The month of December ranks high up on the favorites list for Rita Stevens of Alpena since the holiday season enables her to combine two of her passions art and Christmas when decorating her cozy, country home on Irwin Road.
A self-taught artist, Stevens packs away all of the paintings that normally hang in her home to make room for the many Christmas-themed ones she has created over the years. Most of her artwork reflects a deep love for family and the memories of holidays past.
"As your enter our home, the warmth of the fire surrounds you, and my art creations are meant to let all who enter see the warmth of our hearts show through," said Stevens, who just before Thanksgiving takes about a week to put up all of her decorations.
This vignette features a frosty painting by Rita Stevens called Home Tweet Home. The two country Christmas trees on either side of the fireplace are adorned with flowers and birds, items from nature which her mother always loved.
Even before you step inside the front door, the home's exterior speaks of a homemade, country Christmas. Husband Kim constructed a Santa workshop outdoors for the couple's grandchildren, with handpainted toys and Santa Claus peaking through the workshop windows.
Window boxes on the front of the house are filled with cedar boughs and flowers. Other appealing touches include a pair of vintage ice skates, an antique sleigh and old wicker baskets by the door stocked with organic materials like birch limbs and more cedar boughs. A grouping of rustic birdhouses and red ribbons serves as a welcome post to visitors.
Indoors, a meaningful painting to Stevens is the 2x6-foot one she did in the living room. It depicts a winter scene in blues and whites with each family member represented. As the family has expanded in size with daughters-in-law and grandchildren added year by year, she has added more figures to the scene.
Another painting Stevens has done shows the family home adorned by snowmen, again representing each family member, young and old. Still another, called Endearment, she painted in honor of her and her husband's 40th anniversary.
Like her paintings, the main Christmas tree in her living conjures up many strong memories.
"The tree holds our family decorations anything from fishing lures of my sons to a smiley face made of tin to grandbaby photos to little angels with my daughters-in-law's names and so much more," Stevens said. "There are so many memories on a tree. As your look around our house, in every corner you will see a memory of Christmas my father's old cane tied in a red ribbon. My husband's father's old tackle box is sitting there, too."
A hutch in the dining room is filled with small, old trinkets and photos given in love by friends and family over the years.
Stevens harbors warm remembrances of family Christmases growing up in Alpena, when as one of 16 children, times were sometimes tough. Even so, her parents managed to make the holiday special, something that she continues to strive to do for her three adults sons, daughters-in-laws and four grandchildren.
Among the special times that stick out for Stevens are the visits from Santa (played by a cooperative neighbor), who came to the family home ringing bells each Christmas eve along with Mrs. Claus. It's a tradition she continues to this day with her own grandchildren.
While Stevens finds much peace and contentment being at home during the holidays, for her it isn't just about the decorations.
"It's not the decorations or in the gifts," she said. "It's the time of sharing and being with the ones you love. That is the true meaning of Christmas."