The Woman Next Door

I really enjoyed The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso. It was a book I selected from one of the display tables at the library. The summer reading program theme was Community and this book also fit my goal to read more writers of color.

There are two main characters in the story who live next door to each other in a predominately white neighborhood in a suburb of Cape Town, South Africa. One is black and one is white. There is a lot of animosity between them and little patience for the other’s point of view.

Life circumstances intervene and by the third act, the women are living together. A transparent plot device that did not come across as realistic. It’s my only big negative about the book, but it is negated by the fact that I really like where the story went from there. Both women go through significant life changes over the course of the book. I can’t imagine the story without the intimacy forced on them by living together.

Marion could be any white woman. I found her character disposable. Her value came in recognizing parts of myself in her. She was a typical housewife, meddling in neighborhood business, and intent on keeping things the way they have always been.

Hortensia is the lifeblood of the novel. Her approach to life is a critical mirror. She doesn’t ignore. She confronts. She highlights. She states the unspoken. It is jarring. It disorients Marion and drives the conflict between them. Hortensia has no patience for Marion’s color blindness. Her behavior and motives are not driven by a need to make things easy for Marion. She is driven by a need to confront reality head first. She enjoys alienating people with her directness. Her goal is solitude from people and from pain.

I go back and forth about Hortensia. She is a unique character who is direct about her desire to be left alone. She doesn’t feel the need to educate Marion on the nuances of race and class. Marion should just figure it out. By the end of the book, Marion does begin to question what she was raised to believe and see the world through more than just the lens of her own reality. Hortensia is a significant reason why she does that. This is where I am conflicted about Hortensia.

The women do not become BFF’s. They do develop a mutual respect for one another. They get one another. Hortensia has opened herself up and isn’t so set on isolating herself by the end of the novel. I just wish it had come by other means. I felt this novel was written for white readers.

I identified a lot with Marion’s journey and opening her eyes to the realities of the impact of historical race and class struggles on current day behaviors. There is a land dispute in the novel that sets up her looking back on what she raised to believe. I’ve gone through a similar awakening from my white rural American education. Perhaps that is why I felt like the book was written for people like me and Marion and less for people like Hortensia. I’m disappointed and I want Hortensia to have her own story. Marion held her back.


In search of the easy button

Last night I watched The Incredible Hulk. I’d seen it before so I was only paying partial attention. Mostly I was in my own head thinking. I’ve been spending a lot of time there lately and it usually ends up with me forgetting something or messing up. While I was distracted I did notice the recurring clock in the movie. “Days without incident”.

I can’t remember the last day I had without incident. My incidents don’t involve me turning green, but sometimes there is anger. My incidents are just my anxiety dropping by to say hello. The internal static that makes the hair on my arms stand up on end. The hole in my center that pulses and demands to be filled. The tears that fall. It’s uncomfortable and isolating and I do my best to manage it.

Management is failing me right now. I’m a logical person. Logically it makes sense that I’m having issues with my anxiety right now. I’ve been out of work for over a year. I haven’t been having much luck finding a job so that is a stressor. My savings passed a threshold I didn’t want to happen. Another stressor. My house is a fixer-upper and there are a couple things that can no longer wait to be fixed. My kids are having problems at school. I need a haircut. Stress. Stress. Stress.

Last winter brought with it depression. There was a period of time where I spent my entire day in my bedroom. The kids would leave for school and I would head back to bed. I did everything in my bedroom. I searched for a job, read books, ate, just laid there. It was warm and comforting. I didn’t feel the anxiety. I didn’t feel much other than that warmth and comfort. Now my feelings are an exposed nerve.

Today’s morning trigger was the weather report. It’s going to be 80-degrees today. That was the trigger. The underlying cause is the weight gain over the past year. I’m up two sizes. Few of my clothes have followed. I’m not working so spending money on new clothes isn’t a priority. Add the fact that I have outgrown two interview outfits. I had planned an appropriate outfit — not too casual, not too business-like. An outfit better suited to the 60’s or 70’s.

I finally settled on an outfit. It’s a bit more casual than I wanted, but it fits and I won’t melt too much. I’ll be wearing it with my anxiety. It hasn’t left me.

