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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

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.

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…).

The Wheel of Death… My Sister’s Over-the-Top Halloween

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

You’d think I would know by now…. any time Catherine buys plywood (lots of plywood), something interesting is right around the corner. But even I had no idea what was coming this time. Impalement arts? Really??

Let me explain – Catherine has decided to include an old, dysfunctional, broken down circus as a “side show” at the Macabre Inn. And she has all kinds of crazy ideas to create under the clown tent. While I’ve heard many different (and often crazy) ideas batted around, I was shocked when I came home to find this in my sister’s garage (although I’m thinking her husband was even more surprised than I was!)knife lady final

Catherine had spent all day with the circular saw, cutting out the perfect “Wheel of Death.” Apparently impalement arts has been around for centuries, and was made popular in the United States by the Barnum and Bailey Circus in the late 19th century. And believe it or not some guy named “The Great Throwdini” tried to bring it back in 2010 in New York. (I’m not really sure how that one worked out… And, no, I didn’t make up that guy’s name!) The purpose of the “sport” is to show off the knife-thrower-performer’s skills. To showcase his nerves of steel and his accuracy, his assistant is strapped to the spinning bulls eye, then he throws the knives in rapid succession. If he’s good, he misses impaling the assistant by just fractions of an inch. If he’s not so good, he ends up at the Macabre Inn

As I mentioned, this all started with plywood. Here’s the frame she created. It actually has a wheel on the back that allows the thing to spin (just like the “real” wheel of death).wheelwheel 2

Finally, she had to build the “assistant”, paint the bulls eye, then strap her to the target.knife ladylady

Now, the assistant is all ready for the performer to show off those skills! (I think you saw how that turned out for her in the first picture. Yes, there’s even one through her mouth…)

Catherine’s brain fascinates me. For SO many reasons! 🙂

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.

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!

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.

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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