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Check out my science fiction series - The Fall of the Altairan Empire

Friday, July 29, 2011

Thursday Recipe - BBQ Beef Short Ribs

This is one of those no-brainer recipes. But don't let simplicity fool you. The meat comes out tender and juicy and flavorful. It's a great dinner for a lazy summer day. They'll think you slaved over a hot BBQ pit all day to produce these. Here's the recipe. My version. The way it really happened.

BBQ Beef Short Ribs

Open the fridge to look for something to cook for dinner. Find a package of boneless beef short ribs bought on sale a while back and recently thawed. Find a couple of containers of leftover spaghetti sauce. Close fridge because the rest of the leftovers need thrown away. Stare at the packages for a minute, thinking. Dump beef ribs into small crockpot. Move to bigger crockpot because they look too crowded. Dump leftover spaghetti sauce over the top, cover and leave on high. Tell daughter to do dishes stacked in the sinks. Endure teenager glare. Do dishes yourself. Ask other kids to please vacuum the dog hair and lint balls off the carpet. End up doing it yourself. Lay down on the couch and watch a couple of shows. Remember you put beef ribs in the crockpot. Debate about whether they have enough seasonings or not. Watch another show. Wonder why the kitchen smells like spaghetti. Remember the ribs. Wander into the kitchen, decide to sweep the floor because the crumbs keep sticking to your feet. Praise the dog for helping clean up the crumbs and licking the front of the oven clean. Check the ribs. Poke them with a fork. Wonder what else to do with them since they smell too much like tomato. Scrounge through the fridge again. Remove a half-empty bottle of BBQ sauce. Dump into the crockpot. Turn it to low since dinner isn't for another three hours. Take the dog for a walk. Fall asleep on the couch when you get back. Remember the ribs and dinner an hour after you planned on eating. Sniff ribs. Lick drool off chin. Find some leftover bean salad and corn bread to serve with the BBQ ribs that are now falling apart tender. Don't call the kids to dinner until after you have savored your food in peace. Ask son to do dishes. An hour later, do the dishes because it's easier than getting him to do it. Check crockpot for leftovers. Nothing left but sauce. That's a winner.

The Recipe for those who don't want to do it my way, which is just fine and probably better anyway

1.5 lbs boneless beef short ribs
1 c. thick Italian spaghetti sauce
1 c. barbecue sauce

Put beef ribs in small crockpot, they should fill it about 2/3 full. Pour spaghetti sauce over the top. Cover and cook on high for about three hours. Add barbecue sauce. Turn heat to low. Cover and cook an additional 3-4 hours. Serve with your favorite sides.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Author Interview - Heidi Ruby Miller

Please join me in a big welcome to author Heidi Ruby Miller.
How can we find you?

Twitter: @heidirubymiller

What do you currently have in print and where can we find them?


The books sound great. I'll add them to my TBR mountain. What genre do you write?
 SF Romance, Fantasy, Thrillers

Do you have cats or other pets?
One cat named Francesca "Puddahs" Miller

What inspires your stories?
Traveling, dreaming—both at night and during the bright hours of day, other people's good stories

What events do you have coming up?
ConfluencePittsburgh, PA - July 22 - 24, 2011

Western Maryland Publishing Festival
Frostburg, MD - October 15, 2011

West Virginia Book Festival
Charleston, WV - October 22 - 23, 2011

Ligonier Inn Writing Workshop
Ligonier, PA - November 5, 2011

How do you like your romance, sweet or spicy?
Spicy and toasty!

What is your current WIP?
I have the follow-up to AMBASADORA, titled FRAGGER, which is nearing first draft completion. Those who have read the first book in the series will guess FRAGGER has a slightly more Sean-focused storyline. I'm also writing two novellas in the Ambasadora-verse, both focused on the sensual side of specific characters' relationships. The first one AMBASADORA SENSUALS: DAVID AND MARI will show how these two secondary characters from the original novel become a couple and follows part of their courtship. It will be released in August 2011.

