LA Is Really A Small Town, With Excellent Bar Trivia

Chance encounters are the best. I get more than my fair share of good ones.

Yesterday, I had just flown back from a conference/retreat in Sonoma when I got a random message from my high school friend Bryan, who I hadn’t seen since 2001.

Bryan introduced me to blogging nearly 20 years ago by setting up my LiveJournal as part of building elisehu.com for me. (That site got even fancier when Friend Justin added Flash!) Besides websites, our times spent together consisted a lot of Cici’s Pizza (all you can eat for only … 2.99).

So, the reason Bryan reached out is because his Tuesday night bar trivia team only had three other members who could make it, so he took a gamble in asking me to go (not knowing if I could even be helpful at a trivia challenge … little did he know I EFFING LOVE BAR TRIVIA).

Upon joining the team, which we named “Alexa, Sue The National Enquirer,” I met Kat and Kevin.* How did Kat and Kevin meet? Good question. It turns out they met through a matchmaker, and their first date was recorded in full on, wait for it, NPR for a Morning Edition piece that aired a year ago. NPR? Hey that’s where I work!

I am happy to report they are now engaged. And our trivia team CRUSHED IT, coming in first place, winning fifty dollars off our bar tab. But perhaps we should have slacked a little because the prize for second place was a copy of the book, “Conflict Resolutions for Couples.”

*Kevin really showed his chops on a question about the common name for the medical condition ‘circadian dysrhythmia.’ Answer: jet lag.

Vogs

Yesterday my favorite culture critic, Chris Vognar, got laid off by his employer of 23 years, The Dallas Morning News. He’s a casualty of another round of cutbacks at the paper, which has been bleeding out for my entire adult life.

I can’t overstate the loss for local readers and for all film/book/music lovers who followed him. He is a sensitive dude with a thoughtful way of explaining his taste, his contextual knowledge of film and books is deep and wide and Voggie* is just one of the best contemporary writers that I know, period. He’s concerned with truth and how art can get us closer to it. I loved seeing things anew after reading one of his interpretations. I rely on his annual “best” lists and his film festival coverage because I trust him implicitly.

We’ve been friends for 20 years and have yet to take a decent photo together. 

While I’m thinking about Voggie I might as well keep riffing because this is my blog and no one will stop me. Our friendship goes way back, to when I was 16 years-old, a junior in high school. He’s a fair number of years older than me, so he was already a film critic at the DMN at the time. My 11th grade English teacher was BEYOND excited to learn CHRIS VOGNAR talked me through some ideas in Ellison’s The Invisible Man during our African American lit unit. Many years later I was at his apartment and tickled to discover he keeps the Norton Anthology of English Literature (which you might recall, weighs about four tons) on his john for light bathroom reading.

When I lived in Waco for my first job out of college, we went to a lot of movie screenings together as I frequently fled to Dallas to hang out. Usually these films were good, though I have never let go of the time he dragged me to a snooooozefest indie Korean flick about a Buddhist monk called Spring Summer Fall Winter Spring or something like that. Or was it Summer Autumn Winter Spring Summer? Groan.

We subsequently spent a lot of magical SXSW nights together while he covered the fest each year. At one SXSW, we both instantly bonded with fellow Dallasite, Scoot McNairy, which I will forever remember as “that time I became briefly obsessed with Scoot McNairy.”

He introduced me to Lakewood Landing, probably the best bar in Dallas, and Cosmo’s, the setting of dreamy memories of my youth. Later he battled an alcohol addiction and came out the other side, so we don’t go drinking together anymore. But we do still hang out and talk about culture a lot — so much so that we almost got kicked out of a listening party in Dallas last month because we were gabbing when we were supposed to be listening intently to music.

Bottom line, the man is a marvel. Vognar’s way with words, wit and the output of his brilliant mind are now for hire — so challenge him to do stuff, people!

BTW if you’re looking for films to watch, here are his picks for best films from the first decade of this century. I wish I could find his original review of one of his favorites and mine, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, because it was beautifully written and displayed what he gets about love and what he gets about art.

