I’ve always admired those people who set out at some point in their lives, with a very clear plan and have been able to follow suit from point A to point B. You know, the child born doctor who knows right from the start that she’s going to save lives… and she actually does! I have strived over the years to be that person; to have this linear approach. I set goals, mapping them out in notes and on calendars. The goal books structured with their blank lines and areas, arranged to fill, sit scattered on my desk. Yes, I am always ready, and more than willing, for that matter… but after too many failed attempts, I have finally concluded, that is just not who I am. Every time I seem to set a plan and think that I really know what it is that I want to achieve (this time), life seems to decide otherwise. She sets the road block firmly in my path, and diverts. After years of struggling, trying to move around, climb over, or dig underneath that barrier, I finally submit. I am not this straight and narrow person, and well, that’s okay. I recently read of a new perspective; that life is more of a labyrinth than a straight line with its twists and turns. It is complicated with its design of passages and paths that, at times, are challenging to navigate. Yes, I can relate to that. My life is a maze. And what I have learned thus far, is that if I just step back and trust, you know, the whole “let go and let god(dess)” (insert your own belief system here) kind of thing, I seem to find my way. To be honest, what occurs, even appears almost magical. Where this trusting path leads me, without a doubt, always turns out to be better than I could ever try to imagine. Without fail. And so, I have given into this new approach to my life.
Looking back over the recent past, I wish that I had mastered this attitude earlier. You see, it’s been a year now since my father has passed. He died after a four-year battle with lung cancer. He fought hard, and an eight-month verdict turned into years. As an only child, raised solely by my father, I was his caretaker. A caretaker that lived across the country on the opposite coast from him. It was hard. It was heart-breaking. My father was, after-all, my everything. I had moved away years before to try and break the emotional ties and find some sort of independence. I had to find a way to grow up on my own terms, knowing that someday, I would be needed back home. When the time came to walk beside him through his battle, I lost my sense of trust. Trust that everything would work out, as it should. Worry and doubt filled my heart, and I was always trying to be a step ahead, guessing what would come next. Ultimately, every day, every moment, I was faced with the unknown.
During this four-year span and journey with my father, I had to walk away from everything that I was. Everything that defined me as a person. Let me rephrase that, I chose to walk away. I was working as a graphic designer for a company that my husband and I owned together, and I was in school full-time honing my skills. I loved my life. Every day I would say to myself, “I don’t think that I could ever be happier than this!” And then the next day would come, and a new level of happiness awaited me. When I chose to step away, it broke me. But my love for my father, my emotional bond to him, along with my sense of responsibility, superseded my sense of self, and so I did what I felt that I had to and what was in my heart. But during this time, another path slowly opened. Amid my heartache and depression over the actual and anticipated loss, I rediscovered my love for food. I spend days lost in cooking. And I started to question this path. I wondered if there was something there, something tangible, something that I, perhaps, loved even more… That’s when the magic began.
The next thing I knew, in between trips home to care for my father and then trips to my other home on the opposite coast to reground, do laundry and repack my bags, I found myself traveling all over the world, exploring food. Tasting, cooking, harvesting, discovering. It appeared that overnight I became a food explorer, and I documented my adventures in new knowledge, stories and photographs. It was incredible, and in all honesty, the inspiration and constant stimulation kept me afloat and able to deal with the day to day anxiety, heartache and inevitable loss to come.
I always thought that once my father passed, I would travel the world and heal. I wouldn’t come home until I was ready. I didn’t think that this would occur during his decent. I also didn’t realize that the grieving process started sooner for me, and that I mourned and healed myself all along the way. Losing a loved one, especially a parent, is a difficult journey for anyone, but it was never told to me that this process may start years before you actually lose that person. I didn’t even realize that this was my case, until my father was gone, and I found that I was… somehow, unpredictably, okay. I had survived. I had somehow lived through the single most important and most fearfully anticipated event of my life. And I had come through that tunnel of darkness changed.
The past year since my father has passed has been a bit of a whirlwind. I returned to my west coast home in Portland, OR and started planting and singing in our backyard. This is how I further healed myself. I did this for two months straight. I dug my hands deep into the earth, and I planted seeds. I planted herbs and flowers and vegetables, and I sang out loud all the while. I sang loud and I sang completely off-key, but I didn’t care. I just kept singing. I drank wine in the evenings during the summer heat surrounded by my plants, and sang some more. I sang drunk, I sang sober… I walked the streets of our quiet suburb late at night, and I sang even more. And then I finally went to France where I met up with a group of women for a workshop, I suddenly stopped singing. I spent three weeks in France and Belgium, and while I was there, I ended up buying a house in my hometown of Pittsburgh, PA, where I buried my father. After many years away, it suddenly felt right to go home. Like the story of Forrest Gump, I just stopped running, turned around and went home. When I returned from Europe, I packed our home and moved with my husband, John, and our menagerie of three dogs and six cats across the country. I began to trust again and everything changed, unexpectedly, just like that.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my life lately. It’s been a bit quieter here these last months, as I unpack, sorting through what was and what now is, what to keep and what to discard as I make a new home for us here in Pittsburgh. It’s amazing how much has changed; how we have changed; how I have changed, although, I’m not exactly sure what that adds up to. My father used to tell everyone that he met, “I don’t have a name, I’m Nikki’s Daddy.” His identity was completely wrapped up in me, but I didn’t realize how much my own identity was, and still is, wrapped up in him. I’m… “Ed’s daughter.” I even told John when we were first getting serious so many years ago, “Look. You need to know. I come with a father.” And without my dad now, I don’t really know who I am. I’m kind of at a loss… but the good thing is that I’ve made it a habit throughout my life to reinvent myself. So, this isn’t exactly new territory. I’ve come to know how to navigate my way through for the most part, but with a few years behind me and without teen angst movies for examples, or coming of age tales, I think that I’m going to have to forge a new path. And I do believe that I’m ready.
In the same sense as I have had to erase the board of who I believed my sense of self to be, I have had to redefine what The Simple Chefista is as well. I started this blog years ago, and over the past few, while stepping away to take care of my father and while diving deep into my love for all things food, I have brought it back to life. I thought, time and time again over the past couple of years that I was ready to begin again, and that I knew what this space was to be, but, with each step I take forward, I see a new thought, a new idea, and what I thought once was absolute, actually ended up having a bit more evolving to do. What I accept now, is that it’s time to slow down and focus on the “simple” part of this blog’s name. It will be filled with heart, authenticity, beauty, and yes, food. It will be a space and creative outlet for all my combined passions and talents. It will be a place of exploration and discovery without expectation or constrains to the possibility and potential of what it can develop into. And it will become something new… just as I plan to, as well. I will let go and trust the process, in hopes of taking you with me, in conversation and in friendship, along the journey. And I will dedicate what I create with love and intention, to my father.
so, let’s begin anew…