How much time is too much time to spend reading Air BnB reviews? Asking for a friend...
Since we all know the friend is me, I’ll just tell you that I'm in vacation planning mode, and no help for it. Once I get here, you may not see me for awhile. I can spend hours, days, weeks, just perusing locations and destinations. And I’m perfectly happy about that. In fact-- few things make me happier.
It has always been thus. But after a year of quarantine, my vacay planning vibes are just extra at the moment. I've decided to lean into rather than away because really, it's kind of a freight train situation and I couldn't stop it if I wanted to.
Before you holler at me that THE PANDEMIC IS NOT OVER-- I know this. I do. I am looking at reasonably remote locations. We will wear masks. We avoid crowds. We will eat outdoors or cook for ourselves whenever possible.
But still. The very idea of being able to plan a trip is a joyful thing after this never ending lockdown winter. And when I heard that every adult in Kentucky would be vaccine-eligible by April--and since I have a 4th grader, and every 4th grader in America gets a free National Parks pass for their family through the National Parks Foundation [to which I am a regular donor, so I guess I'm technically paying for it, but still]-- it kind of feels like the whole universe is saying: go.
So I dusted off an old favorite book that is literally falling apart from overuse, if not recent use: Frommer's Guide To National Parks of the American West.
In our younger (read: pre-kid) days, my husband and I wore this thing slick out. When we moved from Kentucky to Arizona, we took 6 weeks off between jobs and did an epic tour of the west. He still had his Marriott employee discount at that point, so we would camp for 3 or 4 nights, then find a hotel so we could shower and do laundry or whatever. Then we’d drive awhile and to it again. It was one of the best times in my life.
We’d been married for two years at that point, but I think that is the trip when we learned to Be Married. We learned to be really on our own, away from all our other people; we learned what a 5,000 mile road trip will do to your car (even a Toyota); we learned how to fight, and how to just let shit go; we learned to navigate.
And when I say navigate, yes, I mean both literally and figuratively. But I also mean, without smartphones or GPS devices. Can you even remember those days?
Sometimes, it is beyond my reckoning how we used to get around town, much less across the country. But as I flipped through my ancient Frommer’s guide, and I see all the notes and underlines and circles that 20-years-ago-me thought were interesting or important-- I remember that we really did just have that book and an atlas. And we just went.
We had cell phones, but they didn’t do much. They didn’t even have signal half the time, especially in the wilds of Zion or Yellowstone. No navigation. No TripAdvisor app, telling us where to find the best burger in Montana. No AirBnB finding us a place to stay when we couldn’t find our preferred (heavily discounted) chain. No roadside assistance on speed dial when we had a busted tire in East Jesus, Utah; or a completely melted car battery in Idaho. These were things we had to just… figure out.
And I guess we did.
Once we settled in Arizona, we still made good use of that gospel. Day trips, weekend trips, week-long vacations-- when you live in that part of the world, all these amazing places are right in your backyard. And so we went.
Flipping through this book is a trip, in more ways than one. It has phone numbers-- actual phone numbers, you guys-- to call visitor centers in various park-adjacent towns. To ask the nice, helpful folks where you should stay, plan your hikes, see if they can help you book a campground… can you imagine calling an actual person for that?? Like you can’t just sit down at your laptop with your Saturday morning coffee and read the traveler reviews of thousands who’ve gone before you?
It reminds me of this whole other world we used to inhabit. It’s not a bad place to visit, by any stretch. I have never felt so free in my life as I did during those nomad weeks, deciding each day where we would pitch our tent-- literally. But it does draw into sharp relief how much things have changed. Not just in the past two decades, but the past year.
We all know that much about the travel industry has changed, at least for the short term. Fewer people on planes, masks everywhere, more outdoor dining, lowered capacity at museums and other tourist spots… but I am noticing some things about what I’m looking now for as well.
For instance, I’ve always avoided crowds, tourist traps, and “high season” as much as possible. But my reluctance to book in really popular locales is kind of next-level at the moment. You could not pay me enough to go to a theme park this year-- possibly ever again.
