Tag Archives: decoration

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

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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…).

All Kinds of Kinds

We went to the Miranda Lambert concert last week. It was fantastic from the opening act all the way through Miranda’s finale. Lots of energy, lots of talent, and a whole bunch of entertainment. Of the dozens of songs we heard that night, one in particular struck me as poignant. I know, I know… most people don’t think “poignant” when they think of Miranda Lambert, but trust me on this one.

While I love the message of the entire song, it was the opening stanza that caught my ear; it’s all about people in a circus. And I immediately thought about the Macabre Inn and the old, dysfunctional, broken down circus that my sister is pouring her heart and soul into. How can I not think of Catherine when I hear:

Ilsa was an acrobat who went and fell in love with that
Horatio the human cannonball.
A weddin’ ‘neath the big top tent with barkers clowns and elephants
Sideshow family oddities and all.

Ever since the beginning to keep the world spinning
It takes all kinds of kinds.

The Macabre Inn’s circus has acrobats, clowns, elephants, sideshows, a big top tent, and so many other cool and interesting displays. (I’m ignoring the “human cannonball” line for fear that when I get home tomorrow, she’ll have somehow constructed a life sized cannon and experiment with shooting large stuffed animals out of it – although that would be preferable to experimenting with her dog or youngest son…)

Which leads me to the meaning of the song. The chorus – It takes all kinds of kinds.  I’ve rarely heard one line that captures so much. It sounds so simple, but the truth in it runs deep. If it weren’t for people’s differences, what would this this world be like? I’ve told you that I was never really into Halloween. I kind of don’t get it….. And yet my sister lives and breathes this passion. I know there are times that all of us around Catherine on a daily basis look at her like she’s nuts for putting in the kind of time, energy, blood, sweat, and tears we all see. But in the end, her Halloween passion brings awe-inspiring joy and amazement to hundreds, if not thousands, of people.

What if everyone were like I am…? That would be tragic; there would be no Halloween festivities, no place for people to gather to gawk at an incredible display of talent, drive, and determination. And what if everyone were like Catherine? That would be scary! The world would be full of zombie and werewolf creations. (And no one in her family would have dinner on the table… 😉  )

I think about the various people I come across in any given day. – some of them drive me crazy. Some of them make me laugh. Some make me shake my head in disbelief. Some of them make me sad. There are those who inspire me. And those who make me think I’m SO glad I’m not like that! But the real truth is that all of them add to my life in one way or another – for better or worse – they give my life depth, balance, and perspective. It is always good to step back and reflect on what others add to your life. Because it takes all kinds of kinds.

Halloween Passion – Gargoyles

My sister’s ideas never fail to amaze me. So, either I’m easily impressed, or she is truly remarkable…. And everyone who knows me knows that I’m definitely not easily impressed! What does impress me, though, is when someone follows his or her passion. Almost without fail, following your passion leads to great things. There’s no doubt about it – Catherine is most definitely passionate about Halloween.

That passion has led to incredible creations, including these mystical, ominous, eerie gargoyle heads that spew dense fog and muted blood-red lighting. Somehow, my sister can turn a piece of Styrofoam, cardboard, or plastic into a whole environment. And that environment is what elevates her creations from good, to great, to unbelievably amazing.

So where do the gargoyles fit in? Picture this… my sister’s house sits behind a long, tree-lined driveway. The 50 foot walkway up to the front door is lined with vine-covered columns and perfectly accented lighting. It’s a beautiful environment. But certainly not the environment Catherine wanted for the entrance to the Macabre Inn. So she figured out how to completely change the look and feel. Hence, the gargoyles.

I’m not sure where she found the basic foundation for them, but a stack of 6 of these was delivered by the UPS guy (yes, the good-looking one who makes daily trips to Catherine’s house…).gargoyle 1

She cut out the eyes and mouth of each one.gargoyle 2

Then painted each head to look like the grotesque stone-like figures of actual gargoyles.gargoyle 5

Catherine wanted evil, glowing, red eyes, so each one was implanted with a red light bulb right between the eyes on the inside of the forehead.gargoyle 3

The decorative cutout of each column that lines the walkway is fitted with the gargoyle heads that have been secured on plywood.gargoyle 6

And she completes the whole effect by attaching a dryer vent hose that has been connected to a fog machine to the back of the gargoyle’s mouth.gargoyle 8gargoyle 9

The environment has been perfected. As guests are walking up to the front door of the Macabre Inn, there will be six gruesome, stone-like, evil-eyed gargoyles looking down on them, filling the walkway with fog and mist. Very creepy. Very scary. And simply perfect.

