It began with seven tiny shops, and a couple of dozen villagers, all of which fit on a small table. Then, Joanne Marek said, she realized she had to have more.
So she began adding pieces, she said, becoming increasingly enchanted with her Dickens Christmas village with its soft yellow lights glowing from the windows of homes and shops, its snow-dusted pine trees, and the children skating in circles on the pond at the edge of town.
Six years later, the village occupies a special table each holiday season that measures 8 by 11 feet and takes up an entire room of Ed and Joanne Marek's Agoura Hills home. The village includes some 80 shops and houses, about 125 figurines, and even an electric train.
Over time, Marek's collection has become so extensive that displays have been set up in the living room and dining room as well.
"I've become addicted," she said.
The growing popularity of collecting the Dickens pieces, made by Department 56 Inc., of Eden Prairie, Minn., has generated collectors' clubs nationwide.
Marek said her husband, while very understanding about her hobby, drew the line when she suggested the couple buy a larger home so they could have more room to accommodate the collection.
Marek said she may have to slow her pace.
"[Department 56] came out with seven new pieces this year," she said, as she surveyed the room housing the Dickens village. "And if they do that again next year, it might not be able to fit in here."