Neil Howe’s Christmas Lightshow

“I think the thing people are most shocked by, is that I’m not eighty years old,” quips Neil Howe, builder of one of Rutland’s highly creative Christmas light displays. “I’ve been doing this since the mid-90’s, but I’m not old!”

Inspired by the show Crazy Christmas Lights, Neil began creating his own display about fifteen years ago, and has been adding to it year by year ever since.

“It makes our electrical bill go crazy, at least for December,” says Howe, “but the neighbours are big fans and it brings a lot of Christmas cheer to the people on our street.”

“I have to choose my laundry times carefully. Our fuse boxes are maxed out, so I can’t run laundry or the microwave after 4:00 pm.”

Neil is not exaggerating for effect — electrical extension cords snake their way all around the front yard, driveway, roof, and sneak into the house here and there, to find power in outlets both inside and outside of the house. Including plugging into the washing machine. The Christmas light and music show requires it.

Neil proudly confirms his skills as a “redneck engineer”, and the more you look at how the various Christmas elements were created, the more it becomes clear that a lot of creativity and ingenuity has gone in his Christmas hobby. “I’ll see something somewhere, and I’ll think to myself, ‘I want to do something like that’, and then I just get creative with whatever I’ve got, to make it happen,” says Neil. “Garage sales are a great source for more lights and stuff. Even with everything we’ve set up, half of it is still in the garage.”

Mop handles, florescent light bulbs, old coffee cans, lots of plywood, sonotubes, wicker balls, and even a sea-doo towing Santa Claus on a wakeboard make up some of the brightly lit features in Neil’s front yard.

Fifteen different timers control the lights and their rhythms, and  cheerful Christmas music accompanies the visuals.

“I wanted to say ‘Merry Christmas from the Griswalds’, except that I’m not falling off the roof”, laughs Howe, who wears a full safety harness he’s installing new features into the extensive light show. The ever-evolving display on the front lawn includes a wide variety of themes, from Santa riding a wakeboard, to palm trees and an image of a Harley on his kitchen window.

Not content to leave things as they are, Howe’s future plans include using computers to synchronize the lights to specific Christmas songs, and to continue to refine the current display.

“We had 9000 lights running at our former residence, nine years ago,” Neil reminisces, donning his signature hat, “and here, the only limitations we have are space, and electrical outlets. I’ve already got more ideas for next year.”

Leanne Spanza: Bold, Contemporary Landscape Artist

Looking around the cozy artist’s cottage where Leanne Spanza spends her creative time painting, one can see many intriguing items on the shelves: an old, retro-style toaster, Trevor Linden’s rookie card, an old alarm clock that never worked, and various other unique pieces of memorabilia.

“And there’s a story behind each one,” says Leanne, the cheerful and easy-going artist whose work adorns the walls of the studio. And the same is true even of the furniture: a refinished desk (“that belonged to my parents”), and the accompanying chair (“my grandfather’s”).

It becomes obvious very quickly that Leanne Spanza loves the stories behind both the eclectic items collected in the studio, as well her approach to painting. When asked to describe her unique style, Leanne smiles and points to the sign above the entrance to the studio — itself a plank of wood with a story (“we found it when we were digging up our garden”) — which sums up Leanne’s approach to painting in three short, evocative phrases: “Simple Lines. Bold Colour. Happy Art.”

Inspired by the work of Ted Harrison and also the story-telling artwork of First Nations artists, Leanne began painting in 2003. Her background is in interior design, and when asked what brought about her decision to start painting, Leanne’s smile appears quickly again; “Well, we had just bought our first house, and we needed some artwork for the walls.” Leanne dove into painting full-time in 2010, during her maternity leave, and has painted on many canvases since.

Leanne showed us her sketchbook, filled with pencil drawings which later became paintings, many accompanied by hand-written notes. “Those are the ideas and suggestions of clients who have commissioned me to paint for them,” Leanne explains, “When people ask me to create something for them, I listen carefully to hear their story, and to take their suggestions — like the colours they most like — when I start painting for them.”

Originally from North Vancouver, Leanne and her husband have spent time in far-flung destinations such as Alberta and Belize, before settling into Kelowna.

Leanne’s studio is flanked on one side by their large vegetable garden, and on the other by many large sunflowers. “There are a lot of bold colours around here,” laughs Leanne, “especially in the summertime.”