And miss me with any rental or reservation that does not have a very generous cancellation policy. If we’ve learned anything, it’s that things can fall apart quickly. Flexible travel is the only travel left, as far as I’m concerned.
My hunch is that, as the ice breaks and more of us begin to venture out, much will change about the way we travel; and some of that change will be permanent. Our ways of thinking and interacting with the world have undergone a radical transformation over the past year-- and we are only beginning to glimpse what this new world will be.
We are writing the book of these days as we speak. In 20 years, we will read it again and marvel at how we used to do things. Or rather- how quickly we found a new way of doing things.
One thing that I know has not changed: travel is healing, and restorative in a way that few other things can be. The family time, the off-grid time, the ‘see where the wind blows us today’ feeling that can only be accomplished when you leave your work and your stuff and your walls behind… for many of us, this is soul movement. How we get there may look different--whether for the short term, or forever-- but as for me and my house, we will go.
And, as with much of life-- we’ll figure it out when we get there.
I got braces this week. And not the magic “invisible” kind. Full on wires, metal brackets, the whole deal.
It’s kind of a long story, involving years of jaw problems that, ironically, multiple professionals have told me were CAUSED by the orthodontia I had when I was younger. It was pretty extensive, involving a couple years in a palate expander, some other tedious procedures, and nearly 5 years in braces. (When they finally came off my senior year of high school, all I wanted to do was kiss boys, free of hardware). Apparently, in the old days, all they cared about was the aesthetics of getting our teeth straight and pretty. They weren’t looking at our whole bodies, considering things like growth and alignment. And so, for a lot of us, all that manipulating caused longer term, whole body issues.
The irony is not lost on me that I am wearing braces to fix issues caused by braces. If I overthink that it keeps me up nights.
I feel like a teenager again, and not in a good way. Much of the experience is exactly as I remember -- the cuts and scrapes on the inside of your mouth, the difficulty of learning to eat and talk around the metal, and the feeling of some foreign body being always a part of your body… But here’s what’s interesting-- I also remember my mouth being really, really sore the first few days after getting a new wire on. But this time, there is no pain. Well, aside from the minor lacerations on the inside of my lip, but you know. My actual teeth aren’t sore.
Could it be that my teeth remember where they are supposed to go from all those past years of wrangling, and so they just snapped back to attention immediately with no fuss or drama?
Our bodies are amazing. They remember.
I used to be a dancer, and to this day, I can easily fall into certain kinds of movement without even thinking about it. A certain song will make me remember an entire combination, something I must have practiced hundreds of times before a performance or competition. While the execution might be lacking, the muscles remember. I mean, I can no longer manage a toe touch in the air and land in the splits; and for the safety of all around me, will not attempt such things at 40-plus. But my muscles remember how to get there, and what to do next, and how to move into the next thing after that. I dance in my sleep sometimes.
During the pandemic I’ve gotten on the virtual fitness train. I’ve been doing a lot of HiiT and weight training, but was getting bored with that. I thought I’d try the whole Barre thing that is all the rage, and I was so happy when I realized it was not just a ballet-based workout but actual ballet. I was ready to dig out ballet shoes and go get my old barre from my mom’s basement.
It was not lost on me that this ‘workout’ is comprised of exercises that, at one time, were just a warm-up for hours of actual dancing--but still! I was all in.
A few days into this new routine, my hips started hurting. I thought it might be my desk chair, or my shoes, or some other external factor. But by process of elimination I figured out that the real culprit was the ballet life I was trying to reclaim. My hips just did not want to do that anymore.
For the uninitiated, ballet--even just the warmup barre exercise--requires a certain rotation from the hips, a “turnout” that you hold through every movement. If you have not been training your body to turn out for years, it does not come easily. In fact-- I never had great turnout, because I didn’t start ballet until I was about 13. At which point, you are basically grown. There are many things you can learn and condition your body to do. But turnout is just not one of them.
Which I just recently remembered. Or rather, my muscles remembered for me.
