Friends, acquaintances and family members are never at a loss when it comes to buying a gift for Mike and Karen Washburn. At any time of year - or for any conceivable occasion - the jolly old man in red is always gratefully accepted. Replicas, naturally.
Big red hearts, inflatable bunnies and giant pumpkins are also welcome. Not to mention flags and bunting.
Seasonal decorating of their Hanover home is a task the Washburns relish.
The front lawn of the Anne Arundel County home changes appropriately with the calendar - Christmas, Valentine's Day, Easter, Halloween, Independence Day. This holiday season, displays included an inflatable Santa on his sleigh inside a snow globe and a life-size Mr. Claus on a motorcycle. Foot-high plastic Santa lights illuminated the walkway and candy canes hung from the porch railing, giving hints of what lay inside.
Inside the Washburns' front door, an entrance hall features bamboo flooring that extends straight ahead to an open kitchen. An expansive addition to the right is the attention grabber, both for what it contains, and the personal satisfaction of a job well done.
"I had a vision, but I didn't know what I was doing," said Mike Washburn, a 49-year-old retired Marine and now owner of All American Custom Contracting. "So I bought a book and got started."
The year was 1992. Mike and Karen Washburn and their three children moved from Harford County to settle on 6.5 acres with a run-down 1952 rancher, all purchased for $115,000. The house had a kitchen, living room, three bedrooms and one bathroom.
"We lived in our motor home on the property for three weeks, while Mike got started on the house," recalled Karen Washburn, a 46-year-old proprietor of a day-care center. Immediate repairs were necessary.
Mike Washburn and his brother-in-law put in new drywall, a new kitchen, new bath, new windows and carpeting. Mike Washburn figures $25,000 was spent on materials.
In that same year, Karen Washburn's parents gave her a Christmas gift of two electric Santa figurines to place in the family's front window. Two obsessions began at that moment: adding to the house and amassing all shapes and sizes of the man from the North Pole.
In 1996, Mike Washburn retired from military service and began building a two-level addition. The upper level of the addition contains a 30-foot-square family room and dining area, along with a large master bedroom and bathroom. The lower level - which is three-quarters above grade -houses Karen Washburn's day-care center.
In the rear of the original house, he added more bedrooms to accommodate the couple's grown children and two grandchildren.
Outside, a playground and several playhouses keep Karen Washburn's 18 day-care charges busy.
"We spend most of our time in the addition," Karen Washburn said.
Seated at an 8-foot-long oak dining room table shortly before Christmas, she reveled in the open space of the family area where a floor-to-ceiling, fresh-cut tree sat in a bay window.
More than 100 mechanical Santa Claus figurines sounded like a toy factory gone wild. No ledge, table top, cabinet or window sill was "Santa free."
One rode a scooter across Berber carpeting, another climbed a ladder by the tree with arms full of colored lights and still another snored in his bed alongside Mrs. Claus.
Off season, they get packed away in one of three steel outbuildings used for decoration storage.
"My husband built all of this for me," Karen Washburn said. "If ever I'm too old to decorate, I'll pay somebody to do it."
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