On Pasta Salad and Dogs

I’m going to start with the pasta salad, because the Dog bit of this blog might make you sad. I’ll give you a spoiler alert, so you can stop reading, and just use this week’s entry to go make yourself a tasty side-dish or wowza contribution to your next potluck gathering.

The Facebook algorithm delivered this recipe to me. Now I will say, I often find the algorithm spooky on a good day, obnoxious on a bad one. For instance, the algo decided I must have gone to Camp Lejeune and gotten horrible diseases. I blocked about fifteen variants of that particular ad, and I am still getting it in my spam email.

Other times, it can be amusing. As in, I’m thinking about doing a SwimTrek trip to Indonesia. On this one, along with swimming in gorgeous waters with sea turtles and colorful fish and sharks (I know, I just don’t have a big fear of them, not like I do, say, going to the car mechanic on my own), you visit an island Komodo dragons live on. I did zero research online about the reptiles, other than going to the site and checking out the trip. Next day, Komodo Dragons littered my feed. Everything from where to see them to movies about them to pictures of them. Totally obscure, although I did learn the government has recently hiked the price to step foot on the island from $65 to $250, so all the folks who make their living preventing people from being eaten showing people the Komodo dragons are mad.

Another friend looked at one bra and then had to weed through bra commercials for weeks. I’ll let you know if that happens to me after I publish this.

I do like to try the occasional recipe that the algorithm serves up. This one was very easy. I only watched the video once. A few little notes before I give it to you:

1. Dice instead of chop. It all melds better with smaller pieces. As one of my sons says, that shows the love. He likes chopping though.

2. Amounts of each ingredient are really up to you, except with the dressing. If you love black olives, put more in. Hate green pepper? Don’t add it. I don’t care for spicy things, much to the chagrin of my children (although I remind them, I liked spicy/hot things before I was pregnant with them, so they only have themselves to blame for my pallid palate), so I keep my red onion to a half one, instead of a whole one. You do you.

3. This is best made ahead of time. Just seal it up in Tupperware and let it sit in the fridge.

4. This is just as delicious with regular pasta. I just use brown rice pasta because we are trying to be better about gluten.

5. I know we can’t all get organic food, or care to. I would try to get organic tomatoes for this, though.

PASTA SALAD (This makes enough to serve 10-12 as a side dish.)

1 bag brown rice pasta. Cook and rinse and cool. Tip: Heavily salting your water really makes it taste better.

Green onion, red onion, green pepper, black olives, cherry tomatoes—chop up and add to cooked pasta.

Toss in dressing: 4 cloves of garlic minced, 1 T Dijon mustard, equal parts red wine vinegar and olive oil, 1 T oregano, 2 T parm cheese. Whisk until it melds. You’ll know you have your proportions right if the color turns creamy. Taste it and see if you want it tangier (add more vinegar), or if it needs be more mellow (add more olive oil).

When getting ready to serve, add a bunch of tiny fresh mozzarella balls… or go crazy and add chopped meat too. It’s your pasta salad. Enjoy!

Now, if you’d like to just be happy with a recipe this week, I bid you adieu… the next bit about Dogs makes me awfully emotional, and I wouldn’t want to ruin your coffee time.

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So, a few days ago was National Dog Day, and FB had oodles of cute pictures of pups. Don’t get me wrong, or think I’m ready to sit on the porch and wave my cane at people. I wasn’t resentful at all. I LOVED seeing everyone’s pictures of their doggos. It stabbed me in the heart at the same time, because after over a year, a month, and a handful of days, I still miss our beloved rescue dog. Like, I still cry weekly that we had to let her go.

Yes, it was the right thing to do, yes it was time. Yes, she let us know she was ready.

I wasn’t ready. None of us were.

I’m still not ready.

Most of you know our story of Keisha, who was a rescue who rescued us, or you can read about it in this blog, or in the book I wrote about her and us. My husband has nearly convinced me she was a Beauceron.

