendous!)

Podcasts: Happier with Gretchen Rubin, Helping Writers Become Authors with K.M. Weilland, Modern Love by the New York Times, and the 10-Minute Writer’s Workshop.

Whew! That’s fun. Okay, your turn. What do I have to get to this year???

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Hand-Written Planners Make Me So Happy {and a few goals}

I was positively giddy when I spied this in Target (can Target do no wrong?) whilst last-minute Christmas shopping in Arizona. Side note: It was 70 and sunny there. Quite blissful. At the moment, New Hampshire is getting with a “Bombogenesis: the Perfect Storm of Cold, Gusting Wind, and Snow.” Did you know it’s colder than Mars? Isn’t that neat?

Back to the planner. I bought the Blue Sky Planner with the “daily planning sheets.”

The heart rate picks up just talking about this stuff.

Is this normal?

Daily sheets: I do best when I can plan the night before and write down what I’m going to do by the hour. Some events are scheduled, like the class I’m teaching and the gazillion drop offs and pick ups my children require. But there are A LOT of hours in the day that can be frittered away or USED FOR GREATNESS.

I thrive on *accountability. Hourly planners do that for me.

*Learn about yourself. Take the 4 Tendancies Quiz HERE.

I have a shared electronic Google calendar, but largely to only consult outside of the house (and to spy on my husband who does not like feeling tethered).

I’ve tried a dozen planner ideas, from simple notebooks to only electronic.

But year after year I come back to the physical handwritten planner. I make long lists, write using colored pens, draw happy faces, and cross tasks off daily, like “strength work out!,” and “keep your butt in the chair and write for one hour.” It makes me feel incredibly accomplished. It’s positive reinforcement, the key to getting things done.

This summer I bought an official bullet journal but was so paralyzed by doing it right that it still sits in my drawer. Oh dear (Nina, I hide my face in shame!)

Let’s move on to 2018 goals.

Every January we sit together as a family as I chirp about progress (I’m SO FUN 🙂 )

This year my goals have become more about maintenance (a sign of age?)

2018, in no particular order:

  • I will stop cutting my own hair. PUT DOWN THE SCISSORS, AMY!
  • I will stop drinking Diet Coke. JUST KIDDING! Have you tried Lime? Limit to 3/week.
  • Start every day by quietly reading the scriptures. Not social media or email.
  • Charmin toilet paper. After too many years of cheap, I’ve concluded that cheap actually requires much more usage. Quality, friends, QUALITY! Our backsides deserve better.
  • Finish novel. Pitch novel. Sell novel. WE CAN DO IT.
  • Read 50 books with the Goodreads Challenge.
  • Run at least two half-marathons. Maintenance. I just don’t want to get slower. Not yet.
  • House. Tidy daily. Stop dumping laundry on floor and leaving it there. Seriously. Come on.
  • One treat a day. NO MORE.
  • Strengthen the Family. Daily family scriptures, prayer, and kind voices. It works. I see it.
  • Austerity. No, Amy, you do not need that hair product.

“Reach” Goals I dream of…

  • Watercolor more with Brynne
  • Photography
  • Declutter entire house. Live total minimalism. Maybe live in a treehouse.

Comment please. What kind of calendar do you use? What are your goals? Do you make them?

 

 

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Christmas Granola

As a self-described granola addict, this is one of my favorite Christmas gifts to push on the neighbors {I don’t think they mind}.
It’s extra festive because we candy the nuts with maple syrup and a pinch of sea salt. Oh my. Read on…life will never be the same.
You’ll start with the usual suspect: rolled oats (not quick oats)
About 7-8 cups Granola. Add cinnamon.
In a saucepan, over low-medium heat, add water, honey, olive oil, and maple syrup. Heat until small bubbles form around pot. Pour into dry mix. Stir. Lay out on two lined cookie sheets. Cook for about an hour until toasty brown.
 Add Dried Cranberries, Pumpkin Seeds, and Coconut Flakes. It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…
Candied nuts are simple: heat maple syrup in a skillet, add nuts. Stir occasionally. Done! YUM.
Load into gift bags and you’ve got a great gift. Tasty, healthy, WE RUN ON OATS!

