My Unforgettable Car

I am reminiscing. I want to tell the tale of my first car.
It was a birthday present, which probably makes me sound like a spoiled rich girl- but it was a retired mail car with a super cracked windshield that my dad bought for $500.
I loved it, and it is legend.
About that windshield- the crack was splintery at the top, then lightning bolted down the middle. Right under the splintery part was the rear view mirror-
But only most of the time.
The rearview was glued there. Any time you had to adjust the mirror it would try to pop off, and I’d have to restick it and pray.
One of many, many quirks. The gas gauge lied- the 1/4 tank line meant “empty” My brother borrowed the car and thought I exaggerated.
He learned.
Without fail, every time I turned on the heater, the smell of maple syrup would blow out of the vents. It would straight up hit you in the face. People would ask me if I ‘d been eating pancakes or something.
It was such a merciful old car (already 14 years old when I got it). It would always sweetly and gently break down one manageable bill at a time.
As a broke college student, I could only afford to fix it at 1 mechanic shop where the owner felt sorry for me.
My mechanic, Baity, always thought he was seeing the car for the last time. He was all “I fixed the brakes, but it won’t last much longer” “I fixed the engine” “radiator” “fan belt” “that thing that kept catching on fire.”
Oh it loved to catch on fire.
It caught on fire when my dad and I packed it up with all my stuff to move in to college. We hit traffic and as we waited flames sprouted under the hood.
Dad got us to a parts store and replaced a few things and my Franken-vehicle lived again.
It still hated traffic though. Too many stop lights in a row or, god forbid, a single traffic jam and I’m on fire yet again. I got used to it. Concerned people would pull over as I let things cool off and ask if I needed anything, and I’d wave them on.
For about 6 months my heater went out, then 6 months without AC, then I couldn’t open the driver side door, so I’d scooch to the other side, then that door broke, so I rolled down my window and opened it from the outside (made for a very embarrassing traffic stop incident).
My window slid all the way down and would only go up in one inch increments after you started the car. My sister and I stayed in it for about an hour once, starting the car to roll up an inch, and repeating it again and again and again. I’d scream when someone rolled it down.
Then it went down and stayed down, and I drove with saran wrap around the hole for a couple of months. Guests loved it. What they really liked, though, was when the trunk would fly open at stoplights. I’d casually ask them to scoot out and close it. Much harder without guests.
My parents gave me that car when I was 17. They said they’d pay for the insurance on it until I bought a car of my own. They didn’t know how determined that car was to survive. They paid insurance on it through my high school, college, and grad school days. It wanted to LIVE.
My mechanic was a dear friend at this point, and I think we would have patched and patched that car forever. Unfortunately, one day, without any lights or warnings whatsoever, black smoke erupted from every end. I’d just pulled in to my house when the car gave up the ghost.
It had silently run out of oil on me. Irreparable damage. I donated it to cars for kids and, when I realized I forgot to remove the tags, I tried to get back to it. They told me it was already crushed. It and me both.
I loved that car and think of it often. I still get a little panicky in traffic jams, even though my well behaved vehicles since then have never once burst into flame. You never forget your first.

Mama Writer

That Time My Husband Accidentally Married Me (Literally)

Today is technically mine and my husband’s wedding anniversary. We usually don’t celebrate it too much. There are a few reasons why- 1.) it’s our courthouse anniversary date. Our ceremony date is next week. 2.) At the time, my husband didn’t realize that we were “actually” getting married.

You read that right.

Husband is Korean, and things are a little different in Korea. Weddings are just ceremonies. Binding marriage has to do with the paperwork you submit. So, a Korean couple can have a wedding, go on the honeymoon, have a fight, and not file the paperwork afterwards- and it’s like they were never married.

Us, not so much. The paperwork tends to be officiated in the moment of the wedding or immediately after.

Some context. When we wanted to get married, we debated a simple courthouse wedding or a church ceremony. We decided church ceremony, then got a surprise. Our pastor of the Korean congregation was not licensed to marry couples here. Real quick, we had a change of plans. We would have to handle the “legal wedding” part on our own, at the courthouse, then we’d have a ceremony where our Korean pastor would officiate.

