Category Archives: Christmas

A Christmas Villa In The Living Room MMXVII

My wife Dawn greenlit my enthusiastic wish to build a Christmas villa in the living room this year. Using several hundred pictures, 100+ boxes, innumerable lights, a couple hundred ornaments and bits of crazy, a universal remote to control it all, a Festivus pole (for the rest of us, of course), hidden gift compartments, a house cat who daily prays for a gift to fall from above, and a huge dose of yuletide spirit… we present the most unusually-decorated living room you can possibly see all year.

I shot this video with Dawn performing the role of director. I drank 17 cups of coffee prior to shooting and I now regret telling Dawn her version was too jittery.

P.S. I wrote this version of “Carol of The Bells” myself so that social media sites couldn’t claim copyright. I hope you like that part, too. Writing music is another one of my hobbies, one which requires a commitment of time.

My living room has a vaulted ceiling, so the drunken rectangle I created piece by piece is approximately 8′ high, 15′ wide, and 20′ long. It’s difficult to grasp the scale unless you walk through the front door.

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A gallon of my patented Elf Juice, one which grants the imbiber the ability to decorate one’s domicile in the manner of Buddy The Elf.

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A necessary part of the structure is a cat bed constructed into the base of one of the 8 9-foot vertical columns. (Our cat’s name is Güino, given that he was a shelter cat, one rescued from the Feline Witness Protection Program.)
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The green-and-yellow picture is a wanted poster for my stepson Ty. A list of mostly imaginary crimes is listed at the bottom. To the right, you’ll note our infamous family portrait, just us two monkeys posing for the camera. (Dawn is on the left in the portrait, by the way.)
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Anyone who thinks I don’t like pictures, please take a note at this point. Despite ordering several hundred before I started, I found myself needing more as I neared what I thought would be the final push to completion.
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The columns are all tall and each one is connected in a drunken rectangle around the entirety of the living room. Looking back, it was a lot of work but if Dawn didn’t lose her mind watching me meticulously create each box, each column, and apply every picture and detail, I will look back on this in years to come and ask, “Why didn’t anybody stop me?” 🙂

There are both visible and concealed Christmas-themed quotes from some of my favorite books and movies for the season, too.
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Don’t be distracted by the backward clock. It comes in handy when visitors foolishly try to determine what time it is. Note the handsome couple in the background of the clock. Anyone with a spider phobia needs to walk around carefully, as the million streamers often touch you unexpectedly in the neck as you pass.
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What’s not visible in this barrage of pictures and Christmas insanity is my appreciation for life, one given to me in daily wonder and amused amazement.

To have the time, energy and ability to creatively express myself is a luxury which I don’t take for granted.

I have to admit, though, that this is a spectacle.

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Almost everyone I know has at least one picture of honor in the celebration. Some of the pictures are irreverent, but none fail to make us think or laugh. Or think then laugh.
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You’d never know it, but there are several presents hidden in plain sight around the room. Several might require demolition to access them but as we all know, that is what Christmas is all about.
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Taken from the kitchen, looking over the counter, perhaps waiting for Santa Claus to come inside and demand a pint of eggnog and a slice of pepperoni pizza.
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The Festivus pole certainly adds a dazzle to the room, doesn’t it? In keeping with the original intent of Festivus, I don’t adorn the pole with anything to distract us from its beauty. I’m convinced Dawn wants to accidentally recycle it sometimes – or give it to someone building a fence. If this were to happen, however, I would have no choice but to replace it from Wagner Steel and add her transgression to the following year’s “Airing of the Grievances.”
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Note that my genuine Daisy BB gun sits next to our wiretap device, ready at a moment’s notice if some crazed Christmas-hating Grinch attempts to enter the house and steal Christmas from us. Hint: such a person is going to need a truck, a saw and a mean disposition.

Also, the Grinch will have to depart with it all, as I took great care to conceal hidden compartments for gifts. I kept a treasure map, but I’m not certain even I was diligent enough to note them all.

