From healthy cooking to healthy living
Angela Rivera is the epitome of strength, will, and resilience. Her story is one that includes teenage pregnancy, as well as mental, physical, and sexual abuse. After running away from home at the age of 12, she was introduced to her now ex-husband, who was the uncle of a childhood friend. At the age of 18, and after years of an illicit relationship with him, she married the then 41-year-old, and by the age of 20, she was the mother of their three children.
After her then eight-year-old son was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and struggling immensely in school, Rivera found herself mired in overwhelm and exhaustion on how to best help him and herself. At the urging of a friend, she took her son to a nutritionist who implemented a regimen of supplements and clean eating. Loving the changes she saw in her son, Rivera also began working with the nutritionist, which led to her entire family transforming into a healthily eating household.
Despite the dietary changes Rivera made, she eventually hit a plateau, and her body began to once again “crash.” It was then that she was forced to take a closer look at her life beyond the physical. She had to finally admit to herself that she was in an abusive and destructive marriage. She realized that to be truly healthy, both physically and mentally, she had to leave everything behind—including the successful and lucrative business she shared with her husband. She knew she would have to start life all over again with almost nothing.
In 2009, she left both the business and the marriage. Still in pursuit of health and wellness, which by then had developed into a full-blown passion, she enrolled in the National Gourmet Institute in New York City, from where she graduated and began her career as owner and natural food chef of the Healthy Chef Lady. And life still wasn’t easy. Even as a business owner, Rivera worked part-time jobs when necessary to make ends meet as she continued to raise and support her three children (now ages 20, 19, and 18) on her own. Since then, Rivera has enjoyed the continued growth of Healthy Chef Lady, and in 2015, she became co-chef at Halo & Horns (now called Halo & Horns Catering and Events), a catering company based in Sparkill, New York, that she co-owns with her fiancé, who is also the father of her five-year-old son.
ESME recently spoke with Rivera about her Solo Mom journey, spirituality, entrepreneurship, finding love, and healthy living.
Q: How would you describe your journey as a Solo Mom, and what have you learned from it thus far?
A: I’ve had the weight of the world on my shoulders for a long time. I was in an emotionally and physically abusive relationship with my ex-husband since I was a young girl. By the time I was 20 years old, I had three kids to raise. I’m still trying to come down from the weight of it all. When I left my marriage, I had to financially support my children on my own. I never collected child support, although I tried. My ex-husband was always able to avoid paying it.
As far as what I have learned thus far on my journey, I wish I had been able to be more present for my children and for myself. I also wish I had reached out to others for help instead of being so prideful. I remember looking at other single moms and being judgmental of them—even saying to myself about them, Do what you need to do. But my own single mom journey helped me to have greater empathy for other single moms and heal many of my emotional wounds from my difficult relationship with my own mother. It has allowed me to have greater compassion.
Q: Throughout your marriage, you were mentally and physically abused. When you finally left the marriage, you feared your ex-husband might kill you. What would you say to another woman who is in an abusive relationship and wants to get out?
A: I would tell any woman in an abusive relationship to start with therapy so that a professional can help her identify tools and resources available to keep her safe. A therapist is so necessary to walk her through the many emotions she will experience as she thinks about and prepares to get out of the relationship.
It is so difficult to recognize and speak the truth about your abuser. You have to get to the point where you can be vulnerable and open about who your abuser truly is. And things become even harder when children are involved. For some, coparenting may be possible; for others, not. A therapist can help a woman who is in an abusive relationship through all these difficult issues and circumstances.
Q: You are a practitioner of Buddhism and meditation. What has been the significance of spirituality in your life, and why do you think it is important that Solo Moms in particular have some sort of spiritual practice for themselves?
A: I have always been a person with whom spirituality and spiritual practice resonate. One day, my nutritionist recommended that I attend a dharma talk that was being hosted by Lindsay Crouse, who is also a single mom, and an Academy and Grammy Award–nominated actress. Her talk totally flipped my mind. She talked about how in life, there is no victim. She explained that our pain comes from thoughts that things should be different than what they are, and that our feelings of suffering can end if we learn to accept things as they are. Shortly after attending her talk, I learned that my ex-husband had sexually abused my daughter. Following that abuse, she attempted suicide for the first time. I reached out to my yoga teacher who knew Lindsay Crouse personally and gave me her telephone number. I was in such a place of pain and suffering. Lindsay would stay on the phone with me for hours, explaining how I came from a place of severe suffering because I wanted things to be different than they were. She taught me how to be in the flow of whatever is happening to me. And my Buddhist teachings have taught me that I cannot have love and compassion for anyone until I first have it for myself. These principles helped change how I deal with any adversity that shows up in my life.
