Thursday, August 30, 2012

Tips for cooking Stir Fry

Earlier this week, I introduced you to author Ruth Axtell and her newest book, Her Good Name. Ruth is back with us again today, sharing some tips for cooking Stir Fry:

Stir-frying helps me eat a wide range of vegetables. We’ve hosted a few Asian students in the past few years, and I’ve found they generally don’t eat raw vegetables (as in salad—something I eat a lot of). Instead, they eat barely cooked vegetables which are stir-fried. I don’t have any set recipe and use whatever vegetables I have on hand, or are in season. I’ll use cut-up chicken, pork or beef, or just tofu to make it meatless. The secret, I’ve found, is to use a lot of fresh garlic and ginger at the beginning. Sauté this in the oil, remove it before it burns, then stir-fry your meat, if using any; take it out before it becomes too dry; throw in your cut-up vegetables and stir-fry a few minutes. Then put the garlic, ginger and meat back in, sprinkle on soy sauce, salt & pepper to taste, and any red pepper flakes in you want it hot. AND, take it off the burner BEFORE it becomes overcooked. The secret also is to leave the vegetables crisp because they continue cooking a while even when you turn off the stove.

Yummy! I've never thought of using ginger in my stir fry before, but that sounds really good with the fresh garlic. Thanks for the tips, Ruth.

If you haven't dropped by my interview with Ruth Axtell, be sure to do so and enter the giveaway of Her Good Name, which ends Saturday, September 1, at midnight. Now here's a little more about our wonderful guest for the week:

Ruth Axtell knew she wanted to be a writer ever since she wrote her first story—a spy thriller—at the age of twelve. She studied comparative literature at Smith College, spending her junior year at the Sorbonne in Paris. After college, she taught English in the Canary Islands then worked in international development in Miami, Florida, before moving to the Netherlands, where for the next several years, she juggled both writing and raising her three children. In 1994, her second manuscript was a finalist in Romance Writers of America’s Golden Heart competition. In 2002, her sixth manuscript took second place in the Laurie Contest of RWA’s Smoky Mountain chapter. The final judge requested her full manuscript and this became her first published book, Winter Is Past. Since then, Ruth has gone on to publish thirteen historical romances and one novella. Her books have been translated into Dutch, Italian, Polish and Afrikaans . Her second historical, Wild Rose, was chosen by Booklist as a “Top Ten Christian Fiction” selection in 2005. Ruth lives on the coast of Maine where she enjoys gardening, walking, reading romances and gazing at the ocean while plotting her next romance.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Interview and Giveaway with Author Ruth Axtell

 I'm very excited to introduce my guest for our August interview this month, Ruth Axtell. I first met Ruth when I joined a group of writers who wrote novels set in Europe, and have since been impressed with Ruth's knowledge of writing and general wisdom about life. She's been very helpful to me both personally and professionally, and I'm glad the rest of you get to meet her. Ruth and I also blog together on a site that caters to Regency Romance lovers: Regency Reflections.

Ruth will be giving away one copy of her newest novel, Her Good Name, to one winner. Be sure to leave a comment at the end of the blog post to enter the giveaway.

Tell me a bit about your family. How many children do you have, and if they still live at home, how old are they?

I have three children: a son (on the verge of 21); daughter (on the verge of 19) and a son (17).
They were all home for the summer, but two will soon be off to college again.

Wow! Those are such exciting ages, right on the brink of adulthood. You must be really proud to see your children entering that stage of life. Why did you choose to work from home rather than find a job elsewhere?

For two reasons. I always wanted to spend the early years with my children. I couldn’t imagine missing out on their babyhood. Secondly, my husband had gotten a position in the Netherlands, and that’s where I had all three of my children. It would have been difficult to find work outside the home in a foreign country without first learning the language fluently, and learning the “system.” (Every country has its way of operating). This was also about the time that I decided to pursue writing fiction full-time, and so it seemed an ideal set-up: stay home and raise my children and write historical romances on the side.

The Netherlands. How fun! That must have been a really neat experience for you and your children.What is the most challenging aspect of working from home while raising children?

Carving out that time for yourself. I remember sitting at my laptop with an infant on my lap and typing at my current WIP. You just learn to find those moments (like nap time) when you can get a few pages written or brainstormed. Then when they go to school for a good portion of the day, that becomes your most productive writing time.

Ah, yes. I can completely sympathize with the need to find a little bit of alone time. Did you ever get your children involved with your home business? What advice would you give mothers thinking about having their children help with their business?

 My oldest son read my first published book (and said, “Wow, it sounded like a ‘real’ book.”); my daughter has been my most valued “first reader” (meaning, I can give her the opening chapters of my work- in- progress and get some quick feedback. This gives me a good indication of whether a reader will like it and be drawn into the story. She has read most of my published books, but now with college her reading time is less. My youngest son just recently tried reading one of my books but I don’t think he’s finished it. My son’s girlfriends have enjoyed reading my books!