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If anyone looks at this and wonders, “Is that ME?” – the answer is probably “yes.” And, you are welcome. Several hundred pictures used in this project makes it likely that if I know you and have shared any levity in our lives that you are part of this.
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Christmas quotes, ornaments, pictures from my life, pictures of iconic Christmas scenes, vintage Christmas ads, crayons, bows, ribbons – if it is interesting or unusual, I tried to find a way to include it in this.
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The above picture is of the column containing the cat bed on the bottom. I’m pretty sure there’s at least one hidden gift in this column I forgot to take note of during the initial stages of building this.
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Here’s a link to a previous post I did, one describing the last time I did this on a really large scale: 2011 Christmas Craziness2011 Christmas Craziness
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The above was taken from the reverse side of the decorations. Note the dollar bills. Here’s a link to explain what the dollars mean: Christmas Dollars Each Year
I didn’t take as many closeup pictures of the tree this year, even though we added several fantastic ornaments. Some of them I ordered and had custom-made, some were whimsy from different stores and events from our lives this year. I’ve met many people who’ve adopted a motley approach to their Christmas tree ornaments but I’ll be ornament-to-ornament that none shares a breadth of diversity like the collection my wife and me have. People tend to look closely at our tree and shout, “THIS can be used an ornament?!” and laugh, filing away the idea for later use.
Now that it’s done, I can look at the pictures and lights, and wonder about my year and the future which follows. Another Christmas, another year.

4 a.m. Is A Wonderful Life

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Yesterday, returning home from our day of avarice and caprice, I opened the surprises which had arrived. It’s trickier during the holidays, especially when my lists are full of weird and half-forgotten surprises.

First, I tore open the cabinet knobs I had ordered on Amazon. Each was packed in its own little cube. While my expectations when ordering were low, the company doubled the quantity they sent and the knobs were notably beautiful. They are ridiculously prismed, each a nexus of colors. Naturally, Dawn and I both loved them. I offered to replace her bathroom set, the one I had just installed, but she insisted that I go ahead and install them in my bathroom. Recently, after much delay, I finally got around to putting cabinet pulls on the drawers and doors of the house. Believe it or not, the builder didn’t do anything to address the convenience of actually living in the house. Dawn and I spent hours yanking on the drawers expecting them to open, only to walk away with snarled and snapped fingers. While I gnaw and chew on my fingernails like a crazed bear, Dawn keeps her fingernails orderly – and didn’t appreciate random nails flying off when simply trying to get a teaspoon out of a kitchen drawer. I finally overcame my misgivings and started drilling. As expected, I needed 6 different size screws to address the builder’s wildly inconsistent approach to cabinet installation. I used my highly advanced piece of cardboard template to place the holes. To my surprise, I finished it without a major fire, holes in the ceiling, or losing an eye or finger. I’m pretty sure Dawn was surprised too. When I chose the sets of knobs, I asked myself what a normal person might find to be appealing and followed that instinct. Had I followed my own, I would have chosen from the less-popular “Epileptic Color Shock” line of hardware. If I were to be assigned a Contractor Rating, I think it could be best summed up as “Don’t.”

Second, my much-ridiculed set of 5 remote outlet switches arrived. Dawn had previously expressed specific and snarky misgivings about this idea. After seeing what Hobby Lobby and Lowes charged, though (with one of these almost requiring a mortgage application simply to afford them), I found a set on Amazon which was an incredible deal. I needed a set of these so that we wouldn’t need to walk around the living room and need to perform acrobatics to reach the outlet switches. (I had previously ordered a set of Belkin switches, which were awesome, too, by the way.) If you didn’t know, my living room is a feat of Christmas engineering. The entire interior perimeter is covered by vertical and horizontal columns of craziness. I planned the light sets so that no particular outlet would be overburdened and so that I could add additional lights easily. Having just seen “Christmas Vacation” again no doubt inspired me to avoid having 25,000 lights plugged into a single outlet. P.S. While I am no fan of the builder of this house, having a modern electrical system is a miracle. It’s true that I paid to install an advanced system at the last house before we sold it, but having an electrical system designed to work is a laughably overlooked privilege in this life. Because I’m blind and stupid, Dawn used the magnifying glass to read the ‘pairing’ instructions for one of the remote-controlled outlets. Once I’m frustrated with a piece of technology, I’d rather do naked cartwheels on the freeway than continue to attempt to make something work. Dawn, on the other hand, is OCD and any unfinished check on her to-do list will turn her hair white until she can address it. Luckily, she figured out the last outlet snafu while I snarled and moaned in the kitchen. With a ‘click,’ we can now turn on all four million lights simultaneously with one remote. As Dawn says, it is not as satisfying as the clapper, but it’s a delight.