When Innocence is Lost

The morning started off like normal. Navigating through breakfast and getting ready for school. The clean laundry hadn’t made it to my son’s room so he grabbed some clothes from the basket and stripped down.

Me: My naked boy.

My son in a shocked voice: Mom, you said the n-word!

My heart stopped.

I think it is adorable that my son thinks the n-word is naked. His innocence in full display to me. But my heart stopped and reality set in. His privilege was on display too.

I’m heartbroken that I have to take some of his innocence away to make sure he understands the gravity of the n-word. The fact that he is 8 and I haven’t had to have this conversation with him until now is my privilege on display.

What do you tell an 8-year-old about the n-word?

Not knowing where to start I explained that it is a really mean, horrible word that is used to hurt people and should never be used. No exceptions. He seemed to accept that and our focus shifted back to getting ready for school.

Not the best place to leave it. He knows there is an n-word, but doesn’t know what it is and why it is a bad word. What if he uses it thinking he’s saying naked? We need to have a longer conversation.

How do I teach my 8-year-old about the n-word?

He needs to understand the historical context of the word. He needs to understand that it is never acceptable for him to use the word. He needs to understand that using the euphemism “n-word” is done when discussing history and racism. I’m not sure context is something an 8-year-old understands.

There is also the hard concept of the current day usage in African American Vernacular English. I need to think more about how to approach that in a way that an 8-year-old will understand.

I need to teach my son the n-word. I need to do it before someone else does. And when I teach him I will be continuing its existence into his generation. It is never going away and that makes me angry. Displaced anger since the problem isn’t with the word. The issue is the contextual history behind the word. Slavery and the on-going oppression of black people in this country are forever intertwined with the n-word.

I don’t want my son to know this word, but he will. He needs to know how I expect him to respond when he hears it. He needs to know that there is no circumstance where it is ever acceptable for him to use it. He needs to know the extent of his privilege of not knowing about this word for the first 8 years of his life. He needs to know that I expect him to be an advocate for those who do not share his white male privilege.

So what am I going to say? I need to figure this out. He’s 8 so I need to make it age appropriate. I plan to do it in stages since I want him to understand the historical context as well as its current contextual usage. My knowledge of history is rudimentary so I’ll need to do some research to make sure I’m portraying events from more than just the white historical view that I was taught in school.

Here is the beginning of what I want my son to learn. It will be more than one conversation and it should be. He’s been learning about consent since he started talking. He should have been learning about this too. It’s a core principle that I have been derelict in conveying. No more.

The word is “x” and is connected to the beginning of our nation. This country’s wealth was made in the cotton industry. That wealth came at a cost. It was very labor intensive to pick cotton so a large, low-cost labor force was needed. White people who immigrated from Europe owned the farms and they brought black people from Africa and enslaved them to work their farms. Enslaved means the black people had no rights, no freedom, no choices of their own. They were treated like property similar to a house or car.

The white slave owners thought it was ok to buy, sell, and own people, but that was wrong. The white people referred to the enslaved Africans as slaves or as Negroes which is another word for black. Over time Negroe changed to the n-word.

So that’s where the word came from, but we need to talk about why it is such a bad word that we don’t ever say the word. I swear a lot and you’ve never heard me use the n-word when I’m angry or frustrated. The n-word is not a swear word like the f-word. It’s a hate word targeted at black people. We never, ever direct it at another person. Not even as a joke.

We don’t because the word is connected to a time in our history when white people thought it was ok to own black people. It wasn’t just that they thought it was ok to buy, sell, and own another person. It was that they thought it was ok to beat them up, to kill them, and to separate families (husbands from wives, children from parents, brothers from sisters). They abused and separated them as a means to keep them under control. 

We no longer have slavery in this country. The laws changed, but there continued to be white people in this country who don’t see black people as equals. They used their power to enforce new ways of oppressing black people. In the South, they passed Jim Crow laws that legalized segregation. Segregation laws enforced the separation of black and white people. You’ll learn a little about this in school. 