Do you write to music or not? If so, what type of music inspires you the most?
I almost always listen to music while I write--bands and artists like Linkin Park, Rise Against, System of a Down, Lady Gaga, Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Who are your favorite characters?
I always fall in love with the characters about whom I'm writing at the time, so presently David Anlow and Boston Maribu (aka Mari) are front and center in my mind as I finish revisions on their spicy and toasty novella, especially David because he's like the perfect Alpha Male. But, Sean Cryer and Sara Mendoza from the original AMBASADORA novel will always be in my heart because they suffered so much and needed one another so badly. They are the perfect tragic couple, but with a happy ending!

What hobbies do you have that you want to share?
Traveling, yoga, and reading

Did you always want to be an author?
My high school yearbook lists my career ambition as a romance novelist!

Congratulations on fulfilling your high school dream. I wanted to be a computer programmer and electronics nerd. Never happened. What are your favorite movies so far this year?
 Suckerpunch, Hanna, Fast Five, Pirates of the Caribbean—seeing Harry Potter soon so I'm betting it will go on this list and eagerly awaiting Cowboys and Aliens!
books: I am obsessed with Jacquelyn Frank's Nightwalkers and The Three Worlds series right now.

Heidi also shared a recipe with me based on her novella - look for it next month and try this tasty recipe.
Drunken Chai with Koley's Reserve
(from Heidi Ruby Miller's novella Ambasadora Sensuals: David and Mari)

1. Brew a cup of chai tea.
2. Add a splash of milk or cream liquor.
3. Add a shot of bourbon, preferably Woodford Reserve since Koley Reserve only comes from the Koley Mountains on the planet of Yurai.
4. Sweeten to taste.
5. Stir.

Thanks for stopping by. It was great to meet you and learn a bit more about you here.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Why I Adopted a Dog

I am not a dog person. My attitude was "Dogs are fine, as long as they belong to someone else." Two months ago, I adopted a dog. I had to talk my husband, the one who's been begging for a dog for years, into doing it. I had to convince most of my children that we needed a dog. Me, the one who didn't like dogs.

For years, we've been cat people. Cats require very little maintenance. Feed them a couple times a day, empty the litter box once or twice a week, and pet them if they ask for it. You can leave them alone all day and they don't care. Cats are the perfect pets. They require less work than houseplants.

But my son was allergic to cats. We assured the allergist that when the cats died, which should be soon since we'd never had one live more than five years and these two were almost six, we wouldn't replace them. That was twelve years ago. One of them died last spring from a stroke at the ripe age of sixteen. The other one shows no sign of dying anytime soon although at seventeen he's slowed down a bit. My son has learned to deal with his allergies, which have lessened a lot over the years.

Buddy, the stuffed gorilla, feeding Clyde, the toothless ancient cat
So we were down to one ancient, toothless cat. We'd decided when he died, we were done with pets. Then things happened to change my mind.

I met a wonderful couple with an autism service dog at a convention in Seattle. He was a tiny little thing, very cute, and very friendly. They spent time with me, answering my questions about the dog and his role. I have four children on the spectrum and two others with related disorders. I'd never heard of an autism service dog and had no idea how it could help my children. As we talked, I realized our cats had been filling that role. The dog's purpose was to initiate social interaction and serve as a focal point. He also served as a sensory stimulus when needed. Petting a dog is an acceptable way to get the physical sensory input some autistic people need to calm down. There were other things the dog did, but those two were the main needs my children needed filled. Our ancient cat wasn't doing his job anymore.

A week after that convention, my middle daughter brought home her new boyfriend, an eighty pound chow-lab mix. He's a very well-behaved, sweet dog. She and her dog spent a week with us before moving out. During that week, my other kids became attached to Wookie. My youngest daughter, the only neurotypical one out of the eight, cried when he left. My ten-year-old with extreme sensory issues actually petted the dog, surprising all of us. Wookie didn't reek of dog, like most of the dogs I'd ever had contact with. He taught me that I could live with a dog, if it were the right one.

I wrestled with the idea for another week, then spent the week after that talking it over with my husband. His reluctance to adopt a dog surprised me. I thought he'd be ecstatic that I'd finally given in. I convinced him to just go to the shelter and look with me. To think about adopting a dog.

