This is a transcription of ‘A Special Mini-Episode: Ask Us Anything 2021.’
David: Hello and welcome. Hello to Lincoln, Nebraska, and Washington, D.C. and Winnipeg, Manitoba, and hello to Fairhope, Alabama, and Monrovia, Liberia. Hello to our listeners and Royal Tunbridge Wells, which is just a lovely name. And to Brisbane and Norman, Oklahoma, and La Plata, Argentina. And to Pardubice here in the Czech Republic. And hello to our listener in Veldhoven in the Netherlands and to Amman, Jordan and Cadillac, Michigan, and perhaps my favorite Moose, Wyoming.
David: And a special hello to our listener in San Francisco who identified that they can walk to the House of Nanking.
Melissa: That’s where we had our first date.
David: It was. We did a survey. And one of the things we asked, of course, is where you’re from. Another thing we asked is whether or not you had any questions for us.
Melissa: I just have to interject that knowing where people are from is one of my favorite things.
Melissa: When people sent me an email and sign off, for example, Jennifer from Simi Valley, California, I’m like, YAY! The easiest way to delight me is to send me an email and say where you’re from.
David: Yeah, it has the sort of intended effect of the podcast, which is to make the world a little smaller.
Melissa: Yeah, it’s really nice.
David: So we put up a survey and we ultimately got 475 responses.
Melissa: Thank you, everyone.
David: One of the things that we asked is do you have any questions for us? We ended up with 153 questions. So, we’re going to start with number one —
Melissa: I brought snacks,
David: — of what I think is going to be a three hour festival.
Melissa: Get comfy.
David: And we’ll just start with that.
Melissa: I mean, I will talk about myself for the length of 150 questions given the opportunity.
David: What we did was we broke the 153 questions into categories. And hopefully this will be about a nice 45-minute visit with us talking about ourselves and our plans and, and how we put together Strong Sense of Place and how our cat Smudge is doing and a bunch of other things that people —
Melissa: Spoiler. She’s super lazy. And sleeping on the bathroom floor right now, as we speak.
David: Are you ready?
Melissa: I’m ready.
David: We had a listener from Corvallis, Oregon, ask us: ‘I love to hear people’s love stories. How did you two meet and fall in love? You seem like such a fun couple and a great match.’ That’s nice.
Melissa: That’s really nice.
David: ‘If that’s too personal of a question, then how about, What is your ‘our’ book? You know, like when couples have a song that is special to them romantically or significant to them as a couple. We have talked about how we met and we did that on the last survey answer odcast that we released in July 20th of last year. And if you want to hear about how we met, I would recommend you take a listen to that. But we have not answered the whole ‘our book’ story. Yeah, we’ve got a couple, but there’s one in particular.
Melissa: Why don’t you go first, because I think I agree with the one I know you’re going to say but I have two that might surprise you.
David: OK, the one that I remember is it’s a little tiny book called I Like You by Sandol Stoddard Warburg.
Melissa: It’s so sweet.
David: It’s a little sweet book. It is a tiny children’s book where the characters in the book talk about how much they like each other and why.
Melissa: The thing that I like about it is that it works for romantic love, sibling love, platonic love. It’s just a celebration of why you like other people. It’s really sweet.
David: And how it changes you. And that’s really nice, too, and it’s intended for children, so it takes these big, complicated feelings and boils them down into pretty simple, straightforward ideas.
Melissa: I also like that it recognizes that you can like someone even when they’re doing something that you don’t like. There’s a passage in the book where it talks about, I like you because when I want to have a fight, you will have a fight back with me or something like that.
Melissa: When I get mad, you get mad too. Yeah, it’s really cute.
David: So I was going to read that at our wedding.
Melissa: Besides wearing a dress. That was my task to show up and read this book.
Melissa: I failed. [laughter]
David: She got about halfway through, and there is a line about, I like you. I don’t remember what it was like before I liked you. I must have been lonely then. Which even now I have trouble saying —
Melissa: I just got a huge lump in my throat. My eyes are burning.
David: And Mel couldn’t finish that.
Melissa: There is a photo of me, like, full-on face, scrunched up, ugly crying. And the juxtaposition between my salon-perfect makeup and this is crunchiness of my face is really awesome.
David: So people were you know, people were listening to Mel read this thing and she couldn’t get through it. And so I came over and I said, Do you want me to finish that? And she said, Yeah. And she handed me the book, and I read those lines. And man! Everybody there just kind of lost it right then.
Melissa: There were so many tissues being passed around,
David: It was really sweet and really nice. And so that has always been for me, our book.