*Don’t try to call him that, btw. It’s my nickname for him and someone who isn’t me tried to use it once and he snapped at her, true story.

The 54 Books I Read in 2018, Charted

A few of my faves this year, even though they didn’t necessarily come out this year.

I committed to reading more books instead of periodicals in the haze following the 2016 election. It began as escapism and now, a couple years into it, I think it’s actually helped me grow as a thinker/feeler/human stumbling through life. As Matt Haig wrote, “The process of finding my best self was an endless quest. And books themselves seemed to reflect this idea.”

This year, I liked most everything I read, which included a heavy dose of contemporary fiction and more science fiction tales and genre romance than before. I continued to select non-white and/or non-male authors, which paid off. My book club kept things in balance with random nonfiction picks, like the Patagonia founder’s business book-slash-memoir, which really affected the way I think about consumption. Now I buy so much less crap!

I also got back to reading classics from giants — Philip Roth, James Baldwin, Joan Didion. I had to read them in school but appreciate them much more as a grown-up.

Here’s how this year’s book reading breaks down:

This year’s timeline shows I pretty evenly distributed my reading, though there was a big gap in which I read no non-fiction. Last year’s timeline was more interesting because I had a baby and that affected things.

I am deliberate in choosing more fiction than non-fiction, generally.

To chart “pages by month,” we used the page sum of all books finished in a month. (I don’t have a count of daily pages I’ve read, so this should really be called “Total-number-of-pages-in-a-book-by-month-finished.”) Note that June was when the Trump-Kim Singapore summit happened and my life was held together by duct tape and gum. It shows in the leisure reading completion.

These subgenres are sort of arbitrary, they are just what the Goodreads crowd classifies the books as, following the fiction or non-fiction categorization.

On Choosing Books

I still continually quiz people for recommendations but settled on a few people I really trust for recs, based on what they recommended before, or what they themselves have written. For example, last year I liked Sally Rooney’s book Conversations with Friends so much that when she wrote a positive review of An American Marriage, I made it a priority. Ditto the author Celeste Ng, who alerted me to Rich and Pretty.

My sister from another mother, Kat Chow (who is currently writing her own debut memoir), is a reliable recommender. She is behind many of my choices this year but notably Severance by Ling Ma, and poet Ocean Vuong’s novel (which comes out next summer — we are lucky to work at NPR because publishers are always happy to send us galleys).

I also trust Japan analyst Tobias Harris, who reads prolifically about subjects besides Japan. When he was in Seoul earlier this year, I asked him to tell me the best new books of 2017 he read and he chose Exit West and Pachinko, which became two of the best books I read in 2018.

Of course, NPR’s annual book concierge is an always helpful, delightful tool for choosing what to read next.

The Full List

1 Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng
2 Too Much and Not the Mood, Durga Chew Bose
3 Deception, Philip Roth
4 Chemistry, Weike Wang
5 Outline, Rachel Cusk
6 Sex Object, Jessica Valenti
7 The Boat, Nam Le
8 Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White
9 Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Joan Didion
10 Modern Romance, Aziz Ansari
11 Soul of an Octopus, Sy Montgomery
12 Sam the Cat, Matthew Klam
13 Goodbye Vitamin, Rachel Khoung
14 Hunger, Roxane Gay
15 Emergency Contact, Mary H.K. Choi
16 Fire Sermon, Jamie Quatro
17 The Female Persuasion, Meg Wolitzer
18 The Paper Menagerie (And Other Stories), Ken Liu
19 You Think It, I’ll Say It, Curtis Sittenfeld
20 The Man of My Dreams, Curtis Sittenfeld
21 Portnoy’s Complaint, Philip Roth
22 How To Write An Autobiographical Novel, Alexander Chee
23 Tin Man, Sarah Winman
24 Black Box Thinking, Matthew Syed
25 Let My People Go Surfing, Yvon Chouinard
26 An American Marriage, Tayari Jones
27 My Last Love Story, Falguni Kothari
28 Pachinko, Min Jun Lee
29 Three Body Problem, Cixin Lou
30 Exit West, Moshin Hamid
31 How to Fix A Broken Heart, Guy Winch
32 How Toddlers Thrive, Tovah Klein
33 The Internet of Garbage, Sarah Jeong
34 The Hike, Drew Magary
35 Crazy Rich Asians, Kevin Kwan
36 Rich and Pretty, Rumaan Alam
37 Love Poems (for Married People), John Kenney
38 The Proposal, Jasmine Guillory
39 I Want To Show You More, Jamie Quattro
40 Forget Having It All, Amy Westervelt
41 The Inevitable, Kevin Kelly
42 Asymmetry, Lisa Halliday
43 Farsighted, Steve Johnson
44 Norwegian Wood, Haruki Marukami
45 Severance, Ling Ma
46 Notes of a Native Son, James Baldwin
47 The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin
48 The Days of Abandonment, Elena Ferrante
49 On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, Ocean Vuong
50 New People, Danzy Senna
51 Us vs Them, Ian Bremmer
52 The Kiss Quotient, Helen Hoang
53 Crudo, A Novel, Olivia Laing
54 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Yuval Noah Harari