The part that you won’t learn in school is that it wasn’t just the southern states that practiced segregation. In the northern states, like here in Illinois, they didn’t pass segregation laws. In Chicago and other cities, there was a practice called red-lining that prevented black people from buying homes outside a red-line. It prevented black families from buying homes in white neighborhoods. It limited black people to specific areas of the city. It wasn’t a law, but it had the same effect as the Jim Crow laws. Segregation and the separation of the races. 

This is only a start. There is so much more to say. I’m ending this post, but not the conversation. More to come…


Perfecting Banana Bread

This week I started following some advice that I read online somewhere. The article was about how to stay on track with your goals. The advice was to schedule it on your calendar. Treat the goal like a meeting and block of the time to work on it.

I’ve been all over the place lately and haven’t been doing the things I said I wanted to do. Life has been hitting me pretty hard and its impacted my motivation so I decided to tackle my must-do and want-to-do lists with the approach recommended. I scheduled everything in either 30-minute or 60-minute increments. It is the 4th day and it has been working well. I’m getting more done and doing the things that I must-do and want-to-do.


Today during my Lunch & Shower time I decided to work on my chocolate banana bread recipe. I’ve been wanting it to have more chocolate flavor and increasing the amount of chocolate helped, but it isn’t where I want it to be. I know that coffee/espresso enhances chocolate flavor so I decided to add that to my recipe.

I like to prep all the ingredients before assembling so I got started with that. Sugar and butter in a bowl. Flour, salt, and baking soda in another. Wet ingredients in a 3rd. That’s where I ran into a problem. I may have waited a day or two too long to convert my overripe bananas into banana bread. They were not good. Off on an unplanned trip to the grocery store.

My grocery store doesn’t stock overripe bananas. It stocks green and bright yellow bananas. I picked a couple bananas that had some slight spotting and headed to check out. Something to keep in mind when making banana bread is that you don’t need the peel to be mostly brown. Ripe yellow bananas work just as well. As long as you can mash them, they work.

Got my bananas so now its on.


I start by beating the butter and sugar until small pebbles are formed. It should look something like this.


Next step is to add in the liquid ingredients and blend followed by the dry ingredients. I stop the hand mixer before all the dry ingredients are blended in fully and finish up by hand with a spatula. Each step should look something like this.


The melted chocolate goes in next. I scoop a cup or so of the batter into the melted chocolate and stir to combine fully. You have a couple options for how to proceed from here.

Option 1: Traditional marble instructions call for layering the two batters and then using a knife to swirl the layers into a marble pattern. I decided that was too much work so I go with the next option.

Option 2: I add the chocolate batter to the bowl with the rest of the batter and use my spatula to blend it, but not fully.

File_001 (2)

Option 3: Just add the melted chocolate to the batter and beat to combine. Marble is for looks, not taste. You do you.

Now that all the ingredients are combined I dump it in a buttered and floured 8×4 and bake it in the oven. Don’t want to hassle with buttering and flouring your 8×4? Cooking spray does the trick too.

Banana bread is the best on the first day and still warm. Yes, you should cool it, but the crusty crunch of the crust and soft warmth of the bread is amazing. Well, it should be. This loaf not so much. Too much coffee flavor overwhelmed the chocolate. Not the effect I wanted. I used a tablespoon of coffee. Next time I’ll try it with a teaspoon. Or I might switch to espresso powder. Probably will try both because I want the recipe to be accessible.

The base recipe I started with was published in Cooking Light over 10 years ago. I don’t think my modifications would qualify this recipe for Cooking Light. I’ve added back some fat and with it came a richness that I like.

I’m sharing the recipe I made because I want to share the process of recipe development. There are plenty of final recipe versions out there for readers and my hope is that my experimenting will give readers the confidence to try changing recipes on their own. Follow along and see how this recipe develops.

 Chocolate Banana Bread with Coffee – Take 1

  • 1 cup (225 grams) sugar
  • 1/4 cup (half stick) room temperature butter
  • 2 cups (250 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 3 ripe bananas
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup sour cream or plain yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon strong coffee
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour (or cooking spray) 8×4 loaf pan. Don’t have an 8×4 loaf pan, use whatever size you have.