The homey studio was renovated by Leanne and her husband, and is as cheerful and welcoming as both the artist and the art she creates.

Leanne Spanza’s art has been featured at various “Art in the Park” venues around the Okanagan and beyond, and can be viewed online at her website To get to know this talented painter better, Leanne also has a blog, Leanne Spanza’s Sketchbook, where you can see more of her art and the stories behind them.

Living Nativity: Willow Park Church, Hwy 33

Every Christmas for 20 years Willow Park Church has produced an extraordinary  Christmas spectacle as a gift to the community.  It has grown to the point of serving 7000+ guests in recent years.

This was my first time.

Finding parking was pretty smooth.  And people were fairly jolly in the lineups.  We went into the church’s giant belly for some Christmas joy.

The first people that I talked with were the ushers.

They are pretty easy to find since they are all wearing red scarves.

Next I checked out the musician’s circle on the right of the stage on floor level.  You might see some familiar faces if you are fans of – let’s see….Cowboy Bob!

The big church was packed when the show started.  Curtis “Cowboy Bob” and his team of musicians scrolled through a legacy of sacred Christmas songs.  Most of the audience was humming along, recognizing pretty much every song.

Then the stage production began.  A pleasant narrator, some dancing angels (thank God not 4 yr olds, while cute as bug’s ears are also as boring as bug’s ears unless you know the bugs in question), the regular cast of Christmas persons : Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist, John the Baptist (growing up strangely quickly and chronologically improbably), Joseph and everyone’s favorite virgin, Mary, some shepards and some wise men rounded out the traditional Christmas cast.  Then the pastor, also wearing a lovely red scarf, like the ushers (I always associate this kind of scarf with Ebeneezer Scrooge after his makeover), wished us all cups overflowing with eggnog and lights that light up properly which is a far cry more pleasant that a scolding over materialism and gluttony.  Thank you, “Philip”, as your mum would say….

Now, I have been to more than a few Christmas services in my day.  Generally, this is the point in the program where we all get into our cars and go home. Surprise!  In the lobby are living mannequins.  And they are all Victorian-y.  “Ooooooh, this is new”, I say to myself.

It goes like this:  Lobby, Victorian parlour (at least that’s what it seemed to me…at any rate, it is super pretty), then into the hub-bub of 2000 yrs ago Bethlehem – complete with an occupying army of interactive Romans and a few live chickens.  Finally, you find yourself back in the Victorian era (my how time flies) and you are eating cookies.

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Terrific night!  Great show.  Excellent opportunity for time travel. Warm Christmasy feeling – I can see why 7000 people pile in here every year.  Go for goodness sake!  It’s on for 2 more days.

Uptown Rutland Business Association Meetup at Dave’s

So here I am back at Dave’s.  Starting to think that it might actually be the centre of the universe.  Let’s see… last time it was all about men’s facial hair.  This time it is a big gang of people with interesting businesses. URBA.

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I met only a few of them, alas.  But there’s another party like this next month!!

I met Janet from Pros Writing and Editing (I should hire her to write and edit this blog!) – she can write and edit anything. and a terrific artist names Leanne who paints bright, bold acrylics (which I want to buy for my house).

A new business owner, Gail, who has reno’ed a space in her home to do mani and pedis.  Quite fabulous – she also does men’s nailcare, she assures me. (no, I’m not a man but I am forever curious) .  You can make appointments with her at

In the space vacated by a florist and a hairstylist on Rutland Road will come Shawanda: Holistic Wellness Center.  Turns out, the building that they are renovating for their center used to be one large house that built out toward the road a line of storefronts.  So the inside feels homey and restful.  That’s that building down by the new John Howard residence which shares the old storefront-buildout with  T.I.E.R.S.  If you want to investigate you could email Holly

I shall not forget (ever) meeting Ono.  He tints windows (mainly for commercial buildings).  Give him a call if the glare is getting to you.

