Countermeasures

Where I planted by incense after doing my countermeasures.

I gotta hand it to my mom and dad for putting up with my variable obsessions. This year it is the beng ming nian situation. I am overly fixated on how to prevent mishaps and general misfortune since it is the Year of the Dog, my zodiac year. Chinese tradition holds that every 12 years when your hit your zodiac year, accidents and misfortune can befall you. Since I am not able to celebrate the Lunar New Year with the “core four” Hu’s because I’m covering the Pyeongchang Olympics, I rushed over to my parents’ place in Taipei a couple of weeks ago so mom could roll my birthday egg in advance and settle my anxiety by taking me to do some beng ming nian countermeasures.

We went to a Buddhist temple that was teeming with people and followed the instructions to an tai sui, which translates to “Taming Tai Sui.” Tai Sui is supposedly a deity and you are supposed to make an offering to it to dissolve bad luck. (This is some real Taoist stuff but we’re doing it, okay!) The ritual required lighting exactly three incense, praying and showing gratitude to Buddha, and then taking my “receipt” for my an tai sui and waving it over the sticks of burning incense (“be careful not to set the paper on fire, Elise,” my mom said, knowing how klutzy I am). I have sought purification and peace for the new year and offered incense to tame Tai Sui. The temple gave me an omamori (a charm, or amulet) for protection, too. I feel better.

Then mom and I went and bought a giant Taiwanese iced milk tea. This Lunar New Year is getting off to a solid start.

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First Dinner & Second Dinner, Exposed!

I grew up reading The Dallas Morning News, so it’s very weird to be the subject of a story in it. But Byron Harris is the reporter on it, and Byron is a living legend. So you know I wasn’t ever gonna say no to anything he wanted to do.

Rest in Peace, Cheese

Cheese, on his last day at home with us. We are all missing him so much.

By Tuesday, after being hospitalized and on an IV for an evening, Cheese‘s condition hadn’t improved. The vet said Cheese was in advanced renal failure. He was in and out of consciousness by the time my spouse and spawn went to say goodbye. (I couldn’t bear to see him again, after I’d shuttled him to the vet and back on Sunday and again on Monday, when they decided to hospitalize him.)

Cheese was one cool cat. Probably the coolest dude in our whole family. He only lost his cool on the day we moved into the new house in Washington, when he went missing for the entire day. We went running up and down the streets in our new neighborhood, asking anyone if they’d seen Cheese, trying to call for him but he’s a cat, so, that wasn’t gonna work. We thought we lost him, back then. Anxious and dejected we returned home at dusk and heard a few meows from somewhere upstairs. Cheese had hidden behind the washer dryer all day. That memory just came back to me this morning, when I was getting dressed and found a stray white hair on my dress. Our other cat Caesar is all black, so it had to have been Cheese’s.

Matt, who started his career at The Dallas Morning News as an obituary writer, wrote one for Cheese. It’s a moving tribute to our furry friend.

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Please, Cheese

Cheese in 2009, at home in Austin.

Cheese is sick. His eyes and nose are snotty, he stopped eating a few days ago — a big deal since he jumps up on the table after dinner every night to try and find a stray piece of salmon, and is known to squeeze in to share beverages with whipped cream. Today he’s barely moved from a single position. The vet (who happens to be the great-nephew of Sam Moon of those Dallas discount stores), says it’s probably pneumonia but he can’t rule out organ failure because Cheese is 15 years old.

Cheese is not my most unusual cat (that would be Fitz), or my most affectionate cat (that would be Caesar). Cheese is my husband’s cat, and he has tolerated — without fully accepting — me living with him for the better part of his life.

I am Cheese’s stepmom. Despite Matt Stiles’ preference for grey tabbies, his ex-girlfriend picked him out from the Dallas SPCA in 2003 because she liked Cheese’s black-and-white tuxedo look. His asshole tendencies showed even when he was a kitten, but Matty and Cheese became best buds. When I met Cheese a year later, he instantly gave me side-eye that has lasted for FOURTEEN YEARS.

Cheese with Miguel, a kitten we fostered for a few weeks.

Note: For a couple of weeks in the summer of 2004 I tried to win Cheese over because I was at Matty’s apartment a lot when he was at work. This resulted in Cheese taking approximately two (2) naps on my legs which amounts to our peak affection level. After that, I moved to South Carolina, got Caesar and Fitz, and only saw Cheese every few weeks during visits back to Texas.

Eventually Cheese reluctantly moved in with me in Austin. He and Caesar became brothers and united quickly. We lived together in Austin, then Washington, then Seoul. In Washington the boys would use Saidee‘s doggy door to sneak out at night, and one morning at dawn when I was sitting on the front porch waiting for my buddy Wes to show up for a run, I caught Cheese and Caesar stroll down the sidewalk together, jump the fence in our yard and then head back into the house. Who knows what those two were up to all night. I sincerely hope they led the underground rebellion in the otherwise staid DC cat world.

