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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.


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


Dumpster Diving

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure….

The etymology of this saying is a bit difficult to pin down. Some say the first iteration is the 17th century proverb “one man’s meat is another man’s poison.” Others claim Urquhart’s intro to the 1860s Popular Tales of the West Highlands, where he said “One man’s rubbish may be another’s treasure” is where it all began. The true origin is irrelevant, though. For in today’s world, we simply call it “dumpster diving.” Well… that’s what Catherine calls it. And it makes her incredibly happy.

In Arizona, we have “large trash pick up” once a month. This is when homeowners go through their houses and yards and throw out all of their junk. Driving through the neighborhoods during large trash week is an eye-opening experience. You can see who got new patio furniture since the old stuff is piled high by the mailbox, whose baby finally outgrew that crib, who got sick of tinkering with that 30 year old lawnmower, and you can even tell who’s getting a divorce from the haphazardly thrown out pile of old wedding and honeymoon photos (that one’s kind of sad). And, yes, you’ll even see the neighbors’ “dirty laundry.” Really. Not a pleasant sight…

So when Catherine is planning her Halloween spectacular, she counts down the days until each and every large trash pick up day. She climbs into her car as the sun breaks the horizon (so she can beat the other dumpster divers to the “good stuff”), and she combs the neighborhood (well actually, that’s neighborhoods. Plural.) She sets off to find her treasures. We all wait to find out what she snagged to furnish the Macabre Inn. (And, yes, we’re all a bit nervous – you never know what she’ll drag home!) My sister outdid herself this year. What’s an old Inn without a bunch of tattered, dirty suitcases?Luggage Pile

And of course, the “guests” will need a place to sit…Old Bench

And sleep.Mattress

And here’s my personal favorite – apparently the werewolves, witches, zombies, clowns, and Macabre Inn guests all have something in common. They all need one of these (I can just picture Catherine hoisting this up into the back of her car…)toilet

(And to think, we were all chuckling at the neighbors’ “dirty laundry.” Imagine how hard they must have been laughing when they watched Catherine drive up at the crack of dawn and sneak off with their old, used, broken toilet. I’m thinking they got the last laugh on that one!). Which brings us back to the original point…. Trash or Treasure? It’s all in the eye of the beholder (nothing like mixing a couple of idioms…).

After Awhile, Crocodile…

Yes, it’s been awhile since my last post. The last month has been just a wee bit crazy (and we all even managed to squeeze in a long weekend enjoying excellent music, lots of laughs, a few beers (and margaritas, and pina coladas) and an overall great time at Country Thunder), but that hasn’t slowed Catherine down at all. She’s in full court press creating steamy gargoyles, three-dimensional signs, and, yes, finishing the alligator (crocodile?) masterpiece. Needless to say, I have a lot of material to catch up on!

As I’m sure you gathered from the title of this post, the debate about alligators versus crocodiles still rages on within the family. Although Catherine declared it an alligator due to its shape, and teeth and jaw structure, most people still refer to the creature as a crocodile. And sometimes you’ve just gotta go with the flow. So, apparently, it is now a crocodile.

It’s not often that I find myself incapable of finding the right words to paint the perfect, descriptive picture of something. This is one of those times. The creation of the crocodile has been nothing short of amazing. And words don’t do it justice. I only wish I could translate to words how much heart, soul, talent, frustration (and more than a few swear words…), perfectionism, and hours Catherine has put into the production of her most amazing, life-like creation yet. Where I fail with words, I hope to make up with these fantastic “in-progress” shots Catherine gave me.

Picking up from where I left off in my last post….. Catherine used a table saw to cut out this perfectly sized body, head, and feet:croc frame

Next came the chicken wire and padding to give it shape:croc chicken wire

In between shaping the body and adding the toes, Catherine painstakingly hand molded each and every tooth:teeth

By far the most frustrating step was getting the “skin” on and secured, and still make the thing look real. She didn’t like it the first time she put it on, so she took it apart completely and started over. And then did that one more time until it was just right:croc progresscrock back

She had to put in all those teeth, then paint each one by hand to give them the realistic I’m about to eat you for lunch look. My father, the dentist, would be proud:croc teeth

And when the whole thing was put together, everyone could tell there was something missing. Except no one could tell what it was. No one, except Catherine, that is…. after evaluating it head to toe, and back again for a couple of days, she figured it out. The croc looked dead. She knew exactly how to fix it. He needed pupils (really?? who knew?):croc eye

There you have it…..

croc front


This creature will be lurking somewhere near the swampy, foggy grotto, just waiting for an unsuspecting victim to walk by. The head is hinged, so the jaw can swing back and forth. The feet are on casters so he can be lurched toward, creating fear in even the bravest passerby.

