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Celebrating the 12 Days with a winter village

Did you enjoy all 12 Days of Christmas? Day 8 in our home brought fresh cookies and fudge for the sporadic nibble. Lighting up the Christmas tree each day still gives a twinkle in our hearts. In the Repnow house, the 12 Days of Christmas are as essential as morning coffee. From the very start of our marriage, Jan and I decided it would be best with the hustle and bustle of the studio that we declare celebrating Christmas for the entire 12 days.

Maxine and Curt Strand mentioned nothing about the wild rush of Christmas to us; rather, they let us discover it for ourselves! We both felt, for that first year of the business, as if we were on a six-lane interstate, with thousands of cars rushing by our pedal car! As we slid, exhausted, into the pew at First Lutheran for Christmas Eve Service after finishing our final family sitting, we realized that Advent is truly wonderful!

Maxine reached over the pew with her tan, stitched gloved hand and presented us a copy of the song, “I Am So Glad Each Christmas Eve,” as she whispered that this swiftly had become their favorite Christmas song once they opened the doors of their studio! Today, Jan and I still share a laugh over her good sense of humor that evening, and realize that often Christmas celebrating and enjoyment is best enjoyed over an extended period of time.

Having done studio work for 25 years, the arrival of Lydia, as well as the convenience of cameras everywhere, has seen picture taking change dramatically. When these three factors voiced, we decided to transform the studio into more of an art studio – which is now a work in progress. Christmas continues to have plenty of rushing moments; therefore, we have to take the time to halt, listen and enjoy.

This year, on the First Day of Christmas, I mentioned to Lydia and our nephew, Tanner, that we would be building Christmas houses in Grandma and Grandpa Thompson’s basement. The tables were covered with plastic cloths, and upon them abided half-gallon milk cartons, cutting tools, discarded newspapers, starch and a concert of colorful paints just waiting to sing out on houses.

Have you ever built a house out of a milk carton? If you have not, you should give it a try! You will be amazed at the enjoyment this brings. As Lydia and Tanner pulled away from the commanding electronic devices and headed downstairs to become carpenters and artists, I did hear a whine or two.

The first task was to paper mache our homes. This was done by the simple process of using liquid starch and 2-inch strips of newsprint. We all rolled up our sleeves and began dipping and squeezing out the excess starch and laying them upon the milk cartons. Upon the second dipping I heard Tanner say, “This is fun!” Lydia chimed in as well.

As we continued, we started to discuss how each of us would design our homes. Tanner wanted his to be an apartment building in New York City, and it would be called “The Thompson.” Lydia thought hers would be the “House of Hearts,” and would feature heart-shaped windows. Mine would be a cozy pink cottage called “Honeysuckle Cottage,” featuring trailing vines and cheerful window boxes, where daily guests would be treated to tea and coffee served out of delicate Lavender Rose Royal Albert bone china tea cups, while enjoying Mexican wedding cookies as their morsels. Tanner then said, “Oh, Charles, you think of everything!” We all laughed – and most amazingly, there was not an electronic device in sight!

After our newspaper strips had dried, we then returned to our work table. Step two was to apply a thin coat of white latex paint. (Lydia was quick to inform Tanner this is really called primer). We popped them in front of the fan, let

them dry for 30 minutes, and then we took our pencils. There is something about a child with a pencil in their hand that makes me smile. With a pencil there is no right or left click – you simply know how to use it. Tanner drew double doors and several rows of windows like an apartment house. Lydia sketched on a large heart window and declared that she loved a house that has lots of light, then punned that it truly looked like a “hearty” house. The laughter went to the rafters of the basement.

Step three involved cutting out all doors, windows and other designs with an X-Acto knife. Milk cartons are the perfect containers to use as houses, as their tops make perfect roof lines. True to form, Tanner suggested that next time we do this, we actually join two of them together for a double house and add dormers! Oh, a child using their imagination, and better yet understanding this is a creative process at work! In the words of Leonardo da Vinci, “The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding.” Yes!

True to our “Days of Christmas,” step four was actually completed on Day 8 – and a fun day it was. In the middle of the work table was an array of colors with names like silent night blue, mango mash, Dorset gold, vogue green, Christmas cactus pink – just to mention a few. Also present was a can of white paint for pastel blending. As our color-loaded brushes swirled with movement, the chatter and laughter sparkled like newly laid tinsel on branches of pine. The three of us were living this moment with a spirit of adventure. I love when children connect to art and feel the spirit it brings. This same spirit of adventure, when combined with years of knowledge and love of art, allows one to enjoy our surroundings and our world in a much more vivid manner. Art truly becomes lifelong enjoyment.

Step five was to finish our roofs, which we did with sandpaper. Tanner selected to glue cut sheets and then paint over them “for the texture.” Lydia had cut sheets with a scalloped edge, and yours truly cut tiny shingles and glued them on row by row. Each complete village house is unique and brings a bit of my past to this next generation of family. One of the greatest gifts my brothers and I received from my Mother was her love to recreate a discarded object into a creative piece of artwork. I can recall one year how she transformed several round oatmeal containers into a sweet Peter Rabbit Easter village.

She taught me that discarded trash cans often hold a great gift for the creative mind. Her reflection upon this matter made a lasting impression on me, and one I dearly treasure. The poet E. E. Cummings wrote “To be nobody but yourself, in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you somebody else, is the fight – the hardest fight.” So each time we toss out an empty milk carton – because according to most it is trash – we really are tossing out an opportunity to be ourselves.