Melissa: Well, I’m going to have a hard time following that. But there are two books that I want to talk about that you gave to me early on in us knowing each other. We weren’t even a couple yet. We just knew each other. One was The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, which I had never read, which I think at the time you really, really liked. I was going on a trip to see my family, and you gave me a paperback copy of that book, and I read it the entire time at the airport and on the plane. And while I was reading it, I was writing you real-time notes of what I was thinking about while I was reading it.
Melissa: I was just so taken with you, the book, the whole vibe of the thing. I haven’t read it since, but it was really impactful at the time.
Melissa: And the second one is The Picture of Dorian Gray. You found this really beautiful, small, slim, hard copy of that book, and at the time it was one of my favorite books and just kind of out of the blue gave it to me. And that’s one — my heart went a little pitter-patter. I thought something might be going on, but I wasn’t sure what it was.
David: Uh, that’s nice. Yeah, I remember finding that at that really great used bookstore on the west side of San Francisco. We went to a bunch of times —
Melissa: Green Apple.
David: Green Apple. That was such a good used bookstore. And thinking that you would like it because you like that book.
Melissa: And I did and I still have it. And it’s one of the few books I brought with me to Prague.
David: Many of you might not be aware that Mel and I created a trio of cookbooks, a trilogy of cookbooks called the Well Fed series.
Melissa: The cookbooks are paleo, which means they have no grains, no dairy, no added sugar, no legumes and no soy. Right. Which I recognize might sound like no fun, but they are fun. They’re filled with international recipes that taste really, really good and are good for you.
David: Yeah, it’s good food if you’re trying to take care of yourself. And I recommend taking care of yourself. We have a listener from Dorset, Vermont, who has followed us over from the Well Fed world. She asks, I love the cookbooks and own the three Well Fed. So many of the recipes for the show have sugar. What’s up?
Melissa: So my philosophy with my whole experience with Paleo, I’ve been eating paleo since about 2009 — and my philosophy has always been to eat that way the majority of the time. But there is room in the world and in your life for treats, and the times that we really usually indulge in treats are holidays and when we travel. So when it came time to do the recipes for Strong Sense of Place, I thought really hard about if I wanted to shoehorn those into the paleo world. And what I ultimately decided was to make them as healthy as I can while adhering to the original traditional recipe. I do sometimes provide gluten-free options when I can, and I don’t add egregious amounts of fat or sugar if it’s not necessary. But I feel like these recipes that we’re sharing on Strong Sense of Place are a celebration of other cultures. And if you’re going to try to step into that culture in your house, you might want to try the real thing.
Melissa: But that is an excellent question. And it is one that I wrestled with for a little while.
David: A listener from Okinawa, Japan, wants to know, Is living in Prague everything you’d hoped, you know, aside from the pandemic.
Melissa: I think just knee-jerk reaction, simple answer, yes, living in Prague has definitely lived up to my expectations. It’s been a little bit different than I thought it would be. Because I had an unrealistic expectation of who I might be when we got here.
Melissa: So, for example, as we already talked about, we really healthy, I’m going to say 80 to 90 percent of the time. But the me that I envisioned in my imagination who moved to Prague, went to the pub a couple of times a week and drank beers with the locals. And went to the cafe in the afternoon and had pastries and that it was not a realistic idea of what life was going to be like.
David: It’s the vacation version of you living in Prague versus the day to day version of you living in Prague.
Melissa: And we did know — we did try to simulate what it might be like to live here when we came on one of our vacations. We stayed in an apartment. We went to the grocery store. We cooked at home. So I had that vision of what it was like. And it’s great. But I don’t know. I guess I just thought there would be more vetrnik — that’s a delicious caramel-flavored pastry — and beer happening in my life.
Melissa: Aside from that, yeah. I feel like there are a lot of things in our life here that are similar to when we lived in the United States. We go walking every day. We workout. We do yoga. We work at home. We take breaks and see friends. But I feel like all of those things are happening at an improved level. Like, our daily walks. The scenery is insanely beautiful, and I really like hearing different languages. Mostly we hear Czech, but when the pandemic isn’t on, we hear lots of different languages, and that’s really fun. And that’s not something that was happening in the other places that we’ve lived. So, yeah, it’s definitely been a fantastic experience and it feels weird for me to say it’s a fantastic experience because for me it’s ongoing. It’s not like we came here for a year, had a magical year and are then going to go home. This is home, and it feels really good.