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…

Smoke… good for Halloween; bad for Christmas

One of my very favorite scenes out of the hundreds of Halloween scenes Catherine has created is the graveyard. It’s surreal, subtle, and spectacular (a little over the top with the alliteration, I know…). Anyway, as you can see, the slightly askew headstones, the ghost-like angel hovering in the background, and the decayed bones strewn about all add to the allure of the gravesite scene.

Smoky Graveyard Halloween

Smoky Graveyard Halloween

But what really sets it apart from the others is the smoke (a.k.a fog). It’s eerie, elegant, and even enchanting (again with the alliteration…. can’t seem to help myself!). Without the smoke, it’s just another set of Halloween props clustered together; but the smoke brings it all to life – it hovers over freshly dug grave sites, curls its way around tree trunks and headstones, and meanders up in an attempt to engulf the angel-spirit who steadfastly guards the entire scene.

And then there’s the Christmas-party-near-disaster type of smoke. The Christmas party for my sister’s husband’s business was a huge success by most everyone’s standards. (Well, with the minor exception of the horrible caricature artist we hired… “What a great and creative idea!” we all thought when we discussed hiring someone to do sketches of all of our most important clients… Little did we know that anyone who could possibly make a living in that field was already booked! So we ended up with someone my sister’s landscaper found in a Walgreen’s parking lot! Let’s just say that her portraits were so bad that we’re still contemplating sending apology notes to the clients!).

Anyway, after a lovely evening with 150 of our closest friends, relatives, and clients… my sister’s husband, children, and the most wonderful in-laws she could ever hope for stayed around to close things up – take down the bar, close up the doors and windows, and, yes, put out the dozens of candles, tiki torches, space heaters, and fire pits. Everyone did a fabulous job. Only one candle was missed. It’s amazing what one candle can do, particularly when no one even knows it’s there.

The in-laws went home, the kids fast asleep, all the lights (and Catherine) out. And the single candle still burned, and burned…. and burned. It burned the table and centerpiece… Fire Table ChristmasAnd when it was done burning that, it fell over and burned an overstuffed, custom patio chair…Fire chair ChristmasNot a trace was left of the large, stuffed cushion where party-goers enjoyed their drinks a mere few hours before…. All gone. Gone up in smoke!

They are lucky, of course. The fire apparently burned itself out in the early morning hours, leaving nothing but ash, soot, and the lingering wisp and scent of char. The kids still fast asleep; Catherine and hubby still out like lights. It was a Christmas miracle, actually, that the whole house didn’t go up in flames.

So, while Christmas parties, Halloween decorations, and haunted houses are all fun, challenging, and exciting, it is also important to not lose focus of what matters most – the love, health, and safety of our loved ones… now and throughout the year.

Storage Wars…. Revenge of the Props

This is a true story. Warning…. Don’t try this at home!

The Halloween/Thanksgiving/Christmas trifecta is in full swing. Thanksgiving is a distant memory (with the corpse bed linens safely tucked away), the 150 guest Christmas party at my sister’s house is tonight (the house completely decorated – Halloween bed finials up on the tree, and all), and the crown jewel – Halloween 2013 – is a constant presence in my sister’s brain and household (evidenced by the mildly disturbing “manger scene” starring… you guessed it…. the Buddha/Nicholson/Churchill baby as the Baby Jesus! And, no, I’m not going to delve into why the whole scene makes me worry just a wee bit about Catherine. The picture speaks for itself; you make up your own mind… 🙂 )

Manger

Moving on… Over the years, throughout this whole Thanksgiving/Christmas/Halloween “house transformation” process, Catherine has been asked one question more than any other…. “Where in the world do you store all this stuff?” Quite honestly, I am always amazed that people can walk through the spectacularly decorated Christmastime house that showcases everything from cherubic-faced life sized dolls that are adorably clustered around, decorating a miniature tree…

Christmas kids by tree

to the delicately decorated wall niches and open shelving that glow with strategically placed soft lights, candles, Santa villages, and the thousands of feet of perfectly placed and adorned garland and ribbon…

and through the Thanksgiving house a few weeks ago, filled with glorious food, spectacular serving dishes, and autumn leaves strewn about…,

and most importantly, the Halloween house – which honestly can’t be described with words (although, I’m giving it my best effort over the next year) – full of larger than life sized witches, skeletons, animated props that Catherine made from the ground up, fog, blood, guts, “operating rooms,” swamps, and so much more…. and in the end, what she hears most of all is, “Where do you keep it all?” Not “how in the world do you create such beauty… warmth… or horrific gore?” Not “you’re the most talented person I’ve ever seen.” (well, she does hear that one pretty regularly). Not even, “This is the most amazing place I’ve seen!” Nope… the most often heard comment is about storage! Really?? Storage?