He’s always had a heart murmur. His tummy isn’t too tough. The vet reports his weight is down more than a pound. Today he’s letting me pick him up, which he almost never, ever lets anyone do. He probably still doesn’t consider me his mom and I mean, I get it. Think about it from his point of view: He was living large with his road dawg, Stiles, doing the single cat sidekick thing until some rebound girl showed up and stubbornly never left, adding extra cats, a beagle and eventually three (3) small humans to his world. It’s not cool!

He still merely tolerates me but I love him deeply and want so much for him to pull through this.

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Settlers of Seoul Podcast

This week I sat down with Arius Derr of a local podcast called Settlers of Seoul to talk about A LOT OF STUFF. Things I never thought about before, like the cryptocurrency Dogecoin. We did about an hour together, so I think this is officially the longest amount of time I’ve ever spent answering questions about myself. It was super fun, despite my being stumped a lot. Show notes are here.

Thanks, Arius!

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Sunset

Texas sunset just outside Fort Davis.

For the second time in three months, a distant friend has died by suicide. Both outsized personalities are being mourned by their outsized communities. First, in November, the Houston super-lawyer and Democratic donor Steve Mostyn left us at age 46. This week I learned designer and writer Dean Allen, who was just in his early 50’s, left too. They were from different countries — Texas and Canada — but in their self-possession and their wit and their size, remarkably similar. They were both “magnificent bastards.”

On Steve, longtime Texas journalist Davey Joe Montgomery wrote the obit for The New York Times. His friends, meanwhile, rather than make too many public statements, are part of a big group text chain wherein they send one another photos of sunsets that Steve would have loved. Steve was prolific but he always seemed like he still lived in East Texas. My memories of Steve are watching him in court, confront opposing counsel with his size and his smarts. He had cool comebacks most of the time, but when his temper flared it erupted. In 2010, he bought controversial full-page newspaper ads against Rick Perry during Perry’s gubernatorial re-election race against former Houston Mayor Bill White. That led me to sit-down with Steve for an interview at his home in Houston. But the timing was tricky. Steve was on hella painkillers after a near fatal accident on his ranch. (He flipped his four-wheeler and it pinned him.) I remember him being more lethargic than usual but still displaying his trademark quick intellect. He was generous with his time and with his stuff. Unlike other political donors, access wasn’t difficult with him. He was easy to text or call for an interview or background. When a group of us did July 4th in Marfa one year, Steve wasn’t there but he let us onto his giant ranch near the Marfa Lights Observatory to hang out.

For Dean, his friend Om captures him movingly, and so did Jason Kotkke. (Update: Friend Matt, without whom I wouldn’t have met Dean, just shared this remembrance.)

I hung with Dean only once and didn’t know him in his prolific blogging days. We shared an email back-and-forth for the better part of last year which I enjoyed so much because he gave such good email. I knew immediately that I would like him when he criticized a book by calling it “just a series of podcast notes.” HA! Succinct burn. And he would know, he was a big podcast listener! He said he listened to FOUR pods a day, which has to put him on the top end of listenership, right? In one of his final emails to me, he said we would have to hang out again, “if only so I get to do the Glen Weldon impersonation I’ve been honing.” (That’s a reference to one of the hosts of the Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast, in case you’re not a supergeek.) Dean was culturally literate about what seemed like everything, asked biting questions and never held back his opinions. And why should he have? He was usually right.

“After all, what’s a life, anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die. A spider’s life can’t help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to life up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.” -Charlotte the spider, in Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White

Steve, Dean; we are all lesser without you and your friendship. Thank you for helping so many people in your short lives. I wish you peace, wherever you are.

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My 52 Books of 2017: A Data-Driven Look Back

It suppose it was fortuitous that the year I decided to read 52 books was also a year the news was an epic dumpster fire. I needed the escape from reading news alerts.

But reading MORE than I already do was tricky, when a huge chunk of my job is simply reading, writing, and then reading out loud. But Friend Nicole Zhu, who inspired me to do this challenge, made a convincing case:

“Even for people who already read 109312 tweets and articles every day, reading books builds a different set of habits and has its own set of rewards. You learn so much more without the distraction of notifications or the temptation to Pocket or bookmark something to read later.”

Hated:
Hausfrau. I HAAAAAATED this book. So annoying that it indirectly made me annoyed with Switzerland.

Breakdown of What I Read:

Before my data journalist spouse Stiles would dataviz my reading for me, he asked me to list some hypotheses that the visualizations would either prove or disprove.

My hypotheses: I read a lot of women authors, mostly fiction, many memoirs and I feel like I read a lot more in the first months of the year than the final months. Here’s what the data show…

Reading Pace

Damn, I was surprised to see how many books I polished off before or in the same month Baby Luna was born. Being unable to drink and not staying out late in the lead up to Luna really gave me a lot of extra reading time. After I got back to my usual shenanigans, my book reading really slowed down.