David: Yeah. One of the things that I really like about Prague is the city is affordable, but I have an urban lifestyle. We got rid of the car, which I love. That might be controversial for some, but I really enjoy not having a car. And you can go to the train station and go to other places, be in Berlin or Vienna. But I also really enjoy Prague and the Czech people and yeah.
Melissa: In our previous episode where we answered audience questions, we did talk about our motivations for moving to Prague, and I’m not sure if I mentioned this then or not. I was really concerned about whether or not we were going to make any friends because we’re in our 50s, we work at home, we don’t speak the language. And everyone warned us that natives don’t care about making friends with expats. They have their social circle. They have their family. They don’t need you. They don’t want to make friends with you. That hasn’t been our experience at all. I’ve been lonely during the pandemic, but prior to that I’ve never felt lonely or uncomfortably adrift. Here we have a circle of friends that’s really nice. And, you know, the people you have casual interactions with at the cafe or even the post office. The people have been nice to me, which I think sounds really weird, but yeah, people are generally really nice.
David: Yeah, that kind of jumps into the next question I was going to ask, which is from a listener in Atlanta, Georgia. What are the three lessons you’ve learned about living abroad? Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable is always a good idea. Anything that’s worth doing is on the other side of being uncomfortable. So when we first got here, there was a large period of time where we didn’t know how the grocery store worked. We didn’t know how to find the things that we like to eat. It was unclear whether we were going to make friends. It was unclear whether it was going to be a good experience or not. And all of that stuff is very sort of nerve-wracking. But you have to relax into it and realize that it’s going to take time to get to the other side of whatever it is. And that’s been my experience time and time again with all of the various challenges of life, that it’s a good idea to get used to being a little uncomfortable for a while.
Melissa: The first thing that came to my mind is actually scribbled in one of my journals: Don’t be afraid to look dumb. Because I tend to not want to show that I don’t know what I’m doing. That feels really uncomfortable to me. And it’s beyond that, you know, ‘get comfortable being uncomfortable.’ It’s worse than that, like, I do not want to not know what I’m doing. And I had to kind of throw that to the wayside because we don’t know the language. We don’t — even rituals of, you know, how going to the bank or the post office works. It’s very similar, but there are tiny differences and you have to not be embarrassed by looking dumb.
David: One of the nice things about the Czech Republic is you walk into the post office and there’s a waiting area, right? So you’re not standing in line. You take a ticket and you sit down, but you get a ticket from a machine that is in Czech. So the first time you go to the post office, you walk in and you’re looking at that machine and it’s intimidating.
Melissa: And, you know, you’re supposed to do something.
David: Right? And you’re like, one of these buttons is right. I don’t know which one. And you click one and it spits out a number and you sit down and it works out.
Melissa: The other thing I’ve learned is to really keep my eyes open. Before we came, I was worried about not making friends. I was convinced I would not be able to find green plantains. And I was really sad about that because I like to eat them. And I knew there was yoga here, but I didn’t think that there was Kundalini yoga, and that made me a little sad, too. We had been here for about, I don’t know, two or three days and we were walking down the street one neighborhood over, and we walked by this little kind — of it’s like a Whole Foods miniaturized. It’s called DelMart. In the window was a big basket of dark green plantains. And I was like, Look at that, problem solved. And it’s just because we were walking down the street and happened to see them. The other thing is that I really wanted to do Kundalini yoga. In the courtyard outside of our bedroom window is this building where in the summer, they have all their windows open and they play groovy hippie music, and people in there sway and do interpretive dance with their eyes closed, which I find endlessly amusing and endearing.
David: The first time I saw that, they had a ballet class in there. So the experience for me was walking through the bedroom, looking out the back window, and seeing a room full of people practicing ballet. And it was magic. It was amazing.
Melissa: So it turns out that that place is called Druna, and they have Kundalini classes there. It is literally right under my nose. I mean, I think the takeaway is if you keep your heart open and your eyes open, things work out.
Melissa: That sounds a little Pollyanna, but I’m sticking with it.
David: Yeah. A number of people were interested in how we make a living.
Melissa: I’m interested in that, too.
David: How are the finances going. A listener from Boise, Idaho, asks, Do you have other jobs or does this pay enough to support your lifestyle?
Melissa: We don’t have a day job working for anyone else, We have been working for ourselves for nine years.
David: Yeah, but Strong Sense of Place is not enough currently to support our lifestyle. We know what our budget is and we are working towards having this be a cottage industry where we talk about books and perhaps we do some tours and that sort of thing. We’ve got other projects that we’re thinking about doing, but the whole intent is to make this a little bit of a small business where we are making enough to support ourselves and possibly others.
