Sunday, December 16, 2012

Christmas Magic: Turning a Tumbleweed into a Christmas Tree

Despite stickers embedded in fingers and palms, I don’t want to give up my beautification project.  Nope, I’m not digging backyard sandburs.  I’m decorating a Prairie Christmas tree. Yep, I’ve gone Laura Ingalls Wilder, and I’m turning a tumbleweed into a showcase for curling green, gold, and red ribbons accented by shiny ornaments.

A girlfriend invited me to celebrate an old-fashioned Christmas at the Nicodemus Township Hall, which included designing a tumbleweed Christmas tree followed by homemade soup and cookies.  How could I turn down that offer?

The catering crew buzzed our senses the moment we walked in the door. Homemade gingersnaps and peanut butter cookies, old-fashioned peppermint sticks, fresh-brewed coffee, hot cider, and ham and beans distracted participants from the mountain of tumbleweeds piled on the stage.

On a table below that heap of well-traveled Russian thistles, an assortment of colored Christmas ribbon, miniature ornaments—round, bell, and bulb shaped--tinsel, and cans of powdery snow challenged participants to fashion something lovely from prickly stems.  

Over the years, I’ve read books and magazine articles touting turning a common prairie invader into an elegant Christmas decoration.   I’ve even visited homes where the artistic host produced a centerpiece out of these Russian interlopers.  While admiring such creativity, I’ve never tried to craft such holiday magic myself.  That changed Saturday, December 8th.

While many wannabe decorators selected huge orbs, I chose a lean example that had one main stem with a few straggly protuberances.  I couldn’t imagine it doing much serious rolling over a pasture, even during a big wind. It looked more like  Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree than an actual tumbleweed, although I’m certain DNA testing would confirm its origins.

My first challenge was stabilizing its stem in the red Solo cup provided.  Toby Keith had no idea the real purpose of the RSC was to provide a stand for a prairie Christmas tree. During that little procedure, at least a hundred stickers dug their way into my thumbs.

Once I had the “tree” set up, I analyzed it’s festivity potential.  With so few branches, it seemed best to go with a less is more motif.  While some folks slathered on spray snow, ribbon, ornaments, and tinsel with grand success, I suspected that would overwhelm my sparse example of drought-inspired plant life.

Using scissors the park service provided, I curled red, green, and gold ribbon and tied  them one to a branch.  Completing that task, I tied a mass of eight colorful ribbons to top my straggly collection of spikes.  To enhance my design, I added  contrasting Christmas ornaments.  It was simple, yet elegant.  Who says that about a sticker bush?

When I thought I was done, I wasn’t.  The weight of the colorful orbs caused it to tumble to the floor where several glass bulbs shattered.  After cleaning up my mess, I re-evaluated and resorted to western Kansan’s favorite standby—duct tape.  

I stabilized that tree with long strips of gray adhesive in every direction.  Of course, those weird spider webs begged to be hidden.  That drove me to a sack of cotton balls and a bottle of school glue.  Yes, my decorating skills now depended upon techniques perfected in kindergarten.  I glued cotton balls over the duct-tape until it looked like my imprisoned weed sprouted from a fuzzy snow bank atop a red Solo cup.

What began as a lark became a three hour challenge.  I nearly forgot to hit the snack table in my attempt to turn a straggly stem into something festive.  I question the beauty of my little tree , but the stickers irritating my hands make surprisingly lovely designs.

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