Halley Knigge (Griffin)

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Real Armaweddin’


[The Huffington Post, Dec. 8, 2012]

There aren’t a lot of how-tos for planning a wedding at the end of the world.

My fiancé and I chose the theme early on, and for the past eight months, we’ve been making it up as we go along.

Like many of my most brilliant ideas, this one started out as a “Wouldn’t it be funny if …”

That’s how I ended up with a dog named Grandma Moses, chalk art of a great white shark on my dining room wall, and yes, an apocalypse-themed wedding scheduled for Dec. 22, 2012 — the day after the world (or just the Mayan calendar) is supposed to end.

It’s no great secret that my fiancé and I are not the most traditional of couples. He’s an artist, and I’m, well, I have a lot of notions about “things that would be funny.”

Don’t get me wrong — we like pretty things too, and wrote off a good number of our early ideas with my 85-year-old grandmother in mind. The reception in the abandoned warehouse, for one. “Road Warrior” dress code, for another.

Chuck also poo-pooed my idea of a dried and dusty bouquet. Because, hello, flowers are not going to survive Armageddon with the Twinkies and the cockroaches.

“I want you to still look pretty at our wedding,” he said. On second thought, I realized that I, too, would like to look pretty at our wedding.

So a new phase of planning was born. We would reference the apocalypse at every occasion, but try to avoid the literal.

We’re planning an apocalypse-themed party, after all. Not the apocalypse itself.

“What are your wedding colors?” asked the caterer, my bridesmaids, the florist. I’m not sure any of them really anticipated the answer.

Fire and brimstone, naturally.

We scheduled our engagement photos for a Sunday in August. Earlier in the summer, I’d procured two civilian-issue gas masks on Amazon.com, which we toted along to our photo shoot in the park. We took some pretty photos first. For my grandmother. Then our sport of a photographer sweet-talked a sunbather into donning one of the masks, and the real fun began.

My fiancé drew our save-the-dates. Me, Chuck and our dog Grandma Moses in our best wedding attire, with a backdrop of oozing volcanos. Our invitations feature a bride and groom walking away from a mushroom cloud. The hashtag is #ARMAWEDDIN.

“Are you disappointed that it’s not, you know, a normal wedding?” friends asked my fiancé’s mother. “It doesn’t matter to me,” she told them. “It’s all about Halley and Chuck, and this is who they are.”

Yes, we’re a bit kooky — I’ve learned (courtesy of Pinterest) that I fall into the category of “offbeat bride” — but here’s a secret I’ve learned in my eight months of Armaweddin’ planning. Wedding planning is so fun and easy when the theme is “end of the world.” It’s just like planning a really big, really expensive theme party.

Chair sashes? Pfft. Like anyone’s going to have time to grab those when the world’s ending anyway. And when a wedding craft doesn’t turn out as planned? No big deal — that just makes it all the more apocalyptic.

Our dinner will be grilled cheese, soups and stews. Comfort food, for a post-apocalyptic world. I’ll walk down the aisle to a pretty string quartet version of R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World As We Know It.” The flowers will be crazy, spiky, fiery.

“Is it safe to say ‘quirky?'” the florist asked tentatively, nervous to offend. I’d just finished describing an elegant calla lily bouquet I’d seen at a recent wedding and told her to please make mine the opposite of that.

Our wedding centerpieces were designed around the theme of “things you’d forage for after the apocalypse.” I think “quirky” is a safe description. Drippy, red and orange tapered candles in wine bottles painted matte black, clustered on mirrored tiles a girlfriend and I spent a morning distressing with muriatic acid.

My dress is the real deal. Ivory lace with a chapel-length train and its fair share of bling. That’s a little girl fantasy I wasn’t willing to let go of. Chuck and his groomsmen have slate gray suits with black shirts. We briefly entertained wilder fantasies, but couldn’t quite fathom how we’d explain leather and shotguns to our future grandchildren.

I’m not yet sure how we’ll explain the Fallout-esque bottle caps strewn around the room, or the survival tool favors with the radioactive diamond ring symbol Chuck designed, but we have a few decades to hammer out those details.

For now, all that matters is that later this month we’ll be facing down the apocalypse together, and there’s no one I’d rather have by my side. It’ll be the end of the world as we know it — and I feel fine.

