A Seattle Sojourn

Our plane after we got dropped off on the dock of John's farm.

Our plane after we got dropped off on the dock of John’s farm.

I just got back from a week in the Pacific Northwest, where I went to communion with clean air and great friends. For the Grist board retreat, board member John Vechey hosted us (and Grist leadership staff) on his 160-acre farm on Orcas Island, one of the San Juan Islands just a short seaplane lift from Seattle. There, we met about the future of Grist and the future of the planet, but we also laughed a lot and ate ridiculously delicious meals and stayed in bucolic bungalows and drank Moscow Mules that John made at his bar.

The board members who made it to Orcas this time around.

The board members who made it to Orcas this time around.

But I didn’t want to fly all the way to the Seattle area and not spend time in Seattle proper. So I got a couple of days at the end in which one of my oldest pals, Brad, met up with me for a ramble around downtown and chowder on Alki Island. Thanks to social media, I was also able to squeeze in some meals with old pals who saw on Facebook that I was in town — Robert, from the KVUE days, and Celinda, from the Texas Capitol days. It meant a lot to get so much catchup time “in real life.”

Social media makes us more connected but also more hands off about the KIND of connection we’re doing. I think it’s really important to try and get together in the same physical space and explore a place as much as possible. As the temperatures dropped and a light rain fell to make it quintessentially Seattle, Brad and I walked through Pike Place Market and all the artisans selling weird wood art and through the newish Sculpture Park, where we discovered a stunning piece that only looked like a huge warhead or phallus from the back. So you gotta see it from the front. I also snuck in some super-speed shopping for “American things” at Target, so Eva and Isa both got a serious haul when I came home.

The "proof we were there" shot.

The “proof we were there” shot.

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Tuesday night, our building is making every resident unplug all our electronic devices — including appliances — from midnight to six a.m. while some Korean authority conducts an apartment-wide electricity inspection. Our neighbor Julie is super pissed about it. Her husband has sleep apnea so he uses with one of those machines to aid his breathing at night. Its power source is a cord plugged into the wall, something that will be impossible tomorrow night. He scrimped on getting one with the optional battery-power pack! Now Julie’s not only pissed about the inspection, she’s reminded about her earlier anger that he didn’t buy the battery powered option.

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My Morning Routine Doesn’t Exist

I am continuing my quest to keep up this blog by picking random writing prompts from this list.

This is my morning routine, as of the past few months: Wake up around 6am to the sound of Baby Isabel murmuring and cooing in her crib. She never cries when she wakes up, she just says some stuff like, “Nnnnhn, breh, muhh, arrehh” and occasionally, “Mamamamamamamama.”

She sleeps behind us in a walk-in closet, because we’re space-limited and her sister Eva hasn’t warmed to the idea of letter her sister share a room with her yet. Anyway.

After I let Isa make her noises for a good 10 minutes so that I can slowly wake up, I or Matty go get her, and then I plant her face on my boob for feeding. She gulps down one boob, then switches to the other all while both of us are half asleep. Then I pass her off to Matty, who will burp and return her to her crib for anywhere between 10 minutes to an hour. The reason the timing is not exact is because Isa is consistently awakened later in the morning by her own poop (cause who wants to sleep with poop on their ass) or her sister. Each morning, once the sun is brightly shining, we hear the thud-thud-thud-thud-thud of three-year-old Eva, whose footsteps slow as they approach the master bedroom. She creeps in quietly wearing a mischievous grin, and knowing full well that we’re going to tell her not to wake her sister. (She always ends up somehow waking her sister.)

Then Matty does Eva’s morning get-ready-for-school routine, Isabel gets handed off to our helper, Yani, and I go back to sleep. At least I try. This is only somewhat successful depending on whether Eva decides she only wants me to do her hair before school in the morning, and what I find in my email. If I get some sort of email that wakes my brain, I’m up for the day. If neither a hair nor email incident happens, I sleep until about 9:30am.

It sounds hellish but I keep thinking that someday I will miss this routine.