Third, another surprise arrived from MarriedToTheMetal (an Etsy seller). As has been the case for all my previous purchases, it was spectacular. I had to be clever and evasive (not to be confused with the Grinch’s “joyful and triumphant”) with Dawn so as to not arouse suspicions. When I clanged the gift with a loud metallic bang on the kitchen table, though, she immediately jumped to the conclusion I had illegally bought her yet another Christmas present. For those who don’t know, Dawn is one of those unfortunate souls whose birthday is on Christmas Eve. She’s a good sport about it. However, I have to maintain the fiction that my gifts are in fact given in celebration of her birthday rather than the yuletide season. She growls about me for buying too much- whatever that means. I just pretend she is suffering from a minor head injury and do what I want anyway. It’s a delicate arrangement and one which seems to be working decently well.

During this morning’s walk, I was surprised to find the Springdale Christmas tree was still lit. It’s a good thing, too, otherwise, I would have been tempted to turn on the tree manually from the connection hanging just below the Shiloh Square overhang. (It sounds suspiciously like I’ve investigated this before, doesn’t it? You would be correct if you assume this to be true. I have to continue to remind myself that the city didn’t create all this just for me, even if it continues to feel this way in the early hours of the morning.) The moon above was indeed a supermoon, although still only intermittently visible against the cloud cover. The concrete trails, however, shimmered in a luminous white ribbon as I walked. Many of the houses along my walk were still lit with holiday cheer. Despite the unseasonable warmth of the December morning, it was a glorious way to start the day.

I took a detour down Emma. From the square, I was hearing an unusual and arrhythmic flapping. It reminded me of special effects from a science fiction movie. My imagination was running wild – and without a saddle. It ultimately turned out to be Tyvek fiber sheeting a contractor had stretched across the façade of the first floor of a building undergoing renovation. When I turned around, I jumped a little in surprise. Someone was standing on the rooftop of the buildings across the street, smoking a cigarette. I waved at him. I think he was surprised I had noticed him, even above the brightly-lit and festive street. He waved back. We shared our respective moment of sonder, each of us bound to continue our day.

P.S. The tree twinkling is exactly how I feel most mornings as I experience the mundane surprises.

Supermoon Superseason Superceding

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Advisory: Possibly NSFW, depending on whether you like the smell of weird cheese or enjoy trying to clog dance after your leg falls asleep…

Before being sidetracked by frivolous detail, the picture is a 3-D one I made of my wife. Her eyes are googly and her hair made from a few dozen strands of ribbon slivers. It is a thing of beauty, even more so than the leg lamp from “A Christmas Story.” I’m certain that Dawn will grow to love it, as it hangs from the living room heater vent on the ceiling.

This is a story about a walk, but not really. I didn’t sleep well last night. Dawn had experienced some excruciating muscle cramps in her lower leg, the kind of erupting pain so intense that she would have traded a baseball bat to the elbow to lessen them. I’m not the best sleeper to begin with but the anticipation of waking up in a sudden sweat as the person next to me screams in the dark is not one to be enjoyed. Being unable to help except perhaps to be a prop to lean against only worsens the situation. My problem is that I want to do something clever, such as sing the lyrics to “Lean on Me.” To her credit, Dawn still hasn’t shot me in justified irritation, although I think I’ve mentioned that she keeps hinting that she wants me to buy her a crossbow and only one arrow to accompany it.

