hello, 2019

Marina Luncheon | In Jennie's Kitchen

I had a thought while vacuuming the sofa earlier this morning. Not a new one, but a recurring one that began when I walked into Barnes & Noble a year or so ago, bombarded with cover lines and book titles promising to help me live my best life.

Happiness has become a commodity, yet anyone who’s struggled with feelings of unrest for elongated periods of time understands the answer isn’t one easily bought. This time of year we’re usually inundated with new year, new you themes. The last few days the trend this year seems to be embracing the current “you”. It’s just another happiness white-washing in my mind, a way of placating yourself into happiness without any real insight and self-reflection.

Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue—it’s an old saying of things women gather for their wedding day. On deeper reflection it’s reminds me of what balance really means. We’re a collection of our experiences. Some days I feel like a tangled mess of wires. Some days I feel like I’ve got it all together—the memories neatly wrapped and stored where they belong.

Today is one of those days but had you asked me three weeks ago, I was a mess, feeling all the feelings. Some of the anxiety came from everything going seemingly good (crazy, I know). A job I love, kids happy in school, and being in love with someone who completes me in a way I’ve never experienced.

Of course the job I love involves a seven hour round trip commute each of the three days I’m in the office. The school that fulfills the needs of my children comes with a monthly tuition payment. And, well, this great love of my life lives 90 minutes away, and has a life and children of his own to tend to. None of it is perfect, and yet, I wouldn’t trade any of it. There’s a happiness and calm I’ve not felt in years in this perfect storm of imperfection.

Rotolo | In Jennie's Kitchen

New Year’s Day rotolo. | In Jennie’s Kitchen

And yet, I still ached for Michael. Missing him deeply, wondering what is wrong with me? People say it gets easier. They say it gets different. Time heals—that’s the one liner everyone throws around especially in the early days of loss.

The point is that even in being happy it is possible to feel unhappy. Were you to weigh it on a scale, there’s a good chance it would be an equal balance of both over the course of a lifetime. So why do we think—why do we buy into the fact that balance, as sold in magazines, books, movies, talk shows (do those even still exist?), is about happiness outweighing the murkier moments in life?

I write these words so easily. The real work ahead is to remember them daily, and hold myself accountable to no one else’s standard of balance but my own. I live with love and sadness occupying the same chambers of my heart, and that is okay, even when it isn’t.

On Christmas Eve I went into the garden to dig up some fresh horseradish to use in my cocktail sauce to go with the shrimp cocktail. Breaking through the hard, cold ground, scattered with dead plants I never had the chance to clean up before winter settled in, reminded me that below the surface, life was flourishing even though it wasn’t visible. An important reminder for when we’re feeling gloomy. There’s life inside even when we think we’re depleted.

Horseradish Root | In Jennie's Kitchen

Horseradish Root | In Jennie’s Kitchen

I’ve no lofty new year’s goals. I’m just happy to be here in this moment, bathed in sun streaming through the living room window, my laptop propped on my legs, finally taking a moment to get back into this space here. I actually just let out a huge sigh, feeling calm with each word I write. I’ve missed this space, and just needed to catch my breath from the new job and holidays.

This month marks 10 years. Ten years of writing here consistently. It seems inconceivable that Michael was only alive for three of those years, barely. He is so present in every post, every word, every recipe.

Isabella will be 16 in May, and is very excited at the thought of learning to drive. I wonder how he would feel about this. Come fall, we’ll start the college search. There I go, getting ahead of myself, forgetting to stay in the moment. This moment, right here.

A few days before the new year, one of my best friends came up with her family. It was the most perfect afternoon, even with the rain and grey skies. Inside we stayed cozy with a candlelight lunch of lentils, sausages, salad, and a pavlova (that’s the photo at the beginning of this post). As the days begin to grow lighter, I’m going to work at holding onto memories of days like that to sustain me when my inner light needs rekindling.

One last thing to share before I go. I was reminded this Sunday is the Epiphany, also known as Three Kings’ Day. I’m hoping to make either this or this for Isabella to bring into French class next week, albeit a few days late. Figured I’d remind all of you of both recipes in case anyone out there wants to make one, too.

Many hugs and good wishes to you all for this new year that lies ahead. —xo Jennie



    2018 was the 50th anniversary of the death of my mom’s late husband. She was 21 and had three small children when he died in a horrific accident. She married my dad and had me, while remaining close to his family. My dad and I are considered family. He raised the kids as his own (my disinter is his favorite ha) and I loved having the extra relatives. My dad even tends the grave!

