life

thankful thursdays {02.04.2016}

Until a few seconds ago, my hands were all that was keeping my head together, my forefingers massaging my temples, as the remaining fingers cupped my forehead. If there was a ever a day I needed to cozy up with a cup of coffee, and have a heart to heart with a bestie, this morning was it. But, they’re all far flung these days. One friend sets up tea dates via Skype with her friends back in France. I’d love to get something like that going with my Brooklyn crew; perhaps that nourishment would make the tough days feel more manageable.

I realize, as I get older, that I’m more prickly in my behavior. Or perhaps I’m just more in tune with what I need, and that just makes life feel louder when the needs can’t be fulfilled.

It’s silly little things, like finding a café I can curl up in with my laptop. I want great coffee, in a real cup, and food that I want to eat, not just order mindlessly because I’m hungry. And then there’s the atmosphere. I need a good vibe, one I can feed off of to spur my writing. Right now, the only way to check all those boxes means an hour commute into D.C. Not a big deal on the surface, but considering my work hours officially start once I drop off the kids, and cease in time for school pick up at 3:15pm, two hours round trip isn’t always possible.

But where am I going with this one? I don’t know myself. A few days ago, one of my besties asked if I was happy to be home, upon arriving upstate. I told her I was happy to be at my house, but I don’t know where home is anymore. It’s not easy to admit feeling so lost at 42 years of age. Adults are supposed to have their shit together by this point, right? Especially adults with the responsibility of two children.

Today is Friends Day on Facebook, to celebrate the company’s 12th birthday. I don’t know where I’d be without the core group of women (and one dude, yes Davey, you’re my dude). I imagine in a much worse state than I feel at the moment. I’m not necessarily in a dark place, just a tough place. Lots of decisions to make in the coming months, and no answer “checks all the boxes”. I know by now that life is a compromise; I’m just glad that I never have to compromise on choosing one best friend. They all nourish the many sides that make up the often complicated, cranky, sarcastic, stubborn, witty, crass, and I think they’d agree funny girl behind this screen.

thankful thursdays {01.28.2016}

When I first set out to write a weekly post with the theme of thankfulness, admittedly, I was a bit nervous. I wanted to raise everyone’s awareness, and felt leading by example would be the best way. There are many things that happen throughout our days and weeks for which we should be grateful. And while the big occurrences thrust our consciousness into full focus, the real work begins in learning to appreciate the average, everyday ordinary good things that add up to a larger sum. Leading the charge meant holding myself firmly accountable, a reminder to keep myself mindful. That is a bit of a double-edged sword.

My goal is to always start these posts on Monday, to give myself time to ponder and think about all the little things that I’ve perhaps overlooked. The moments that have value, often without realizing it when they’re happening. The reality in my work life balance is that I usually write these posts on Wednesdays, and sometimes finish them as late as Thursday mornings (case in point!). Part of it is that I can’t commit words to paper just because I’ve committed myself to a weekly theme. I don’t see the point in wasting my time, or yours. And yet, each week since Thanksgiving, inspiration has struck, letting the words flow from my fingers to these pages.

thankful thursdays 01.28.2016 | www.injennieskitchen.com

I’ve been thinking a lot about this week’s Thankful Thursdays post. There’s so much swirling in my mind. The girls and I went to see The Lady in the Van today (or would that be yesterday?). For those unfamiliar with the movie, one of the main characters is portrayed as two characters, seemingly identical twins. I had to explain to the girls that they were actually the same person, representing the conversations going on in his mind. Bennett’s portrayal is a peek into the minds of many writers. If one were to take a snapshot of my thoughts over the course of 10 minutes, there would be no less than 20 conversations going on, all amongst myself. I found it interesting that this concept was hard for the girls to grasp. Perhaps it is only as we grow older that so many thoughts fight for attention within our head.

