My 2019 Year in Review: Mind Games

Spent much of this year with some sort of brain booster zapping my head, for journalism!

What a time to be alive. The House just impeached the US president. Brexit really is going to happen. Big Tech has finally revealed itself to be far more nefarious than nice; and some of its darling companies (cough WeWork cough) laid bare as just giant Ponzi schemes that fuel capitalism’s excesses while promising “community.”

I am still living in the sunshine and swimming in the sea — spending my first full year back in America in the freaky paradise that is Southern California, where there’s no real winter or hot summer. Reality interrupts sometimes — we felt the long, rolling earthquake on July 4 and much of California’s brush and forests caught fire in the fall. A reminder that this state, like the rest of Planet Earth, is increasingly unsustainable.

This year felt like my real re-entry, a transitional period in which I had to learn how to live a more quotidian and (literally) domestic life after all the nonstop absurdity and madness of living abroad. My intention at the outset of 2019 was to be still and look inward, and I’m one for two — lots of looking inward, but not so much stillness.

I learned constantly, mainly in the service of my central creative project and raison d’etre at NPR for the past year — Future You.  It explored how emerging technologies are changing what it means to be human. We asked philosophical questions but packaged them in lightweight videos, playing with the long game in mind. In all, I had some 124 electrodes gelled to my head in all this year, plus an untold amount of wattage sent to my brain to show a future of mind-machine melding. I also learned how to extend my life, thanks to the Harvard geneticist David Sinclair, one of the world’s leading experts on aging. We became fast friends.

External circumstances interrupted during the back half of 2019 to force me to think more deeply and weigh what matters most. I’m reflecting now after an autumn of tumult. Everything felt triumphant and purpose-driven the first half of the year, then my shoulder dislocated at the end of June and I was down an arm, homebound and feeling crippled and useless. Then, to all of our surprise, my team got laid off in August. This meant the cancelation of the show, without consultation. I struggled for a few months with what I wanted to make — and be — next.

I’m finally out of my malaise, though. New things abound! Can’t wait for 2020, a chance for a buoyant new beginning.

Culture That Made 2019 Bearable: Fleabag, Lizzo, Parasite, Succession, the cringeworthy L to the O-G rap on Succession, Deadwood: The Movie, Sally Rooney’s Normal People, the writing of Rebecca Traister, The Cut on Tuesdays, the newsletter Ask Molly

Drink of the Year: Black Sugar Iced Milk Tea, or Tiger Boba Tea — same thing, different names, delicious whatever you want to call it

Noteworthy Food Discovery: Trader Joe’s Coffee Ice Cream

Live Shows I Was Glad To See: Amanda Seales, John Mulaney, the countertenor John Holliday, Pod Save America, mainly for Jon Lovett

Memorable Interviews: Noho HANK, aka Anthony Carrigan, whose character Hank really makes Barry shine. Jenny Odell, on how she finds meaning while wandering. Alicia Menendez, with whom I really could relate on the topic of likeability. Tristan Harris, for video and separately for the pod, about our attention-fracked media culture.

New Practices: Epictetus said, “Progress is not achieved by luck or accident, but by working on yourself daily.” So to lean into my 2019 goal of looking inward, I kept a daily, hand-drawn checklist to make sure I did (or tried to do) the following — meditate, journal, take a vitamin and exercise. The visual representation really shows consistency and lack thereof. Sometimes I just ran out of vitamins, okay? I do most things last minute.

I just colored in a square if I did the thing and over time, I had my own handmade data viz.

The Year’s Firsts: A night at the Magic Castle. Giving a commencement speech at the Missouri School of Journalism, my alma mater. Shoulder dislocation. Irish hospital treatment. Opioids. Drag racing with a professional stunt driver. Brain stimulation. Being monitored in a sleep lab while getting brain stimulation. Getting all three daughters to introduce one of my podcast episodes. The tedious experience of lice removal for my older girls.

