November 29, 2015: We built ourselves a new house this month. It's considerably smaller than our other one, and it surely doesn't meet with local building codes, but it is a lovely shade of red and should fit quite comfortably in our living room for the next month or so. Its lone occupant is a 2-foot-tall stuffed beagle named Snoopy — that is, when he isn't otherwise sitting on the roof, which is most of the time.
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The replica of the doghouse popularized in the "Peanuts" comic strips is Glenn's latest woodworking project, and it will play a central role in our Christmas decorating this holiday season. We came up with the idea one afternoon earlier this month when Roni was getting excited about the upcoming release of "The Peanuts Movie" and the promotional tie-in with McDonald's in which the fast food chain was giving away a dozen different Peanuts toys with its Happy Meals. Always on the lookout for a new theme for our Christmas displays, Roni thought the toys featuring characters from the comic strip could themselves make fine ornaments on the Christmas tree. Glenn took the idea a step further and suggested that we could build our entire display around the animated classic "A Charlie Brown Christmas," which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. We could recreate the scene near the end of the show where the kids all gather around Charlie Brown's tiny tree near Snoopy's over-the-top decorated doghouse and sing while the credits roll.
Not only would we need a doghouse to decorate, but we would also need to create large cutouts of the individual characters from the strip so there would be a small crowd to gather around it. Glenn, now unusually enthusiastic for a Christmas decorating project, decided to focus his efforts first on the house. We combed the Internet for pictures of Snoopy and his decked-out abode, finding plenty of images that Glenn used first as a size reference and later to apply artistic details to the structure. He happily discovered that the house could be constructed from a single 4-by-8 sheet of plywood and a few feet of 1x1 boards to provide blocking near the inside corners of the walls and roof peak.
We trekked over to Home Depot on Nov. 14 to pick up our supplies. The half-inch-thick plywood sheet was less than 20 bucks, and we got help cutting it into the desired sizes from one of the employees. Good thing, because a full sheet won't fit inside Roni's car. Next we picked out four half-inch 2x4 sheets of "sande" plywood to use for the Peanuts characters we planned to make. Glenn has always liked this grade of plywood because it is smooth on both sides and takes paint well, although it isn't quite so durable outdoors. We weren't planning on using the Peanuts figures outdoors this year, so weatherproofing them wouldn't be a big issue, but Glenn didn't want to use the lower grade wood we'd purchased to make the doghouse because it wasn't as smooth. We paid a premium for that decision, unfortunately; each of the 2x4 sheets was about $18, roughly four times what we had spent for the full sheet of the lower grade wood. Blame that on the roaring housing market that has jacked up the cost of all building materials.
We picked up a few quarts of paint, paying particular attention to the candy apple red to make sure there would be enough to cover the doghouse, then we found a string of large LED lights that can be programmed to display in different colors and patterns. These we planned to use as the lighting on the house, just as Snoopy did with his prize-winning display in the cartoon. All we were lacking was a Snoopy figure to go with the house.
We had tried looking online for the perfect stuffed Snoopy doll that would be the right size to sit on the roof. But finding a 3-foot Snoopy was more difficult than we expected, even with the movie in theaters this month. Apparently there is little toy merchandising going on with "The Peanuts Movie," which probably means that kids these days are more interested in Star Wars or the Marvel Comics superhero characters. The few large Snoopys we managed to find either didn't look right for our display or were unreasonably expensive. Glenn was prepared to make a cutout of Snoopy that could be attached to the roof, but instead we managed to located a 2-foot Snoopy in the toy aisle at Target. We were just about set.
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T WAS ALREADY dark by the time we got our supplies home and we figured we'd probably call it a day, but Glenn was in full project mode. He immediately took the wall and roof panels and began assembling them unpainted into the structure we'd envisioned. There was actually very little sawing involved, which made things go much quicker. Triangles had to be cut off the tops of the end walls to provide a peak for the roof to rest on, and an arch-shaped door had to be cut into the front wall. The inside corner blocks only had to be sawed to length, and slicing through a 1x1 takes a couple of seconds with a cordless circular saw.
