It’s starting to look a little spooky around here.

I’ve always enjoyed the holidays and while Christmas is the one I focus the most attention on, I’ve been very excited to have a house to decorate for Halloween too. Our collection of Halloween decor is still small compared to Christmas, but we’re slowly adding to it. I have a white jack o’ lantern I picked up at a Cracker Barrel years ago that has an orange light bulb that flickers on and off. A couple of different door/wall hanging items, a lantern with a haunted house motif that I swap out for the usual solar lantern on the shepherd’s hook next to the front porch, and a fake tombstone with skull and skeleton arms that’s new this year. You get the idea.  

The one decoration I’m most excited about, however, is one I’ve owned the longest. It’s only a couple of years younger than I am and it fits in nicely with my retro house. An original Pumpkin Scarecrow blow mold from the Empire Plastics Company circa 1969. Check it:

How friggin cool is that? Still glows like he’s powered by a nuclear reactor. This will be his first Halloween in a couple of decades because he was packed away in boxes that were, until last summer, last stored in my Mother-in-Law’s basement. This will be his year to shine anew. In part because he has a brand new light fixture inside him as the original was lost ages ago. 

He’s not particularly collectable — the company made tons of them and you can find him on eBay for $15 or less depending on the condition he’s in — but he’s definitely nostalgic for me. The fact that I’ve had him for almost my entire life adds to that. OK, I’m not sure he was “mine” back when I was a kid, but he’s been with me for a long time and I’m putting him back into service. 

I hope to pick up a fog machine before the big day arrives as well. I used to have one, but forgot to empty it out one year after the evening was over and the fluid gummed it up. I’ve not gotten into the Halloween colored string lights yet as that’s too weirdly close to Christmas decor for me, but I’m softening on it. As I get more stuff put up I’ll probably do another entry with a few more pics. 

What we did instead of Halloween this weekend.

The wife and I didn’t do Halloween this year and that’s a first for us. The reason why was a combination of the fact that we rarely — if ever — see more than a handful of kids and are left with tons of candy, the fact that the weather was crappier than usual (37°F with snow showers), and the fact that I just wasn’t feeling it this year. I didn’t even unpack my plastic jack o’lantern and fog machine this year.

The cold weather has put me into a different mood and, with Sunday being a relatively balmy 48°F I decided to do some decorating for the other upcoming holiday. No, not Thanksgiving. The other upcoming holiday. Why? Because the last time I waited until after Turkey Day it snowed. On Sunday I got most of the outdoor lights up making what amounts to our backyard at the apartment look like this:

I had to repair my snowflakes this year as one of them wasn’t lighting up thanks to a broken bulb. I’ve also got two strings of C9 style LED lights that aren’t working and I’m not sure if it’s because they need new fuses because the damned things are so tiny that even with my reading glasses I can’t tell if they’re blown or not. Not that I need two more strings to add to the outside, but I’d like to get them working. Not in the picture is the string of 8 giant light bulbs to line the sidewalk with because they didn’t come with stakes to put them in the ground and I’m not sure if they were supposed to or if that’s a separate purchase, but either way I’ll have to figure that out before I can put them in place.

We don’t have an outdoor electrical outlet in the front of the apartment so we bought four solar powered pathway lights in green and red  to line the sidewalk with. We’ll also be putting lights in the upstairs and kitchen windows so there’s some festiveness there. We did buy a small shepherd’s hook and a couple of holiday related flags to hang from it. My mother is getting ready to move from her home up in Otisville and so she gave us her pre-lit Christmas tree which we’re going to assemble in the spare bedroom (which faces the front of the apartment) to add a bit more lights to the upstairs window. We won’t be putting ornaments on it, but we thought it would be some nice extra lights.

We haven’t assembled our tree in its usual spot in front of the doorwall yet, but we’ll probably get to that this week.  We’ve got a couple of extra light sets that we’ll probably use inside the apartment to brighten things up a bit, but we’re already pretty far along. One of the side benefits is that it motivated us to do things we’d been meaning to do for a long time like start clearing up the jumble of stuff in the spare bedroom that got shoved in there when we got our new bedroom furniture set a few months back. Also cleaned out the bottom of our bedroom closet so we could put our shoes where they belong instead of having them all piled near the front door.

So, yeah, we’re early this year, but we’ve been pretty late with doing this stuff the past couple of years and we’re both in the holiday mood so we may as well enjoy it. I’ll post more pics once we get more of it done.

Is it too early to talk about Christmas lights?

Probably, but I’m going to do it anyway.

Yeah I know it’s August still, but after last Christmas we decided to toss our old artificial tree because it was looking worse for wear after years of having cats chew on its limbs, pinecones, and fake berries and it wasn’t a particularly realistic looking tree to begin with. We had bought it back in 2008 after finding it on sale at the local Home Depot and it was starting to fall apart. So we figured we’d wait until the summer and see if we couldn’t pick up a new one during an off-season sale. My hope was to find a pre-lit LED tree with, if at all possible, twinkle light capabilities.

