On Endings and Beginnings

In this odd week between the hoopla of the holidays and the modern-day demarcation between one year and the next, I’m given to both reflecting on the past year and planning for what I’d like the next one to contain. I also like to watch apocalyptic movies like “The Day After Tomorrow”* as I valiantly do my part to clear the cupboard of bread and cheese before the new year begins.

I approach the planning part of the equation much more gingerly than I did pre-fire and pre-pandemic. All the hope-filled planning in the world cannot account for an epic blaze or lockdowns that last months. Sometimes those cataclysmic events can serve a purpose, however. Just like the fire steered me to first write this weekly blog, and then later to write my first book, the pandemic steered me away from a focus on directing plays and being a VP in Arbonne to becoming a full-time writer. My third career, as I’m calling it.

I’m still messing around with what being a full-time writer entails. I joke that it’s the wardrobe of stretchy pants, warm sweaters, and fuzzy socks that are the true draw, but the truth is I just love spinning the stories and allowing the characters who belong to me to find their voice. I also believe if I don’t give them that agency, they will go to another writer who pays attention when they knock on the window and peer in. Finding my personal writing practice has been a big plus this year. Even if it means that I get up at a silly hour of the morning, damnit.

For the coming year, I plan to add a few more stories in my dark fantasy realm of Darkwood, but I’m more focused on a big launch of my Romance pen name (Stacey Christine). I did one paranormal romance short story under that pen name this year, adding to a collection that served as a fundraiser for homeless cats and kittens. I’m taking a deep breath and plunging into Sports Romance trilogy + novella with a bit of spice to start, and am seriously considering doing some Later in Life Small Town Romance as well later in the year. I know, there are so many little niches to discover. It took me by surprise, too. Like I didn’t know Sports Romance was actually a thing, but it’s all I’ve been reading this past week (with side dollops of non-fiction for my DAM book club, “River of the Gods,” by Candice Millard, and a fun re-read of “Christmas at the Cupcake Café,” by the always engaging Jenny Colgan.) Sports romance tends to be pretty racy. All those sweaty bodies in peak condition. Sports Romance is also written in first person present tense, two-character viewpoint for the most part. I prefer writing in third person past tense with multiple character viewpoints, so that’s going to be the first hurdle. I foresee I may need to pay a line editor as well as a proofreader to catch all the slips into past tense as I transition.

After spending a year and a half building out the Darkwood** characters and world, I’m ready for a change. There are a few of the characters from that series (mainly Gert) who are complaining about this break from their stories. I know that anthropomorphizing my make-believe people makes me sound as mad as a hatter,*** but that’s just a fiction writer’s mind for you. On some level, it’s always writing. I’ve come to accept it and go for long walks to soothe the turmoil having other little voices in my head creates.

My other big goal for the coming year is to train for a (oh my goodness, it feels scary to write this) half Iron Man that I plan to do in early fall 2024. The swimming is easy-peasy for me… but I don’t like running very much, and I’ve never biked a long distance. There’s just something in me that needs big goals, though. They get me going. I’ll start small, adding baby runs into my walks, and hopping on a stationary bike at the gym. They say you have to sort of build up your butt to withstand the miles… I don’t think spin classes are in my future, but never say never, right?

So, what do you have planned for the next year?

*This movie still holds up, except for the CGI wolves. And whatever happened to Emmy Rossum?

**The first book in my series, “The Traveller’s Tale,” will be FREE on Amazon in both the US and the UK on the 30th, 31st, and 1st. The 2nd book, “The Twins of Darkwood,” will be 99 cents during that time as well… so if you haven’t picked them up yet, now’s your chance!

***Mad as a Hatter is a saying from Victorian England. The hat-making trade used mercury to turn the fur of small animals, like rabbits, into felt for hats. The prolonged exposure caused the hatters to develop tremors, speech problems, emotional instability, and hallucinations.

Original Alice in Wonderland art is by John Tenniel

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 Sleep

Ah, sleep. You elusive creature, you.

