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What’s for Dinner?

(Please note: This was first posted on my new website YourBiography2.com.)

Today’s Parade magazine in the Sunday morning paper was all about “What America Eats.” It was as loaded with statistics as a twice-baked potato is with calories.

Fish tacos with mango. Photo by: jpellgen

Fish tacos with mango. Photo by: jpellgen

In some cases, I was with the majority and, others, with the minority. For example, 71% of us take supplements. That’s my husband and me. He meticulously puts out our supplements to take with meals. If we’re eating out, he puts them in his and her old film canisters to take with us.

However, only 12% have a sweet after dinner. We fall in this category, too – his influence. He saves room for dessert. As much as I like sweets, his portion is almost always larger than mine.

95% said they had started diets on either a Sunday or a Monday. Nope, that’s not me. I start diets every day of the week.

11% said they don’t have anything at all at breakfast. Nope, that’s not me either. I always have a cup or two of coffee.

The Parade article doesn’t go into how we eat. We’re all too aware that we don’t often sit down as a family at dinnertime anymore. Who has the time? As Marie Rudisill, also known as the Fruitcake Lady,  notes in her memoir Ask Me Anything:

“So much has changed since I was growing up or, even later, raising a family, and not necessarily for the better. That probably sounds like an old person’s point of view, but today, young or old, it’s rush, rush, rush. Go to school. Go to the office. Go to band practice or football practice or yoga. Go to the dentist. Cut the lawn. Wash the car. Do the laundry. Study, study, study. Pay bills. Pay attention. Meet that deadline. Work, work, work. And don’t forget to do your homework. Whew! Does that sound like a good way to live to you? Who has time to peel a carrot? Dice an onion? Chop up a melon? I guess no one, since everything now comes in little plastic containers already peeled, diced and chopped.”

Even as family rituals have changed, everyone has a favorite food or oft-visited restaurant. What are yours? They can be a meaningful part of a life or family history.

© 2014 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

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Kindle Countdown for “Ask Me Anything: A Memoir”

  • Marie Book CoverAsk Me Anything, the memoir I wrote with Marie Rudisill, is available as an ebook. A Kindle Countdown is underway, starting at $.99 today. Then the price goes up each day. On Wednesday, it will be $8.99, its list price.

Why wait? See what Marie has to say – about her upbringing in Monroeville, Alabama, her nephew Truman Capote,  taking on the Big Apple, giving the Big Orange a squeeze when she appeared on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.” Well into her nineties she became a television celebrity, going mouth to mouth with anyone who asked her a question or sought help with a problem. She always had an answer on the tip of her tongue.

Here are a few of Marie’s many bon mots about the places she’s been and the people she’s met:

“I was certainly never one to play it safe. If I had wanted to play it safe, I would have stayed in Alabama.”

“In New York City where are the flowers? Where are the trees? If you open the window to get some fresh air, your apartment is filled with soot. You think you don’t have soot? Well, just run your finger over the windowsill and see what happens. That grimy, black stuff is soot.”

“I have met the most wonderful people in the world in the [publishing] business. Some of them have even lived in New York City.”

“I never got to experience the traffic for which Los Angeles is so famous. It was just as well, as I have a feeling that the stop and go pace would have driven me right up the wall.”

“Celebrities are people, too. They might live in big houses by the ocean and have more money than God, but they don’t deserve special attention in my book.”

“Florida is not a Southern state, not to me. It has no history, no civility, no gentility. It’s all flip flops, short shorts, and hairy legs.”

Ask “The Fruitcake Lady,” and get ready. You never know what she’ll say next.

© 2014 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

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Sign Up on Goodreads!

Marie Book CoverAre you a Goodreads member?

 

I’m offering a Goodreads giveaway.

 

Ten lucky readers will receive a copy of Ask Me Anything: A Memoir.

 

You need to enter the drawing by September 21, 2014.

 

Ask Me Anything is available on Amazon and as an ebook.

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Five Stars for Ask Me Anything

Marie Book CoverThe first review for Ask Me Anything, the memoir I co-wrote with Marie Rudisill, best known as “The Fruitcake Lady” from her appearances on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,”  is below. I’m pleased to say that the reviewer awarded it five out of five stars.

Ask Me Anything is available from Amazon. The print book has a  discount from its list price of $14.95, and the ebook is $8.99, unless you have signed up for Kindle Unlimited. Then it’s FREE.

Word-of-mouth is crucial for any author to succeed. If you enjoy the book, please leave a review. Even if it’s just a sentence or two. It would make all the difference and would be very much appreciated. 

