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New Year. New Website: YourBiography2.com

Illustration by: suriko

Illustration by: suriko

Dear Followers,

I’m still blogging, but I’m doing it on my new website, YourBiography2.com.

I still believe change is a constant, both stimulating and rewarding, if sometimes disruptive. We go on vacation for a change of pace and travel to faraway destinations for a change of scenery. We change jobs to broaden our experience and change places to get a better view. We change our minds when circumstances warrant it. And then change them back.

I’m still interested in history, her story, and true stories, considering the quirky, crazy things we once did compared to the quirky, crazy way we live today. But now I encourage you to write them down.

More than ever I believe our stories make us who we are. As a personal historian, I offer a range of services to help you write your life or family history. On my website, I recommend techniques for you to get started on your own. I search out popular memoirs from yesteryear and today, and I quote famous authors on reading, writing, and remembering.

“What is past is prologue,” said William Shakespeare, and it’s worth exploring. Please join me on the journey on YourBiography2.com.

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Give a Whistle

On New Year’s Day, laugh and smile and dance and sing. It’s the right side, the light side, the bright side of a brand new year. Happy 2015!!

Some things in life are bad

They can really make you mad

Photo by: shooarts

Photo by: shooarts

Other things just make you swear and curse

When you’re chewing on life’s gristle

Don’t grumble, give a whistle

And this’ll help things turn out for the best…

And…. always look on the bright side
 of life…
 (Whistle)

Always look on the light side
 of life…
 (Whistle)

 

If life seems jolly rotten

There’s something you’ve forgotten

And that’s to laugh and smile and dance and sing

When you’re feeling in the dumps

Don’t be silly chumps

Just purse your lips and whistle 
- that’s the thing.

And…always look on the bright 
side of life…
 (Whistle)

Come on.

Always look on the right side
 of life…
 (Whistle)

– Eric Idle of Monty Python for Life of Brian, 1979

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‘Tis the Season: Bake a Fruitcake 2

Jay Leno bestowed Marie Rudisill with the name “The Fruitcake Lady,” when she appeared with him on The Tonight Show.

Having just published her latest cookbook, Fruitcake: Memories of Truman Capote and Sook, Marie was sick and tired of Leno denigrating fruitcakes. His jokes went from bad to worse.

Photo by: sarsmis

Photo by: sarsmis

Q. What do you do with a Christmas fruitcake?

A. Try eating it! Hey! It’s one way to get rid of it!

Then, there was this one:

Q. How many fruitcakes are there in the world?

A. Just one, and it keeps being passed around and around from person to person.

All fired up, like a wood-burning oven on a cold winter morning, Marie wrote Leno a letter. “You’ve got a hell of a nerve,” she lectured. “A good fruitcake is a labor of love, a work of art. You don’t have any idea how good a fruitcake can be.” Well, she caught someone’s attention, and the next thing she knew she was mixing nuts and sifting flour on the fruit in front of a live studio audience.

As funny as the Fruitcake Lady is, she’s serious about fruitcakes, calling them “true ambrosia – the queen of cakes.” In her cookbook, 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 one 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 makes 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…

If you don’t have neighbors or friends who are keen on fruitcakes (I know, it’s hard to believe, but not everyone is), they might enjoy the Fruitcake Lady’s memoir, Ask Me Anything. It’s a special treat.

© 2014 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

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I’m Dreaming, or Do I Need a Shovel?

This time of year makes us nostalgic. We prepare our Thanksgiving Day dinner while high school bands march in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. We root for an angel to lift James Stewart out of despair in It’s a Wonderful Life. We listen to “White Christmas” again and again and again.

Photo by: Williumbillium

Photo by: Williumbillium

Bing Crosby first sang the Irving Berlin song on his radio show in 1941 and then in the 1942 musical Holiday Inn for which it was written. It topped the charts that October and stayed there for eleven weeks. Over the years its estimated sales are over fifty million copies worldwide.

The over five hundred versions of the song since recorded by various artists around the world account for another fifty million plus copies sold. Before the decade was out Frank Sinatra, Kay Thompson, Jo Stafford, and Perry Como gave the song their own special spin.