My body told me that I am a grown-ass woman and somebody’s mother and maybe now is not the time to dust off my dreams of being a professional ballerina. And I’d better not dare even THINK about trying on some toe shoes.
However, there are plenty of miraculous things my body is capable of, dance related and otherwise, that need not cause pain and suffering.
On a side note, I’m concerned that the fitness industry is pushing these ballet-based fitness regimes for grown adults whose joints and muscles are not trained to turn that way. I’m wondering how many other middle aged women are waking up with aches and pains that they think they just need to power through, like any other sore muscle, not realizing that there is something really unnatural about some of those movements, and that your body will actively protest if you haven’t been working towards this since you were 5.
On a more existential note, I’m just over here marveling at what our bodies remember, for better or worse. And what they can tell us, if we listen.
Speaking of listening-- we have a new podcast episode! Check out our interview with Kory Caudill, one of the top pianists in the world. (And we aren't just saying that because he's our people).
Listen to This
It's 5pm. You've spent the past 8 to 10 hours of your life on a computer. Possibly multiple computers. You've oscillated between screens and tabs; you've written documents, powered through hours-long Zoom calls, helped your kids with "new math" and any number of technical difficulties with remote learning, answered a few texts, read and written more emails than you care to count; and/or stared at a spreadsheet until the little lines start to dance and possibly talk to you.
Is it really only 5:00?? If it is, and if you are calling it a day, then good job. Many of us working from home these days-- or even working at a real live actual office-- have trouble punching out and logging off at a designated hour. With these strange days of multi-tasking work, school and household management--often from the same space--the lines between 'work' and 'not work' hours blur easily. You may step away at a certain time but... well, if your office is in your house, you are really still there, aren't you?
Regardless of your live/work situation, the bottom line is that most of us are spending many, many hours looking at screens on any given day. And often long past 5pm. We are looking at screens to pay the bills and order groceries online. Screens dominate our entertainment and social lives too- interactive video games, virtual happy hour with friends, and of course, the binge watching. Netflix, Prime, Hulu, Peacock...wherever you choose your escapist plot lines.
Which is to say: many of us are in full-on sensory overload mode a whole lot of the time. And in such a state, the gift of being able to sit and LISTEN to something without having to LOOK at something is wonderfully life-giving and possibly even healing. Whether it is music, news radio, or an audiobook, the sound nurtures another part of the brain. We learn something, we spark our creative energy (who knew that was still there??), we might even find ourselves feeling rested and renewed.
Maybe this is why podcasts have taken off as a new favorite medium--we are tired of looking at stuff. We just want to listen.
All that said, dear reader, thanks for hanging in and reading this far, getting through all these WORDS on a screen to get around to what I'm really here to tell you:
today, we are launching a new podcast!
And by "we," I mean me and my little brother. Chris and I have always talked about how much we'd love to work in radio, or how great it would be to have a show. One day recently, the pieces just started coming together, and even though it all happened quickly, this first episode feels like a thing we've been planning for a long time.
So with that, let me introduce you to the pilot episode:
Most folks have a small town somewhere in their past.
And for many of us: it’s complicated.
“Where Y’all From” explores the often fraught relationship between where we’re from and who we are. In this pilot episode, brother-sister cohosts Chris Smallwood and Erin Wathen introduce their hometown of London, Kentucky, sharing thoughts on "global chicken" (also known as KFC), local flavor, and the funky Americana that makes all of our small towns feel like home.
In future episodes, we will interview guests -- mostly, folks who are from small towns but no longer live there anymore. We will ask them about what foods and funky facts make their hometown unique; we will talk about how they place they come from impacts who they are and what they do; and we will talk about the complicated tensions of being homesick for a place where you don't really want to live...or maybe you do, but you can't.
Our hope is that time spent listening to us, and our guests, will feel like a retreat from routine and other demands. We want you to feel like you've been someplace. We hope to leave you feeling inspired. After hearing other folks talk about the places they're from, you might even come away feeling a little bit more connected to your own community, your own story, your own sense of place in the world.
So with that very long introduction, may we present, Episode 1: Global Chicken.