2002 Blog

I’m continuing to do a blog of design ideas for this year’s display. It was updated throughout the season, until the end of the 2002 lighting season.

1/17/02: Unlike last year, almost nobody had decent-priced Christmas lights on clearance after the season this year, but we did manage to pick up several hundred purple lights and a few sets of clear lights, and a really cool 6′ wide folding metal star.

Since we postponed our home addition or move last year, things are still up in the air for the coming season.  If we decide to do either option, this will cut into available planning and construction time as well as budget for this year.  Moving would be the most traumatic as we’d have to redesign the entire display (and as our current yard is quite ideal for decorating– being on a corner lot– a new house might not work out as well for decorating).  The addition we’re thinking of would cause some rethinking of a good portion of the display, but much would stay the same.

Time and money willing, I’d like to do several microcontroller-based projects this year (as I wanted to last year).  This year, however, I actually have some ideas on some exciting projects to do.

We’d also like to add a Nativity scene, to add a bit more Christian meaning to the display.  However, we want something unique, rather than just a standard Nativity display.  Again, we have some ideas, which we’ll elaborate more on when the time is right.

Now if I could only get last year’s display packed away!

2/04/02: We’ve really been taking some time off of Christmas planning the past few weeks to concentrate on other things, including the arrival of our new puppy Bailey!  I’ve been reading up on digital electronics, though, and am confident that I am making progress toward actually being able to design a successful circuit.  Cathy & I really have a way of keeping busy and having too many projects going on at once.  Soon, though, I hope to order some electronic components and start experimenting with some microcontroller-based circuits.

Budget-providing, we’d also like to add an FM transmitter to the display for this year.  I’m contemplating ordering one soon, as I’d like to use it as a whole-house audio solution during the off-season.

And I’ll close this log comment the way I did last time–  now if I could only get last year’s display packed away!

4/09/02: My how the time flies– it’s been over two months since my last entry!  And last-year’s display still sits unpacked-away in the garage (groan).

I’m starting to seriously think about the display again.  Usually I think about it quite a bit in January, then taper off as the coming season seems far away, and other priorities take over.  But come May or June, I start ‘actively’ planning for the next year.  So stay tuned for some ‘action’ in the coming weeks!

5/15/02: Time for another entry.  Today I ran my first ‘test’ for a new display idea for this year.  I would like to add animation into the display in a major way, but as usual, time and budget will require us to “scale up”.  I would like to add a small “grove” of “dancing Christmas trees”, created from tomato cages, which have various colors of lights and will ‘dance’ to music.  My hope was that having 300 lights per tree, one each of a solid color, would look good enough.  Today’s test confirmed this should look great.  I picked the first three different colors I could find from our light stash (which is most the way put away now), which happened to be green, blue, and clear.  The colors looked good, either alone or blended, but the clear tended to dominate too much.  Unfortunately, I already have enough clear lights but not other solid colors (shrug).  Oh well.  I’ll probably settle on Red, Green, and Blue, or Yellow, Green, and Blue.  I wouldn’t have to have each tree be the same color scheme either.

Now I need to seriously think about my microcontroller projects again…

5/28/02: Well, things are progressing, although slowly.  I managed to win an eBay auction for 8 Atmel AVR microcontrollers, and I also ordered a programmer interface for the Atmel family today.  These items should be arriving soon.  Next I need to order some misc. parts to start experimenting on some projects.  Since it’s Spring in Minnesota, and it’s been a cold, rainy one so far, we still have a lot of yard work to do outside, so this will cut into my time.  But at least things are progressing!

6/16/02: A major revelation has occurred in the past few days.  We had been hoping, and planning on, a major addition to our home, and had been working toward it for the past year or more.  This past week, after pouring over contractor bids, studying the housing market, and crunching numbers, we decided that it simply does not make sense for us, neither financially or functionally, to add on to our present home.

As I mentioned in the 1/17 entry above, moving will cause us to redesign the entire display.  Also, we’re on a highly visible corner lot now– and it would be very hard for me to move onto a lot that was less suitable for lighting.  We’ve already looked for housing and found a few that meet our needs (both lighting and otherwise) and budget.  One in particular would be truly great for a “lighting lot”.  But we’re simply not prepared to sell our house yet, and won’t be for at least a few weeks.  So who knows what will be available by the time we can actually sell…

In other news, the items I mentioned in the 5/28 entry have come in, and I also ordered some PCB board that I can use for etching boards, if I so desire.  I also got a good deal on an electronic message sign (one of those red signs that scroll messages, time/date, etc) from eBay, which I intend to incorporate into the display as well.  Of course, display planning will take a backseat to packing, selling, buying, moving, and projects on the new home over the next weeks and months.  I truly hope I still will have the time & budget to do some of the projects I had hoped to do, but time will tell…

6/24/02: It’s official– we’re moving!  We have a signed purchase agreement for a new home about 2 miles away from our present home.  In fact, it’s the home I mentioned above, and will be wonderful for Christmas lighting as it’s a very large lot.  We’ve been working very hard to get our home prepared to sell, and initial packing, etc.