So now we are on all these Beauceron websites looking at them, getting to know where to find the breed. We will 100% do a rescue again. We are not puppy people anymore. We are NOT READY for another dog yet, mind you. But we are super wistful for the one that is gone. I also torture myself by having friends who rescue animals (I donate proceeds from the book) so really, I should be used to seeing all the cute noses and perky ears and that soulful way dogs gaze at their person.

Whew, howdy. After about the tenth picture, I had to close the website. I know, I know. I AM grateful we had her. I’m relatively sure my heart is mending from the loss, and very sure that I’d like to have a dog or two again.

I like the walks too, amiable pup by my side, or just ahead, sniffing things. I love the way dogs’ tails wag when they walk. Letting you know they are happy.

That’s the other thing. Where I walk in the mornings is the same route we used to walk with our dog. It got shorter as she got older. And then recently, when I was back visiting where we lived when she had lots of energy, I walked in those spaces as well. It was very emotional.

I have to believe that loving something that much is good for me. It better be, because this broken feeling is hard to take some days.

Please give your pup an extra snuggle from me, and a biscuit. Our dog loved biscuits. She was a such a good girl.

On My New Release and Medieval Research

Book 4 of my Darkwood series publishes Sept 29th! I am super excited about this one, “Starcrossed of Darkwood.” As with all the Darkwood books, a fairy tale is twisted. This one is a favorite of mine, Rapunzel. I always felt a little bad for the witch in the story. After all, the husband stole lettuce from her garden… although I suppose demanding a first-born child was excessive for the transgression. Then there’s the part where the witch pushes the prince out of the tower, blinding him on the thorns below… okay, maybe she isn’t that sympathetic after all. But the girl in the tower is, and I thought (as I am wont to do) … what if… she decided going back to the tower was the better choice for her?

This outing in the series follows three women as their fates intertwine. You need to at least read “The Traveller’s Tale” before you read this one. While I do a good job of reminding my wonderful readers about certain plot points, you will miss a lot if you don’t know the backstory of the Travellers and the curse that’s been placed upon them. All my books are only $4.99 in kindle, so you won’t break the bank.

In celebration of this book, which was a bit of a bear to write, I’ve put “The Twins of Darkwood” on sale for .99 cents for the first five days of publication.

I also added a fun bit in this book as an homage to the book series that began my love of fantasy. I specifically placed two references to “The Lord of the Rings” in the book. If you find them, email me at my author address: staceyuptonbracey@eatwriteplay.com I’ll have a little gift for you until supplies run out.

I mentioned this one was a bit of a struggle to write. Not particularly with content, but I was interrupted a lot (by choice) directing back-to-back plays, new play rewrites, and a bit of teaching. I’ve discovered I cannot serve two creative masters. If you’re in my cast, or in my class, you’re getting 100% of me. Same goes for writing when I’m in that groove. I try to put the very best of myself into my books. Starcrossed is also longer than the previous books, coming in at about 109K words as opposed to about 75-80k words (words are writer talk, I know… in pages, 1k words = 4 pages of book.) At the end of my process to get it done on time and out to my Beta readers for their always insightful notes, I was averaging 8k words a day, or 32 pages of book per day, and then still doing the rest of my life. It was a lot. But as I said, I am super happy with the result. My Beta readers said things like, “I couldn’t put it down,” and “Best one yet!” Makes my heart happy. I promise I am a good writer, so if you haven’t ventured into the Darkwood, give “The Traveller’s Tale” a try.

I started book 5 this week. The main part of this series will have been completed and published in 15 months, from the first “what if” to the finish. Five full books and a 30k novella. Not bad for my first foray into series writing.

Book 5 will be my most intensive (by far) for research, as a chunk of it takes place on a medieval Caravel, which was a marvel of a ship created by the Portuguese in 1450, just in time for my novel. It was fast, could tack against the wind, and allowed the Spice Trade to flourish.