Combine 1 cup (225 grams) sugar and room temperature 1/4 cup (half stick) butter in a large mixing bowl. Forgot to put out the butter before you started? Cut it into 8-slices and then cut those slices into 4 spaced out on a plate. I set mine on the stove near the draft from the oven heating and they are usually soft enough by the time I’m done measuring out the rest of the ingredients.

Combine 2 cups (250 grams) flour, 3/4 teaspoon baking soda, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a medium bowl. Stir with a whisk or spoon to combine. Sometimes when I’m on a healthier kick I’ll do 1 cup of all-purpose and 1 cup of whole wheat flour. It makes the loaf denser which I don’t mind.

Combine 3 ripe bananas, 2 large eggs, 1/4 cup sour cream or plain yogurt, and 1 tablespoon strong coffee in a medium bowl. Use a fork, potato masher or pastry blender to mash the bananas and mix with the other wet ingredients. I don’t notice a taste difference between sour cream or yogurt. I use full-fat sour cream because that’s what I have on hand. I do notice the bread has a richer flavor when using full fat, but the recipe works just as well with reduced or no-fat sour cream or yogurt.

Melt 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips. I use my 2-cup glass pyrex and microwave them for 60 seconds. If you are using a plastic Pyrex or bowl you’ll need to reduce the microwave time.

Now that all the ingredients are prepped we can move onto mixing. I use a hand mixer. If you have a stand mixer, use it. Get your money’s worth. Cream the butter and sugar together

Cream the butter and sugar together. Should take about 1 minute; longer if your butter isn’t at room temperature. Add banana mixture and beat to combine. Add flour mixture and beat until most of the flour mixture is combined. Finish by hand with a spatula.

Marble options: Add 1 cup of the batter to the Pyrex/bowl with melted chocolate and stir to combine.

  • Option 1: Layer 1/2 plain batter on the bottom of 8×4, followed by a layer of chocolate batter and finish with remaining plain batter. Use a knife to swirl batters together in the pan to create the marble.
  • Option 2: Add chocolate batter to plain batter and hand mix with a spatula a few times to create the marble in the bowl. Do not overmix or you’ll end up with no marble.

No marble option: Add the melted chocolate to the batter and stir to fully combine.

Loaf goes into the oven for 1 hour, 15 minutes. The first time you make it you’ll want to check it about 5-10 minutes early to account for your oven temperature variability and if using a different size loaf pan. It’s done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool for 10 minutes and remove from loaf pan. Finish cooling on a wire rack.

Normally I would say yummy goodness awaits, but this recipe was too coffee for me. I’ll be adjusting the amount of coffee next time and let you know how it goes.

Happy Baking everyone!

I don’t watch movies the same way

I don’t watch movies the same way anymore.

My worldview has changed.

My reading list has changed.

I’ve changed.

I was taught patriarchy, rape culture, and white supremacy that was packaged as a quality education.

I turned off 15 Minutes. It was what I used to want in a movie. Action, good guys, bad guys. It stars some big-name actors.

The yellow card was thrown at the gratuitous violence against women. A man shows another man two photos of a murdered woman. She’s nearly naked. I assumed that was to get a PG-13 rating, but I checked and its rated R. Fine, a +1 for the fact that she wasn’t naked.

Regardless, it was clearly an appeal to prurient interests merged with the on-going graphic victimization of women in film. Yes, it’s a crime story and the viewer needs to know she was brutally raped and murdered. But it’s tired. I’m tired. Enough with the movies where a key plot point is a dead, naked, brutalized woman and a gaggle of men riding in on their white horses to save the day.

Next up was the red card moment.

There is a scene where a fire marshall portrayed by Edward Burns handcuffs a mugger portrayed by David Alan Grier to a tree and leaves him. He has more important things to do than following standard arrest procedures.

It’s a throwaway scene meant to be funny. Maybe David’s character handcuffed to a tree becomes integral to the plot in a future scene. I’ll never know. I stopped watching.

A year ago I probably would have laughed at it. Not now. Now I see a black man robbed of his dignity. For a laugh.