This project is the perfect example of what sets Catherine apart from every one else. Even though it took four times longer than she ever anticipated, and it set her back several weeks, and it was far more difficult than she predicted, she never gave up. That’s what makes Catherine, Catherine. And that’s what makes The Macabre Inn the must-see event of 2013!

See Ya’ Later, Alligator…

Nearly every day is like Christmas at my sister’s house. It’s the same routine day in and day out. Late at night, Catherine spends hours on her computer researching various ways to make the incredible creations for the Macabre Inn. She places orders for anything from specialized tools, fabric swatches, and even 10 foot wooden circles. She gets the order confirmation the following morning (often she has no recollection of what  she even ordered the night before, but that’s a completely different issue…) And the following day the good-looking UPS guy rings her doorbell and delivers boxes. And boxes… and more boxes.

Whoever’s first to get home gets to rip open the box to see what surprise is wrapped inside. I’ve seen everything from clown tent poles, to gelatin-like bloodshot eyeballs, to Dracula’s Blood (okay… that’s actually a kind of wine, and I’m pretty sure she ordered that for me!), to two foot spiders that jump out of the box. Recently, though, I’ve been seeing dozens and dozens of textured fabric swatches, 10 different colors of camo paint, more chicken wire, some type of clay, and plywood from Home Depot.

I knew it wouldn’t be long before something creative began to take shape. And the next time I went to Catherine’s house, here’s what I almost tripped on:Alligator

Alligator 2

Alligator 3As is often the case, it is nearly impossible to see the scale of this project or the incredible attention to detail required to create a larger than life 12 foot alligator. She looked at dozens of pictures to get a feel for the shape and movement of the alligator (yes, that prompted a whole family discussion on the difference between alligators and crocodiles, resulting in Catherine strongly declaring that hers is definitely an alligator).

This is obviously in the first stages of construction, but it is already a remarkable feat. As she cut it out with a handsaw (after drawing no fewer than ten drafts and outlines), she realized she could only get the effect she’s after if the head moves. And that was a problem not easily solved.

Enter Catherine’s problem-solving husband…. he evaluated the situation and came up with the perfect solution! “Just cut off the head and attach a horizontal child-sized bicycle tire to the bottom of the head, then attach it to the neck.” Duh…. why didn’t I think of that?? To be honest, I couldn’t even exactly follow what he was suggesting, but there’s clearly some sort of unspoken mental connection and understanding that Catherine and her husband share, because she looked at him adoringly (almost with tears in her eyes) and exclaimed, “that’s perfect!” And he solved the problem. The alligator’s head moves effortlessly from side to side (gliding on the bicycle tire that you can’t even see) so as the Macabre Inn guests unsuspectingly saunter past his swampy spot next to the grotto, his head will swivel around with a start, mouth agape, exposing rows of angry teeth, and elicit screams out of even the bravest of the guests. Perfect….

Next up? The shape-making chicken wire, the mossy-green, warty looking fabric that Catherine chose out of the dozens of samples. And finally, the spikes, scales, and teeth that Catherine is making by hand and painstakingly painting. See ya later alligator…

What’s in a name?

The Hotel Macabre has officially been changed to The Macabre Inn. The first impression of almost anything begins to take shape at the mention of the name. So Catherine has put much thought into naming her Halloween 2013 creation. As you know, she finally landed on the word macabre. That’s just one of those words… no one knows quite how to pronounce it. Does it have two syllables or three? Do you actually say the e on the end or don’t you? What do you do with the r? And even with all that confusion, practically everyone knows what it means. Macabre conjures up vivid images of all things gruesome, creepy, odd, and scary… Perfect for Halloween.

The uncertainty was with the “hotel” part of the name. Catherine’s creation will be an old, dilapidated, once-elegant, but now collapsing building that holds all kinds of untoward secrets. And “hotel” didn’t quite fit. So after batting around ideas for a couple of hours (while enjoying pina coladas poolside overlooking the Caribbean Sea on our cruise), when Catherine’s husband suggested “inn” rather than “hotel,” we all took it in with the moment of silence it deserved, then decided…. perfect! (the moment of silence may have been due to one too many pina coladas, rather than in reverence of the new name. I’m just sayin’…).

The beautiful thing about the word “inn” is that it can mean any number of things – a sophisticated cluster of elegant cottages overlooking the ocean…. a quaint cabin-type property tucked back in the woods, a flea bag motel on the side of the road… or an old, broken down, once-spectacular, but time-worn, small abode that is hanging on by its hinges. And that’s why The Macabre Inn is perfect!