MaisyMak Granola Snack, Christmas Edition:

Heat Oven to 300

Combine:

7-8 C Oatmeal
1/2 C Sunflower Seeds
1 Tbsp Cinnamon

Heat in Saucepan:

1 C Water
1 C Honey
1/2 C Olive Oil
1/2-1 C Pure Maple Syrup
Heat until tiny bubbles form around pot. (If you want more “sticky clumps,” you’ll need to add more honey or maple syrup.) Pour over the dry mix. Stir evenly. Spread granola onto two lined (foil or parchment paper) cookie sheets. Place granola in oven, stirring every ten minutes, rotating granola from top to bottom racks to ensure even browning. About an hour.
Meanwhile….

Heat in Skillet:

1/2-1 C Maple Syrup
A pinch of Sea Salt
1 C Pecans
1 C Almonds
1 C Walnuts
In a skillet pan (I use a well-oiled cast iron), heat maple syrup and sea salt over low-medium heat for one minute. Add the nuts. Stir occasionally until syrup begins to “candy” the nuts, being careful not to let the nuts burn. You’ll know it’s ready by the delicious smell, and when the liquid is soaked up. About 7-9 minutes. (Beware: these candied nuts are a DANGEROUS snack 🙂 )

When Granola is out of Oven, Add:

Candied nuts
1 C Unsweetened Coconut Flakes (I like Bob Mills)
1 C Dried Cranberries
1 C Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Place in gift bags. Or consume. Whichever. Merry Christmas!

You may also want to try: 3-ingredient homemade dark chocolate, my favorite sugar cookie, sugared cranberries and brie bites, famous NYTimes No-Knead Bread!

See you in the New Year!

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A Christ-Centered Christmas Craft

It’s cute, a reminder, and such fun alliteration to say, “a Christ-Centered Christmas Craft,” no?

I’m handing these out to my young women at church tomorrow…

Credit goes to Ivory Bloom where you can download your FREE PDF PRINTABLE

I hope my girls will hang it somewhere where they can see it every day, all year. In my opinion: The most important key of our whole life.

You will need:

Rustic keys ($11 for 20 skeleton keys – there are MANY key options)

Cardstock of any color

Ribbon

Easy. Kids and youth (and adults!) love the keys. Paige HAD TO HAVE a key, which will certainly unlock mysterious attic doors, and ahem, Let Jesus In 🙂

Enjoy!

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Not Everyone Loves Christmas: Holiday Encouragement

I’ve been sharply reminded several times already this month that not everyone is happy at Christmas time.

The “perfect Christmas” is supposed to be presents and treats and music and laughter. Most of all, it’s gathering with those we love the most.

But that doesn’t happen for everyone. Some of us are alone and some of us are surrounded by family but still missing someone. I think of Cassie. Of Heather. Andrew. The older we get, the list grows.

Katie Couric wrote a beautiful essay Here, of what she’s learned from missing her husband for the last 19 Christmas’s.

My father-in-law and I were listening to Christmas songs on the way home from Boston and the song, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” came on. “This is a sad song,” he said. “It’s from World War II.” I was pretty sure he was also thinking of his wife.

I thought of war time and all the young men and women who never came home. Not for Christmas and sometimes not ever.

Two of my close friends lost their husband’s this year. Stephen. Eric. We miss them.

My neighbor still longs for his wife who has been gone the last 20.

I believe that someday, we will be reunited with the ones we love the very most.

But in the meantime, we are here are on earth to help each other along the way.

I post this video in the hopes that we can be the light that makes someone’s Christmas bright.

(As a side note, there are several Cope sightings 🙂 )

Wishes and Candle for you:

 

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A Few Favorite Things {a maisymak Christmas guide}

Now that we’ve said “THANK YOU!” can we ask for stuff? 🙂

Here are some beloved items you may consider for the Christmas season.

