A decades-long holiday love story, told in lights

For at least 26 winters and quite feasibly more than 40 of them, a small one-story house in a modest PNW neighborhood has transformed itself and its adjoining lot into something rather extraordinary: an homage to every archetypal creature and candy ever deemed part of an American Christmas.

It’s a story of obsession overlapped with devotion, one of tradition entangled with change.

From nestling each item into its perfect spot in the ground to creating just the right rooftop tableaux, it takes months to execute the intricate winter wonderland.

It’s a job the sons who grew up in the home now carry on in memory of their late father. It’s a job marveled at by scores of children and adults who have chosen to make it part of their holiday tradition (and perhaps met with less enthusiasm by those on the same street who must endure the traffic).

And what of the results?

Depending on the viewer’s preferences and emotional state, they may be deemed wondrous, excessive, overwhelming, or delightful—or a mix of all of the above. Coincidentally, this mirrors how many in the U.S. feel about holidays (both observed and experienced).

Should you or yours be experiencing any calendar-related angst, here’s hoping that one family’s sprawling take on seasonal greetings lightens it…and/or magnifies your feelings of good will toward others.

And if you’re the type who revels in the holidays, know that in at least one tiny corner of the universe you’ve got plenty of reindeer, snowfolk, candy canes, nutcrackers, penguins, santas, and lots, lots more to keep you company.

In a neighborhood of modest homes, a house with a double lot means plenty of room for plastic reindeers to leap through the night

Illuminated glass-block snowfolks light the way to the home's front windows, where holiday displays entice....

...while the latticed bower--topped with a peppermint garland--leads visitors to the adjoining lot's displays (if approximately 100 feet of lighted promenade didn't do the job already)

The home's wreath-encircled front windows turn into displays, such as this village scene complete with moving train

The breadth and depth of the adjoining lot permits penguins to play with deer, santas to mix with bears, and every bush and tree to serve as scaffolding for lights

Even if the house and yard could be mapped in 12x12 foot increments, it seems certain something would be overlooked

A giant candy cane serves as sentry for the 1-story house and its nutcrackers, artificial snowfolk, giant candy canes, garlands, lighted bushes and trees (and lots, lots more)

Stand in one spot and look up, and your eyes will be filled...then move a foot and look down, and you've found additional vignettes

A last glimpse from across the street, athough the scene extends a bit more than my camera's eye captured

This post dedicated to Paula of Paula’s Diary, who shares her love of holidays—and her life in and around Vienna, Austria—with her lucky readers.

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Playtime in the Pacific [pt 1]

As one with a hopscotched past of self-, under-, un- and just plain crappy employment, I have a hearty appreciation for group health insurance rates and paid vacation days. When I realized my present-day hoarding of the latter for “something special” and “the right time” could put me on the wrong end of a use/lose policy, though, I let my inner hedonist out FAST.

After a quick mental health inventory (assessment: fried, dyed, and laid to the side) the choice was obvious, if clichéd: Hawaii.

My last trip to the Aloha State was 4 years ago, and I swear just thinking about taking my archetypal stressed-out mainlander caboose back to one of the islands caused my shoulders to drop a smidge farther away from my ears.

Seeing cheap direct flights worked a little magic, too—as did investigating the plethora of places that would work with my “vacationing like the other half lives” philosophy. Knowing I could race away from responsibility and land somewhere relatively budget-friendly, private, and beautiful after 6 hours on a plane was insanely comforting.

But it was MORE comforting to actually spend a week immersing my senses in settings like this:

L, Toward Oahu's Lanikai Beach; R, scene from a watersports rental shop

And this:

Outrigger canoes await their owners as Kailua Beach beckons

Admittedly, it’s giving me cognitive dissonance to be dodging puddles when just a few short days ago I had the luscious, lightly trampled sand of windward Oahu between my bare toes.

But of course I’m grateful to have had a chance to absorb so much natural beauty. And also grateful my trip’s forecast of 80s and extremely stormy switched at the last minute to (mostly) 80s and sunny.

[Because let’s face it: I get more than enough rain in Oregon. Way, way, more than enough.]

Having packed for wet + wild and gamely steeled myself to enjoy a beach holiday of museums and cultural centers, I happily abandoned all plans of enlightenment and instead spent my time under sunny skies and straw hats.

There’s a difference between being ignorant and being a fool, after all, and I wasn’t going to pass up a chance to maximize my time in and on transparent, aquamarine water backed by a stunning view of the Ko’olau Mountains!

A paddler's view of Oahu's gorgeous Kailua Beach and Ko'olau Mountains...and taking a break from the paddling

Even Mr Vix, who lived on Oahu as a kid and decided to accompany me back there, couldn’t believe the overt gorgeousness around us.

While we had to buy drugstore snorkeling gear and rent a kayak to explore the bays of Kailua and Kaneohe, the studio we rented came with all the trappings for great beach trips—chairs, mats, towels, umbrellas, boogie boards, and a cooler. Plus constant fresh air, lots of light, and the sound of the ocean. Plus-plus a welcome basket of pineapple, papaya, macadamia nuts, and Kona coffee.

[Which is more or less what we kept ingesting and replacing during our trip, and brought home for later.]