Credits

Friend Nicole has been doing a 52 book challenge for a few years and analyzes the data in a big wrap-up post, so these annual look-backs are inspired by her.

“This is such a nerdy post I do,” I said. “You don’t actually DO any of it,” spouse Stiles clapped back, since he does all the data clean-up/analysis/visualizing for me. (Thanks, dude.)

Epilogue

It turns out we can read 200 books a year in the amount of time we spend on social media, but this would require me ending my Twitter addiction and I have given up enough vices in my life, thank you very much.

Related: 2017 Book Look Back

Repatriation

First fireworks show in Houston, after my first American baseball game in four years. Credit: Scott McKenney

I live in Southern California now, which feels like I’m in a semi-permanent state of vacation. I have already consumed a green juice from a juicebot, taken the ubiquitous electric scooters of West LA for a ride, taken a Megaformer class (Pilates on steroids) and gotten an excellent tan. Next I need some Botox and I will be all settled in! (Just kidding about the Botox, I spoke to my Korean dermatologist about that — since Seoul is the plastic surgery capital of the world, natch — and he said do not start fillers too early because they won’t work when you need them later.)

We live in West LA so the beach is a ten minute walk from here. And you can just go, anytime. Because the girls are not in school yet, feeling sand between our toes and splashing around in the Pacific is something that we do almost every day.

I am very happy to have graham crackers back in my life, as I didn’t realize how much I missed them until they returned to me. I write this as I eat Salt & Straw ice cream from the Venice location, using honey lavender ice cream as a vector for graham crackers.

Five days after we landed in LA I left for Houston, where the Asian American Journalists Association gathered for its annual convention and I promptly caught the rare August cold. After I parked it for seven hours at a Lupe Tortilla the first night so that I could see various friends who came by and eat flour tortillas and queso for the entire duration, I lost my voice the first morning there and found myself hopelessly jet-lagged the entire time. But the reunions were rad! Not just AAJA pals but also my old Texas buddies, some of whom hosted a little happy hour for me on Thursday and we caught up and gossiped and talked politics just like the good ol’ days. On Friday my lawyer friend Brian arranged for me to see the Astros from his firm’s seats behind home plate and let me just say, those seats were adequate. The best part was the buffet before and during the game for season ticket holders, which consisted of meat, a side of meat and some more meat. Plus all-you-can-eat ice cream and candy! Fireworks every Friday meant I got an all American show after the Astros fell (again) to the Mariners.

Back in LA now.

Surf lessons, next.

A K-Pop Boy Band Is A Tough Act To Follow

Speaking to some students.

A few weeks ago I received an invitation to “speak to some students and other young people,” to which I responded, okay, sure, because I try to say yes to events that involve young people. Pay it forward and all that. Little did I know until I got there this past week that it was a MAJOR PRODUCTION involving an audience of 4,000 people in a sports arena.