I bet you’re still with me- but this is where I lost Husband.

He thought our pastor couldn’t do the paperwork, so we were going to do the paperwork. He thought that was why we were going to the courthouse.


Courthouse wedding day dawned clear and bright. We were late to meet our scheduled witnesses (my parents). We both threw on some nice clothes and ran out the door. Then we ran back because we forgot our paperwork folder.

No one thought to bring a camera.

My brother-in-law packed everyone into his van and dropped us at the courthouse. We waited in line. Husband looked confused when he saw a few other people in line wearing actual, full-on wedding gowns.

But the real confusion came when our names were called.

Our judge smiled, but spoke in clipped, no-nonsense tones.

“Face each other.”

We did. Husband looked a little wide-eyed.

“Take her hands. Repeat after me.”

He did as he was told.

She asked me if I wanted the word “obey” in there, and I shook my head.

“Repeat after me.”

I did.

“Put the ring on her finger.”

Husband did.

“By the authority invested in me … I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss the bride.”

And we sort of did. Husband was definitely looking wide-eyed at this point.

Everyone shook our hands and congratulated us. My parents were teary-eyed. My brother-in-law was waiting outside with the van. He paused us on our way down the courthouse steps, so he could take a picture on his phone.

We’ve actually lost that one and only, grainy, flip-phone picture. I have no idea where it went.

My sister-in-law treated the family to Olive Garden on her lunch break. We told her all about the wedding she’d had to miss. Slowly, in pieces, my husband explained in Korean, and then in English, that he actually hadn’t realized today was the day we’d be officially married.

Everybody laughed. There were more hugs and handshakes.

And that’s the story of how my husband accidentally married me.

Mama Writer

Morning- Our Daily First Impression

I was reading an article on revision advice from an experienced editor. One piece of advice was to make the first time the reader meets the character extra impactful. First impressions matter, and that goes double for character-building.

Then, my alarm went off, signaling that I needed to wake my son up to get ready for school.

First impressions are important- and we get a chance for them every day, if we count mornings.

And I do.

The morning impression of my family is so telling. You can gather a lot about who they are from just the first hour.

Noah wakes up with a few cozy yawns and stretches. In a few minutes he willingly springs out of bed. In no time, he’s fighting imaginary enemies and explaining he’s actually someone’s lost son from some ninja planet.

He usually gets so wrapped up in his fantasies that I have to remind him of the breakfast that’s in front of him. Even though I get him up early, so he can play before school, he’s ready to go only two minutes before our school bus alarm goes off.

He’s bright, distracted, sunshine every morning.

My daughter is another story.

I don’t have to wake her up. Even though she is not a morning kid, she’d rather crawl out of her room before daylight than be left out of all the activity going on in the kitchen.

About five minutes after I get Noah up, I hear a bang! That’s Josie swinging her door open.  

Then, stomp, stomp, stomp.

I catch a glimpse of a little body wrapped head to toe in a blanket, face covered, navigating the way purely by memory, as she clomps to the couch. Still covered completely, she lays there in silence for several minutes. We’ve learned the hard way that if her father or I approach too soon, or too cheerfully, we’ll be met with scowls or fussing. We leave her alone for a good five minutes.

She thaws out on the couch, slowly letting the blanket fall off her face, as she blinks, bleary-eyed in the morning light. Once her eyes adjust, I offer her cereal and chocolate milk. She always says yes, leaving the blanket behind.

After this warm-up period, she’s pure sweet sunshine. She can’t give her brother enough hugs and kisses on his way out the door. The transformation is remarkable.

Husband is usually the last one up. He is even less of a morning person than his daughter, and he has a habit of going to bed well after midnight, making getting up harder.

Sometimes, I just open the bedroom door early. That way, he will at least hear the informal alarm clock of his daughter bursting through her door.

Other times, I let him sleep until there’s just enough time for him to get up and drink something before taking Noah to the bus stop. I wake him up sweetly- with a reminder that I’m not his mom, and that he should really set his own alarm.