 

And now, a 5 star review by Jack Magnus from Readers Favorites:

Ask Me Anything is a memoir written by Marie Rudisill with Susan Marg. Marie Rudisill is known to late night television watchers as the Fruitcake Lady. Her letter, written in 2000 to Jay Leno, defending the honor of the fruitcake, prompted his invitation to her to appear on “The Tonight Show.” She was 89 years old at the time. Her appearance was such a success that she was invited back again and again. She taught celebrities how to make fruitcakes and would answer just about any question posed by members of the audience. When the trip out to the West Coast became too difficult for Rudisill, Leno would send out a crew to do her segments at her home. Rudisill was a product of the old South, and this memoir is filled with stories of her life as a child in Monroeville, Alabama. When her father died after an accident, her cousin Jenny took in the widow and her five children. Rudisill’s mother also died several years after, and Jenny raised the three older sisters as her own. Jenny was a self-made woman who built a small millinery business into a thriving department store, and built the rambling house with extensive gardens where she, her siblings and their young cousins lived. Co-author Marg worked extensively with Rudisill on this memoir until Rudisill’s death in 2006.

Marie Rudisill’s memoir, Ask Me Anything, is blunt, outspoken and charming, all at once. I immediately felt at home reading her story, even if I did cringe sometimes at some of her statements. Her stories of her childhood in the big house with the flamboyant, and rather alarming, Jenny and her other cousins are marvelous, especially the kitchen wars and the legendary bullwhip Jenny carried around. Rudisill was also Truman Capote’s aunt and she considered him her favorite nephew. Her stories of their friendship and later falling out were parts of Ask Me Anything that I particularly enjoyed. Rudisill and co-author, Marg, are a wonderful writing team. The memoir reads beautifully, with Rudisill’s voice coming forth loudly and clearly, even if she was in her mid-nineties as they worked together. While she’s no longer with us, she’s still very much here in spirit as evinced in Ask Me Anything. I very much enjoyed getting to know Marie Rudisill through her memoir and highly recommend it.

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Windmills of Her Mind

Marie Book CoverI recently published Marie Rudisill’s memoir, Ask Me Anything, which I wrote with her in the last year of her life. It’s been on my mind, so I hope you’ll forgive me as a move away from my usual blog themes to blog about this book.

Marie had been called many things: irreverent, sassy, brash, even rude, and, certainly, too old to be crude. You get the idea, if you didn’t know her as “The Fruitcake Lady” from The Tonight Show. With host Jay Leno and special guests including Tom Cruise and Mel Gibson, she made fruitcakes, mixing up the batter with plenty of fast talk and worldly advice. Well into her nineties, she became a television celebrity, going mouth to mouth with anyone who asked her a question or sought help with a problem. She always had an answer on the tip of her tongue.

But Marie was more than a pop culture phenomenon. She had seen a lot and accomplished even more when she passed away at 95 years old. She was Southern to the core, yet she took on the Big Apple. When she settled in the Carolinas, she undertook one venture after another – writing cookbooks, selling antiques, and operating a restaurant or two.

Family, too, was a big part of Marie’s life. She was close to her nephew Truman Capote, and their falling out over some paperweights hurt her deeply. She retired to Florida with her husband to be near their son, yet yearned to return to her sweet Alabama hometown.

Ask Me Anything covers a lot of ground, telling Marie’s story from the beginning to the end. She also had much to say about various topics – talking to teenagers, surviving a hurricane, and, of course, baking a perfect fruitcake, and I was only too happy to go along with whatever was on her mind. Here’s how we got started.

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How I Hooked Up with “The Fruitcake Lady.”

From the Introduction to Ask Me Anything.

Marie always made me laugh. She was feisty and funny, and like her television character, “The Fruitcake Lady” from The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, she gave as good as she got. For an old lady, and at ninety-five years of age she was getting up there, she never took guff from anyone, always speaking her mind, telling it like it is.

I only got to know Marie the last year of her life although my husband, Jim Simmons, had known her for over twenty-five years. He was her collaborator on the two books she had written on the background and upbringing of her nephew, Truman Capote. In late fall of 2005 she asked him if he would be interested in working with her on another book, possibly about her sister Lillie Mae, who was Truman’s mother. Jim was in the middle of a couple of projects and didn’t think he had the time to devote to something new. Besides, she had always given him a difficult time when they were working together. Who needs that? But he didn’t say “no,” it was hard to say “no” to Marie, and they stayed in touch.