So our displays will have an entirely different look for 2002.  As a minor detail, this may spell the end for our Tree of Lights (our first ‘original’ display), but perhaps I can incorporate it somewhere on the new home…

7/24/02: Wow, a month later, and in a huge flurry of activity, we’re now in the new home!  Despite all the positives the new home brings, it also gives me a project list a mile long!  I hope to still be able to work in some electronic projects for this year.  However, one of the first things I’ll need to figure out Christmas-wise is how to get more power to the yard.  Currently, there is only one outdoor outlet (on the deck).  At least the buyer of our old home will have plenty of outdoor power!

8/13/02: My, how history has a way of repeating itself.  Cathy has once again found herself the casualty of a company downsizing.  We have high hopes of her to regain employment quickly, but need to keep an eye on our discressionary spending in the meantime (especially with the new home and all the projects we’ve lined up for it).  I still haven’t ruled out anything for the upcoming Christmas season– although I realize that time is also of the essence– since we will also have to redo the entire display for the new property.  Stay tuned for more info…

9/9/02: Today I actually did a small amount of work outside for our display (putting nails in our fence which will eventually hold lights).  We’ve been spending most of our time and money on household improvements.  I REALLY need to get power to the yard, though, and then to start thinking about display layout.  We will definitely have some new additions this year, and a whole new look and feel thanks to the new property.  I still hope to add music to the display, and haven’t ruled out some more animations yet.  Cathy and I were out yesterday discussing layout options…  It’s a big lot, and I don’t think we’ll scratch the surface this year of the yard’s potential.

10/3/02:  Well, we spent a week in the Black Hills for a late-season vacation, so now I’m officially “ready” to start the real work for this season’s display.  More good news– Cathy is now reemployed!  Fortunately she lost only a month’s-worth of income rather than the 4-months of last year’s layoff.  Let’s hope this time the job is a bit more permanent.

Since returning from vacation, I’ve almost completed adding the new outdoor circuits needed to power the display in our new location.  We’ve had some successful test-runs creating PVC candy canes.  And Cathy has been busy working up art for our new Nativity scene.

As we’re now into October, I’ve needed to prioritize what will and what will not be added to our display this year.  Here are my current priorities:

Things that we definitely plan on adding this year:

  • new home-designed Nativity scene.  I’ve always felt we needed a Nativity scene, especially considering the purpose of our display.  But I didn’t want to just buy or create a “cookie cutter” nativity scene– I wanted something unique.  Shortly after last season’s display was turned off, we came up with an idea.  I’d like to keep this a ‘surprise’ just a bit longer, but I think the nativity we’re planning will fit in well with our older displays.
  • A PVC candy-cane lighted fence.  As mentioned above we’ve found a technique for creating these canes quickly and relatively cheaply.  We’ll use it to create a fence on the front of our display, to add visual appeal and help keep folks off the yard.
  • The cool star mentioned in the first entry in this log.
  • Lots of different lighted trees– since we have many many trees that could be lit in this yard.
  • X-10 based timer control (not animation)  Replacing our many discrete timers with a central system.

Things that are increasingly unlikely, but we haven’t yet ruled out: 

  • An FM transmitter and broadcast music for the display
  • Additional animated displays.  If I can manage the time, I’d still love to make a copy of our Merry Christmas Sign controller, and tweak the programming to make some trees “dance” or something.

Things that are no longer planned for this year’s display (and will thus be automatically added to next-year’s list):

  • Full-fledged computerized animation synced to music.
  • The “projector box protector” circuit which I had hoped to build for last year.  I just don’t have time this year, and it won’t add to the Linus display (other than to protect it).  I’m going to have to chance it the old-fashioned way another year.

10/9/02:  Happy Anniversary to Us!  Yes, it’s our third wedding anniversary today, but that’s not what I’m here to write about.  I was able to resurrect our Flag Net, which had a couple of sections go out last year.  I also bought a HUGE tape measure (300′) to help me measure out the yard and diagram how everything’s going to be laid out.  I’m also shopping for deals on X-10 equipment to time the display this year, and leaning toward making the jump to FM this year (but still am not sure).  The display will be running in just over a month and a half <gasp!>

10/24/02:  Wow it’s getting close– about a month to go until “Lights on!”.  Today a number of cool things happened:  First, my X10 products came, which means our display is on it’s way to being turned on and off via X10.  I’ve ordered some “contactors” (high-power relays) to beef up the capacity of these modules.  Also, I broke down and ordered an FM transmitter!  That means (assuming I can get the thing assembled) we’ll have an FM “Christmas Music Station” this year!