It occurred to me last week that summer is rapidly disappearing and we still hadn’t gotten around to finding a replacement tree so I started looking online and came across a couple of manufacturers who sell directly to customers and who had some pretty amazing looking trees. Or at least decent looking in the photos. This prompted me to propose a trip to Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland in Frankenmuth, MI to the wife so we could look at a few trees in person, which is what we did this past Saturday.

It was a bust as a tree-finding excursion. Not that they didn’t have any — they had quite a few — but not only did they not list who the manufacturers of the trees were, but none of them quite fit the criteria I had in mind. The pre-lit trees were evenly divided between traditional mini-lights and LED mini-lights and I hate mini-lights. I grew up with C7 bulbs on the tree and when I made the move to pure LED lights a couple of years ago most of the strings I bought had C7 or C9 style covers on them. We found one LED tree that had a combination of mini-light and C7-ish style bulbs on it that we thought looked pretty good, but it was also flocked (fake snow) which we thought would be a bad idea for two reasons. First, once you put it in storage chances are the snow will get dust on it and it’s probably impossible to clean it off. Secondly, if we thought the cats had a field day with the old tree with its fake berries and pinecones we could only imagine what they’d do with a flocked tree. It also didn’t help that the all of the pre-lit trees we saw were in the $500 and up range, which put a bit of a damper on my enthusiasm.

With the slow realization that I was probably going to have to go with a bare tree and put lights on it I decided to see what the latest offerings in LED lights were as I’ve only ever found one string of multi-colored LED lights that blinked and it was a shorter string I put around one of our bedroom windows. Note I said blinked, not twinkled. With my old C7 light strings I would take a string of static lights and replace every third or so bulb with a twinkle bulb that randomly flashes. Since the move to LED the best I could do was to mix a string of multi-colored LEDs with a string of white LEDs that had the chaser function which I ran up the middle of the tree. The resultant effect made the tree look like a weird UFO about to lift off. Surely by now I’d be able to find all sorts of LED strings that had blinking lights and — dare I hope — maybe even a random twinkle function.

No such luck. At least not at Bronner’s. They had a decent selection of LED strings by some company I’ve never heard of before out of China, but none of them offered so much as a chaser or non-random blinking function among them. Well, that’s not entirely true. They did have a couple of strings that blinked, but they were naked LED bulbs with no covers on them similar to the one string I already owned and without a cover to diffuse the light you may as well be stringing laser pointers on your tree. We had a static string of naked LEDs around the window next to our apartment’s front door and when you came up from the basement there was always two LEDs pointed directly at the stairs that ended up momentarily blinding you in the same way as staring into the heart of a green or red sun. There were also a couple color-wave changing strings that I consider more appropriate for outdoor use than on a tree.

That’s when I noticed them. Bags full of single-color replacement C7 and C9 style bulbs that looked like they were made of out plastic instead of glass. The printing on the bag said they were LED lights, but they had a standard light bulb socket connector on them as though they were intended to go in old-fashioned C7 and C9 strings. On another table were boxes of the same sorts of lights, but offered in multi-color sets of 25 bulbs (5 bulbs of each color) and with plastic covers similar to the LED strings I’d bought previously. I asked an associate if they were really intended to go into a standard C7 string and she said yes!

These screw right into your standard C7 or C9 light strings.

These screw right into your standard C7 or C9 light strings.

Someone had managed to squeeze all the electronics needed for the power conversion for an LED light into the plastic bulb. More importantly, they had replacement bulbs that blinked on and off. It wasn’t random like the twinkle bulbs of old, but it was at least something. They had sets that blinked between red and green or blue and green or red, green, and blue. They also had falling icicle lights that fit C7 strings. I was overjoyed! Perhaps I had reached the goal of my quest since making the switch to LED Christmas lights! I could take my old C7 strings and replace the bulbs with static LEDs with every third or fourth socket having a twinkle LED in it, just like in times past!

There’s just one snag in this otherwise wonderful plan: These fuckers are expensive. A box of 25 LED replacement bulbs — static or twinkle — costs $42. Ouch. The falling icicle bulbs were $13. Each. When you consider that a standard string of 25 C7 multi-colored LED lights runs around $12 at Bronner’s, it makes my cunning plan an overly expensive route to go. I’d need enough lights for at least three strings if I end up with another 7.5 foot tree. The extra cost makes sense when you consider that the replacement bulbs have to have the electronics in each and every bulb whereas a standard LED string only has to have them once at the start of the string. That said, it’s too expensive to justify in the face of much less expensive strings.

Still, the fact that such bulbs exist is pretty fucking cool. Or at least cool enough to a Christmas light geek like myself that I felt the need to blog about it. In time I’m sure the cost will come down, but chances are someone will introduce an LED string sometime soon that does exactly what I want. If they haven’t already. It’s not like I’ve done an exhaustive search on the Internet yet. I may yet find a tree that fits all my criteria and that I might even be able to afford. A fella can dream, can’t he?