Oh goodness! I can just imagine my boys handing their girlfriends copies of my novels one day. If those poor girls don't like it, what are they supposed to do? Lie and say it was great??? If you're married, what challenges did working from home present to your marriage, and how did you compensate? 

After his job in the Netherlands, my husband carved out a business for himself working out of the house, so both of us got used to being on our computers. We sometimes had our own separate offices—even if it meant a corner of a bedroom and sometimes shared a real office. We’d take a coffee break together to chat. But it gave us a lot of flexibility with our schedules.

If you could start all over again, what would you do differently? What would you do the same?

Hmm. That’s a tough one. My life has changed drastically in the last few years. I’m divorced now and sometimes wish I had not left the working world—or maybe gotten some other kind of training once my children were a little older. I know it’s not too late now. So, I consider myself in transition for the moment, looking—and waiting on the Lord—for where He would have me go next.

Those transition phases can be so tough, but I'm trusting God has amazing things in store for you and your future. Is it worth it? What keeps you home instead of having an outside career?

It was definitely worth going on this writing journey. The Lord played a big part in my ever becoming published. I went through a 2-4 year period when my youngest child was still pre-school age, when the Lord had me put my writing “on the altar.” When He gave it back to me (with my first published multi-book contract) I knew I had the green light from Him to pursue writing, not just as something that fulfilled me in a way other types of work had not, but also as a ministry.

Now, I’m at the beginning of a new phase in my writing (the woman who is designing my new website called it a kind of “rebirth,” professionally); I’m publishing under my maiden name, with two new publishers, as well as having a few self-publishing projects in the works for the coming year. My children are on the way to leaving the nest. I am beginning to see my writing career as running my own business in a way I haven’t up to now.

Ah, tell me about it. There's days I feel like I need a business degree to be a writer, and a early childhood degree to be a mother. Of course, if I spent my whole life going to school to earn these degrees, I wouldn't have time to be a mother or a writer, which are both pretty important to me! 

It sounds like your at a pretty exciting (or maybe scary) place in your career. I wish you well, and hope you sell a ton of books with your new publishing endeavors.

Ruth will be back with us on Thursday, sharing a recipe with us. For those of you interested in the giveaway, you to leave a comment below with an email address. The contest will end Saturday, September 1, at midnight.

When twenty-four year old Espy Estrada, an immigrant’s daughter from the wrong side of the tracks, lands a job in Holliston, Maine’s best neighborhood, she hopes to attract the  town’s most eligible bachelor, only to find that catching Warren Brentwood’s eye is a far cry from capturing his heart.  In the 1890 thriving coastal town, the leading lumber baron's son fights his attraction for Espy. But a church project throws them together and Warren discovers there’s more to Espy than a pretty face. But when rumors circulate about her, Warren believes the worst. Disgraced, Espy leaves her family and hometown for the nearest city with little money and no acquaintances and is forced to spend the night on the street.  A man who heads a mission for the homeless finds Espy and offers her shelter. Espy finds the true love of God while working at the mission. When Warren asks her to come back, will she be able to face the townspeople and return home?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Good News! Announcing the Sale of My Second Novel

Hi Everyone!

I've been bursting at the seams for the past two weeks, wanting to tell everyone my exciting news but at the same time, needing to wait for details to be ironed out with my publisher.

Love Inspired Historical is going to publish a second novel from me. While I don't know what the official title will be, right now it's called Schooling the Cowboy. Here's a little more about the book:

Rancher Luke Hayes has no desire to leave his precious Wyoming ranch, but when his grandfather dies, he must travel to New England to settle the estate and retrieve his inheritance. This shouldn't be a problem. He'll sell everything off as quickly as he can, pick up his sister at her fancy prep school she's been attending, and be back home with his sister before the snow flies.  

But when Luke arrives in New England, he doesn't expect to inherit responsibility for a girls school on the brink of closing, or to meet a steel-spined mathematics teacher who's convinced Luke needs to stay out east and keep the school open.

As you may have guessed by the summary above, Schooling the Cowboy isn't related to my first book, Sanctuary for a Lady. It's a story that I started writing after I finished Sanctuary for a Lady in 2011, but before I learned Sanctuary for a Lady would be published. Schooling the Cowboy has changed a bit since this time last year, but I'm confident readers will love it. It will release either late next year (2013) or in early 2014.

So to celebrate my news about Schooling the Cowboy getting published, I've decided to offer a free copy of Sanctuary for a Lady. Be sure to leave a comment with your email address below to be entered into the contest. The drawing will close Saturday, August 25, at midnight.

And on Thursday, I'll be introducing you to the characters in Schooling the Cowboy.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Garden Frenzy: What Are You Doing with All Those Vegetables?

As we hit the middle of August (yes, mid-August already--I know it seems surreal, but the summer has moved by that quickly), gardens everywhere are starting to yield. If your garden is anything like ours, you spend all spring and summer planting, weeding, watering, waiting and thinking: When will those vegetables ever be ready???

Then you wake up one morning, and the vegetables are indeed ready. All. At. Once.