New Places: Albuquerque, NM. A few Hawaiian islands I’d never visited before — Kauai and the Big Island. Ireland, where folks kept telling my fair-skinned baby Luna, “Welcome Home” and whose National Ambulance Service I am eternally grateful for. Never did get to visit the Blasket, though.

MVP New Friend: David Sinclair, aforementioned

MVP Old Friend: Harper Reed, who, while helping me through my doldrums randomly introduced me to his friend Michael, with whom he was developing a TV pilot. Serendipitously, Michael goes, “Oh hey do you have a reel?” A week later, I was on a set, shooting a real life commercial, the first since I was a teenager and appeared in commercials for places like Sonic Drive-Ins. This entire sentence just sounded ridiculous when I read it back.

MVP New Sandwich: Popeyes lives up to the hype

Disappointments: The short-sightedness of the newsroom “reorganization” this August and the way it happened. The current era at NPR. Not keeping up with my newsletter. My poor posture, in general — Dr. Raj, my PT, says I had shoulder impingement a long time before my injury.

Also this year, in no particular order, and an admittedly incomplete list:

Talked about my Dad’s epic freedom swim in public
Took the OJ Simpson tour
Lost the door to the minivan after my husband nearly got hit by the Santa Monica Big Blue Bus
Hired a garage organizer and got organized
Received a message from another person’s brain with computer-assisted telepathy
Moved a robot with my mind
Increased my vertical jump by 11 percent
Went under the care of a celebrity longevity doctor; he told me to stop eating so much orange dust
Lowered by biological age by five years
Got my long term memory boosted in a sleep lab
Appeared on The Today Show as B-roll
Shot a commercial
Saw Idris Elba in real life
Partied at Lawrence Welk’s former house
Inadvertently became a Flonase “influencer”
Saw Adam Driver on Broadway, he was riveting
Saw an otter feeding at the Monterey Bay Aquarium
Stayed at an entirely wolf-themed lodge
Breathed the same air as Beyonce
Ate breakfast back-to-Harrison Ford’s back, and no one told me for most of this time
Became an Annenberg Innovation Lab fellow
Potty-trained Luna, my last baby
Spent more time with mom and dad, who moved to Orange County for part of the year
Reunited our fellow Asia expat travel squad when the Wan Yau‘s returned to the states
Went to Palm Springs, twice
Went back to Seoul, twice
Went to DC 4X
Went to San Francisco 4X
Went to New York 4X
Wrote and hosted a bunch of podcast episodes on how to travel better
Nearly went broke after having to cough up a bunch in capital gains taxes (thanks, selling the Austin house)
Took a morphined-out Irish ambulance ride with medics named Owen and Paddy, natch
Spent a month in a sling
Spent a month without eating sugar
Spent six months in physical therapy
Watched members of my team get laid off in a parking lot while on the job, and on vacation
Decided to leave NPR after that happened
Took part in a little non-violent resistance
Celebrated my parents 40th anniversary in Hawaii on an epic trip with 20 other family members
Started a new small business with my girlfriends
Fit in reading 52 books, barely
Flew 180,846 miles to 28 cities, three countries and spent 99 days away from home. Next year I’m getting carbon offsets and undertaking an effort to cut this down significantly, because it’s so terrible for the planet to fly this much. Like everything else about my 2019, it’s been a year of reckoning.

Previous Years in Review

20182017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006 | 2005 | 2004

Every Trader Joe’s Item You Recommended, A Complete List

You love this place and it shows. PC: Mike Mozart/Flickr

Thank you for sending in your Trader Joe’s love on Twitter! Overwhelming deliciousness lives in this reply thread. As promised, I put everything you recommended on one master list.

I also classified your recs so it’s easier if you go/when I go shopping. Overall, there’s a lot of love for the frozen Mac and Cheese, the gnocchi, the dried fruit, the cheeses, the nuts and those peanut butter-filled pretzels with crack in them. (Not really but maybe really.)

