The one word that changes everything


Is it just me, or is this the first week that things have felt semi-normal? This weekend, I’m going to a yoga class, a comedy show (at a bar!), and a dinner with friends. All outdoors, but STILL. Then some family friends are visiting. Once-tiny things that feel downright exhilarating after more than a year of fear and isolation.

Despite my renewed social calendar, I’m still hoping to retain some elements of pandemic life. I’d like to keep noticing birds, to keep taking tech-free walks, to keep cooking a new recipe each week. As we move forward, I’m interested to see what pandemic habits (not hobbies because tbh surviving was enough of a hobby) we all carry with us. Any thoughts on what you’ll keep or discard?

That said, I know this rounding-the-bend feeling is an incredible privilege that doesn’t apply to most of the world. So though I want to share my gratitude and joy, I also want to acknowledge that the pandemic is very much not over for most people. (If you can, consider donating to this oxygen fundraiser as one way to help those in India.)

I’m sure this won’t be the last time I deal with such competing feelings. Coming out of a very weird year, mixed emotions are something we’ll all be carrying with us. For me, it’s been helpful to follow the advice of a former therapist and employ the word “and” while sorting through them. After all, not everything has to be an “or.”

I am grateful to be vaccinated AND I am heartbroken for those still suffering.

I am delighted to be reunited with my loved ones AND I already miss my alone time.

I am thankful to have made it through AND I am sad for those we have lost.

It’s a simple reframe, but it makes all the difference.

  1. The Race to Transform a Wisconsin Farm Into a Justice-Focused Agrihood: my first story for Civil Eats, and my first story based in Wisconsin!

  2. Roxane Gay on family

  3. This vegan chickpea coconut curry if you’re looking for something that kind of tastes like Chef Boyardee that’s not Chef Boyardee

  4. Powerful essay by Emily Ratajkowski (yes the really hot one) on the fight to own her own image

  5. Fabric’s easy free will maker, which took me under 10 minutes and allowed me to make a mirror copy for Tyler

  6. After years of letting it sit on the shelf, I finally read Salt Fat Acid Heat — and let’s just say it has already transformed my cooking

  7. Reasons to Be Cheerful, an antidote to negative news started by none other than David Byrne (here’s a story about tree-free paper to get you started)

  8. A heartbreakingly beautiful poem on pregnancy loss by my friend Kristin Wong

  9. Should you still have kids if you’re worried about climate change? This excellent podcast addresses that and more (and this article might help if you’re still deciding if you even want kids)

  10. This magnetic As-Seen-On-TV miracle lets you turn any doorjamb into a screen door for just $15

  11. Shaker Box Cocktail Club, a company started by my friend and mixologist Aisha Ali to help you spice up your next virtual happy hour (tell your friends! tell your bosses!)

  12. The Secret Life of Groceries — though the author sometimes came off as condescending, this was an interesting read



A light exists in spring

As do gooey cinnamon squares

Hi hi,

It was 60 degrees in Madison yesterday, and though I know the temperature is just a tease, I hope the spring feelings it brought are not. With more and more friends and family members getting vaccinated, the tunnel’s light is starting to shine brighter. And I am starting to let myself dream about summer reunions, maskless BBQs, indoor dinners, and so many hugs.

“A Light exists in Spring
Not present on the Year
At any other period —
When March is scarcely here”

~ Excerpt from Emily Dickinson’s A Light exists in Spring

PS. If you see vaccine appointments available at Walgreens — but can’t get one — try calling your local store, pressing 1, and using the automated system. I’ve had good luck getting others appointments this way!

  1. My story on climate anxiety (weakness? or superpower?) in the NYT

  2. Madison County kid done good: Svante Myrick, mayor of Ithaca, is featured in GQ for his ambitious police reform plan

  3. This list of books to buy a grieving friend from Katie Hawkins-Gaar, who also writes a lovely newsletter on grief

  4. Basic income! It works! (BTW Lowrey’s book is a good primer, too)

  5. I did a sugar cleanse last month and Smitten Kitchen’s gooey cinnamon squares were all I could think about

  6. These very affordable, very soft sheets (which I discovered after asking this dreamy hostel in Puerto Rico where their sheets were from — was very surprised when they said Costco!)