Suddenly you go from buying vegetables at the grocery store to wishing you could sell vegetables at the grocery store. And the vegetables just keep coming, zucchinis the size of baseball bats and tomatoes that you can hardly figure out what to do with before they rot.

So now that you have a whole slew of vegetables fit to feed a third world country, what do you do with them?

At our house, we can. Dilly beans and pickles, pickled beats and radishes, salsa and tomatoes, and just about anything else we can manage to stuff into glass jars.

As a mom with two little kids, I also realize how much time canning takes and what a chore it can be. So my husband and I usually tag-team the canning. Since he likes to cook, he'll get the brine for the pickles ready, chop veggies for salsa, or do something else to help prepare the food. Meanwhile, I get the jars and lids around. Then we fill the jars together, and while he puts the lids on and processes them, I clean up.

All in all, it's a system that works pretty well at our house. I realize that every house is different. But one fact remains: Doing all the canning yourself while you take care of kids is TOO MUCH WORK FOR ONE PERSON.

So don't be afraid to ask for help, whether it be from your mom or neighbor or husband. Having help with canning makes the process go a whole lot faster, and then you've got those yummy, garden fresh vegetables to savor for the rest of the year.

Question for today: What's your favorite home-canned food to eat?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Chores, or How I’ve Stopped Cleaning the House

This summer, I revamped our household chores, realizing that it’s high time I stopped doing most of the cleaning around here. With four kids between the ages of 4 and 9, I had a ready and able army of helpers.

I sat down and wrote out all the chores I knew my kids were capable of handling. Then I wrote up specific instructions as to how those chores should be done, leaving nothing to the imagination. Finally, I mapped out who would do which chores on what days, putting in what time said chores must be accomplished. (It’s best to be as specific as possible to avoid “misunderstanding” when kids are involved.)

Reviewing the list, I realized nearly every household cleaning task could be assigned to the children, from washing the kitchen floor to vacuuming, from taking out the trash to doing the dishes. Once everything was in place, I called a family meeting and informed the children of the new chores.

While not exactly excited about the prospect—although my five-year-old did do a fist-pump upon being told his job would be setting the table for dinner—the kids have proved to be fairly proficient at cleaning. Not perfect, but with gentle instruction and encouragement, they will soon be doing it as well as any grownup.

Some parents balk at the thought of having their children “work” around the house. To that, I say, aren’t your children consumers in the family? Are they not part of the family? Then they should contribute to the upkeep of the family.

If you need more convincing, here are some positive benefits of chores.

Chores build confidence. Just listen to my oldest brag to her friend that she’s “old enough to do the dishes.” She has discovered that she’s capable of doing something without assistance, something that contributes to the family.

Chores build character, specifically a good work ethic. Being a good employee when they grow up is started by teaching them how to be a good member of the family through chores. Believe me, your child’s future employer will thank you.

Chores build responsibility. Giving your children the opportunity to serve within your family shapes their sense of responsibility.

One final note about chores and compensation: Well-meaning parents tie chores to allowances, and that can create a world of problems. To wit, if a child doesn’t want the money, then he doesn’t have to do the chore, right? Chores are service to the family—if you pay for the chore, the it’s no longer an act of service. So separate chores from allowances.

So start handing over more of the housework to your children and watch their character, confidence and responsibility grow.

Sarah Hamaker is a freelance writer and editor, and author of Hired@Home, a guide to unlocking women’s work-from-home potential now available on Kindle. Her stories have appeared in previous Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Sarah lives in Virginia with her husband and four children. Visit her online at, where she blogs about working from home.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Book Spotlight: Short-Straw Bride by Karen Witemeyer

Today I wanted to introduce you readers to a book that released a couple months ago, and has been one of my favorite summer reads. The novel is entitled Short Straw Bride and it's by Karen Witemeyer. I've read several books by this author, but Short-Straw Bride is by far my favorite. Here's a little more about the book:

No one steps on Archer land. Not if they value their life. But when Meredith Hayes overhears a lethal plot to burn the Archer brothers off their ranch, a twelve-year-old debt compels her to take the risk.

Fourteen years of constant vigilance hardens a man. Yet when Travis Archer confronts a female trespasser with the same vivid blue eyes as the courageous young girl he once aided, he can't bring himself to send her away. And when an act of sacrifice leaves her injured and her reputation in shreds, gratitude and guilt send him riding to her rescue once again.

Four brothers. Four straws. One bride. Despite the fact that Travis is no longer the gallant youth Meredith once dreamed about, she determines to stand by his side against the enemy that threatens them both. But will love ever be hers? Or will Travis always see her merely as a short-straw bride?

As you can see, this book has a bit of fun, a bit of drama, and a bit of romance. All things that I love in a novel! Another thing I really enjoyed about this book was that it moved faster than some of Witemeyer's other novels. I felt like something was always happening.

If you want, click over to amazon to read the official review I posted. I've been doing some extra reading this summer, and thought I would tell everyone about one of the best books I've read.

How about you? Have you read a good book recently? I'd love to hear about it in the comments below!