memories of eggnog, and creating joy

Every year at Christmas, perhaps on the night we decorated our Christmas tree, but definitely on the evening of Christmas Eve, my father  treated us with cups of eggnog. At some point in the evening, after dinner, Dad would head into the kitchen to prepare the drink.

The eggnog was never homemade, always store bought, but he never served it straight out of the plastic jug. He made a point to doctor it up, making the drink special in a way that it wouldn’t have been otherwise. Looking back, I’m pretty sure he just sprinkled some nutmeg on top, but maybe there was more to it than that. You just never knew with my dad.

That first sip of the sweet, milkshake-thick drink was always a surprise and a delight. It felt indulgent and excessive, and I loved my father for that. I felt special, being allowed to share in this obviously adult ritual. Dad drank his eggnog down quickly, not pausing to savor each mouthful as I did, then wiped his mouth with the back of one hand. I remember his satisfied smile then, eyes sparkling, as he looked around the room at me, my brother, and my mom. Any strife that existed in that cozy living room — any bickering or grudges held or slights felt — were gone, entirely, for those moments we savored the eggnog.

In the many years that have passed since those first sips of the holiday treat, my memories of the taste of eggnog are bound together tightly with feelings of peacefulness and joy.

This past week has been more stressful than usual. We hosted two parties last weekend, a holiday party for my work and a sleepover party for my daughter’s ninth birthday. The parties were wonderful, and I enjoyed every bit of them. The stress leading up to the events was expected and, at least for me, a normal part of the party-planning experience.

But then my father-in-law had emergency back surgery after a fall left him with a fractured vertebrae in his spine. His surgery happened one week ago today, the day of the first party, and he worsened over the next several days, ultimately winding up in the intensive care unit. The stress of this on my husband has been immeasurable, and to make things worse, there was some major family drama in the middle of the week that nearly tipped us both over the edge. Sam and I have hugged each other very tightly these last few days, and the strife and stress have only served to make us stronger, together.

One more day of work and then I’m off for the holidays with my children. I plan to change things up around here, lighten the mood and brighten our spirits. I’m thinking of baking cookies and cakes. We’ll be wrapping presents and planning Christmas dinner. There will be Christmas carol singing, very off-key singing probably, but we will sing nonetheless. I plan to start and end each day with hugs and with I-love-you‘s.

And I bought some eggnog. It’s time for some peacefulness and joy.

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21 Responses to “a nursing home visit, and a strawberry balsamic pie”

  1. Beth (OMG! Yummy) — February 5, 2014 @ 7:23 pm

    You had me at strawberry balsamic. I will make this but not until strawberries go back down to less than $7 per basket 🙂

    Your nursing home story brings back many memories of my MIL’s scenario. I truly empathize and can vividly remember my own version of the same situation. Stay strong and keep visiting as often as you can.

    Have a great time in San Diego!

  2. Elizabeth — February 5, 2014 @ 7:33 pm

    The pie looks delish!! Can’t wait to try it. My heart goes out to your and your family. The situation with your father is not easy and you have every right to feel the full range of emotions, sometimes repeatedly in one day! It is good for you to visit and even though you think it does not mean something, it does. Deep down inside, it does. It is concerning when you mention all of the items that have gone missing. Maybe a chat with management could rectify that situation. Glasses, hearing aids and clothes are a big deal! I cannot imagine what your Mom is going through. Probably a lot of ‘Thank God he is still here with us’ and ‘Don’t let him suffer needlessly’ which are all normal. Sometimes there is a connection of guilt associated with the latter – all normal. All one wants is for things to go back to when there were good memories. My heartfelt prayers for you and your family.

  3. Kathryn — February 6, 2014 @ 6:10 am

    Oh, this is so familiar. Those half conversations that go round in circles and the knowledge that in 10 minutes, your visit will be forgotten. It’s so, so hard. Much love to you and your family xo

  4. Georgie — February 6, 2014 @ 11:00 am

    I love this pie. It’s beautiful. Very much in like the way you walked me down to the memory of my father, through your father. I was numb for a long time during and after my fathers illness. Though many years later, I remember all the good sweet love he gave us. Those beautiful memories stay with and make me smile now. I know it will be the same for you too. Now, lets see if I can macerated these almost ripe strawberries into sweetness. Huge hugs to you!