Then there was Brian.  Easily the gentlest financial broker I have ever met.  I think that he would be perfect if you are completely freaked out by the current financial situation and you wanted to talk to someone calm.  To calm your rattled money-nerves look up

After a glass of wine and some lovely appies, meeting a slew of new people, each busting with entrepreneurial spirit, in walks Santa.  Santa Tom Kliner that is.  I tried photographing him from across the room but he really needed to be the star of the show.  So I came closer, unprepared for the light-reflecting properites of a beard that white… So when you watch the slideshow, you’ll see a very reflective beard and Ono, the window tint guy, checking it out. Santa and his magnificent man fur are available for all kinds of Christmassy things and you can find him at this website:  Santa Tom

At the corner table was Dr. James Hull and his lovely wife.  He has specialized in the history of science and technology and teaches history at UBC.  When he told me this I was suitably impressed and tried to think of something related to either science or technology  but I quickly realized that I don’t know anything about that stuff.  So I made my, “you are smart and I like you” face and took their photo.

It was time to rush home and get my daughter off to ballet.  So I found my husband Rob (who sells houses) Rob McAlpine with Royal Lepage chatting with Kel Good of Custom Software Development .  Kel will make you some software that doesn’t suck – also if you can’t find software that actually fits your needs, he is the guy you need to be talking to.  He and Rob were talking houses and different ways to buy and sell them but I must confess that I missed some of that because I was trying to remember where I put my camera bag. (It was behind Mr.Dr.UBC)

On the way out, I met Aron  from Valleyview Funeral Home.  I had photographed his car for the Uptown Rutland Christmas lightup event.  The big car had brought Santa to the Light Up.  Tonight he had his  wife with him and they were standing chatting with Cyril.  Cyril was my last photo of the night.  He is the Pastor for Community Ministries for the Salvation Army.  This is a busy time of year for Salvation Army as we approach Christmas and it is a terrific time of year for the business leaders in our community to support each other and lend a hand.

See you all next year!!  (Where is the URBA meeting for January?  I can’t wait!!)

Christmas Light Up in Rutland

Now it’s Christmas!

Papa Thom sang, the kids were excited, there was hot chocolate and cookies and Santa arrived in a fancy, shiny limo. (as tradition dictates…)

It was chilly for certain but there was a great group out.  Around 4:30 people were whipping out their cameras and smart phones to get a sunset photo.  The hills were glowing magenta.

As my mom used to say, “red sky at night…sailor’s delight”.  It’s bound to be a great day tomorrow and with that towering tree gracing the Rutland skyline (Do we have a skyline?) it’s a great night too.

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Whisk Cake Company: 203 Rutland Road North

Today they are testing recipes for “cake pops“.  I put that in quotations because I have never seen these little wonders made before. In fact, I have never been in this shop.  It is a large commercial kitchen, a front area for clients and loads of space for classes.

But more about the cake pops.

Here I am thinking that it is basically a Timbit on a stick but I couldn’t been further from the truth!  Sure, there seems to be some elements in common between the two; flour, sugar, chocolate…the stick.  But really, it tastes much more like a chocolate truffle with mouth-melty texture, almost a caramel-rich-ooze inside and toffee-crunchy-bits stuck to the outside.  (That was the one that they gave me to try.  Tanya said to share it.  Fat chance!)

I showed up early in the afternoon to watch the evolution of the cake pop.  When I got there the owner, Tanya, had her crew busily rolling the inside parts.  Not exactly cookie dough and not exactly cake batter. I’ll have to take the class to know how? what?

While Tanya rolled, she answered some of my questions about Whisk.  She has a culinary pedigree that has few peers in the valley.  You can read it on the Whisk site. Intimidating info until you meet her.  No irritating prima donna stuff, just someone who loves what she does and seems generally fun to be around.

I need to tell you about the classes.  Not just cake pops but a host of different levels of cake decorating.  Again, this is all on the website for the company.  You see the link up at the top, right?

When I left I had some hungry-making photos, a cake pop of my own and a strange desire to make cake.

Featured in the photos are Tanya  Jennens (owner and chef), Jon Garratt (who has an equally monumental culinary pedigree as does Tanya), Rosanne Jennens (Tanya’s mum who used to run a ceramics shop in that very location and is brilliant with making edible flowers for the cakes), and Sandra Tubman (she made the gingerbread men pops: one shocked and one sinister).

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Dave’s Sports Bar and 103.9 “The Juice” brought a night of friendly, hairy competition. The bar was packed and even the women wore the lip-muff.

I must say that I am a fan of the mustache and there were so many celebrated with prizes and bragging rights.