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On My First Female Role Model Besides My Mom

Last night I fell down a rabbit hole on Medium (usually it’s Wikipedia) and found a list of writing prompts that friend-of-a-friend Nicole Zhu used in order to keep up a daily habit of writing. Between sometimes writing here on this blog but mostly posting on my work Tumblr and a mandate to write for my day job, I don’t think the world needs more of my words. But I felt inspired by the prompts and realized I don’t sit down and reflect as often as I used to, because the explosion of social platforms means I do my sharing in pieces, in snapshots or Snapchats rather than wordier reflections. 

Anyway. I have kept up this blog and its previous incarnations for all these years, so I might as well take some of the prompts and give them a whirl every once in a while, eh? It’s certainly something to do when I am avoiding doing other tedious things, like paying the bills or whatever. [Clears throat.] With that, here’s a musing on female role models.


Let’s get this part of out of the way: My most influential role model, female or not, is my mom. My mom is pure love. She makes me feel safe always. “Listen to me and you can’t go wrong,” my mom says, confident in her wisdom. And she’s right. She is unapologetic about who she is, realistic about the world and her confidence gives me confidence. We laugh about inappropriate topics, since she shares a subversive, macabre humor. We cry together because we wear our hearts on our sleeves (unapologetically). We never want to stop exploring, a value she instilled in me long ago. She told me as a child, “Never live your life for someone else’s gaze,” a lesson that shaped me. She also explained to me when I was quite young the quiet cruelties of being a person of color in a pasty white St. Louis suburb, making it easier for me when I did feel different.

It took awhile before I found other female role models. I grew up surrounded by boys. My only sibling is a brother. My childhood memories of Roger are of our forceful physical fights (I learned how to always go for his nuts when kicking or punching), building homegrown skateboarding ramps on our driveway and buying Fun Dip in between innings at his little league baseball games. My entire neighborhood peer group was also made up of boys; in the four houses closest to mine were each kids in my grade, and all those kids were boys: Ryan, Craig, Tommy and Craig. We waited for the bus together each morning. After school, thanks to huge fenceless yards, we stayed outside playing until dark almost every night. We built forts, played Ghost in the Graveyard and Kick the Can, or wandered to the neighborhood creek where the rocks were jagged and the water could start rushing dangerously quickly when it rained.

Jenny! (Using her current Facebook profile photo, so that I know this is a Jenny-approved photo.)

Jenny! (Using her current Facebook profile photo, so that I know this is a Jenny-approved photo.)

So my closest female relationships didn’t really come together until 5th or 6th grade, when I formed a bond with a fellow subversive — Jes Ingram. I remember going to Jes’ house to play Sim City (which might have been V1), sleepovers watching/reciting Ace Ventura Pet Detective word-for-word and hanging out around her house with her older sister, Jenny. I think she was my first female role model besides my mom. Jenny never passed on words of wisdom in the way moms do, but instead led by example. Jenny was class president and much-admired and beautiful but effortlessly so. Unlike the other popular girls who spent a lot of time primping for boys or to pickup boys at the mall (yes my middle school friends did that back then), Jenny was ‘whatever’ about her place in the preteen hierarchy, and even cooler for it. She seemed to have deep, authentic friendships, which in 7th grade felt sorta hard to come by. But mainly I looked up to Jenny because I find being bored pretty much anathema to existence, and Jenny was never boring. She has so much personality that it oozes from her like the cheese of a four-cheese grilled cheese sandwich. Jenny’s Personality and her personality are innate and not replicable, but for acolytes like me, thankfully she read a lot of books and watched a lot of movies and listened to a lot of music, so at least through all that time with the Ingram’s I got to be inculcated with her cultural influences. (And her sister Jes’s, of course, who I will always trust implicitly.)

I’ve seen a lot of movies in which young protagonists are somehow let down by their role models in the end. But some 20 years after first looking up to Jenny, I can report that she has only exceeded my stratospheric assessment of her.

Last year, Jenny learned she had breast cancer. She’s sadly not my first friend to fight cancer at a young age, but she’s fought it with the most humor and moxie. (Because, of course.) A few days ago, she lost her boobies, as she decided that getting a double mastectomy was the best way to prevent a recurrence. She’s been chronicling her journey on her blog, appropriately titled “Check Those Titties.” Reading it regularly has reminded me of many things (to check my titties, for one), but also how exceptional she is. And that maybe I should reflect and write about these personal memories, because it’s a way to thank people like her, to whom I’m eternally grateful.