Yesterday was day five of no school due to the blizzard. Today we embark on day six. Cabin fever has kicked into high gear, so we’re going to change up the scenery, and make a quick trip to our house near Woodstock, NY. One thing I’m especially thankful for this week is that though the walls of our 800 square-foot apartment have begun to feel confining, we’ve had a pretty amazing week. Far less fighting between the girls than I would’ve imagined. Lazy afternoons, curled up on beanbags in their room with a movie projected on the wall, passing Twizzler bites and Swedish fish back-and-forth. But mostly, I’m thankful that I’ve kept this commitment to myself in writing every Thursday, whether it’s about something, nothing, or somewhere in between.

thankful thursdays {01.21.2016}

A few months ago, I discovered I lost my wedding ring. The realization left me with an ache down to my core. One would think life has sucker punched me enough, but no, it proved yet again to be full of painful surprises. I searched every where, fingered through the same drawers, and trinket boxes countless times, each time hitting the same brick wall. It happened during the move last summer. At first, I wasn’t too worried when I couldn’t find it at my apartment in Maryland. I was sure I’d left it in the tiny ceramic bowl Isabella made for me at school. She’d given it to me to keep in the kitchen expressly for that purpose, to place my rings while washing dishes. Funny, how she truly is her papa’s daughter. Many years ago, on a trip to Martha’s Vineyard, Mikey surprised me with a little etched, green glass box, for the same reason. He noticed I always took my rings off while cooking, and thought it best to have a safer place to store them.

On my first visit back to the house, I made a B-line for the ceramic dish. I’d since moved it into my bedroom, in preparation for renting the house out. Not there. I rifled through an old wooden box, adorned with a golden yellow and orange ceramic swirl in the center. Another gift from M, for what occasion I no longer remember.

Not there.

I played this game several times, with no success.

Even once I finally came to accept it as gone for good, I found myself rummaging through the same places I’d checked obsessively with each new visit back to the house.

And then guess what happened this past weekend? I’d let out yet another sigh, having checked the end table in my bedroom when I remembered stowing a bowl away in the kitchen closet on my way back to Maryland from Montreal, with a quick layover at the house. I opened the cabinet, and found nothing. I thought to look up, and in a white, milk glass cup, on the top shelf, there it was, along with a few other treasures I’d thought were long lost.

Finding that tiny band of platinum made me feel whole again. I know I can no longer wear it, much as I wish to. It would be inappropriate given my new relationship. I felt a little saddened by this reality. Regardless of how much time passes, and my heart’s capacity to let love grow, my wedding ring is a kind of anchor, a reminder of a very important part of my life.

I wore the ring back to Maryland on my right pinky finger, secured by a thin antique platinum and diamond band I bought myself on Cape Cod 10 years ago. Most people thought it was my actual wedding band, or a gift from Mikey, but it wasn’t. When I walked into my apartment, after a long day of driving, and detour through Brooklyn, I wiggled the ring off my finger, and dropped it into a little clay dish Virginia made that sits on my kitchen counter. The ring fell into place, settling into the center of Michael’s wedding ring. I placed it there when I thought my wedding ring was lost, for fear of losing his, too.

It’s funny how hope works. Just when you’ve lost it all, it’s possible to dig deeper, and discover a hidden reserve to carry on a little further in your journey.

Music Pairing: It Don’t Come Easy by Ringo Starr & George Harrison

{Listen to this post by clicking the audio bar below.}

 

thankful thursdays {01.14.2016}

The last hours of 2015 felt littered with so many signs of the past. Initially, littered feels like the wrong choice of words. Litter is something unwanted, in need of removal. And yet, those signs tether me to another life, another world. It began as I neared the hotel. On paper, I should’ve realized where we’d be staying, but the weight of it didn’t fully compute until I arrived with the girls. Right around the corner from The Evelyn hotel is the building where we met, The New York Life building.

If you’re familiar with the NYC skyline, then you’ve seen it, too. It’s pyramid shaped top, covered in real gold, gleaming in the night sky, and brightly reflecting the sunlight during the day. The glow from the roof peeked into the bedroom of the hotel room, where the girls stayed, as if he were watching them drift towards sleep.