Other times, if I’m feeling it, I’ll turn the kids loose on him.

“Hmmm. Is daddy still being a sleepy head? Who wants to go wake him up for me?”


Husband needs approximately 3 cups of coffee to activate his personality in the morning. After stumbling out of bed, it’s silence and slow moving until he gets those 3 cups.

That’s all three of my loves, between the hours of 6 and 7 a.m.

That first hour tells you a lot.   


Mama Writer

Mama’s Writing on a Snow Day

It’s a good time for a blog.

No one’s up yet.

I wanted to write about how I am in my own way, when it comes to getting writing done. For a few days, school has been canceled. Snow flew in NC, we all screamed, and here we are.

At home.

The following song and dance ensues every time I have a “day off,” when the kids are also home-

My wonderful husband encourages me to go work/write in the bedroom while he corrals the kids in the living room.

I am so, so, so lucky.

However, after a little while, I can’t stay in the bedroom.

It isn’t just that little bodies slip past their daddy to “check on mama.” It isn’t that my husband can’t handle the kids- he’s great.

It’s the guilt.

Since writing is, for me, a pleasure, I feel like I’m just playing in my room, while, out in the wilds of the living room, husband is doing the real, endless work of parenting/managing the house, and my children are “probably” (in my awful imagination) feeling neglected by their mother.

With this guilt in my chest, I try to sit and write, but I hear everything from the living room.

I hear the kids running and screaming around my poor husband (snow days amp kids UP).

I hear the kids getting in trouble after being cooped up too long and getting too wild.

I hear kids starting to ask for snacks/lunch.

It’s usually this last one that unseats me. I can’t just sit there while these crazy, amped up munchkins, who obviously need some organized activities, require their overworked father to also start cooking.

I stop “playing” and go out there, where the real work is, so I can help my family.


I wasn’t playing.

I was writing and planning.

You’re supposed to work for the job you love, so you’ll never actually feel like you’re working.

Mommy guilt adds a whole other layer to this idea. Work for the job you love, and you’ll find it much easier to consider it an easy sacrifice when the “real” work shows up.

Danger! Danger!

The job I love is not a toy. The job I love is not “free time.” This isn’t a video game that I should save and stop when it’s time to join “real life.”

A lot of quotation marks today.  

I teach writing. I write for myself and my students. It’s important. It’s necessary.

I have to stop treating it like a guilty pleasure.

Mama Writer

The Harry Potter Effect: My Boy is Growing Up

I took the above picture when Noah was mad at me. To get his revenge he decided he would design his mama’s nemesis, President Trump, a cool, new white house.

My boy has always been… strong-willed.  

He was back-talking me, and my parenting demands, since before he could use actual words.



Trying to get him to eat vegetables?

He’ll sit at the table, as long as I’ll let him, without touching a single bite. See you tomorrow, peas!

The baby book I read during his toddler years said that no kid who screamed in a tantrum for more than 2 hours was actually having a tantrum. It said there was probably something really wrong, and that parents should proceed to the emergency room.

But, as far as I know, the emergency room doesn’t treat “turned-off-Thomas-the-Train-Halfway-Through-an-Episode” syndrome.  

Thank goodness that I had him first. I thought he was an average kid. As my firstborn, he was my definition of normal.

I often tell people that, if I’d had my easygoing daughter first, I probably would have needlessly put Noah into therapy.  He would have been labeled my “problem child,” just because I didn’t know a child with a will of iron was an option.

Don’t get me wrong. He’s sunny, smiling, laughing, helpful, eager, and playful-

Until you tell him to do something that he doesn’t want to do.

Pretty sure this kid will chase and demand his own definition of success and happiness wherever he goes, so I’m only complaining for the sake of comedy, here- and for a little setup.

I’ve been reading him Harry Potter, every night I could, for a week.

The first book is, of course, wonderful, but I sometimes forget how much backstory and description it takes to get to the more magical parts of the story.

Having a six-year-old graphic novel enthusiasts beside me while I read it really emphasized that this book is for kids of an older, more patient age, or maybe those more ready to read to themselves entirely, skipping and skimming when they choose.

