Long, Long, LONG Overdue.

Please feel free to visit my new blog!  The Spicy Apron

I can’t believe it has taken me longer to write this final post than it took Catherine to build a whole vortex tunnel from scratch! But here it is…. my final words about My Sister’s Halloween. It is with pride, admiration, relief, and a wee bit of sadness that I write this. It’s hard to believe that Catherine’s Halloween era has come to an end. But there’s something to be said for ending on such a high note…

What a HUGE success! More than 400 people showed up to be scared, horrified, awed, and impressed by Catherine’s talent, creativity, and countless hours of blood, sweat, and tears (and, yes, there were all of those – plus a massive head wound to top it all off!). In the end, it took a whole team of supporters to pull it off:

First and foremost… my sister’s devoted and dedicated husband. Not only did he put up with the chaos, mess, and disruption of turning his house into a haunted town and inn for nearly a year, he provided much manly-man strength and support across the board. And did it with a great attitude and smile on his face (most of the time…).

Our collective parents – this event never could have been pulled off without the love and support and contribution of all of our parents. It says a lot about Catherine to witness every one of the four parents involved rally and pitch in with anything and everything. The vortex tunnel never could have been made without our dad, who mistakenly thought his new-found retirement meant he would have the luxury of lots of leisure time…. wrong! The pirate ship would have looked like a cardboard backdrop without our incredibly talented mom, who can turn a piece of cloth and a few plastic gold pieces into a scene straight out of the Pirates of the Caribbean. The clown tent never would have functioned properly the night of the event without the dedication and determination of Catherine’s wonderful father-in-law, and no one would have had the most spectacular desserts without the nicest woman ever… Catherine’s mother-in-law. These are only a small fraction of examples of the efforts put forth by all.

My fantastic husband – the event would have felt like a silent movie without my husband’s constant attention to ensure each scene had creepy, frightening, and haunting music playing at just the right intensity and location. The event took on a life of its own with all of the sounds and music of Halloween.

The local high school drama club – a special thanks to the incredibly talented and entertaining group who came as zombies, pirates, voodoo witches, creepy clowns, and all kinds of characters, who never broke character and provided incredible realism to the Macabre Inn and Haunted Meadows.

And to all the other helpers and supporters – this truly was a team effort and it would never have been the home run success it was without everyone’s contributions.

The best way to end this blog is with this link. It is a video that was shown to the guests as they entered the event – a spectacular compilation of the transformation of my sister’s house into My Sister’s Halloween. Please enjoy the video and the photos of the actual event.

http://haunted-meadows.tumblr.com/

Finally… to my incredible sister – you provide inspiration, excitement, and laughter to all those around you… especially to me! I am lucky to have you in my life.  You touch so many people in so many ways.  Thank you for everything you do and for being the person you are.

Catherine and Heather Halloween

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No Pain… No Gain. Catherine’s Version.

Do you remember way back when I wrote about how I was going to expose all the details of the unfolding of this year’s Halloween spectacular – the successes and failures? The good, the bad, and the ugly? Well, here’s the ugly.

My sister is a little crazy; it’s one of the things we love about her. She’s always striving to achieve that little extra something that no one else can. It’s also one of the things that can be frustrating about her at times. Occasionally, Catherine doesn’t know when to say when.

Case in point – Catherine’s desire to make the perfect pirate ship… complete with sails, rails, and realistic details. Well, putting up the sails requires someone to climb up on the top of a 16 foot ladder, balanced on top of plywood that sits precariously on top of the elevated hot tub. (You can all see where this is going….maybe.) Take a close look at this photo. At the base of the ship, you can see a larger than life sized pirate. Right above him, you can see my dad standing in the ship, helping Catherine. Then look all the way up to the top of the ladder. That’s Catherine. Yep… she’s crazy! Pirate Ship Construction

To make matters more interesting, Catherine and our dad (who has been tirelessly helping her with all kinds of projects for this event) can’t seem to agree on whether or when to use C-clamps during the construction of all of these projects. My dad wants to use them. Catherine can’t stand them – too heavy, too awkward, more of a pain than they’re worth.

Fast forward about an hour from when that picture above was taken. It got a call from a very weak-voiced Catherine, “I’m on the way to the hospital. Dad’s taking me. Bad head injury. Blood spurting and gushing. I just wanted you to know I love you.” (Makes me tear up even now…)

I dropped everything I was doing and immediately jumped in my car to rush to the hospital where I found Catherine covered in blood, slumped (but alert) in a wheelchair being pushed by my dad in the ER. She looked horrible. And quite honestly, my dad didn’t look much better – white with worry. My mom (who has also been helping non-stop) stayed back at Catherine’s house to clean up the blood splattered mess that covered the deck all around the pirate ship. Although I didn’t see her at that time, I have no doubt my mom was also somewhat panicked.