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One Night In Beijing

I kind of dread going to Beijing these days because my brother Roger (who lives there) always makes it sound so dystopian. But my one-night trip was actually quite lovely. Even though I was there less than 24 hours, I was able to:

a) See my brother’s new office headquarters. He’s the founder of a tech startup in Beijing and they just moved from the tech district (by Tsinghua University) to center city. It was great seeing rows of developers working hard, just as I’ve seen in numerous American tech offices. Only twist was all these guys were employed by my scrappy little bro. Weird! (Also cool.)

b) Have drinks and dinner with Kinsey, a VIP on my “personal board of directors,” people to whom I go when seeking life advice or a centering when I feel off course. Kinsey also happens to be one of the biggest brains and most overprogrammed people I know, so getting any catch-up time with him is a delight. In Beijing, we continued our tradition of hanging out together only in cities where neither of us live and work, because that’s the only time he has time. Roger came along for dinner, and I love it when people from various parts of my life connect, so that was lovely.

The Gourd Pedicab. (There were several of these hanging from the vehicle. They were not lights, just gourds.)

The Gourd Pedicab. (There were several of these hanging from the vehicle. They were not lights, just gourds.)

c) Night-capped in a whiskey bar in the alleys of Beijing’s traditional hutongs with my Beijing-dwelling friend from Washington, Ben Dooley, who some of my pals may know from an inside joke as “Sad Eyes.”* Roger and I took a sketchy and too-risky-for-my-age pedicab ride in a pedicab adorned with hanging gourds (no idea why) to get there, and it was already past 10pm when we arrived. But the three of us sat talking and joking around, having a great time. Ben loved Roger’s jacket, and now Roger will take Ben to meet his tailor. EVERYONE IS CONNECTING, THIS IS WONDERFUL.

d) The best part came at the end of my trip: a forty minute cab ride to the airport and the driver astoundingly chatted me up (they usually aren’t chatty or are down right assholes). He asked about my family, told me about the context of China in the pre-Mao 1940s when my grandpa was sent to study abroad in the U.S. on a government scholarship, demonstrated nuanced understanding of the complex China-North Korea relationship, waxed philosophical about how we come into the world with nothing and leave with nothing, so just to make the most memories we can, and talked about U.S. politics a bit. His take on Trump? “His popularity makes it clear that Americans don’t have equal access to education and information.” ZING!

*The “Sad Eyes” story is one of my favorite and funniest stories of my five years in Washington. Someday I will have to relay it on this here blog.

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My baby daughter Isabel has a bottomless appetite, it seems. Hard to know for sure since she only started eating solid foods two months ago. She prefers to feed herself, double-fisting crackers or fruit (strawberries are her favorite, though she’s recently gotten into Asian pears). That she only has two bottom teeth doesn’t deter her. A common occurrence lately is she’ll feed herself out at restaurant, and then half an hour later I’ll notice her taking some food from her fist and shoving it into her mouth. She will have had clung to that french fry or pretzel stick long past meal time, saving it for later, to eat in the cab. Perhaps it’s a primal survival hack.

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Three-Way Birthdays To Remember

My last night in Austin was in February 2011, a week before our birthday. The karaoke goodbye at Do512 HQ was thrown in part by John and April, so this was our de facto final three-way party.

My last night in Austin was in February 2011, a week before our birthday. The karaoke goodbye at Do512 HQ was thrown in part by John and April, so this was our de facto final three-way party.

There is no annual gathering that’s more special to me than the now-defunct “Three-Way Birthday” parties of my Austin years. For five years in my twenties, I celebrated my birthday with two other Texas politcal reporters who also were born on February 17th — my besties April Castro and John Moritz. We are the dancing-on-bartops together (April) and buy-homes-from-one-another (I bought John’s house) kind of close friends. Our friendship was born out of many inside jokes, lunches at the Texas Chili Parlor (which makes a CHEESEBURGER SALAD), drinks at the Stephen F. Austin hotel, and long nights at the Texas Capitol, staking out one politician or another, or listening to the endless chubbing of lawmakers stalling votes or adding amendments to amendments to the budget bill. And, of course, our annual birthday ritual fueled memories for always.

