First Time To Trump’s America

Friend Reeve meets baby Thomas, one of many babies born since I’ve been gone.

My experiences during short bursts of time in the states are reliably memorable because they are so abbreviated, and therefore I have to really make the most of every moment. In my downtime I a.) kept going to the Au Bon Pain next to my DC hotel to get giant iced teas and breakfast sandwiches and b.) watched some domestic cable news, which let’s face it, is pretty terrifying these days. The programming is interrupted by catheter and other medical device commercials, which are clues I should not be watching.

Highlights that I can piece together through the jet lag:

The Washington Half

Finally visited the Blacksonian — the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture — on the day I landed in DC. Eyes still bloodshot from the flight and jet lag setting in, Matt Thompson, his partner Bryan and I powered through and saw crazy amazing stuff like the Parliament Funkadelic MOTHERSHIP. Yes, yes we did.

Friend Claire came down from New York for a hang. We lingered over a three and a half hour dinner at a mezcal place, not because of the meal but because we had some epic catching up to do.

With one of the greats, Don Gonyea, at NPR HQ.

Don Gonyea gave me advice about work and life, which is always much appreciated.

Hanson, you know, of mmmmbop fame from 20 years ago, played a Tiny Desk Concert on the first day I went back to work in DC. They actually played two, because they recorded their very special Christmas Tiny Desk, too. Taylor (the middle one) and I joked around a bit about how the dinosaur on his Christmas sweater was wearing the same sweater, creating some sort of ugly Christmas sweater matrix.

One of my ex-work spouses, Javaun, took a train up from Lynchburg (where he now lives) to spend Tuesday evening hanging out and eating barbecue and drinking beers together. I can’t even remember all the ground we covered because, beer.

Finally ate at the State Department cafeteria in Foggy Bottom — a bucket list item.

Because I am support the notion of spending money to save time, I hired April Yvonne, friend of my always glam friend Angie Goff, to shop for me. She picked out racks of clothes in a few Georgetown shops in advance, so all I had to do was try things on and make decisions. The whole excursion only took two hours in total and I was hella wardrobed for the weekend and work by the end. Endorse.

The Austin Half

Met the following babies who have joined us since I’d last been in Austin: Baby Adaline. Baby Thomas. Baby Marcella. Baby EJ. Baby Franklin. Toddler Hattie. Toddler Emma. Missed Baby Sam, who is fattening up in a NICU right now, but boy was I overjoyed to see his parents.

Sam’s dad Jimmy is my ultimate favorite eating partner. He also cooks delicious food and personally catered my engagement party with Spanish tapas since he trained to be a chef in the kitchens of Spain and Charleston, SC. Because of serendipity, the weekend I was in Austin was also the Far East Food Festival, in which some sixty Austin restaurants served up healthy portions of various Asian creations and Jimmy was judging the food. He added me as a judge so we CHOWED DOWN until the heat and the food consumption did us in. I had to quit early because I just couldn’t eat anymore. Embarrassing, but true.

Fried kimchi rice balls at Far East Food Fest

Due to the abbreviated time, there were extra meals sandwiched in. On Friday I had a cheeseburger appetizer at P Terry’s while en route to Cooper’s barbecue where we disappeared pounds of brisket, sausage and ribs plus jalapeno mac-and-cheese, potato salad and the standard vat of pickles plus white bread. (Also Cooper’s offers free beans!) This was my favorite meal because of the strong appetizer IN THE CAR ON THE WAY to BBQ and my reliable eating buddies, Blake and Justin, joined to work up some serious meat sweats. I probably could have recovered for third lunch after this but we had do disperse.

Reunited with the dim sum club on Saturday morning to eat our faces off.

Did not see my oracle, Harry Whittington (the guy Dick Cheney accidentally shot in the face) but did see Bachelor Brad, who we seem to run into in Austin pretty much all the time. Is he everywhere? Is it because he’s a twin?

Surprised my goddaughter Marion Cass at her school, which led to second graders drawing me a bunch of butterflies and teaching me how to play a game called Sleeping Queen (need to get this for my daughters). Marion Cass also had me over to her house Sunday afternoon where she showed me how she can do things like SPLITS IN THE AIR because, gymnastics and being seven.

