The rain finally gave way to some sunshine on Monday, and a little bit of heat on Tuesday, and a very bright day on Wednesday. December weather in Austin was, predictable, totally unpredictable. By Thursday, the overnight temperature had dropped to just below freezing, and the wind had been upgraded to an arctic blast.
Our walk on Thursday was far from pleasant, as we battled the elements. I wore two sweatshirts, with both hoods up over my cap, and my winter walking trousers. The sun glasses were more to protect my eyes from objects that were being hurled around in the sharp gale. Of course, Thursday was the day that I bumped into one of my neighbours, who had just returned from a week in New York City, and was looking radiantly glamourous. She did a double take, as although I wont describe myself a radiant, I can occasionally pull off glamourous, or at least somewhat elegant. Today I was far from any of the above. Walking back to the office, the trees were swaying so fiercely, we wondered if our weekend activity of 'tree decorating' would be viable.
The wind had dropped on Friday, but the temperatures were still low. We accepted the sample of hot chocolate, laced with cayenne pepper and cinnamon (a surprisingly wonderful combination) and a small pot of hominy stew. For those who are not familiar with 'hominy', it is like a rather large grit. For those that are not familiar with 'grits', I apologise, as I have no way of describing them! A mainly (although now most foods are global) southern delicacy, hominy was something that I had never heard of before I moved to Texas, and have only rarely experienced since living here. It is not unpleasant, but in my opinion is best 'in something' rather than on its own. Like a dumpling, it proved a very nice 'filler' for the jalapeno based vegetable filled broth that was handed to us at the supermarket. Although it is perhaps possible to buy this in England, it is probably not going to flood the market like 'pop tarts'! However, I digress.
Saturday morning arrived rather quickly this week. We all experienced the 'quick' week. Samantha had checked the 'rules' for roadside tree decorating, and the general 'rule of thumb' was that as the trees that grew on the 'vacant' areas are not 'owned' by any one individual, they are for all to enjoy. There were no actual rules but it was expected that state laws be observed. For example, do not park along the road where parking is not permitted. Once twelfth night has 'come and gone', removed the decorations from the tree, as it is no longer decoration, but 'trash'.
The morning was brisk, but dry, and we left my house and headed to Costco. We did not have a particular agenda, but thought it would put us in a 'tree decorating' mood. Sandra, who had originally wanted to join us for the outing, was otherwise engaged, as an old lady she knew had departed from this world and insisted that Sandra's family be part of the 'outgoing' procession. However, as next weekend is the last shopping weekend before heading home, we would not have time for frivolities, and if we were going to 'trim a tree', this was the week to do it. After eating a lot of Belgian chocolate biscuits, and drinking eggnog based beverages we left and headed north. Walmart was exceptionally busy. We picked up our groceries, and headed for the check out. Someone had placed some glittery letters along a check out conveyor belt, spelling, 'all cream'. This made little sense to those who were queuing alongside, and I decided to be the one who changed the anagram, into 'Real Calm'. This seemed to suit everyone in the queue, and we headed towards our cashier. With a badge of honour, stating that the employee had worked at Walmart for a decade and a half, Samantha was rather stunned, as the lady held up a vegetable, pondered and then consulted her 'list'. "You would think that after fifteen years, she would know what a sweet potato was', whispered my daughter to me. I found this to be highly amusing and started to giggle. Samantha was next to be served and she packed and paid for her shopping. It was then my turn. As I stood at the end of the stall, the cashier piled my shopping on top of a turntable, and I attempted to take the items and put them in my bags. My daughter was obviously feeling rather 'impish', and started to move the turntable back and forth, making it difficult for me to take my wares. The cashier was uncertain as to whether to be amused, and started to smile, but then regained composure and stopped. She did this several times, before I realised what was happening. I thought the turntable was being moved by the cashier!
Sandra was waiting at my house when we arrived back, and after putting the cold stuff into the fridge and freezer, we headed out for the 'main event'. It was nearly four, and the clouds were covering an already departing sun. We saw some trees that had already been adorned with various decorations, and spotted some other embellishers along the hills. We deposited the car in a designated area, and I held tight to the bag that contained our decorations and a pair of scissors to cut the string that had been recommended to tie the ornaments. We crossed the side road, and then walked along the grassy verge, until we found 'our' tree. Rather small, and timid looking, we thought it was the perfect shrub, surrounded by much larger cousins, which had been clothed in tinsel, baubles, and other much wilder garnishments. Taking our silver and gold (we apparently had a theme!) tinsel, we unraveled the long glittery string, and started to wrap our little fern with love. After using up two of the four packs, we realised that the other trees had little more than a section, at the front, decorated, and not much else. Of course! No one could see the back of the tree! However, not wanting to be discriminatory to the squirrels, and other wildlife that frequent and reside in the woods behind, we decided not to unravel our masterpiece, but to continue, perhaps paying more attention to the part that could be seen by those driving by.
We waved at intervals, as car horns were depressed, acknowledging our efforts, and strung our baubles around our tree. We tied them securely to the branches, and made bows and ribbons with the excess tinsel. There was a lot of excess tinsel! Finally, the girls placed the two large silver bells atop the small tannenbaum, and we stood back to admire our masterpiece. It did look very glittery. It was rather severely decorated, and perhaps not as classy as we had wanted, but definitely 'eye catching'. Not the most decorated tree, but definitely the most decorated per square inch! We made mental notes that 'next time', we should pick a bigger tree, and 'section' it. Samantha and Sandra took the pieces that had fallen from a neighbouring tree, no doubt not secured as recommended and had fallen foul of the wind, and placed them very securely upon an undressed fir behind 'ours'.
With silver and gold bells, glitter and baubles, our tree would be a beacon for low flying insects! We really felt that we had completed a great task, and another Austin tradition had been conquered!
We headed back to the car, and I held tight to the bag with all the cardboard and plastic containers, all of which would be properly disposed, thus adhering to the state laws regarding 'trash'. All that was left to do was to remember where 'our' tree was, geographically, so that we could take down the decorations at the appropriate time. Driving past to take another picture, and because we were unable to turn left onto the highway, we bid our tree farewell, and felt rather excited to be part of the tradition! The people who had climbed the steep hillside to decorate their tree, were on their way down, and we trusted that they, too, had taken note of the bylaws, and regulations that have been adhered to, so that this particular past time can continue without complaint!
There is something very special about driving along a highway where the trees have been decorated. Until I resided here, I could not fully understand the 'land of the free' concept, but taking part in the tradition, and watching others do the same, there was a sense that I am indeed blessed to be free to take part! Although 'goodwill to all men' should not only be for a season, it does seem to come to a crescendo at this time of year! I did feel very free, and thankful for the feeling!
Dana and I finished our evening by attending our neighbour's 86th birthday party. We enjoyed a very nice evening in the company of people we now call our friends, and by the time I returned home I was quite exhausted.
This morning, I looked at the trees outside my window which are sparsely colourful, with leaves turned to autumnal hues, and glistening as they gently wave in the breeze, and sparkle with sunlight. It truly is, perhaps not the but a wonderful time of the year. I wonder if I will feel this poetic when I sit to pen .......... another story!