Monday, December 12, 2005

Duloc Manor and the Holiday House Tour

Click here for a pictorial tour of Duloc Manor decked out for the Holiday House Tour.

Let me preface this blog entry by saying that I love the holiays. Not just Halloween and Christmas (my two favorites), but all of the holidays throughout the year. Life is too short not to seize every chance that you can to celebrate. That's probably why I ended up in a town called Celebration.

At our condo in Chicago, I was known as the Holiday Balcony Lady because I decorated my balcony at every opportunity. In January, I had strings of New Years lights that gave way to a giant light-up heart and strings of red heart lights for Valentines Day. Next up were shimmering shamrocks and green light strings in honor of St. Patrick, and then those gave way to the Easter Bunny and his entourage. In June and July, my giant flag made of lights and red-white-and-blue strings of light-up stars led me up to a two-month dry spell. I put out plenty of flowers in August and September, but I could barely wait for October so Halloween ghosts and pumpkins could haunt my balcony. They were replaced with light-up turkeys and pilgrims, and the finally the grand finale of the year: Christmas!

In December, I literally jammed every inch of my limited space with plastic snowmen and Santas, spiral trees, and a full light-up nativity, complete with holy family, wise men, animals, and a giant star blazing overhead. Our condo was on the third floor, and our unit had two stories, so my husband braved a neck-breaking fall to mount that star at the peak of our vaulted roof every year.

My husband and I had a yearly debate over whether to keep Baby Jesus inside until December 25th, since that was His official birthday, or whether to leave Him outside to brave the bitter Chicago cold from Thanksgiving on through Twelfth Night. Each year I won the battle, and poor little Baby Jesus had to shiver in His manager for the whole drawn-out holiday season.

Still, the blaze of countless light bulbs probably kept Him warm. With all my light-up figures and strings of lights festooning the railings, you could spot the glow from our balcony two streets over. The array of extension cords and plug adapters was like the scene in "A Christmas Story" when the dad plugs in the tree and is sprayed with a shower of sparks. But somehow we managed to avoid getting electrocuted or burning down the house, and my display blazed brightly until January, when I started the whole cycle over again.

Our purchase of Duloc Manor threw a crimp into my holiday madness. It was hard to spend time on decorations when we were busy commuting back and forth to Florida, so my balcony remained dark and bleak. All of our original neighbors in Illinois had moved away over the years, so none of the newcomers to our condo building had any idea that I had once decorated with such vigor and devotion.

Long ago, I swore that I would always have a Christmas tree, no matter where I was. In that first hectic year, our Celebration tree was a tiny tabletop model that came complete with decorations. We had closed on the house only three months earlier, so things were too hectic for a proper holiday display. But the second year, I was determined to have a suitably tacky tree, even if there was nothing else. We brought our silver aluminum tree to Florida, complete with its three groovy color wheels. I felt much more at home with its gaudy branches shimmering in 1960s glory in the front room.

Even though our own decorations were sparse, we made it a point to do plenty of holiday activities to keep us in the spirit of the season. One of our favorites was the Holiday House Tour, a yearly event in Celebration sponored by the Womens Club. It's a charity fundraiser in which 10 or so homeowners volunteer to open up their houses for the weekend. People can purchase tickets and tour the participating homes.

For two years, we've gotten a kick out of going on the tour. The participating homes can be anything from cozy little bungalows to massive mansions scattered throughout town, from North Village all the way back to Artisan Park. We love seeing the decorations, and being able to check out the inside of various styles of Celebration homes is a bonus. I'll admit it...I'm insatiably curious about house interiors, and a lot of people have the same vice. The tour is a great chance to satisfy your curiosity.

Last year, at the time of the tour, I was counting down the days until we would be permanent residents of Celebration. I was also stressing out about the logistics of moving a husband, three cats, two fish, and a bird 1200 miles in Cayonero's close confines. At that time, I decided that in 2005 I'd like to particpate from the other side. It felt good to look beyond the immediate chaos and imagine our next Christmas, when we'd be comfortably settled in and be able to play host to others.

After our years as looky-loos, I thought it would be fun to open up Duloc Manor and let the masses check out the inside of a triplex. Sure, it's not big and fancy, but I planned to come up with a theme for every room to capture the tour-goers' interest. I love tacky decor, so this would be my chance to share my "unique" taste with others and perhaps give them a chuckle or two.

Now, it's a year later, and we are indeed settled in. The stress of the 2004 holiday season, and driving to Celebration in the infamous Atlanta ice storm, is but a vague memory that has taken on the status of a family legend. And we did indeed participate in the Holiday Home Tour, an experience that will no doubt become a family legend, too.

Actually, our preparation for the tour began last spring, when I began scouring the internet for Christmas items to add to my collection. I already had a number of Rankin-Bass figures, a genuine "Christmas Story" leg lamp, and of course my silver tree. But I knew that I needed to flesh out my collection in order to dud up Duloc Manor in proper tacky 1960s holiday style.

