M. Giant's
Throwing stuff at the internet to see what sticks

Friday, November 28, 2008  

Lighten Up

I've written before about how I changed the process of putting lights on the house from a full-weekend ordeal to something I breeze through in a matter of hours. I used to spend days out in the front yard, working my way through one string of lights after the next, plugged into the porch light and stretched out across the frozen yard. I'd stand there shivering, painstakingly replacing bulb after bulb in hopes of bringing fifty or a hundred tiny lights back to life. When that failed (and it always did), I'd try to cannibalize the lights on that string to patch up the next one. Only to find that those lights didn't fit in the other string. Not fun anyway, and even less fun when crunching around in the snow while trying to manipulate these tiny little bits of plastic and glass with fingers that had long gone nerveless from the cold. In trying to create a "thousand points of light" effect, I ended up with few more lights and precious little point.

So years ago, I quit trying to fix every string of lights and just started throwing out the ones that didn't work any more. Of course, in these difficult times, concerns about the environment and the economy make that a less viable option. Now if a string is half-burned out, it goes on the bushes, where the dark part of the string isn't visible. It's my version of recycling.

The trouble with this plan is that I had forgotten how many half-burned-out strings I had at the end of last season. It was fine last year when the bush next to our front stoop looked like a robot on life support during daylight hours, but when I broke out the exterior lights this week it just meant a lot of trips to the trash bin.

One other thing I tried this year was keeping the inside lights and the outside lights separate, so after I did the house I'd have enough left over to illuminate the tree inside. This is important, because once I have just a couple of thousand lights on the tree but I'm all out of strings, Trash won't wait for me to run out for more, and she starts putting up ornaments and garland on branches that still have several needles languishing in relative shadow. So the inside lights went in the basement when we took them down last January, and the outside lights went into the garage when I took them down last June.

But the main advantage of that this year was that after a few hours, I could finally see an endpoint because I was running low on outdoor light strings that worked. I kept plugging them in outside, having them come up dark, and then bringing them in to try them out inside, just in case they actually were on and simply overwhelmed by the daylight.

But even with the time saved, the waste of this method continues to bother me. So last year I decided to start phasing in the new LED lights. They're a little more expensive, but they're also brighter, more energy efficient, and longer-lasting. Or so I thought. Of the three LED strings I bought last year, two and a half are still working. At ten or twelve bucks per bulb, maybe this wasn't the smart investment I thought it was.

Even so, it wasn't the lights that were out when I tested them that got on my nerves. It was the ones that went out after I put them up.

Like the one I was stringing along the railing of the front stoop. That one was fine, until my bare palm brushed across a broken bulb and the two copper leads that used to send current through a tiny filament to light it up instead did that to my hand. You'd be surprised how much juice goes through those things. I know I was. Another nice benefit of the incident was that my brief contact with the wires shorted out the whole string. It's nice to know that of all the things I suck at, I can add "being an electrical component" to the list.

And then there's the "high string." The front of our house has a big triangle over the front door and kitchen window whose apex is a good twenty feet above our front walk. More than half of the Christmases we've lived here, Trash has tried to talk me out of outlining that peak in lights because she's kind of superstitious about me working a staple gun when two stories above the concrete while balancing on one foot on the top rung of an extension ladder that's balanced on a narrow, icy step. Some of those years, I even listened to her. This year, I got that high string up pretty quickly. And then half of it burned out while it was up there. The whole string going dark would have been better. Instead of a neat triangle of lights, I was going to have a backwards, fallen "7."

So I did what I swore I'd never do again: While leaving it in place, I tried to patch up the string by replacing one bulb at a time. Except that instead of doing it while crunching around on the frozen snow, I was dong it two stories above the concrete while balancing on one foot on the top rung of an extension ladder that was balanced on a narrow step. Which at least wasn't icy.

And, as usual, it didn't work, so I had to rip the whole thing down. And by this time I was out of strings that would fit there (all I had left were the kind with one prong that's inexplicably wider than the other, when the only places I had to plug it in was the female ends of other cords with equal-sized slots). By this time, I was in a pretty foul mood.

And then dealing with the light-up animatronic reindeer that had gotten all tangled up in the garage over the summer didn't improve my mood any. The best part of that was that one of them didn't light up at all, so I got to throw away my first electric ruminant.

But it was all worth it, because M. Edium was going to come home that evening and see the house all lit up, which always makes him so happy. Trash picked him up from school, and excitedly pointed out the glorious spectacle to him as the car pulled up in front.

"Eh," he said. "Needs more lights."

Maybe this is a tradition that I can start passing along to the next generation.

posted by M. Giant 8:16 PM 2 comments


Go to Target. Buy the $19.99 Light fixer gun.

Hub loves me, he spends an hour or two instead of days, and we rarely have to throw away or carefully arrange half-lit strands.

You're welcome from the Coco Family.

Hi Trash and M.Edium!

By Anonymous Anonymous, at November 28, 2008 at 9:46 PM  

I've never heard of Coco's magical light fixing gun, but another suggestion, that at least saves the fingers from freezing, would be to test all the strings of lights indoors.

If you have the "icicle" style outdoor lights, as we do, it is extra-fun for any cats in the house, who very much enjoy attacking and batting at the dangly strands while the husband is trying to untangle/test the strings. Well, maybe that's only fun for the wife, child(ren) and cat(s).........

By Blogger Heather, at November 29, 2008 at 6:51 AM  

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