(We usually only scream in pain like that as we accidentally watch the nightly news, a feeling many of you might find to be familiar.)

I glimpsed the ominous orange supermoon only for less than a minute this morning. It was hanging low on the western horizon, somehow dodging the unexpected cloud cover. Even though I knew it was a fruitless attempt, I took a picture of it. It might as well be an image taken from an endoscopy procedure.

As I stood in the middle of Don Tyson Parkway, admiring the moon’s brief beauty, in the background I watched as a white dually pickup attempted to navigate the circumference of the double roundabout at high speed. As the truck rocked and bounced over the edge of the sidewalk, I hoped the driver was holding a steaming cup of hot coffee and that as he hit the obstruction unexpectedly, that the coffee boiled his nuggets as it spilled into his lap. Nothing evokes the spirit of Christmas like the sound of a reckless driver screaming from the consequences of his poor driving. (The best part of waking up is hot liquid in your cup, so to speak.)

I greeted this morning, along with the unusual soft brightness the obscured moon brought with it. The night hours had reset the monstrosity of the early part of my day yesterday. We all have our own issues and sometimes even when we do the right thing to correct them, they worsen. The trolls and sociopaths seem to be vigilant along the periphery of our lives. They wait, knowing they will be able to spread the opposites of happiness and joy, like sad black and blue glitter – or hateful holiday cards, ones filled with profanity and pictures of war and destruction. In my case, I wait, because no matter how idiotically people might behave, I will still have my keyboard. History will be written in farce, cleverly disguised as fiction. No matter what happens, I tend to say, “It will make a great story.” So far, time has given me a buffer to be able to laugh at everything.

Yesterday was also supposed to be the kick-off of phase two of the 2018 IBLCC weight-loss challenge. For reasons related to the last paragraph, that too fell through. Trolls are like the Stephen King’s Langoliers, except instead of eating time, they eat other people’s joy. I lost 30 lbs during phase one. In the interim, while waiting for my competition to catch up, I regained some of the weight back. (Which should be no surprise, given my insatiable urge to eat an entire pizza as if it were a fruit roll-up.) Phase two was going to both excuse and impetus to finally get to 200 lbs, which is still way too high for someone of my advancing years and historically untrustworthy arteries. Whiskey, salt pork and lard flow through my veins, at least genetically. None of these has fared well in scientific studies of longevity.

(I had an uncle who once insisted that he’d stopped drinking alcohol and eating bacon when they stopped tasting good. I think he meant it as a challenge.)

Once away from the absurd pseudo-rules of commerce, I had a fantastic afternoon. While Dawn was frolicking in Eureka Springs with her sister, I was adding a million yuletide touches to my massive architectural Christmas display. For those of you who are worried about the weight, don’t be; our house is on a concrete foundation. If I had to describe what it looks like, I would say it is a hybrid between what Will Ferrell as Elf did in the department store scene and how Steve Martin might design a children’s room for the holiday season if he ate an entire bag of magic mushrooms after browsing Etsy for 16 hours.

Before leaving this note, I’d like to tell all of you who were worried about the roundabout driver’s nuggets that he escaped injury. I waved at him as he passed. I could see his silhouette inside the truck cab due to the streetlights. He waved back as he went about his day, hopefully without further attempt to set a land speed record. Also, duallys are just about the ugliest vehicles on the planet.

Finally, I leave you with a poem, one written in a thoughtless moment of profane hilarity. This poem is much more enjoyable if you stand in the middle of a crowded room and recite it in a loud, raucous falsetto. If you have a special someone in your life who reminds you of this poem, stare into his eyes as you read it. Some hints require a little more effort.
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Don’t Water the Asses

Attention is their nitrogen
strife, their air

Their fruit always bitter
their beds stony with despair

By the time you sniff them out,
your life, too, becomes a derriere
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Springdale and Slartibartfast

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Later today, the throngs will be clogging the streets. Children will be studiously deaf to their parents demands to stop running, stay close, and to not touch things. Springdale is having its huge tree lighting ceremony, followed by the parade along Emma Avenue. For now, though, this downtown Christmas spectacle is mine. All that’s missing is a tinge of cold but its absence is a continued blessing as I wander the streets. Both sides of Emma are adorned with lit decorations, even at 4 in the morning. While there aren’t as many lights as I have in my living room, it’s still beautiful in the clear air. The stars were obscured by a thin cover of clouds. I didn’t care, though, because when you are enjoying something, it is as if the stars are shining inside. With the brilliance of the Xmas lights along Emma, it was easy to overlook.