So here’s what happened – when Catherine and my dad were attaching the ship’s sail at the top of the mast, she couldn’t quite get the leverage she needed to get the job done. My dad suggested using the large (and very heavy) C-clamp as a solution, so he passed it up the ladder to Catherine (despite her protests since she hates that thing). She still couldn’t get it, so she climbed down the ladder to reassess the situation, when my dad moved the ladder just a bit to give her the angle she needed.

Catherine had left the C-clamp on the top of the 16 foot ladder and the slight adjustment my dad made to the ladder caused the C-clamp to come crashing down on Catherine’s head. It hit her right in the temple (a very dangerous spot), splitting the skin and who knows what else. Thankfully, she had partially parried the C-clamp’s full force with her hand. Otherwise who knows how this would have ended. Four hours, several stitches, and a finger splint later, her husband brought her home for rest (and maybe a beer…:) ). We were all so grateful Catherine was home safe and sound.

And wouldn’t you know it…? Instead of flopping on the couch to put her feet up (like normal people would do), she walked outside and finished securing the pirates to the ship! Like I said, Catherine doesn’t know when to say when. It’s one of the reasons we love her. And it’s one of the things that frustrates all of us who care! But I must admit…. the ship looks great! Was the pain worth the gain? I have no doubt Catherine would answer with a resounding “Hell Yeah!”  Pirate Ship Final 3

The Addams Family… Reincarnated?

I was doing a little reading up on The Addams Family – that iconic, bizarre television family from the 1960s (’cause I’ve got nothing better to do…), and I came across a source that called the Addams Family a “satirical inversion of the ideal American family; an eccentric, wealthy clan who delight in the macabre and are unaware that people find them bizarre or frightening.” And then it hit me… we must be distant relatives of the fictitious Addams Family (ignoring the “wealthy” part…)!

First televised in the 1960s (although it started as a cartoon in the the New Yorker in 1938), The Addams Family has had numerous iterations, including a live Broadway musical, and has struck a chord with much of the American population. Perhaps the most endearing aspect of the show is that, despite the gruesome, dark, bizarre likes and dislikes the family embraces, the family is a solid, tight-knit, caring, and generous one.

Much like the Addams Family, our family embraces Catherine’s Halloween creepiness with love and devotion. Our dad, for example has been working tirelessly on bringing Catherine’s Vortex tunnel dream to reality. I have no doubt that my father’s endless energy he has poured into helping her find the perfect rebar sizes, locating and ordering the requisite 28 foot 2x4s, and figuring out exactly how to make it easy for guests to enter and exit the spinning tunnel without creating a catastrophe isn’t necessarily because he’s fascinated with Vortex tunnels. It’s because he loves Catherine.Vortex

Likewise, our mom has spent countless hours helping my sister create the most realistic, incredible shipwrecked pirates scampering off the gangplank of a near-life-sized ship with their pirates’ booty in tow. All done out of love.pirate

But my very favorite Addams Family-Morticia-Pugsley moment happened last week. A major part of creating the perfect, old, broken down, dilapidated Macabre Inn scene is all of the dead branches and bushes she finds throughout the washes and fields in the area. She brings in the lifeless scrub, and meticulously arranges it all around to create the ideal “dead” look.

Catherine came home after a day of running to Home Depot (a dozen times, or so), Spirit Halloween, her storage units, and a few other places to help her perfect the Macabre Inn environment, only to find the most absolutely perfect, brittle, decaying, ten foot branch lying lifeless in her driveway. She assumed my mom found it for her. Nope. Then she actually for a minute thought her husband brought it home for her. Ha! (Not a chance!). When she was all out of ideas about how the perfect piece landed in her figurative lap, her 11 year old son walked around the corner with the biggest smile I’ve ever seen on his face and asked her, “Did you see what I brought for you?”branch

Apparently, he saw it when he got off the bus and dragged it more than two blocks home to his mother’s Macabre Inn creation. He wasn’t even deterred when the cute girl from down the street who takes the same bus home questioned him. He simply replied to her with that Addams Family twinkle in his eye, “Don’t ask.” Yeah… that’s probably best.

Now that’s real love! And it still brings a tear to my eye.

