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Christmas lighting displays - now before I begin let me say I don't expect you to go to the extremes, I do. First, because you are probably sane, and for me, that train left the station in regards to Christmas lighting several years ago.
Start with a plan, a simple outline sketch of your home or the building/buildings you wish to light. You don't have to do what I do and that is start from detailed scale architectural drawings that I sat at my drafting board for days to create.
On your drawing mark were each one of your outdoor electrical outlets are located. This will help later when deciding where to start your light strings without excessive need for extra extension cords later. Nothing is more frustrating than stringing a lot of lights only to find you put them up backwards with the wrong end of the cord at the far end of the gutter instead of closest to the wall outlet. I have done it...more than once.
Now it’s time to decorate….. Bushes and Trees can be TOUGH. Odd shapes, nothing is perfectly square or round, and it is difficult to do it right and not make it look like a strand of lights just hanging there. Here are some tips on how to make you trees, bushes, and kitchen counters look glorious.
Fir trees or any others that look like Christmas trees are somewhat easier than hardwood trees to light. Start at the top and drape the power cord down the back of the tree towards the ground so you can later hook up your extension cord to run power to it. Then work your way down the tree towards the bottom either draping the lights or wrapping them in a cylindrical pattern.
Hardwood trees, like maple, oak or elm trees provide a different challenge. They are never symmetrical, some branches are longer than others and it is hard to estimate the number of lights necessary to complete the task. Just remember that it doesn't take a lot of lights to make a tree stand out when it is dark outside. And the tree itself will virtually disappear after the sun sets any way...only the lights will be visible.
You only need to make a basic out line of SOME of the branches to make a tree light up beautifully. Start at the bottom and run a STRAIGHT line of lights up the tree trunk just off center of the trunk to the left or right. Wrapping the lights around the trunk will confuse the eye and over load the trunk with lights as compared to the branches.
Then when you get to your first desired branch to light up (it doesn't have to be the lowest one mind you) take your strand out in a straight line following the curves of that branch from trunk to tip. Again don't wrap the branch. I use a staple gun making sure not to crimp the electrical line. Then at the tip follow back on another straight line back towards the trunk. Again, you are looking to define the trees natural lines, plus wrapping the line uses up much more light stand. This way your lights will go farther and the tree looks more natural.
Once back to the trunk go a little higher and repeat the process. Your final section of light strand will then come back down the trunk of the tree off centered once again to the ground were you can make your connection for power. It sounds confusing but it is easy to get the hang of and your trees will look natural and spectacular. Give it a try.
Bushes and shrubs are tough to estimate in terms of how many lights it takes to make them look festive. It takes more than you might think because you will be wrapping them around the circumference of that bush. A good way to estimate the length of light stand or strands you will need is measure the height of the bush or shrub, then multiply that number by it's width. Than take that measurement and multiply it by three. An example, the two vertical acacia bushes that line my front entry way are roughly 6 feet tall, and 3 feet wide. 3 X 6 = 18...times 3 = 54 feet of lights.. for each bush.
Start at THE TOP. (really..not at the bottom?). Yup at the top. But, start your light strand so that it drapes over the top of the bush towards the ground in the BACK of the bush with the electrical plug just off the ground. The whole idea is to NOT make it look like a straight line of lights. Nothing is straight in Mother Nature and remember when it gets dark the bush will virtually disappear and all you will see will be the lights. You want to avoid straightness (this way the ONLY straight and vertical line of lights will be in the back). Plus, this way the electrical connection will be at ground level and the lights will be suspended off the ground making the lights appear to "float in midair".
Don't make the mistake of "wrapping" the bush in lights or walking around it laying the lights from top to bottom, this will make it look like a suspended coil of lights, not a bush (unless you like that look in which case there are no rules, go for it). By making large "S" shapes with your light strands and making the loops as UN uniform as possible, some big some small...the lights will be much more random and define the bush shape better.
Feel free to weave the lights in and out of little branches to make it follow the shape of the bush. It takes a little practice but do your best to space the lights out so that the other end of the cord winds up being at the lowest part of the bush so that you can make your electrical connection and move to the next bush. If you have to you can fiddle with the lights after they are on the bush to make the end of the cord reach to where you need it to be. Keep the cord ends about a foot off the ground if you can.
I use extension cords BETWEEN bushes so that no lights are hung in a midair "tight rope" between bushes. This also breaks up the line of sight end defines each bush as its own visual experience. Try to find the shortest needed extension cords for this and you can hide them on the ground.. they won’t be seen at night.
One last thing, take the time to clip a few of the lights to a small branch or twig, if your lights don't have clips, an occasional wire twist tie from a bread wrapper will keep your lights in place during wind storms of heavy rains and snow. That way you don't have to decorate more than once and you can enjoy the light show.
Lighting Kitchen Counters
Here is a trick to decorate kitchen counters without taking up much space and it is again easy and simple to do. Simply take a strand of garland and lay it out flat on the floor. All garlands are made around a center piece of sturdy wire. Splay the greenery to equal sided of the wire to fold it flat. Then simply place it up against the back splash of the counter with that center core wire at the point where the counter top and the back splash meet. This will shape your garland like the letter "L" and will fit the space nicely.
The just do a little "fluffing” by taking some greenery from the top and pulling it down and some from the bottom and lifting it. This fills in the space nicely and takes up virtually no room at all. I then just put whatever was on the counter beforehand back into place (appliances etc.). The greenery adds a festive touch but doesn't use up valuable real estate and only takes a few moments to accomplish.
Christmas lights are kind of my "electrical metaphor" for my private time with our creator. And I don't just means the times when I say out loud, “OH please God don't let me fall off this ladder, or please don't let me get electrocuted". I truly mean this when I say this.
The holidays come so quickly that is it so easy to get swept up and feel like they pass us by before we are even prepared. I know it is only October. But starting now extends the holidays and keeps me in the spirit longer. To be honest, it's not about the lights at all, it's all about the feeling that I am actively in the moment and remembering the important things in life while doing so.
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