Sugar, Love, and Holiday Traditions

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Jul 5th, 2016
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Sugar, Love, and Holiday Traditions

This image is of a painting done by a woman named Judy Sunday.  She was a well-recognized artist here in Martha’s Vineyard for decades.  During the years when my family vacationed here for a week most summers, we would encounter Judy at the various art fairs around the island.  I remember her as a tiny, tanned woman with a big halo of white hair. Her main claim to fame was painting on Cronig’s grocery store paper bags, and somewhere in the painting you could see the Cronig’s logo showing through.  In my cottage stairwell, I have two of her paper-bag pieces, one a beach scene and the other a yellow polka dotted bikini both painted and folded into a skimpy two-piece bathing suit.  But she does traditional painting on canvas as well, and the image above was created  maybe fifteen years ago.  Here’s why I own this painting of Martha’s Vineyard-themed decorated cupcakes:


I don’t remember how the tradition started – maybe a rainy vacation day – but somehow coming to Martha’s Vineyard came to be linked with a family cupcake decorating contest.  We bake two trays of cupcakes, then divvy them up between the number of family members in residence.  Frosting, gummy bears, sprinkles, and items foraged from junk drawers and the natural world are then be crafted into simple or elaborate decorations for the cupcakes.  There is a voting process that always devolves into each person arguing the merits of his or her unique creativity.  It’s always a lot of fun, and many pages of the family photo albums provide evidence of our dedication to this tradition.


One summer when piles of sugar confections and frosting and sticky knives and cupcake crumbles covered our picnic table, Judy Sunday drove up. She was delivering the beach scene painting we’d bought from her the previous week.  A creative person herself, she was intrigued by our creations.  We tried to engage her in the voting process, but she was too savvy to get sucked into that.


The next summer, we found Judy’s booth at the county fair and as we greeted her, noticed the painting of cupcakes.  Judy beamed and said, “I went straight home from your house inspired to make this painting!”  Of course we had to buy it, delighted to see our family tradition commemorated on canvas.


At that time, I could never have conceived that it might one day hang in a place of my own here on this magical island.  Yes, my former husband and I worked like crazy in our careers, but it was a stroke of lottery-like good fortune that gifted me a shabby gingerbread cottage waiting to be loved back into its original glory.  It tickles me to think that I walked by this place twenty years ago, unaware that one day I’d be inside looking out rather than outside looking in.


But back to cupcakes, and the buried punch line of this story.  Today one of my daughters and her boyfriend are arriving, as is my niece and her guy.  Last week my daughter said, “We’re doing the cupcakes, right?”  I assured her we were, even though my enthusiasm for the tradition has waned with the waxing of my awareness that I cannot always safely navigate exposure to substances made exclusively of sugar.   I rarely have anything in my house that triggers a desire to eat “recreationally,”  and go to lengths to avoid exposure to situations where sugar is celebrated.  And yet, I love this tradition.  I cherish the memories of the years when our family was all under the same roof and the creativity that went into this tradition.


I bought the cupcakes this year so as not to endure the intoxicating smell of them baking.  They are encased in plastic out in the shed, exiled until their moment in the spotlight.  All the decorating paraphernalia is similarly stashed.  I’m personally planning my creation out of non-food substances, so as not to have even one gummy bear jump from my hand to my mouth.  I’m going to a meeting of new friends who also live with this specific brand of insanity just prior to the arrival of those who can safely play with sugar, so as to build up my immunity against my toxic tendencies towards it.


Tonight when the decorating contest commences, I plan to be both girded against, and free from, anything that detracts from my ability to be present to enjoy the limited amount of time that I have with people I love.   I think I’ll bring the painting downstairs into the dining room to remind me of this post, and my limits.


ps.  I thought I published this yesterday, but apparently didn’t hit “Publish”  Next time, how I got through the Fourth joyfully…..







  • Josephine

    Excellent post, and it captures so well the desire to be part of a sugar-dominated event, but being scared to partake and go spiraling down. I am trying to navigate this, and with two little boys in the house, it is basically impossible to have a treat free home. It’s nice to know that it is not just me, and that the struggle is indeed real.

    • Kathryn

      Hey Josie! Great to hear from you…Let’s make a phone date to discuss our Big Book study group we want to start in the fall…

      I get the thing about sharing a house with people who can eat things we can’t. It’s so tough. But for me, it’s all about spiritual connection. By going to meetings every morning at 6:45, I’ve found I can easily navigate situations that have slayed me in the past. LOL, that’s likely a zero option for a mom with young children! You’ll find your way….

  • Ellen

    This is reminding me of the dreaded event that I have obligated myself to this weekend. A childhood friends, mother’s 80th birthday party. The Theme??? “Cookies and Milk”. UGH. I really feel like it is not safe for me to go. How is it possible to negotiate such an event??? And stay sober???

    • Kathryn

      If the birthday honoree is a woman you treasure, I would hate to see you miss this seminal event. I would go and just do all the things we know to do to gird for a two hour event…For me, it would be to JUST EAT NOTHING. I go to an annual cookie party at Christmas that one of my closest friends hosts, and have nativated that safely for years. I take no cookies, eat no cookies, and bring no cookies home. But I do have a chance to connect with people I see only once a year. But if you aren’t sure you can celebrate a friend’s birthday safely, it’s also an option to just not go. You can honor her in a different, more intimate way. Just my thoughts….

  • Kathy T

    Wonderful post! We so often hear that we should avoid people, places, and things that might threaten our abstinence. It’s good to hear the message that if you are in the proper (read strong spiritual) condition, you can navigate the most challenging situations by remembering what the occasion is really all about… the people and the love! Hope you had a fabulous time!

  • Jude

    I love this, especially putting the cupcakes in the shed! You are taking marvelous care of yourself. I hope you enjoy your daughter’s visit!

  • Linda

    The painting is just lovely! I have learned to live with having things in our home that I do not eat. As long as I don’t take the first bite, it’s just fine! At one of my daughter’s birthday parties, we had a similar contest…it was such fun! I think that the beauty of the program is that I learn to live and enjoy life, not focus on the food!

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