How I Read ‘Em

I read the same way I work, which is in intervals. (Sometimes I will work my ass off for a week and never sleep and party every night and then fly home, lose my voice, become practically catatonic and move no farther than to the fridge and back.) So when I read books I’ll often read in bursts of intensity, devouring a few in a few days and then take a month to finish the next one.

I leaned on my closest pals for recommendations and read with a far-flung friend, so I had someone to snark about the reading with. Reading books together keeps me accountable in the way you HAVE to exercise if you agree to meet up to train for a marathon. Except, unlike running together, you don’t get to see REAL, LIVE NUTRIA.

I watched a lot less television (but managed to make time for Handmaid’s Tale and Big Little Lies and am glad for it).

I read in transit and in “in between” moments. I read on planes a lot. I read at bus stops and on the bus. In the back of cabs. In waiting rooms, restaurants while waiting on friends, at home as procrastination from work.

I switched my habit of reading periodicals before bed (namely, New York Magazine from back to front because the Approval Matrix is on the back page) to reading books before bed, instead.

Onward

Will try to read a lot this year but I don’t anticipate fitting in 52. Leave a comment here (or elsewhere) if you have recommendations!

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Resolutions for 2018

The fake shrimp tempura that I sent Harper in the mail, after the international
journey to Chicago.

Last year my key resolution was to read 52 books before 2017 was out and by golly, I did it. So I’m gonna get ambitious and write down a LIST of resolutions this time. Let’s check back on these at the end of the year:

Hire a financial planner
I’ve had an accountant for a few years (hi Richard!) but no financial planner, because even though I am 35-years old and a slumlord two times over, I still have my bestie Sudeep hop into my TD Ameritrade account every once in awhile and just make sure my money is still there. He and my accountant both agree this is not a grown-up way to handle finances.

Start a book club on Slack so we don’t have to meet in real life
It’s not that I have a huge issue with the real-life book clubs of which I’ve been a part, it’s that I don’t like any structured socializing, including meetup groups, Bible studies, mommy yoga, etc. So, I want to start a Slack for my cleverest, book-loving friends to tackle a different book every month and have a running Slack conversation about it. And if you don’t read that month’s book, whatever, it’s your loss. The rest of us will be snarking on Slack about it. Hit me up if you want to do this.

Stop drinking as much flavored tea and drink more water
I don’t know that this will happen because spending $4 on a sweetened green ice tea at Starbucks almost every day is the kind of time, money and energy waste that has been written into my routine since I was 16 years old. But whatever, this is my intention list and I’m leaving this in.

Get an accurate bra measurement
I have fears that my boobs are going the way of my great-grandmother’s after she breastfed seven, SEVEN children. I realize bra technology can’t really solve for this, but either way it’s good for every woman to know what bra size she actually wears.

Write handwritten letters and cards to people for no reason
This is a perennial resolution. Last year I did a twist on it, which was “send rando packages.” It was all working out well until the unfortunate melted wax that Friend Harper received, so I’m going back to letters and cards.

Blog at least five times a month
This is my version of the clichéd “write an hour a day” resolution because there’s no way that I DON’T write an hour a day as a function of my job. But I have been trying to get back to non-work blogging as a discipline, and to have the written record of the absurdity or outrage or gratitude of the moment.

See more movies at the theatre
This is one of my favorite things to do, period, especially at Alamo Drafthouse. But in South Korea I have barely gone to the movies and I’m lesser for it. Please note this is a resolution that I’m gonna be better at keeping after we repatriate.

Other intentions:

Keep my credit card balance at zero
Spend more time in Texas
Wean Baby Luna from nursing
Have no more children

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It’s A Dog Eat Dog Year

I am a ball of anxiety as 2018 gets underway. We are headed into the Year of the Dog, which is my zodiac year. Chinese superstition governs that you have to be very careful during your “本命年” because you’re more likely to have bad luck or accidents. You’re supposed to avoid negative people and life transitions like getting married or starting a business during the year.

There are countermeasures, like a lot of wearing-of-red. I think.

The last time this came up, when I was 24, was actually awesome! It was the year I miraculously got a dream job to cover the state capitol in Texas, which let me move out of South Carolina and reunite with my surly long-distance boyfriend. It also led to friendships that have endured and some of the most fun, most memorable reporting years of my life. TBH I wouldn’t be here, posting this from my sweetass employer-provided high-rise overlooking Seoul but for that key life change during my zodiac year.

But this time around I happen to be scheduled for unemployment by summer, because my contract will end. Where will I live? What will I do for a living? There are many factors that make a gal feel … unsettled.

I need to go see my mom for an egg rolling.

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On Liz Plank’s Pod… To Talk Gender Issues

Spoke with Vox’s Liz Plank about the boxes women in my region are forced to fit into and the consequences and questions that flow from that. Thanks Liz and producers, for having me on!

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