In December of that same year we were watching Marie on what would be her last appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. We were laughing along with everyone else as she did her “Ask the Fruitcake Lady” shtick, bullying and berating members of the audience for their silly questions and ridiculous complaints. Suddenly it occurred to me that Marie herself would be a terrific subject for a book. Jim thought I was onto something, as long as it was my undertaking, not his, which I must confess was not my original intent. Still, I agreed. When Jim broached the subject with Marie, she didn’t think twice about it. Just like that, I had a new book in the works.

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Ask Me Anything, ISBN 978-0-578-14318-7, is a 195-page quality paperback book consisting of nine chapters.  Topics cover growing up, family ties, and family feuds, as well as becoming a celebrity on The Tonight Show. An ebook is also available.

 

© 2014 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

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‘Tis the Season: Bake a Fruitcake

Marie Rudisill, also known as The Fruitcake Lady, got her nickname from writing about fruitcake.  Her book, Fruitcake: Memories of Truman Capote and Sook, preceded her appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.  In fact, it precipitated her appearance when she sent a copy to a producer of The Tonight Show with a letter chastising Leno for his fruitcake jokes.

Too pretty to unwrap. Photo by: Babe_kl

Q. What do you do with a Christmas fruitcake?  A. Try eating it! Hey! It’s one way to get rid of it!

Seriously, Marie’s book is a gem.  She reminisces about growing up in the Old South, family traditions, her nephew Truman Capote, and their cousin Sook Faulk, whom Capote memorialized in A Christmas Memory.

Marie also rhapsodizes about fruitcakes, describing them as a “wonderful concoction of walnuts, pecans, candied red and green cherries, pineapples, date, almonds, and such” and calling them “true ambrosia – the queen of cakes.”

And, of course, she includes over twenty recipes.  Can’t wait to get started?  Here’s one Martha Washington is said to have used.

Cream together a 1/2 pound butter and 1-1/2 pounds sugar.  Gradually add six beaten egg yolks until creamy; then dissolve a teaspoon of soda in one pint of sour cream and add, alternating with 1-1/2 pounds of flour.  Next, add the whites of the six eggs, beaten stiff.

For the final steps, add one pound of raisins, one pound of currants, a 1/2 pound citron dredged with a 1/4 pound of flour.  Add the juice of one lemon and the rind of two lemons, one grated nutmeg, and a sprinkling of mace.

Bake in a greased ten-inch tube pan for five hours at a slow, steady heat.  Cover with buttered paper while baking.

A fruitcake will make a nice addition to your Christmas table.  Or you can always pass it along to a neighbor or friend who’ll pass it along to a neighbor or friend who’ll pass it along to a neighbor or friend…

© 2011 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

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100 Years Ago in Pop Culture for the Highbrow, Middlebrow, and Lowbrow

California or bust! Photo from: California Historical Society, San Francisco, CA.

Halloween is in a few days, and everyone knows what that means.  We’ll soon be raking leaves, if we haven’t started already, eating too much on Thanksgiving, shoveling more snow, putting the Christmas decorations up, and ringing in the New Year.  Before 2011 slips away, it seems to be a good time to look back and reflect on “the more things change…”

Here is my top ten hit list of people, places, and pop culture from 1911 that continue to resonate today.

10.  The first Indianapolis 500-Mile Race was held. It became an annual event, except for America’s involvement during World Wars I and II.  Ray Harroun, the winner, averaged 74.602 miles per hour.  This year’s winner, Dan Wheldon, averaged 170.265 miles per hour.   He died several months later in a fiery fifteen-car pileup at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

9.  Can you name that tune?  Irving Berlin’s Alexander’s Ragtime Band, his first great success, was the most popular song of the year.   Let Me Call You Sweetheart and Down By the Old Mill Stream were runners-up.  Whose songs will we be singing in another one hundred years?

8.  And whose books will we be reading?  The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett and Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton were published, as were books by Frank L. Baum, Joseph Conrad, E.M. Forster, D.H. Lawrence, Beatrix Potter, Bram Stoker, and H.G. Wells.

7.  The New York Pubic Library opened.  More than one million books were set in place for the official dedication, and up to 50,000 visitors streamed through the building on opening day.  The library’s collections now total nearly 53 million items (books, videotapes, maps, etc.), surpassed only by the Library of Congress and the British Library.

6.  The silent French film The Hunchback of Notre Dame was released.  Charles Laughton starred as Quasimodo in the 1939 talkie.  Disney made an animated version in 1996.  The 1831 novel by Victor Hugo on which the story is based remains in print.