FOR YOU (Warm and Cozy ALL WINTER):

1. American Eagle Faux Mink Twisted Snood: Haven’t you always wanted to wear something called a “Snood”? Go ahead, imagine yourself wearing wicked good mocs and a super soft faux mink snood and you’re ME. All DAY. This snood is both fabulously soft and also pretty; you can wear it to bed or a dinner party.

  1.  2.  3. 

2. L.L. Bean Wicked Good Moccasins. Have you put your feet in these? You’ll never take them out. And with L.L.Bean’s Lifetime Guarantee (the best!), you’ll never ever have to buy another pair. I wear them all day, all winter. With a snood. 25% off TODAY!

3. LL Bean’s Weave Hat and Mitten Set. You see a theme here? Warm and cuddly and so soft inside. And the mittens can go on either hand.

FOR YOU (Beautiful ALL WINTER):

  1.  2.  3. 

1. Coconut Oil. Weird? It’s the best (and most economical) beauty product I have in the shower. Apply to feet, legs, arms, face, and hair! Anti-microbial and bacterial, no greasy, clogged pores. Feel soft and smooth and smell delicious. Buy anywhere.

2. Garnier Skin Renew. Our love affair is going strong. I’ve resisted foundation, but have needed a tinted moisturizer and smoother. This is it. Buy at any drugstore.

3. Pomegranates. Because you are what you eat – and because beauty literally comes from the inside. The fruit is in season NOW. Eat for breakfast lunch or dinner, it also makes a great stocking stuffer.

STOCKING STUFFERS:

  1.  2.  3 .

4.  5.  6. 

1. Seed and Sky necklaces. Handcrafted by a former student who is now a master artisan, these are so beautiful and unique. My girls adore them. On sale now!

2. Candy Cane Pop Rocks. Can’t go wrong here, right?

3. Candy Land Band-aids. Right???

4. Barrel of Monkeys. Long car rides, boring afternoons…monkeys are fun!

5. Whoopie Cushion. Surrounded by sisters, my son has never had one. It’s time.

6. Hatch a Dinosaur! Paige wants this soooo bad. I can’t wait 🙂

FAMILY Fun

  1.  2. 

1. Oh, Snap! A new game we all have fun playing. Find a sale at Target!

2. #LightTheWorld This is the most important and best Christmas gift. I love this campaign. It’s a reminder to be the light by serving one another. See a video below and print the PDF for your family.

Books for Christmas!

  1.   2. 3. 

4.  5.  6. 

1. How to Be An Explorer of the World by Keri Smith. So excited for Paige to open this for Christmas.

2. The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes. Classic.

3. Under the Bottle Bridge by Jessica Lawson. Paige named it as a favorite of all-time!

4. The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart.

5. Turtles All the Way Down by John Green. I’m not even all the way done with it, but I have many thoughts. More later. I think the teen in you will like it.

6. The Unforgettable Guinevere St. Clair by Amy Makechnie. A shameless plug! But the cover was tweaked (see full image here)!!! (Amazon hasn’t updated yet.) Yeah, yeah, you won’t get it until June. Big whoop. Order now. Tell the kids…it’s coming 🙂

Looking for more book ideas? Christmas books, Here, Here, and Here! and Here 🙂

Here we go, into the holidays. Merry Christmas, happy holidays, fa-la-la-la-la!

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The Gratitude Drug

Today husband had four stitches put in his head.

As I drove him to the ER, my imagination went into overdrive as I imagined all of the worst case scenarios. I began to feel mad. How dare he get hurt? This was not on Monday’s schedule! Clearly, I need to get a grip.

Also: my impatience makes me a bad nurse. I like things to be “fine.” I am annoyed by sickness and injury as if they are personal weaknesses. Sigh. Bad nurse.

Impatience and mad finally gave way to a rush of relief. He was okay and so I was, too.

In the long run, it was a little thing, but you know, life changes as quickly as the flip of the switch. Flip. Your life is turned upside down.

