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This Square Peg.

Happily Not Fitting In Since 1978.

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Blogvember #29: The Baby Steps Gourmet.

Cooking is an art form. And in a world of cuisine Van Goghs, I’m best described as the lady with tracing paper who would love to just copy the art without doing all the work. When I was 15, my mother devised a plan: she, my sister and I would take turns cooking. She showed us how to do the basics, some recipes along the way, that sort of thing. I grumbled about it, of course, because what teenager doesn’t grumble? It’s in the teen DNA. But it was actually pretty awesome. I gained skills and became quite confident using them. Eventually, I could whip up a stew or Jollof rice in no time. When I moved out at 24, feeding myself was doable. I could cook my own food.

And then I moved back home.

There’s something about your mother’s cooking that makes your attempts laughable and inedible. And undesirable to yourself. Back home, I would whine to my mother that, rather than me cooking dinner for the family at the stove, she could do it much better. Her eye rolling in my direction was massive. But not doing it regularly like I had in the past wore away at my cooking confidence. When it was time to get to the stove (because all that mid-30s whining wasn’t cutting it with Mother), I found that I forgot simple steps or didn’t move with the confidence I had in the past. So I ultimately decided that I would move to TX and live once again on my own, what shocked me the most was that I actually looked forward to getting back to cooking for myself.

Don’t tell anyone.

Anyway, these days, I cook here and there. Working full-time and engaging in life and worship and new friends and new areas leaves little time to actually devote to homemade cuisine. But I’m working at it. Cooking at home is a money saver, can help me experiment, and at the end of the day, it just feels good to create my own meals.

Don’t tell anyone.

Last night, I decided to recreate my favorite (it deserves italics: favorite) Ghanaian meal: fried plantains and bean stew. Or red-red. Previously, when I tried to fry plantains years

redred
This isn’t my red-red. I ate it too fast to take a picture.

and years ago, I almost burned my mother’s house down. This time, I plowed ahead with my plans to make this pretty easy meal, fears of burning down my apartment building pushed aside and ignored. I pulled out the deep fryer and got to work. I also cooked a stew comprised of black-eyed peas and other yummy things. Back to the italics: it was delicious. I mean: I wanted to lick my fork. Maybe I did. But the very best part, the most awesome, was the phone call to my mom later that evening to announce that I successfully pulled off a meal that, to date, only she has been able to prepare to my liking. (And a Ghanaian restaurant that I was obsessed with frequented back in our area.) I could hear the happiness in her voice. “I guess you’re really growing up,” she also said. We laughed. Because I’ll always be 9 years old where she’s concerned, and I don’t mind one bit. Nevertheless, it was nice to see that all my silly fears (well, only one fear: it’ll taste like dirt) about cooking are just that: silly fears.

Just call me the Baby Steps Gourmet. But I’m still bringing utensils and paper goods to every event I’m invited to, so don’t get too crazy.

Blogvember #2: Deliverance.

Back in the day, I was a proud purveyor of the poker face. Betraying nothing on the surface while all kinds of madness/side eye/frustrations went on underneath. Perhaps it was a by-product of growing up painfully shy: I didn’t want anyone to notice me anyway, so it wasn’t necessary to communicate, even via my face, what I was feeling. 

Dear reader: that poker face is gone. 

Its absence was brought to my attention some years ago by my bestie, who commented that my face hid nothing. “Oh, really? It used to,” I replied, shocked and slightly hurt that my poker face powers had diminished. “Not anymore, cool cat,” she said, highlighting one of her many nicknames for me. (Another one is Muffin Breath. We’ll talk about that later.)

Alas, it was true. The fact was that I was no longer that withdrawing little girl who was content to observe without reacting. I reacted. And anyone could tell exactly how I felt. Something about this change made me proud. Sure: I’m a big believer in keeping calm. I mean, unless Idris is in the room, I’ve never been a proponent of losing your cool. Being the daughter of a mother who has repeated time and time again to always keep my dignity (advice that has brought me through a lot of interesting times) means that yes, I certainly try to maintain my composure. But maintaining my composure also means that my narrowed eyes in your direction is clear communication that whatever you’re doing/saying ain’t fooling me. And I think that’s the point, dear reader. If life is a poker game, at this point, I’d rather you look right at me and know how I feel about a matter. Plus, I don’t know how to play poker so I’m basically there to eat your snacks. 

Are you a poker face purveyor? Or, like me, has your ability to mask everything flown the coop?

Throwback Thursday: The Scowler.

SquarePeg1

Meet your Square Peg, a.k.a., me.

