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Send in the Clowns…. Halloween Style.

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I have very few childhood memories. I don’t know why that’s the case, particularly because I had a great childhood – two parents who loved me, nice house, good schools, tons of sports, great family. So there’s really no good explanation for why I don’t remember much of it.

One clear memory I do have, though, is spending countless hours on the piano bench learning to play the iconic Send in the Clowns. Of course, back when I was 14 I had no appreciation for the true meaning of the song – I simply thought it was a sweet and beautiful ballad about a girl waiting for the piece de resistance of a circus. I had no idea the song was actually dark, distant, and haunting.

Apparently, my sister’s take on clowns is much closer to the somber and ominous nature Sondheim intended when he wrote that song. (No doubt she spent more hours over those ivory keys than I did!) And while we both now know the song actually has absolutely nothing to do with clowns, our childhood impressions still manage to permeate into things we do today.

My impression…? Clowns are sweet and innocent and bring joy and happiness to young children.

Catherine’s? Clowns are creepy, scary, dark, and will fill people with terror and nightmares. Which of course translates to Halloween! The research has begun. creepy-clown-monster-faceThe design has taken shape. And the images are beginning to fill her “ideas” notebook.

So while our childhood memories have formed our individual views of clowns, I’m guessing Catherine’s perspective will have a lasting impression on everyone who is brave enough to make it through the “circus tent” at Halloween 2013! I’d love to hear which camp you’re in…. cute? or creepy?


Don’t you love farce? 
My fault, I fear. 
I thought that you’d want what I want… 
Sorry, my dear! 
And where are the clowns 
Send in the clowns 
Don’t bother, they’re here.  – Stephen Sondheim

No pressure! Yeah… right….

I’ve never known anyone who puts more pressure on herself than my sister. Catherine is a perfectionist – a trait she comes by honestly… she inherited it from our dad. So those of us who love her would never knowingly put additional pressure on her.

As you know, the Christmas party was a huge success. The 150+ guests were in awe of the magnitude of lights strung up the 40 foot palm trees, the full sized sleigh (that Catherine and my dad rebuilt from the ground up – built to perfection, of course) being pulled by the life-size wooden reindeer (complete with red nose aglow), the thousands of feet of perfectly adorned garland, the picture-perfect angelic dolls that brought the winter scenes to life… Some guests were speechless; some talked non-stop as they pointed out each and every Christmas tree (I think there were 43 trees throughout the house!), wreath, snow scene, and all the lighted centerpieces.

Obviously, people were impressed. Beyond impressed. As we all gave tours of the house, I began to notice that we all (my husband, Catherine’s husband, my mom, Catherine’s in-laws, and anyone else giving tours) were saying various iterations of the same thing…. “If you think this is awesome, just wait till you see what she does for Halloween!” And we all did this without recognizing the enormous pressure we were putting on her. Oops…

No pressure… no pressure at all.

So, while I feel terribly guilty about putting additional pressure on Catherine – even above and beyond the pressure she puts on herself, I can sleep well at night knowing one thing for certain… She will not only live up everyone’s expectations, she will exceed them. (is that more pressure???)

On an unrelated note, I’d like to wish Catherine and Rich a very happy anniversary! Twenty two years!! They are truly the best couple I know…. a fantastic example to everyone. Here’s to 22+ more years of love, laughter,  devotion, commitment, fun, and happiness. Cheers! 

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… 🙂 )


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!”

Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas – all in one shot.

Now that it appears the Twinkie will get a bit of a reprieve (apparently, the judge ordered some sort of negotiation discussions between Hostess and the unions, so I believe Hostess may live another day), my sister is back to her Halloween/Christmas (and, yes, even Thanksgiving) struggle.

Last week, I asked Catherine (my incredible sister, to whom this whole blog is dedicated) to bring me a couple of photos of past Halloweens so I could incorporate them into my own creative, blog-making process. I wish all my readers could have been there when she brought the flash drive of photos from Halloweens past… It’s like being transplanted into another world. And to see her eyes light up as she describes every single photo… – words actually escape me…. (and, trust me, that’s a real rarity!)

After going through the whole lot of photos, one stood out as obvious. The photo below shows that the Christmas/Halloween (and now that I’ve seen it), even Thanksgiving, signal-crossing dilemma has plagued my  sister for – apparently – years now. Look at the photo closely.