In the fifties the Drifters, Eddie Fisher, Johnny Mathis, Dean Martin, and Ella Fitzgerald chimed in. Both Frank Sinatra and Perry Como again recorded the song, but not together. Elvis put the song on his first holiday album in 1957.

There are instrumental versions by Mantovani and His Orchestra (1952) and Kenny G (1994), as well as sing alongs. In 1961 on the cover to his holiday album, Mitch Miller didn’t print the song’s lyrics, but rather this disclaimer: “The publisher assumes everyone knows the lyrics to this song!”

The song knows no genre. Neil Diamond (1992) recorded a doo-wop version. Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton (1984) harmonized on Once Upon a Christmas. Country and Western singers, Garth Brooks (1992), Martina McBride (1998), Taylor Swift (2007), Blake Shelton (2012), and Kelly Clarkson (2013) among others, have made it part of their holiday repertoire. So, too, did Motown with The Supremes (1965), boy bands, including New Kids on the Block (1989), and female performers from Barbra Streisand (1967) to Diane Krall (2005). Lady Gaga added a verse when she recorded it for A Very Gaga Holiday (2011), which goes like this:

I’m dreaming of a white Snowman

With the carrot nose and charcoal eyes.

And, oh when he cries, I’m gonna tell him

It’s okay,

Because Santa’s on his sleigh and on his way.

 

Conversely, most recordings drop Berlin’s opening verse:

The sun is shining,

The grass is green,

The orange and palm trees sway.

There’s never been such a day

In Beverly Hills, L.A.

 

Both California’s La Quinta Hotel and the Arizona Biltmore claim Berlin wrote his popular song while at their resort.  Without dispute, however,  only someone sitting poolside misses the snow and cold while the rest of us shovel our driveways so we can make it to Grandma’s for pudding and pumpkin pie.

© 2014 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

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Best Wishes and Happy Shopping

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

Before 1880 over half the population of the United States lived on the farm, and, yes, life was difficult. People woke up at the crack of dawn and read by candlelight. It’s hard to believe, but there was no electricity, no refrigeration or air conditioning, no radio or television, no computers or cell phones.

For entertainment, well, there wasn’t much in the way of entertainment. There wasn’t much shopping, either, except at the general store. Even there merchandise was limited and practical, and the head of the family did most of the shopping, bartering butter, cheese, eggs, vegetables and other staples that the merchant would resell. Thank goodness, Sears and Roebuck came along when they did.

For the 1925 woman who... From: HA! Designs - Art - by Heather

For the 1925 woman who… From: HA! Designs – Art – by Heather

Richard Sears produced his first catalog in 1893. The following year he expanded his self-declared “Book of Bargains” from jewelry and watches to include sewing machines, sporting goods, musical instruments, saddles, firearms, buggies, bicycles, baby carriages, furniture, china, glassware, and clothing for the whole family. The 1895 edition consisted of 532 pages. In 1896 he published in the spring and fall and added specialty catalogs, which two years later included photographic goods and talking machines.

Early on Sears added color. Buggies were presented in red, green, brown, and black with gold or silver trim on buggies. In 1897, shoes were advertised in black, red and brown. In 1899 carpets, furniture, and china were shown in various shades.

Although Mr. Sears retired in 1908, the company he started has always kept up with the times. In 1909 Sears carried a motor buggy. This item was replaced in 1913 with a specialty catalog for automobiles. In subsequent decades he carried television sets, dishwashers, electronic garage door openers, and microwave ovens.

The Christmas catalog first appeared in 1933. Its 87 pages were filled with presents for the entire family. There were dolls and toy trains, fruitcakes and chocolates, and live singing canaries, the latter being an accompaniment for budding American Idol competitors, perhaps. The cover of the 1937 catalog showed a photo of a brother and sister with the quote, “See the things that Santa brought, More’n what we thought he ought. Things for Mom and Daddy, too, N we hope there’s some for you.” In 1968 it was renamed the “Wish Book.”

