Thursday, December 9, 2010

Hanging Christmas Lights, Working Up a Sweat

I spent the Monday night after Thanksgiving stringing up a few modest strands of Christmas lights around the front door and porch. Sweat was pouring off my scalp and into my eyes. It’s great to be back in Texas where the Yuletide season can mean wearing shorts and flip-flops one day — and the next bundled up after a blue norther howls through.

Living in Central Texas means winter is just a concept — an event we briefly encounter before it is once again 70 degrees and T-shirt weather. I never want to live anywhere that playing golf in December or January isn’t at least a possibility —though I rarely play anymore.

For the first time, I bought an artificial Christmas tree. Upon arriving in mid-October I leased a house with carpet because that was the lone downside to the place. I am not a fan of carpet and especially not of vacuuming Douglas Fir needles out of its pile for the next month. So, though my oldest daughter voiced her objections that I was rebelling against family tradition, I went to the Big Orange Box Store when the post-Thanksgiving sale hit and bought a tree in a box. Made in China, of course.

If it had not been for a broken light bulb that kept one strand of lights from working and took 10 minutes to discover and replace, the tree would have been up and working in at most five minutes. In years past it has taken me five times longer than that just to get a natural tree upright in the stand. The nadir in my tree-mounting career came a quarter-century or so ago. This was before smart people went to work designing tree stands that actually worked. Remember those metal, three-prong stands that were barely stable before one put a tree inside? That’s what I was using on the day I hammered the stand through the carpet and into the wooden floor with three shiny #10 nails.

I ended up buying new carpet after Christmas.

The Tree in a Box, lights already interwoven among the branches, is a big hit, though I was a bit annoyed that it shed artificial needles while putting the three pieces together. But that only happened once. At least I don’t have to worry about keeping the stand filled with water.

The ease with which I was able to dispatch with Christmas decorating has left time for my other December pastime — mowing my backyard. Besides carpet, the other minor drawback to this house, which I immediately noticed, was that the backyard had been planted in rye grass. The previous tenant owned large dogs whose ramblings left large bare patches, which the landlord feared would wash out in the winter rains — if they ever arrive.

So he had rye grass planted and set the sprinkler system to come on every few days. In the spring he promises to re-sod the backyard. In the meantime, since I’m a conscientious tenant, I both pay the water bill and mow the rye grass — whether it’s 40 degrees or pushing 80. This conjures up memories of the time I seeded a half-acre yard in San Augustine with rye grass, figuring it would look pretty in the winter — as indeed it did. But after realizing I could actually witness the grass growing as I sat on the porch drinking a beer in January — having just finished mowing — I bought a couple of cows.

That house was in the country on six acres, so this was an option not available to me in this Cedar Park subdivision. I checked; no goats allowed, either. Heck, you can’t even have chickens! When it comes time to buy a place, I’ll have to find somewhere the rules are a bit looser.

I’m not complaining, honest, though mowing while wearing a sweatshirt after the cold front blew through is, well, not a common Central Texas experience. The rye grass looks just lovely after being mowed. Thank goodness the front yard didn’t need the rye grass treatment. The backyard can be ignored to just short of requiring a hay baler, since nobody can see it. Thus the homeowners association hasn’t come calling.

Besides, it sure beats shoveling snow, which is what soon awaited me if I had stayed in Kansas. I prefer mowing any day.

Originally published in the Hill Country News (Cedar Park, Texas), December 9, 2010

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