Whether she’s brightening up someone’s day or filling orders for her burgeoning business, Christmas Lights Mom on the Street Shellie Gardner brings a dazzling and incandescent energy to everyone she encounters.
I’ve been married to David Robinson for 26 years. We have two lovely boys who are now 18 and 15. I’m somewhat of a serial entrepreneur. When other girls were playing traditional games, I was setting up small businesses (“hello, would you like to buy some coconut?”) and looking for odd jobs to earn quarters. I attended Texas Tech and graduated with a master’s degree in Electrical Engineering.
After a little over ten years in the industry, I left what my parents and everyone else thought was a good job at Hewlett Packard. For the next few years, I worked in several different industries and had a couple of businesses. From makeup artist to coffee shop owner to selling residential real estate, each different adventure brought growth and new skill sets. I can still make an amazing cappuccino!
For about seven years, David and I worked with an NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) in northern Ethiopia, teaching folks how to harness solar energy with solar cookers. When up to 30% of food aid is sold to purchase fuel to cook food. Cooking over a fire in the middle of the house contributes to cancer and burns, so alternatives are really important.
I like to travel, play guitar, read, and hope to write a book soon. I just had my third piano lesson (woot!!), and I really enjoy cooking. I’m constantly rededicating myself to minimalism. I finally have a monochromatic capsule wardrobe. Everything fits and looks good together. Now, my challenge is to make sure every outfit is nicely styled and accessorized with a pop of color.
Aside from throwing dinner parties that feature at least two kinds of cheese dip, my passions include travel, Mid-Century Modern furnishings, and finding the perfect street taco. Have been known to snort-laugh champagne.
Bring on the Christmas Lights!
How did you get involved with the Christmas lights business?
In my early 30’s, I realized that working long hours as an engineer while spending 2-3 weeks traveling per month was not the life I had envisioned for myself. It was a lifestyle that did not leave room for the family that my husband and I wanted to start. With an electrical engineering background and a flair for drama, I had the vision to create a business that didn’t rely on a brick and mortar retail presence but would be staffed by employees working from home around the world.
My husband David and I currently own Christmas Light Source, which went online in 2005. We were ahead of our time by about 16 years as of October 2021. Starting from scratch, the company crossed the 7-figure sales threshold in about 5 years. What started out as a dream I had to create a business where I could work and be with my children at virtually the same time has come true – a blessing beyond our wildest expectations. Operating an online business really appeals to the part of me that likes change. One day writing. Another day filming video. It’s never boring.
Christmas Lights for the Holidays
What do you love the most about the holidays?
I really do love the Christmas lights. I always have. From the sound those big glass bulbs made coming out of the box to the flip the switch moment with my entire family, some of my favorite Christmas memories involve lights both outside and inside on the tree. I cherish memories of childhood drives through neighborhoods, amazed by colorfully outlined homes. To me, lights represent the joy we have that we want to share with others. It is no surprise that Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness because you will have the light that leads to life.” John 8:12 NLT.
Why are lights such an essential part of festive occasions?
Great question. The answer is easy and hard all at the same time. Strings of lights make people happy. Perhaps early childhood memories of Christmas trees and the fun of the season leave a mark we never outgrow.
Or simply put, they are pretty, inviting, and indirect lighting makes everyone look fantastic.
Practically, strings of lights are the easiest and most economical part of event and party setup. Designers know this and make good use of them to accent open spaces, centerpieces, photo booth spaces, and the list goes on. Studies have also shown that retail sales increase during the holidays when white and multicolor lights are used to put customers in a gift-giving frame of mind.
Christmas Lights Tips
What are your best Christmas decorating tips?
My favorite little-known tip is to wrap the trunk at the center of the Christmas tree with 1 or 2 strings of lights before installing more lights at the edges. Extra light in the center of the tree really makes it pop.
Last season we connected with many first-time homebuyers who had never decorated for Christmas. We suggested they start small and build each year. We asked them a series of questions to help them discover for themselves what kind of look would suit them best. After all, one person’s simple display is another’s extravaganza!
We ask them to consider favorite colors, preference for traditional vs. LED, size of the project, budget, and installation skill.