Q: In 2010, you found love with your now fiancé and business partner. How did that happen for you?
A: I did not think about finding love because honestly I didn’t know what healthy love was. But I knew what I did not want, which was someone controlling me and telling me what to do. And the universe brought me a person who does neither. I then had to retrain my mind and learn what a healthy relationship is, which is giving me the things I need to thrive, supporting me in my endeavors, giving me space when I need it, and having healthy boundaries.
Q: You have always been self-employed. You’ve owned a cleaning company, a very successful fire and water restoration business with your ex-husband; you’ve taught yoga and cooking classes; and since 2015, you have co-owned and operated your catering company, Halo & Horns Catering and Events, with your fiancé. Why have you chosen a path of entrepreneurship, and how has it benefited you as a Solo Mom?
A: Being an entrepreneur has allowed me to make my own schedule, work less hours, and make more money. There have been times when business was slow and I had to take on a part-time job while running a business, but I was willing to do that. I have always had strong leadership qualities and have been a bit of a risk-taker who never entertains failure as an option. All of these things have made entrepreneurship right for me.
Q: How did you and your fiancé come up with the idea to start a catering business, and tell us about the name Halo & Horns.
A: When I met my fiancé, who is also a chef, we did a bunch of restaurant hopping as food lovers. He is trained in cooking more decadent dishes, while I am trained in cooking healthy dishes. Whenever we went out to eat, my fiancé wanted to go to places where they had burgers dripping with cheese, while I wanted to go to vegan places. We each felt like we were having to bend for the other. Then one day, we started talking about how great it would be if there were a restaurant where on one side of the menu there is steak, and on the other side of the menu there is portobello “steak.” Or on one side of the menu there is a hamburger, and on the other side there is a black bean burger. We joked at how one side of the menu would be like the good angel, and the other, the bad angel. From there, we came up with the name Halo & Horns. Our original thought was to open a restaurant. My fiancé had previously owned two. But we were in agreement that we wanted more of a balanced life and the ability to spend time with our son, so we decided to cater. We started by doing “pop-ups” with the concept being “we will bring the kitchen to you,” which is why we then changed the name to Halo and Horns Kitchen. Then early this year, we became the in-house caterer for the Union Arts Center in Sparkill, New York. We are now formally Halo & Horns Catering and Events, although people still refer to us as Halo & Horns.
Q: How can Solo Moms introduce health and wellness to their children in a way that does not feel undesirable or intrusive to them?
A: Do not stress them out about healthy eating. Keep it light and fun. If they like watermelon, make watermelon ice pops and do it together. Make it a bonding experience in which you get to spend time and do something together. Make suggestions, and let them pick out healthy food and snacks that they may want to try. And you as the parent have to eat it, too. Be on a health and wellness journey with your kids. But leave room for balance. It’s not the end of the world if they have a Jolly Rancher from time to time.
Q: If you had to give one piece of advice to other Solo Moms, what would it be?
A: It’s going to be OK. There will be times when you feel like you can’t go on, but you can and will. The universe is always giving you exactly what you need in order to grow, no matter what that something is. You are not the only one going through whatever it is you are going through. You are loved. And you made the right choice for you and your children when you decided to become a single mom. Don’t ever doubt that.
You can learn more about Angela Rivera and connect with her on her websites, Healthy Chef Lady and Halo & Horns Catering and Events.
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Terri Linton, ESME’s Incarceration Resource Guide, is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, where she is currently pursuing a master of fine arts degree in creative nonfiction writing, and a graduate of Rutgers School of Law-Newark. Terri is a freelance writer and professor of criminal justice. She hosts and produces the podcast She Roads with Terri Linton, where she interviews women about their journeys of endurance and resilience. Terri’s writing has appeared in Ninth Letter, HuffPost, Motherly, and Mamamia. You can connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.