Then there was the photo in the living area of our hotel room. I don’t know why it caught my eye, but I noticed the stamp on the sheet music booklet. It read Pottstown, PA. That’s where my father died 18 years ago this month, at Pottstown Memorial Medical Center.

Thankful Thursdays {01.14.2016} | www.injennieskitchen.com

The next morning I stopped for coffee at the shop a few doors down from The Evelyn. A great little place, incidentally. Solid cup of joe, and lovely staff, so head over to Birch Coffee if you’re in the neighborhood. As I pulled a packet of sugar from the tin, I noticed they were crammed into an old Eight O’Clock coffee can. A framed, vintage Ladies Home Journal advertisement for the same coffee hangs on the wall as you enter my apartment here in Maryland. It was a gift from M on our first wedding anniversary, the traditional gift being paper (I gave him a leather bound journal). More moments began to rack up as the day and a half in NYC wore on. The ghosts were clinging to me as 2015 drew to a close. But, why? What were they trying to tell me?

Was life leading me on some sadistic trip down memory lane? Do we struggle with the letdowns of our past, cling to the unfinished stories so strongly that they manifest themselves into signs? Or are they just well-worn reminders of a life that has been lived?

The fog from which I was stuck in as January came to be has lifted a bit, my mind onto other pressing matters now. One chapter I closed literally, was finishing M Train. I hesitated starting the book after getting my copy at Patti Smith’s signing in D.C. I figured the longer I prolonged beginning it, the longer I could put off it having to end. Her writing is so eloquent, and her journey, emotionally speaking, was a familiar cloak; one I wear daily. I wish I could speak to her, ask her what those early years were like without Fred. How did she manage with two young children? Her Alamo, the bungalow in the Rockaways, seems to her what my little house in upstate New York is to me. Our refuge from the rest of the world. I wonder would she still love it so much if she lived there full-time, or does she stay just long enough to miss it when she’s gone? That’s what I realized about my house. The solitude of the long, cold winters weighed too heavily after one season, but stepping away from it these past eight months has strengthened my love for it, and all it symbolizes. I shall greet it with a wide smile when I pull into the driveway tomorrow afternoon.

I’m meandering, and not quite sure this falls neatly under the category of Thankful Thursdays, except that I’m deeply grateful for each day, and the opportunity it brings, regardless of the signs. I don’t’ always feel that way, but today I felt a little invigorated. I’m working on a new design for Simple Scratch Cooking, and excited about unveiling the Winter Issue, which will hopefully be ready to ship in a few weeks. In the meantime, here’s a few things that have left me feeling thankful, inspired, and pushed to do some deeper thinking this week.

 

On All The Ways To Write a Recipe by Christine Muhlke (MAD)

Is The Drive For Success Making Our Children Sick? By Vicki Abeles (The New York Times)

Rachel Roddy’s Potato Gnocchi Recipe by Rachel Roddy (The Guardian)

***

Seven Years Ago: Buttermilk Pancakes

Six Years Ago: Parmesan Skillet Croutons

Five Years Ago: Just Because

Four Years Ago: Day 169 {whole wheat chocolate chip cookies}

Three Years Ago: Day 521

Two Years Ago: Walk Lightly in The Lives of Others

One Year Ago: Naughty & Nice Smashed Avocado Toasts

Thankful Thursdays {01.07.2016}

I’m working hard these days to digest the advice I frequently dispense to my girls. The holidays took quite a toll on me. Nothing I care to go into here, but come December 31st, I was spent, and ready to wipe the slate clean with a new year, new goals. What I would tell my girls is that every day should be met with the optimism of a new year. I try my best to stay focused on the good moments for them; to remind them that hope exists even when you have to dig deeper than you’d like to find it.