In less than two hours the bare structure was assembled — a 2-foot square box with a pair of 2x3 roof panels joined at the center. The roof was deliberately left unattached so it can be easily removed, and the walls were joined together with screws so they can be quickly disassembled for storage at the end of the holiday season. The cats were both very curious about our creation, and we thought that Eevee might take up residence once he realized it was a good place to hide from Katy and stalk her in the morning, but so far he seems content with his usual sunny spot in the living room window.
Glenn spent Sunday and then part of the next week painting the doghouse, first with a base coat of white latex and then with two coats the Rustoleum candy apple red we'd bought. He used flat black to represent the cartoonish lines on the outside of the house where individual boards are supposed to meet, then he painted "SNOOPY" over the door entrance. With our stuffed Snoopy on the roof, it looks pretty good.
But there were still some finishing details needed to make the scene, including the doodads and other decorations found on the Snoopy house in the Christmas cartoon. If you look at the cartoon, there is a star on a stake attached to one end of the roof and a pinwheel/weathervane thing on the opposite end. The stakes help support the light string, while the sides of the building also take a wreath, paper chain, stockings and the all-important "1st prize" ribbon. We made a trip to Hobby Lobby on Saturday, Nov. 21, to find what other parts we could.
One of the things we needed was a 12-inch wreath to go over the door. You would think that Hobby Looby, with its aisle upon aisle of Christmas merchandise, would have one simple wreath at the size we needed to fit our project, but alas, there was none. We did manage to find some dowels and some wood cutouts in the shapes we needed to make the star and windmill thing. Glenn glued the pieces together at home then painted them in the appropriate red and yellow, as in the cartoon. We also found some cotton batting at Raley's the next day that became the blanket of snow on the peak of the roof.
Eager to see our creation finished, Glenn worked on it Sunday night and attached the star and windmill to opposite ends of the roof, then strung our set of 25 LED lights on either side of the roof. Our stuffed Snoopy doesn't want to sit on the pointed roof easily, so we decided to prop him next to the front entrance. We found a cheap knitted hat at Target that we placed on his head, and he looks pretty good. We also bought three small monogrammed stockings at Target, and we were lucky enough to find an "R", "G" and "B" for our first initials. We arranged the stockings on the roof sort of like they appear in the cartoon.
We still don't have a wreath or the 1st prize ribbon, but we're working on that along with getting the first of the character wood cutouts done. Charlie Brown will be first, of course, and there are plans to add Sally, Lucy, Linus and Woodstock. Glenn may not get to all of them this year, but hopefully he'll have a couple finished before Christmas.
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HOPPING AT HOBBY Lobby can be hazardous to your wallet. We learned this lesson last year (and several times more during this year) when we shopped at the Antioch store shortly after its grand opening. There are so many temptations if you are into home decorating, and even if you aren't, there are bargains to be had on arts and crafts supplies. For holidays, the store can't be beat for its vast variety of themed merchandise, and Christmas is without a doubt the biggest season of them all.
Part of our idea for the Charlie Brown Christmas display was to find a replica of the scrawny tree he befriended in the show. Hobby Lobby has hundreds of scrawny trees, but none of them looked right for our project. We have a 7.5-foot artificial tree that has been part of our holiday displays for most of the past 16 years, and frankly we've grown tired of it. It has served us well, but it is showing its age with wire branches that don't quite bend the way they should and a musty, dusty odor picked up from sitting in the garage. We've talked for the past five years about replacing it and never do it.
What started as a quest for the perfect Charlie Brown tree somehow brought us to the aisle where all the full-size trees were set up on display. One in particular caught both of our attention: a 7.5-foot noble fir prestrung with 800 LED mini lights. It was marked down 50 percent from its ridiculously overinflated $500 price tag. That was still about $250 more than we planned to spend on a Christmas tree this year, but the fact that the lights came preinstalled, were energy-saving LEDs and could be programmed to display in color or clear white finally sold us. It wasn't the Charlie Brown tree we'd envisioned, but it would be nice to have something new in the living room this year.