Melissa: The way I think about it is that I see Strong Sense of Place as our future. We are wrapping up the chapter associated with the cookbooks. They’re out in the world. They’re still selling. Some people still really like them. That project has come to its natural end. And when we moved to Prague, we sort of started this transition into something new.
David: And here we are transitioning. [laughter]
Melissa: Transitions are fun.
David: So, yeah, I hope that answers the question.
Melissa: So we don’t have day jobs in the traditional sense of working for someone else and we haven’t for a while. But the cookbooks are still generating some revenue. Yeah, but we are currently funneling that into making Strong Sense of Place happen. So we’re just kind of nurturing it along, investing in ourselves and hoping that we will build this into our future.
David: Yeah, a number of people are curious about how we put together the podcast. A listener from Ontario, Canada asks, It would be great to learn more about your selection process for destinations and how you go about researching content and books for each episode.
Melissa: OK. We put a world map on the wall, we take a shot of tequila, we spin around three times and then we throw a dart. [laughter] I wish that’s how we did it.
David: Usually it ends in the ocean, then we try again.
Melissa: That would be cool if we did it that way. We could do one season that way sometime.
David: So, dear listener, compare how fun that would be to what we actually do.
Melissa: Which is some definition of fun, but mostly deliberate and involves so much talking.
David: And thinking. Oh, my goodness. All right. Every season we do 12 destinations. Nine of those are geographic. Three of those are themes.
Melissa: The themes are places that you can visit that are not cities or countries. For example, we went on trains, we visited libraries as much as I would like to do something like ‘governesses,’ governessees aren’t a place, so they don’t fit into our theme rules. However, we have grandfathered in holidays. Just because we want to and we think people would like it.
David: Is this too complicated so far? Just you wait.
Melissa: And then the geographical destinations have even more rules apply to them.
David: Of the nine geographic destinations —
Melissa: We try to choose from each continent.
Melissa: And then we add in one or two places from the United States.
Melissa: This is a matrix that we carry in our heads. Twenty four hours a day, seven days a week.
David: So that’s the goal, sort of a comprehensive, nice list of various places. And we get suggestions from our lovely people on Patreon. We get suggestions from the survey we just did. We look at previous seasons. We try to think about next seasons, and we also pay attention to our own whims. So maybe we really want to read a book that’s set in Bulgaria. Maybe Bulgaria would be fun. What do you think?
Melissa: But then we have to go back, look at the map, make sure we haven’t done a country in Eastern Europe recently or are planning to do one next season in Eastern Europe. And then we can greenlight Bulgaria.
David: Right. And that’s how we get to a destination list. Now, let’s talk about books. [laughter]
Melissa: The book Matrix.
David: Yeah. Mel and I both have different approaches to how we get to a book list. You want to start?
Melissa: Yes. So for the last three years, I’ve been developing a database of books set in different countries and states. And the way I’ve built that is from reading other people’s blogs and books that they have enjoyed. I also go hunting every day. At the end of the day, when I’m done with my thinking work, I go hunting on LitHub, CrimeReads, The Washington Post, New York Times, the magazine The Week is great for book recommendations, and I’m looking for books that come right out and say the action takes place in X, and if the book description says that, I throw it into our database. If it is set in a manor house, I throw that into our theme’s database, if it’s set on a boat, I would throw it into the sea. So I have a pretty robust list that I can use as a starting point when I’m looking for books. However, I also go hunting on Google when it’s time to actually pick books out.
David: Yeah, hunting for books is one of my favorite parts of this whole endeavor. I really enjoy that, that process. Mel less enjoys that process.
Melissa: I am not a fan of the discovery process. I just want to know what I’m doing so I can start doing it.
David: I will frequently start with research online. I go to Library Thing a lot. They have a nice tagging system that works, although that tends to gather older books. I’ll frequently go to Goodreads. There’s a books sub-reddit that has a list of international settings and books set there, which I will take a look at. I also spend a lot of time on Google, so, ‘best books set in X’ or parsing through what people had to say about that. Then I’ll get a couple of good candidates, things that I’d like and I’ll read a few paragraphs or a chapter of those. I’ll read through the reviews on Goodreads or Amazon or Google or the like you said, The Washington Post to try to figure out if I would like the book, and if you guys would like the book and whether or not the location is germane. Like, if I read the reviews and I don’t actually hear the location mentioned, it’s not really set there.
Melissa: Yeah. If a book can be set anywhere, it can’t be on our show, no matter how good it is, which can be a little heartbreaking sometimes.