I found this photo in my mom’s “secret” stash of photos one evening last week. I should tell you that my mother’s things–her clothes, perfume, shoes, etc.,–have long fascinated me, which means that since I was little girl, sneaking into her room to see what I could find and gaze at lovingly remains a pastime. Don’t worry: I leave most things undisturbed. Except the clothes. Anyway, I love that she keeps hidden photos and mementos that we don’t have access to. When I found this, I snapped a quick photo and placed it back into its hiding place.

This was taken in August 1983 in Accra, Ghana. I was 4 years old. I’m 100% sure my Dad was the photog, being that he loved taking photos of his children and family, even when we were sullen teens and refused to smile.

My birthplace and my home.

That Mustang, which was my mother’s. (Yep, Mama Square Peg rocked a Mustang!)

Those fat braids. (This was obviously was my go-to style.)

That dress.

Those shoes.

That face.

Oh, that face. Most photos from back, back, back in the day rarely found me smiling. I was a serious kid. I discovered those teeth a bit later, as you can also see from that ruffled, picture day photo. Other ones are of me coolly staring into the camera, as if we’re moments from battle. Ah, memories.

Happy Throwback Thursday.

The Seamstress.

I’m spoiled rotten. I am. You see, whenever I see photos of lovely dresses and skirts and outfits, particularly with African fashion, I just head over to my mom’s room, bat my medium-sized eyelashes (why do boys get long eyelashes? Can someone explain this to me?), and sweetly ask if she can recreate the look. After a few days filled with fittings that Mom does after I’ve eaten (“Ma, can’t we do these before I’ve eaten an entire piece of bread?”) and her threatening to hit me over the head if I don’t stand still, straighten my posture, and stick out my derriere, I find a lovely outfit waiting for me. It’s pretty amazing, no? Of course, after several years of this (even volunteering, at one point, to make me three dresses back-to-back for a special event), my mother basically put on a moratorium on all things me and declared that she was taking a break from making my clothes. I really was ok with this. Spoiled rotten doesn’t mean blindness: making clothes is hard work! Especially if you’re dealing with a bread-eating brat like me. I put a moratorium on my requests, as well. Fast forward, though, to a month ago when she bought some lovely African fabric pieces and offered to make me something. I casually agreed, stopping myself from jumping with joy. Eventually, I saw an outfit on Pinterest that struck my fancy and showed it to her. She nodded sagely and said it could be done. Even with a life and a full-time job, it only took her a few days to finish it. Again, because she’s amazing.

Here’s the outfit I saw on Pinterest:

PinterestDress

If you know me, you know about my love affair with peplum-inspired outfits. (See here and here.) So it’s no surprise that I wanted something akin to this lovely ensemble. We chose the fabric and Mom did her thing, completing it this past Saturday. Needless to say, it was beautiful. It also fit me like a dream, despite my post-bread fittings. I wore it proudly to my house of worship yesterday on Sunday and took all the photos I could, some at Mom’s request so she could show me off to her other seamstress friends. (Ha!) See a few below.

AfricanDress4

AfricanDress2
If you look to the left of me, you’ll see The Seamstress in the background.

AfricanDress1

Right?? Don’t you love it? I wanted to wear it all day and to bed. One of my absolute favorites that she’s ever made me. (I’ll post a gallery of all the ensembles she’s made me one of these days.) Here’s a full-length shot of the outfit.

AfricanDress3

A dear friend decided to photobomb my impromptu photo shoot with her adorable twin boys, which was awesome. Anywho, since yesterday was chilly, I paired the outfit with some fishnet tights and my dependable booties.

Overall and as usual, Mom did a fantastic job. Also per usual, the outfit ignited a storm of friends asking me if she could lend them her services. When I related their comments and requests to her, she merely laughed.That’s the thing with my Mom. She’s so modest about her skills that she thinks people are just being nice when they compliment her abilities. My sister and I are currently working our gifts of persuasion to try and convince her to monetize this gift. I’ll let you know if we’re successful.

So, yeah, it’s nice living with a seamstress. More than nice, actually. But The Seamstress wants to teach me how to sew. Somehow I need to persuade that thought right out of her mind…

calling all big heads.

Let’s get right to it, shall we? For most of my days on this planet, I’ve been reminded by my mother about how this thing that sits on my neck nearly cost her her life. If you have a large coconut, I’m sure you’ve heard similar stories from your mom. And lest you think Mom is exaggerating or teasing me unnecessarily, kindly note that for my high school graduation, my cap had to be special ordered from another state because the ones they had at school didn’t fit my head.

Now you understand.