  5. Carlinne @Cook with 2 Chicks — February 6, 2014 @ 11:25 am

    This pie looks amazing! This is coming from a “give me a chocolate cookie or brownie” girl. Your posts about your visits to the nursing home are always so touching. I hope that baking and cooking provide some comfort to you throughout this unwanted journey. Maybe there actually IS a connection to your story and your recipe.
    Safe travels.

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — February 6th, 2014 @ 9:03 pm

      Baking definitely provides comfort. So does the writing about it. Thank you so much for commenting, Carlinne.

  6. Lizthechef — February 6, 2014 @ 11:41 am

    Having been in your situation with parents and in-laws, I would urge you, as a physician, to take a stand with the staff about their neglectful treatment of your beloved father. He needs his vision and hearing supports asap – good luck!

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — February 6th, 2014 @ 9:02 pm

      Oh, Liz, we’ve been all over that nursing home administration and nursing staff. I’ve even had to threaten to file formal complaints with the state. It gets better for at time, then the care lapses. It’s a constant struggle.

  7. Tina — February 6, 2014 @ 1:26 pm

    The pie looks amazing. It is really sad that your dad is still here but he’s not. We all have a terminal illness some just don’t know what it is. Hugs.

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — February 6th, 2014 @ 9:00 pm

      You’re so right about that, Tina. And thanks for those hugs.

  8. jacquie — February 6, 2014 @ 1:44 pm

    I’m sorry for you and your dad. Thank you for being willing and courageous enough to share your story. you are grieving and especially then things don’t need to connect. though perhaps connection is as simple as the pie and the making, eating and sharing of it helps ground you and your loved ones in a very challenging situation.

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — February 6th, 2014 @ 9:00 pm

      Thank you for reading and commenting, Jacquie.

  9. Paula — February 6, 2014 @ 4:19 pm

    Another poignantly beautiful post Merry Jennifer. This pie looks amazing, I love how you did the top crust in strips and adding balsemic vinegar to the strawberry filling must have elevated the taste to over the top wonderful.

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — February 6th, 2014 @ 8:59 pm

      Thank you, Paula. I wish I could take credit for the balsamic genius. The recipe is from the Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book – those women are talented.

  10. Di — February 10, 2014 @ 12:31 pm

    I grieve for you, for your family, for your broken hearts. I have no words beyond this to express my sadness for you all. I have been there.

  11. Vanessa — February 13, 2014 @ 10:10 pm

    Thank you for the recipe. The pie tasted delicious 🙂 My only problem (which very well could just be my lack of pie making skills) was that the juice was still runny, it didn’t thicken up. Any suggestions? Thanks, vanessa

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — February 14th, 2014 @ 8:54 am

      Did you use the ground arrowroot? That serves as a thickener. Also, if the pie is warm when you slice it, it will be runnier. If you refrigerate the pie, then slice it and let the slice come to room temperature, the pie slice will keep its shape better.

  12. Vanessa — February 14, 2014 @ 2:18 pm

    Thanks for the reply. I used ground arrowroot and refrigerated it for a day, maybe I’ll add more arrowroot next time. But, my husband still loved it, so thank you! 😉

  13. Nutmeg Nanny — February 15, 2014 @ 4:31 pm

    My thoughts are with you and your family in this difficult time, unfortunately I know too well that there aren’t enough words anyone could say to ease this sort of pain.
    Your pie is gorgeous, it looks perfectly done.

  14. lucy — February 19, 2014 @ 12:25 pm

    A beautiful pie and a beautiful and heartfelt post. I am so sorry for what you are going through with your father. Can only imagine how hard it must be for everyone, especially your mother. I have no advice and no words of wisdom but will send up a prayer for you and your family.

  15. Jennifer — June 10, 2014 @ 4:50 pm


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