David: Yeah. So like a rom-com set in Paris, is it really set in Paris or are they just using Paris as a shortcut for pretty and nice. Are you going to learn anything about Paris if you read that book, that kind of thing?
Melissa: I was reading a book recently. I’m not going to say what it was or what city it was set in, but it seemed to think that the way you created a sense of place was by just naming all of the streets the character was going down. It had no emotion or sensory input. I didn’t know what it looked like or smelled like or sounded like. All I had was the name. That’s not enough.
David: Yeah, Google Maps is not enough.
Melissa: Right. I could get ,ore from Google Maps because I could see it. So I follow a similar process of kind of reading samples and looking at reviews. But before I choose the books that I’m going to read, I first set up buckets of genre or mood that I want to fill. For example, when we did Paris, I knew I wanted to do something contemporary. I knew I wanted to do something kind of romantic. I knew I wanted to do something historical. So I’m looking for specific books that will fill a niche. And that can get a little complicated sometimes. I’ve had to give up on that on a couple of destinations. We still got great books and sometimes the books that are available dictate what kinds of things we can talk about. Sweden is a really good example of that. So much of the fiction coming out of Sweden is murdery. We had to work really hard to find books that weren’t just murder mysteries because we want to give as broad a look at the place as we can. I should also mention that we really do pay attention to trying to read native authors as much as we can. Books in translation, books by women, books by people of color. If we can do that and the book has a really strong sense of place that is a home run for us.
David: And then after we get sort of our candidates together, we talk to each other and make sure that we are covering as wide an area as possible in terms of fiction and kind of book and subject and type of author. All of that.
Melissa: And it’s a tricky dance because we don’t want to tell each other too much about our books, because we want the conversation to be fresh when we record it.
David: That’s another thing we should mention. We don’t talk about the books outside of recording. We found out early on that it made it a little fresher if the other person was actually surprised and or entertained about what we were saying about the book.
Melissa: And I think that’s part of why it’s so much fun when we record, because I finally get to hear about what you’ve been reading.
David: Yeah, yeah. New stuff to say to each other.And then on top of all of that, we have to read the book and love it.
Melissa: Yes. It’s not enough to just think it was OK.
David: So and then I think sort of the final gate is, is it right for the show? Is it right for us to talk about it and recommend it to you. An example for that, for me, I was reading our horror book for our Halloween episode, and I was really enjoying it. And then I got to a scene that was so graphic that I didn’t feel right coming on the mic and saying, ‘Yeah, you should totally read this book. It’s great.’ I might have continued to read that book. I’m curious about what happened, but I got to that scene and it just stopped me cold. And I put aside that book and went on to the next one.
Melissa: I feel like recommending a book to someone is really intimate and there has to be some built up trust there. And the things that I might read for myself and just like avert my eyes from that scene and move on because I want to finish that reading experience is really different than, ‘Hey person, you should read this book. Let me put this wholeheartedly recommend that you read this book.’
Melissa: Which is not to say that we don’t recommend books that have uncomfortable things in them. We’re just using our own gates to know what feels comfortable and what doesn’t.
David: Related to that whole talk, a listener from Boston, Massachusetts asks, What’s your criteria for abandoning a book and not finishing it or are you completionist?
Melissa: I used to be a completionist when I was in my twenties.
David: And yeah, that stopped.
Melissa: I stopped. Life’s too short. There are so many books that are a good fit for each of us. It doesn’t make sense to stick it out unless you’re in school and you have to read a book for a particular reason. My criteria for ditching a book, the most obvious one is I really love to read and will happily have a book or a Kindle in my hand any time I have free time. So I know that I’m not interested in a book if I have to force myself to pick it up. If I am looking for other things to do instead of wanting to run and get the blanket and sit on the couch with a book, I know that that book has not grabbed me.
David: I will abandon books early and often if it doesn’t grab me for whatever reason. But on the other hand, there have been times when I’ve read a book because I had a book club and we were going to talk about that book and I got 70 percent of the way through. And I’m like, ‘This is dumb.’ And I finished the last 30 percent. I was like, ‘That was amazing.’ So I try to weigh that when I’m about to put down a book.
Melissa: I feel like samples on the Kindle are really helpful for this, because if I read the sample and I am not dying to know what is on the next page at the end of that sample, then I know that that book is probably not for me.
David: Yeah, accurate.