Obviously, I rarely wore hats throughout the years. Moreover, once this lovely fro of mine was nurtured and came into bloom, there was no way I was going to attempt to fit a hat on it. Alas, however, I soon discovered that sometimes the old college try works out: a big head and an afro aren’t obstacles to anything (other than sitting in front of the television). See Exhibit A below.

hatgirl

The caption says it all, no? So now that we’ve obviously mastered hats and fros, the next thing I’d like to try are head wraps. I’ve always been fascinated by the head wrap look, primarily because I grew up with Ghanaian women who could tie a wrap around their heads like nobody’s business. These days, I also love seeing my fellow chocolate ladies rocking them, too, especially other naturalistas. And just like a larger-than-the-average-bear sized head/fro isn’t going to keep me from adorning it with a hat, the next stop is head wraps. Naturally, I sailed on over to Pinterest for some styling ideas, and also to get some, uh, tips on actually tying one. (Mom has shown me more than once. Just like binomials, I don’t get it.) Here are a few beauts I saw.

Don’t you adore the looks? Chic, practical, fun, gorg.

Summertime, and the wrapping is easy…

Tell me: are you a head wrap lady?

Products from Heaven: Fits Like a Dove.

Here’s the real, no-holds barred truth about Your Square Peg: she sweats like a chocolate pig. There’s no other way to say it.

Ever since I woke up one morning a million years ago and discovered the monster known as–shudder–puberty, the sweat glands opened up, got to work, and decided to work overtime every single day. So when it comes to controlling that interesting region under the arms, I’ve been using Secret antiperspirant ever since I can remember, especially after my mother discreetly told me that borrowing my father’s deodorant (true story) was no longer acceptable. (I was 12. And it smelled nice. Strange children grow up to be sassy square pegs, so join me in embracing the strange, won’t you?)

Sidenote: I’ve long heard the conversations around me about not wearing deodorant because of all the chemicals. I appreciate it, and until I do research and find something organic and chemical free to control the sweat monster, sticking with the standard.

You know how Secret (and other antiperspirants) advertise the whole “invisible solid” thing on their products? Which should calm your fears about wearing dark clothes and not having white stains staring back at you in the mirror? Here’s a secret: This. Isn’t. True. This has never been true. You know it as much as I do. Nevertheless, I stuck with Secret through the years, wearing dark blouses very carefully and slowly, lest I disturb the Force, and kept it moving. But one gets tired of holding her breath as she pulls on her clothes. Enter Dove Dry Spray, which I happened to notice on dovedryspraythe shelf one afternoon last week. The following words on the bottle caught my eye: wetness protection. After engaging in the usual Square Peg side eye that I give any product, I decided to give it a try. It goes on dry, it boasted 48-hour odor protection, as well–why not, right?

Well, I don’t call it a Product from Heaven just because. It’s awesome. For one thing, I wasn’t lied to: this thing goes on instantly dry, it gives this chocolate square pig peg actual wetness protection, and I’ve yet to see any of those pesky white stains on my clothes. I love it so. And that scent…so heavenly.

So there you go: yet another Product from Heaven that I’ve stumbled on while meandering in the aisles of a store. Maybe I should just move in?

Ladies: care to share what you do when it comes to antiperspirant?

Straighten Up and Fly Right.

postureLet’s talk about posture, shall we?

When your Square Peg was a precocious tween, I used to walk around the house with a book on my head like the photo to your left. But it had nothing to do with posture. It was just the excitement of getting from one side of the room to the other without dropping the thing while my siblings cheered me on. In other words, posture? What?

I’ve been slouching since I woke up one morning and finally understood why my mom had banned me from wearing my beloved All This and Brains Too t-shirt. (The “This” part was incurring the kind of attention no mother wanted for her 11 year-old daughter. Yep, you get it.) It was almost immediate: I began to hunch over like some kind of creature. Some of it was the literal pressure on my back, some of it was the emotional confusion that came with development, some of it was the desire to hide what was suddenly the only thing people seemed to notice about me. By the time I reached college, I was basically Quasi Modo. And now? Well, I wish I could tell you that your Square Peg sits straighter, walks straighter, and no longer slouches. All lies. Those would be lies.

I have the worst posture. It doesn’t help that I sit in front of a computer all day, that sometimes I lean forward to even see the screen because I’m apparently 85 and can see nothing, that I contort my body in the kind of horrible ways that would make an aerialist from Cirque de Soleil shake her head pitiably. Throw in the fact that I was in a car accident some years ago and you have someone who does not sit or stand well.

So the other day, my mother saw me standing in kitchen, my neck in its typical hunched over position, and nearly screamed.

Ma: Why are you standing like that?
Me: Like what?
Ma: Like that. It makes you look sickly, especially with your weight loss. You look frail. Straighten up.