If you long for the good old days, let your fingers do the walking through the Wish Book. It’s been online since 1998. In 2010 Sears went mobile, so customers can access the catalog with their smartphones. Earlier this year the company added another convenience: if you buy online and choose to pick up your purchase, a store associate will bring your shopping cart out to you. You won’t even have to leave your car.

© 2014 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

 

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Who’s in the Kitchen?

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

No one is in the kitchen, not even Dinah. Nor is anyone making dinner, not even “simple, easy, everyday meals,” per chef Mark Bittman in an October issue of Time.

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No one’s in the kitchen. No one’s home. Photo by: designbuildinhabit

That’s a shame for a lot of reasons.

As Bittman points out, it’s so much healthier to eat at home. A home-cooked meal, compared to the same served in a restaurant, has two hundred fewer calories. It’s less expensive, too.

Sure, eating out is convenient. That’s why fast-food restaurants are so popular. But, when was the last time you had a real conversation at MacDonald’s or Burger King or even Chipotle? Do you even remember your last meal in a fast food restaurant? Who were you with? What did you talk about? Did you try something new?

Currently, Del Webb, the retirement community developer, is running a slice-of-life commercial narrated by a young-looking senior citizen who proudly claims, “I never cooked Thai food in my life, and now I’m cooking it for twenty people.” Well, I used to laugh at the ad, thinking he was treating his guests no better than guinea pigs. Now, I think, why not?

Why not step out of your comfort zone? Why not learn a new skill and make new friends? As a personal historian, I’m all for creating memories, as well as recording the past.

By the way, those of you who didn’t catch my reference to “Dinah in the kitchen” probably never had the pleasure of singing “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” around a campfire. You can make up for lost time by listening to Muffin cartoon characters here. I’m sure any resemblance to “Hell on Wheels” is purely coincidental.

© 2014 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

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10 Quotes on Childhood Recollections

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

As we get older we find it difficult, if not impossible, to remember growing up. Yet we all have a first memory. Mine is the time I tied my shoes by myself. Oh, I was so excited and proud. I raced down the steps to tell my Mom.

Photo by: ToniVC

Photo by: ToniVC

Here are ten quotes of early childhood recollections. They all make perfect sense, give the paths the speakers have taken and the careers they’ve had.

I spent my childhood eating. The only exercise I got was trying to twist off the cap of a jar of mayonnaise.

— Richard Simmons, fitness guru

Playing guitar was one of my childhood hobbies, and I had played a little at school and at camp. My parents would drag me out to perform for my family, like all parents do, but it was a hobby – nothing more.

— Bonnie Raitt, singer

I have a love affair with tomatoes and corn. I remember them from my childhood. I only had them in the summer. They were extraordinary.

— Alice Waters, chef

My earliest thought, long before I was in high school, was just to go away, get out of my house, get out of my city. I went to Medford High School, but even in grade school and junior high, I fantasized about leaving.

— Paul Theroux, travel writer

One of my earliest memories was me singing ‘Oh, What A Beautiful Mornin’ at the top of my voice when I was seven. I got totally carried away. My grandmother, Sarah, was in the next room. I didn’t even realize she was there. I was terribly embarrassed.

— James Taylor, singer

My earliest memories are doing commercials and TV.

— Jodie Foster, actress

I played music and sang from my earliest memories. The first pictures of me show me wandering around with a guitar that was larger than I was, and it became almost second nature to me.

— Dwight Yoakam, singer

I still love making hamburgers on the grill. I guess whenever I eat them childhood memories come up for me.

— Bobby Flay, chef

Chocolate is the first luxury. It has so many things wrapped up in it: deliciousness in the moment, childhood memories, and that grin-inducing feeling of getting a reward for being good.

— Mariska Hargitay, actress

I’m just lucky. I do have very clear memories of childhood. I find that many people don’t, but I’m just very fortunate that I have that kind of memory.

— Beverly Cleary, writer of children’s literature

What about you? Does the way you were jive with who you’ve become?