The shelter was noisy, full of tiny kittens and barking dogs of all shapes and sizes. I didn't want a large dog or a noisy one or a hyperactive one. I needed a calm dog who wouldn't be in my face. I changed my mind about living with a dog, but I'm still not a dog lover. We looked at a golden lab who was more interested in running away and sniffing floor drains than interacting with us. Not the right one. We pulled another out of the kennel. He promptly peed on the floor. Not a good sign. Most of the ones barked as we passed. I lingered over a tiny chihuahua who sat very quiet in his pen. Too small, my husband decided. He didn't want a little dog. The retriever was too large and hairy and jumped on my husband, not a dog for us. My husband tried a shitzu who wound the leash around and between his legs. Cute dog, but much to licky. Dog spit was what triggered reactions and eczema in my kids. We needed one that didn't slobber. We tried dog after dog and none were right. I decided we could wait another week or two. Or maybe I'd been wrong about dogs. Or right, depending on how you looked at it.

Sasha, shortly after we brought her home
Then a small black lab mix caught my eye. She was quiet with a sad expression in her brown eyes. She was the right size, not a big dog but definitely not a small lap dog. She came quietly when we put her on a leash. She showed little interest in floor drains or peeing on the floor. She put her head on my leg and just asked to be petted. This was a dog I could live with.

We brought Sasha home two months ago. Yes, she barks sometimes. But she's a mostly polite, sweet natured, and obedient dog. She wants to please. She loves attention and people. My kids, some of them anyway, love her. She's pulling them out of their video games and on walks. She's teaching them to throw balls since she dearly loves to fetch. She keeps my youngest daughter safe from nightmares. She loves long hikes with my son-in-law. She's exactly what we needed.

Most of us. My son with the extreme sensory issues claims to hate her and won't touch her, but I have caught him playing with her when he thinks I'm not looking. We adopted a cat for him and my oldest son.

Chunkalicious Rex, King of Lardbutt
So instead of one ancient cat and then no pets, we now have two cats and a dog. Make that two dogs. Wookie and my daughter have moved back home. I'm still not a dog person, but I'm getting there.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Thursday Recipe - Pie Crust

My daughter requested I post my pie crust recipe. Flaky crust isn't that hard to achieve. It does take some practice and a light touch, though. My favorite pie crust is smashed graham crackers mixed with a bit of sugar and enough butter to make it stick together. Easy, simple, tastes great, but doesn't work for fruit pies.

For those worried about carbs, why are you eating pie in the first place?!?!?! I make my pies with just a top crust anymore because I don't like soggy bottom crust. This way I get the tasty fruit and the flaky crust and it's a lot easier with no soggy bottom to worry about.

Give this a try sometime when you have that bowl of fruit begging to be turned into a tasty pie.

Flaky Pie Crust (makes one 8-9" crust)

1/4 c. shortening
3 T. softened butter
1/2 t. salt
2 T. sugar
1 c. flour
2 - 4 T. ice cold water

Mix flour, salt, and sugar. Cut in shortening and butter until it looks like cornmeal or fine bread crumbs. Take your time on this, it's part of the secret to a great crust. Once you've worked in the fats, sprinkle the water over one Tablespoonful at a time. Stir very lightly, just enough to wet the flour. Be careful not to add too much water, you want enough to wet all the flour but not enough to make it soggy. The less you handle the dough at this point, the flakier the crust will be.

Set it aside while you make the filling and put it in the pie tin. Preheat the oven to 400°.

Gather the crust together. Squeeze gently until all the dry bits are mixed in. Roll out between two pieces of waxed paper. Be gentle with the rolling pin. Work the dough as little as you can get away with.

Put the crust over the top of the filling. Press it to the edge of the pie pan and trim off any excess. Cut a few slits in the top to let the steam out. Make it as decorative as you like.

Bake at 400° for 50-65 minutes, depending on the type of fruit filling you use. For rhubarb, see this post. Let the pie cool for about 15 minutes before digging in.

You can bake the scraps for a yummy treat. Line them up in a pie tin and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar. Bake at 400° for about 15 minutes, until just golden brown.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Tips for Reading or Presenting

Readings are a performance. The whole purpose is to engage the audience with your writing and get them to want to read more of your work. A flat, dull reading of even the most exciting story will do the exact opposite. These tips are the result of over twenty years working as a teacher and presenter and my flair as a natural ham and storyteller.