Cirque du Fatale – A Tragedy and Lessons Learned

I started writing this post a couple of months ago. Catherine had long ago picked out a fantastic name for her defunct, dying, and bizarre circus that was the “local entertainment” at the Macabre Inn. The perfect name for the circus – Cirque du Fatale. The big top tent is filled with crazy clowns on unicycles, creepy children acrobat performers, the infamous elephant’s behind, and even an old popcorn machine that has been infested by rats.

But as I sat down to write this post about the Cirque du Fatale, I learned of the very tragic accident that occurred during a real, live performance of the Cirque du Soleil show “Ka” in Las Vegas on June 29th. The tightrope on which long-time performer, 31 year old Sarah Guillot-Guyard, was performing snapped and she fell to her death. In deference to that tragedy, I postponed writing the post. The more I thought about it, though, the more I learned from it. The ultimate lesson being life is short, so do what you love. Sarah died doing what she has known and loved since she was four years old. She followed her passion with enthusiasm, and was one of the best in the world. Pictures of her show a never-ending and captivating smile on her face. I write this post having once again been reminded to follow your passion. Life is too short to let it pass by without chasing dreams.

My sister’s dream this year was to make the most spectacular Halloween production yet. She has followed that with undying passion, and she’s almost done! In the 38 remaining days before the showcase, there’s more to do than I can even comprehend. But one thing is certain…. it’s all coming together. Catherine’s circus is going to be one of the many highlights. The attention to detail she gave the Cirque du Fatale sign alone is amazing. She knew “Big Top” stripes were essential:Big Top Stripes

Strips Finished

And decided the letters must be three dimensional so she hand cut them out of foam, then meticulously painted each one:

Fatale Letters

Of course, she had to flank the name with an elephant’s head (with one eyeball hanging on by a nerve and a vein) and a lunatic clown. Perfect! Cirque Du Fatale

The sign is but one example of the wonders to come at the Macabre Inn. Those fortunate enough to see it in person will be amazed, shocked, and hopefully inspired to follow their own passion. It’s what life is all about.

Amazing Transformations – Halloween and More

Catherine has transformed her home into a Halloween-freak-show-haunted-broken-down Inn. The change has been dramatic, virtually impossible, and has taken nearly all her energy. I say “nearly” because she has managed to save just enough energy to embark on another kind of transformation. She and her husband have decided on a joint project – transforming their bodies. After years of laughing with each other at watching gravity (and a few extra beers) get the better of them, Catherine and my brother-in-law are getting back what has slowly slipped away – muscle tone… (and the ability to stand under a florescent light in the closet in front of the mirror without wanting to cry.)

Those of you who have followed this blog from the beginning know that my sister has spent the last ten months planning, prepping, and creating the most unbelievable spectacular for Halloween 2013. And the transformation of her home into the Macabre Inn is now taking shape. As a writer, I am sometimes offended by the “a picture is worth a thousand words” expression. (After all, I can’t imagine a picture could illustrate a point better than my words… 🙂  ). You’ll notice that I said “sometimes offended.” These pictures tell the story of the creation far better than my words ever could.

Catherine’s garage has become the Macabre Inn. And the transformation is amazing. She took down every single measurement possible, then mapped out the structure, using blue painter’s tape to outline where she would build the walls:Garage Bare Floor

Then she framed in the structural elements:Garage just walls

If you’ll recall, the doors were a major source of inspiration for Catherine. Here they are:Garage Hall with closed doors

She had to wire it for sound, lighting, and control cameras:Garage electrical

More electrical – we only hope the fire department doesn’t come for an inspection:More Electrical

The lighting and the “walls” finally take shape:Garage Hall Lighting

There are so many rooms in the Macabre Inn that I couldn’t possibly post them all. Here are some of my favorites. The finished hallway (the flash kills the effect a bit, but you get the idea):Hallway

The crazy lady in Room 1:Crazy Lady

The old couple who couldn’t resolve their differences in Room 4 (well, I guess they’re resolved now…):Hangman:

Surprising the guest while he’s relieving himself in the bathroom:Bathroom

The on-sight daycare room:Daycare Room

The hard work, endless hours of commitment, sweat, and determination have more than paid off. This place is beyond amazing! I can’t believe the creativity, ingenuity, skill, and talent that have led to the transformation of my sister’s garage to the Macabre Inn.

Likewise, hard work, endless hours, sweat, and determination have gone into Catherine and her husband’s “other” transformation. They look great! Feel great! (except immediately after their workout), and have started to see the amazing transformation of their bodies. Don’t worry… I’ll spare you the pictures. But trust me on this one – I’m not sure which of the transformations has been more difficult, or been more impressive. All I can say is they are both truly inspirational.