Our $125/night all-in studio came with tropical treats, beautiful light, beach paraphernalia, and fresh air that carried the sound of surf and birdsong (and the occasional power tool)

Helping to set the tropical mood even more was the small cottage’s use of lush landscaping. The geckos, birds, and I approved of how we were tucked away from the main residence and close neighbors…

The path to our studio came with lush landscaping and loads of geckos

…and both Mr Vix and I loved Kailua itself. Because it sits roughly halfway between Honolulu’s sights and the North Shore’s legendary beaches and towns, we knew we had a great base from which to explore both areas.

In theory, anyway.

In actuality, we couldn’t seem to stop assessing North Shore snorkeling spots for tropical fish and giant Hawaiian green sea turtles. And searching that same laid-back locale for fish tacos, shave ice, locally grown coffee, and intriguing items.

L, Outside a North Shore residence, Elvis lives; R, I packed a few things that would blend in with Oahu's tropical colors and felt right at home

Good thing we made sure to revisit a few of Mr Vix’s old stomping grounds in the city so we could round out our report back to family….

Checking out stalls at the Aloha Stadium Swap Meet

* See my shots of Kailua Bay—taken from abandoned military bunkers—here

Next: Part 2 of Playtime in the Pacific, in which I tromp hill and dale and eyeball some tempting local wares

Peapod

It’s officially summertime in my part of the PNW, and moods seem to be lightening along with the sky. And luckily for me, that seems to be the case across time zones.

With people looking for excuses to play—guilty as charged!—I’m getting lots of opportunities to laugh and relax while catching up with friends and family. In-person gatherings tend to get the glory, sure, but really: whether the sharing happens face-to-face or via an ever-broadening variety of disembodied routes, it’s all good.

Because spending time with a no-explanation-needed someone feeds everything Dorothy and trio sought in the Emerald City, and costs nothing to boot.

For me, being in sync with one or more humans brings joy in sickness and in health. During the warmer months it tops wiggling my toes in warm grass, triumphs over racing into a cold blast of water, and leaves sampling ice cream or fizzy cocktails firmly in the dust.

The only downside is that it makes me long for more of the same. Can you blame me for being greedy?

…of course it expands one’s horizons to live/work/play with people who are on different wavelengths, but is there anything better than being around those with whom we feel at home?…

(top to bottom: Basking in togetherness on a California dock; a darkened corner of a furniture maker’s studio shelters resting clamps; a pair of wooden shoes await a rustic paradise; an Oregon artist’s work uses one or more eyes to catch the crowd’s attention; standing out from the crowd at an Oregon street festival)

…eight, nine, TEN

Ten years ago this weekend, I was attending the birthday party of Ms Madeline’s oldest and going on a blind date. [The events were NOT simultaneous.]

The Date in question turned out to be a man with whom I shared a lot of values, but not many personality traits. Apparently this state of affairs can be very intriguing early on in a relationship, but has been known to lead to some heavy-duty roadblocks down the line.

OR SO I’VE (NOW) HEARD

Despite our optimism-challenged personalities, my blind date and I decided to wing it and hope for the best. A decade on, we’ve had periods where we haven’t quite managed to achieve “good,” let alone “best.” However, and I like to think importantly, we seem to still admire each other’s VERY unfamiliar qualities—at least when they aren’t driving us mad*—in great enough quantities to make re-upping for another 5200 weeks sound appealing.

Based on years of I’m-sure-amazingly-astute observations plus my precocious, non-age-appropriate reading of Updike, Vonnegut, and Ms Judith Krantz, I’m confident there are all sorts of subterranean reasons Mr Vix and I initially fell in love, and all kinds of subterranean reasons we’ve managed to stay together.**

But on days like today I like to think it all comes down to what Paula Abdul and “MC Skat Kat” sing/rap:

When things go wrong we make corrections

To keep things moving in the right direction

Try to fight it but I’m telling you Jack

It’s useless: opposites attract”

Naturally as a romantic cynic I can’t help but think I’ve now jinxed things and we’ll be lucky to hit 10 more minutes, but hey: given that I am horoscopically inclined to be fickle, it’s shocking that I’ve made it to THIS milestone. Anything else is just gravy.

* and ** Conveniently for those interested in why we may have strong positive or negative reactions to people we know and possibly love, La Belette Rouge has primers on positive and shadow projections.


Criss-Cross

The usual holiday notes and calls, along with my recent California road trip/Holiday 2009 Freeloader’s Tour, emphasized life’s natural flux a bit too much for me.

It’s been rather a mixed-bag whirlwind of people joining my extended network of family and friends and of people leaving it. Of people redefining their role in it (by choice or necessity) and of people oblivious to how they’ve been redefined.

It takes a fair amount of energy to assess the level of intimacy each one seems to desire or deserve. It’s my opinion that some need to be brought closer and some set adrift, but follow-through takes more effort. And brings the risk of a battle.

But onward ho. Because while we’re born alone and die alone, in the middle there are others.

…going into the new year (over?)thinking about the way our relationships continually evolve as we support, protect, overlap, and connect in ways that feel right to us—as well as how our ties fray through benign or deliberate neglect…

(top to bottom: Strolling through Sonoma County redwoods; encountering Topher Delaney’s “Garden Play;” jellies at the Monterey Bay Aquarium; a princess fantasy made public in Balboa Park)