On Managing Expectations and Anise Cookies

The final book in my wonderful (if I do say so myself) dark fantasy series published Monday. I got lovely applause and cheerful “well-done’s” from my FB friends, and beautiful flowers from my husband. A few sales, too.

“Tales of Darkwood” is a thing I am proud of writing, and chuffed that I completed it in a year. But… I expected to feel a bubbly joy in this culmination of it. It was hard work. I gave it bits of my soul and lots of my time and money.

I felt heartbroken instead. A huge gasp of “now what?” No celebratory feelings at all. You know those images and videos of marathon runners staggering to the end of the race, crawling to get to the finish? They don’t look joyful either. Just determined. Or perhaps crazy. I identify with them today, the day after release. And I know why.

I failed to manage my expectations. There were no balloons or parades for completing the series. It’s just… done. I wanted more of a huzzah, glasses raised, cake, and a gift bag to take home.

As I’ve gotten older, managing expectations has taken on greater urgency. I don’t do well with the emotional hangover being crushed by disappointment leaves behind. “Live and let live” is an iteration of managing expectations. Or perhaps a hearty “Oh well!” when things don’t live up to my hopes. But sometimes the shock of the disappointment wins and then you’re depressed and cry and feel awful.

I’m sure you’ve experienced this in varying degrees. The meal that took hours to make, but just doesn’t taste good. The gift you thought would bring someone true happiness, but instead simply just gets a polite thank you. The restaurant that had five stars, but you had a one-star experience. The bored/rude/inept clerk at the store where you’re about to spend hundreds of dollars who acts like they don’t see you. The child that doesn’t call.

Sometimes I do a good job of managing my disappointment. I bake, read a book, swim, go for a walk, drink too much coffee. I gave up drinking many years ago, so that’s out. I’ve found talking to others feels a lot like dumping my emotional burden on top of them, so that’s not an option anymore, either.

Sometimes I’m going to feel sad, lonely, and less-than for a while… until it goes away. Listen, if you’ve got any coping mechanisms for this, please let me know. ‘Tis the season for multiple, possibly massive disappointments, after all. The holidays can feel like one big field of landmines for many of us, so walk carefully as you ho-ho-ho your way these next few weeks. Someone’s heart may be bruised, or close to breaking. I know I’m going to do my best to be patient and kind. Even in holiday traffic.

Luckily, baking has a spark of magic in it. I am always heartened when I mix disparate, boring ingredients together and put them in the oven… because what comes out is nearly always an aromatic bundle of love and deliciousness that I can share with others. I’m not quite sure when feeding people became my love language, but it surely is now. Right up there with telling a good story or helping an actor discover how very good they are at their chosen craft.

In that vein, here’s our family recipe for soft Anise cookies… it’s not your normal Christmas cookie… anise is a bit of an acquired taste, unless you already like black licorice, then this is the cookie for you. Anise tastes of darkness, sort of the Krampus version of a Christmas cookie. It’s fantastic with coffee. This is a half-recipe, and it still makes about 4 dozen cookies. I apologize in advance for the vague instructions. I learned this one in my aunt’s kitchen in Kingston, Iowa. My family tends to cook by how things look or smell or feel as opposed to actual measurements.

My rolling pin was made by my great-grandfather, but you can find them online, or use finding one as an excuse to go visit Germany.

SOFT ANISE COOKIES by Helen Brown (my aunt)

Beat 4 eggs for about 10 minutes with a hand mixer, then add in slowly as you continue to beat:
1 dram of Anise extract (it’s roughly ¾ of a teaspoon, but I do a bit more)
1 heaping tablespoon baking powder
1 scant tablespoon oleo (I use Nature’s Own, bc I cannot deal with Oleo, margarine, or Crisco.)
1 pound powdered sugar

This will make a nice batter, like cake batter. Then add in (you’ll need to hand mix at this point, or you’ll kill your mixer) 4 cups of flour… about… it depends on the size of the eggs you use but you want a dough you can roll out. It will look like cookie dough should (I warned you about how I learned this recipe, ha.)

Roll out dough on floured surface, about ½ inch thick and print cookies. As you go, put them on lightly floured cookie sheets. Continue until dough is all printed.

Let them dry on a table for 3-12 hours. This will allow the print you put on them to stay when they bake.

Lightly grease cookie sheets. Bake at 325 for 10 minutes or so, just until the bottoms are light golden brown. The tops will stay pale. They will puff up and stay that way.

This version is intended to stay soft. There are others that omit the bit of fat that this one uses. If you do that, you’ll get a jawbreaker, biscotti-type of cookie, but it’s just as tasty in its Krampus-like way.

On Apple Cake and Book 5 of 5

Day-old Apple cake* plays a huge role in my “Tales of Darkwood” series, especially in the final book that publishes this coming Monday. I only thought it fair that I find a good recipe for apple cake to share with you. Here it is: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/361695413829270678/

Book 5, titled “Blood to Bind” turned out to be a fantastic yarn. I’m going to go out on a limb and say publicly that I’m thrilled with it, as well as happy with the whole series. Completing an entire five-book series, along with a hefty novella prequel in a single year (well, okay, it took a year and a half to noodle them out and write them all, but they all published in 2022) took a lot of effort. Not to mention learning how to be a publisher, creating my publishing imprint, and then figuring out marketing. If you haven’t started them yet, this is the link to my author page. https://www.amazon.com/Stacey-Upton-Bracey/e/B07NZDGRPJ You could get all 5 books for someone for Christmas for less than $25 on kindle… just a suggestion.

