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.