Monday, December 19, 2011

Lights (and an important "Swans a-Swimming" update near the bottom)

Holy Moley! Christmas is less than a WEEK away! How did this happen? Where did the year go?

I've been away on travel most of the last 3 months, and things around the house have taken a backseat to that. I know that all the neighbors (along with Pacific Gas & Electric, local airline pilots, AND the Space Station Astronauts) have been wondering if I was going to put my Christmas lights up this year.

Well, never fear. I FINALLY got them up this last weekend. THANKFULLY I do a drawing every year as I take them down, detailing things such as how many strands go where, what color they are, where the plugs are, any extension cords needed (by color and length), and what plugs into which auto-timer unit (I have 2 of them). Having this data from the last year saves me countless hours of re-inventing my layout each year. And also each year it seems I do slight improvements on last years design, thus requiring a complete re-draw every year. If I was REALLY smart I'd get a nice computer drawn layout of the house (along with the side bushes/fences on both sides AND the entire roof) in a few sheets of 11x17 paper. Then I could add in my lights as I go in the deconstruction phase.

Probably one of the most time consuming parts of the installation is unpacking all the strands, placing them in groups according to bulb color (all my strands are single-color bulbs in either clear, green, red, blue or yellow). THEN I carry a small tube of grease with me as I squeeze a small blob into my fingers, then wipe a thin layer on the prongs of the plug, then plug it into my power cord to verify ALL the lights come on. This little step has saved me tons of time from putting up a strand only to find a bulb is out causing typically a third of the strand to be dead. Finding the bad bulb on installed strands can be rough, as you have to pull the bulbs in the dead area one by one testing them (I have built a little testing device where I pull the bulb, touch it to my tester contacts and a LED either lights or not. If it lights the bulb is good and I plug it back in and move onto the next, repeating this until I find the bad bulb. This way I don't have to work with a powered strand, standing on a ladder, or in wet grass or up on the roof. It beats going down the strand with a good bulb as there can be more than one bad bulb, and this will find them all.

I also try to add a little something more or different every year (also why I need a re-draw). This year I FINALLY got the roof totally figured out, where I have lights in each edge./line. Also of much importance is balancing how many strands I have tied into each other and also into the timer units. I have it pretty well balanced and I think a MAX of 5 or 6 strands in a row. I know this is more than you are SUPPOSED to do, however greasing my contacts means they NEVER corrode when they get wet (which will cause arcing and sparking, and will increase resistance causing a commensurate increase in current draw to power the strands, thus increasing the risk of blowing the tiny little fuses in the base of each plug). I almost never blow the little fuses.

Unlike my neighbor Louie. He cracks me up. EVERY single year. He LOVES to put up lights just like I do. But he goes with the "fling them up" method. Every single year he runs an extension cord to one corner of his house, and then proceeds with his flinging. As he goes, the next strand plugs into the last strand. And so on. And so on. He had well over 30 strands last year ALL plugged into ONE power cord. And he wonders why EVERY SINGLE YEAR he has to replace those little fuses. I've gone over and over how he needs to at the VERY LEAST split the house in half and run in BOTH directions from his one power cord! This method alone would cut the strands in a row by HALF! (note: I "loan" him all the strands for his roof every's our little fun joke. And every year after he takes everything down he brings the box back and I store it in my attic with MY strands. And every year I take the box down and over to his house to borrow 'again'. These are the oldest strands I own: they are the multi-color bulbs per strand. Jeannie hates them for some reason, so I just loan them to my neighbor and HE puts them up. Good solution I think. He doesn't need to buy more lights, and I am still getting use out of them, sort of). Also of note: ALL the strands I buy are the cheap strands of 100 bulbs. I usually get them at Home Depot....and usually pay round $4 per strand I think (been a few years since I've bought any). I'd buy them after the holidays, but usually they are pretty cleaned out and getting the single-color strands is harder. Also of note: I haven't bought any strands for a few years now, and many of them are at least 5 years old, some much older.

I figure it's hard to justify the cost of buying new LED lights when I'd need about 50 strands. AND, all my friends and family who have bought them have been seeing a distressing number of bulb failures. I think they get ONE spare LED with each strand. They are SUPPOSED to last nearly forever, but I put mine outside and it's a pretty harsh environment. Thus I continue to use my old strands and yes, I pay a bit more for the power. But these are at least the newer model tiny bulbs, unlike the OLD kind we had a kid with each bulb being a REAL bulb sucking down a few watts per.