We also suggest starting a new tradition by bringing all family members to the table when making decorating plans. We sell Christmas lights and are ill-equipped to provide emergency family counseling.
What are some of the best uses for decorative lights beyond the Christmas season?
We encourage folks not to be too hasty storing away their Christmas lights! Traditional Christmas cords – C7 or C9 bulbs and cords – can be emptied and filled with round bulbs in the off-season and used to light backyard patios, fences, and front porches – especially the deep wide porches on pre-1940’s homes. Strings of white mini lights wrapping trees are perfect for parties any time of year.
Classic Minimalist Style
Which three words best describe your style?
Classic. Neutral. Minimalist.
What are your favorite places to shop?
I have to admit that I do most of my shopping online. With a measuring tape handy and knowing what brands fit my body type, I like the convenience of shopping from home at any time of day.
My favorite online stores are MM La Fleur, Boden, Everlane, Vince, and Theory. I also love shopping at therealreal.com. I’ve paid a fraction of the original price for fantastic clothing that still has tags.
My favorite brick-and-mortar stores are Neiman Marcus and Uniqlo on 5th Avenue in New York City. These two stores represent the ultimate in mixing high and low fashions.
Who’s your favorite style icon?
I admire Ines de la Fressange. She embodies Parisian-style sensibilities. I also follow Jennifer Aniston. She makes great use of neutral closet staples and is feminine without frills.
What article of clothing/accessory would you not want to live without?
A navy cashmere sweater. It pairs with almost anything and goes from day to night. I can take on the world in a navy turtleneck.
Past and Present Trends
What fashion/style did you love at the time but now cringe when you see old photos?
Huge hair. We would braid wet hair, sleep with it like that, then unleash it the next morning. Add hair spray and an off-the-shoulder collarless sweatshirt, and we were all ready to dance like “we’ve never danced before.” #flashdance
Which trend would you want to see make a comeback?
That is a tough question since many of my favorites from years ago are experiencing a resurgence of popularity. I would like to see statement necklaces make a strong comeback. Who doesn’t love an oversized Egyptian-inspired collar necklace with a little black dress?
What should NEVER make a comeback?
For me, it’s a toss-up between pleated khakis and the mullet as a hairstyling choice. “Business in the front, party in the back” needs to go back to where it came from and stay there. And who needs an extra 5 pounds below the belt, ever?
What’s your best style advice?
Never forget that if you have to ask yourself or someone else, “Does this look good on me?”, more than likely, you already know the answer. The answer is, “It does not.” The right piece of clothing will make you feel fantastic the minute you put it on. When I internalized this simple concept, my wardrobe became much smaller. My compact 1960’s-era closet is filled with clothing I actually wear that suits my body type and aesthetic. I feel confident grabbing something quickly off a hanger and diving into the day.
What’s your best style secret?
Order shapewear up a size. It’ll still do a great job of smoothing things out without requiring the jaws of life to undress at the end of the day. I do tend to wear shapewear with everything except jeans regardless of my “fitness level.”
Stilettos or flats?
I’d like to answer stilettos, but that would be a lie. I’m in flats, a boot with a stacked heel, or my trusted black and white Chuck Taylor All-Stars most of the time.
Christmas Lights and Family
What’s your favorite way to spend time with your family?
When it’s just the four of us, I love board game nights. We turn off the TV, fire up the popcorn popper, and play Catan.
Over the last year, during times like these, we have started hosting events in our neighborhood to build community. For instance, we host “Dude Movie Nights” in our yard, complete with camp chairs, popcorn, movie candy, and a 200-inch screen with a projector.
We coordinate, what I call “Sharing Tables Days,” where neighbors are invited to join us for a free yard sale on our picnic and folding tables. We’ve met the loveliest folks and made new friends.
We’ve casually prayer-walked our neighborhood with members of our church small group on Sunday mornings after service. These moments are becoming our favorite times together.
What’s been your best family vacation?
Our best vacation as a complete family was a camping trip in the Pacific Northwest. We stowed and checked two footlockers of camping gear, flew into Seattle and made our way to Orcas Island in the San Juan Islands. Seeing bald eagles, killer whales, and other wildlife in the middle of some of the most beautiful scenery filled our souls and calmed the surly teens.
