The Elephant Under the Christmas Palm Tree

Our first Christmas in Atlanta, Alex wanted to go all-out with the decorations. The problem was, we only had enough decorations for an average size home like the one we’d just left in LA, where our Christmas tree was a fake palm tree (more room for presents underneath, I’d say).

Our Atlanta home was much larger. Like a friend told us when we bought it: “You buy an elephant, you’ve got to feed an elephant.” He couldn’t have been more accurate.

The first thing we fed this elephant was bark. A few months earlier, when our pine straw started to thin and turn gray we got a nasty-gram from the neighborhood association.

People in Atlanta use pine straw in their islands– the areas of yard that aren’t grass or bushes—to keep down the weeds and pretty up the dirt (or red clay). The reason I was surprised by this nasty-gram was our islands were thinning and turning a bit gray, but they certainly weren’t weed infested. Either way, the all-powerful neighborhood association threatened fines, so I went looking for pine straw.

Alex, being much smarter in these matters, suggested we look at bark: “It’s more expensive, but the pine straw will just thin out and turn gray again within 6 months, bark will last for a year or two at least.” We ended up with a dump truck full of bark on our driveway that we thought we could disperse without any help. A week later with the driveway still blocked, we called some laborers.

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Who knew when calculating expenses to figure in pine straw or bark? This was going to be a lean year.

So here I was up on a ladder, hanging Christmas lights on the gutter. Alex noticed the neighbors had their lights all the way up to the peaks, and she wanted to know why we couldn’t do the same. “Famous last words,” I said as I explained to her that our 10 foot ladder would not begin to get me to our 40 foot peaks, and I wasn’t about to climb our steeply angled roof.

Hiring someone to help was also out of the question. The lighting business, like the lawn-mowing business, here in the tony suburbs of north Atlanta was elaborate and expensive– and not just for the holidays: There were every-night spotlights for everything from trees and bushes, to the architectural features of your home and even roof peeks.

The best I could do was a straight line of icicle lights across the front gutters. I wasn’t real impressed with my low wattage effort, and suggested we just put our stuffed Grinch in the window with a spotlight on it instead—no other decorations necessary. Alex actually gave the idea a second of thought, but didn’t bite.

We shopped for a tree, but couldn’t swallow the cost and hassle of a real one. “Why don’t we bring a little So-Cal to Atlanta?” I suggested. Alex laughed, and surprisingly said yes to the fake palm. This turned out to be the Christmas item of ours that everyone agreed was the coolest, and one that we continue to use to this day.

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