It takes a village to jump-start Christmas.
In the case of Leda Chandler, that means spending every November building a 17-by-4-foot landscape and populating it with more than 20 buildings, a train, winter carnival, lake and waterfall; a fish pond, bear cave and a full moon.
"I started on a small table," said Chandler, who lives in west Longview with Roger Knight, her accomplice in holiday hobbying.
"There was a contest at Ace Hardware," she said, "and they had this village set up. I thought, 'That would be cool,'"
Combine cool and collecting, and you get one more American who's added a tiny townscape to her Christmas decor.
Chandler's a fan of Hawthorne Village collectibles, 3-D models of artist Thomas Kinkade's glowing cottages, and she has a few things from the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer line. There's also a Thomas Kinkade Seaside Village, a Thomas Kinkade Victorian Village, a Mickey Mouse and Friends Christmas Village and Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas village collectibles.
As Chandler developed more and more property, Knight suggested she "take it to the floor."
Using spray-on foam insulation that dries to the texture and heft of pumice, Chandler expanded the table top site up, over, down and out.
The mounds of foam, painted white, look like round rock outcroppings covered with snow. She shapes and carves out mountains, valleys and ridges that extend into the room on dowels "cemented" into the 3-foot base.
Chandler's village has come to resemble a model train layout, taking up an entire corner of the couple's workshop, which also houses a real-life pool table, wood stove and Christmas tree.
"I love Christmas," said Chandler. "I love to have something nobody else has. People say, 'Why not display it somewhere?' I really wouldn't know where."
Friends, two grown kids and seven grandchildren make up her enthusiastic audience, she said. "The kids can look, but they have to stay a distance away." Ages 1 to 9, "they're too grabby yet."
Dozens of scenes play out on the mountain set. Each piece has inside lighting -- the universal magic of cozy dwellings in snow.
You can peek inside a pool hall and find a park where tiny children swing. There's a Christmas carnival with four moving carousels, and a plastic train chugs over a Popsicle trestle and through a tunnel.
Don't miss the dock and fishing boat, a windmill, a lighthouse that was a gift from her dad, Gary Scholl, and raccoons knocking over trash cans.
Knight laughed. "I didn't even see that until now!" he said.
Chandler's creativity is everywhere. She made winding paths with aquarium gravel and painted white caps on the choppy waters of her lake.
"Here's my eagle in flight," she said, pointing to a regal bird held aloft on a wire.
Working late into the night, gluing white batting clouds onto a blue sky, Chandler said she loses track of time. "I love doing it."
As proof, she saws the whole thing into pieces and takes it down for storage every year, only to be rebuilt and changed up the following fall.
"It's like a transformation," said childhood best friend Tammy McCloud, who dubbed the creation "Leda Land."
With Thanksgiving still two days away, Chandler gets a glint in her eye that beams all the way to 2011. "I want running water next year, hopefully," she said.