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HIS MIGHT BE a record for the earliest we have ever started setting up our Christmas displays. Normally we wait until Thanksgiving Day to break out the tree and decorations, and even longer than that to get things set up in the front yard. It's the allure of something new that has us all excited, so much so that we've even begun listening to Christmas music as inspiration — the soundtrack to "A Charlie Brown Christmas," of course. Glenn is usually a foot-dragger when it comes to decorating at all, so this is somewhat uncharted territory.
Contrast our Christmas preparations with Halloween, a holiday we equally enjoy. We always love decorating the front yard for the trick-or-treaters and checking out the spooky merchandise at the party stores. There's nothing like adding a few disembodied heads or tombstones to our cemetery scene to put us in the festive spirit. This year with Halloween falling on a Saturday, we expected more than the usual number of kids coming to our door, so we stocked up on the candy and had the day free to finish our decorating before the crush came at nightfall.
Ben had to work duing the day and didn't get home until nearly 7, but the Grocery Outlet employees got to dress up in costume if they wanted, so Ben pulled out the get-up he wore to Sac-Anime during Labor Day weekend and went to work in that. He still got to be home while the trick-or-treaters came to call, and of course there was candy for him here.
Roni always goes all out on her holidays, and Halloween was no exception. We decorated the front yard about a week early, setting up a little cemetery scene on what once was our front lawn. The drought has done well preparing the ground for us, which is to say that it was down to bare sand and packed hard in places. We just had to rake out the piles of cat poop and set up the foam tombstones where we wanted them. We started with a basic set of them last year and added a few new ones this year. The problem is that, being foam, they don't stand well against the wind, so within a day of setting up the scene half the headstones had blown over or into our front planter box. We resurrected things on Halloween afternoon so it would look good and spooky for the kiddos. We even set up some luminaria that we made out of paper lunch sacks and lit with battery operated tea lights. We had to weigh them down with nails so they wouldn't blow away as the wind picked up.
Our front porch was its usual eclectic mix of real and fake pumpkins, giant spiders hanging from cobwebs (some of them authentic!), lights and creepy looking ghosts and skeletons. We bought a couple of lightbulbs that act like they are short circuiting when turned on. Of course we also had our fog machine, which Glenn operated by remote control so that it would go on as the kids were coming up the porch. We still haven't perfected its use, and we find that most of the "fog" drifts into the house when the front door is open and there is a light breeze.
As always, Glenn piped in spooky music and sound effects to provide the ambience. With the addition of the Amazon Echo this year we were able to put it outside in a hidden corner of the porch and play the audio through it from Glenn's computer via Bluetooth wireless. In the past we'd had to crank up the volume on the computer in the dining room so that it could be heard outdoors, but that gets a little old after you hear about four hours of shrieks, screams and moans — and those are just the ones coming from our own family complaining about the volume. The sound effects are great, but that and the fog were just a bit too intense for a couple of the youngest visitors this year who were too afraid to come up on the porch.
Roni decided to dress up as a witch this year. We were at one of the Halloween supply stores when she found the perfect black hat. She improvised the rest of her outfit, but it worked well for passing out candy. Glenn doesn't usually dress up, but he did pick up a football hat that has been doing double duty since Halloween as his thinking cap for making football picks on game day.
Despite our expectations of a big crowd of trick-or-treaters, it was a pretty average night. We got a few large groups early in the evening, then it was mostly dead from 7 p.m. until we shut down about 10 p.m., still left with a couple full bags of candy. It's always a tough call knowing how much candy to hand out, because you don't want to give away too much in the beginning for fear of not having enough later. This year we were too conservative, and if there's one thing we don't need more of it's candy to tempt us off our diets.
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E CELEBRATED THANKSGIVING with Glenn's family at his parents' house this year, driving to Hayward on Thursday afternoon for a delicious feast with all the side dishes and lots of dessert. Roni prepared an assortment of savory nuts to share, and there was time after dinner for the adults to sit and talk while the kids headed off to the den to play video games. It was a fun day, but because we didn't prepare the dinner at our place we have no leftovers to finish off. Oh well, we'll make up for it at Christmas.
Well, we promised after last month's opus that this month's newsletter would be briefer, and so it shall be. Time to get back to decorating for Christmas season, and we'll be sure to share pictures next month of the finished display.