  7. “In this three-by-three-metre box, with little more furniture than a bed, desk and chair, Kim kept confined for close to 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year – eating and smoking and staring at his computer screen.” My friend Ann’s recent WIRED story on hikikomori, people who withdraw from society for years and years

  8. Schitt’s Creek, a charming, lol-filled delight of a show

  9. “You know what I miss, is, like, those night restaurants that served alcohol. What were those called?” Late-stage pandemic is messing with your brain

  10. Storyworth, perhaps the coolest gift for an older relative (that’s also a gift to you and generations to come). I’m obsessed with StoryCorps, too; you’ll never regret having people’s life stories told in their own voices

  11. “What may have gone unnoticed was his capacity to delight in the simplest things… especially given how much of the world he had seen and tasted.” What it was like to eat with Anthony Bourdain + my 2018 tribute to him

  12. Laura Olin’s wonderful newsletter, which was the inspiration for this new numbered format

xoxo Susan

welcome to 12 things

what i'm writing + what i'm obsessing over

Hi, and welcome to the latest incarnation of my newsletter!

As the name suggests, it’s going to feature 12 things I’ve either been working on or obsessing over. And that’s it. Maybe sometimes I won’t even include any rambling introductory commentary (you should be so lucky).

By refreshing this newsletter’s format, I’m trying to A) keep you on your toes, and B) make it easier for me to send out on a monthlyish basis. Since, let’s be real, I haven’t always been great at that in the past.

Also appearing in this newsletter will be a photo of my dog, Mochi, because what is the world without cute dog photos.

Ok let’s give this a go!

  1. For NYT Climate, I wrote about the environmental impact of heaters and fire pits, getting climate change into schools, Earth Overshoot Day, and more

  2. Reported on the merits of feeding your dog bugs to prevent climate change for Mic [TL;DR: If dogs and cats were their own country, they’d rank fifth in worldwide meat consumption. Bug-based dog food is one way to cut down on their pawprint (aw) but for some reason crickets are still very $$$.]

  3. The You’re Wrong About podcast: not only the Princess Di episodeseveryone loves those — but the two-part series on the real life story behind NEWSIES

  4. Breath by James Nestor completely changed the way I view something I’ve been doing every second of every day of my life

  5. This flavorful peanut stew over brown rice

  6. Caamp (esp this song)

  7. DownDog Yoga’s easily adaptable quick flows (it’s only $14.99 for the year right now!)

  8. How We Fight For Our Lives by Saeed Jones, an incredibly written look at growing up Black and gay in America

  9. I got Tyler a Tushy Spa bidet for his birthday, and it was def my best pandemic purchase (Wirecutter also recommends a much cheaper alternative if you don’t live in Wisconsin and can stand cold water on your bum)

  10. The bridge dog

  11. Anne Helen Peterson’s newsletter offers such insightful cultural commentary; this one on vacation moms hit home

  12. If your eyes are dying from all the screen time, try the free Pomy app



If my grief were a goldfish

And greetings from Japan

こんにちは from Japan!

Did you know the Japanese language has three different alphabets, and that you need to recognize more than 2,000 characters before you’re considered literate? On a walking tour the other day, our guide told us that people generally can’t read a newspaper until they’re in high school. I have never felt so grateful for our 26 little letters.

We’ve been in Osaka, the country’s second largest city, for a month. It’s known as the foodie capital of Japan, where residents love to say you’ll suffer from kuidaore: eating yourself bankrupt. Despite that expectation, the food has been surprisingly affordable (cheaper than most American cities) — and we’ve eaten an obscene amount of it.

Tomorrow, we’ll head out for a week of travel around the country. We’ll visit Takayama, a traditional town in the mountains; Tokyo, a metropolis you may have heard of; and Okayama, to see where my grandfather lived before setting sail for San Francisco 99 years ago. (The house is gone; the rice paddy remains.)

Being half-Japanese, it’s odd to live in a place that is both so much a part of me and also so foreign. Spending time here has reminded me that I might be Japanese in blood and tradition, but at the core, I’m really just American.

While I’m not super proud to say that these days, it’s the truth. And I’ve found myself actually looking forward to returning next year — to a place I understand, even when it makes no sense; to a place that is mine, even when it’s hard to admit.

But first, three more months of this Peter Pan life: in Bali, Thailand, and India (!!!).

Eye + ear candy of the month

A recent visit to Nara, Japans’s ancient capital, where the deer roam freely (and literally bow to you when they want crackers). Growing up in CNY, I’m not normally a fan of deer — but these ones won me over in about six seconds flat.

What better to sit around and drink PSLs to than Leon Bridges? (Well, for me, it’s simply dreaming of PSLs, as I haven’t found them in Japan yet.) This combo with another one of my fave bands, ODESZA, is exactly what I want to listen to this fall.

