Christmas Cheer in Hillsmere
Each year, residents flock to Leslie and Larry Donaldson's home on Hillsmere Drive to see their holiday decorations.
For Larry and Leslie Donaldson, what started 16 years ago as a small Christmas yard decoration has blossomed into a spectacular display. Leslie, an accountant, was looking for a creative outlet. A trip to Michaels started the process rolling when she found a pattern for a wooden nativity scene.
For the first few years, the display was slow to build. The Donaldsons had a second grader and a business, Chesapeake Aviation Service. However, as Leslie's creative side had a chance to grow, so did the Christmas display.
With the help of her father and husband, Leslie takes her creations from idea to display. Leslie uses patterns to outline the designs on wood and then cuts and hand paints each piece before assembly. When the yard display is completed, there are 40,000 lights and more than a hundred different decorations.
While admirers enjoy the lights and the extravagant decorations, almost all want to know where everything is stored.
Without pausing from his work on the rooftop, Larry asked, "Do you believe we keep it all in the house?"
Leslie added, "We have a place for each piece. For example, the drop lights do better stored out of their box and hanging to keep from being tangled. Other items need a box for safe storage."
Each year, the Donaldsons win the appreciation of their Hillsmere neighbors and the Greater Annapolis community, which is evident by the cars that slow as they slide by the house. In 2002, the Donaldsons won a Homestead Gardens decorating contest.
However, Christmas 2007 and 2008 brought difficulties. In 2007, their display was vandalized. Many of the large wood pieces were taken and placed in different yards in the neighborhood and several decorations were damaged beyond repair.
"I couldn't believe that someone would do that," said Leslie. "I was heartbroken."
In December 2008, Leslie fell from the ladder while putting up lights, striking the ladder during her fall and then breaking her L1 vertebrae upon hitting the ground. Despite the seriousness of her injuries, Leslie felt her guardian angels saved her from a worse injury.
"Even though my mom was not alive, I felt her presence with me and that gave me great comfort," she said. "I knew I was going to be OK."
The severity of the injuries, both from hitting the ladder during the fall and the broken vertebrae required months of intensive physical therapy and lots of work to gain strength and mobility. Leslie said she never gave up.
"I did exactly what my doctor and physical therapist said because I knew I could not live with only limited mobility," she said.
Watching Leslie hang lights with a long pole and move easily with the large pieces, you wouldn't know that she had been so badly injured. Leslie credits her family and community for her recovery.
"I was touched by the outpouring of support from our Hillsmere community," she said. "We had cards and well wishers every day for weeks."
Leslie even received an apology letter from the person who had vandalized the display the previous year.
"That touched me to my core and I appreciated that this person recognized how important my Christmas display is to me," she said.
Thankfully, this year has gone off with only the normal minor difficulties that crop up. According to Leslie, each year there is one "problem child."
Laughing, Leslie said, "This year it's the extension cord that leads to the side holly bush. It keeps pulling itself loose."
Each year, there are new additions or updates made to aging decorations. This year, there is an ice skating pair and a tall nutcracker.
"I have a few more ideas I'm saving for next year," said Leslie.
If you are interested in seeing the display, the Donaldsons live at 425 Hillsmere Dr.