Just as my mind was thick into my malaise on Monday, I came across a recipe that shook me from my slumber. It’s from an extraordinary writer, and recipe developer across the pond. I’d like to say Rachel and I are friends, but we’ve never actually met. Like so many relationships these days, it’s one through a screen. I’m always taken with her kitchen sink photos, and stories from Rome, where she lives. I’ve no doubt that if we lived closer, we’d be pals, indeed. Continue reading »

thankful thursdays {12.31.2015}

This time of year is filled with reflections. Where have we been, we are we going, where do we want to be? These are evergreen questions, I suppose, perhaps even necessary to stay feeling fulfilled. We spend so much time running, but often we feel like we’re going nowhere. It’s so easy to get stuck on the hamster wheel of life, especially as a parent.

There is much to figure out, professionally and personally, in the coming year. I don’t have all the answers today. Just thinking about them makes me exhausted. I bid adieu to 2015 a little weary from a month of traveling, but thankful that I was able to see so many people I love simply by slipping a key into the ignition of my car. I’ve no profound wisdom to share from these last 365 days. Come Saturday, I will continue to be a work in progress, figuring it all out like the rest of you. I’ve never been one for resolutions, but one thing I want to commit to in the coming year is to get back to journaling. My inner voice is screaming to get out and make sense of things. Letting the thoughts morph into words, flowing from the tip of my pen to paper is the next best thing to therapy for me. Two of my best friends must’ve had a sixth sense because they gave me beautiful journals for Christmas. The pages, and each word written, will tether me to them, and for that I’m incredibly thankful. Here’s to a peaceful, gentle end to 2015, and cheers to all the possibilities that await in 2016.

Thankful Thursdays 12.31.2015 | www.injennieskitchen.com

thankful thursdays {12.24.2015}

There’s a Dylan CD sitting in my Amazon shopping cart for four years now. I put it there as a bookmark in the summer of 2011, as a reminder of a gift I wanted to buy M for Christmas that year. But it was a different holiday than we all expected. Much as I would like to buy the CD for myself, it stays there as a reminder, a moment frozen in time. He is always with me, and that’s something I becoming more comfortable with, odd as that may sound. I carry him in my heart, and my head, while building, or at least trying to build, a new life, with a new love.

I had a dream a few weeks ago. My guy and I were at a party, and I ran into Mikey. We talked, the way old friends who hadn’t seen each other in years would, without missing a beat. Soon it was time to leave, and I glanced towards my guy waiting at the door. I looked at M, and said with an awkward hesitation, “I have to go now”. He looked me in the eye, and said, “ I know; it’s okay”. We hugged goodbye, and I walked out of the party, hand-in-hand with my guy, feeling happy and at peace. That’s how I felt leaving North Carolina this weekend, my heart and mind well-nourished after spending time with a dear friend who gets me like no one else in the world. And like Ilina, I know that dream was not the last I will see of M.

He is in the cardinals I see all around; reminders of the birds that used to grace our backyard in Brooklyn. He’s in the poppies that bloomed in our garden upstate this past spring. He’s in the Batman USB key that I couldn’t help buying when I glanced at it in a bookstore last week. He’s in every juice glass I admire, whispering in my head, “Why can’t we have big glasses to drink from?”.

As my guy and I settle in for our first Christmas together, I’m thankful for his patience and willingness to navigate this all with me. The love he’s given me, and the way he shows it, is the most beautiful gift of all. Merry Christmas, baby.

Music Pairing: Let’s Make Christmas Mean Something This Year (parts 1&2) by James Brown

thankful thursdays {12.17.2015}

Going back to Brooklyn is always bittersweet. As I said to my girlfriend, I miss the old neighborhood more for what it used to be, than what it is today. With every visit comes the discovery of yet another old-time store shuttered to make way for something hip, trendy, or worse—a high rise. I suppose that’s the great thing about memories; we get to carry them with us wherever we go.