1. Think of it as storytelling instead of reading. Pick an exciting scene, whatever scene you love most, then add the drama. If you love what you read, the audience picks up on your excitement and enthusiasm.

2. Enunciation is your friend. Practice speaking in over-exaggerated pronunciation. Open your mouth as wide as you can. Twist your lips over every consonant. Speak like those English supervillains in the movies who linger over every sound that drips from their lips.

At work the other day, a group of the volunteers and I were discussing an upcoming scene in the story we were telling, just to make sure we knew what we were supposed to accomplish with our crew. (If you have no idea what I'm talking about, go here and read about my day job. It's interactive storytelling taken to a whole new level.) The name of the scene was "Snacks with Mad Dog". The staff member speaking was a teenager and mumbled his words. It sounded like "Sex with Mad Dog", a completely different scene than the one we were planning and one that would get us all fired and involved in all sorts of complicated lawsuits.

Speak clearly and save yourself from unintended embarrassment.

3. Slooooow dooooooown. When nervous, we tend to rush our words. Everything speeds up. Speaking too quickly makes it difficult for your audience to follow along, especially when hearing something new, which your story should be. Speak twice as slow as you think you should and it will be about the right speed for your audience.

4. Project your voice. Theater and singing background really help here. Being mom to eight kids also helps. I can bellow with the best of them. Many people swallow their words, especially when nervous. Projecting your voice means sending it to every corner of the room. Stand up, if you can. Practice good posture- shoulders back and relaxed, back straight, head up. Don't look down at your paper, lift it so you can read comfortably while still keeping your head up. Good posture aligns everything so you get good breaths and good support from your diaphragm and stomach muscles. Your voice automatically gets louder without shouting. Remember that volume comes from your chest and belly, not your throat. Support your voice.

5. Using a microphone can be tricky. Yes, it makes your voice louder, but it requires different techniques than projecting your voice. Don't be afraid of it. Get close but don't touch it with your lips. Watch explosive consonants like p, b, and s. You have to throttle back on those enunciations or your audience gets blasted with microphone explosions. Don't shout, either. Let the microphone do the amplifying. Practice is important if you have never used a microphone before. Find one and practice until you are comfortable with it.

6. Watch out for verbal stutters. Words like "um", "uh", "like", "okay", etc., all break the rhythm of your presentation. People notice although the speaker rarely does. Record yourself reading and presenting then play it back. It's highly embarrassing but very educational. Once you are aware of your stutters, you can work on eliminating them. This is less of a problem with a reading, but it can still happen.

7. Relax and have fun. Practice the bit you are going to read until you know it inside out, upside down, and backwards. You don't want to stumble over words or lose your place. You want a smooth, polished performance. Practice enunciating each word. Practice varying your pitch and expression. Ham it up a bit. Pretend you're a movie announcer or narrator. Make your work come alive through your voice. The audience will respond and want more. If you're having fun, the audience will have fun and isn't that the point of doing a reading?

Good luck!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Thursday Recipe - On Saturday! Smoothies

It's been a wild week. Lady Fortuna has paid me a very unwelcome visit, not once, twice, or thrice, but multiple times this week. Sorry the post is late. I had it all written and everything, but disaster struck and now I'm finally posting it only two days late. One of these days I'll figure out how to schedule posts so it doesn't happen anymore.

Summer means lots of hot weather. I don't want to cook. My kids want cold treats. I want them to eat something other than sugar. Most of them can't eat dairy. So what's healthy, fast, cold, and a treat? Smoothies.

We recently empowered my 8yo and 10yo by teaching them how to run the blender and make their own smoothies. Below are some of their favorite combinations. Feel free to play with the recipes and try out your own combination. All you need is a blender, some fruit, and your imagination.


1 c. fresh fruit
2 c. frozen fruit
2 c. juice or rice milk (or other non-dairy milk or use dairy if you want)

Dump everything in the blender. Run on high until it's smooth and creamy. Add more liquid if needed. Makes about 1 quart.