And so, without further adieu, I give you my (our) light display for 2011 (if you click on the picture you get a pretty high res version showing MUCH better detail):

Funny....just looking at the picture I've found ANOTHER improvement I need to make. This years NEW embellishment is the Christmas tree on the roof. I had one strand of green and one of red left over. It's kind of hard to see in the picture I think, but trust me: it's a tree. I mostly did it because I KNEW it would further show MY superiority of light-mastery and also crush Louie even MORE (which it DID) . But he puts up a good fight year after year and we have great fun (mostly the fun is me making fun how I should be standing by his house with a fire extinguisher and such). And btw, on the far left, the lights above my green bush is the right corner of his house,,,but being as some of them they are MY lights I figure they can  go ahead an peek into my picture). Between the two of us we totally shame our entire subdivision. I'm always hopeful some new joyful holiday spirited person will jump into the fray. And as always, I await our challenger.

UPDATE!  12-20 6:45pm
I was totally remiss forgetting this next part (I'm SO VERY SORRY JEANNIE!) Last Saturday night we went to a Christmas party at one of her co-workers house. They throw a real nice party too. Every party they have there is a themed contest requiring some sort of food you bring. This year the theme was the 12 Days of Christmas, and the food item was to be a dessert. Jeannie had hemmed and hawed and searched hi and lo, and came up with a creme-puff swan as her entry (actually there was a whole bunch of them). She made the pastries from scratch while I was out putting up the lights. I had planned on helping her (as typically I'm the 'artsy-fartsy' one in the family while she is the logical numbers person (she's a CPA). Well....I came in from my light-fest and lo and behold, she had come up with THIS:

I was floored! It looked AWESOME!!! The puff-pastry part is cut in half, then the bottom half stays intact while the top half is cut in half to form the wings. You place them sticking up and fill w/ the goodly filling and whip creme, sprinkled w/ powdered sugar. I can tell you from EATING them that the pastry part was crunchy-sweet (ie: PERFECTLY DELICIOUS!) and the filling was just tasty tasty tasty! She's made some really amazing desserts, but I think this is her, uhm, excuse me, but's her "Swan Song!"

As I was looking at them, the filling was kind of starting to melt and go gooey, and settling into the puff some (our friend and weekend house-guest who is also named Matt made the comment that they were turning into "Ugly Ducklings"). So she quickly made room (by pulling out a bunch of frozen food) and put those that would fit in the freezer, and the rest into the refrigerator. When we got to the party they graciously made space in their freezer for the large tray of swimmers.

AND THEN IT WAS TIME! The host laid out the rules for his 2 pre-selected judges. They were scoring on artistic appearance, creativity, and taste, and there was an entire table full of entries (and at least 3 other "Swans a-Swimming' entries of totally different construction). And so, guess who won? OH YES SHE DID!!  This picture is of the very last Swan A-Swimming' was the only one that survived the carnage of the food-fest, and I grabbed it and brought it home (as I realized that I did NOT get any pictures of them before we left!). And after getting the picture, I most graciously let our house guest Matt eat the final Swan (though it killed me to do it). But hey...I'm a giver...what can I say.

And so...that is the saga of the 2011 Swans a-Swimming. I hope she makes them again sometime just for us. I LOVE CREME PUFFS!

I'll post my Christmas card with my 2011 verse later this week. Stay warm everybody!

1 comment:

  1. Very pretty, Matt! I'd post my decor here but no way to do that--I'll send it to you in an email!

    Merry Christmas to you and Jeannie, Janann and Alan, Cathy too. Happy Hanukkah as well -- eat some latkes (if you don't know what they are: crispy potato pancakes usually served with applesauce and sour cream -- yum!)

    Cathy, I am over the moon for you! Dream team indeed! Now, what kinds of bribes are you open to?
    Sure am hoping the designers of the jersey are the folks that produced the RS last year and not the Leopard (I haven't seen any yet).

    I've got to decide on something to take to the Christmas day potluck at work-- pumpkin soup or stuffed mushrooms?