© 2014 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

 

 

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A Fashionista Ages Well

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

The other day I was leafing through the September issue of Vogue, the one called “Fall Fashion Blockbuster.” And, boy, it was.

Even before it went on sale, the magazine had received plenty of headlines for putting three celebrity models, instead of plain old celebrities, on its cover. The young women apparently did their job pulling in advertisers, as the issue consisted of an abundance of clunky heels, manly flats, pleated skirts, and blousy tops, as well as oversized bags. At least, that was my take.

Photo by: David Shankbone

Photo by: David Shankbone

Then on page 667 of the 856-page tome, there was an excerpt from Diane von Furstenberg’s, The Woman I Wanted to Be, a new memoir that will be released at the end of October. Finally, an article that caught my eye.

It’s not clear how this book differs from Diane: A Signature Life published in 2009, but it’s getting great reviews from other fashionistas who had an advance copy. Anna Wintour sings, “Diane’s book evokes everything she has lived through. It is honest, direct and fascinating — just like the author herself!” Sarah Jessica Parker trills, “What a thrill to be given an opportunity to peek even further into her life.”

Known for introducing the knitted jersey wrap dress in 1974, von Furstenberg has seen a lot and accomplished even more. At 67-years old, she looks fabulous. While I might seem crass for commenting on her appearance, her book excerpt appears in the “Beauty” column, and it contains many of her observations on aging.

Von Furstenberg notes that her thirties were her best years. Her forties were harder, but life got better when she hit fifty. She’s grateful she never thought of herself as beautiful as everyone fades as time goes by.   As far as taking advantage of plastic surgery, she continues, “My face carries all my memories. Why should I erase them?”

Why, indeed? As a personal historian, I believe we should record our past, live the present, and plan for the future. We’re all getting older, and we all have something to say about getting on with it, whether we’re in vogue or not.

© 2014 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

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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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Is it Personal or Is it History?

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

I got into the “writing personal and family histories” business through my husband, James C. Simmons, who has been involved in such an enterprise for over fifteen years. He incorporates social, political, and cultural events into his work, bringing his client’s lives to life and putting them in context of the world at large.

Photo by: Joey Lax-Salinas

Photo by: Joey Lax-Salinas

My personal involvement in this line of work began when Jim suggested writing the Marg family history as a present to my parents on their 55th wedding anniversary. I thought that was a great idea, but I didn’t know how my parents would react. They’re both reticent people, not comfortable on being the center of attention, and, of course, we needed their cooperation, as the book we envisioned would center on them.

Well, my parents came through. For the one-hour telephone interviews Jim conducted, my Dad was a willing participant. For interviews with my Mom, I listened in. I was on the phone to prompt her, if she was at a loss for words. She was rarely at a loss for words.

One of the stories we incorporated in the Marg family history was one my Mom used to tell on my family’s twice-annual visit to New York City to see her parents. She was working in the offices of the United Services Organization (USO) in the Empire State Building one Saturday morning in 1945 when a plane crashed into the building. She knew something was wrong when she heard an elevator falling, not gliding, down the shaft not far from her desk.

As a social historian Jim filled in the details of the oft-told tale. There was a heavy fog that day. Planes were not equipped with radar. The plane was a B-25 bomber, and it had gotten lost. When it went into the 79th floor, the wings sheared off and the fuel tanks exploded. One engine landed atop a building across the street, and the second engine slammed through an elevator shaft, cutting the cables. Fourteen people died, and twenty-six were gravely injured.

From my mother’s perspective, it was a harrowing experience. She and a friend walked down from the 56th floor to safety. The first thing she did was to find a pay phone to call her mother who had not yet heard the news, news that became the number one story in the country for days.

Next, the two young women used their tickets to see Roger and Hammerstein’s Carousel. Having recently opened the Broadway musical was receiving rave reviews, but they really didn’t enjoy themselves, having come so close to death. They returned to the theater several months later to see it again.

And, yes, she returned to work that Monday, as the Empire State Building was open for business.

Is it history or is it personal? I think it’s both.

© 2014 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved