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.

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


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.


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.

02.14.02: Maybe a box of chocolates would have been wiser

Eight years ago today, Mr Vix and I met our realtor in a pizza joint.

That jolly get-together set in motion a train of events that would involve me spending quite possibly WAY too much of my life with some kind of…implement…in my hand. Usually one that could be used with greater or lesser precision. [Demo, painting, sanding, staining = yes; measuring = oh hell no.] Unfortunately, it wasn’t until I was nearing the end of my 30s that I realized Mr Thoreau was an untrustworthy proto-hippie, and that in fact one should beware of all enterprises that involve the farthest thing from new clothes:

Endless love-hate...taking up a floor in Mar 03 and chipping off tile in May 08

But eight years ago, the idea of giving some TLC to a rode-hard-and-put-up-wet house seemed very romantic to both of us. Had either of us BEEN romantics we might have understood that throwing time and money at trips or life-affirming hobbies engenders passion and tender feelings, while throwing time at scraping woodwork and money at old plumbing is terribly non-sexy for anyone in their RIGHT MIND. Though admittedly it does beat running OUT of money to throw at old plumbing (which is why the upstairs shower is currently off-limits).

It also must be said that back in ’02, Mr Vix and I were transitioning from dating to renovating. Guess that’s how in almost 2 years of togetherness, we’d each missed that the other was a control freak. Whoops-a-daisy!

Luckily, back in the dark ages there weren’t tons of cutesy-pie couple-run blogs detailing blissful young love amidst the ruins and reconstructions. Instead, there were forums. Forums full of subject lines like “Help! 30-year marriage headed for divorce over kitchen reno!!!!” These were my people, even if they were ancient. And putting up grape-strewn wallpaper.

Three things every control freak renovator will mutter/think/say--especially if co-renovating with another control freak

So since everyone knows gloating is what keeps a relationship strong, I present a few house-related issues that involved that most tiresome of elements—compromise—but mostly went my way.

The Banjo-Dueling Over Wall Colors

I’m sorry, but when it comes to living in an oft-dark house in a frequently rainy climate, I think love means never having to say, “A gallon of ecru, please.” Mr Vix, on the other hand, saw no reason to stop living la vida vainilla. Once we had a negotiated Color Direction, I was all over doing test splotches, which he found wasteful and obsessive. But I was damn well going to let my inner Mrs Blandings run amok. Despite the fact that I lacked a Mr PeDelford and was doing all my own painting, I had plenty of internal conversations along the lines of:

I want it to be a soft green. Not as blue-green as a robin’s egg…[B]ut not as yellow-green as daffodil buds. Now, the only sample I could get is a little too yellow. But don’t let whoever does it get it too blue….It should be a sort of grayish yellow-green.
For the powder room in here, I want you to match this thread. And don’t lose it. It’s the only spool I have and I had an awful time finding it. As you can see, it’s practically an apple red. Somewhere between a healthy Winesap and an unripened Jonathan.

I have color, he has a tree table in the living room. Ain’t love grand?

The Inconvenient Kitchen Hutch

This beleaguered, old-by-PNW-standards house had only ONE built-in left when we moved in, and though it sported many a coat of paint over wood and hardware, I loved it immediately:

Kitchen hutch, pre-house sale/with former occupant: ~7 coats of paint lurked below the surface, most of them quite vivid in color

Mr Vix loved it less, because it took up prime wall space in a small kitchen with 4 doors, 3 windows, and limited time on this earth. Wall space that would  be perfect for a refrigerator when we started our (ever-goddamn-lasting) budget reno. But I couldn’t bear the thought of dismantling the site-built storage, even though it was made of paint-grade wood and was missing its original glass doors.


Layout-wise, it totally screwed the pooch to keep it. But it stayed.

DIY'd kitchen hutch (etc) after budget reno

About 2 years after the kitchen was functioning, the hutch finally got replacement glass doors...though the open shelves were actually more convenient!

As the hutch is the first thing people flock to when they come into the room, I guess it’s a good thing I didn’t burn it down during my rehab efforts. And a better thing that Mr Vix surprised me with a pair of replacement glass doors and matching-the-original hinges a few years later.

The Mineral-Deposit-Laden Salvage Doors That So OBVIOUSLY Needed to Shine

If it’s wrong to stumble upon a pair of fabulous deco-era leaded glass doors and immediately start fantasizing about building a bathroom around them, then I don’t want to be right.

Salvage doors: the cart that drove the horse

Even if the house in question has no other fabulous deco-era touches, given its 1905 birth. Age difference aside, the house was a series of squares and rectangles. What could be more perfect than using such delightful, fate-brought-you-into-my-life doors for a linen cabinet?


So for 5 years the doors got more and more grimy, and I got more and more determined that they should be the DNA of our small-bath reno. Even when they turned out to need progressively more toxic chemicals to remove aforementioned mineral stains. Even when it turned out the price of building (unfinished, to-be-painted-by-me) cabinets for the doors meant even less fun in the foreseeable future.

Even when it seemed the bathroom–much like the kitchen–was determined to stay in an unfinished state until we hated all humankind.

No matter how deep in, technically one can always call the whole thing off

I needed the doors to help me tie together all the pattern I was adding to a smallish, 6 x 10.5 space. Pattern I was assuring Mr Vix would be just what we envisioned, even when I was saying O MY GOD WHAT HAVE I DONE IT’S A TEXTURE OVERLOAD to those who were following along. Or those who were forced to endure my updates.

I needed the doors, and I was pretty sure the doors needed me.

Triumphant! Salvage glass doors get a new home in reno'd bath

Bathroom-to-hall before/after. I was--o happy day--1000% right about the salvage door cabinet being AWESOME...er I mean, "I think the doors came out pretty well!"

However—it being Valentine’s Day and all—I should rephrase that. I was pretty sure WE needed the doors, just like we needed the hutch.

Because 8 years after we decided to be now-with-extra-serious, we find we’re still two stubborn people who prefer to lead rather than follow. So it doesn’t hurt to live in a space where we have things that are fragile enough to have been smashed instead of reinvented. To have things that are inconvenient, but still beloved. Because 8 years on it’s evident that for us, embracing endurance and imperfection is the only way forward.

For the curious, there are a few more pics of both big-for-us transformations here. The extra-curious can even read about Condé Nast’s interest in my kitchen backsplash….