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.






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 Rebuilding and Writing a Book

The five-year anniversary of The Fire passed without much comment a few days ago. If FB hadn’t reminded me with its “on this day” feature, I would have missed it. That’s a good sign. Five years removed from the blaze that ate everything we owned, we’re still standing. Still moving forward. Resilient.

I don’t wish the dire crucible that creates resilience on anyone. But if you are experiencing one—and they can take so many different forms—I can stand as your hope that someday, your upending won’t be all-consuming. That you’ll be defined in different terms other than the daily effort of putting one foot in front of the other on the climb out of disaster.

It seems impossible that five years have passed. The first was a blur as we navigated the changes that encompassed internal feelings, our faith, and general replacing of stuff. The kindness and generosity of friends and family got us through that. You know who you are. Utter strangers stepped in to help in that first year too, even if it was simply sitting us down in the employee lounge with a cup of coffee when we were in the midst of overwhelm.

It restored my faith in humanity. And I started writing. Perhaps first out of a weird survivor’s guilt, that since being saved from death, I needed to make something of my life. Thus compelled, I challenged myself by writing a book, something that utterly terrified me. That’s how “On Rescue Dogs and Losing Everything” came to be.

It was well-received, and I’ve gotten messages that it’s helped folks through their own crises. That feels good. You can order it here: https://www.amazon.com/Rescue-Dogs-Losing-Everything-Uncovering-ebook/dp/B07P1GHW7L

I got to donate a bunch of money to animal rescues and shelters from the proceeds too. That’s ongoing, by the way. The cool thing about writing a book—and the disturbing part of it, too—is that once it’s written, its out there. No turning back.

This past May, I reached a point where I wanted to try on a new career as an author/publisher. Evidentially terrifying myself by doing new things has become a habit. I took a class in YA (Young Adult) writing. Being an inveterate rule-follower, I always feel better after I’ve taken a class in something. Legitimized.

I wrote a YA dark fantasy book, which is my personal reading jam. Other people whose jam is also dark fantasy liked it. So I wrote another in the same world. Then a prequel novella to use as a free book for folks who either read my book or joined my author newsletter that goes out monthly. I’m finishing up the third in the Darkwood series this week. There are at least two more books to go that I’ll finish this year.

Some days it’s torture, but most of the time I love my new job.

 Being an Indy writer/publisher stretched me and continues to do so. I joined groups to help me wrap my head around the craft of putting little black words on white pieces of paper while also doing the jobs of a publisher and publicity person. Actual creation of new words takes about three hours daily to hit my sweet spot of 2,000 good words—that’s about eight pages of book. I write a book in a couple months, with another month for making it better and, you know, grammatically correct with the commas in all the right places. I spend two hours a day learning to get better at the skills I need to be successful. Such as Ads on Amazon and FB. Oy. My head may explode. Implementing the marketing and publicity takes another two or three hours daily. It’s not a little part-time hobby.

For those of you who think that self-publishing is a “lesser” route than going for traditionally published books by one of the big five publishing houses, I hear you. I was secretly in that camp myself until last May. While there are some absolutely terrible self-published books, there are also millions that are great. There are good reasons to self-publish. The income is better, by a lot. You control the look of the book, from the cover to the interior formatting and front and back matter. Getting your book in the hands of readers is in your control.

Traditionally published books (if they take your book, which is a long shot) take between 2-4 years to be published. And they dole the advances out over that time. Can’t feed your family on a $5,000 advance stretched out over 2-4 years. And at the end of all of that, the author is still doing most of the marketing and publicity work themselves unless they are a “biggie” like a John Grisham or a Steven King. There are new folks that make it work, which is fantastic. I’m a voracious reader, and the more books I have to choose from, the happier I am.

Resuming this weekly blog is part of my renewed determination to make a real go of this writing thing. I want it to be the career that gives back to the world. That sounds grandiose, but this is what I know for sure: Books saved my life as a lonely child, and sinking into a good book remains a refuge for me on tough days, or when the world becomes too loud. I’ve got to believe I’m not alone.

My goal is to write forty to sixty excellent books in this next decade.

That’s a solid bookshelf. I’m seeing it in my head right now. The next book in the Darkwood series comes out Thursday March 10th. It’s the 2nd in the Darkwood series but can be read on its own with no issues. You can read it for free on KU, or order it from Amazon in paperback or eBook here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09NH45625

So, that’s what The Fire sparked, five years ago. Those themes we see in fiction, of the Phoenix rising from the ashes, or in nature when new growth springs out of a terrible forest fire… they can be real in your life too.

Take a look at my author page. Come join me on the journey. I’d love to have you along.

Just click this https://www.subscribepage.com/m2f4a3 or scan the code below for access to my author page and get the free book that comes with it.

