Thursday, December 16, 2010

Lighting up the holiday nights

When Fred Mezenski flips the power switch to the lights that illuminate his yard this time of year, he gets as much joy from watching the faces of visitors light up with smiles as he does seeing the thousands of lights strung around his home glow against the winter night.
This year, the Mezenskis’ holiday light display is the first-place winner in the Tracy Rotary Club Holiday Decorating Contest for best home and grounds. 
Fred and his wife, Heidi, have decorated their Kings Canyon Court home the past four years with music, strobe lights and even snow, courtesy of a roof-mounted snow machine.
The couple, both 49, have lived at the same address more than 20 years and had always decorated their home for the holidays. Four years ago, though, Fred caught the bug for putting up something special.
When he was growing up in San Lorenzo, his family had always made it a point to decorate the outside of the family house for Christmas, a tradition that began with his grandfather. Edward Mezenski had entered home decorating contests and won several, so when the younger Mezenskis saw a clip of a flashy holiday light show online in 2005, they knew it was time to take things up a notch.
“My sister Lori Cahill (from Redding) showed us the You Tube video on Christmas day,” Heidi said. “We knew we had to find out how it was done and how we could turn our home into a flashing light show to enjoy for the following year.”
After a year of planning, they went to work and started a new family tradition.
“Anybody can throw up lights. Making it your own is hard,” Fred said. “You want yours not to be like everyone else’s.”
While the thousands of flashing lights might seem confusing at first, Mezenski plans his display carefully so visitors can appreciate the Christmas scene. 
“You can look at the display as a whole and sit back and enjoy it,” he said. 
This year’s show features 21 holiday songs that be heard over a car radio to 92.3 FM as visitors drive past the Mezenski home.
“It’s more of a story about a winter wonderland, what the North Pole would look like at Christmas time,” Heidi said.
The couple divides the holiday decorating duties in half, Fred handling the exterior and grounds while Heidi trims the rooms inside, including the Christmas tree. Her front-window display was named the best lighted indoor tree in the Rotary contest for a second straight year this month.
The Mezenskis start to set up their display right after Halloween. The lights and yard decorations go up early in November, working on wiring and final touches so the lights are ready to go on the day after Thanksgiving. Planning for the light show is a yearlong process, though, and the couple visits other displays throughout the area to see what other folks are doing, share ideas and tips, and offer help with setup.
The yard at 850 Kings Canyon Court is decked out with Christmas trees, candy canes, polar bears, three 6-foot-by-30-foot rolls of buffalo snow for the ground and strings of Christmas lights — more than 20,000 of them — that make up the holiday scene. The Mezenskis use low-electricity LED lights, including floodlights, which helps cut down on the cost of the holiday show, but they still see their utility bill rise an extra $500 during the season, approaching $1,200 for the month and a half of the show.
Fred’s Christmas present came early this year: a new snow machine to replace two that broke down. His major acquisition last year, a life-size Santa figure, now stands inside the house, watching lights flash across the winter scene.
The couple, both agents for Realty 1 Team Inc., have seen the hard times that have befallen many local families, and they said they hope the holiday light show can be a bright spot for those who visit.
“It makes people happy, and I feel like a kid again decorating,” said Fred, who also works full time for CHI Doors in Lodi.
During the show, which runs from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. on weekends through Dec. 31, the Mezenskis will collect donations for Tracy Animal Rescue. Cat and dog food, collars, leashes, pet toys, beds and blankets will be accepted. Last year’s show was a benefit for Tracy Interfaith Ministries.
During the nightly shows, the Mezenskis enjoy seeing the smiles on visitors’ faces and the reactions of the children amazed by the snow falling on their winter scene.
 “It’s nice to know the lights are enjoyed and somebody is benefiting,” Heidi said.
The couple hope that one day, their children, Tiffany, 25, and Justin, 21, will carry on the torch to light the holiday nights.
“You find something that is fun and enjoyable, and that is what you do,” Fred said this week. “I don’t want people to get tired of coming by. There’s more pressure to top yourself the next year.”

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