Look again. One more time. What do you see? Yes, this is a little like the classic “Where’s Waldo” game. This is a picture from a few years back, and it is significant for several reasons.

First, the “mummy hag” in the middle bed is the very first Halloween prop Catherine ever bought. Ever. Amazing, actually; she’s the one who started it all!

Second, the whole scene is grotesque. This was set up as a “hospital room” in one of her haunted houses. Obviously, the patients didn’t fare too well here.

Most importantly, if you really look closely, you’ll see that the finials (the balls on the tops of each bedpost) are actually…. you guessed it….. Christmas decorations! Balls that actually hang from her tree as it stands in her house today (beautifully decorated for the office Christmas party for 150 people, which is 10 days from now!).  Not only that, if you really look carefully, you’ll see that the backdrop – the wine-colored curtains in the background – are actually the Christmas curtains that Catherine hangs is her house at Christmastime!

And the bedcovers that envelop the two corpses on the outer two beds are actually Thanksgiving tablecloths! Ha! I’ll bet that whenever the entire family was eating turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and cranberry dressing last week, they didn’t realize they were eating off the warming blankets of the dead from a few years ago!

So, there you have it. Halloween that incorporates Christmas, and even Thanksgiving of years past….. all in one shot. Hopefully, when the guests come to the Christmas party next Saturday, they won’t see the gore behind the “Christmas decorations.” And with Thanksgiving and the office Christmas party behind us next week, we can all focus on what’s truly important – Halloween 2013!

Halloween vs. Hostess…. a new dilemma?

Okay… so it’s not exactly a dilemma. But as I was at my sister’s house last night (which is where I am at least 5 out of 7 nights (good thing my husband likes her!!) ), we were trying to get everything planned for the upcoming Christmas party for 150 people that takes place in three weeks. Oh… wait…! We were actually talking about the dinner party we’re having for the committee that her husband is on, which is tonight!! Dinner for 20 (and I’m doing all the cooking! We can discuss that in another blog.).

But I digress… even though we were talking about the dinner party that takes place tonight (geez.. I better get to working on the menu!!) and the Christmas party scheduled less than three weeks from now, we were actually really trying to figure out whether she should have a vortex tunnel or an elevator facade for the Halloween party, which is 11 months from now. That’s when my 20 year old daughter announced that Hostess went out of business! And that’s when it became clear to me – my sister’s true passion (even though I honestly thought it was Halloween) is actually Hostess products!

As well as I know my sister, I must admit… I was taken by surprise by the visceral reaction she had to the closing of Hostess. Shock… Dismay… Anger…. Sadness…. It was as if one of the pillars that holds up her world had just collapsed. She even sent my 20 year old (yes, the bearer of the bad news) to as many stores as she could find just to get the last of the Hostess. Apparently, though, she wasn’t the only one with such a reaction. The shelves were bare. The Hostess gone.

So rather than figuring out the vortex tunnel or the elevator shaft for Halloween, or the dinner menu for tonight’s party, or the Christmas party less than three weeks away, she came up with a contraption she calls the bottomless pit. She will glue the remaining Hostess products left in her house to the sides of the thing, then use mirrors and lights to create the illusion that, as she put it, “the Hostess products will go on forever to the center of the Earth.” Long live Hostess!

So Thanksgiving, Christmas, and yes, even Halloween will take a back seat to Hostess. At least for now. I will close this post with the poignant words my sister texted me last night as she drifted off to sleep….

“This will honestly affect me more than you know. Hostess was a big part of me…. one that’s still clinging to my ass!”

Halloween vs. Christmas – oh the dilemma!

I was out of town for the weekend and stopped by my sister’s house when I returned; the dilemma was immediately apparent. The first thing I saw (and trust me… I know… it’s not normal to find such things lying around on the kitchen counter) was a grotesque looking “baby.” 

I knew what the baby was for, of course. You see… this is how my sister, Catherine’s, brain works when it comes to Halloween – she spends hours and hours thinking, exploring, researching, poring over books, magazines, and internet sites until something grabs her attention (in this case, a disturbing looking baby).

Once she lands on a “subject,” she will then create a whole scene that is based on that initial piece that caught her eye and got her juices flowing. As I sit here today, I can’t even imagine what kind of Halloween scene will be created based on a baby (one that bears a strong resemblance to Jack Nicholson, Winston Churchill, and The Buddha all at once) that looks like it was just rescued from being buried alive. (Nor can I imagine what the whole idea says about Catherine in general, but that’s probably the subject of another blog altogether…) But trust me, it will be gruesome. Of that, I am certain.