I know nothing about ships or sailing (although I watched the entirety of “Black Sails,” which I wholeheartedly recommend.) You just need to get through the gratuitous smut of the first few episodes and let the characters settle. I might watch it again. It takes place a little later than my books, but the basic sailing things are there. Avast mates!

I started writing book five three days ago. Here is a partial list of my look-up history:

Saint who walled herself in on purpose (an anchorite)

Vlad the Impaler

How did letters travel without messengers?

Were messenger birds used in Medieval Times (sources say mostly yes)

Can ships carry a trebuchet (which is by far my favorite Medieval weapon)

Carrack Ships (too big, I went with the smaller Caravel)

Where did sailors sleep on the ship?

How did caravels steer (hint, not a wheel)

Best dates to curse someone

Poisons made from natural things

Can drinking blood prolong life (jury is out)

Various iterations of “Beauty and the Beast” (the retelling I am using for this book)

Medieval healing and surgery

What do nuns eat in Medieval times (mostly vegetarian)

Could Medieval nuns marry (yes)

Legends of the Three Fates

Legends of Sirens and Mermaids

What was Chania harbor like in medieval times

The Spice Route–Land and Sea

As you can tell, lots of exciting things to write about in this next one. It’s mostly outlined, as I’ve known for quite some time where this one was headed and how things end up. For my loose ends, I have 2-3 more novellas I’ll pack into a single collection of a book, and then a duology with my wonderful characters Aisha and Malik in the spring of next year.

So, come on and visit the Darkwood with me. You’ll be glad you did! You can find all the books on Amazon, in both paperback and ebook, and I am in KU as well. Go here to check out the 5-star series–> https://www.amazon.com/Stacey-Upton-Bracey/e/B07NZDGRPJ

On Drive-Thru Carwashes and Completion Blues

White soap suds streaming down the side of the windows, preventing any view of the outside world. The sinister slap of long cloths sliding over the hood of the car like a giant squid trying to devour it. Brushes attacking the sides of the car. Jets of water streaming all around, your car turned into a submersible. Gusts of air blasting down onto your vehicle, and then finally, daylight ahead.

Ah, the drive-thru car wash.

While it is fun being driven through a car wash as a passenger, I discovered this week that it’s like a visit to the tower of terror when I’m the one trying to line up my car wheels with the track that will pull me through. Sullen men wave you forward (honestly, I don’t blame them, it looks like a steamy, horrible job) and then their hand flies up for you to stop. Then you have to put your car in neutral.

I didn’t know how to get to neutral right away, so I nearly killed the guy guiding me in. I completely deserved the nasty look he gave me. Then, at the end of it, I wasn’t sure when to put the car in drive again, so the car tracking behind me came perilously close to ripping off the back bumper of my car.

Is a clean car really worth all the aggravation?

I used to enjoy going to the car dealership (Sewell in Dallas) where they offer free car washes for as long as you own a car purchased from them. They have a nice waiting area with one of those coffee machines that can produce hot chocolate as well, and if you time it right, fresh cookies. I got out of the habit during Covid lockdown, and it’s a bit of a drive.

So I gird my courage to the sticking point* and brave the dreaded drive-thru thing, instead. It’s a part of adulting I could do without.

In other news, after four 12-hour days in a row of final edits, I finished the 4th book in my “Tales of Darkwood” dark fantasy/twisted fairy tale series yesterday, on schedule thank you very much, and passed it off to my wonderful proofreader. It’s a chonky book, clocking in at 109,000 words, give or take. My other books have been around 80,000. These characters (it’s a spin on Rapunzel) had a lot to say. I am happy with the book, and love my cover. It’s taken a lot longer to write this one than the others in the series, as I directed two plays, resumed my role as a theatre critic, saw Mom and Dad through a long hospital stay, and published a fun little Mermaid Paranormal Romance short as well as did a polish on my play during the space of writing it. So instead of my normal two to three month writing process, this one took me four and a half months. That’s a long time to be immersed in another world, even one as interesting as 1450s Stuttgart, Germany, where magic still floats on the edge of reality.

