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.

For my nephew: “The Cadger Dubstep Christmas House”

It was only a matter of time before someone applied Dubstep to a Christmas light display:

From the creator:

35,000 LED lights
64 Light O Rama channels

All done by me, a 16 year old, and my dad. Come see it in Meridian, Idaho!
Or visit our website at www.cornellchristmas.webs.com

ALSO…. No, my electric bill isn’t that high, I’m on level pay all year for it so it’s cheaper. And no, my neighbors don’t hate me, in fact, almost everybody within a 10 mile radius LOVE the light show, And no, I don’t have anything against people with epilepsy…. I just enjoy making my lights flash a lot 😉