The purpose of this Austin return was to attend Friend Todd’s wedding. Did it, and so glad, because I love weddings! I also get to take partial credit for this union in the butterfly-flaps-its-wings kind of way, because I brought Todd to the Texas Tribune in 2009 as we were starting it. Here’s what happened: He was a weirdo who was teaching me Final Cut Pro as a part of a class I took at Austin Film School. I decided he was adorable even though I’m pretty sure he didn’t wash his hair at the time and was always railing about the dangers of aspartame and fluoride. Started calling him Hot Toddy behind his back (he later confronted me about this and yep, guilty) and convinced our boss Evan to give him a job at the Tribune because we were in wild wild west days of throwing jobs around. It was through this job that he met Carsi, his bride.

Reeve and I ran the hike and bike trail and joked around the whole time, just like the good ol’ days.

Sent up a flare in DC, and again in Austin, for big group happy hours. Both led to the happiest reunions, predictably. In Austin, April, my BFF from those halcyon days of my partying/Texas lege-covering twenties in Austin, HAPPENED to also be back after moving away to Toronto a few years ago. We got to see each other for about twenty minutes. I’ll take it.

The last time I was in America, I was two people. This time it was just me and my pump, which had to be used every few hours for the duration of the nine-day trip, the bottles and bags of expressed milk piling up in my respective hotel freezers until I had so much that I paid $400 in heavy baggage fees to bring all that liquid gold home. In order to keep it frozen while flying, I snuck in a trip to Ace Hardware in DC and got a giant padded cooler bag, which ended up being perfect. Thanks, Ace Hardware.

 

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The #HyoJam Nuptials At The British Embassy

I love a good wedding and I try to blog about them afterward, emphasis on try. There are some years where we attend so many weddings that I end up without the clearheadedness (cough sobriety cough) to remember to do so. Since I am of reasonably clear mind right now, a few thoughts about this one:

1.) It was a perfect day weatherwise and pollution-wise in Seoul for James and Hyojin (#hyojam) to get married. They’re both English-language journalists in Korea with a lot of international study and work in their backgrounds, so this afforded an opportunity for 200 of their loving family, wisecracking friends and whip-smart coworkers from all corners of the globe to witness their union AND party together on the lawn of the British Ambassador’s residence (which is on the same compound as the Embassy). “This just proves how far you all will come for free booze,” James quipped.

2.) Given James and Hyojin’s vocations, their wedding meant 90% of all the primarily English-speaking people who cover or research North Korea for a living were in the same place. “Thank you to Kim Jong Un for not conducting a nuclear test,” James said, in remarks at the reception. “Because had he done so, half of you wouldn’t be here.” (Tis true.)

3.) Four-year-old Eva went as my date because Matty has a well-documented history of preferring stand-ins for events that require heavy-socializing. Eva got to wear her Korean hanbok, which is what Koreans traditionally wear to weddings. She loved getting dressed up but was not great about sitting still during the ceremony. Thank god my assistant and friend Jihye came to sit with us and entertained Eva with Snapchat face filters during the ceremony’s second-half.

4.) In the time before we headed to the reception on the Embassy compound and after the ceremony, it got super hot and Eva wanted shade. So we found a bench near a tree and sat down. That’s when a random Korean dude came up and asked me to sit still because he wanted to sketch me in profile. My friend Nat, who was in town from D.C., witnessed the whole exchange and said it would make for a great story: “Oh hey remember that time we were sitting outside the Anglican church on the diplomatic compound when a sketchy dude came up and wanted to sketch you Titanic-style?” The drawing only took two minutes and was … all right, I guess?

5.) Mainly this wedding rocked. There was all kinds of free boozing super-interesting guests, owing to the foreign correspondenting and diplomat-sourcing of James and Hyojin. James, for example, is a British national who studied in China and can speak Korean, English and Mandarin, which is an eclectic mix of expertise that can describe much of the crowd assembled.

6.) Some people run in the Las Vegas party circuit, some in the Hollywood party crowd, mine is the diplomatic/journalist/North Korea specialist crowd. It is decidedly wonky and heavy-drinking. Sometime last night at the wedding after-party and after several shots, I wandered to four different clusters of people milling about around on the patio, drinking and smoking. I kid you not, all FOUR groups were talking about sanctions and the ineffectiveness of the sanctions on North Korea, albeit taking different angles in their chatter. I mean, WTF.

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Audrey and Patrick’s Montana Wedding Spectacular

Wound up back out West a week after leaving Colorado. En route to the Bozeman, MT airport I changed planes in Denver and landed at the gate across the walking escalator from the one I left a week ago. This time, I traveled sans husband and baby, which meant such a light load that I kept feeling like I was a bag (or six) short.

