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LET'S COOK: Of tin and tinsel*

January 5, 2018
Chuck Repnow , Pierce County Tribune

* In the Jan. 6, 2018 edition, the headline for Let's Cook was "A great ski day starts with Sondre Norheim". It should have been "Of tin and tinsel". The Tribune apologizes for and regrets the error.

How long has it been since you've created a very special Christmas gift for those folks close to your heart? Too long? Now is the time to plan ahead for next Christmas 2018. Here to help inspire you is my story from Christmas 2017.

I enjoy quotes and witty words and keep a log of them near my desk. Last January, I was inspired by a quote from Barbara De Angelis -"We need to find the courage to say no to the things and people that are not serving us if we want to rediscover ourselves and live our lives with authenticity." It was this quote this inspired me in January 2017 to think about Christmas gift giving. Many of us watch people the day after Christmas return gifts they didn't like, were the wrong size or color, or had too many bows (you have to be careful of bows!).

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This triggered in me the idea of creating a homemade gift using some vintage tin given to me by Jan's family. When I married Jan, I took it upon myself to check out the many items of the farm that could be means of artistic expression. So I was snooping around; yes, but in a good way after all I needed original props for the studio.

My father-in-law was cleaning out in his machine shed when he came across several sheets of pressed tin, that had been used on the interior and ceiling of their home church, Rainbow Valley Lutheran, years before. My heart leaped these charmingly ornate sheets complete with seasoned patina would make a stunning background in the studio. They had been in storage long enough, and I invited them to come along home with me. I could not have custom ordered a better and more unique background. They were used not only in the photography studio, but also in our garden creating a backdrop that could have easily stepped out of a Degas painting. Because this shamrock pressed tin had once been painted light spruce green, it paired beautifully with orange lilies all colors loved by Degas.

Rainbow Valley Lutheran Church is located north of Ray. It was the home church to Jan's grandparents, Eddie and Hilda Thompson. This church, to them and other homesteaders in this area, was the center of their week. I could not help but reflect on all the memories connected to this tin, the family baptisms, confirmations, weddings, Christmas program all-day practices complete with food, funerals, and special events. This tin that had been high above the congregation and all around them, still revealed the beauty of the place. A place where homesteaders worshipped weekly, where love, faith and friendship were welcoming guests. It was a place where homesteaders and future generations felt secure and at home where their hearts could repose and be inspired.

Fact Box

Company Casserole

Rainbow Valley Church was known for their fabulous potluck dinners. This recipe comes from the church cookbook and Gerda Qvale's Company Casserole. Pair this this with a dozen other casseroles, a plethora of salads, home-made buns and bread. Top it all off with trays of goodies all with old-fashioned egg coffee.

- 12 oz. egg noodles

- 2 lbs. ground beef

- 2 T. butter

- 1 tsp. salt

- 1 tsp. pepper

- tsp. garlic powder or salt

- 1 jar spaghetti sauce (approx. 23 oz.)

- 1 cup cottage cheese

- 1 cup sour cream

- 1 cup cheddar cheese

Cook noodles; drain. Combine with cottage cheese, sour cream, and cup of the cheddar cheese. Brown hamburger in butter; add salt, pepper, and garlic salt and spaghetti sauce. Simmer 10 minutes. In a greased 9 x 13 pan, alternate a layer of noodle mixture, then meat mixture, etc. Sprinkle remaining cup cheddar cheese on top. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour; cover first half hour with foil. May be frozen before baking, but if so, thaw 1 hour prior to baking.

I can recall spending my first Christmas Eve service here with Jan. It was picture from a Hallmark Christmas card. The newly fallen snow lay about this white pristine church, the arched windows glowing warm, and stepping inside the sanctuary was the real tree was adorned with old-fashioned bubble lights and silvered in tinsel. Outside the stars were shining over the steeple while the prairies rested and were wrapped with white fleece. From the back of the church, organ music played by Charlotte Hodenfield holy, low and bright, yet restful. The interior at this time had been remodeled now to feature plaster oyster white walls and the altar area was in a shade of inviting aqua. I could imagine what it looked like years ago with the pressed tin. Rainbow Valley Church celebrated 100 years of God's faithfulness in 2005. It was a wonderful 100th anniversary as we gathered beneath this county steeple. A place of rest, a place where faith is renewed, a place of wonderful meals and a place close to many hearts.

It was this connection that had me inspired me to recycle this heritage tin into Christmas gifts. I am not a carpenter my skills with wood working would be like giving an embroidery needle to a rhinoceros. My greatest given asset is that of imagination and creativity. I knew the design I wanted for these birdhouses.

As luck would have it, Jan and Lydia were away for a weekend which allowed me to work freely on this surprise. There was no forecast of snow flurries other than those created by the sawdust of my saw. The cutting was done, the assembly completed, the tin roofs in place. Now to paint and decorate. It was a late night with coffee. As I worked with the paint and the brushes I thought, "I am going to get this done before they return!" Running on the chemicals of adrenaline rather than natural energy, it was three in the morning when the last brush stroke was taken. I smiled because this gift was created from memories memories that will never be traded in or returned.



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