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Brave souls open their homes to hundreds

For the holidays, I'll open up my home to my younger sister and maybe my older brother, if he's nice to me. I might even invite over a few neighbors, if they bring beer.

Trust me, though, I'm not coming close to having hundreds of people stroll through my hacienda. With gift-buying and gift-wrapping and short work weeks and invading other people's homes and traveling to see the in-laws, I hardly have time to be the host with the most.

Anyway, the GFWC Brandon Service League not only has located some hospitable people for its 16th annual Holiday Home Tour, but the folks are actually excited about inviting the community to take a look at their festive decorations. The organization expects more than 400 people to visit the three featured homes from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, and tickets will be sold right up to the start of the event.

So who are these brave souls who have been planning since August?

Well, for Scott and Chris Etherington, the tour is a natural. Chris is an interior decorator, so asking her to step up was like asking a person who loves chocolate to be a taste-tester for Godiva.

She started planning in September, using separate notebooks for each room in her home, which sits on the eighth fairway of the River Hills Country Club. Highlights include three full-sized Christmas trees, including a relaxing white tree in the master bedroom and a golf and billiards tree in the game room replete with a 19th hole flag at the top.

Although she has themes for the decorations in each room, asking her and Scott to pick a favorite is like asking them to pick a favorite child among their three sons and four grandchildren.

"Each room I love individually because I put so much into each room," Chris said.

Chris jokes that her friends in the service league "told her she was doing it," but the decorating isn't a far cry from what she normally does — not only for the holidays but for various seasons.

"Of course, this takes it to three higher levels," said Chris, who noted she couldn't have done it without Scott's help.

For Dave and Monica Cox, the tour provides a chance to boost the spirts of others during their favorite time of the year. After all, Christmas Eve is Monica's birthday.

"If I can help spread Christmas cheer by sharing my enthusiasm and maybe brighten someone else's day, that's what it's all about for me," said Monica, who's already hosted a private party for nearly 70 friends.

She's decorated 12 rooms in her River Hills home and has five full-sized trees, including a white flocked tree filled with Santa ornaments. Monica, a sales rep for Jockey, started planning in August and is particularly proud of an icicle archway with glass fixtures she hung herself. As a Gator fan, I won't comment on the Cox's University of Tennessee bathroom.

I can say, however, that their effort clearly has been a labor of love.

"I can't begin to tell you how many hours I put into this," Monica said.

For John and Ellen Matheson, decorating their home for the tour turned into a family affair. How could it not with a 3 1/2-year-old daughter and a 16-month-old son?

The daughter, Gillian, decorated one of the three trees in their FishHawk Trails Reserve home. Ellen says she's also particularly proud of the kitchen centerpiece Gillian crafted.

She's 3 ½ going on 30," Ellen said. "She's just such a hoot and she's really getting a kick out of this."

A veterinarian at Alafia River Animal Hospital, Ellen conceded the time crunch had created a bit of stress. But like the other two families, the Mathesons are pleased to help the league and its many charities.

I really have a lot of admiration for these families — and their friends — not only for their graciousness, but for helping sustain this annual event. Although they're upbeat about the tour, you have to know that anytime you have company, it comes with a degree of stress.

Said Chris Etherington: "We laugh and wonder what if someone walks in and says, 'God, what were they thinking?' "

Don't worry, folks. Anything furnished with this kind of love and goodwill can't help but be beautiful.

That's all I'm saying.

Ernest Hooper also writes a column for the Tampa Bay section. Reach him at hooper@sptimes.com or 226-3406.

if you go

GFWC Brandon Service League Holiday Home Tour

10 a.m – 2 p.m. Saturday

Tickets available at the Green Boutique, 1032 Bloomingdale Ave., Valrico; Divine Designs Salon & Spa, 1606 Oakfield Drive., Brandon; the Law Offices of B. Lee Elam, 101 W. Lumsden Road., Brandon; Bella Garden, 5664 FishHawk Crossing Blvd., Lithia; the Pamper Stop, 146 W. Robertson St., Brandon

Information: call 352-0650 or visit http://bsl.cc.

Brave souls open their homes to hundreds 12/11/08 [Last modified: Thursday, December 11, 2008 3:30am]
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