I told my husband that I didn't want any Christmas presents in 2005; instead, I would choose my own presents early: items for my Holiday Home Tour display. I found more Rankin-Bass goodies, from Heat Miser and Snow Miser bobbleheads to a singing Rudolph and Santa. I decided that they would go in the family room, while the front room would become a tribute to "A Christmas Story." I located figures and bobbleheads from the movie (my favorite was poor Flick with his tongue stuck to the lamp post). I also found a set of "Charlie Brown Christmas" figures, so I decided that Charlie, Snoopy, and the gang could take over my Disney Cruise Line-themed bedroom. I also had vague plans for a Chrismahanukwanzakah room, but I wasn't sure where to put it. I was leaning towards the upstairs foyer, but that seemed a little precarious. I still needed a theme for the powder room, too, but I had faith that it would all come together as the Christmas season approached.

Before I knew it, Halloween was looming...then Thanksgiving...then Christmas! The tour was scheduled for the weekend of December 10 and 11. The pressure was on; it was time to finalize my plans, purchase the last few items, and get Duloc Manor ready with a tacky display that was sure to shock and awe the poor, unsuspecting tour participants. Target had some Rudolph paraphernalia, so I rounded out my Rankin-Bass collection. My husband and I made a late night trip to load up on garland and ornaments and other essentials (I wouldn't shop during primetime because I hate shopping in holiday crowds). I decided on a South Park/Mr. Hanky theme for the powder room based on two points: 1) I already had a collection of "South Park" dolls; and 2) What could be more appropriate for a bathroom display than Christmas Poo?

For the Rankin-Bass room, I of course used my silver tree. For the front room, nothing less than a real tree would do, decked out with big, old-fashioned fire-hazard lightbulbs and festooned liberally with silver tinsel, just like in the "Christmas Story" movie. My husband made me swear to water it faithfully, as visions of a dried-out tree torch like the one in "Christmas Vacation" danced through his head.

In addition to the themed decorations in each room, I planned to have an appropriate video playing on a television or portable DVD player for each display. Visitors to my home would see the leg lamp in person as they watched Dad dig it out of its carton on the small screen. They would see a Mr. Hanky doll perched on the toilet while he danced and sang "Howdy Ho!" through the magic of digital video on the sink.

I decided to put Chrismahanukwanzakah in the laundry nook; I could place a menorah on the washer and a nativity on the dryer, with my laptop on the shelf above, looping the Virgin Moble commercial to indoctrinate the uninitiated into "an all-inclusive celebration, no contractual obligation."

There were only two final details troubling me. I had enough themed items for each room and all of the appropriate movies and cartoons, but I still coveted two special props. How could my "Christmas Story" room be authentic without a genuine Red Ryder BB gun? And how could Charlie Brown fit properly in my bedroom without a sad little tree, complete with a hunched-over posture, shedding needles, with a single dangling red ball?

Fortunately, in Celebration friends and neighbors can be counted on to come to the rescue. My next-door neighbors produced a perfect Red Ryder rifle. They also loaned me an adorable "kitchen tree" decorated with implements like rolling pins and whisks that would be perfect as a countertop display. A friend created the quintessential Charlie Brown tree, complete with crossed-wood stand and sad little tufts of drooping needles. We added a big, red ornament, and it looked like it had been plucked right from the frames of the cartoon. His wife even provided a little blue blanket to wrap around the base. They added a pair of shattered glasses to set by the Red Ryder rifle for that extra little authentic detail.

Better yet, on the Friday before the home tour, when I had to pick my husband up from the airport, they descended on Duloc Manor with boxes of ornaments, garland, Santa figures, and other decorations. I gave them carte blanche to do a holiday makeover, and by the time I returned with hubby in tow, our home had been transformed into a Christmas wonderland. They had artfully draped decorations from the railings, television, and even the kitchen light fixture. Cute little Santa figures and ornament displays filled out shelves and furniture tops. My giant Figment and Stitch in the foyer were now sporting Santa hats. They even loaned me a Rudolph train that I set up in the family room, with Bumble topping a tree in the middle. Unfortunately, the cats thought that the tracks were an official feline play area, so I had to keep shooing them out.

Another friend had given me a stuffed Disney Cruise Line ship and Mickey, Minnie, Donald, and Goofy figures. We rigged up two floating platforms, intending to launch them in the hot tub on Saturday afternoon along with a light-up cloth Christmas tree hat (remember, I said I wanted my decor to be tacky).

Someone else had donated four bags of monorail "ear" hats like the one my husband wears to Bunny Brigade outings. Picture a Steve Martin arrow hat, but with monorail cars running through your head. I decided to hold a contest, with the hats as the prize. We have a sign above our front door that says "Duloc Manor," and the word "Duloc" also appears inside the house. Anyone who was able to find it won their very own monorail headgear.

