NEWSLETTERS 101: #19 Share a Family Tradition!

I did get a LITTLE work done in my studio today. Found the perfect bear for my newest restored-box shrine!
I did get a LITTLE work done in my studio today. Found the perfect bear for my newest restored-box shrine!

It’s been a funky day-before-Christmas, to be sure.

My partner and I are in the middle of a huge spat. (No worries, we’ve been doing this for decades. Neighborhood friends nicknamed us “The Bickersons” almost 40 years ago!)

I finally pulled out and went to my studio, my always-happy place. Twenty minutes later, I got a call from Jon. He’d left his wallet at the supermarket, could I drive him there to get it? (No driver’s license.) No luck. But when we got home, ready to call and cancel all our credit cards, he found his wallet. On his dresser.

Grumbling, I drove back to my studio. But I could only get a little work done before the cold and the dark got to me, and so I headed home again.

I’m sitting here, trying to think about why this hardly even seems like Christmas. Aha! Covid-19! No parties. No Yankee Swap, our biggest, most memorable Christmas event. Our Christmas tree was so last-minute this year. I wasn’t even going to get one, but Jon wanted a tree, so I got a tiny one. Then I couldn’t find my ornaments. It’s decorated with some small thrift shop finds, cat toys, a box of Christmas cards I found at the thrift shop (puppies in Santa hats) and colorful fabric masks….

Okay, so this will be a Christmas-to-remember-for-all-the-wrong-reasons. On the other hand, it inspired this article, so here goes!

All through my childhood, I wanted to open a present on Christmas Eve. It was a hard NO growing up. So guess what Christmas tradition I started with OUR family?

Yup. We all got to pick one present to open on Christmas Eve! It was great!

My husband’s father was Jewish, his mother was Catholic. Actual religious practices were few and far between, but our daughter is none-the-less very proud of her Jewish heritage. So I bought her a dinosaur menorah I found on Etsy a few years go. She loves it!

No Yankee Swap. In past years, this was quite the occasion. Everyone brings an unwanted gift, a White Elephant, (undamaged, not used, etc.) wrapped and beribboned, and placed it under the tree. Then everyone picks a number from a hat/bowl/bag. #1 person picks a gift and unwraps it. #2 person picks a gift, then gets to choose whether to a) keep it, or b) swap with person #1. #3 person does the same, only they can swap with anyone who already has a present. Obviously, the best number to get is the last one! And it’s amazing how someone’s White Elephant is exactly what someone else will love.

It’s also good for everyone to have plenty of Gary Spykman’s handmade “spoonable eggnog” (recipe at the end) because sometimes fights break out. (Well, not FIGHTS, exactly, but just sayin’, don’t get too attached to your gift!

And of course, my Grandma Paxton’s yummy iced brown sugar Christmas cookies. They are the best!

In another family we’ve known for years, everyone gets new pajamas, and wears them on Christmas Day. (I can’t remember if they were matching pajamas??)

A friend told me how their family would go to movies on Christmas Day. (Movies! In a movie theater!)

Why would you share this in your newsletter?

Because regardless of religion, region, etc., holidays are a time for family-and-friend gatherings. In the best of circumstances, there are plenty of laughs and hugs, joy and eggnog (LOTS of eggnog, and don’t forget the brandy!) Being human, there might also be lots of spats and tantrums, sadness and envy, some disappointment (DO NOT GET YOUR PARTNER A VACUUM CLEANER FOR CHRISTMAS!).

There are loved ones who will be missed, for this year, or, sadly, forever.

Family traditions can be sweet. Simple. Complex and frustrating. Unusual. Fun. Embarrassing. (Mistletoe? No thank you!) Informal. Or scheduled down to the last minute.

Sharing a family tradition in our marketing newsletters allows our audience a little peek into our life, outside of the art we make. It reminds us that we are connected in all the subtleties of being human…and that we are not alone.

Of course, we can also share a funny pet story, or a beautiful sunset, or a moment of insight, as I’ve suggested in this series.

But if you get a kick out of our Yankee Swap party, or fall in love with Gary’s eggnog, or find a new passion with my Grandma’s cookie recipe (which I’ll post on my blog), imagine how YOUR audience will feel!