Rather than elation at completing another book, which you’d expect, I felt glum. I missed my quirky, difficult characters this morning. I’d planned to start straightaway on book 5 today.. instead, I walked around the mall for exercise and people watching (too hot for a long walk outside), talked to friends, checked in on others, and ate a giant bowl of popcorn while watching a silly movie. That sent me into a carb coma, from which I awoke on the couch two hours later, with the movie long finished, with creases on the side of my face.

It’s my form of going on a bender, I suppose. It might have been self-care, but my choice of food was a little… not in the self-care category. The popcorn was loaded with salt, paprika, and parmesan cheese.

Not so bad, all told, I suppose. Right?

I’ll start the next book tomorrow. Lord knows what carb-laden mourning I’ll do when I finish that one, which should wrap up the entire series. Pasta Carbonara, perhaps, with a side of fresh Italian bread, slathered in butter… well, now that I’m writing that down, it sounds pretty good. Motivating, even.

What is your go-to when you need a break from your work?

*bonus points for anyone who knows what this quote is from.

On Visits Back and Good Friends

This past week I got to go back to a place that holds a special place in my heart. Johnson City, Tennessee. It’s where my husband and I lived for ten years, raised our kids, and found our rescue dog, who later rescued us.

It’s where we made great friends. The kind that you can pick up conversations with even though a long interim—over five years — has passed, it doesn’t seem to matter a bit.

A wonderful theatre company is producing my latest play there in September. JCCT is the longest-running theatre in Tennessee, and I am part of their 137th production year. My play was sponsored by Bravissima! It’s a group of philanthropic women who make a yearly commitment to support the arts in that community. I got to be in on the auditions, and workshop “Death By Design,” my funny, snarky murder-mystery send-up of Agatha Christie set in a modern-day Appalachian B&B. It’s got lightning, thunder, a variety of surprise deaths, twists and turns, and a real ghost. I think you’ll enjoy it.

We have a great cast and crew, and it’s helmed by a friend of mine, Melanie Yodkins. We had a lot of fun this past week, so I didn’t mind the work or the long hours. I got to teach three acting classes, meet new actor friends, and work with some extremely talented people. The play goes up next month, y’all should go see it if you’re in the JC neighborhood.

Going back to Johnson City was emotion-filled. Our family was very happy there, and there are so many memories. It’s a small town, but a growing one, so my memories of places didn’t exactly match up to current reality. I didn’t get lost as I drove around in my rental Prius (loved it! 57 miles to the gallon!), but there were times when I was slightly confused, old buildings replaced by new constructs. I was struck by what I’d forgotten. The hilliness. The green that is so vibrant it makes your eyes hurt. I made sure to get out and walk or hike daily. I didn’t get to swim in Lake Watauga or do the Laurel Falls hike that intersects with the Appalachian trail or swim with my old master’s swim group this visit. Maybe that was for the best, as this trip wore me out. And did I mention it is very hilly there? Like I think they added extra hills or something.

While the theatre kept me busy, I had time to visit too. Mom friends, Swim friends, dear friends. I had lunches and dinners and walks with as many as I could. In serendipitous timing, I even got to attend a fiftieth wedding anniversary party. Talking with old friends is so easy. You not only revisit memories but get to find out what is new, whose kids are married or have babies. You can talk for hours with ease. It made me misty and very grateful.

Friends put me up for most of my visit, too. I had cats for companions for my first five nights. Here is a picture of one of them, Doom.

I visited old haunts, walked the streets of Jonesborough, and drove out to Mountain View foods for a tasty handmade sandwich and whoopie pie. The overlay between my memories of those places, and their current reality wasn’t jarring, but it was there. A new park, a whole new development of houses, a tree missing.

What hadn’t changed was the love and friendship of the people I left behind. It was so good to reconnect, and to realize they are never really gone, and that new memories are just waiting to be made. #luckygal, indeed.