On Pets and People

As we reach the turn of one year into another, leaving behind the eating season, I’m reviewing 2021. While the year has had its share of ups and downs, midway through it, I hit some serious choppy water and stopped writing my weekly blog. There were a couple of reasons. Three, really. The first two I’ll get to in a moment, the third is a happier one, so we can start there.

Books; were my reliable friends during an often lonely childhood. When I was young, my favorite place was the library. I started with Nancy Drew and crew and The Phantom Tollbooth, and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, then moved on to longer series like Lord of the Rings, and The Dark is Rising. Our weekly Saturday morning jaunt to the Wichita Public Library was a highlight of my week. Back then, I’d check out six or seven books per week. My pace has slowed, but I still go through two or three books a week in a broad range of genres.

All of which is warmup to say; I’ve always admired writers and wanted to be one since I was a wee tot. The idea of being a “real writer” was too intimidating, though. I wrote plays and screenplays instead, to some degree of success, while I kept books in their safe place, competently completed by others. Perhaps a bit of complacence there, but mostly I just didn’t believe I could.

That status held until The Fire, the thing that consumed all of our material possessions as well as a good degree of self-confidence as the maraschino topper. The Fire changed everything, as disasters are inclined to do. The only way I was able to cope with the enormity of it was to fight through my fear, write a non-fiction book about our stumbling recovery from that disaster, and publish it. People liked it and gave it great reviews. I gave away half of the profits to animal shelters and rescues. That felt pretty good, and I proved to myself that I could indeed, write a decent book.


I still yearned to write books like the ones I loved as a kid. Fiction books. Magic and Monsters and Other Realms. So just before my latest big birthday (not a coincidence) I took a class, read books about writing by authors I admire, (Thank you @emilycollin, @neilgaiman, @danbrown, @annelamott, and @stephenking) joined a fabulous community of writers online (looking at you, my 20booksto50k friends), and then dove in. Sink or swim.

Eight months into the process of writing “real” books, I’m hopeful that being a “real” writer is going to become my rousing third act. Even though it scares the pants off me some days. It’s a harder road than I expected. The process has involved gnashing of teeth and crying jags. Now I know why babies who are learning to walk and chew solid food cry a lot.

Since May of this year, I’ve written two and a half dark fantasy/twisted fairytale/adventure YA books, two flash fiction pieces that got short listed in a contest, and a tie-in dark fantasy novella that is available right now for free, it’s linked below. If you read it and like it, you’ll like the Darkwood series I’m writing. The learning curve came with the need to find an illustrator and a proofreader and Beta readers, purchase editing and formatting software and learn how to use them, create an author newsletter, update my website, code an onboarding sequence for said newsletter, purchase ISBN numbers from Bowker, and register and launch my own publishing company, EWP Publications. I copyrighted the crap out of everything.

So, my blog went to the wayside for a bit as I waded through all the above. It took up a lot of bandwidth. That was reason number three for the absence of a weekly blog. A nice reason, all told. Except for the crying and gnashing of teeth bits.

The real reason I stopped writing this blog was the loss of two beautiful souls. They were not the only loved ones that passed this year, but they were the two that cut deepest for me. Sally Nemeth and our dog Keisha are my reasons one and two. Both gone in July. It’s taken me this long to write about their passing. I thought about writing this very blog multiple times, then just had to put it to the side as being too painful to the touch. There are no right timeframes for grieving. Maybe it never really stops. Maybe we just grow around it, like an oyster does with grain of sand creating a pearl, or a tree with an irritation, generating more wood around the weak spot.

I find my pearl to be misshapen and my extra wood ungainly. The journey is accepting both as being just the way it is. Being patient as I grew my wood and made my pearl. Now at the end of the year, I feel ready to share what they meant to me.

Sally was a couple of years ahead of me in college. She was part of the in-crowd, cool theatre kids. I was perpetually cool-kid group adjacent. Sally was always friendly, and I admired her immensely, especially as a playwright. Facebook brought us back together, and I grew to like Sally even more as I saw how she lived her life. We had a lot of similarities. Both swimmers, writers, dog lovers, teachers, gardeners. Just like in college, she operated at higher levels than me. Sally was an award-winning writer, avid dog-rescuer, prolific mask sewer, searing political activist, Japanese drummer, and went swimming with whale sharks. She planted milkweed for monarchs and raised nice hens.

Sally was sick for quite a while. Nonetheless, she kept living her life in a beautiful, out-loud sort of way. And then she was gone. I’d hoped to go swim with her and the whale sharks. I’ll still go on that adventure one day, and I’ll think of Sally the whole time. I’ll also plant milkweed, rescue animals, and be politically active. Not doing the drumming though, I’m not musical that way. Not the hens either. I can only hope that someday my writing is as good as Sally’s.

I’m so glad Sally contributed to my first book “On Rescue Dogs.” It makes it even more special to me.