The Beam, Andy, The Nurse and I joined forces and shared a cabin in Big Sky for the nuptials of our friend, Audrey, to her sweet man, Patrick. You may remember Audrey from the time we went to Honduras and got attacked by sand flies. Audrey is a spirited adventure seeker from Houston-by-way-of-Austin-and-Berkeley whose mind runs 800 miles a minute and none of us can quite comprehend. But we love her for the candor, authenticity and joy she brings to all situations.

Audrey spent a few years as a scuba divemaster in Australia and the Caribbean before settling down and getting two masters degrees and moving to DC to work for the Defense Department in sustainability issues. Patrick is a phD whose heart is in the mountains and one of the most talented amateur skiiers any of us know. So we knew they’d pick somewhere beautiful and outdoorsy, and as soon as they chose Montana, we committed to being there.

And what a place. They wed at the 320 Ranch, just miles away from Yellowstone National Park, where there were a couple grizzly bear attacks on humans this week, so everyone brought bear spray on their hikes. The weather was dry and beautiful, we walked along babbling brooks to get to and fro, got lifts from Belgian horses to picnics by the Gallatin River, made smores in a shared firepit, took long and interesting hikes, met the couple’s favorite people from all parts of their lives and all over the world, heard their stories in a rehearsal dinner evening of lovely and hilarious speeches, and on Saturday, watched them wed against the stunning mountain vista. They are enchanted with one another, and we were enchanted by the weekend.

Some other trip notes:

On the flight there I got seated next to a couple trying to soothe their crying four-month-old. The father joked about lethal injection. I told them I didn’t mind and that the baby would be a great traveler — turned out, I was right, and I soon learned that he was a fellow journalist: a Reuters correspondent based in New Delhi, India.

While waiting for a third wedding guest to arrive at the Bozeman airport, The Beam and I decided to check out downtown Bozeman and somehow wandered into a college bar full of bros. We were the oldest people there by at least a decade. The whole scene was rather humorous, watching young women twerking on the dance floor and the fratty Montana boys acting like big men on campus and what not. We are old.

Huckleberry everything! Huckleberry vodka, as pictured in my hand in one of those photos, was my favorite huckleberry concoction. But huckleberry bars were also quite delicious.

Wildlife: Saw a ram getting a snack on the side of the road, plus a fox, a few horses and many, many, many flies. Beam, who drove into Yellowstone, saw a lot more.

In Big Sky, which we visited briefly on wedding day, there was a CrossFit Convention or something at the Big Sky Resort. For people who love CrossFit so much that they traveled to a resort to be with other CrossFitters to do their CrossFit workouts together. No comment.

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Matchmaking Success: April and Chad Got Hitched

Two years ago, one of my bridesmaids and best friends, April, unwittingly fell victim to a TOTAL ROMANTIC CATASTROPHE. There’s no need to go into the details except to say I learned of this in the middle of a busy downtown street and was so stunned that I froze there on the asphalt as cars honked to avoid running me over.

In the blur of  time following the news, April and I spent night after night out at bars, rooftop parties, dives featuring wood paneling and karaoke, sketchy dance clubs full of cougars, and, you get the idea. All along, we kept our friends Keith and Virginia, parents to a then-newborn, updated with new developments in the TOTAL ROMANTIC CATASTROPHE.

Around that time, Keith had begun a friendship with a super smart engineer named Chad. And he decided that Chad should meet April. So he enlisted my help in bringing the two together. We organized a happy hour, ostensibly to casually hang out, but mainly so the two could meet.

Within a month the two were dating, by Christmas they’d met one anothers families, and by this Easter, they were engaged. Keith and I spent their weekend wedding in the Texas Hill Country gloating over our matchmaking success.

 

Continue reading →

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Hannah and Jed Get Hitched

For me, the people in a place always make the place. So I love Taipei because my six months there overlapped with that of other Chinese-American expat-types, also exploring their ancestral roots or themselves, and we became a family in a never-sleeps city with a fast-beating pulse and endless foods and bars and alleys to discover.

I love Austin because I actually stayed long enough to get to know Austin. I eventually came to feel OF Austin, even though the truth is, I grew up in Dallas. I am ambivalent about whether it was better as a gritty hippie town or as the more yuppied-out place it is now. I mainly love Austin because of the friends who became like family there.

Hannah is one of those friends. She’s the most-together person I know, talented in countless ways, and whenever I’m with Hannah, whether it’s for dinner or for a trip to remote West Texas, I know I never have to worry about a thing because she has a plan and a backup plan and a second-backup plan for everything. So I knew that when she married her beloved Jed, everything would be fantastic. And it was.

We were so happy to be back home for the weekend, and I loved getting to spend time with the Austin girls with whom I’ve shared so many meals — and many more adult beverages — over the years.

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