A funny thing thing happened on the way to dinner after our ah-ha Macabre Inn name moment on that cruise… When we went back to our rooms to get fancied up for dinner, we had a very formal invitation neatly placed on our bed. “The Captain has requested your presence at his table for dinner this evening.” What?? With three thousand guests on board, the four of us were among eight invited to dine with the captain on the one and only night he dined with guests?? How did that happenCruise 2013

And once again, a name played a huge part in first impressions. Captain Yngvar Knutsen. Now, I don’t know about you, but to me Yngvar Knutsen conjures up ideas of tall, stoic, fair-haired, fair-skinned Norwegians. Bingo! So the night was filled with the eight of us guests trying to desperately to make sense of the thick-accented English, as the Captain told fascinating stories of his past, his career, and his travels. Thankfully, his beautiful British wife was there to translate and clarify when necessary. They were a lovely couple, as were the other two couples who joined us that evening. While it is true – almost cliche in fact – that Captain Knutsen was exactly what you would expect when you hear that name, we did manage to get a few smiles, a couple of chuckles, and even a guffaw or two out of him. So don’t let a name fool you…. You truly never know what you’re going to get. Such is the case with The Macabre Inn – there will be hidden secrets and surprises around every corner.

P.S. We still have no idea why we were selected to dine with the Captain; we’re just glad we were. It was a fantastic, once in a lifetime experience. One we’ll never forget.

Welcome to the Hotel Macabre – Opening Halloween 2013

So exciting! The ideas have been batted around, and the options have been weighed. The theme has been determined. Halloween 2013 is officially Hotel Macabre! And the name describes it perfectly!

It’s fascinating to watch the creative process. As I sit here and write this post, I’m replaying in my head all the events over the last few months in an attempt to pinpoint exactly what led Catherine to decide she would turn her home into a gruesome, ancient, haunted hotel for this year’s Halloween. I’m coming up blank… I have absolutely no idea how or when that idea popped into her head. Here’s a replay:

  • I found the creepy old lady witch in my husband’s car one night
  • The Buddha baby appeared out of nowhere and ended up in the Christmas manger scene
  • The scary clown theme developed
  • Werewolves were created out of plywood and chicken wire
  • An amazing 4 foot moon was constructed to provide the right atmosphere for the werewolves
  • Zombie people have begun to take shape

A hotel? There’s absolutely nothing in these events that would lead my brain to scream hotel! And, yet, it’s the perfect plan! The day after Catherine texed me with the theme, I stopped by her house and saw an 8 foot, absolutely beautiful, dark mahogany-looking, ancient “door” that she created out of styrofoam. That must be it. It’s the door! Her plan is to create a series of hallways lined with these doors that look like they came out of a haunted hotel from the 17th century. Through each door, the Halloween 2013 tourists will be treated to a scene full of “previous guests” who have gone bad, mad, or are just plain psychopaths. The possibilities are endless, and it all began with a door…

That’s what I’m talking about! Creativity, guts, and a willingness to follow your instinct. Catherine has all of that, and more, which is why the Hotel Macabre will be a spectacular showcase. How many doors? How many zombies? How many guests? Time will tell, but lyrics to an old song come to mind…

“You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave…”

The Werewolf Part 2

The werewolf is neither man nor wolf, but a Satanic creature with the worst qualities of both – From the movie “Werewolf of London”

One might wonder why Catherine was compelled to create a pack of werewolves as her first Halloween 2013 creation. I, of course, know the answer – she is driven to create. Create something memorable. Create something few others could. Create something that requires skill, precision, imagination, vision, talent, and even manual labor. Something that people will talk about for months, if not years (despite the lack of discussion about the 7 foot werewolf at our last dinner party).

She is driven; and accomplishment is borne from drive and determination. While the werewolf is not in his final resting spot (bringing terror to those who dare to ring her front door on Halloween), and the pack is not quite complete, these photos will show just how powerful drive and determination can be. As you know from my last post, Catherine built this from the ground up – plywood, chicken wire, PVC pipe, and more. Now she’s put the final touches on the gruesome captor savoring his prey, along with the assistance of “junior.”

It truly is an amazing process to watch. Seven days ago there was a pile of PVC, chicken wire, spray foam, “fur” material, and a few cans of paint. Today there’s a spectacularly scary werewolf duo eviscerating an unsuspecting victim.

Listen to your drive. Follow your passion. And great accomplishments will happen.

She carefully wrapped him in fur

She carefully wrapped him in fur

She got injured making his accomplice
She got injured making his accomplice

She created the victim
She created the victim

Added some oozing flesh
Added some oozing flesh

Added "realism" to the flesh with 3 colors of paint
Added “realism” to the flesh with 3 colors of paint

And pulled the whole scene together
And pulled the whole scene together

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