A black man. A police officer. A tree. Let me tell you how much white supremacy laughed…



Some Sing, Some Cry

Just before heading out of town on vacation I stopped by the library to pick up some audio books and 3DS games for the kids. It was a driving trip and we were facing 24 hours of car time. I’d just finished a 500+ page novel so was looking for a new book for me. I was hoping for a quick, light read. Nothing grabbed my attention in the new release section so I pulled up my Goodreads list and started working it.

As often happens I go through a series of books on my list only to find they are not available at my library or are checked out. It gets to be time-consuming which is why I usually go through the process at home. I like to be in and out of the library unless I’m planning to sit down and read. Eventually, I found a novel that was on my list and available for checkout. I head over to the shelf, see it, and hesitate. It’s thick.

Do I really want to tackle another 500+ page novel? I’m a slow reader. I get distracted. It seems overwhelming. I check out the synopsis on the inner flap and am intrigued. I decided to go for it. That was a good decision.

It has been over a month since I finished reading Some Sing, Some Cry by Ntozake Shange and Ifa Bayeza. It was returned to the library and remains in my thoughts. Questions continue to invade my mind about the characters. I need to read this book again.

Some Sing, Some Cry is at times a difficult read. The story opens at the start of the Reconstruction with a matriarch, Bette, and her granddaughter, Dora. It spans the next two generations ending in the somewhat present day. The story is told through the eyes and experiences of the women in the family. Their experiences as daughters, as mothers, and as individuals. There are clear connections between the generations with events and behaviors that repeat.

I found the matriarch, Bette, the most interesting and the most secretive of the characters. Her passages are heavily coded and I feel I missed many of the pieces she shared. There is a rather large reveal in a later chapter that caught me completely unaware. She is the main reason I’m planning to read this book again in the future. I want to know more about her.

There is a missing generation in the story. The children Bette had while enslaved. I’m confident a second reading will reveal more of the cause of their absence to me as I catch more of the coded language. The fate of one of her children is directly revealed and it was not at all what I had assumed.

As I reflect on the book I think Bette and her children are a representation of the lost generational knowledge experienced by those who were enslaved. The story starts where familial choices start to be within their control. Dora, her granddaughter, suffers a similar violence as her grandmother, but she decides her path forward. It was not decided for her as it was for her grandmother.

Each ensuing generation exerts more independence of thought and choice. Some of the choices mirror prior generations. Colorism flows through and impacts each generation in sometimes unexpected ways. There is a dark-skinned daughter and a light-skinned daughter. Life does not offer them equal opportunity and their challenges are different. Each daughter struggles, but I felt that the light-skinned daughters had to reconcile expectation with reality in a way that the dark-skinned daughters did not have to address. There is a certain freedom of choice when there are no expectations, but it is not without cost.

I feel like I’m missing so much of the nuance of what I read. This has been a difficult review to write because of that. I’ve never read a book that has made me think so much about the characters and what I learned about them. I want to return to that space and see the connections that I missed the first time. Usually, I’ll read a book again simply because I enjoyed it. This time I need to read the book again because I want to better understand the characters.

The door to lost expectations

Yesterday did not go according to plan. It’s left me… just… hurt.

I do my best to be an upbeat person and I just keep plugging away until I find something that works. I take breaks and come back with renewed focus and energy. Each time thinking this will be the change that works.

I don’t know that I have that in me anymore. My current reality feels a whole lot like my future reality. And I don’t know how to change that.

Yesterday I bought a new door. A door filled with a string of compromises. The original plan was to replace the door when I remodeled my kitchen. I had gotten quotes from three contractors. The quotes were higher than expected so I held off for a few months to save up a little extra money for the inevitable cost overruns that happen when you gut a kitchen. I nearly had enough extra money saved when I was laid off.

I took the layoff in stride. I’d find a job and it would pay close to or as much as I was making before. That was 14 months ago.

As the months ticked by I had more time to think about my kitchen. I could save some money on the remodel by gutting the kitchen myself with some help from family. It’s only 9 cabinets. Demo costs saved.

My brother in law mentioned that I didn’t have to go down to the subfloor to replace the floor. I could just remove the top layer and replace that. More money saved.