I suppose I moved away first, so maybe it’s all my fault, but now we are in three different countries. John remains in Austin, Texas, but I weirdly live in South Korea and April recently relocated to Canada. I think of them often, and miss them often, but never as much as I do on our birthday. (This just reminded me: One year, a Texas lawmaker who was ALSO born on February 17 did one of those honorary resolutions on the House floor to recognize us for our birthday, probably just because it was also his day, but anyway, it was pretty amusing.)

I met April in a committee room at the Texas Capitol, and John on my first day on the beat as a Texas political reporter. We quickly learned we shared a birthday. This is a snap from our very first joint birthday party, in 2007.

I met April in a committee room at the Texas Capitol, and John on my first day on the beat as a Texas political reporter. We quickly learned we shared a birthday. This is a snap from our very first joint birthday party, in 2007.

The 2008 party is memorable because it didn’t happen, and we can blame Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for that. We were political reporters, and Obama and Clinton were locked in such a tight battle at that point because Obama hoped to lock up the nomination in Texas/Ohio, that we were working nonstop. On the night of our party, Obama held a rally in downtown Austin in which something like 30,000 people showed up. We had to cancel the party at the last minute because we had to cover the rally.

The invite to a party that didn't happen. When we made the invite campaign-themed, we didn't know that the Obama campaign would be the reason our party got canceled.

The invite to a party that didn’t happen. When we made the invite campaign-themed, we didn’t know that the Obama campaign would be the reason our party got canceled.

Every year for the big party we'd send out invitations in which we'd combine our three ages. In 2009, we turned 112.

Every year for the big party, we’d send out invitations in which we’d combine our three ages. In 2009, we turned 112.

In 2010, we threw our swankiest party, at a bungalow that's part of Hotel St. Cecelia. After years of throwing "three-way's," we actually had a bed at our party venue.

In 2010, we threw our swankiest party, at a bungalow that’s part of Hotel St. Cecelia. After years of throwing “three-way’s,” we actually had a bed at our party venue.

Happiest of birthdays to my partners-in-mischief and fellow February 17thers. I miss you and treasure our shared birthday memories.

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Occasionally I go to “rubber chicken dinners,” as they’re called in Washington. (Rarely is rubber chicken actually served, the food is often quite good.) They are awards shows or chamber of commerce anniversary events or whatever, where you’re seated at tables of eight or ten, like at a wedding, and much like weddings, they’re often at expensive hotels. I went to one last night where I was seated next to the New Zealand ambassador to Korea, and on the other side of her, the Netherlands ambassador to Korea. The Dutch guy was fun; we ninjaed out together before the program was over, saying “We have small children,” as an excuse. “Sure you have,” he said with a grin.

The New Zealand ambassador and I discovered we share the same Korean teacher, who is a saint, we both conceded. But it turns out the ambassador was previously posted in Xian, Shanghai, Beijing and Taipei, so her spoken Mandarin is quite excellent. She even whipped out some Shanghainese, a dialect hard to find outside Shanghai. (Though my dad and sister pride themselves on keeping up their Shanghainese with one another.)

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I had a box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese for dinner. The whole box, because that’s the appropriate serving size for my appetite. I threw in some chunks of lightly fried tofu for protein. Our housekeeper and cook is off on Sundays, so this is the only day of the week I’m left to fend for myself like this, which explains my orange powder and tofu concoction. But three hours later I was starving. I really wanted something saltier for a snack before my nightly Haagen Daaz ice cream bar, which I eat as I do my nightly pumping for Baby Isa’s strategic milk reserve. I called Matty, who was out tonight, and he was passing by a Taco Bell. I told him “crunchy tacos” and did not specify a number. He came home with three tacos, instead of two. His knowing that my 10pm taco snack should consist of three tacos and not two was the best Valentine’s gift I’ve gotten in years.

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“My overuse of Twitter was part of a larger set of issues I have. I have a deep hunger for information, distraction, and activity. If I slow down my stimulation or creation, I start to feel useless and confused. Throughout my life, I’ve usually satiated that hunger with cultural consumption and work, but Twitter gave me the chance to feed it more efficiently — and even more unhealthily.”

Annie Lowrey, on quitting Twitter. I feel this.

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