All lit up

For as much as a Grinch as I am, the one thing I really appreciate about Christmas on our side of the globe, is all the lights glimmering in an otherwise darkened world. I find the idea of an evergreen tree filled with brightness very appealing. In our house, however, bringing one in usually requires rearranging the furniture, so this year, I thought I’d skirt the issue by instead hanging lanterns from the evergreen tree outside  – the giant Magnolia that anchors the northwest corner of our front yard. Such a massive, evergreen tree casts a long shadow, whether winter or summer. Even when we turn on our little porch light, it seems it’s a timid little flicker in the dark. I needed light.

I started right before Halloween, by hanging orange, purple and green lanterns in different sizes. The scale of this tree is rather immense, so I had to go big. The nylon balls range between 10″ – 18″ in diameter, and I could easily go even bigger, if I wanted to spend the money. But for now, these sizes work pretty well. I ordered them online, and – being a cheapskate, I decided on a range of sizes, and basically ordered whatever was available, and/or on sale in the colors I wanted.

As Christmas neared, I added two 48′ Edison string lights and more balls – red, blue, turquoise, as well as a few more in green and purple. I considered taking the orange lanterns down, but soon changed my mind. They looked right at home, so they got to stay. The heavy duty light strands came from Feit Electric via Costco. One had LEDs to begin with, and can be programmed to change colors. For this particular purpose, I set that one to red. The second strand also came from Feit, but came with incandescent bulbs.  I bought it after discovering these awesome Edison-shaped LED bulbs at a local light bulb shop – Sunlan on Mississippi Ave. For as much as I like to support local businesses, I was too cheap to buy their strand (without bulbs) at $80 when I could get a fully loaded strand that worked with LEDs for less than $30. To make up for that, I spent a small fortune buying fabulous but expensive bulbs from them to screw into my cheap Costco strand, so I don’t feel like a complete sell-out.

Here is the lowest hanging fruit – the ladder is still in its  7′ stepladder configuration.

Here, it’s been extended to its full 14′.

Since my ladder maxed out at only 14′, so I used an anchor hook to reach up an additional few feet. Standing on my toes on the next to top rung, or sometimes balancing on one of the lower branches in the tree, I slowly managed to hook the lanterns into place. I used aluminum laundry line, which I cut, and bent into hooks. I don’t expect them to last forever, but I can happily report that they all made it through this past week of rather incessant east winds.

As I was working, at least it felt like I was quite high up. Not the best photo, but you get the idea by how far down the street seems. When I snapped this photo, I had left the ladder, and was standing in the tree. As you can see, I also used up whatever other string lights I happened to have laying around. Using up almost a whole box of lights was this weekend’s contribution to cleaning the basement – which is a current, ongoing project. To my husband’s ears, “cleaning the basement” sounds better than “decorating”….

Stepping away, and looking at the tree from a distance brought up a funny memory. When my oldest was three, he was in day care in Sweden. They put up a Christmas tree and let the kids decorate it. So, there was this 7′ tree, with all the ornaments dangling from the bottom two feet, or so. It looked hilarious and adorable – all at the same time. When you move far enough away so you can see the entire Magnolia, my two afternoons worth of effort conjure up pretty much the same reaction. All you see is this MASSIVE tree with a few colorful balls suspended from the lower branches. When you’re underneath it, it feels like a lit-up ballroom – I love it! But, from afar, my colorful front yard drama pretty much just looks like a cute attempt at something you’d need at least a scissor lift or a boom lift to fully accomplish. Oh well, I may think on a grand scale, but I’m really just an under-resourced human… All I have to do to feel insignificant is to go stand under our giant tree for a while – it’s magnificent. Still – I like the lights, and I’m happy I bothered with it. It truly does light up the whole block, and I get lots of cheer from passersby, because of it.

Here is looking back at the Magnolia from down the street, at dusk. See what I mean?

Down below, looking up.

So why, you might ask, didn’t I just buy another one of the readymade LED strands? It had everything to do with color. The programmable LEDs only offered white, red, green and blue. A neighbor down the street has these marvelous warm white, alternated with amber, lights. Every time I saw her glorious campfire ambiance, I lusted for them, so – after many a failed Internet search – I had finally asked her where she had gotten them. She is the one who sent me to Sunlan. I’m not sure hers are LEDs but they gave such a wonderful, warm light, I had decided I was willing to forego that disappointment. But instead, to my delight, I discovered that Sunlan indeed had LEDs in those colors too. And, not only that – they came in additional colors as well! I was sold. So, for now – to complement my red strand – I bought warm white, amber, and blue. I would have bought purple too, had they been available. The kind souls at Sunlan told me they would ask the manufacturer if they could start making purple lights. (It’s not the lamp itself, it’s the plastic housing it is in, so you’d think it wouldn’t be impossible… fingers crossed!

