The Path Forward
I have co-founded FODMAP Everyday with my life-long friend, fellow foodie and erstwhile business partner Dédé– to help manifest a relationship between food and love for those who may not have had such a positive experience in the past.
I Hold a Two-Fold Perspective
First, love of self, where we must give our bodies what they need most–which means learning about your body and finding the purest, most healthy ingredients you can find and afford and learning to combine them so that they please your senses and palate and fulfill your physical needs in a way that respects your unique body.
Second, love of others. Nothing binds us more deeply than sharing a meal with others. And when we create meals of delectable substance, respect for the ingredients and the source of the food and offer them to our family and to our friends- we are saying “I love you.”
I grew up with parents who loved food… they loved to shop for good food, they loved to cook and create in the kitchen and they loved to have friends or family around our big tables eating and drinking together for hours. I talk about those beginnings in a blog series I am hoping others will join me in contributing to: Food Is Life: The Potluck Series. The examples they set for me became the blueprint for my own life – finding and sharing joy in the kitchen and around the table- after the fun adventure of planning and shopping for great food.
Later in life, I was fortunate enough to travel the world for almost 20 years as a human and labor rights consultant with the highly respected global NGO Verité– and experienced the simple to the sublime of foods from almost every continent. Home cooked meals in Antigua, Guatemala to 5-Star dinners in Lausanne, Switzerland, to banquets of literally hundreds of dishes in Hong Kong to street food in Brazil. The common denominator of every meal was the skill, knowledge and love that the person who made it put into it and that I shared that meal with another person or a place with meaning. And each meal gave me an experience I will always be grateful for.
Home Is Where My Heart Is
I live on an 80-acre hay farm in Amherst, MA and have rented a small farmhouse for the past 22 years on this special piece of property with a vista view of the hills of Western Massachusetts from my kitchen window and porch. I raised my daughter, Kiera, now 29, here in this house alongside the barn that used to house the Dickinson Cider Mill. We’ve shared our home with an evolving pack of four-legged friends as well as 2 legged ones who we have watched many a sunset across the back fields from our porch together.
Losses and Gains
In 2016 I retired from my job at Verité to give myself some time to just stop and rest. Both of my beloved parents had recently died 8 months apart and I was coming off of 4 years of battling Lyme disease. I was exhausted and drained in every sense of the word. I made what at the time was a terrifying but necessary decision, to walk away from a job I had loved, where I had a great salary and benefits and was well respected within — basically unprecedented autonomy and job security. But I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t find joy. I needed to do something differently. So after a lot of soul-searching, I gave them my notice after 18 years. It was both exhilarating and paralyzing. As many big choices in life can be.
But what has followed has been exactly what I had envisioned it could be if I just allowed myself to get quiet enough inside to hear who I was and what I wanted next. I gave myself one year to not make any decisions about work. I committed to not say yes to any offers of work for at least 8-10 months with a commitment to not return to work for a full year.
What I did commit myself to was to get up every morning and do what my body and mind led me to do. At first, I was anxious and afraid. Every possible scenario of failure, stupidity and avarice haunted my waking hours and dreams. (OMG! I gave up health benefits! An income!) But over the weeks I started to feel a sense of calm and a return of creative thought I had not experienced for some years. And the more I relaxed into it the more aware I became of opportunities and the gifts of new experiences arrived. My mind quietened down. My body stopped hurting.
The Heart of the Home
I’m a doer and I am project oriented. So I started at home and spent that February renovating my kitchen! This was something I had wanted to do for years. But the time, the money and the focus were not there. But now three intense and long hour weeks later my carpenter friend Peter and I stood in my transformed kitchen. What a gift to myself!!!
My kitchen is the heart of my home. It is where I spend most of my hours- and it is the entry point to my house off my porch where everyone comes into my home. So to have it now not only feel light and clean and gorgeous – it was FUNCTIONAL!!! Lots of counter space where before there was none. Lots of pantry and storage space and sliding new drawers for pots and pans. I cannot express just how much of a change this has made to my experience of being in my home. And how integral it was to what followed.
Razing the Greenhouse to Raise the Greenhouse
Then in March, I went outside. Over the years I have had vegetable gardens and flower gardens of varying size and success. Learning as I went along. The greenhouses that had been up and running in the early years of my living here were now collapsed and covered in bindweed, brambles and poison ivy– neglect only as a result of the death of my beloved New England landlord who worked sun up to sun down on this farm.
I just started pulling and whacking mostly for exercise but then a vision arose! Renovate the main greenhouse and build a garden in the footprint of the smaller one! And that is what I did. Every day I refined my vision and got to work. You can see the process and results in these Facebook photo albums- by late May I had a huge garden and a fully functional planted greenhouse!!
Facebook Albums- Razing The Greenhouse to Raise the Greenhouse, Winter Chicken Palace, Just Plain Good Food and, Roja Home Farm: Season 2, Life at My House
What Had Also Transformed Was Me
I was deeply calm. I felt rested despite working sometimes 10 hours a day on the greenhouse and gardens. I felt focused and happy. My grief over my parents was settling into a place of grateful acceptance. And I was having the kinds of experiences you can only have if you are open and aware and present. I had developed a willingness to let go of expectation and to welcome the “what is”. I know, it sounds a bit new agey. But for someone who needs to know what’s coming next and to have a very specific type of sense of security to feel safe, this was actually huge. And the gifts of this were plenty.
What Happens When You Can Hear What the Universe is Saying
One day in the middle of the summer I awoke next to my partner who asked me about how I knew someone he had met. I embarked on a 45-minute story about a lifelong friendship with Dédé that had gone silent for the past 20 years. Not due to anything negative- just life took us on different paths since we had closed our bakery in the late 90’s.
I got up to get our coffee and found a Facebook Message from… you guessed it… Dédé! She wrote… “Whoa I had a dream about you last night….I tried to call you but had an old number I guess. What’s your phone? I wanted to reach out:) ” Turned out her dream was of her catering in NYC running around like — well, a caterer in NYC! And she ran into me on the street and I was apparently infuriatingly calm and happy. And when she awoke she thought I gotta find out why she’s so damn happy and calm. Which in real life I was!
We got together …. and as they say… the rest is history! Or rather…. FUTURE! You can read about Dédé’s life here – which we caught up on very quickly. And we both realized we had complementary skills, shared dreams, an unbreakable friendship, as well as a great track record of working together. So we created a partnership, Shift Works Partners, LLC. (yup! Sometimes just making a shift works! ) and worked very hard all year to bring FODMAP Everyday to you!
Our Hope …
We hope that we will be successful in offering you the inspiration, encouragement, information and resources that will enable you to love yourself and others through food that respects the unique qualities of your own body. Please do not hesitate to communicate directly with us to tell us what you feel you need- and we’ll do our best to find a way to bring it to you. And we do hope you will share your story with us here.
My Instagram- feel free to follow @Rojabella