Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Halloween Eve

It's no secret to anyone who has visited our home, that Halloween is my absolute favorite holiday; it's been filled with ghosts, goblins, ghouls and gore for the past three weeks in anticipation of October 31st. What I like about Allhallows Eve is that it's not about cooking, or gift giving, or card-sending, or any other obligation, other than just having fun, and it allows even the most buttoned up of the group to act a little crazy (or, at least put away a few Milky Way bars). For the past week, Jerry and I have been holding our own little Horrorfest, watching a plethora of horror flicks, both good and not so good, staying up past our bedtime to squeeze another in. All tallied, we've watched ten horror movies since late last week, and I think we have room to squeeze three more in the next 24 hours to make it an odd thirteen.

If you—like us—live so far off the beaten path, that even the most intrepid trick-or-treaters forgo your candy bowl, don't let that stop you from having your own bloody good time this Wednesday night. Instead, grab the Twizzlers, pop the popcorn, and head to the sofa for a frightfully delightful movie night.

SUZANNE'S 25 SCARIEST MOVIE PICKS (in no particular order)
  1. Psycho (1960)
  2. Dawn of the Dead (2004 Remake)
  3. Night of the Living Dead (1968)
  4. Halloween (1978)
  5. The Omen (1976)
  6. High Tension (2003)
  7. Jaws (1975)
  8. Exorcist (1973)
  9. Red Dragon (2002)
  10. Frailty (2001)
  11. The Blair Witch Project (1999)
  12. Rosemary's Baby (1968)
  13. Alien (1979)
  14. The Shining (1980)
  15. When a Stranger Calls (1979)
  16. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
  17. Seven (1995)
  18. The Fog (1980)
  19. Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
  20. The Ring (2002)
  21. The Birds (1963)
  22. Friday the 13th (1980)
  23. Shaun of the Dead (2004)
  24. The Thing (1982 Remake)
  25. Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Sunshine for Megan

I just finished embroidering Megan's name. I chose to use cotton thread in warm, fire colors to match not only Megan's red hair, but her fiery spirit as well. And since she radiated such warmth, I added a few swirling rays of sunshine around her name. I like to think that Megan would have liked the simplicity of this little piece of artwork, and I'm grateful that I had the opportunity to honor her.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Megan M. McClung (4/14/72 – 12/6/06)

"It is not length of life, but depth of life." -Ralph Waldo Emerson

My swatch from The Mother's Day Project arrived today in a simple, white envelope postmarked Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Inside was an instructional letter, and a light piece of cream-colored cotton fabric with the name Megan M. McClung heatstamped in black, directly in the center. I didn't quite know how I would feel when I learned the moniker of the woman whose name I would be stitching, but my first reaction upon reading it was "ahhh...she has a good name." I instantly liked the the way it rolled off of my tongue. I liked the fact that her initials were MMM, which, as a graphic designer, I could imagine turning into a beautiful logo. I wondered what the M. in the middle stood for: Mary? Margaret? Marie? And, of course, I wondered who Megan M. McClung was, the life she lived. And so, fifteen minutes ago, I typed her name into Google.

Major Megan M. McClung was the first female officer killed in Iraq. She was a public affairs officer who was escorting Oliver North and a FOX News crew through Ramadi just moments before a roadside bomb took her life. She was 34 years old. But I don't want to dwell on the death of Megan M. McClung, but rather, her life, as Megan seems like someone I would have enjoyed being friends with, had our paths ever crossed. A—unlike myself!—natural redhead, Megan was a spirited soul. Described by those who knew her as having a steel-like constitution, (despite the fact that she weighed in around 100 pounds soaking wet) she was a triathlete who competed in grueling Ironman competitions—running, swimming and bicycling—around the world. Even while in Iraq, this freckled firebrand would run along the Tigris at nightfall, and help organize marathons.

Megan grew up in one of my favorite parts of California—Orange County—but later moved to the state of Washington, where her parents live today. One of the things that has struck me most about Megan is not her accomplishments in school (she received her masters’ degree in criminal justice from Boston University), or her triathalons (six!), or in her military career (she was a hard-working and well-respected), but in her accomplishments as a human being. I've spent the past three hours reading through page after page of posts, letters, articles and blogs written by Megan's friends, family, and colleagues, and I am touched at how in only 34 years, this beautiful, inspiring, and incredibly courageous young woman was able to touch so many lives. And I am thankful that today, she touched mine as well.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Mother's Day Project

Funny how life works. I wrote a life list less than an hour ago about wanting to make a difference in the world, and the next thing I know, I stumbled across a link for The Mother's Day Project and immediately signed up.

Here's how it works: Participants who sign up are sent a swatch of fabric with the name of a woman soldier who lost her life in Iraq heat-stamped on it. The volunteer then embroiders over the letters of the name with embroidery floss or thread. The completed names are then returned to become part of a fabric collage and embroidered tote bag. The tote bag is then circulated among the volunteer stitchers who are asked to use the bag in the course of their daily lives for a week before sending it on to another stitcher.