5.  After a hard-fought campaign women in California won the right to vote.  They soon began running for and being elected to public office and never stopped.   Senators Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi are from the great state.

4.  Ronald Reagan was born in Tampico, Illinois.  As Governor of California, he signed the Family Law Act, which took the blame game out of divorce proceedings.  As President, he advocated reducing tax rates to spur economic growth and reducing government spending, the hot button campaign issues of the moment.

3.  Marie Rudisill, also known as the Fruitcake Lady for her appearances on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, was born in Monroeville, Alabama.  Although passing away five years ago, she has her own Wikipedia page, 220 “likes” on Facebook (come on, people, we can do better than that!), and many, many YouTube clips.

2.  Others born in 1911 whose accomplishments we continue to admire include: Ginger Rogers, Roy Rogers, and Will Rogers, Jr., none of whom were related.  There’s also comedian Lucille Ball, actress Jean Harlow, novelist William Golding, playwright Tennessee Williams, librettist W. S. Gilbert, and baseball player Hank Greenberg.  Milton Bradley, creator of Life, reached the end of the game, as did toy retailer F.A.O. Schwarz.  Producer of sour mash Tennessee Whiskey Jack Daniel died of an infection, and newspaperman Joseph Pulitzer, who filled the pages of his papers with exposés and scandals, quietly succumbed on his yacht.

1.  Photoplay and Motion Picture Story, two of the first American fan magazines, began in response to the ever increasing interest in the private lives of celebrities.  Today celebrities take nude photos of themselves on their cell phones and tweet their fans.

Is there anything from a hundred years ago that you’d like to add?  Drop me a line.

© 2011 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

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Keep your head high and your skirt down.

– Good advice from Marie Rudisill, the Fruitcake Lady, especially if you’re not wearing underwear.

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The Fruitcake Lady Remembered

Jay Leno, Tom Cruise, Marie Rudisill, and Steve Ridgeway --- after taping The Tonight Show.

Marie Rudisill would have turned 100 years old this spring.

Marie is best remembered as “The Fruitcake Lady” on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, a gig that began in 2000 and lasted until her death six years later.  Known for her quick wit and sharp tongue, Marie won the adoration of the audience.

Her status as a pop culture phenomenon began when she instructed Jay and guest Mel Gibson on making a fruitcake.  What a mess the guys made, and how she scolded them, as only a little old lady can.  Tom Cruise was next up, followed by Cuba Gooding, Jr., and Hugh Grant.  The shtick was always the same.  And it was always very funny.

The segment “Ask the Fruitcake Lady” evolved from those appearances.  Asked for her advice, she responded with the first thought that came to mind.  If a young person wanted to talk about sex, hoping to catch her off guard, she dealt with it.  Being old didn’t mean she didn’t remember what went where.  An elderly gentleman proposing marriage didn’t throw her off track either.  “I’m not getting married at my age,” she answered, “And I’m certainly not going to be taking care of any old man!”

Marie had the perspective of times past.  She was Southern to the core, only two generations removed from the Civil War, yet she lived in New York City during the Great Depression.  She married a Japanese artist, a union her family had annulled.  She later settled in the Carolinas with her second husband and raised a son.  Instead of being a stay-at-home mom when all moms stayed at home, she undertook numerous careers including wheeling and dealing antiques and cooking up a storm. Rather than slowing down, she was writing books and cookbooks.  She was close to her nephew Truman Capote, yet their falling out over some paperweights hurt her deeply and lasted over a decade. She eventually retired to Florida near family, yet yearned to return to Monroeville, Alabama, her hometown.

Marie and I developed a special relationship when I was working on her memoirs the last year of her life.  “You can write whatever I tell you,” she assured me on more than one occasion.  “It’s all fair game.”  We talked on the telephone about three times a week.   When I was delving into a new topic, our conversations might last forty to fifty minutes.  Other times, it was just a “hello, how you doing” kind of call.   One exchange we had on several occasions went as follows.

“How’s my sweetie pie, Jim?” she inquired of my husband.

“No, he’s my sweetie pie,” I responded, wanting to make sure we understood each other.

“If I were twenty years younger, I’d go after him,” she informed me.

“Well, good luck with that,” I retorted.

And then we laughed. Regardless of the subject matter or the mood we were in, we never got off the phone without a chuckle.

Is that all you have to say for yourself?”  Marie asked as we wrapped up a conversation.

The author visiting Marie Rudisill at home in Florida.

“Yes, I can’t think of anything else,” I replied.

“Well, I love you, Sweetie.”

“I love you, Marie.”

I miss you, too.

 

© 2011 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

 

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