Of course, I knew I didn’t look frail (the absence of rice from my life has convinced my African mother that I’ve become sort sort of 80-pound weakling; we’ll discuss that in another post), but I looked at myself in the mirror and certainly agreed that my stance was terrible. And yes, with the weight loss, I did take on a kind of starving imp from Les Misérables quality. It’s surreal, isn’t it? You recognize things about yourself, you know yourself, but to turn towards a mirror and really look at these things is an entirely different animal. After all these years of telling myself to straighten up, it was kind of interesting to see the need to do so before my own eyes.

Won’t happen overnight; I’ve slouched and de-slouched about five times while writing this post. We’ll get there, though. Confidence isn’t necessarily in the shape of your back, but it helps. Onwards!

because your Mother is always right.

So my mother hasn’t dressed me since I was a teenager, but deep down in her heart, I know she wants to. I would classify my personal style as modern, unfussy, feminine, subtly chic. In other words, I like to look lovely but I’m the lady who won’t overwhelm the room with my fashion choices. My mother, on the other hand, is just plain fashionable. She will always turn heads and not the what in the world is she wearing? turning of heads, but the Wow, I want what she’s wearing! kind of heads. That said, when she gives me fashion advice, I tend to listen–just not 100 percent of the time, since sometimes, it may not be my style or the look I’m going for. Those moments are fun, by the way. (“You have a problem with this suggestion?” “No, Ma, I just don’t feel it. Can’t I just say no?” “Hmph.”) Anyway, I know she longs for the days when she would just buy my clothes and dress me 100 percent of the time. Instead of doing that, however, recently she’s been hanging up clothes in her room and simply pointing me in their direction. Try this, she likes to say, her voice soft and leading, as if I’m being tricked into being potty trained all over again. I can’t fit it anymore, she then says, smiling, but perhaps you can. Oh, I know the game. That was the case with a dress she led me to a few weeks ago. I studied the dress. Pretty, pink, very feminine, almost romantic. I turned it down. She asked me why. I told her that despite how nice it was, it didn’t really capture me. Fine, she replied, knowing that a day like yesterday would come.

You see, yesterday afternoon, I had nothing to wear to our house of worship. Absolutely nothing. Most of my clothes are either well-worn or too big, and I wasn’t in the mood to incite déjà vu with my ensemble or snap on a belt to hold my stuff together. (I need to go shopping, I know.) Enter Mom’s dress.

I put it on. It looked terrific. It fit like a glove. So there you go. Listen to your mother, because she’s always right.

(By the way, she merely smiled when I came downstairs in the dress. Just a nice, serene smile. Later, she calmly told me to always listen to her. Haaaa!)

I snapped a few photos of the dress for your viewing pleasure. Well, my sissy snapped the photos and oh, the angles. I’m a straight angle kind of gal, not the camera looking up at me. Nevertheless, she’s an artiste. Enjoy.

dress23 dress22 dress21

Several Things African Mothers are Not Here For.*

(*Or, rather specifically, my African mother)

Discussing anything having to do with shaving or other such topics with your adolescent, hirsute daughter, leading her to make the type of mistakes and gaffes that defy description.

The idea that Idris Elba possesses any kind of good looks and responding to statements of that vein with comments such as, “there are about 12 men walking around the market in Accra right now who look better than him.” (Respectful side eye ensues.)

Mom3
The woman herself. I should add that I love her to pieces.

Magazine covers that proclaim someone to be the Most Beautiful… or the The Sexiest…because she will never, ever agree with that mumbo jumbo.

Complaints about being hungry, because “there’s rice in the kitchen.” Because whether breakfast, lunch, or dinner, rice will fix everything.

The knowledge that her daughter will watch movies she’s seen many times before or listen to the same songs over and over again. And over again.

The possibility that her daughter may marry a man with a large head.

Leaving the house to see a movie without a 100% guarantee that the ending will be happy. And since you can’t know that, she’s not going.

Speaking of leaving the house, doing anything that requires dressing up and leaving the house unless it’s worth it. So this means trips to the theater to see a show. And that’s it.

You, when you forget yourself and somehow believe that being in your mid 30s gives you the laughable right to express every silly thought that enters your head. Please have several seats, you.

The idea that the African dresses she sews for her daughter are too tight. (“Quiet. And stick your butt out.”)

Any kind of behavior that’s the opposite of ladylike, gentleman-like, or human being-like.

Parenting without large doses of cleverness, dignity, strength, tough love, cuddly love (within reason; let’s not get crazy), faith, and a dedication to her children and family.

If you don’t have an African mother, please feel free to borrow mine. But I’ll need her back, ok?

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