SPOONABLE EGGNOG BY GARY SPYKMAN (Note: If the name sounds familiar, Gary is the person who taught me how to clean, repair, and restore antique and vintage wood boxes for my Shrine Series, and offered me the use of his studio, his toolks, and his expertise to make them! You can see his work at his website:  Spykman Design

This will put a little (or a lot of) Christmas Spirit(s) in you! Thick, rich, potent… irresistible!

4 eggs, separated
2 cups heavy cream (whipping cream)
1/2 cup sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
1/2 cup top-shelf rum or bourbon (really, the good stuff)
1/4 cup brandy
whole nutmeg

You’ll need three mixing bowls for this.
Bowl #1: Beat egg whites until stiff.
Bowl #2: Beat egg yolks, sugar, and salt until thick and lemon-colored, stir in the booze.
Bowl #3: Whip the cream.
Gently fold the egg yolk mixture into the whipped cream, then fold in the egg whites.
Chill for an hour or two.
Scoop into individual cups, grate fresh nutmeg over the top, and serve with spoons.



1 1/2 c. brown sugar

1 c. butter

2 eggs

4 TBS. sour milk (you can add a teensy bit of vinegar to get it ‘sour’)

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. vanilla

4 c. flour

Preheat oven at 350 degrees

Cream butter and sugar.

Add eggs and vanilla.

Combine dry ingredients. Add alternately with milk.

Roll and cut cookies on a lightly-floured surface. (Keep your rolling pin lightly-floured, too!)

Bake about 10-12 minutes, until lightly browned.


Beat 2 egg whites till fluffy. (My recipe says you may need to add cream of tartar, but I’m not sure why…?)

Add enough powdered sugar to make stiff frosting.

Spread on cookies and decorate!


Your shares and comments are always welcomed!

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If someone shared this article with you, and you’d like to read more in this series, visit my articles at


One year our kids were very young, we drove from Keene, New Hampshire to visit my family in Michigan.We always went through Canada to save a few hours of driving time, often stopping for a break to visit Niagara Falls.

On this particular trip, we’d gotten a late start, and didn’t reach the Falls until after dark. We were going to stay at a hotel for the night, but decided to drive by the Falls first.

We’d never seen them at night, and it was fabulous. Colored spotlights uplit the epic torrents of water cascading over the escarpment, making it glow in the dark.

Robin (age 4) refused to look at them. She was tired, and hungry, she said, and wanted to go straight to the hotel.

“But Robin, look! They’re beautiful!” I exclaimed.

Heaving a extraordinarily world-weary sigh for one so young, she said, “I’ve had just about all the beauty I can stand for one day.”

Now, decades later, I can sympathize.

I’ve always had a problem in my studios with too much beauty. I’ve always had things I love in them, items that are cute, or attractive, or interesting, or just plain odd. That happened for many reasons: Lots of space. A space that people could easily visit for open studios. And because I’d never had a reason to cull or sort my studio stuff. Hence the antique squirrel cage.

Antique squirrel cage. Nope, I'm not using it. Yet. Beware, squirrels!!
Antique squirrel cage. Nope, I’m not using it. Yet. Beware, squirrels!!

Then there were the big glass jars of shells, pebbles, the hanks of antique trade beads, the doll collection…. All wonderful to behold.

I’ve talked before about the process of packing up 20 years’ worth of studio stuff. (Keep posted for Part 2 of that article on February 26.)

Now, for the first time in my life, I have more limitations. I have perhaps a third of the space available. And it’s mainly a working studio only. I’m not sure I can have open studios in my basement space. If so, it’ll be limited to people under 5’5″. (I kid you not.)

But I also I have better guidelines. And so this second article on setting up a new studio, inspired by what I learned from Gary Spykman’s studio.

Function vs. Beauty.

Today’s example is thread, a basic in my mixed media work. I use embroidery floss, tatting thread, quilting thread, waxed linen thread, and regular cotton sewing thread. In the past, these were stored in many different places in my studio. I had two hanging thread racks; an antique standing rack for spools of old silk thread. I had several decorative glass jars filled with crochet thread and string.

And, of course, once those threads went into a big jar and look beautiful, they never came out again. Oh! I need that one that’s at the very bottom. Mmmmmmmm…….never mind.

