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Lighting up the holidays

North Liberty couple creates annual “Gingerbread House”
Kris and Lorrie Crandall stand in the snow outside their North Liberty home Dec. 10. Their “Gingerbread House” on Troon Court is a regular stop for holiday lights aficionados. (photo by Shianne Fisher)

NORTH LIBERTY– You may as well call them Mr. and Mrs. Kris Kringle.
The Crandalls– with a name uncannily close to the Christmas gift bearer– have delivered seasonal joy year after year with their holiday light display on Troon Court in North Liberty.
“Pretty much everybody expects it,” said Lorrie Crandall. “We’ll just be sitting out in the summertime and people will drive by and say, ‘We love your Christmas house!’ It really started because we enjoyed taking our kids around to see the lights when they were little. We ended up being one of those houses people go see.”
A venture embarked upon nearly 13 years ago, the “Gingerbread House”– dubbed so for the characteristic draping of rope lights to mimic icing– gets better each season.
“It’s just kind of gotten out of hand,” said Kris Crandall. “We add a little bit each year. It’s fun to put it up and see how crazy you can get.”
The undertaking is full of crazy in fact. From climbing the roof to the hours logged decorating (around 40 hours between Halloween and Thanksgiving), it may be hard to understand what possesses the Crandalls to do it.
“We’re always ready to get it all put away,” Lorrie admitted. “Then in March and April I’ll think about it and go, ‘I don’t want to do that again.’ But September comes and the leaves start changing, and I think ‘OK’ it’s getting that time of year, and I’m ready again and he is too.”
It helps that her husband is extremely organized, Lorrie said.
“We have it down to a science,” she explained. Although, she confessed they’ve never counted their bulbs like the people on those holiday lights shows.
Between Halloween– when they also decorate their house– and Christmas, the above-garage attic, built by Kris, is a hub of activity. Everything from the rooftop candy canes to the spooky props to endless strings of LED lights, is stored inside in a labeled, stackable fashion.
“We use a lot of the same things, recycling between both holidays,” said Lorrie. “It’s all just accumulated over time. You really couldn’t afford to just go out and buy all these things.”
Christmas is kind of her husband’s thing, she noted, while Halloween is her specialty.
“We each have our own holiday and we kind of support each other’s crazy. It’s really fun,” she added.
The couple even dress up to greet kids during Christmastime– Kris as the snowman Olaf from the Disney movie Frozen and Lorrie as the gingerbread man from Shrek.
“We hand out candy canes and get to see a lot of the neighbor kids and things like that,” said Lorrie. “It’s something we do for the community as a fun thing.”
While they don’t do it for the recognition, the Crandalls have repeatedly won North Liberty’s holiday lights contest.
Recreation Supervisor Matt Meseck said the city put on the contest for three years between 2013 and 2015 before making the decision to put it on hold.
“It was a forgone conclusion that Troon Court would always win,” he said via email.
Kris noted his brother, who lives in Fairfield, also participated in a holiday lights contest for several years which makes the decorating a family tradition of sorts.
“The town asked him to be a judge so he couldn’t win anymore,” he added.
Lorrie said they entered their house in the North Liberty contest once but after that it was always neighbors who nominated them.
Despite the increased traffic, blocked driveways and nighttime illumination, Lorrie said their neighbors have been generally supportive.
“I think most of the neighbors really like it,” she said. “It is bothersome every once in a while when people come home from work and have to wait in line to get in their driveway, but we haven’t had any complaints.”
Actually, the sentiment has been quite the opposite.
Several years ago, when the Crandalls’ beloved blow mold Santa, from their first year of marriage, was stolen from their front yard, neighbors and friends began delivering replacements.
“They started accumulating,” said Lorrie. “Then on Valentine’s Day, police came to the house and brought back the original Santa. Kids had taken several in the area.”
Wondering what to do with all of their new blow mold Santas, Kris came up with the “In-Santa-Tree”– a Christmas tree, made of PVC pipe, decorated with jolly, red-suited men.
“I thought that was really clever,” Lorrie added. “It’s my favorite piece because it’s got such a story and so many people helped us.”
Kris echoed some of his wife’s feelings toward the invention.
“It is pretty good because I know there isn’t one like it,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s my favorite; it’s kind of a pain to put up.”
Besides the “In-Santa-Tree,” Kris said the decorating doesn’t bother him.
“I like the challenge of putting stuff on the roof. When I was a kid, my dad had a TV shop and we’d put up antennas,” he said.
And he hasn’t fallen– well at least not fallen off.
“He slid down the roof one time but didn’t actually fall,” said Lorrie. “I do worry about that, but he’s usually pretty careful.”
While he’s up on the housetop, Lorrie covers the groundwork and also the inside decorating– which might be more impressive than the exterior.
It’s safe to say the couple loves Christmas. Two trees adorn the main floor of the house and the living space is filled with collectibles– many handmade by Lorrie.
“Our kids still love it,” she said. “Sometimes neighbors bring their kids by to see the inside.”
The outdoor spectacle is usually lit up until New Years, but Lorrie re-illuminates the house for a Greek Orthodox family that stops by a few days later in celebration of Eastern Orthodox Christmas.
And by mid-January, they’re taking things down, beginning the nine months of a more conventional curb-appeal. Although the Crandalls’ two children are grown, the couple continues the tradition and is not sure when they’ll quit.
“When winter comes, we’re always thinking about moving to Florida,” Kris admitted.
“I like snow between now and Christmas, but after that I’m done with it,” Lorrie added.
For now, there’s no end in sight to North Liberty’s “Gingerbread House,” and the cycle will continue next holiday at the Crandalls’.
“We’ll do it as long as we can, until I fall off the roof or something,” Kris said, jokingly.