Keisha, our beloved rescue dog, was with us for many years. She famously rescued us from The Fire. She made us laugh and go on long walks every single day until the last weeks of her life. She had a wonderful growling laugh and would play fetch for hours at a time. Keisha showed us (as all dogs do) what unconditional love looks like. I still miss her every time I walk in our front door. Or when I see squirrels, which were in Keisha’s opinion, the worst things ever to inhabit the earth.

We were there at the end for her. Our whole family crowded into the vet’s tiny room. We gave her whipped cream, her favorite. Told her we loved her and petted her and held her to that very last minute. So she wouldn’t be scared and alone. I miss my dog.

It’s true, you know. They rescue us.

I believe both Sally and Keisha are happy and pain-free now. Joyous. It’s just taking me a while to get to that point myself. It takes a long time to grow a pearl, to overcome a wound. And yet, we do.

Half of all proceeds from your purchase of “On Rescue Dogs and Losing Everything” goes to Rescues and animal shelters. You can get a copy here: https://read.amazon.com/kp/embed?asin=B07P1GHW7L&preview=newtab&linkCode=kpe&ref_=cm_sw_r_kb_dp_TDTTAA0BN61KQX2N415P

Grab your free copy of my dark fantasy adventure YA novella “Witch of Darkwood” and sign up for my 1x a month newsletter, I offer great tips and ways to get more free books: https://dl.bookfunnel.com/cnwtflchg3

On Perfect Moments and New Phones

My new phone is passive aggressive. It supposedly uses facial technology to open. Or that’s the idea anyway. Sometimes it “recognizes me,” but mostly I get “no match” when I stare into its heartless little lens for facial recognition. Doesn’t matter if I give it a stink-eye either. Time after time I’m forced to plug in my PIN to get access to this possession that seems to own me, rather than the other way around.

I am overly dependent on my phone. The landline was cut long ago, and my computer is also being uncooperative these days, so I’m forced to use the phone and all its glorious apps for multiple things. Interestingly, I hardly ever use my phone as an actual phone. I take more pictures with it than calls. Once it grudgingly opens, the suspicious little phone takes lovely snaps, but there are days that I miss the delayed gratification of taking a picture and not knowing if it turned out okay until I take ALL the pictures on the roll, then get it to a developer.

When the kids were small, 15 or so years ago, we’d take our film to Costco to be developed and get doubles of everything, not knowing what would be good and what would not be, and to include the better extras in letters (!) to my parents. Even back then, ruffling through the giant bin of developed photos belonging to multiple people, I marveled at the trust inherent in that just-leave-it-out process. I mean, I could’ve grabbed someone else’s photos no problem, and the same could have happened to us, but there was never an issue. We didn’t want those other people’s photos, just ours thanks.

I’ve been attempting to purposely break free from technology since the start of the year. Maybe the phone knows this, and its non-admittance is its form of a sit-in. Long walks and swims help, but I still find myself called back to the screen more often than is properly healthy. I did have a perfect moment of peace the other day. I was sitting on our couch in the late afternoon with a cup of tea, reading a mindless novel (oh okay, you will totally judge me for this but it’s Midnight Sun by Stephenie Meyer, the whole Twilight saga from Edward’s point of view.) I was neither tired nor hungry nor thirsty, nor hot or cold. The window was open, and a cool breeze lightly ruffled the fluffy edges of our single blanket that survived The Fire four years and two weeks ago.* I could hear the light tinkle of the neighbor’s wind chimes. Someone had started cooking their curry for dinner, that wonderful scent just a whisper in the air.  At my feet my old dog, who is still hanging in there, was snoring in her contented old-dog way. In our own kitchen, I could hear the sounds of our youngest son prepping to make dinner, the dim music from his earbuds leaking through as he pulled out pots and pans. I breathed in, and out, and watched the edges of the blanket move gently in the breeze, and for that bit of time, all was well.  I recognized it for what it was, an exquisite moment from the gift of life and savored it. I remembered a bit from the classic play “Our Town” where the dead warn Emily to pick an ordinary day to return to, not an important one, that the pain of the beauty of an ordinary day would be almost too much to bear. I hadn’t fully understood that warning before, but in that moment, I did.

I pay a price for them, though. Soon after they happen I am gripped with anxiety that something in that peaceful picture will be ripped away from me soon. It’s the aftermath of The Fire, this belief that at all good things will be taken away. It comes along less often than it used to. Time does heal. Maybe it’s time I take a cue from my phone, and when those thoughts arise, firmly state, “No Match,” and refuse to let them in. Not even if they give me the stink-eye.

*ON SALE! You can read in detail about The Fire and donate to animal shelters at the same time! “On Rescue Dogs and Losing Everything is available on Amazon in both kindle and paperback – its part of Kindle Unlimited at the moment and discounted too!

 Amazon.com: On Rescue Dogs and Losing Everything: Uncovering Resilience and Finding Joy after Disaster Strikes eBook: Upton Bracey, Stacey: Kindle Store