One of the things I miss most about living in Brooklyn is walking, and not just for it’s physical benefits. I loved that my feet could take me wherever I needed to be. A few steps from my front door to the metro, or over the Brooklyn Bridge into the city to see my therapist, if time allowed. What I love most about walking is the journey, my eyes following my feet, taking it all in. It’s easy to understand the wonder toddlers feel when they discover the treasures that await on foot. In the moment, the time it takes to travel a city block with a 2-year-old can feel endless, but think of all they’d miss if they didn’t stop to inspect. The ants carrying cargo to their holes, a flower sprouting from the base of a tree, and leaves—like snowflakes, each one is different, and demands your attention when you’re a child.

The weekend was packed with little time to exhale. Not a complaint, since it was filled with lots of great moments, seeing old friends. I would’ve loved more time to explore, but find comfort in knowing I’ll be back there in two weeks with a more relaxed schedule to enjoy my city. In the one bit of free time we managed to carve out, my guy, Virginia, and I went to the main post office in Manhattan, on 33rd street and 8th Avenue. I began participating in Operation Santa the year Isabella was born. I knew our little girl would grow up with a tree brimming with gifts on Christmas morning, and began to think about the kids who wouldn’t have that same experience. I sat down with Mikey, and told him all I really wanted for Christmas was for us to each pick out letters to Santa, and make those kids wishes come true.

We went together, Isabella tucked into the baby bjorn, and poured over hundreds of letters. Who were we as human beings to determine which dreams were more worthy? Mikey looked at me, tears in his eyes, and it’s those same chocolate brown eyes that reflected back at me 12 years later, except they were his little girl’s. Virginia and I sat, reading letters, and while they all made us long for a world where the differences weren’t so stark, one in particular hit home. It was from a 12-year old girl whose father died four years ago. She has an eight year-old sister. There’s no doubt fate put that letter in my hands.

I found a tissue in my purse long enough for each tip to reach across the table, and dab the tears from our eyes. The comic relief helped soothe Virginia’s sadness. I explained that I didn’t bring her there to cry. I brought here there to see that even though she is just one person, she has the chance to make a positive difference in the world. I gestured towards all the people sitting at tables around us, and explained that with enough people doing little deeds of generosity like this, the impact would be profound.

We walked hand in hand, the three of us, out of the post office that afternoon, feeling a little more full of thanks for each other. Some where between going to gorge on the craziest milkshake ever, and a stroll through the Union Square holiday market, there were tantrums to be extinguished. So is life with a seven year old, for she is only human. The sentiment of goodwill was lasting, though, as she shared the story of our day with her sister that afternoon. Isabella asked to read the letters, and while she wasn’t there to help pick them, she asked if she could help shop for the gifts. Many days, heck most days, I feel like I’m doing it all wrong. And then on days like that one last Saturday, I have hope that they’re connecting the dots of what it means to be a good person. It doesn’t mean we come without faults; it just means that we are a work in progress. Every morning brings the chance to be better than we were the day before. And every day brings the opportunity to make the world a little better than the way we found it.

For more information about Operation Santa, and participating postal offices in the U.S., click here.

Music Pairing: Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand) by Diana Ross

Video Pairing: this Diana Ross in Central Park version.

thankful thursdays {12.10.2015}

I remember the first Christmas M and I spent together. I don’t think his half-Jewish upbringing had quite prepared him for me. We’re talking about the girl who saved her allowance to take lessons on making tin ornaments at a craft store on Long Island when I was in the fourth grade. And the girl who crafted her way towards saving enough money to buy Christmas gifts for family. I found the little tree I made for Mikey, complete with a felt tree skirt, stashed away in our storage unit when I cleaned it out during the move from Brooklyn to Woodstock. I couldn’t believe he had saved it all those years.

I feel like I’m rambling a little. The delicate task of holding on, while not holding myself back has been on mind lately, since reading this essay. See, it’s easier for me to toggle back and forth between memories and reality than most of the other people in my life. That sounds odd, I know, but hear me out. Easy is a relative word. I miss Mikey every day, but not always for the reasons one might think. I miss him most as my best friend, my person—the one who would always be there, who could always finish my sentences. That is not why I still talk often about him, even four years later. No, the reason I talk about him is as Lexi says—I’m proud, and he deserves to be remembered.