I’m his mom, so I can tell he’s not that into the book. When he’s enthusiastic, you know it. You can’t miss it.

He’s not yet enthusiastic. We’ll get to the really cool parts soon, so I have hope he’ll get into it.

But, it occurred to me last night, while I was reading one of my own favorite parts and pretty much doubling the length of our usual story time with this book that is not my son’s favorite-

He hasn’t complained.

At all.

I can tell it’s not his style. I know there are other things he would prefer to read. I’ve been reading some really long sections, completely devoid of the action scenes and intense pictures he usually craves.

But, if he’s thought of these things, he’s refused to voice them. He’s keeping quiet, and promptly, without a hint of hesitation, snuggling beside me for his wordy, picture-free, not-yet-his-style, story time.

He jumps into bed and pulls the covers over both of us, holding his flashlight up on the page to help me read, frequently switching hands, as I read so long, they get tired.

I think that shows me the love in our relationship so much more than words can.

My son. My Noah.

The will of iron in a six-year-old body is doing something for me, even though it’s not what he wants to do.

There are so many sides to this boy. I haven’t even begun to figure him out, and now he’s started growing up on me, changing all the rules that I thought I’d figured out.

I thought I couldn’t love him more back when he back-babbled, waving his indignant, pudgy arms at me.

Turns out we were just warming up.


Cooking Irresponsibly Mama Writer

Samgyeopsal: a love letter

When I first got married, I got burned.

Burned bad.

An assault of blazing red. The stinging. Eyes watering.

That was my introduction to Korean food.

I learned later that there’s a lot more to it than the painful, red recipes so often featured (and that my husband favored). After a while, husband purposefully sought out recipes that “even Steph” could handle.

Enter Samgyeopsal, or, as we call it, Korean bacon.

Slices of pork belly are fried/grilled at the table. The slices are thick enough to include one side of crispy fat that crackles, reminiscent of Western breakfast bacon, but the other side is a piece of pork meat that tastes a lot like a Sunday pot roast.

They sizzle and give off a bit of oil and juice. Vegetables on the grill absorb and fry in those juices, soaking up the flavor. Slices of potato and long “King” mushrooms become bacon potatoes and bacon mushrooms. Onion rings and whole garlic cloves are transformed.

Waiting on the table are the fixin’s.

Bowls of sticky rice.

A variety of large, fresh green leaves, ranging from romaine, to butter lettuce, to sesame leaves.

Several bowls of kimchi line up beside dishes of red pepper paste, soybean paste, sesame oil, and salt and pepper.

Husband does the cooking, and I do the organizing. Pretty soon, there’s no room left on the table.

 After the first round of bacon and veggies comes off the grill, husband reloads it, never sitting down to relax and eat. This food is meant to be eaten hot, so someone sacrifices a seat in order to cook.

While he works, I hand the chef a sesame leaf packed with a bit of rice, a slice of still-hot bacon dipped in both the sesame oil and salt and pepper, a generous smear of red pepper paste, and, finally, a steaming bunch of veggies on top (a slice of king mushroom, slice of onion, and a whole piece of grilled garlic, also dipped in salt and pepper).

As is customary, he tucks the edges of the leaf, making a bulging packet, and stuffs the entire bundle into his mouth in one go. He can barely keep his lips sealed while he chews the giant mouthful.

In the 30 seconds of chewing, I’m free to make my own, much smaller, hot-pepper-paste-free roll. I might be slower, but no less enthusiastic.

This isn’t just food “even Steph” can handle. Korean bacon is dream food. 

I’m going to request it this Valentine’s Day.


And on the 47th day, she rested.

37 blogs in a little over a month and a half.

I didn’t quite make the daily blogging challenge in the last two weeks, but I’m still quite pleased with the overall result.

37! I hardly felt a thing, and I still ended up with such a sizable amount of writing. It’s the fun stuff, too. None of these blogs are making me want to hide. They’re reasonable, quick, fun stuff.

I can’t believe what I managed in just 1-2 hours each day.