I encourage all of my readers to sign up today to embroider a name. I realize that the small gesture of volunteering for this project is not going to change the world at large, but sometimes it's ok to to think smaller, and to be grateful for changes within.

When life hands you lemons, plant a lemon grove

For reasons I don't need to get into, this October has been a particularly difficult month for me personally. Having walked on this green Earth for over four decades, I am enlightened enough to know that there is an ebb and flow to life that we mere mortals can't control, and sometimes we just have to hang on and ride that wave of unhappiness to shore, and hope and pray there's not a tsunami coming right behind it.

In 2001 I lost my big, muckety-muck job in Gotham, and at that moment in time, I couldn't imagine a worse fate; single, unemployed (in a post 9-11 New York, no less), and in my 3o's! I cried for days, ate a lot of comfort foods, then woke up one sunny, bird-chirping morning, and decided the pity party was over. So, I grabbed a sheet of paper and a pen, and I made a life list. Of course I could have written down a hundred things that I wanted out of life—to look like Angelina Jolie, for Bill Gates to hand me a blank check, to fit into my jeans from high school—but I kept it tight and realistic. I knew that I didn't want to go back to the 7am - 7pm rigors of working for a corporation, so at the top of the list was that I wanted to be my own boss. I felt unchallenged creatively at that time, so another goal was to spend more of my free time cooking, and crafting, and becoming a more artistic being. And, since I always wanted to write a book, that went on there as well (I ignored the fact that I had never written a short story, much less a book). The next day I hung up my proverbial 'shingle' and started Suzanne Brown Design, which has—despite the many highs and lows that go along with owning your own business—provided me with a wonderful, freedom-filled life. Naturally, being my own boss allowed me more hours in the day (I was no longer falling asleep on the sofa at 8pm in my work clothes) to begin exploring photography, and cooking, and crafting, which in turn started me writing, and the next thing I knew, I was writing a book. Oh, and I somehow realized that my best friend would make a pretty good husband (I was right), so I got married, too. So you see, it was that singular event of losing my job, and being thrown into uncertainty, and—at times—despair, that I was able to craft a brand new life for myself.

After three supremely crummy weeks (which culminated today by running over a chipmunk!) I decided it was time to make a new life list. I wanted to put down in writing what my goals for the next five years are, for if there is one thing that 2001 taught me, it's only when you stop dwelling on the ebbs, and start focusing focus on the flows, that a truly wonderful life presents itself.

1. To write a second book.
2. To get back to Africa.
3. To get a regular TV slot/program.
4. To build a new home with a great kitchen and enough closets.
5. To take a vacation with my entire family, like we did when we were kids.
6. To somehow—and I'm not sure how, but I want to figure it out—make a difference in this world.
7. To never run over a chipmunk—or any other living creature, for that matter—again.
7. And to someday fit into my skinny jeans from high school. : )

What's on your life list? Let me know!

Monday, October 15, 2007

In a blaze of glory

New Yorkers should run as fast as their legs will carry them to The Great Jack-O-Lantern Blaze at Van Cortlandt Manor in Croton-on-Hudson. Jerry and I checked it out last night and were blown away. With over 4,000 cleverly carved pumpkins on display, this is a must-see for the young, old, and in-betweens.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Not ready for my closeup

People often ask me what's it like to be on television, and if I get nervous beforehand, to which I always answer with a definitive "no." Not because I wouldn't normally be anxious in such a forum, but because I am so off-the-charts stressed and harried in the hours, minutes, seconds leading up to my spot, that there is no luxury of time to even contemplate being nervous. I always say that there is no dignity in OB-GYN visits, post 9-11 air travel, or, being on TV; for me, all three of those are events equally humbling. Take for instance my show this past Saturday on Good Morning Connecticut. I started working on the crafts and recipes three weeks ago, finishing them up in a marathon sushi and sake-fueled pumpkin carving cram session late Friday evening. Six hours later--at 4:30 am--the alarm went off, and we arose, feeling the effects of that last bottle of sake, wishing we could tuck back under the comforter and sleep in like normal Saturday morning-loving Americans. Instead, we showered, dressed, and blearily packed up the Mini Cooper in the cold, dark October morning (remember that Indian Summer I was crowing about recently? Yeah, well, it's officially over), and hit the road for our 1-hour trip to the station. Except we somehow forgot that it's actually 1.5 hours to the station, and so we arrived at 7:05 for a 7:40 slot. It goes without saying that I was a bit deranged at this point, as the car had to be unloaded, and my table set up and ready in under a half hour, all in tippy-toe, quiet-as-a-Ninja silence, as the newscasters were reporting just feet away (yes, everything takes place in one, big studio: a pager, cell-phone, platform shoe, and sneeze-free zone). Jerry has become a pro at helping me set up, and he did the lionshare of the schlepping from car to studio, while I frantically got my crafts and foods in order, hoping that there would be time left to apply lipstick + blusher before the "3...2...1...Go" came from the camera man. Alas, there was not a second to spare to check my makeup, so I simply mopped my sweaty brow, prayed there was no leftover seaweed salad stuck in my tooth from dinner, smiled broadly, and went on with the show.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Gettin' crafty with it