On a kinda-related side note: At least one of my neighbors never took their Christmas lights out of the sliding glass door where they hung them last season. To their credit they stopped turning them on every night sometime around March, but if you happen to glance at their apartment you’ll clearly see the strings still crisscrossing the glass waiting for their chance to glow once more. Seeing that a lot of folks seem to think I leave my lights up way longer than I should, I find this very gratifying.

Someday my home will look like this…

One of the things I’ve always wanted to be was that crazy guy who goes overboard decorating his house for Christmas. While driving around this Christmas Eve getting a last minute present for my wonderful wife I happened to pass this perfect example of what I hope to do some day. Check it:

Be sure to click to embiggen them! The amazing part is that these aren’t able to capture everything that was there or all the motion that was taking place. It’s a good thing this house is in a more rural area as cars were slowing down and  pulling over to the side of the road to get a better look. The congestion would’ve been incredible had this been in town.

Ah, someday my home will be like this. Or perhaps even worse better!

I think I’m done with C7 bulbs after all…

I go out and buy a third string of C7 lights tonight to go with the other two good strings I have so the tree will be nice and bright. I also bought some spare bulbs to replace any that aren’t working in the older sets. I get home and start working on the first string only to have it blow the fuse in the string. So I replace the fuse and start again and it blows again. Turns out there’s a bad socket on that string which will only light if you twist the cable a certain way. So that means I won’t have three strings of lights on the new tree at all and will have to try and make just two strings stretch. Probably for the best as the box says you shouldn’t have more than two attached anyway. Here’s the final result:

Click to embiggen!

Well fuck, that’s not very bright at all. This tree is bigger than our last tree so I suppose that’s to be expected, but dammit if I don’t feel disappointed. It doesn’t help that the older of the two sets I put on blew a fuse during testing as well ensuring I couldn’t use the third string with the one bad socket if I wanted to because I’m all out of friggin’ fuses. The really annoying part is that the store had boxes of LED strings with 60 lights on a 22 foot string. The lights are smaller than the minis, but damned if they aren’t bright as hell and you can safely attach up to 43(!) strings of them together. They were going for $8.99 a box, about $3 more than the set I ended up buying, and I figured two strings would probably fit the tree while three would’ve been perfect. I wouldn’t have any twinkle lights in the bunch, but I would be cutting way back on the energy being used by the tree. Of course that’d be nearly $30 in lights when I really shouldn’t be spending any money at all. So I decided to be good and just buy the set I’d gone there for. Which of course ends up with me blowing fuses left and fucking right. I love my C7 bulbs, but they’re getting to be too much of a hassle. I’ll have to watch for deals on the LEDs after Christmas and try to snatch up as many as I can.

This is one of the recurring themes in my life. I get these great visions of how things’ll be so fantastic when I get done putting my best effort into them and they never quite turn out as grand as I envisioned them being. In my youth I’d spend hours working on some bit of art or some project that I’m sure will just stun everyone that sees it and it usually ended up being a crushing disappointment. I’m less crushed by them today only because I kind of expect to be disappointed, but it’s still damned annoying and it really puts a dent into my enthusiasm to even try some days.

For now I’ll have to learn to love my darker Krismas tree. Maybe once we get a few ornaments on it’ll look a little better.

And the tree starts to take shape…

Not sure why, but our Canon digital camera is starting to act up. Sometimes it powers right up and works just fine and other times the image sensor gets all garbled and any pictures taken are also garbled. We’ve had it a long time though, bought it back when 4 megapixels was brand new and we’ve gotten our money’s worth out of it, but it means that we didn’t manage to get any pictures of the Krismas tree in its pathetic “before” state. We did manage to get a couple of it after we’d spent some time fluffing out the branches to make it look more like a tree and not some post-industrial nightmare of a tree. Here’s one with Courtney peeking out from behind:

Click to embiggen!

As you can see it looks pretty good once you get done fiddling with it. Sucker’s big too. Next step is lights. The two strings of C7 bulbs I have now aren’t going to stretch the whole tree. I’ve got two more strings of that sort, but one is too short and the other has some bad sockets so I’ll see if I can’t find a set of C7 lights on sale to put up on the tree. The snowflake tree topper is still in good shape and working properly so I don’t have to worry about that. After we get the lights on tonight we’ll do the decorations.

And on a completely unrelated note I wanted to share one of the comment spams SEB got hit with last night. It was caught by the Akismet spam filter and it was one of three left by the same person. It’s clear from the first two that they were trying to make the comments fit the entry posted to, but by the third one, on the entry about Siskel and Ebert’s review of A Christmas Story, they gave up trying to make it sound authentic and left the following comment:

This is a nice video and story.. Well congrats you’ve made a article..

Because you know I just live to be congratulated for making an article.