Here I unpack the closet of my life!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Thanksgiving Chicken Noodle Soup

As we approach another Thanksgiving I think most of us start thinking about the wonderful food we will be enjoying that day, but I wonder how much that food varies from home to home. I know the traditional Thanksgiving consists of turkey, sweet or mashed potatoes, rolls, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie and maybe ham.

However, for many Mexican households here in the San Joaquin Valley the meal looks a bit different with tamales often being the mainstay of the meal. For my own family and its German background, we added our own touches to the traditional potatoes and turkey. Every year my Grandma Lewis would make homemade chicken noodle soup. Her day would start early making the dough for the noodles. Then it would be rolled out and cut. For most of her life, it was cut by hand with a great big dangerous looking knife. Later on, someone in the family bought her a noodle-making machine, which made it much easier.

After the noodles were cut, they would be laid out to dry. I remember Grandma smacking many a hand that tried to eat the drying noodles, especially my brother Drew—he still tries that to this day.

While the noodles dried Grandma would bake the turkey and boil the hen in the water that later would be used to cook the noodles. Finally, when it was getting close to time for the meal, the noodles would be cooked and cut again in the big kettle so they wouldn’t be too long.

At dinner, the soup would be what everyone fought over and the turkey came in second. It wasn’t until I was married that we had someone at our Thanksgiving dinner table that heaven forbid didn’t like the noodle soup! That’s when I had to start making stuffing for him, and our daughter Jessica who decided she would take after her dad.

Another Thanksgiving tradition in our home growing up was cream pies instead of pumpkin. Chocolate was the family favorite but Grandma always made a lemon and a coconut as well. Sometimes someone else in the family would bring a pumpkin pie, though my dad would never touch it. As far as he was concerned, and still is, the only pie is chocolate pie!

Until my grandma was unable to physically handle it, Thanksgiving was always at her house and I have the honor of living in that house now—a home filled with memories of a wonderful lady. It was more than just her incredible food of course, she made everything on Thanksgiving feel so perfect and homey, and it was great having all the family together and taking the time to thank God for another year.

Our Thanksgivings have changed over the years since her passing, but my sister Sheryl has taken on the mantel of making the noodles now since my mom’s health makes it difficult for her to make them anymore. After all, it just wouldn’t be Thanksgiving in the Ham/Lewis household without chicken noodle soup.

I’m sure you have your own special twists on Thanksgiving dinner as well. Why not share them here at the Closet—perhaps we will all find something new we can try this Thanksgiving dinner! And if you are preparing your first Thanksgiving dinner and could use a little advice, check out the experts on the Food Network.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Guest Blogger Marilyn Meredith! Why I Write

I'd like to welcome long time friend and fellow mystery author Marilyn Meredith to the Closet today! Thanks so much for joining us!

Why I Write

by Marilyn Meredith

This weekend someone asked me if I was making a lot of money with my books.
I laughed before I answered. Here is what I told her. “Not really. Of course I do make some money, but I spend far more in the pursuit of promoting my books.” That sounds a bit crazy, doesn’t it? When I get a royalty check from one of my two publishers, my percentage is the smallest of all. If I’m getting a royalty from a print book, the bookstore gets the biggest cut, then Ingram (the distributor) gets the next biggest amount, the publisher takes the next percentage, and I get the least amount of all. And no, this is not unusual; it’s the way it works for everyone. Of course if someone buys a book directly from the publisher, then there aren’t so many pieces of the pie taken out. If someone buys a Kindle edition, of course it’s the same thing, Amazon comes first, then the publisher and then me. There are some variables, but that’s pretty much how it works.

When I purchase books from the publisher directly and sell them myself, the cut is better for me. However, it’s not so easy to sell them myself. If I bring the books to the bookstore for a talk and books are purchased, the bookstore gets 30% and my profit will be 10%. No so great, is it.
I love to do book fairs—especially those that don’t charge anything for a booth or table—then I get to keep all of the profit (after what I paid for the books, which I do get at an author discount.)

Unfortunately, most book fairs or craft fairs charge for the privilege of being there so the trick then is to sell enough books to make back that money and then some. If you’ve traveled somewhere for the book fair then you have to take the cost of gas into account. And if it’s far away, then you’ll probably have the price of a hotel room and meals to figure in the equation. No, most of the time you really aren’t going to make a profit.
What you will be doing, hopefully, is meeting new people who will ultimately become fans and buy more books if they like the one they bought at the fair—or take a card and buy a book online. Many mystery writers also go to mystery conventions—and unless you’re a famous author, you certainly won’t sell enough books to make back the cost of attending. Most of us go because it’s a lot of fun. In my case, I’ve met so many people at these cons that each time I go it’s like attending a reunion. Years ago, I roomed with Lorie Ham at the Bouchercon in Anchorage. That’s when I really got acquainted with Lorie and we had a great time together and have been friends every since.

So, now to answer the question, if I’m not making much money, why do I write? I write because I have to. I’ve come to love the characters in my Deputy Tempe Crabtree series and I want to know what is going to happen to Tempe, her pastor husband, and all the people in Bear Creek and on the reservation next.
Over the years I’ve learned I really don’t have any control over the world that I live in—but I do have a bit of control over the world that I’ve created. Though bad things always happen in my books, after all I am writing mysteries, I can make sure that everything turns out the way it should in the end.

Invisible Path can be purchased as a trade paperback or e-book from or any of the usual online bookstores.