Since I spent most of my time by the front door, where we have an enormous framed monorail poster, I donned one of the hats to go along with the theme. By Sunday night, I'd given away all but one of the hats. Of course, we'd been a bit liberal...we weren't adverse to giving hints to the people who really, really wanted one.

There are typically hundreds of people who take the Holiday House Tour. Thus, I had to be prepared for a mass of humanity trekking through Duloc Manor. We roped off the main displays with gold garland so people could get close but would be dissuaded from touching anything. We would keep the spare bedroom closed, since it functions as my husband's office and isn't set up for people to easily maneuver through. We also planned to close off the master bathroom and closet, where the cats and bird could be sequestered in safety. The crowds would have sent Tooncinator and Farquaad over the edge...Stitch would have loved it, but it would have been impossible to keep him in the house. I didn't want him lost outside among the crowds and traffic.
Our last little detail was to don appropriate t-shirts coordinated with our respective areas. I wore a "Christmas Story" shirt emblazoned with a picture of Ralphie and the tagline "You'll shoot your eye out!" My friend, who manned the kitchen and family room, sported Hermey the Elf with the legend "I Want To Be A Dentist!" Upstairs, Charlie Brown and the gang partied on my husband's chest. Our relief volunteer, who worked the Saturday night shift, donned a custom Chrismahanukwanzakah shirt.

I was hoping that Duloc Manor would be viewed as quite a spectacle. Each home on the tour is staffed with volunteers to keep things under control. A lot of homeowners opt to avoid the mayhem and make themselves scarce, but my husband and I both volunteered to stay. We wanted to be in the thick of things and to see the reactions to our Christmas extravaganza firsthand. I was looking forward to seeing jaws drop as people entered the splendid tackiness of 1960s Christmas specials (not to mention the modern-day tackiness of Mr. Hankey).

Believe it or not...people liked it! Most of them weren't horrified...they were delighted!

Sure, there were a few looky-loos who gaped in confusion and left shaking their heads. But the overwhelming majority left with big smiles on their faces. I spent most of my time greeting the arrivals at the front door, and I could instantly spot my fellow "Christmas Story" fans. They homed right in on the leg lamp and chuckled about the pair of broken glasses perched on the rifle butt. Most people liked the Rankin-Bass room, but there were some who loved it. You could spot them instantly...their eyes would light up the moment they spotted the singing characters lined up on the kitchen table or caught sight of Snow Miser dancing with his entourage of mini-mes on the big screen TV. I imagine that they were reliving childhood memories of gathering around the Radiation King color TV for the yearly treat of watching Rudolph, Bumble and friends.

Actually, some of the Rankin-Bass fans were a good decade younger than me, and most of the kids on the tour squealed with delight when they reached the family room. They were instantly able to identify the DVD as "The Year Without a Santa Claus." It was gratifying to see that the appeal of classic stop-motion animation has spread across multiple generations.

I had several people ask where I'd gotten my silver Christmas tree and color wheels. I explained that it had been a floor model at a holiday outlet in Chicago. It was the very last one, so I pretty much refused to leave the store until they sold it to me. They dragged out a spare box and dismantled it right there on the showroom floor. It still had a few shreds of fake, cottony snow clinging to the branches...a leftover from the display that it once proudly capped.

I had been a bit worried about Mr. Hankey, especially since the DVD prominently features the classic song "Kyle's Mom is a Bitch," but I needn't have troubled my mind. As visitors peeked in the powder room, I heard the delighted cries of, "Oh, look! South Park! And there's Mr. Hankey on the toilet!" There was one innocent soul who thought they were the Rugrats, and I thought it was best not to correct her.

They also saw the humor in my hot tub display (especially when they realized that we are Disney Cruise Line fanatics), and my husband, who manned the upstairs, reported that they loved the Charlie Brown tree. He did have to point it out many visitors who were so dazzled by our cruising momentos that they totally missed the scraggly little pine with the Charlie Brown characters spread out around it on the floor.

Not everyone knew Chrismahanukwanzakah (Virgin Mobile isn't showing the original commercial this year; their campaign is centered around the 1-888-ELF-POOP gift giving hotline), but those who did appreciated the humor. Even some who didn't still liked the idea, and most of the visitors thought it was way cool that I'd transformed a washer and dryer into a multi-faith display. I had been worried about the propriety of displaying a Hanukkah symbol next to a nativity, but we had some Jewish visitors who told my husband they enjoyed seeing the menorah.