I say “complete family” because trips I take with just one of our boys are really special for me, as well. Children are completely different when they are not with their sibling(s). David and the boys take trips without me as well. This arrangement can be easier for us, as business owners, since it’s hard for us to be away at the same time.
I’ve been taking the boys 1-2 times a year, primarily to New York City starting when they turned seven. We’ve had great adventures and spent many hours in wonderful museums. The boys are growing up confident and open to new experiences. They also know where to find the best hot dog in the city.
What’s at the top of your travel bucket list?
I have visited several European cities but have never been to the UK. London is at the top of my list.
Best parenting advice
Your children will reflect and become what they see in you. Prioritize your walk with Christ, and they see Him first and foremost. Everything else will come together and be just fine.
And, for the mothers of babies and toddlers who receive so much unsolicited advice: Remember, no one ever went to college in diapers, being rocked to sleep, or not potty trained. If you have a new baby, save yourself a thousand headaches, do what feels right for your kids, and consider letting things come in their own good time.
Parenting true confession:
First child didn’t eat wheat, nuts, or any known allergen until after the age of one. Second child’s first food was gingersnaps at who knows what age accompanied by an exhausted, “Here is a cookie, please stop crying.”
What’s your go-to family dinner?
Street tacos. Chicken breast simmered all day in the crockpot with salsa and taco seasoning. Served on corn tortillas with homemade coleslaw laced with sriracha, cilantro, and feta cheese, they are always a hit. The leftover chicken also becomes the base for chicken enchiladas and taco soup.
What’s your favorite family restaurant?
We don’t eat out often, but when we do, the boys love Chili’s. The practical mom in me loves the portions, prices, and variety.
Christmas Lights Life
If you could pick anyone to star as you in a movie based on your life, who would it be?
Felicia Day would be my first pick. She’s funny and has been deemed “The Queen of the Geeks.” At my first high school reunion, I found out this is how all the guys saw me. I thought I was hiding it so well. Too bad they were all too nervous to ask me to the prom.
My husband suggests Jennifer Aniston in the hopes he could meet her off-set. She and I do have similar hairstyles.
If you could go shopping with anyone from history, living or deceased, who would it be?
I’d love to spend the day shopping and drinking lattes with Ruth from the book of Ruth. I’m studying her. There are indicators that she could actually be the Proverbs 31 woman. So that means she had good fashion sense, ran her home well, worked out, had a good sense of humor, and invested in real estate. We’d have a lot to discuss.
What five items are you most likely to have in your purse at any given time?
My laptop, iPhone, good hand cream, sunscreen, and emergency mascara.
What song would you dance to when nobody’s watching?
Thriller, complete with zombie dance moves.
Rest and Relaxation
What’s your favorite show to binge-watch?
Being the closet nerd that I am, I love to binge on anything Star Trek or Stargate. All the seasons, all the different shows.
What’s your favorite beach read?
I’d be reading cookbooks on the beach by chefs like Jonathan Waxman, Julia Child, Jacque Pepin, and Curtis Stone, alternated with books from the latest in-the-news dermatologist or new fitness guru. Reading about squats and lunges is as good as doing them, right?
What’s your favorite way to unwind at the end of a long day?
Considering that summer temperatures are in the 100’s in Texas, I have a unique indulgence in my backyard – a traditional barrel sauna. At the end of a long day, the heat is a cure for tension and after-workout muscle soreness. There are many purported health benefits of high-temperature saunas, and millions of Finnish people can’t be wrong.
It is all too easy to stay indoors all day when we are in our busy season. Spending time outside is a welcome reset at the end of the day.
Light up Your Life!
We love Shellie’s wisdom and optimism, and the way her business brings joy to so many people, especially during the holidays. You can connect with Shellie on social on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.
Also, be sure to check out Christmas Light Source‘s website for some great tips to brighten up your home. Their blog, Instagram, and Pinterest have some great ideas, and you can also watch Shellie at Christmas Light on YouTube, which has had over a million views.
And for more fun and fabulous moms, be sure to read on at FamilyApp’s Mom on the Street!