I stood next to the massive downtown tree, admiring its wide ornaments. Later today, a thousand people will surround its base, waiting for the moment when the tree comes alive with dazzling light. I’ve already seen it though, this morning, in my imagination. Compared to that moment of imagining, its lights will be slightly faded. I can hear the murmur of contentment and possibly applause from the crown which will gather. This tree is another one of the great choices Springdale continues to make as it moves forward. Such spectacles are greater than the sum of the effort which created them.

Approaching the façade of the Apollo Theatre, I was singing along with “I Know What I Know” by The Monkees. Louder than expected, I learned. Someone popped out of the obstructed entrance to the bail bond shop on the street front. I finished singing the verse and curtsied toward whoever it was. I heard a laugh, which leads me to believe they decided I wasn’t crazy or dangerous – just a terrible singer. The person went around the corner and climbed in an SUV parked on the side street. I’d like to think whoever it was turned on their radio and sang along as they left. It’s darned near impossible to be unhappy while singing along to music you love.

As I passed the horrendous waffle/thunderchicken logo on the Chamber of Commerce building, I laughed. I’m always nervous about staring at it too long, in case it causes a round of spasms or nausea. It is always my hope that someone will have compassion on this logo and throw a blanket over it. (A concrete blanket, if you have one.)

At the house next to the Masonic Lodge and opposite City Hall, I saw animals scampering. As I passed in front of the house which sits close to the street, I was delighted to see that there were 2 raccoons frolicking in the yard, bordered by a perversely short chain-link fence. I chatted and cooed toward the raccoons and they lowered their guard and once again began scampering about as if playing a November game in the leave-strewn yard, a game whose rules were undisclosed.

The Tyson building across the tracks is a beautiful building. I didn’t think so until now, possibly due to being mostly completed and seeing it in the minimal light of the early morning. Much to the horror of the design engineers, I’m convinced that it is best appreciated on the park side, rather than from Emma. The glass foyer would be ideal to yodel or play music if such a thing were permitted. For a moment, I wonder what our previous mayor, the one I nicknamed Mr. Mumbles, would think of all of the bustle and beautification. It’s likely he wouldn’t recognize the bones of this city – and that’s a great thing.

Before leaving, I took my Spanish copy of “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” and walked over to the mini-library disguised as an upright bicycle. Since I almost always carry index cards or a notepad, I took a card and wrote “Merry Xmas -Enjoy a meal on me. Love, Slartibartfast” on it. I put four $5 dollar bills with the card and tucked them inside the book and placed it inside the holder. (Slartibartfast is a character from “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” if your life is too devoid of craziness to know. Next to “Beware of the leopard,” it’s one of the best words or phrases in our language.)

At home, I stood in the yard, watching the competing alternating tower beacons to the north. To the east, a large house decorated with Xmas lights illuminated the hillside. As the breeze caressed my face, I took a drink of coffee and felt a little sad for all the people who weren’t outside enjoying the spectacle of nothing special, even as it satisfied me. From behind me, I heard a meow and knew that my cat was peering at me through the gap in the office window.

If you have a few moments, drive through Emma and at least take a look at the tree dominating Shiloh Square. If not, take a moment and find a way to ignite something inside of yourself during the holiday season. Sing a song to a stranger, put vaseline in the slippers of your significant other, or watch for scampering raccoons in the most unlikely of places. Hide a gift where it might never be found, leave a present for someone you don’t know, or take someone you love or admire to the tree and share a moment. And, for the briefest of moments, imagine the ripples of these moments.

Love, Slartibartfast

 

 

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