Melissa: One thing I want to add, though, it took me four tries to read Wuthering Heights and I just became determined that I was going to finish that book. I’m definitely glad that I read it. I don’t know that I would read it again. I don’t have affection for any of the characters in Wuthering Heights because they’re all pretty terrible people. But I really respect what Emily Brontë did with that book. And this kind of circles back to one of the other things we talked about in our previous ‘Ask Us Anything’ episode, which is there are different ways to love a book. And there are different reasons to hang on to finish a book. But if anybody out there needs permission, you have our permission to abandon books because if they’re not working for you, seriously, there are so many other books that might be for you. Just set that one free. It’ll find its person. And you can read the book that’s meant for you.
David: Yeah. A listener from North Truro, Massachusetts, wants to know… eating and reading at the same time. Yes or no?
David: I know! There’s a no answer to that? What would that be like? We have a couple of reading things that are specifically set aside for reading and eating. Like Jólabókaflóð.
Melissa: Yes. Chocolates and books on Christmas Eve. What’s better than that?
David: Also every Friday night.
Melissa: Yes. So in in the book Bunnicula, which is a children’s Halloween book about a bunny that might be a vampire, which is indicated by the name Bunnicula, one of the characters says on Friday night he’s allowed to stay up as late as he wants, reading and eating snacks.
David: So we adopted that.
Melissa: Sometimes on Sunday afternoon, I like to pop a really big bowl of popcorn and lay in bed and put the popcorn bowl next to my hip and just read and plunk the popcorn into my mouth.
David: I also have really fond memories of walking into not ‘nice’ restaurants, but restaurants near a college campus, for instance, and sitting down and reading and ordering, say, bacon and cheese omelet and just sitting there and reading and having coffee and man, that’s pleasant.
Melissa: Yeah, I find that I actually eat more slowly when I’m reading. I used to read at lunch when I had an office job and it was great. So, yes. Firmly in favor of eating and reading.
David: Yeah. A listener from Fort Worth, Texas, wants to know what your favorite place you’ve ever been. Three places come to my mind immediately.
Melissa: Good! You say what yours are while I think about mine.
David: There’s a park very close to where we live, which is one of the reasons why we live where we live. It is up a hill, the park used to be a castle, in Czch, it’s called the Vyšehrad, which is Old Castle in Czech, and it is just a lovely place to be. There’s a nice church up there. There’s a little cemetery, there’s a bunch of statues. The views are fantastic. There’s a bunch of benches and trees and squirrels and birds. And there’s places where you can get beer or coffee and so you can get a nice cup of coffee and sit down and just look at the world. And I love that place.
David: The second thing that comes to mind is the main building of the New York Public Library, which I just love. I’ve always loved that place. And the third one is Monterey Bay in California. In fact, the whole strip of water from Half Moon Bay down to Monterey Bay. I just love that whole area. You can sit there and watch the water crash and it smells great. And there’s nature everywhere. You feel a little bit like a Disney princess because you’ll be sitting there and and sea lions and whales will come and jump out of the water and say hi.
Melissa: I always have a really hard time answering this question, because when I try to answer it, I just think of small moments on our travels as opposed to a place — OK, let me just preface this by saying Prague is one of my favorite places in the world and that’s why we live here. Clearly one of the best places I’ve ever visited is Prague, and that’s why we’re here. But outside of that, it’s always these little kind of throwaway, not very significant moments that are embedded in my memories that feel really close to my heart. So one is, I don’t know, it seems so silly, but one morning we were in Croatia, which is devastatingly beautiful, and David and I were traveling with two friends and Dave and one of our other friends went off to run some kind of errands. And I was with a girl who was at the time, just an acquaintance. By the time we traveled together for 10 days, I felt like we were pretty close. And we were waiting for our friends to come back and she said, do you want to get a coffee? And I said, yeah. And we sat down at this little cafe next to the water and it was a gorgeous, sunny day. And the waiter came and took our order and he said, Do you want whipped cream? And we said, Yes, of course. And it’s like this nothing event, right, it’s just a cup of coffee. But is just stuck in there as one of these magical moments where the weather was beautiful and I was relaxed and I was on vacation and someone said, You want whipped cream on your coffee? And usually I would say no. But this time I said yes. And it was amazing.
Melissa: Also, the beach at Tulum. I am not a beach person, but there is this beach in Tulum, Mexico, at the foot of cliffs with Mayan ruins on the top and iguanas running around the cliffs. And the beach is positioned just so, so the waves don’t break when they come in. They’re just kind of gentle. The water is crystal clear. It’s warm. The sand is white. Probably going to have a piña colada when you get out. That’s pretty amazing.
