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BLOOMINGTON - The Northwest Neighborhood Association is wishing the community happy holidays in a big way.

The season's greetings will come in the form of yard cards - 4-by-8-foot pieces of painted plywood mimicking a Christmas card.

"We started all this to wish everybody a Merry Christmas," said association president Susie Curtis. "It spreads good will and greets everybody."

Fifteen residents in the area, from Division to Locust streets and Center Street west to the railroad tracks, have put their talents to the plywood. That's the largest number of participants since the event was started in 2000 at the suggestion of Carol Lind, 410 W. Seminary St.

In an effort to get more people involved this year, the association decided to offer prizes again. There was a contest the first year and in 2002.

Judges, including Mayor Steve Stockton, aldermen Allen Gibson and Karen Schmidt and six members of the Bloomington Police Department, have until Dec. 16 to choose the winners. Alderman Steven Purcell can't judge because his wife is participating in the contest.

The $50 first-place award and $25 second- and third-place awards will be given at the association's general meeting Dec. 20.

Lisa West, 607 W. Graham St., said she hopes to take home the big prize. It would cover about what she's spent to make her yard card.

After more than 10 hours of work, West said she is pleased with the results. It's the first time she's participated in the event.

"I didn't know I had it in me," she said. "I was so afraid. I've been procrastinating doing it. Today I decided I've got to get this done."

West used a card she received from a former co-worker as a pattern.

She bought a projector to put the image on her plywood, made stencils by hand and mixed paint to get perfect colors and depth in her design.

Cynthia Wang has done some preliminary work but hadn't started painting by Tuesday.

"Painting isn't something I enjoy as much as the process of printing," said the Illinois State University art graduate student.

Her favorite art medium is printmaking. But, she liked the idea of the yard cards.

"I think it's fun. I like to decorate (outside) with lights. The card is a nice addition," said Wang, 315 W. Kelsey St.

While many of the 15 cards will be done by neighbors participating for the first time, it will be Curtis' fourth card and the third for Twila Braden, the association's program chairwoman.

"I just thought it was such a neat idea," Braden said. "What a more wonderful way to give neighbors a greeting."

Braden usually spends two or three days working on her cards. They always have a snowman theme, like the rest of the decorations in her yard.

Curtis painted two cards this year - one for her yard and one her granddaughter, Astasia Nicholls, can put up in her yard on Western Avenue, outside the northwest neighborhood.

But if Curtis has her way, it won't be the last yard card outside the neighborhood. She hopes to get other neighborhood associations throughout Bloomington to participate next year.

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