I am really grateful and relieved that they asked me to send in a slide deck before the Olympics onslaught so that by the eve of the forum, I didn’t have to prepare! My past self had already sent in some kind of deck that I could just generally follow when I took the stage. But man, what a crowd they had kickin’ in there.

It turns out many of the students had camped out overnight to catch the opening act, a K-pop group called Wanna One, a boy band put together on a reality TV show. You know, like O Town, or Danity Kane, the girl group P Diddy put together. Anyway, it was AFTER those boys, plus the Korean speedskater who won the first gold medal for South Korea in Pyeongchang, that the “anchor show” was programmed. That’s when a BBC documentarian, a CCTV anchor and I had to take turns giving short talks.

There really weren’t any parameters to the remarks except to help motivate young people about the profession, so I just riffed on my work here in Korea in a generally chronological order and ended with some tips on how to not suck in journalism. It felt pretty much like talking to a college class, except with simultaneous translation devices available for each audience member (like they have at the UN), much brighter lights, louder feedback from the sound system and hugeass screens to see yourself beamed at billboard size. (Newsflash: I do not lint brush myself often enough for giant high definition projection).

The craziest part was after the speech when I got swarmed by Koreans from the audience who wanted to take selfies together. This is so different from speaking in the US, where people usually come up to you afterward to challenge you on your remarks, trade business cards, see if you want to drink later, etc. These Koreans barely even spoke to me. They just held up their phones next to my face so we could squeeze in a shot together. I would say half of the selfies were normal and without filters, but the other half had Snapchat/Instgram like insta-face filters where we would be selfie-ing with animated hearts or our faces with auto-blush and auto-long lashes and such. It was sort of insane but also an incredible experience to see what young Korean selfie culture was like. Some people wanted to do the straight peace sign, others went for the pinched heart fingers, some just wanted a straight smiling selfie … so much variety. Kept me on my toes. Thanks, Korea!

Pyeongchang Winter Olympics: Cheers and Jeers

Covering curling with my friend Jonathan Cheng of the WSJ, who is now OBSESSED with curling.

It’s the final day of the Winter Games in Pyeongchang and Gangneung. Covering these games was crazy intense, the whole way through. I can’t reflect really well without hindsight, so instead, here’s a round of cheers and jeers.

Cheers

The sports. What I love about the Winter Olympics is how utterly death-defying all of the events are, maybe with the exception of curling. But for basically every other event (skeleton, anyone?), a mere mortal would DIE trying it. I am exactly the kind of person who cannot maintain my cool when watching things like figure skating jumps. I cringe and audibly react with an “OH OWWWWW” when someone falls on the ice.

Curling. There’s something so magical about the perfect stones and the special shoes (one glides, the other doesn’t) and the terminology like “hog line” and “hammer.” I have come to really enjoy going to see curling more than anything else. The best night of curling happened with WSJ’s curling aficionado and sportswriter Jim Chairsumi happened to come have dinner with us and came with me to catch some curling. He gave the play-by-play and context, making the whole experience that much better. Thanks, Jim!

The Garlic Girls, aka Team Kim. The breakout sensation of these Games are four girls from the sticks, a garlic-producing town called Uiseong, which charmed the nation with their improbable victories in curling over the world’s best. Friend Jon (from the WSJ) and I accidentally stumbled on these women when we went to curling with the aforementioned Jim. They were mesmerizing to watch, and interesting off the ice, too. They have nicknames based on their favorite foods (“Steak” is my fave), a skip who is stone-faced, which inspired hella memes, and an excellent curling strategist. That they made it to the gold medal game at all was in the face of 50-1 odds. Rock stars, pun intended.

USA Women’s Hockey Team Beating Archrival Canada was the most exciting hockey game I’ve ever attended and maybe the greatest Olympics hockey game ever, according to veteran sportswriter Christine Brennan. It was sort of a fluke that I wound up covering it, meaning not only did I get to enjoy it, I got to file my first (and probably only) hockey results piece ever.