“The Traveller’s Tale” is the FIS (First in Series—see how I can sling the acronyms? Lol.)

I’ll let you in on a secret: It nearly did me in. Especially this last book. I imagined it was going to be a 75k page book but turned out to be about 110k. It’s good though. A page-turner that wraps up multiple story lines in an entertaining way. My Beta readers claim it’s their favorite one. I trust them.

I stayed sane by talking to friends, going for walks, and swimming. Coffee also played a big part in keeping me going. I wrote nearly daily, at least 2,000 words a day (about 8 pages of book). Towards the end, I was writing about 8k a day (32 pages) to get it done in time. I’ve found I do my best writing in the morning, so I started getting up early, around 4am to get ‘er done. Not that I like that answer to “what is my writing practice,” but it’s what works for me.

I do love writing, though. Pretty sure my current pace of at least 6 full-length books + some shorts per year is something I can keep up.

This coming year will bring some changes. I have a pen name I introduced in an anthology this year, alongside the dark fantasy series. Stacey Christine writes Romance. I’m currently torn between writing Paranormal Romance or Sports Romance (Clean or Spicy?) or Small Town Second Chance Romance. What do you like to read? Email me back here and let me know. Please share any good titles you think I should read in those genres too!

That’s it for now—enjoy your apple cake! “The Seasoned Mom” has good recipes.
*Being that this is a darkish sort of tale… the apple cake in the story might be poisoned…

On Finding Distractions When the World Just Gets Too Big

My goodness, it seems there are a lot of awful things happening. I am feeling weighed down by all of it. My anger wants to get the best of me, gnawing away at my insides and wanting to flash outwards, which would add to the problems.

The reversal of Roe v. Wade has made me oh-so-angry. Mostly because of the re-relegation of women to become human incubators, no matter what they think about it, of course. Speaking as someone who nearly died from an ectopic pregnancy, I can tell you it’s radically unfair to label that an ‘abortion’ and put me in jail for it once I heal up. It’s devastating all on its own, trust me. Don’t need jail time and shaming on top of it. Yep, that’s what several states have mandated. But it also chaps that several of those SCOTUS peeps when they were nominees lied about “established law.” Another just outright stated he’s still angry about his confirmation hearing, so he’s going to do anything and everything to “burn the libs.” Great. There’s who I want on the highest court in the land.

And then they ham-strung the EPA even though combating climate change is a pretty important issue.

 The shootings of children and shoppers and parade goers are gut-kicking. It makes me livid that there have already been 307 mass murders so far THIS YEAR. You cannot convince me that normal people who are not soldiers fighting in a war need rapid-fire AK-anythings. It’s ludicrous. I don’t believe the desire to own one or several is more important than children going to school safely. I also know I will not change anyone’s mind. And no, I’m not lumping handguns and rifles in there.

And it’s insanely hot. And my mom is in the ICU. And my car’s air conditioner quit working this morning.

I cannot control any of this, except my car’s air-conditioning. I’ll need to gear up mentally and emotionally to deal with that, as I always think car mechanics laugh at my ignorance once my back is turned.

Here’s what I do to distract myself and/or practice self-care so that Overwhelm and its sister Despair don’t swamp me and paralyze any forward movement.

1.       Look at Zillow for new places to live. Currently looking for houses on at least 1 acre, so there’s room for a garden and a granny flat. Maybe room for fences, turrets, and a moat, too. Depends on my mood. Must have a Trader Joes and a swimming pool nearby. And at least four seasons, not one really long, hot one, followed by a short less-hot month or two.

2.       Watch “Unexplained” type TV shows about world mysteries. I’ve watched all those ones about aliens (on the History Channel, which always makes me laugh) and Unsolved Mysteries. My new favorite is Bill Shatner narrating the UnXplained (yes, they spell it wrong). It’s exactly like that really old show that his pal Leonard Nimoy used to narrate called “In Search Of.” I find that so meta.

3.       Read recipes for cakes and pies. Maybe re-watch the British Baking Show. Except right now it’s too hot to turn on my oven, and I don’t like no-bake things, so not really doing this one right now.

4.       Watch Alligator reels. (I know!) I just don’t understand why people would go near them. They are not remotely cuddly. That said, one of my bucket list items is to go diving with sharks, so take it all with a grain of salt.

In terms of self-care:

1.       I try to get my writing done as early as possible so the little words knocking around in my head don’t get the best of me and I stay on track to publish 7 books this year. So I get up at 4.30am. Yep.

2.       Exercise nearly every day, sometimes twice a day. Swimming and walking at the moment.

3.       I do my best to drink a lot of water.

4.       Reading. I love books. I just wish I had room for a lot of bookshelves. Thus the looking at new places to live, see how that all ties together?

5.       Naps when possible. Several years ago, a girlfriend took me to see the Dalai Lama be interviewed. When asked about his solution for the world’s woes, he said, “Everyone get more sleep.” I have to agree.

What about you? What are your go-to’s when the world just becomes too much for one body to handle?