Almost everyone left with a smile, and some of them (the ones with the same sense of humor as me) were laughing out loud, agreeing that I had earned the title of Tackiest House on the Tour. I also received many compliments on the level of detail worked into each themed room. I couldn't take all of the credit for that; my friends who helped us decorate added many of the finishing touches. It was neat to see the "Aha!" expression spread across a visitor's face as they blurted, "Oh, look at your shirt! It's Ralphie!" or "Cool! The glasses by the Red Ryder gun are broken!" or "Wow! There's even pine needles scattered around the Charlie Brown tree!"

People were also impressed that we'd managed to place a TV or portable DVD player in each of the rooms with an appropriate audiovisual accompaniment. It was a pain to scurry from room to room, restarting the movies and cartoons when they reached the end, but the positive reactions made the work worthwhile.

I also received many compliments on something I had added as an afterthought. When I was shopping at Joanne Fabrics for their 50 percent off Christmas sale, I noticed a rack of candles on my way out. They weren't as heavily discounted as the holiay merchandise, but one of them caught my fancy. It had triple layers scented with Cookie, Marshmallow, and Hot Chocolate. Mmmmmm! Should I burn it or eat it? On impulse, I bought it; I didn't think the scents would be as spectacular as they sounded, but it would add a nice candlelit ambiance to the kitchen during the tour.

Amazingly, the candle scented the whole first floor with a delicious cinammon essence. I lost count of the people who asked, "What's that wonderful smell?" I quickly became immune to it, but visitors noticed it immediately when they walked in.

If it made them hungry, I was prepared with a plate of cookies, and my friend had brought lollipops for the kids. In previous years, I'd noticed that some of the homes handed out candy canes, cookies, or other goodies, which I thought was a nice touch, so I wanted to do that, too. It was fascinating watching the various reactions to the cookie plate, which was set out on the counter near a Christmas cookie cookbook and a holiday cookie jar. Some apparently thought they were part of the display and avoided them. Some instantly realized that they were meant to be eaten and dove right in without hesitation. Some hesitantly asked, "Is it okay to take a cookie?" and their query was rewarded with a treat.

On both Saturday and Sunday, the crowd flow started slowly, then swelled into a steady stream. On Saturday, many of the people waited until nightfall so they could see the decorations in the dark. I do have to admit that my hot tub display was much cooler after dark, with the red-green disco lights imparting a glow to the steamy water where Mickey, his friends, and the cruise ship bobbed along on their foamboard "islands." I hadn't done much decorating out front, since I'd directed most of my efforts to Duloc Manor's interior, but I did have a light-up Rudolph and the Misfit Toys propped up on the front lawn.

Sunday was particularly busy, since it was the last day. There was a rainstorm during the first hour, so that kept people away. But as soon as the skies had cleared, the mass of humanity descended. Once it started, the crowd never subsided until 5 p.m., when the tour officially ended.

Every now and then, we would have a mega-crowd when the Celebration Trolley pulled up and disgorged a full load of tour-goers. They would file inside in a conga line and hustle to check out all the rooms before the trolley bell summoned them back. Twice, I had to shout up the staircase for a few stragglers who were engrossed in chatting with my husband that time had slipped away from them.

I was amazed at the number of people who headed upstairs and disappeared for a long time. Sometimes other members of their party would have to go up and drag them away. I never realized that my husband was capable of making such fascinating conversation! Actually, he said that when people went into the master bedroom and saw the photos on the dresser, they realized that he wasn't just a volunteer...he was the actual homeowner. That was the catalyst for a flurry of questions. Sometimes they asked about Disney Cruise Line, but often they were full of questions about our house. How many bedrooms and bathrooms did it have? What was the total square footage? (Although officially dubbed the "Holiday Home Tour," many people take it primarily to see the inside of the various Celebration home styles).

Those who realized that I was also an owner peppered me with questions, too. Many had never been all the way back to Roseville Corner and East Village, so they didn't even know that there were duplexes and triplexes in Celebration. They wanted to know how many units were in our building, whether the soundproofing was good, and all sorts of other logistical questions. I was more than happy to answer; since I've done the tour twice as a looky-loo, I understand their curiosity. I always liked the houses where the homeowners were on hand, as I got a kick out chatting with them. Now I was on the other side, so I could repay those previous years.

It was an exhausting weekend, but so much fun! My only regret was that I never managed to slip away to see the other houses. I was having such a blast greeting people at Duloc Manor that the day was over before I even realized it. Both Saturday and Sunday whizzed by at lightning speed.

My favorite compliment came from one visitor who said, "We toured all of the huge mansions, but your house is my favorite. The mansions were nice, but most of the decorations were cold. I love the personal touches here. This is the kind of place that a person can live in."

Yes, Duloc Manor is a lived-in and much-loved little home. I'm glad that the tour-goers picked up on that warmth and that we were able to share our love of the holiday season with a few hundred people this year.

If you haven't already, click here for a pictorial tour of Duloc Manor decked out for the Holiday House Tour.

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1 comment:

Two4Disney said...

Thanks for sharing the photo tour - love,love,love it!!