David: A number of questions were asked about Smudge. A listener from Silverdale, Washington, wants to know does much like to travel.
Melissa: She really doesn’t.
David: Strong no. Hard pass.
Melissa: Smudge likes to be in her bed in the closet or in the bathroom because the floor is heated and she lies on the heated floor. That is the end of the places that somebody likes to be. No, there’s a third one. She likes to lay on David’s lap if he has a blanket on it. And the thing that’s remarkable about Smudge is that she was born in Texas. And then when we moved to Vermont, she had to fly from Texas to Vermont and then stay in a hotel for a few days while we got our house set up. And then when we moved to Prague, poor Smudge, we took her in a car to another hotel where she went under a dresser that was maybe two inches off the ground. I don’t know how she got herself in there. She wedged herself in there for like three days.
David: And we had to tip the dresser to get her back out.
Melissa: Yeah, we had to terrorize her to remove her from under the dresser. Then she went from that hotel to two different airplanes to get from Boston to Prague. And then when we got here to Prague, we put her in another hotel until we could finally move into our flat. So she is a very well-traveled cat who hates traveling.
David: Still unclear whether or not she ever forgave us for either of those moves.
Melissa: I mean, to be fair, she doesn’t seem like she’s the brightest animal. So I’m not sure she actually remembers anything that happened even this morning. But she is very sweet.
David: We’ve got a listener from New Jersey who wants to know, What’s your favorite ice cream flavor? Listener from New Jersey, I have strong opinions about ice cream. But we’ll cut to the chase, my favorite ice cream is Double Chocolate Chip from Graeter’s Ice Cream in Cincinnati. They’re based in Cincinnati. They have outlets all over the Midwest. Whenever I’m anywhere near a Graeter’s, I make a special effort to get there. I have one cone, maybe two cones, maybe three cones.
Melissa: Did you just say have one cone? Don’t lie to our audience.
David: Yeah, it’s pretty hedonistic, my relationship with double chocolate chip ice cream from Graeter’s, but that’s that’s the answer. Mel likes ice cream, but she’s more of a more of a wedding cake girl.
Melissa: Oh, I do love wedding cake. Yeah, I really like when we make homemade ice cream.
David: Yeah, I do, too. It’s so magic. You put the ingredients in the machine.
Melissa: Three ingredients.
David: Yeah. And you sit there and 30 minutes later you have homemade ice cream. That’s fantastic.
Melissa: I feel like it sounds really boring, but when we make homemade ice cream, my favorite is vanilla because it’s very rich, and you can kind of taste all of the individual ingredients and the whole thing together. If we go around the corner to the gelato place, I like salted caramel.
David: One of the nice things about when we make vanilla is we also tend to make hot fudge.
Melissa: Which is also magical and has like three ingredients.
David: And also comes together in about half an hour. And if you put those two things together and then Mel makes these spiced nuts, which are like very salted cashews and walnuts, and sometimes we put those on top of that and sometimes we put some whipped cream. And your life really can’t get any better than that.
Melissa: Unless there’s wedding cake on the side,
David: A listener from Lacey, Washington, wants to know, What’s saving your life right now?
Melissa: The very first thing I thought of is Yoga with Adriene. I’ve been doing yoga with Adrian almost every day since January 1.
David: If you don’t know, Yoga with Adriene is a series on YouTube that is enjoyed by millions of people.
Melissa: She is delightful. She has an adorable dog named Benji. And her yoga instruction is very, very good, and I feel like she has the exact right amount for me of the woohoo yoga spiritual side and cracking jokes so it never gets too heavy and it feels like play. And she really encourages people who do her videos to experiment. She’s not asking you to bend your body into a perfect shape. She’s asking you to just explore what you can do on any given day. And that is really powerful all the time and very meaningful right now as we live through this pandemic. It’s one of the best things I do every day. I’m also really into truffle oil. So on the Strong Sense of Placewebsite, we have oven baked French fry recipe with Suya, which is Nigerian beef. The french fries are go along with the meat. But I’ve been making those french fries on the regular during this lockdown period and when you take them out of the oven, you can toss them with a little bit of truffle oil and salt. And they are fantastic fact.
David: I totally can back this claim up. Saving my life these days, this show, because it gives us deadlines and a purpose.
Melissa: And some interaction with people besides the two of us.
David: And those people who say nice things and that’s great. And maybe there’s this overly-complicated board game that I introduced Mel to over the pandemic called Gloomhaven. And we play that on the weekends. And I really enjoy that. It gives me something to kind of look forward to and also takes my mind completely off of anything else that’s going on except for whether or not we’re going to kill that boss at the end of this round, that kind of thing.