I've been up to my ears in glycerin, dried apple heads and meringue this week--and not in a good way. In preparation for my TV spot tomorrow morning on Good Morning Connecticut, I've been making soaps, crafting kitchen witches, piping out meringue ghosts, rubbing graves. As is the case with all my appearances, the week leading up to it has not been without it's issues. Three day migraine. Projects so stressful I feel ill just remembering their names. A call from my mother this morning informing me that my father fell and broke his nose (6 stitches) while running to direct traffic at a funeral (don't ask). And now, at 9:48pm, despite the fact that we must be up at 4:30am tomorrow for my segment, we are carving pumpkins. Actually, Jerry is carving them, and I am toasting Jamaican jerk-flavored pumpkin seeds in the oven because....you know, that's a good question: Why AM I toasting pumpkin seeds at 10:00pm?

It's clearly time to hit the hay, but earlybirds or insomniacs in the Nutmeg State can catch my show tomorrow morning at 7:40am on WTNH, News Channel 8. Everyone else across the country (or smart Nutmeggers who prefer to sleep in on Saturday mornings), can visit my new website at http://craftysuzanne.blogspot.com for recipes and crafts.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Love in a Bowl

It's hard to be in beautiful southern California and not wonder every two minutes or so why I voluntarily choose to live in New York and not here. Life seems easier, lighter, less complicated in this region, and, no, not just because I'm on vacation. There is something about the combination of abundant sunshine, low humidity, and fresh ocean air that instanty lifts ones spirits; in fact, I will go so far to say that short of one grumpy cab driver in Coronado who needed a day at the beach, or a girlfriend, every person I've ever met who resides here is pretty much in a positive state of mind all the time. Unless Prozac-enriched water is flowing through the taps, the only explanation I can come up with for this collective reverie is that good weather equates to good moods.

One person who is always in a good mood, despite having what seems to be the most stressful job in all of San Diego, is Juan, who runs the Oyster Bar at the Fish Market on Harbor Drive. Plopped right on the bay, with amazing views, the freshest seafood, an unpretentious attitude, and lines stretching out the door, this restaurant is one of mine and Jerry's all-time favorites. We love hunkering down at the Oyster Bar, where over glasses of cold white wine, and thick wedges of warm sourdough bread, we sit back in awe as Juan arabesques and pirouettes his way through the kitchen, turning out hundreds of meals with ease, grace, and love. I hesitated using the word love for a millisecond there, since so few people, short of mothers, grandma's, and the occasional avuncular chef in the back kitchen of your neighborhood trattoria truly cook with love, but Juan does; I can see it in his face, I can taste it in his food. He listens when you tell him where your culinary tastes lie, and somehow--like he's been cooking for you your whole life--he translates that small soundbite, that minute-long interaction, into the most incredible, tastebud-pleasing, filled-with-love meal you've had in a good, long time. For me this week, it's been a linguini with manilla clams that is so delightful, I've ordered it five nights in a row.

I am heading back home to New York tomorrow, and inspired by Juan, I am going to prepare a big bowl of linguini with clams on Sunday. I will cook the clams in butter, wine, brandy and sherry, then add capers, tomatoes, garlic and fresh herbs. After ten minutes, I will pour it over just-tender linguini, then top it with a handful of parmesan cheese, before finally placing it on the dining room table with so much love, that even that crabby Coronado Island cabby would sigh with happiness.

LINGUINI WITH CLAMS (makes one serving)

Cook 1/4 lb. of linguini + set aside.

Melt 1/2 stick unsalted butter in a saute pan (I know, it's a lot of butter, feel free to use slightly less if you're watching your waistline +/or cholesterol). Add 3 cloves minced garlic, a few tablespoons chopped scallions, and 2 dozen littleneck or manilla clams. Cook on high for two minutes, then add a splash of brandy, a splash of cooking sherry, and a big splash of dry, white wine. Throw in 2 tablespoons rinsed capers, and a handful of seeded +chopped plum tomatoes (optional), then cover pan and cook on medium-high heat for around 5 minutes, or until clams open. Pour clams over linguini, top with a bit of parmesan cheese, and enjoy!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

A Day at the Zoo

It's 8:00 pm on Coronado Island, California, and I am already sacked out in bed. Jerry is here on business, and I'm here doing my best to capture 1/100th of the magic that is the San Diego Zoo. If you are making your life list this weekend, don't forget to add this destination to it. At the very top. The tippy, tippy top. Numero Uno.

Having walked what feels like 3,000 miles today, I am fading fast, so please accept these pictures I took earlier today in lieu of a coherent blog. I'm sure I will be more clever tomorrow. Well, at least we can hope.