Reunions. The last time I was in the same place as Nigel Robertson I was 24 years old and he bought me a Wonder Woman shirt for my birthday that year. We have celebrated one another’s successes from afar for years and his energy is infectious. NIGEL is at the Olympics. So is Friend Juliet, who I haven’t seen since we moved away from Washington, Friend Alex, who I haven’t seen since the Nieman thing in Boston in 2013, and so many coworkers who I really never even worked with before, like our sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Getting to laugh with these folks makes the Olympics really special.

Jeers

Overheated buses. We constantly go from standing in subzero temperatures in a fierce (sometimes as fast as 50mph winds) to buses heated like they’re in the inside of a Korean sauna. One time my colleague Bill got into a bus that was actually heated just the right temperature and he decided to ride it to wherever it took him just to stay on the bus and not get stuck on a different one.

Wind. Wind gusts reached Cat3 hurricane speeds, destroying pop-up food stalls, security screening posts and wreaking havoc on the alpine schedule. For those of us who had to walk around in the wind, the big problem was trying not to be picked up by a strong gust. Also debris. I ended up having to irrigate my eyes numerous times after specks of gravel flew up into my peepers.

Food that tastes like despair. I feel it’s a travesty that the food in the concessions and tents here is so bad, given that there are such culinary delights across the rest of the country. Breakfast is sad, concessions which consist of “nachos without cheese” or “sandwich” (no details about what’s in it) taste of despair. Even things you can’t screw up, like fried mandu, aren’t served with condiments, so you can’t adjust anything. No hot sauce or soy sauce for you! Outrage.

The schedule. It is nonstop grinding-it-out, around the clock, since we work our daytime, and then by nighttime we begin working America’s daytime. The result is my alter ego comes out. Her name is Denise and she is a bitch. Denise has been making regular appearances in recent days, being all sorts of grumpy, uncompromising and picking fights. My mom thinks I’ve gone temporarily insane and told me I should not make any decisions right now, to which I responded by hanging up on her. Blame Denise, she’s horrendous.

Media Village Housekeeping. The apartments didn’t have do not disturb doorhangers so I’d often be awakened by or disturbed by the loud electronic voice of the teched-out apartment bell, which yelled, “YOU HAVE A CALL. YOU HAVE A CALL.” The other issue is that they bring you fresh towels every day, but never put them in the bathroom. So you’d come out of the shower or finish handwashing and have to trudge over to the bed to dry off. Because of language barriers, this situation could not change. I end my Olympics tenure supremely annoyed by this. Or is it Denise being annoyed? Hard to tell.

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

I 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!

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


Year End Update, December 2018

Hire a financial planner
Failed: I actually started working with a guy named Bob to try and do a tax deferral thing from selling my Austin house and to get my money in order but never followed through, so, fail.

Start a book club on Slack
Failed: Took steps to start this and strangers even wrote me saying they wanted to do it but I had too much going on in the early months of this year (mainly with the Olympics and North Korea) and never got it off the ground. Now I just joined a new “Asian Americans read Asian Americans” book club in LA that has yet to meet (but we have chosen ONE book) so I think I’m giving up on this.

Drink Less Flavored Tea and More Water
Marginal, as Trump would say

Get Accurate Bra Measurement
Success: Squeezed this in before the end of the year when I realized it was a resolution!

Write handwritten cards and letters for no reason
Partially fulfilled: This is a consistent hit or miss, but a perennial resolution. Last year I gave up writing people and replaced it with the “send rando packages” thing, but now that I’m back in America it’s much less hassle to mail things to Americans. Sent Christmas cards, but that’s not for “no reason.” I have no excuses!

Blog at least five times a month
Partially fulfilled. The months I made it to five: January, March, April, December

Other intentions of 2018: Keep my credit card balance at zero, spend more time in Texas, wean Baby Luna from nursing, have no more children. ALL ACCOMPLISHED!

Squad in Sydney

Harbour

From previous posts you may recall the Wan-Yau’s of Burlingame, California and now of Singapore, Singapore. We have gone on six squad holidays together now. The latest one, to Australia to ring in the new year, was the first to include Luna. We would have squeezed in a lot more in 2017 had Sarah Wan not faced unexpected family tragedy. But because of said tragedy we decided it was key to start the new year fresh, in the summertime because warmth > subzero temperatures.