Some variations to get you started:

PB&J - 2 c. strawberries, 1/3 c. peanut butter, 2 T. strawberry jam, 2 c. rice milk, 1/4 c. chocolate drink mix powder (optional)

Banana Surprise - 1 really ripe banana, 1/4 c. peanut butter, 1/3 c. chocolate chips, 2 c. rice milk, 1 c. ice cubes. Blend everything but ice cubes. Add them one at a time until the shake is smooth and creamy.

Tropical Fruit - 1 13 oz can tropical fruit salad (do not drain), 1 c. orange juice, 1/2 c. crushed pineapple with juice, 2 T. shredded coconut, 1 c. ice cubes. Dump everything in the blender and run until smooth.

Strawberry Banana - 2 really ripe bananas, 2 c. frozen strawberries, 2 c. rice milk, 1 t. vanilla

Berry Smooth - 1 c. frozen blueberries, 1 c. frozen strawberries, 1 c. mixed berries, 1 really ripe banana, 2 c. apple juice

Just Peachy - 2 c. fresh peaches, 1 c. apple juice, 2 c. ice cubes, pinch of nutmeg

Pina Colada - 2 c. pineapple, 1 c. pineapple juice (or use one 18 oz can pineapple in place of both), 1 c. lowfat coconut milk, 1 t. rum flavoring, 2 c. ice

Mint Julep - 2 c. strong lemonade, 2 c. ice cubes, 2 fresh mint leaves, 1 c. lemon lime soda. Blend lemonade, ice, and mint leaves until smooth. Stir in soda. Garnish with more mint.

Berry Blueness - 1 packet blue punch mix, 1 c. sugar, 2 c. water, 2 c. mixed berries, 1 c. ice, 1 t. lemon juice. Mix punch mix, sugar, and water. Stir until sugar dissolves. Pour into blender with the rest of the ingredients. Blend until smooth.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Things I've Been Meaning to Do

I ran across Lazy Mom's blog a while back. She's hysterical. You should go check out her blog. I sometimes kick myself that I didn't write her blog. She and I have a lot in common. Her challenge today was to write a list of things you've been meaning to do. So, here's mine:

1. Find the camera cord so I can download all those pictures I've been saving up on the camera.

2. Post pictures on my blog. Wait, gotta do #1 before I can do #2. (Somehow that doesn't quite sound right.)

3. Clean up the nuclear disaster zone in my sewing room. I'd post a picture but I'd have to put a warning label on it. And, oh yeah, I can't find the camera cord.

4. Clean off my desk, again, and the coffee table that has become my desk because my desk is full, and the end table that doubles as my other desk.

5. Condemn all the rooms in my house. Or get my kids to start doing chores again. Anyone have a remote control car I can mount a cattle prod on?

Why don't I just do the chores? I'm lazy. And I'm supposed to be working on my computer. I should write a review for Plants vs. Zombies and Zombie Farm and Age of Empires and Sudoku so I can justify the time I spend playing them. Wait, that requires real work.

6. Get my son to bale the front yard. It's deep enough we could sell it for cattle feed.

7. Weed the flower beds. I think it was 2008 the last time I did that one.

8. Get my kids to change their sheets. It's been at least a month. I need to buy industrial strength disinfectant to wash them in.

9. Wash windows. Last time that happened was 1997. I paid someone to wash them for me. No one has offered to since. But we're also a Mac house. We don't do Windows.

10. Kill the wasps under my neighbor's mailbox. It's right next to mine. That involves spray cans of chemicals. I think I even know where they are. Shouldn't take more than five minutes. But then I'd have to get off the couch, put my shoes on, find the wasp spray, go outside and spray them. Too much work there.

11. Condemn my husband's office and work area in the garage. Who needs fifty pounds of rusty, bent nails? He inherited them from his grandpa. I think there's a sentimental attachment.

12. Write three or four short stories that have deadlines coming up really fast. I've been meaning to do that. I've got them all plotted out and everything. I'll do that right after I watch another rerun of NCIS.

13. Cook lunch. This one I can do. Give me just a minute while I surf over to the pizza delivery website...

14. Read more of Lazy Mom's blog. I feel so much better about myself when I do.