There is nothing like spending the day in a hospital to give you perspective.The Thankful Tree, a physical manifestation of our  gratitude. If you’re looking for a family activity, I suggest this one! It’s fun. The kids think it’s great to glue thankful leaves on a tree branch. I’m going to write “Gregor’s Forehead” on a leaf.

I’m also thinking we should tell the people we love that WE REALLY DO LOVE THEM. Because the Thanksgiving table changes. People somehow get swapped out. This year I will have to make a giant paper Cope Cut-out.

Cope, we love you.

Life is good. We are alive and well. Even if our girl will be eating mashed potatoes in the Wasatch Mountains…sniff…(but Patrick and Natalie, I am SO GRATEFUL for hosting her!!!)

Small events like this morning are reminders. We are mortal. I’m grateful for more time. It’s a feeling that floods through me. It’s like a drug. Literallly.

Did you know? This relief, this thankfulness, this GRATITUDE activates a reward center in our brain: meaning we crave more. Read THIS Great Post! “When we feel grateful, we are programmed to seek out more experiences or things to be grateful for, more ways to feel that high.”

And guess what else? The more we practice gratitude, the better we get at it. The brain continues to seek after what made us feel so good (confirmation bias) so it keeps finding ways to be grateful, which in turn keeps rewarding us with feel-good dopamine.

But on the flip side: it could also do the opposite. If we look for ways that life is no-good horrible, our brain will keep finding more no-good horrible. We could actually train our brain to seek after the bad.

Fascinating, no?

I think I’ll stick with feel-good dopamine hits.

For starters: Sunsets

Children hopping off a school bus

The change of seasons

This guy. A scar on the forehead should just make him more fetching, right?

I’m thankful he’ll be at the table (and cooking the turkey and stuffing.)

There was another dopamine hit:

Starving, I went to the hospital cafeteria for soup and a Diet Coke (I know, a drug I’ve got to quit) only to discover they didn’t take credit cards. While fumbling through my purse to no avail, a man pulled out five dollars. “It’s the holidays,” he said, handing it over to the cashier.

Gratitude flooded through me right there in the check-out line. What kindness.

In turn, I wanted to buy someone else lunch. See what he did there?

Just think, if we were all so kind, the gratitude drug could become an epidemic. We could be swimming in happiness.

Happy Thanksgiving, friends.

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Sunday Meditations: we were moving mountains…

Originally sung by Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston, I’m partial to this version.

My favorite line:

We were moving mountains
Long before we knew we could

Bias might also be the fact that Cope is singing. You can find her around 2:45 and 2:54 and 3:01 and 3:04 (I may have watched this a few times) on the far right with the black and grey striped shirt.

You know, just singing about miracles on the Salt Lake flats.

How about those beatboxers? Sweeeet.

Enjoy 🙂

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A Book is Born {hello, guinevere :}

My dear friends,

here it is.

I am so very very grateful. It’s been a long haul, which I will tell you all about, but for now, let’s just admire the jacket cover art (which I’ve grown to adore.)

That’s Guinevere St. Clair on top of the tractor. Jimmy and Micah are down below wondering what the heck Gwyn is doing. Also: it’s midnight.

I just love these kids (they are very real to me!) and I hope you will love them too.

The book is being released by Simon and Schuster on June 12, 2018, but you can pre-order now and make my day, and when I see you I will give you a big kiss! Or at least a hug. Not your thing? My undying gratitude.

Hardcover:

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

BAM

Indies

Or, support your local bookstore! Our Morgan Hill Bookstore is happy to take preorders!

I’ve read that when you ask people to pre-order your book, you should offer them a *Bonus “thank you” gift. Well, here’s what I’ve got: my heart and soul, years of my life, tears, toiling, and my greatest wish – a story that I hope you will never forget 🙂

That’s what I’ve got. AND IT’S ALL YOURS!

Thank you, thank you. Pinch me, please.

Love,

Amy

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