After a freezing and quiet Christmas in Seoul we took the 10-hour flight down under, where the sun was out and everyone was sweaty, which was exactly what I was going for. The only notable stumble during the nine days down there happened at the beginning, when I was confronted with the reality that my family is too large for a standard SUV and I had to drop an additional thousand dollars at Hertz to upgrade to a giant seven-seater. (But before this happened I engaged in an irritated, aggressive-aggressive complaining to Matty about his inability to adequately squeeze all our stuff plus car seats into the regular-sized SUV. This happened out in the parking lot as he wore the baby in the front, sweat soaked through his dark blue polo shirt in the back and he was feeding hash browns to the older girls by stuffing them into their mouths. “YOU’RE WELCOME TO TRY IT IF YOU WANT,” he yell-whispered, of the luggage. How did we wind up with so many children!?!)

The rest of the vaca was a mix of beach time, pool time, green spaces and amusements for the children, afternoon cocktails, book reading, kid feeding and dominated by consumption of Tim Tams (original, dark chocolate and mint are my faves) and Australian avocados, which are a mystifying six dollars each. Joe also grilled out a lot for all of us in our lovely backyard high atop a hill where you could see Balmoral Beach, which is on the harbour. (Please note the harbour with a u — don’t want to make the mistake of leaving it out, y’know). One morning we gave Luna a leftover Australian beef rib and she chomped on it like a CHAMP even though she only has two teeth.

A final note, just because I can’t let this go: Why and how did passengers who used the lavatory on the Airbus 380 we flew home on decide that the toilet seat cover dispenser was the trash can?! When I went to this loo, I stood there staring at all the dirty paper towels stuffed into the cover dispenser for an inordinately long time as Isa giggled at herself in the mirror.

Oh, also, our Airbnb hosts had a bunny, “Hops,” and we got to feed him all week. He was adorable, except when he got out of his hutch and the dads had to set up an elaborate fort/trap to catch him so he could return to his little home.

Jess, Jonah, Eva. Isabel follows the beat of her own drummer so she’s always off doing something different.

2017 Year in Review: “Provocations”

True story: I would have posted this before the end of 2017 had my computer not died on the last day of the year. I guess 2017 wanted to get in one final disappointment. Don’t let the door hit ya!

Awaiting a Trump press conference in Tokyo at Akasaka Palace, during his first trip to Asia as president.

“We worry, all along, that we are being buffeted about by forces beyond our control, because we are. The world is wheels within wheels within wheels, but so are we. Everything is under control, and nothing makes sense.”

-Todd Van der Werff, on 2017

To ignore the unsettled feeling brought on by the changes to America and the world under the least popular American president since modern polling began would be irresponsible, but I also find it infuriating and exhausting to think too hard about it. For example, I cannot bring myself to look at starving polar bear photos even though philosophically I think we all should.

This year I tried to focus on individual objectives and tasks in order to keep my sanity. Like trying to teach the girls how to live with kindness and consideration of other people. (A work in progress, as they aren’t even that nice to one another!) At work, I’m trying to do some good with the pretty significant microphone that we have to shine a light on ourselves and our times and to agitate for improvements to my organization (e.g., to try and make it more inclusive). To say I haven’t been in and out of ennui would be a lie. I was unable to consume alcohol for all of Q1 and finally I started doing so with abandon as soon as Baby Luna was out of me. There was a lot of catching up to do.

That the final two months of the year brought down so many sexual predators/misogynists and Alabama elected the guy who prosecuted the KKK instead of the guy banned from the mall represents some cautious hope that a corrective for these misshapen times will eventually come. And the year wasn’t all bad. The Houston Astros won the World Series, the aggressively exuberant baby Luna is here and Matt Lauer is gone from the airwaves. Reliable year-enders that I cherish, such as The Hater’s Guide to the Williams Sonoma catalog, still showed up.