Daily posting taught me a lot about audience, but it especially taught me about writing as a thing we do-instead of something that just happens when we’re inspired.

If I didn’t know what to write, no worries. I could just start something and end up somewhere unexpected. It was no big deal. Sometimes, it even lead to an enjoyable piece.

That’s a revelation for me.

I’ve also typically been afraid to share my writing, unless I’d already polished it over and over. Daily blogging helped me share more of the process. I’m not a finished product, and my writing isn’t either. Perfection isn’t a requirement in this life.

What a relief.

And, I got a confidence boost for my efforts. Whenever I dared to share my writing, I was met with an accepting, sometimes even enthusiastic, audience. It was flattering and encouraging. I’m grateful.

I’m diving into a new semester of classes, as I start writing another book and revising the last one. I’ll still return to blogging, though. Weekly would be a reasonable goal. After doing daily blogs, I know I have time for weekly.

Looking forward to it.

Cooking Irresponsibly Mama Writer

Cooking- Whether They Like It or Not

I’ve always loved to cook. Since I was a little kid, family members have complimented me on my simple, but enthusiastic, kitchen skills. It was a common joke that I would easily “catch” a husband because I could cook. When I was pregnant, friends wished the babies would be boys, so I would have those legendary appetites to feed.

Reality was a complete surprise.

My husband is a Korean gentleman who has been adjusting to American food. It isn’t easy for him, and, while he always politely eats my food, and even compliments me on it, there’s a distinct lack of enthusiasm.

For him, roast turkey with mashed potatoes and balsamic Brussel sprouts are equivalent to hotdogs with canned baked beans. If I said we were going to quit my home cooked meals and just start eating out, he probably wouldn’t feel a thing.

Then, there’s my boy. Eating me out of house and home? Only if my home was made out of carbohydrates and/or cheese. He’s one of those super-picky eaters. He practically hyperventilates at the prospect of trying different foods.

We have a “tasting” rule that’s been in place for the last two years. He doesn’t have to eat all of any item on his plate, but he does have to taste everything and behave politely.

Two years- and he still fights the rule Every. Single. Night. He stalls. Squirms. Tries to negotiate. Begs. Pleads. Sits there for long periods of time. Eventually, finally, reluctantly takes an excruciating bite.

After all that drama, of course, he always says he hates what he just tasted (our rule requires him to say it with a polite, “No, thanks. This is not my favorite.”).

My daughter is not super-picky. She’s more of a traditionally picky preschooler. She doesn’t want vegetables and needs three or four reminders not to call new food we put in front of her “disgusting.”

Did I mention I love to cook?

I forget sometimes, too. I’ve been worn down like a crayon.

They don’t want my food.

My husband appreciates my cooking efforts. I know he does, but, overall, It’s just hard to keep presenting beautiful dishes that took planning and patience when I’m going to get the same polite thanks and a couple of “yucks.”

I’ve been wondering how I can make the situation more positive. So far, figuring out some Korean recipes is sounding pretty good. Maybe Husband and I can find some common favorites.

As for the kids, I’ve been assured this is a phase most littles grow out of- though it does sometimes take a decade or two.

Mama Writer

Thankfully, 30 Wasn’t My New 20

I just finished my 30th year, (Happy Birthday to me!) and I’m well aware that 30 was supposed to be tough.

People expected me to suddenly feel a rush of aging.

People might have expected me to mourn the loss of my twenties.

A few wrote hopeful little “30 is the new 20!” messages on my timeline.

These feelings probably run through all of us in varying degrees.

But, I wrote a lot of my twenties down. I remember them through the pages, so I don’t feel like I’m losing them.

Plus, while I love how my life grew during those years, looking over my writings from my twenties, the one thing I see that I needed, again and again, was 30-year-old me.

For example, I will have to go on a trip alone for the first time in 9 years. My husband and I have been road trip people since we married. This will be the first time that I’ve had to handle a flight/hotel/adventure on my own since I was 22.

So, when I was planning my trip, all of my 22-year-old issues starting rushing back to me.