There are so many things I want to say about this idea of how we keep loved ones alive once they’ve left our physical world. My thoughts are guarded, though, fearing a bit that people just won’t get it. That feeling when I talk about Mikey, and I see people’s eyes shift, looking a little uncomfortable, or sad. It’s still hard at times for the girls to talk about him, especially the last few months. They both miss so much. But we still talk about him because he deserves to be remembered. We’re all struggling with the reality that we don’t quite remember what he looked like, even though his photos hang on our wall, and sit on our coffee table.

My own dad gave up. He walked out on me. So, I find myself offering up the fact that I’m a widow and not just a single mom when it isn’t even required. In my mind, it’s a way of honoring, or perhaps defending his absence. He didn’t choose to leave his daughters. But also, I want people to know what an amazing daddy he was in the short time he had with his girls.

Some days, I want to throw in the towel. Raising the girls alone is exhausting. I thought it might feel a little easier as time passed, or with them getting older. The truth is it feels a little bit more difficult with each passing day. Perhaps it’s fatigue setting in, or maybe it’s just because every day that passes puts us one day further from having heard him, seen him, laughed with him.

No matter how hard it gets, I am still thankful to have known him, and shared a life with him. Still share a life with him, as I see our girls grow. During this celebration of Hanukkah, it is evident that while Mikey is no longer with us physically, the mark he left on our lives is one that will last and shine brightly forever.

 

thankful thursdays

The idea of thankfulness was ever present last month, and no doubt it will continue into December, as we prepare to celebrate Christmas. The reality, though, is that being thankful is something we can, and should, practice year round. So, what does that mean exactly? Do we walk around, smiling nonstop, never letting life’s tougher moments get us down? Well, of course, that’s not what it means to be thankful, at least not how I see it. We need those more challenging times. They pose a counter balance, and if we work at being in a state of mindfulness, the hope is that those memories of tougher times make the good ones shine ever more brightly.

The truth about thankfulness is that you need to absolve yourself of guilt. We are mere mortals, not saints. Allow yourself to feel annoyed, and have a bad day. You’ll hopefully get back on track tomorrow. At least this is what has worked for me the last few years.

Before the summer of 2011, I had a different perspective. I thought it was easy to be happy, kind of like “just do it”. I used to say we have two choices when we wake “to face the day with a smile, or a frown”. Life has since taught me that it’s not all or nothing. Thankfulness is not about happiness; it’s about being appreciative, be it for something tangible or intangible.

I had a lovely conversation about being thankful earlier this week with a reader. She’s going through a tough time, yet in the face of it all she remains gracious and thankful. So much so, that she’s started a site devoted to increasing mindfulness about gratitude. I’m looking forward to see her project grow.

Then I read about this on Tuesday. An anonymous knitter left little tokens of love in NYC’s Tompkins Square Park. How amazing is that? In the midst of all the awful things happening in the world, I’m thankful for the kindness of strangers. What do you say we take a thankful journey together? Let’s meet here every Thursday, and share stories about our week, the moments for which we’re grateful and thankful to have experienced. And remember, it doesn’t have to be all rainbows and roses. Some weeks, happiness isn’t the goal; sheer survival is enough for me. Today, though, I’m thankful for all of you in sharing this little space with me. In the spirit of sharing, I’d love to give away a set of my custom printed note cards. Leave me a comment below with the name of someone whom you’d like to receive this surprise gift in the mail. See below for the fine print details. And see you here next Thursday!

UPDATE 12/9/2015: This giveaway is now closed, and no further entries will be accepted.

In Jennie's Kitchen note cards

Giveaway details: Two (2) winners will be chosen at random to receive a custom printed set of 4 note cards from In Jennie’s Kitchen. No purchase necessary to enter. Leave a comment on this post with the name of the person you’d like to see receive this giveaway gift. Entries close at 11:59pm on Tuesday, December 8th. Winners be selected, at random, on Wednesday, December 9th, and announced in the next Thankful Thursdays post on December 10th.