Once I got a big laugh out of the repulsive baby on the kitchen counter (did I forget to mention that the baby actually pees??), I turned the corner. And that’s when I saw signs of the internal conflict my sister was facing. I saw that she had actually spent the weekend putting up thousands of Christmas lights (beautifully, I might add…). Here’s what I saw –

And that’s just the beginning! That yard and patio wrap all the way around her house; it must have taken her countless hours. So why would someone who’s so focused on, and obsessed with Halloween – so much so, that she’s already got Buddha/Nicholson/Churchill babies lying around – even spend one minute on Christmas decorations? Therein lies the dilemma….

Remember in my last post that I mentioned Catherine’s husband started a new business a couple of years ago….? Remember that Catherine graciously agreed to not do Halloween for a couple of years? (OK, well, she wasn’t exactly gracious about it….) The thing about running your own business is that sometimes it is necessary to have events like Christmas parties. So Catherine is hosting a Christmas party for 150 people in three weeks!

The next three weeks will be spent with Catherine climbing up and down that 14 foot ladder thousands of times – up to the attic for more lights, garland, ribbon, candles, etc., then perfect placement of everything (with the help of our mom, of course) up on shelves, nooks, fireplace mantles, and more ledges than one can count. All the while secretly making mental notes of where each skeleton, monster, bloody corpse, and spider web will hang in 11 months….

So while her heart and soul lie with the baby on the kitchen counter, Catherine is furiously decorating for Christmas – and, yes, she’s being gracious about it… this time.

It begins…

My sister is awesome! She’s smart, kind, hilarious, driven, kind (did I say that already…?), energetic (beyond belief!), enthusiastic, and passionate. Passionate about what, you might ask…. Is it her five  wonderful kids? Her fantastic husband? Having her medical degree? Her adorable dog, Cooper…? Well, while all of those things are important to her, her true passion is Halloween! (Ok, well that’s almost true… Her husband and family are the most important, but Halloween is a very close second!)

A little background – Catherine and I are five years apart in age. We have always been close; some say we are as close as twins. As kids, our parents had lots of parties. Mostly Christmas parties. Our mom is incredibly talented when it comes to decorating (among many other things). She pretty much went over the top with Christmas decorating and parties. Catherine followed in her footsteps and year after year outdid herself with Christmas decorating. Always fun. Always interesting, and always classy.

So you can imagine my surprise when she called me about five years ago to tell me she was forgoing Christmas for Halloween decorating. (I don’t even like  Halloween!) What?? I was dismayed, disappointed, and even a little concerned about her… what an odd switch!

You are all smart enough to figure out that if I’m sitting here blogging about it five years later, it must have been spectacular. Yes, it was truly spectacular! And has been ever since. She created a full-sized swamp full of creatures emerging through thick fog, 20 foot monsters that were extracting an elderly couple out of their car , animated props that pop out and grab passersby, a witches teaching a school full of young witch students, and the list goes on and on. So here I am – passionate enough about her Halloween passion to be capturing it all in this blog to share with the world.

I will take you on her Halloween journey for 2013 – yes, I know it’s only November 2012, but she has already started the creativity and planning process. I will share with you past Halloween feats and struggles. And you will see the whole process unfold before your eyes. It is an amazing process to see and I hope you enjoy the ride.

So here we are, the beginning of November (Halloween 2012 only 10 days behind us), and Catherine’s 2013 Halloween has already begun to take shape. (A bit more background for you… Catherine’s husband started his own business in late 2009, so he requested Catherine take a break from Halloween for awhile so she could help him with the business. She agreed, and didn’t do Halloween for 2 years. It nearly killed her!) So, now that 2013 is a go, she’s well into the planning stages. She has sketched out her entire house, yard, guest house, and garage to figure out the best places for oversized monsters, live actors to pop out and scare people, graveyards, alligators, hanging dummies, etc., etc.,

So how do I know it’s truly begun…? Last night after my husband and I were quietly tucked in bed, fast asleep, Catherine and my older daughters snuck into our garage. Here’s what my husband found as he climbed into his car this morning….

It begins….

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