    Even though we’ve had a beautifully blended family and created a loving life, my mom still misses him. Asks “what if?” Sees him in her grandchildren. His memory is kept alive. I give her a ton of credit for raising my siblings alone, then picking my dad. But I also can’t fathom what she’s gone through. You are amazing and your new guy sounds great. I wish you lots of love and happiness in the new year ❤️

  • Carol H.

    Jennie, It sounds like the first time, in a long long time, that you are whole and embracing all that life has given you. That there will be speed bumps on life’s path is a given. It’s how you react to those bumps that counts. Can I recommend a good read about staying focused? It’s called: “The Headspace Guide to Meditation & Mindfulness” by Andy Puddicombe, a former Buddhist monk. (He also has a phone app.) He says it’s important to take 10 minutes each day to practice being in the moment. After a while “being in the moment” is like breathing. You just do it. All best to you and your family in the new year with new beginnings.

  • Rhonda

    You are such a deep thinker! Sometimes I have to sit and ponder and identify with the truth of your words.

    Hoping for a year of many blessings for you and yours!

  • Marg

    So glad you’re back blogging. Missed you and your recipes. You’re a strong woman and I wish you well.

  • Michelle

    On January 27th, 2019 will mark the first year of my husbands passing. All year I heard another 1st to get through. First birthday, his birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, on and on. The seconds, thirds etc won’t be any easier either. We were married a long time. He was my soulmate and I miss him terribly.

    I am always amazed by the people who will say are you still going to grief meetings. YES I am! It is like they think oh you should be over that by now. What is the matter with these people? Until you have walked in the shoes of someone who has lost a spouse don’t judge them. It is devastating beyond words. I have never lost a child and I cannot comprehend the grief you would feel no matter what age they are. We each deal with grief in our own way and no one should judge how we do it.

    I am glad you are you have found a new love. I have read your blog for a long time. It is hard to believe your daughter is turning 16. She was a little one when I started. Hope you have wonderful year.

  • Radhika

    Your words give me hope, Jennie! 2018 saw my health fall apart and so did my marriage. I am hoping to make 2019 my year of trying to piece it back together. HNY and so much love to you. So happy to read about your happiness.

  • Stella Rose

    I have been following you from the beginning of your blog. I can’t believe how the years have keep speeding by. It is hard to catch and stay in the moment this time of year when there are so many memories. My Father,Mom,Sister, Brother are all gone. Just one Brother and my Son are with me. I had a wonderful Christmas with my Son in Berkeley and San Francisco so I am trying to make new traditions. I wish you and the girls the Happiest New Year. Lots of moments to stay in. Peace. Stella (on Luther Burbanks country farm in Sebastopol Ca.)

  • Charlie

    Honey, there is nothing wrong with you!
    I lost my precious Michael 26 years ago, and at times I want him so much I cry.
    That’s okay.
    No matter what the “experts” say it is okay.
    We live in a disposable era, and even people seem to be disposable.
    When God gives us a soul mate He doesn’t expect us to forget them, just to keep going without them and hopefully with His help.
    Those that say they get over it, really don’t, they just bury their emotions so deep, that they don’t have to deal with grief.
    Yes, you will have days without even knowing it where you might not even think about Your Michael, and yes you will start to have more strong independent days.
    But at the times when things meant the most to you or you are under the greatest stress, you are going to feel sorrow, will feel a void and yes maybe even cry. That is alright.
    Today’s society tends to group everything into boxes, but people and emotions just cannot be put into boxes. Everyone grieves at different times, at different depths, and different levels. A time period cannot be put onto that.
    Don’t ever let anyone tell you, that you should be “over” grieving, or “over” Michael. I truly believe people that say that are unable and uncomfortable with grieving so need to speed the process up. It sounds like you and your Michael had the same deep relationship that I had with my Michael, a deeper relationship than most do, a relationship of the deepest part of our hearts, one person instead of two. You just can’t rip that apart and be whole again. You can though, carry on and start a new life. This is what you are doing and doing so well!
    Don’t forget your Michael, and talk about him whenever you like. If others have a problem with that, then that’s on them, not you.
    You have my email, and I mean it when I say if you want to talk any time day and night I’m here with my ears, and heart open for you.
    Continuing in prayer for you and your family.
    God Bless