Melissa: Also, shout out to my friend naps.
David: also reading.
Melissa: Yes, yeah. Reading is always the great escape. Yeah. And when reading doesn’t work, the TV show Below Deck.
David: Oh, Below Deck.
Melissa: Below deck is the TV equivalent of a big bag of potato chips and I love it.
David: Below deck is an experience that I cannot recommend, but I thoroughly enjoy.
Melissa: Below deck is a reality show about the crew and the guests on motor yachts in beautiful destinations around the world, like Greece and Tahiti. The water is turquoise blue, the skies are equally blue and all kinds of bad decisions are being made by the people on the show.
David: Yeah, it’s shocking, really. A listener from Huntsville, Alabama, wants to know, Where will you go on your first post pandemic adventure?
Melissa: I’m really torn. Some days I want to go somewhere, beachy like Croatia or Greece and splash around in beautiful water and feel the sun on my skin and just relax and not really do very much at all except be outside in the water. And then other times I think I want to go somewhere and fill the well. I want to see museums. I want to go to historical libraries. I want to eat in amazing restaurants. And for that I’m leaning toward Barcelona, Spain.
David: Oh, nice.
Melissa: But then sometimes I think Iceland. Or Ireland, where the wind is bracing and the terrain is really craggy and you just breathe that fresh air. Clearly I need to get out. Those are my three.
David: The thing that first came to mind was Greek islands. It just seems like it’d be really nice to go down and look at the water. Just smell the air and look at the water —
Melissa: Say the people currently living in a landlocked country.
David: Yeah, yeah, that exactly. And I very much look forward to all of it. OK, last question. The listener wants to know, How do we sign up for the weekend trip to the castle with the murder mystery?
Melissa: I am so looking forward to doing that event someday.
David: Yeah, if you missed it, we have plans to eventually have events out in the world.
Melissa: In real life.
David: One of the examples we gave was going to a manor house and having good food and entertainers come over and maybe seance and/or possibly a murder a book club.
Melissa: For people who aren’t in favor of murder.
David: Yes. We had a listener specifically ask if we could not have the murder. So now we’ve got votes on both sides.
Melissa: Well, I mean, we could you could have an option. Maybe you pay a little extra to be on the murder track.
David: Or a little less.
Melissa: Kidding aside. We definitely want to have real-life events in the future. That’s one of the things that has been on my mind since we started this project. If I really swing for the fences, it’s a trip across Europe based on the destinations in the novel, The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova.
Melissa: So, I mean, we’re thinking big, but we’ll probably start with a weekend event somewhere. And that is TBD. When the world gets back to being safe and we can all get together and celebrate. So the short answer is as soon as we possibly can.
David: All right. Well, that’s 153 questions. Season Three will be starting within a couple of weeks. We are going to make that announcement everywhere when we are ready to go and when we’re ready to announce what the destinations will be for that season. In the meantime, thank you so much for listening and thanks for participating in the survey.
Melissa: Please take good care of yourselves.
David: Please take care of yourself.
Melissa: Continue to reach out on social media and email. We will continue to update the website and our Instagram and Twitter regularly until Season Three.
David: And sign up for the newsletter if you haven’t already. There’s a newsletter that goes out every week on Fridays. That’s just fantastic. You can also sign up for more frequent newsletter that goes out every time we post to the site. Either of those, I think are well worth your time. Well-worth the space in your email inbox. Lovely talking to you as always. And we will talk to you soon.
Top image courtesy of Everett Collection/Shutterstock.
Want to keep up with our book-related adventures? Sign up for our newsletter!
Strong Sense of Place is a website and podcast dedicated to literary travel and books we love. Reading good books increases empathy. Empathy is good for all of us and the amazing world we inhabit.
Strong Sense of Place is a listener-supported podcast. If you like the work we do, you can help make it happen by joining our Patreon! That'll unlock bonus content for you, too — including Mel's secret book reviews and Dave's behind-the-scenes notes for the latest Two Truths and a Lie.
This is a weekly email. If you'd like a quick alert whenever we update our blog, subscribe here.
We'll share enough detail to help you decide if a book is for you, but we'll never ruin plot twists or give away the ending.
This 30-page Reading Atlas takes you around the world with dozens of excellent books and gorgeous travel photos. Get your free copy when you subscribe to our newsletter.
Content on this site is © 2021 by Smudge Publishing, unless otherwise noted. Peace be with you, person who reads the small type.