Also, last night I finished the first batch of Candy Canes for the new candy cane fence.  They look great.  We plan on working on the new Nativity this weekend, as well as starting to put out the lights.  Stay Tuned!

10/26/02:  Things are happening quickly now!  We spent a number of hours outside today actually putting up some of the initial lights!  We also found a home for the “big tree” which I thought was going to have to be scrapped since we don’t have the big empty wall we had at our old home.  The FedEx man brought me the contactor relays I ordered to become part of the new X10 control scheme, and I’m VERY motivated to get this display up and ready for “lights on!”

11/2/02:  The frenzy continues!  We currently have approximately 6500 lights hung.  I’m still not sure what our final light count will be this year, but that should be more than 1/3 of the display.  (it’s about 1/2 of last year’s display).  I’ve also been busy working on the tech side of things– wiring up those X-10 contactors and so forth.  Finally, we decided to get the FM Transmitter, which came as a kit, so I had some fun putting that together.  So this year we’ll have a FischersPlace Christmas station2!  I’m very excited!

My philosophy has always been to phase the display in so that the most noticeable things are done last.  That means most of the lights that are currently up are tree and fence lights, as well as icicle lights (somewhat noticeable but harder to put up with snow on the roof).  Our yard displays will start going up in late November (I usually start the week of Thanksgiving).  We still need to finish our new Nativity scene– I have the manager and stable made and today we cut out figures, but they will need to be and painted and sealed.

11/9/02:  The blitz is on!  I took yesterday off work since the weather has been a bit better, and between that and today we’ve put up many more lights.   Cathy is making really good progress on painting our Nativity figures, and I’ve been experimenting with some Coro signs.  I found a reasonably good frequency  for our FM transmitter (not an easy task in the Twin Cities) and will also be making a sign or two to promote it.  Finally, I have to figure out a way to rig up our electronic message sign in a window.  I had originally hoped to put it in a weatherproof box, but ran out of time for this year.  Always gotta have projects for next year <grin>).

11/20/02:  We’re in the home stretch.  Most of the lights are up, but we haven’t put any of the yard displays up yet.  We’ll likely do that this weekend.  We are proud to announce the theme of our new Nativity– the Peanuts Nativity Pageant!  This display will incorporate our old Linus Shares the Gospel display, and be central to our Christian theming.

Last minute projects include finishing the Nativity (we put the final coat of clear poly on last night), working on this website, and finishing mixing the program for our FischersPlace Radio Station.  I’ve been thinking about this display for so long that it seems amazing that it’s only about a week to Lights On.  Incredible!

11/27/02:  Happy Thanksgiving everyone!  Our display is virtually complete, and we will definitely be ready for Lights On on Saturday.  In fact, I may actually turn the display on on Friday (the day after Thanksgiving).  I have a few things I have to tweak yet, and I’d like to rig up some speakers to play our Christmas Radio broadcast.  We’re also pulling more power than I expected so I may need to do some load-balancing.  But I think we made it!

12/1/02:  The Lights are On!  The ‘official’ lights on was yesterday, Nov 30.  I ran them a bit on Friday but it was so windy things just didn’t look good, so I shut down until the official day.  I ended up catching the flu (or something) Friday night, so I didn’t get out to do everything I wanted to have done until today.  However, the display is now up and running!  The only thing I still would like to add is the speakers mentioned above.

12/17/02:  So far it’s been a GREAT lighting season!  This was the first time we’ve really promoted this website in the display, and it seems like many are finding it.  We’ve had lots of great email feedback from both local and far away folks.  It’s always great to hear from people that enjoy the display!

I still haven’t rigged up any speakers for the display.  I should either do that very soon, or rule it out until next year.   Once again we were listed in the Star Tribune display listings, so traffic has been fairly constant, even though we’re in a new location.  We’ve actually been gone a lot with our Church’s Christmas musical, but that’s done now so we can concentrate on enjoying Christmas!

12/18/02:  Well maybe I jinxed myself.  Yesterday just after posting the above, we started getting rain and freezing rain– pretty rare in December in Minnesota.  It brought down our display (GFCI outlets) around 9:00.  Today it’s been raining and very wet all day, and after tweaking things for over an hour, nothing is going to allow me to run the display tonight.  So here we are, just days before Christmas, and no display 🙁.  We’ll hope for better tomorrow.  

1/1/03:  Happy New Year everyone!  It’s been awhile since I’ve entered anything in this log.  Tonight was the last night for the lights.  We’re ready for the season to be over, but it’s always a little sad to see them for the last time each year.

This has been a great season!  Our new home and yard worked out perfectly, and our tie-in with this website via the radio broadcasts and signage as worked out very well.  We already have some plans for next year– as you can see by reading the early entries in this log, such plans sometimes make it to reality and some stay in the “future possibilities” pile.

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