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Hotel in Seattle’s French sister city lets you live life of hamster

KOMO News, CNN.com, April 19, 2012]

We’d had the reservation for nine months when April 2 finally rolled around.

Terrified of repeating my mistakes in late, lackadaisical booking of summer 2010 and missing my chance to live like a hamster two Europe trips in a row, I’d frantically emailed the proprietor of La Villa Hamster the same day we booked this year’s tickets to France.

A rodenty night for two in April 2012? Booked in July 2011? No problem. My bimonthly email confirmations were overkill, perhaps, but set my mind at ease.

I’d been dreaming of a trip to the famed hamster hotel for years. And by years, I mean ever since this November 2009 Guardian article first caught my eye.

The vision was realized by Un Coin Chez Soi, a company that hosts a variety of offbeat guest rooms, with themes like school, Captain Nemo’s voyage, and, of course, hamster, throughout the city of Nantes. (An otherwise average Bretagne city, Nantes is known mainly for being the birthplace of Lu cookies. It’s also one of Seattle’s 21 sister cities and regular host to a University of Washington study abroad program.)

The arrival

It wasn’t particularly simple to make a one-night detour to Nantes as we made our way from Italy back to Paris, but I was bound and determined to finally have my night in the hamster hotel – and my patient fiancé Chuck knew better than to argue.

We arrived in Nantes on a Monday afternoon, busing our way to the city center and dragging wheeled suitcases through winding cobblestone streets (even better than the Shake Weight, I tell you). All we had was an address and a printed email with cryptic French instructions.

On your left when you enter the courtyard, you will find a small crevice in the wall, containing a small lockbox. Enter the following code to find the key to the Villa Hamster. When you depart, simply leave the 109 euro on the counter, and return the key to the lockbox.

We knew we were on the right track when the lockbox popped open to reveal a key simply labeled “Hamster.” A few steps into the courtyard, and we found ourselves facing a nondescript door with a small red sticker of a hamster over the handle. Bingo.

La vie hamster

From the moment we stepped through the door, the villa was more hamstery than we had ever imagined – right down to the musty hamster smell. We immediately donned the furry hamster headdresses, opting not to touch the hamster tail belts that were also provided for us.

A human-sized exercise wheel fills most of the room, strategically locking and becoming a bench to maximize space.

Next to the wheel is a ladder extending up a bed that hangs suspended over the room. A plastic headboard filled with sawdust and a pile of blankets with the instructions “faites votre lit comme un hamster,” or “make your bed like a hamster.”

Sawdust, cages and hamster toys decorate the rest of the tiny studio, which also features a corner water trough so you can drink like a hamster.

A sprinkle of sawdust splays out from the sawdust wall behind the toilet, dusting the plunger, toilet brush and scrubber with delicate shavings.

A frightening piece of hamster art in the corner features a giant, metal rodent face with two LED as eyes.

The villa is centrally located and fully equipped with a kitchenette, so hamster-loving guests could conceivably live there for weeks.

We spent a good portion of the evening mulling over the perfect farewell message to add to the chalkboard wall, already covered with chalk illustrations of hamsters and scrawled messages from visitors all over the world.

“Vive la vie hamster!” declared one.

“I don’t know whether to use the sawdust or the toilet,” wondered another guest, giving Chuck and I pause while we considered the potential sources of the villa’s musty scent.

In the end, we opted for simplicity – and then promptly forgot what we’d chosen. Surely it was poignant, whatever it was.

One night was more than enough hamster for us, but now we’re haunted by the question: “what next?” A night in the Jules Undersea Lodge? Zip-lining through the tree tops at the Treehouse Tresort?

For now, we’ll just keep dreaming in hamster.

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Last day in Idaho

Things that I have learned during my 13.5 months in rural Idaho:

1. The “East Side” doesn’t actually refer to the Bellevue/Kirkland/Sammamish/Redmond block.

2. People from North Idaho are prone to get really agitated if all you know about their state is potatoes. In fact, most of the potatoes eaten in Northern Idaho were actually grown in Washington.

3. This is a big, empty state. There’s a reason the highway system is so spotty – because the highways that exist already connect the few medium-to-large cities in Idaho. Everything else is just “rural.”

4. I really, really need to live in a city with a Gap, a Nordstorm, a decent thrift store and an Indian restaurant.

5. Rural girl, I am not.
I’m oh-so-happy to be going home.