LIANE HANSEN, host:
Ari, before you go, I know we're talking about a lot of serious business, but the White House is preparing for the holidays.
ARI SHAPIRO: Yes. About a hundred thousand people are expected to walk through the White House this December and look at the holiday decorations, which include more than a dozen Christmas trees, an enormous gingerbread mockup of the White House. And as I was being given an advance tour of these decorations, I met dozens of volunteers from around the country - almost 100 in total - who had come to help decorate the White House. So I spoke with some of them and here's what they had to say.
Ms. LINDA LENNON: I'm Linda Lennon(ph), Denver, Colorado - Littleton actually.
SHAPIRO: Littleton, Colorado - and is this your first year helping to decorate?
Ms. LENNON: Yes. I wrote letters to Michelle Obama and asked her if, you know, I could come. And I kept writing letters - I wrote nine all together.
SHAPIRO: Nine letters?
Ms. LENNON: Yes.
SHAPIRO: Why was it so important to you?
Ms. LENNON: A dream come true, top of my bucket list.
SHAPIRO: How did the actual experience compare with the dream that you'd had for so many years?
Ms. LENNON: I don't have words. When your dream comes true, you're like -speechless, absolutely speechless.
Mr. TODD RICHARDSON: The reality of the experience was actually way better than I had ever imagined. My name's Todd Richardson(ph) from Knoxville, Tennessee. They were very open about you using your creative gift.
SHAPIRO: So, is there something you could point to here that expresses your creativity?
Mr. RICHARDSON: The garland on the tree, the way the ribbon is draped is something that I did and the garland over the door is pretty much all my handiwork.
SHAPIRO: In gold and blue with peacocks.
Mr. RICHARDSON: Yes, that's correct.
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. ALEXANDER SCHNEIDER: My name is Alexander Schneider(ph) and I'm a White House decorator this year. I started writing in letters about October 2009 and this year in October I got a response saying that I would be selected. Also, I kind of put at the bottom of my letter I'd love to surprise my grandma with an invitation. So, my response was written: Dear Alexander and Grandmother.
Ms. HELEN ORIGINALL: I'm Helen Original(ph) and I'm from St. Paul, Minnesota. He called me and told me that he was accepted to be a volunteer and then also he said, Amma(ph), you - they call me Amma - you don't know this but I also included your name and you have been accepted. I cried, I screamed, I danced. I did everything. I was so thrilled.
Mr. BILL YOSSES (Executive Pastry Chef, White House): Those are the actual blossoms covered in chocolate. Yes, green chocolate.
Unidentified Woman: The actual blossoms...
Mr. YOSSES: No, we have green chocolate, yes. There's always progress in the world of pastry. My name is Bill Yosses. I'm the executive pastry chef for the White House.
Well, the foundation is gingerbread. We bake a month in advance so that it can dry out. And then we use it as a construction material, like wood. We cut it on a band saw, close to 500, it's well over 400 pounds, I'll say that. They complain every year that it's getting heavier. We just tell them that they're just getting older.
Mr. BOB LAPPIN: I'm Bob Lappin(ph). I'm from Carlinville. I'm an 88-year-old volunteer.
SHAPIRO: And what would you say to people who aren't able to be here and see for themselves? How would you describe it?
Ms. LAPPIN: Fantastic. And you really should put your name down and hope to hell they call you - I shouldn't say that on television cause this has been fun.
(Soundbite of music)
HANSEN: The voices of some of the volunteers who helped decorate the White House for the holidays, brought to us by NPR's White House correspondent Ari Shapiro, with production help from Tom Dreisback(ph). You can see a photo gallery of the White House holiday decorations on our website, NPR.org.
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