It wasn’t always this way, not that I remember. I was not a flashlight-under-the-covers reader when I was younger. My parents didn’t care if I read into the late hours of the night as long as I got up in time to walk to school (uphill! Both ways!) in the morning. I’d just wake up with a book propped up in front of me. But I had indeed, slept.

Then I became a competitive swimmer. Those were the days when I could fall asleep in the middle of a field in the middle of the day in the middle of a swim meet with people cheering, whistles blowing, and not only would I nap soundly, I wouldn’t sunburn either.

I may be making that last part up.

Even in college, I don’t remember any issues with sleeping. Drinking lots of booze (hey it was a work hard play hard kind of school, don’t look at me like that)* may have helped. They worked us to death as freshmen theatre majors too, so when you could sleep, you were down for the count.

Then came the working in Hollywood for multiple years, and waiting tables too. No problem sleeping. Wish we had counted steps then. I’d win.

Mom-dom. Well, here we go. You can get oh… five hours a night if you’re lucky when you have a baby or two. Usually four hours. Three for sure. Naps become the core reason for still drawing breath and being able to walk in a straight line. It’s all a blur, honestly. Bless those sweet babies. I loved being a mom of tots, but I think that’s when the why-can’t-I-go-to-sleep blues began.

When the hospital or the midwife hands you that baby, it’s clear they have the expectation that you’ll know what to do next. You’ll pretend that you know what to do as you take your precious bundle, but inside your head, the oh-my-gods will have started. I was an older mom who’d read every book published about babies before giving birth I could find, but that inner voice was very loud and very certain that despite doing all that research, I didn’t have a clue.

When you have a child, the very instant they hand you that precious gift, the worry begins. Or it did for me.

Worry = no sleeping. Or trouble falling asleep. Or staying that way.

And so it has remained, for the past quarter of a century, and shows no signs of abating. *sigh*

I’ve been trying different foods, food combinations, and intermittent fasting lately, hoping to discover my own Eureka!** cure for not sleeping. I’ll let you know how that goes. I will say that before I started my latest round of discovery that home-made cheese pizza is by far the best soporific for me. It’s as if when I eat pizza, my body just gives up and goes comatose. Not a long-term option, though.

I know there are pills and potions, but I don’t really like those. There are also utterly ridiculous “research” blogs about how ALL humans back in the day before industrialization got up in the middle of the night to do work, or go for visits to their neighbors.

Yeah, right. Back before industrialization, most folks were utterly exhausted from simply trying to stay warm, put food on the table daily, and not get eaten alive by bedbugs. Thank goodness we live in today’s world where (for a lot of places) central air and heat and electricity and clean running water are the available.

I’ve read up on what experts say will give us the best chance of a good sleep. How many do you practice? Make it Dark, Turn off electronics two hours before bed, Go to bed at the same time every night, Yoga/Meditation/Stretching/Warm Bath/ Essential Oils, Wear socks, weighted blanket, turn down thermostat. Change your mattress or sleep position. Read a book.

Here are my answers:

Exercise daily, check. Go to bed at the same time every night, mostly. Weighted blankets, hard no. I hate being confined. Blackout curtains, yes hallelujah we just got these, and it has helped, so check. Turn off the phone/tv/computer at least two hours before bed, eh, I could work on this one. Turn down thermostat, hell to the yes, I hate being hot. Yoga, et al.… eh. Essential oils, sometimes, but the lavender scent has associated memories I don’t care for, so at the end of the day (see what I did there) it’s a no. We have a great pillow top mattress, so that is a check. I’m a side-sleeper. The only time I wasn’t was during the third trimesters of growing babies and could only sleep on my back. It was awful. I don’t see changing this ever again. Read a book, yes, always and forever.

My suspicion is, that just like reading all those “What to Expect” books when I was preggers, the solution on the page is not going to work out *quite* like that in real life. Getting 7plus hours a night will continue to be an occasion for a soft whoohoo and a high five to the sleep gods. Let’s be glad when we get one and drink more coffee when we don’t.

How about you? Do you have any sleep secrets you can share?

*Northwestern University, I’m looking at you.

** what a great tv series.