Firsts: Getting lost in a go-kart on the streets of Tokyo. Being with Donald Trump in person. (And Melania.) Making wax food. IUD! Fareed Zakaria GPS. Potty Training boot camp (NOT FOR ME, I was the drill sergeant, okay?!). And a first (and last) — co-hosting All Things Considered with the man the myth and the legend, Robert Siegel, before he retires.

Recurring Themes: North Korea. Russia. Being frightened to see news alerts in the morning.

New Person: Little Luna Lee, our third human child, who weighed 8 pounds 6 oz., or as they measure it in Korea, 3.9 kg. The heaviest crotch nugget yet, and I whined about it heartily in her final weeks of incubation.

ahhhhhhh!!!

Favorite Selfie: On the streets with crowds of South Korean, with crack assistant Jihye the moment South Korea’s president, Park Geun-hye, was formally removed from office after being impeached by a constitutional court. (She’s now in jail on a slew of charges.)

Most Unintentionally Famous Friend: Bob Kelly, aka “BBC Dad,” after his hip-hoppity kids made the best ever appearance in this BBC interview, followed up by his stealthy-smooth wife, who came to yank them out

New Friend of the Year: Alex Field, who is Hong Kong-based but spent so much time in Seoul for various North Korea-related news that she started working out regularly with my pilates instructor. Women need women friends and she’s become a close one, as we whine about our jetlag together following our trans-Pacific journeys and commiserate by text — and in person — over being overworked.

The Year of the … Hobonichi Techo: I tried going fully analog for my calendar and diary like the Japanese do, and it was awesome. The Hobonichi Techo was bullet journaling before bullet journals, and the pages, after writing in them, take on this delicious crinkled quality that’s oh so satisfying. I didn’t write a journal entry each day, so it’s largely full of to-dos and footnotes from phone calls that help me look back, and monthly calendars that show my travels and meetings.

Most Satisfying Habit: Monthly calls with Matt. After we went my first year in Seoul without talking on the phone, MThomps put recurring calls on both our calendars, dates which we got really serious about keeping no matter the hour or where we were. (He was often running, so our phone calls followed a  bouncing up and down kind of rhythm.)

Close Calls: When Matty had to bribe his way into Indonesia just in time to make it for Isa’s 2nd birthday.

New Places: Indonesia, Guam, Hokkaido, Australia

This year I…

Had third baby and she is the bomb
Read 52 books, most of them fiction and the vast majority by badass women authors
Became a member of the Council on Foreign Relations
Found out I’m Wikipedia-cited on the topic of “asian fetishes,” yikes
Kpop dance class #humiliation
Got in trouble with standards editor for saying “awesomer” on the air, but “y’all” was cleared
Got sketched at a wedding by a random stranger (literally sketched, not a play on words)
Got a bandaid nearly applied to me by a stranger on the Tokyo subway
Launched Elise Tries, an irreverent travel video series
Started sleeping two rooms away from my phones because news alerts were anxiety-inducing
Showed up in a stock image
Showed up in an online textbook
Showed up in Austin to surprise my goddaughter
Lost my grandma, my hero, a rock
Ran successful potty training boot camp, training Isa in two days
Accidentally injured my cat Caesar out of negligence
Drove a go kart around the streets of Tokyo
Drove into oncoming traffic in Hokkaido
Threw a bunch of ceramics at walls in a “rage room” with my brother
Room-mommed for my two year-old, who started preschool
Co-Hosted All Things Considered
Sent a lot of random packages (my fave was melted wax that Friend Harper received, long story)
Spent July 4th covering an ICBM test
Spent Labor Day weekend covering a nuclear test
Spent too many weekend mornings covering other missile launches
Dressed family up as sushi for Halloween
Popped in on lots of podcasts: Sweet and Sour FM. It’s Been a Minute. Divided States of Women. Lots of Up First.
Logged 59,861 miles to go to six countries and one US territory, and spent 78 days away from home, a much more homebound year this year thanks to Baby Luna.

Previous Years in Review:

2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010
2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006 | 2005 | 2004