Fear. A four letter word. And not just at Halloween…

Last night I was chatting with my sister and she said, “I hate being scared, but I love scaring others.” She was, of course, talking about Halloween. It made me laugh – Catherine reminiscing about how much she hated being scared as a child at Halloween time, but how now she revels in the idea of scaring other people through her gifted – if not a bit troubling –  Halloween, fear-eliciting, creative talents.

Then it dawned on me… her statement rings true for things far beyond Halloween. Fear is an interesting thing. Fear of failure. Fear of success (I’ve gotta be honest – I’m not entirely sure about the whole “fear of success” idea… what does that really even mean?). Fear of the unknown. All kinds of phobia fears – heights, the dark, spiders, clowns…

I personally fear that I will not accomplish enough in my life before I die. (Years of being told how much unfulfilled potential I have might have contributed to my fear… 😉 ). I know that my fear might seem ridiculous to some, while others will understand why I carry it with me. But that’s the whole thing about fear – it’s often irrational, and has no basis in fact. It just is.

And that is why I understand Catherine’s need to work non-stop making every inch of the Macabre Inn perfect. She lives, breathes, sleeps, and dreams Halloween. She is driven by that four letter word – fear. Fear that Halloween will sneak up on her and rob her of the precious time she needs to make everything perfect. Fear that she’ll open the doors for the official Halloween event and only a handful of people will trickle in. Fear that if people do show up, the sound system designed to cloak everyone in haunting, creepy, blood-curdling sounds won’t work. Or that the 12 foot clown on stilts will suddenly collapse, or the vortex tunnel will spring from its hinges and end up barrelling into the cactus-filled wash, taking a few visitors with it (okay, that one’s actually my fear, not hers…).

To those of us watching her, all of her fears seem unfounded. Her creation is nothing short of spectacular. Tons of people will come, and all will be amazed at her talent, creativity, and her far-reaching imagination. But she works endlessly to ensure her fears will not materialize. And that’s what separates Catherine from the rest. Many are paralyzed by fear, while others are driven by it.

The great Arthur Ashe summed it up perfectly when he said:

Fear isn’t an excuse to come to a standstill. It’s the impetus to step up and strike.

And 83 days from now Catherine can release her fears and enjoy seeing the fear she elicits in each and every unsuspecting guest of the Macabre Inn. 

The Elephant in the Room

It’s crunch time at the Macabre Inn. Well, not exactly. It’s more like decision-making time. For the last few weeks, as she has been working virtually non-stop on creepy clowns, pool zombies, and circus creations, Catherine has uttered more than once (way more than once), “I’m trying to decide if I should back out of Halloween. I’ll give myself another week to make up my mind.” What??  Back out? You’ve gotta be kidding me! She’s been planning and creating since October 2012 – she’s been designing, constructing, imagining, and bringing to life all kinds of gory, scary, and even disturbing at times, scenes with everything from werewolves eating victims to hypnotized swamp walkers, to the most amazing “check in” desk for the Macabre Inn – complete with the old hag in a broken down rocking chair.

If I know only one thing about my sister, it’s this – there’s NO WAY she would back out of this. Halloween makes her feel good. The creation process brings her to life. She can accomplish things that virtually no other person can. If she pulled the plug now, she would never forgive herself. Ever. I don’t really know what triggered all the talk of scrapping the whole project, but I did know that there would be something – one thing – that would bring her normally unyielding energy and focus back to Halloween. And that one thing happened to be…. an elephant’s butt. Seriously.

As well as I know her, I still have no idea what made her think to put a life-sized elephant’s butt in her clown tent. And to top it off she made sure to hook it up to a compressor so she could make it pass gas as the visitors are passing by (no, I’m not kidding!). As strange as it may seem, I’ve gotta admit – it is no doubt one of her best creations.

She started with some concrete blocks, the base of a wrought iron table, and tied it all to the compressor nozzle.Elephant stand

Then she hand-formed chicken wire to give it a life-like shape.Elephant wire

Finally, she applied the absolutely most perfect and realistic looking fabric. Then pinned on the tail.Elephant FinalIt is truly an amazing creation. Yes, as we walk by, the air compressor fires and the elephant’s tail flies up in what is quite an impressive gas-passing event. Everyone laughs. Everyone is amused.

And that is what made Catherine stop talking about calling the whole thing off. Although, I must say, not one of us who truly knows Catherine ever thought for even a minute that she would back out of the Macabre Inn. Not a chance. It was as obvious to all of us as the elephant in the room….

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