Marilyn Meredith is the author of nearly thirty published novels, including the award winning Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series, the latest Invisible Path from Mundania Press. Under the name of F. M. Meredith she writes the Rocky Bluff P.D. crime series, An Axe to Grind is the latest from Oak Tree Press.
She is a member of EPIC, Four chapters of Sisters in Crime, including the Internet chapter, Mystery Writers of America, and on the board of the Public Safety Writers of America. Visit her at and her blog at

Synopsis of Marilyn's latest book, Inivisible Path:

-->While Tempe’s son, Blair is home from Christmas break, he and his roommate from college do a bit of snooping to find out about the para-military group who’ve been seen driving through town. When a young popular Indian is found dead near the recovery center on the reservation, Tempe is called in to help with the investigation. Another Native American but a newcomer to the rez, Jesus Running Bear, is the only suspect. A hidden pregnancy, a quest to find the Hairy Man, and a visit to the pseudo soldiers’ compound put Jesus and Tempe in jeopardy.
Excerpt from Inivisible Path

“Jesus, I need to talk to you.”

My grandma was the only one who could get away with pronouncing my name like Jesus in the Bible. My friends say it like “Hay-soos.” Grandma didn’t like it when she heard someone say my name like that. She usually corrected whoever it was by saying, “My grandson is not Mexican, he is Indian. His name is Jesus Running Bear.”

I don’t know what inspired my mother to give me such a name, and she wasn’t around to ask.

Grandma fixed her small dark eyes on me. When she smiled her eyes became crescent moons. She wasn’t smiling now. Whatever it was she wanted to say, it had to be important.

I put down the bowl I’d gotten out of the cupboard. Breakfast would have to wait.

“You’ve been thinking about something a lot. Something that’s going to give you problems.” Grandmother’s face was round, weathered, and brown as a nut. Her gray hair was pulled straight back and arranged in a bun. Wiry strands escaped and poked out around her ears and the nape of her neck. She wore a man’s red plaid shirt with the sleeves rolled up to her elbows, over a pair of faded blue jeans. Beneath the baggy clothes, she was slim and muscled. Her toes peeked out from a pair of worn leather sandals.

I loved my grandma; after all she was the one who raised me after my mother left me alone while she went on a three day drunk. My uncle found me and brought me to grandmother’s house where I’ve been ever since. No, I don’t miss my mother because I don’t even remember her. I only know what I’ve been told about her—not much of it good.

I wasn’t sure what kind of problem Grandma meant. Sure, I’d been going down to the beer joints with my cousin and friends even though I knew she didn’t want me drinking. Maybe that’s what this was about. I respected my grandmother, but I hadn’t obeyed her warning about never touching alcohol. She hated alcohol. Grandfather had died from drinking too much. Maybe my mother was dead too. No one had heard from her in years.

“Come. Sit down.” She motioned to the chair where I usually sat. In front of her was a cup of tea. “We’re going to find out exactly what is going on with you.”

I sat on the edge of the seat. She was going to do some weird Indian stuff. We were Miwok—though we didn’t live on or near a reservation. We lived in a small town in the foothills above Modesto which is in the Central Valley of California. Frankly, I didn’t know much about my heritage except what my grandma told me.

She was an amazing woman, and could do so many things. I was proud of most of what she did. She knew how to gather herbs that could cure most sicknesses. She wove beautiful baskets that she sold at Pow Wows and to tourists in gift shops in Yosemite and other places.

When I was a kid, she took me on camping trips into the back country. She could out hike me even today. But I wasn’t crazy about all the Indian stuff she did that I didn’t understand.

Grandma stared into the cup and began speaking in her native language. That’s what she always did when she was concentrating on something.

She lifted her head and fixed her eyes on me again. “You’re looking for a girlfriend. That’s it, isn’t it?”

Well, sure. What young guy isn’t trying to find a girl? But for once I was smart enough to keep my mouth shut.

Again, she peered into the cup. “I see all kinds of women. Be careful not to choose the wrong one. If you do, you’ll be miserable.”

She stared and her eyes looked funny, like she was seeing something far, far away.

I squirmed, wondering where this was leading. Maybe she already had someone picked out for me.

“I see a pretty girl with a nice figure. She has long straight hair, clear down to her waist. She’ll wiggle her plump bottom and you won’t be able to think. Women have power–especially young pretty ones. Don’t you so much as give her more than a passing glance. If you do, you’ll be miserable your whole life.” Grandma didn’t look up.
In my mind I could see the pretty girl walking down the street, her shiny black hair swinging back and forth like her hips.

After a few minutes my day dream ended when Grandma said, “There’s another one. Short and skinny like I was when I was young. But beware, she’s nothing like me. This one is sneaky. She’ll act like she cares for you when she has lots of other men.”

Interesting. This was more fun than I’d expected.

“I see another one, curly headed and laughing. She’ll welcome you to her bed.”

This was sounding better and better, and I risked a smile.

“Take my warning, grandson. Don’t marry her. She knows nothing about being a wife or taking care of children. She only knows how to have fun. She only wants to party, party, party. She’s not for you.”

I was beginning to wonder if there was anyone Grandma would see in that teacup who was good enough for me.
“Ah, there’s the one you must look for. She’s a sweet girl, with dark brown wavy hair and a dimple in one cheek. She knows and respects the old ways.”

“Where is she? Does she live around here?” I was ready to introduce myself to this wonderful woman.

“No, she lives far away. It may take a long, long while before you meet her.”

That wasn’t such good news. “How will I find her?”

“The path lies straight ahead. Sometimes it will be invisible, but it’s always there.”

Grandma’s discussion about my future seemed to be over.

She picked up the cup and dumped the dregs in the sink. Wiping her hands on a tea towel that had been draped through the handle of the old refrigerator, she asked, “Are you ready to eat?”
* * *

I almost forgot about Grandma’s predictions, because I started drinking more and more with my buddies. I became an embarrassment to her and my other relatives, and I didn’t care.