On the blog

If my grief were a goldfish

The lines of this blog post came to me in the shower, on walks, and while lying in bed entering the vortex that is loss. By the time I got to the computer, my fingers started moving on their own: a direct line between my heart and the screen.

It’s a short contemplation on grief: how it changes, how it never goes away. And how the hardest part is the life that someone never got to lead.

What I wrote this month

As I said in a previous newsletter, I’ve been itching to write more about climate change. Although the current administration may command more news attention right now, this is the story whose echoes will remain long after it’s (we’re) gone.

So I’m pumped to say I was able to write a few “service journalism” (ie: helpful) pieces about climate change for one of my favorite newsletters: the NYT’s Climate: Fwd. It has a wonderful series called “One Thing You Can Do” that attempts to distill the overwhelmingness of climate change into one action item per week.

Here’s what I’ve written so far:

  • Make Your Donations Count: to combat climate change, is it more effective to buy offsets? Or donate to politicians and environmental orgs?

  • Go Solar, Get a Tax Break: how to snag the 30% tax credit for installing solar panels (which is slated to end this year!)

  • Try Community Solar: if, like most Americans, you can’t install solar panels, you can look for a community solar project in your area

Do you have any ideas for this series? Or questions I could answer? Send ‘em my way!

What I’m reading / watching / listening



PS. If you liked this, consider forwarding it to a friend? Or, at the very least, clicking the little heart below?

Is traveling even ethical anymore?

Bok bok from Stari Grad, a town on the Croatian island of Hvar that was founded in 384 B.C. and has a year-round population of fewer than 2,000. This month has been extremely relaxing, as you might guess, filled with walks and swims and writing.

One of my besties came down for her 33rd birthday — and it is amazing how different birthday celebrations in your 30s are from birthday celebrations in your 20s. We remembered everything! And weren’t too hungover for a bike ride the next day!

Even weirder, it was actually really nice. Maybe that’s the difference between your 20s, late 20s, and 30s: In your late 20s, you’re still wondering if you’re missing out on all the things you did in your 20s — and in your 30s, you know you’re not?

As for Crete, it was lovely: snowy mountains, sandy beaches, olive groves for miles. Cretan people, who are incredibly hospitable, are also the envy of every wannabe millennial homesteader (cough, me). At one memorable breakfast, every single thing on the table was made/grown/produced by our hosts: from the eggs to the bread, jam, cheese, yogurt, and HONEY. It was unreal.

Next up? A road trip through northern Croatia and Slovenia. Then, Sicily for a month!

Eye + ear candy of the month

One of the many gorgeous hideaways you’ll find on Hvar. (Just don’t go expecting any sand!)

This summery song has been following us around our entire trip, from Argentina to Spain to even Croatia. Pack your beach bag, and go.   

On the blog

Is traveling even ethical anymore?

While climate change has long been in the back of my mind, I am embarrassed to admit that’s where it’s been: in the back of my mind. But clearly, with fire after disaster after flood, report after buried report after report, it can no longer stay there.

What’s even more embarrassing is that this realization has arrived in the midst of a yearlong trip around the world. Which, as it turns out, is completely antithetical to caring about climate change. (On a 2,500-mile flight, one passenger’s share of emissions melts 32 square feet of Arctic summer sea ice cover.)

Here’s my blog post on the topic — would love to hear your thoughts, and whether this is something you’re struggling with, too.

What I wrote this month

When Your Final Exam Is Surviving the Wilderness ~ The Atlantic

Yippee! I’m pumped to be in The Atlantic with a story so close to my heart.

It’s basically been in the making since 2010, the summer I first set foot in a place that would forever captivate me: Ketchikan, Alaska. When locals casually told me that every eighth grader has to survive on a deserted island for two days before they go to high school, my jaw dropped.

So last year, I packed my XtraTufs, boated out to Back Island with a bunch of tweens, and had a blast. I pitched the story to six outlets; while I got some interest, and even one offer, the outlet wanted me to tell the story in a different way than I’d envisioned. So I made the tough call to turn down the assignment, and let my pitch simmer for months before trying The Atlantic (lucky number seven) in January.

Though I probably earned less than minimum wage if you calculate the hours I put into reporting, writing, and editing this baby, the process made my soul sing. I want to do more stories like this in the months and years to come.  

What I’m reading / watching / listening

Now go enjoy spring

“After you have exhausted what there is in business, politics, conviviality, love, and so on — have found that none of these finally satisfy, or permanently wear — what remains? Nature remains; to bring out from their torpid recesses, the affinities of a man or woman with the open air, the trees, fields, the changes of seasons — the sun by day and the stars of heaven by night.” ~ Walt Whitman



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