View toward the neighbor’s house, with Fatsia japonica ‘Variegata’ in full bloom in the foreground.

It took me two afternoons to string the lights, and hang the rest of the lanterns. It would probably have been easier to buy solar lanterns, but this is such a dense shade tree (and on the north side of the house, too) I really didn’t want to take the chance – I’m pretty sure the light levels would have been pitifully insufficient. Besides, I’m not sure they would have held up very long, even if they had worked. Instead, I put my trust in these string lights. I guess time will tell, but for now, they seem to be of a rather industrial caliber.

So, do you think I got my wish, and this was the end of my decorating for this year’s holidays? Nope – fat chance! Although my family likes this bright, welcoming beacon in our front yard when they return home from work and school, I got outvoted. They all thought we needed a regular indoor tree too. So, instead of rearranging the entire room, we booted the dusty old TV that nobody watches, and got a small tree for the little table where the TV normally resides. Everyone happy! Hope you all have fun readying your homes for the Holidays, too!

Got a little 5′ tree from the guys at Oregon Decorative Rock on Columbia Blvd, of all places. They were unloading the trees when I was there buying rock a couple of weeks ago. I asked one of them if he had ever sold a tree – thinking it was such an unlikely location from which to hawk Christmas trees. He said he hadn’t sold one since 1996, which made me promise that if we did decide to get a tree, I would come back and buy it from him. True to his prediction, and lucky for me, they still had a bunch left.



About annamadeit

I was born and raised in Sweden, By now, I have lived almost as long in the United States. The path I’ve taken has been long and varied, and has given me a philosophical approach to life. I may joke that I’m a sybarite, but the truth is, I find joy and luxury in life’s simple things as well. My outlook on life has roots in a culture rich in history and tradition, and I care a great deal about environmental stewardship. Aesthetically, while drawn to the visually clean, functional practicality and sustainable solutions that are the hallmarks of modern Scandinavia, I also have a deep appreciation for the raw, the weathered, and the worn - materials that tell a story. To me, contrast, counterpoint, and diversity are what makes life interesting and engaging. Color has always informed everything I do. I’m a functional tetrachromat, and a hopeless plantoholic. I was originally trained as an architect working mostly on interiors, but soon ventured outside - into garden design. It’s that contrast thing again… An interior adrift from its exterior, is like a yin without a yang. My firm conviction that everything is connected gets me in trouble time and time again. The world is a big place, and full of marvelous distractions, and offers plentiful opportunities for inquiry and exploration. I started writing to quell my constant queries, explore my discoveries, and nurture my curiosity. The Creative Flux was started in 2010, and became a catch-all for all kinds of intersecting interests. The start of Flutter & Hum at the end of 2013 marks my descent into plant nerd revelry. I occasionally contribute to other blogs, but those two are my main ones. For sure, topics are all over the map, but then again - so am I! Welcome to my blogs!
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15 Responses to All lit up

  1. tonytomeo says:

    It looks like a disco!

  2. A great idea, well executed, and excellently photographed. Loved the children’s tree

  3. I think it looks fabulous, and that “small” tree from Oregon Dec Rock is rather huge…well done!

  4. FlowerAlley says:

    I REALLY loved this whole post. Great job…as usual.

  5. Kris P says:

    You did a marvelous job lighting up your Magnolia, Anna! Now, I’m eyeing my Magnolia and thinking it would also look great with some lights but my own resident grinch would undoubtedly disagree…

    • annamadeit says:

      Thanks, Kris! Maybe he would go for it if you pick those fleeting, ephemeral, more pastel-ly colors reflected in your daily skies? That way they won’t contrast too much, and they will still provide that wonderful ambiance after the sky fades. If you click on the link in the post, you will see that they offer those lanterns in a lot softer colors than the ones I chose. I think it would be beautiful!

  6. Pingback: Bloom Day – December 2017 | Flutter & Hum

  7. Pauline says:

    Wonderful, I bet your neighbours love it too!

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