When I was in my early twenties, I studied abroad for a session with the UNC honor’s program. It was a great opportunity. We split our time between London and Oxford while studying theater and Shakespeare.

Such a wonderful trip in so many ways.

Also, incredibly difficult.

I had never been on a plane before.

I had never had to deal with passport checks, security procedures, layover problems, missed flights, and exchanging currency.

I did it all, except the initial airport drop off and final pick up, alone.

While I struggled, while I fought to overcome a tidal wave of unprepared ignorance in order to survive the trip, what I desperately, tears-in-my-eyes, wished to have was a traveling companion who knew what the hell she was doing to show me the way.

It occurred to me the other day.

That’s me now. That’s 30-year-old me.

If I were to see a young woman looking lost and alone at the check-in counter at the airport, being told she was sold a problematic ticket, had thus missed her impossible flight, and would have to wait 12 hours for the next one, I would know what to say.

I could help someone through that.

And this new self-assured experience carries over in other ways.

20-year-old me almost broke a middle-aged dude’s hand on that first flight. He turned into an octopus when we were sky-high. I was so proud of myself for strong arming him and finally getting him to leave me alone.

30-year-old me, though, would have started with the pulling his fingers back to his wrist, then stood up and reported his ass, so he would think twice before ever doing that to another woman.

24-year-old me thought she was the worst mama in the world, as I struggled to take care of my first newborn.

Now, I know I was just a regular mom fed a myth about “good” moms. Now, I’m on the lookout for new moms who need to be told how good of a job they’re doing.

My twenties were about learning to take care of myself, then learning to take care of my family. At this point, though, I have those things pretty well in hand. It’s a lot easier to think about others, now.

I’m saying hello to 31, today. As someone officially on the other side of 30, I am happy, proud, and relieved to report that, for me, 30 was not the new 20.

Thank God.


Mama Writer

In Case the Grandparents Missed Visiting for Christmas

The important parts of today, in case the grandparents, who couldn’t visit, are feeling left out:

-Husband and I woke up before the kids, since we were so excited. Then, we didn’t want to miss the part where the kids storm into our room to announce it’s Christmas, so we went back to bed and waited for the kids to “wake us up.” Worth it.

-The stockings were full of dollar store finds, and they are probably some of the favorite gifts overall.

-Jocelyn asked Santa for a tiny stuffed cat with “sparkle eyes.” I bought it the day after she asked for it, and she hasn’t stopped carrying it since 6:20 a.m.

-Breakfast was a lot like a pretend tea party, since we set the table, but no one actually ate much. Purely decorative food.

-We staggered the present opening to try and make the excitement last. Stockings. Break. Small gifts. Break. Christmas lunch. Big gifts. It worked out really well- and Husband and I weren’t swamped with stuff to put together or batteries to find all at once.

-Josie loves her 80-piece tea set… that came with 80 stickers for some hapless parent to put on every. single. item. (It was MEEEEEE!)

-Lunch and dinner were easy since our favorite foods are macaroni and cheese, turkey sandwiches, and bratwursts. I didn’t even bake anything. The house is already overflowing with goodies that will seem out of date tomorrow (Candy cane fudge on December 26th? I don’t think so).

-Noah is playing his new video game every chance he gets. Pretty sure he’s going to turn into a Pokémon.

-We purposefully did nothing but play at home today. It was interesting. I, the watcher of almost no T.V. (besides cooking shows and my kids cartoons- which I admittedly love) watched two movies today. TWO.).

-The kids just helped me take all of the candy treats off the tree. We put them in a big bowl to munch on tonight.

-Husband and I plan to take the tree down after the kids’ bedtimes.

-Tomorrow is my birthday, which will help all of us transition out of Christmas mode. The party doesn’t have to end. It goes on without a tree- and with a more varied color scheme. I think I want a Carolina blue cake with sunflowers on it.  

We missed you, grandparents. The kids asked about you, and we’ll probably call soon. We’ll rehash some holiday highlights. If we skype, get ready for an intense closeup of a kitty with sparkle eyes.

I hope you had a Merry Christmas!