I had a rolling cart of drawers I stored sewing thread in, sorted by color. But I bought more thread wherever I found it–thrift shops, fabric stores, antique stores–to add to my collection. And when I pulled several colors to work on a hand-sewing project, I rarely put them away. Instead, when I cleaned for an open studio, I’d arrange them attractively in antique glass dishes. Soon my tables were covered with attractive glass dishes of thread and beads. Pretty. But not very functional. Oh well, I’ll just sit at another table. (Which was also filled with pretty displays. Do we sense a pattern here?)

But my new studio is different. I don’t have as much space. I can’t keep all the threads I brought from New Hampshire.

My first task was to go through my entire stash and eliminate thread that was too old for use. Some threads age well. Others, affected by heat, sunlight, moisture, simply weaken and break easily. (These went into a jar-like lamp base. It looks great!)

Jar of mixed threads (not very accessible) and the jar lamp with old thread behind.
Jar of mixed threads (not very accessible) and the jar lamp with old thread behind.

Then I organized by color. I consolidated three different collections of embroidery thread, and put them into a drawer. The colors I knew I’d never use, were donated to a thrift shop here that supports a number of local non-profit service organizations. (Somebody remind me, please, why I have not one, not two, but THREE sets of neon bright pinks, yellows and fluorescent green embroidery thread???)

The waxed linens went with jewelry-making supplies.

So what to do the rest of the odd lots? Crochet threads and lightweight string that can be used for embroidery, but too bulky to fit in the skeins-of-floss drawer?

I sorted them by color, into see-through wire baskets (more on these in another article.) And I hung them on my new steel wire shelving units, coordinated by color with my fabrics.

Shelves of working fabrics with wire basket of color-matched embroidery thread.
Shelves of working fabrics with wire basket of color-matched embroidery thread.

And here’s the blessing in this decision:

It still looks beautiful.

I reduced my fiber stash by about 75%.
I reduced my working fiber stash by about 75%.
Still sorting my sewing tools and stuff, so please do not look at the messy table top. (I can tell you're looking.)
Still sorting my sewing tools and stuff, so please do not look at the messy table top. (I can tell you’re looking.)


Everything is polymer clay, except for the single antler and the antique wood boxes that I cleaned, repaired, painted, refinished and waxed.
Everything is polymer clay, except for the single antler and the antique wood boxes that I cleaned, repaired, painted, refinished and waxed.

A few years back, I had a vision for my next body of work. Shadow boxes are not ‘new’, but I envisioned them to display not only my sculptural work, but my jewelry, too.

I was already a box collector. (Okay, no comments about all the stuff I collect.) I had some great little boxes I thought would work beautifully, except for one thing. They were from a tool manufacturing company, and they were black with smelly oil and grease.

I met up my friend Gary Spykman who works with wood to create furniture, cabinetry, even a new bed for his pickup truck. (See Gary’s new line of eco-modern outdoor furniture at Sebbi Designs.

I showed him a stinky box and asked him if I should use shellac to coat the wood.

He suggested I clean it thoroughly instead. “But I love the waxy black look!” I exclaimed. “It’s just the smell I can’t stand.”

Patiently, Gary explained why that was not a good idea. Now I can’t remember why. But I believed him.

“Once you clean up the gunk, there are better ways to get that old dark patina you love,” he said.

“Teach me stuff?” I said, a la Susan Sarandon in that great old movie, Atlantic City (See the quote in this clip at 54 seconds.>)

And an apprenticeship was born.

For the next four months, I was a guest in Gary’s woodworking shop. We worked out a rough gentlemen’s agreement, where in exchange for small sundries and chores, I would work on refinishing my vintage and antique wooden boxes as he guided me step by step on how to clean them up, repair them and restore them.

I have no idea what Gary gained from the synergy, except for someone to yak with during the day and who happily did the shop dishes each afternoon. (Why is it always more fun to do someone ELSE’S dishes??)

But I benefited hugely. And not just in how to work with antique boxes.

And so starts a new series, LESSONS FROM GARY’S STUDIO. In fact, I got the idea because I’m setting up my new studio based on certain principles, as much as possible, that I observed in Gary’s studio.

I was going to jump right in about that. But then I remembered the first thing I learned: “Do it right.” Don’t take shortcuts. Start at the beginning, and build from there.

And so I am.

(Actually, I guess the VERY first thing I learned was, “Ask”. Ask someone who DOES know. But I don’t want everybody calling Gary to ask him for help. Although I’m pretty sure he would. Help you, that is.)