I suppose it is a legitimate question – in a utilitarian sort of way…  Now that I think about it, there’s a lot behind the actual answer. To start, here’s just a very small sampling of what I saw when I stopped by my sister’s house the day she pulled her back patio Christmas garland out of her attic.Christmas bagsYes, that’s just for the back patio! And, yes, they’re all individually labeled (the garland in this bag goes from column 12 through column 14; that bag goes from 9-11, etc. Yes, she’s THAT neurotic! And that’s just for Christmas!

She takes it to a completely different level for her precious Halloween treasures – How exactly does one store hundreds of masks, corpses, swamp creatures, pirate ships (yes, she actually built a 1/2 sized replica of a pirate ship last Halloween!), and skeletons (trust me… Catherine brings a whole new meaning to “having skeletons in the closet!”)…? Well, she buys storage lockers (empty ones). And fills them, and fills them. And fills them. And when one is full, she buys another. I honestly don’t know how many she actually has (and I’m fairly certain her husband probably doesn’t either!).

So you can just imagine when, while decorating for Thanksgiving this year, my mom made what sounded like a simple request, “Catherine, can you swing by storage and grab those decorative, orange fall leaves we used last year?” Simple enough…? Right? Well, let’s just say that the request didn’t go over very well. Catherine was exhausted, behind at work, and undoubtedly worried about even finding the right storage locker, let alone finding the pretty fall leaves within the abyss. A conflict between Catherine and my mom ensued. Feelings were hurt. Assumptions were made. They ate their lunch in silence.

I’m not sure if I’ve done an adequate job explaining that Catherine is the ultimate “people pleaser.” (Which is probably why she’s such an awesome sister – she does double duty people pleasing; so I only have to do half as much! It’s perfect for me! ). Anyway, you can see where this is going… Catherine went to storage to get the f-*!#ing orange fall leaves!

She found them. Relieved and even more exhausted, she made the ultimate mistake every people pleaser makes – she called my mom to ask if there was anything else she needed. Big mistake! Well, knowing it would be just the right final touch for the Thanksgiving decor, my mom asked if Catherine could locate the decorative pumpkin from a couple of year ago. (Keep in mind, this storage locker is 10x30x12 feet tall, and every square inch is packed!).

Catherine politely told my mom there was no way she could find that, and started walking out to leave, but as she slid the storage door closed, she happened to catch a glimpse of the requested orange pumpkin, buried behind the witches, mummies, even more skeletons, and way up on top of the sides of the pirate ship – 20 feet back and 12 feet high. And not a ladder in sight.

While most normal people would simply go home, never mention the glimpse of the pumpkin, and enjoy a nice glass of wine (or a good stiff margarita!), the people pleaser in Catherine won out. Determined to get the pumpkin my mom requested, she balanced on various skulls, headstones, cauldrons, witches brooms, and countless props that have struck fear in many a Halloween visitor over the years, climbed up the mass of Halloween props the entire 12 feet and stood on her tiptoes. But the damn pumpkin was an inch out of reach.

So she leaned and stretched for that final inch. Catastrophe! Everything collapsed. As she plummeted to the ground, she grabbed anything she could reach – skulls dripping with blood, warty witch faces, the dummy who was hanging from a noose in her “asylum” years ago. The loch ness monster from the swamp. 8 foot spiders and spiderwebs… every prop she had used over the last 6 years came crashing down on her. Taunting her. Haunting her. Catherine’s Halloween props got their revenge in the end…

She crawled out from underneath her props (certain she got a mild concussion), shoved them all back in the storage locker, and as she was cramming the final oversized monster back in, the pumpkin that started it all came rolling out to her feet. She picked it up, brushed it off, rolled the 12 foot locker door closed, and took it home to Mom with a smile of success on her face. The pumpkin looked great in her Thanksgiving house!

So, to all those people who ask, “where do you keep it all?” All I can say is, “you can’t even being to imagine…”  Catherine and her Halloween props – the ultimate in “storage wars!”

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