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Upside Down Life

I sit at the cusp of a new year, tasting the future's glitter-frost and the ash of 2009. In many ways this time of year is always a portal of sorts, though the current door before me seems to be draped even more heavily in the gauzy fabric of transformation. I am breathing into the pause; the ephemeral heartbeat between old and new, wearing a bemused grin at the familiar paradox of excitement and fear.

Though I have not had much time or energy to post here lately, I have missed you. I still browse through my friends list as I can but with the show, winter holidays and my father's death (not to mention losing internet access at home), I have been scarce. Part of that is about resources and part of that is about the nature of mourning. While I often wear my heart on my sleeve, some things feel too fragile to post here, even among the people I love.

Yet some things are sweet to share and a recent visit with my father's family has me savoring sugarplums from the past, which you can read .

You see, historically the Byers clan really gets into Christmas and having a holiday together with all the trimmings. This love was passed on to my father and in turn to me, though it's interesting to hold a fondness for Yuletide in the midst of my non-Christian, anti-consumerist values. Though I detest the over-shopping, stress and waste that is common (and unnecessary) for Americans in December, I am a total sucker for spiced flavors, the scent of evergreens, the glow of twinkle lights, the warmth of generous hearts and the symphony of snow.

In spending Christmas 09 in D.C. (where my aunt and her family live), I was reminded of many holidays past and of tinseled-times both tender and tough. A favorite flashback was from the few Christmases that I enjoyed when my parents were still together. We developed our own traditions in those first six years; decking a tree, filling the house with music, gifting pajamas on the night of the Eve and reading Twas The Night Before Christmas together (later, Mother and I would expand that to include O'Henry's The Gift of the Magi, one of my all-time favorite tales). Each year we'd leave out a treat for Santa but it could never be cookies. My mother claimed that Santa didn't really like cookies but in fact was a huge fan of pineapple upside down cake, which as a child could not have been more grotesque. Come on...it's not what the other families do! It's slimy cake without icing! What the hell good is that?! Years later of course, I learned that pineapple upside down cake was a favorite of both my parents and was therefore more appealing to choke down in the middle of the night.

Despite my gâteaunomical disappointments, on Christmas morning I would run in with glee to see the shining tree and all the packages around it. I would bang on my parents' bedroom door and they would reluctantly drag themselves to the coffee maker. My father, who had a dash of cruelty in his sense of humor, would insist that I sit quietly on the sofa, not squeezing stockings or shaking boxes, until he and mom could complete their first cup of coffee. They'd sip slowly while I wiggled in anticipatory torment, giving in and letting me go wild about half way through their mugs.

We were happy then - or I was too young to know that we were not. That was before Dad left us, turning things upside down. It is wonderful to play back those memories but also very sad. I wish things could be different. I wish Dad and I could have shared one more holiday together (the last we had was in 1989).

I saw a recipe today that inspired this post, a gingerbread apple upside down cake from Smitten Kitchen that seemed much tastier (and healthier) than the processed concoction I know from my youth (which was made with boxed yellow cake, canned pineapple and maraschino cherries). I love anything that calls itself gingerbread because I am so drawn by cinnamon/ginger/nutmeg/cardamom (and their kin). Swapping apples for pineapple makes this a much more ethical choice for me as well.


The past two years (since "the big break up") I have had no joy of the holidays despite myself. Part of that has been being busy with theatre. Part of that was missing some aspects of the life I made with Trey and this year, part of that is sadness at the loss of Grandma and Dad. Next year I hope to reclaim the holly, the jolly and the cheer. I'd like to make gingerbread apple upside down cake for my father and cauliflower with breadcrumbs for my grandmother. I'd like to have a tree and I want to string popcorn for it while I listen to Solstice music and/or watch It's A Wonderful Life. Upside down, sideways and right side up, I'm ready for returning light and joy in my life. At the New Year I will be toasting hope and the very real happiness that I can make for myself.


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 30th, 2009 08:45 pm (UTC)
Much love and many hugs for you.

The pineapple upside down cake makes such a tender memory.

Dec. 30th, 2009 10:19 pm (UTC)
Wishing you bright blessings, calm and joy in the coming New Year, and hope to see you more often when possible. Love to you!
Dec. 30th, 2009 11:23 pm (UTC)
Father Christmas, in the UK likes Sherry, while his reindeer like Mince pies. The plate the pies were left out on was always produced with lick marks on the following morning (thanks to the dog) while I imagine my father was quite happy going to bed with 3 generous glasses of sherry (one from each child) inside him - unless my frugal mother poured them back in the bottle!!!

pinapple upside down cake was one of the big disappointments of my young life - it sounded so cool and tasted so bad!
Dec. 31st, 2009 12:25 am (UTC)
I feel sad, reading this. I believe you will welcome light and joy in your life, and I also feel a sense of how much has happened to you. I miss you. Blessed Gregorian new year!
Dec. 31st, 2009 01:16 am (UTC)
I hear so much optimism in this post. A beautiful tenderness from a tenacious and at-core joyous spirit. Much love to you, Jen, and wishes for dreams come true in the New Year.
Jan. 3rd, 2010 04:39 pm (UTC)
You deserve all the light and joy and happiness. So do I, and I say it's time.

I don't share your nostalgia about Christmas. I celebrate it only because my daughter likes it, but we do have our quiet, enjoyable time with it.

I do hear your longing and I know how long it takes to regain balance after a huge change.

Pineapple upside down cake. I made that before--even went out and bought a special cake pan for it. I don't think Jessica was as impressed with it as I had hoped (maybe it's not a kid thing), but I remember it was delicious. I bake a mean cake.

Sending you love.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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