Remember, TJ’s has a lot of seasonal items and it breaks our hearts when it discontinues items inexplicably. So I hope everything’s still available when you go!

Frozen, Savory
Hash browns
Dairy and Gluten free home style pancakes
Cauliflower gnocchi
Sweet potato gnocchi
Quinoa Cowboy Veggie Burger
Mandarin Orange chicken
Parmesan Pastry Puffs (aka the puff pastry-wrapped hot dogs)
Vegetable Penang curry with jasmine rice
Sage gnocchi meal
Tamales
Arancini bites
Trader Giotto frozen pizza
Organic Woodfired Sicilian Style Pizza
Chile relleno
Burritos of all sorts
Eggplant Parmesan
Raw chicken tenders
Indian frozen meals and samosas
Artichoke hearts

Frozen, Sweet
Coffee Bean Blast Ice Cream
Cold brew latte dessert bars
Cookie butter ice cream
Mango Mochi
Veggie Gyoza
Mac and cheese
Mini sheet cakes
Key lime pie
Mini ice cream cones
Lime Fruit Floes

Savory Snacks
White truffle potato chips
Elote chips
Pine nuts
Dolmas
Jerk style plantain chips
Multi seed Tamari soy sauce crackers
Thai lime and chili almonds
Honey butter potato chips
White cheddar corn puffs (TJ’s Pirates Booty)
Beef jerky, original flavor
Chili lime cashews (Are these the same as the Thai-spiced ones? Y’all mentioned both.)
Nacho cheese tortilla chips

Sweet Snacks
Crispy, Crunchy Chocolate Chip Cookies
Triple Ginger Snaps
Peanut butter-filled Pretzels (I prefer the kind with salt but reasonable people can disagree)
Fig bites
Maple Leaf Cookies
Sesame honey almonds
Honey-roasted peanuts
Stroopwafels
Jumbo raisin medley
Dark chocolate covered pretzels
Vanilla meringues
Dark chocolate peanut butter cups
Dark chocolate covered cherries
Chocolatey Coated Chocolate Chip Dunkers
Dark chocolate covered peppermint joe Joe’s
Aussie style licorice
Chocolate-covered espresso beans
Sea salt dark chocolate almonds
Chantilly Cream Vanilla Bean Mini Sheet Cake
Sour gummies
Fruit jellies
Alphabet cinnamon crackers

Fruit
Dried baby bananas
Dried baby pineapple
Tart dried cherries
Just mango slices
Jumbo raisin medley

Dairy
European-style yogurt, plain
Hand pulled mozzarella cheese
European-style goat milk yogurt
Blueberry kefir milk
Unexpected Cheddar Cheese Ball
Goat Milk Brie
Goat Milk Gouda
Reduced fat swiss cheese

Seasonings, sauces and spreads
Everything but the Bagel Sesame Seasoning
Sriracha Roasted Garlic Barbecue Sauce
Olive oils
Chili lime spice
Salsa verde
Peach Bellini Jam
Grade B Maple Syrup
Chunky guacamole
Wasabi mayo
Red pepper spicy hummus
Almond butter

Beverages
Two buck chuck wine
Cupcake vanilla vodka
Coconut creamer
Coconut cold brew
Organic Sumatra coffee medium dark roast
Joe’s medium roast
Hendricks Gin, for the TJ value
Unsweetened Vanilla Almond Beverage

Breads and Buns
Overnight Pain Au Chocolat
Brioche buns (these double as awesome hot dog buns)
Garlic and herb pizza dough
8 Mini Croissants (also overnight rise)

Meat/Fish/Poultry
Pastrami style smoked salmon
Soy chorizo
Jerk chicken skewers

Produce and Prepared Meals
Vietnamese noodle salad
Bagged lettuce
Vegetable and Soba noodle stir fry kit

What am I missing? Leave me a note in the comments or on the original thread.