There isn’t enough space where I want to move the refrigerator for a standard cabinet. I decided I didn’t need a custom cabinet and could use shelves to achieve what I needed in that space. More money saved.

I figured out a plan to remodel the kitchen in stages. The cabinets and countertops would be a big project, but the rest could be done as I had the money available. Appliances, backsplash, floor, new lighting and a back door added as money allowed. Every few months another part of the kitchen would get completed.

About that back door. The house was in foreclosure when I bought it 5 years ago and someone had broken in through the back door. The frame was split and starting to pull away from the house. There was no deadbolt because that part of the door and frame were beyond repair. The door knob was functional, but couldn’t be tightened because of damage there too.

I tolerated it for 4 years because I had this plan. This plan to remodel my kitchen. A plan I was so close to executing I had started to pick out the exact products I wanted. Closing in on the vision in my head of a completed kitchen and the first big thing on my house list complete. An expectation dashed by my layoff.

A few months ago I had some friends over for a get-together. It was a beautiful day and people were in and out of my back door. Well, they were until the door locked. No one locked it. It was just locked. I went to figure out what was going on and the door knob snapped off in my hand.

Ok. No biggie. I have a door knob that I bought for the garage but never installed. I’ll just install it here. Except I can’t. The door is so damaged that none of the screws will stay screwed in. I leave it be to deal with another day and rejoin the party.

The next day I take a close look at the door. There is no way to install the new door knob and not have the same issue. There just isn’t enough wood left to properly mount a door knob. I roll up a dish towel and shove it in the hole to keep the bugs out until I get a new door.

I start door shopping. Touring all the home improvement stores, checking out options and pricing. I research online what I should consider in my northern climate when buying a door. I research whether I need a storm door and my options if I just want a screen door.

New plan. A fiberglass door is a lower cost option than steel and a better weather option than wood. I don’t need to get a storm door because fiberglass doors do a better job of sealing than wood doors. That means I can just get a screen door. It also means that I can hold off on buying the screen door until the spring. I picked out a model I liked and headed to the store to make it happen.

Making it happen starts with door measurements. The store sent a contractor out to measure my door and I went in yesterday to order the door. The door was priced at $250 for any of their standard door frame sizes. That’s where things went wrong. I don’t have a standard sized door frame. I need a custom door frame. Custom means money. Lots of money.

The door with the store’s Labor Day custom order discount came to $1,200. I still needed to pay for installation. We priced out two other options to see if a different manufacturer or the store brand would be less expensive. Nope.

I can’t avoid buying a door. I need a new door. A dish towel is not a viable option for the winter. It’s disconcerting that I’m using it as a viable option for now.

The sales person is really great. He plays with the different options to get the price down. The price drops little by little and we get it down to $600. The biggest saving comes with some work for me. The door and frame will be primed, but not painted. I’ll have to do that myself. That saves me around $300 on the door. Time and a gallon of paint will eat into that savings slightly.

Installation and disposal of the existing door adds another $400 to the price. What I had hoped would cost around $500-600 is actually $1,000. Plus door knobs. Plus paint.

I had budgeted for $500. I bit the bullet and bought the door. I just won’t spend that $500 in October and I’ll be even.

Except drain in the utility sink in the basement is leaking. The plan was to let it leak until October and then hire a plumber to check it out. It’s only a few weeks and it only leaks when I do laundry. I decide to ignore this for now and worry about it another day.

I go home to an email about Boy Scouts. The kick off meeting is in a few weeks and last year the dues were $200. I don’t have $200. I was already over budget this month before I bought $1,000 back door.

I go to my daughter’s Jr. High Parent Night. Every year the 6th-grade class does something called Outdoor Ed. It’s a three-day outdoor camp where they learn team work and challenge themselves. I’ve heard nothing but good things about this opportunity. Tonight I learn that the opportunity costs a little over $200 and is due this month.

My day went from $0 to $1,400 in the blink of an eye.

I was done in. I cried in my car on the way home from Parent Night. I dried my tears in the driveway, went in the house and acted like everything was ok.

It’s not.

Today I am broken.

And I don’t know how to fix it.