Lighten up! Residents get into decorating

Posted: Sunday, December 22, 2002

For 11 months out of the year, these houses look perfectly ordinary. A stranger driving by might give a quick glance to a green lawn or a well-kept garden, then turn their eyes back to the road without so much as an inkling of the surprise that lurks out of sight in these homes, stacked neatly away in garages, basements and backyard sheds.

Once December rolls around, the surprise is revealed -- in all its twinkling glory. The houses are transformed from ordinary-looking dwellings to radiant bastions of the Christmas spirit.

 

The McBride residence at 1111 5th St. is at the end of Birch off the Kenai Spur Highway.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

The owners of these homes go all out with Christmas decorations. "Moderation," is not a word that fits in their design vocabulary. Whereas most people who decorate for Christmas staple a couple strands of lights to a doorway or along a fence and call it good, these people don't stop until every tree is sparkling and every roof line has something hanging from it -- much to the delight of neighbors and passers-by.

"Our house is commonly known in the neighborhood as 'the beacon,'" joked Karen Stroh, who lives at 1545 Stellar Drive in Kenai.

For the Strohs, decorating for Christmas is a family tradition.

"My father always did it and always entered the local contest in the town we lived in and quite frequently won it," she said. "It's always been a traditional thing the family's done. ... Even as a renter, I put up Christmas lights."

Ever since Stroh and her family bought their own home seven years ago, decorating it for Christmas has been a family project. When Stroh's son Chris, now 17, was little, he used to help her decorate. Now he's the one in charge, Stroh said.

 

The Stroh residence is at 1545 Stellar Dr.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

She estimated he spent about 70 hours putting up the display this year, which includes icicle lights, reindeer pulling Santa's sleigh on the roof and several glowing figures in the yard.

The family was rewarded for their efforts by taking second place in the Kenai Chamber of Commerce's Christmas light display contest.

The top three winners of the contest in both the residential and commercial categories received energy credits from the Homer Electric Association. A similar contest was held in Soldotna.

 

Lighted snowflake patterns decorate the Stroh's garage.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

The home of Gary and Sharon Hale, 140 Henrich St., won third place in that competition. Gary said decorating for Christmas is a family tradition for them as well.

"My father did it, and I grew up helping him," he said. "After getting married when we owned our first new home, lights went on it."

Sharon handles the inside decorations, while their son Jeromy, 16, gets drafted to help dad outside.

 

The Bookey residence at 115 Walker Lane showcases a number of different Santa Clause figures.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

"I'll do the basics and when it's time to start setting everything in the yard, he gets his marching orders," Gary said.

The Hales have a parade of glowing figures in their yard, as well as red lights outlining the house. They usually add something new to their collection every year.

"I'm at the point now that I have no more room in my garage, so this summer I may have to build a shed just to hold all of my Christmas decorations," Gary said.

 

Colored trees and animals fill the Nichols' yard.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

In the 11 years he has been decorating his house, he estimates he's accumulated about 500 red bulbs for the house and about 3,000 other lights. In all, he's spent about $2,000, he said, with another $200 this year to buy inflatable snowmen and replacement lights.

"Sometimes you feel that if you spot something you would enjoy having in your yard, maybe the cost isn't so shocking, if you're willing to spend the money," he said.

 

The Nichols residence is on Lori Jo Street near the end of West Poppy Lane.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

As all seasoned Christmas decorators know, there's a cost to buying the decorations and another cost every time you turn them on.

"I tell people, when I get bored I take a bar stool and my favorite drink and go out and watch the (electric) meter spin," Gary said.

Through the use of timers, he has been able to cut down the cost of his electric bill during the Christmas season and save himself some grief in turning on the display.

 

Kathy Sullivan and Jim Brown's home on 362 W. Riverview Ave. is framed by a lighted fence.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

"Years ago having to get out in sub-zero weather to plug in extension cords was a pain in the derriere."

Stroh estimated her family has spent about $4,000 to $5,000 on the decorations they've purchased over the years. In past years, the electric bill tended to increased about $150 during December. This year she anticipates it will rise by about $200.

Kathy Sullivan and Jim Brown, who live at 362 W. Riverview in Soldotna and took second place for their light display, have spent about $700 on their decorations and buy something new every year, Brown said.

 

The Hale residence on 140 Henrich St. features many Disney characters.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

They turn the lights on in the evening and turn them off when they go to bed. As Christmas gets closer, they leave them on longer and also turn them on in the morning for the kids going to school.

For them, money isn't really a concern in decorating.

"I like it because they're real pretty and it gets everybody in the Christmas spirit a little bit more, and we can afford it," Brown said.

The time and effort it takes to put up the lights doesn't keep them from decorating, either, although it can be unpleasant.

"We decorate every year," Brown said. "Kathy is just a real fanatic about making sure the lights are out, putting out a real big spread of lights and adding to it. She's the one behind it. We spend about 40 hours total, doing the lights and trying to get everything organized. The toughest part is the stuff that goes out high."

Brown pointed out that the mild start to winter this year made decorating much easier than it has been in the past.

 

Lighted drummers line the Hale's driveway.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

Stroh agreed. They waited a little longer than usual to start decorating because the temperatures remained warm, she said.

"This is the first year we've been able to put stakes and things into the ground, usually it's into the snow. It was strange," she said.

Gary Hale, Brown and Stroh agreed they were glad to have won the decorating contest, but it isn't the reason they decorate every year. Hale said he's won the competition a few times in the past, but he enters it now partly so people who like to look at Christmas lights can know how to find his house.

"I figure there might be one year I don't even enter in the contest, but how else do you tell new people in the area about something they can enjoy for Christmas?" he said. "It's a rewarding thing peeking out the window and seeing cars driving by really slow so people can see and flashbulbs going off from people taking pictures."

When the Strohs first moved into their neighborhood, they were the only house that decorated for Christmas, Stroh said, and now about half of them do, so she figures decorating is contagious. The comments she hears from people about the lights are more than enough reward for her.

"We have people actually stop in front of the house and tell us how wonderful it is," she said. "... People stop us in the community and tell us how beautiful the house is. You see people slow down to look as they drive by. We're not the only ones who get a lot of joy from it."



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