The world is a strange and mysterious place, and there are any number of things in life that simply don’t seem to make any sense whatsoever. Like Intelligent Design, for example. Or Donald Trump being considered as a serious presidential contender. Or how a person (i.e. me) who absolutely loves all things Christmas (atheist though I am — sorry, that’s another blog altogether) can so viscerally detest putting up exterior Christmas decorations.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t like exterior Christmas lights / decorations. It’s just that, all things being equal, when I’m at the top of that ladder — you know, standing on that very final step that has the embossed raised lettering on it that reads “DANGER: THIS IS NOT A STEP!” — and my fingers are frozen to the bone and about to snap off due to frost bite, and I’ve just broken off another plastic clip trying to get that bloody string of un-straightenable lights fastened to the eavestrough, and I’m doing this all one-handed because I’m using the other hand to cling to another part of the eavestrough — where the bare skin of my fingers may or may not have stuck itself fast to the exposed metal — to counterbalance the alarming pendulum-like sway that seems to have developed in the rickety step ladder below me, well, at times like these, my mind has a tendency to wander to the consideration of more enjoyable pastimes like, say, being flayed alive.
Today, as you might have guessed, was the day that we undertook decorating the outside of our house for Christmas. What we traditionally refer to, in Clark W. Griswold parlance, as “doing the exterior illumination.” And as much as I — as a matter of principle — approach this exercise with hatred and loathing, today, as it turned out, wasn’t a complete disaster. Granted it didn’t start out all that auspiciously. Just five minutes into the exercise, before we even got out of the basement storage room with the exterior wreaths, I was already hurling expletives at my 15-year old son as I found myself traipsing through a sea of loose kitty litter on the floor that he was supposed to have vacuumed up two days ago. Once we put that behind us, however, it was more or less smooth sailing.
What made this year run so — relatively — smoothly, you ask? I think there were probably several crucial factors.
- The cat litter incident notwithstanding, my 6’-0” tall, nearly 16-year old son is finally of an age that when he helps me out around the house, he’s actually capable of truly being a help, rather than just something else I need to take care of as I’m trying to get the work done. (“You wanna pay room and board or do you wanna help me put up the Christmas lights? Your choice. Pick up that ladder and those extension cords and let’s rock!”)
- I can usually predict with some certainty what will be the coldest day of December. ‘Cuz it always seems to be the Saturday or Sunday I finally get around to putting up the Christmas lights! This year, blessedly, not so much. It was a nice crisp day to be sure, and there was even some lightly falling snow that helped to accentuate the pre-holiday atmosphere, but no mind-numbingly cold temps where you worry about your fingers snapping off if you risk working without gloves for a couple of minutes.
- After six or seven years of putting up exactly the same exterior decorations in exactly the same locations, I think I may have finally got it figured out! For instance, I know now, from hard-won experience, where to best use zip ties instead of string and vice versa (and to make sure I have a reasonable supply of both on hand prior to getting underway). And this time around, for the first year ever, I wasn’t even missing a single extension cord, and all the inter-looping electrical lines running helter-skelter across the front lawn terminated neatly and logically — on the first attempt — into the three exterior outlets that I have available. The key to this system is to store all your equipment together in one place throughout the year. I now have a a single box in which I keep all my wiring supplies and woe betide the the person who tries to steal an extension cord from this box in the off season! (“I don’t care that Nana needs another few feet of cord to plug in her oxygen machine, those are my Christmas extension cords — hands off!”)
Of course, the best way to minimize exterior illumination
trauma installation time is — you guessed it — leave stuff up the whole year ‘round! Yeah, sorry to burst your bubble, but I’m that guy. It’s not something I’m proud of, and I only do it for the single line of lights along the front of the eavestrough, and the lights are white and the eavestrough is white so you don’t really notice anyway….
The fact is, when the snow finally clears from around the house sometime in late April / early May, and those eavestrough lights catch my eye the first time I run the lawn mover across the front yard, I can’t help but think to myself, if I take them down now I’ll just be back up there — risking life and limb atop that damn ladder in a sub-zero arctic wind storm (no doubt with a vengeful teenager on the bottom rung trying to figure out a way to have it topple and not get blamed for it) — six months from now, re-installing them. Where’s the wisdom in that? As I like to remind my wife in these instances, our house is set pretty far back from the road, after all.
And I’m hopeful that the eavestrough lighting I put up last year, with integral clip fasteners on the lights, will serve me far better than the ones I used to put up where you had to install those persnickety plastic eave-fastening clips separately from the string of lights. The latter type seem prone to catastrophic failure after a year or two of full-time duty on the front of the house.
I know this for a fact since, two years ago, while seeking to add a single new clip near the end of the run of lights where an existing clip had broken off, I inadvertently set in motion a Griswoldian chain of events worthy of a Hollywood Christmas extravaganza. As I held on to the cord of lights that I was seeking to fasten with the new clip, the next clip in line, weakened from having been on the house for far too long, snapped in half. Then the clip after that snapped. Then the clip after that, and so on. Until the bulk of the 42 foot run of eavestrough Christmas lights — except for the end that I held in my hand as I stood on top of the ladder — was now laying on the ground in front of the house, covered in a sprinkling of snapped off plastic fasteners.
This, as you can well image, was the highlight of my son’s entire holiday season. And if he didn’t pee himself laughing, it was not for lack of trying. In fact, he was still laughing as I got in the car and headed to Canadian Tire for new lights. You know, the ones with the integral clips.
Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a well-illuminated good night!