Major surgery, a 10-week recovery, a wedding, a mini and full honeymoon as well as a half dozen trips…we’ve been busy!
At this time last year, when I knew I was going to be facing mandatory rest, I began to think about pursuing a reading challenge to keep my mind active though my body would need to be still. I’d been participating in other folks’ reading challenges for years, but knew that I needed to simplify my expectation.
So last year, I decided that I was going to strive to read 100 books in 365 days.
MY VERY FIRST READING CHALLENGE
To be honest, I chose that amount because I’d heard someone else had done it. Yes, call it what it is – competitive and prideful. I needed to chill out and read to challenge myself while also reading for enjoyment. It helped that a couple of folks close to me called me to refocus why I really wanted to complete a reading challenge.
I wanted to complete a reading challenge to be stretched but most importantly to get back into reading. I enjoy the stories and appreciate the opportunity to dip into worlds I’m not comfortable with or have no experience with and because reading encourages me to dream.
Remembering why I wanted to do this challenge, made me change my total from 100 to 65 books. It was important to stretch myself but also incredibly important for me to complete what I’d set out to do.
And I did it!
I read 65 books in 365 days from November 01 2017 to October 31 2018 plus one, bringing my total to 66 books in one year.
It’s the one about reading one classic book each summer. (I really like this criteria to define a classic.) This happened because I tried to read Pride and Prejudice in July and it took me so much longer. I just could not get into it and had to force myself to finish it. Giving myself a longer time to experience and labor over the language of the classics will hopefully help me really read, comprehend and experience the content.
In the summer of 2019, I’ll be sure to choose my book by May and give myself June through August to complete it.
MY NEWEST READING CHALLENGE
With the first of November right around the corner, I’ve finally decided upon my newest reading challenge.
I’m calling it my “ZERO DOLLAR BOOK CHALLENGE”.
From 01 November 2018 through 31 October 2019 I will read books that are BORROWED, LOANED, GIFTED + RECOMMENDED including JODI PICOULT’S‘ FULL BODY OF WORK.
My first annual reading challenge was based on the number of books read, this one will be focused on the amount of money spent. Which needs be zero dollars. Zip, Zilch. I’m not even wanting to spend any money on overdue library fines. Zero dollars spent by me on books going forward, that is the crux of this reading goal.
If you’ve not heard of it, Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University’s second step is the Debt Snowball. I am on that step. There are debts that are still outstanding and as much as I enjoy reveling in my book loot – having them sit on my shelf, owning them – this year no new books will be purchased and collected by me. God’s gonna get His and then my debtors theirs.
This means that books must be loaned to me by willing friends (I promise to return them in great condition), borrowed from my public library or a friend’s personal library gifted and however the books come to me, they must be recommended. The exception to recommended books will be my reading all 25 of Jodi Picoult’s books in the coming year starting with Spark of Light which I picked up when she came to speak in Dallas in early October 2018.
I don’t know what this list is going to look like, but I hope to be reading at least a few books every month. Books of variety, exposing me to new and very different experiences, stories, cultures and lives than what I’ve been drawn to and a more relaxed reading rate since the only number that matters most this go ’round is the number ZERO.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
If you are able or willing, here’s how you can you support + encourage me as I tackle my challenge:
share the titles you feel I must read in the comments below
set aside any books you’d be willing to send to me – I will read & review them
share what your book club is reading/planning to read
recommend books you know I’ll be able to get from the library (preferably in print, but digital recommendations are acceptable)
share Facebook, Instagram or Twitter profiles you think I may enjoy following for more recommendations
share the part of this reading challenge that you are incorporating into your reading life – solidarity book lovin’ pals…
Reading regularly and diversely helps me tend to my soul. There’s just something about turning pages, feeling the emotions of a story, learning, experiencing something new and growing as a result of the words you read.
In addition to reading my Bible daily, I will be reading just about anything I can get my hands on without spending a penny.
We are getting back into all of our rhythms – including dating one another!
Dating your spouse is a very important priority and can be something that falls by the wayside easily. A meaningful wedding gift from a lovely friend that we are using to make memories, prioritize our marriage and learn more about one another – you can read about it here.
It was Mister’s turn to plan and he did it well (which he does every time y’all – I truly think the romantics in the marriage have a hand-up in putting these together).
We kept it simple. We dressed casually + comfortably for dinner at one of our favorite restaurants: PF Chang’s. We were craving familiar Chinese food and since our food experiences did not truly deliver, we were eager to get back to the States for “yummy-to-us” Chinese cuisine.
We did however bring our new, authentic Chinese chopsticks with us. Yes, we did…
I swoon over the Hokkien (pronounced ho-keen) Street Noodles every time. There is so much flavor and I almost always leave with leftovers to enjoy the next day.
We sipped glasses of red wine and talked and flirted and reflected.
Though we had plans following dinner, dinner was unhurried.
Mister pre-ordered our tickets online and printed them out. We walked two blocks from the restaurant to the club. We walked right past the ticket office (with tickets in hand) and hopped in line for another glass of wine to share during the show, then took our seats.
Seats are unassigned, but you’re wise to arrive at least 15 minutes before the show begins to get seats closer to the door so that if you need a restroom break before intermission, you can get about without the spotlight finding you. If you sit on the opposite side of the room, you will need to cross the stage during the performance and well, if stage fright is something you’re afflicted with this may not be ideal – especially on your way to the restroom.
The seating in the theatre is intimate. So if you find yourselves sitting in the middle of the row and you need to exit before everyone else does, you will find yourselves standing and sitting often – obstructing the view of those behind you. Though everyone behind us was patient and did not heckle us once, it was a bit uncomfortable and distracting at times.
The theatre seats 212 and isn’t anything super fancy, but the comedy troupe is fun and funny. Very entertaining. And fairly clean. The audience was very diverse though the troupe was not. For example, on the night we went, there were no women and only one person of color on stage. They were talented, but I so appreciated the relaxed nature of the team and their ability to play off of the crowd’s energy in the moment.
The topics were from the audience. They submitted before the show began on post it notes and half sheets of paper then intertwined into the performances. (Think “Who’s Line is it Anyway?”) After so much stress preparing for and traveling to/from Shanghai we really needed to laugh. And we did. Loudly!
I so enjoyed this date night with my Mister. Simple, the two of us in a small, but light-hearted crowd and not too far away from home.
There was a step and repeat banner for photos with the troupe afterwards, but we decided to get a quick snapshot in front of their welcome sign near the entrance into the theatre. This man’s wife was kind enough to take our photo in the midst of the crowd departing; he seemed hyped and excited.
The photo is a great reflection of our night.
We enjoyed the walk back from the club to our car. The city of Fort Worth is so nice in the evenings. The weather was perfect for strolling and because the parking was free after 5p (on weekends), we didn’t feel any pressure to get back before the rates jumped.
It was a great time. Low key, easy, fun, affordable.
I’m grateful for how we were able to prioritize going out on a date for the purpose of enjoying an experience together and growing in our understanding of one another.
It’s a delight to date your spouse! Let us know if you try this date and how it goes for you and your beloved.
The Next Date?!? Date #8: Go on a very long walk around your neighborhood at night
Reclaiming our rhythm and hindsight are continuing to make our experiences in Shanghai more clear. And though there were challenges and things we did not like at all, Shanghai wooed my soul in far more ways than the six I’m sharing here.
One of the things that I so enjoy about international travel to cultures that are so different than our own is being able to call out the omnipotence of God. It is evident how He tends to the big things – wind, water, gravity, physics, weather – at the same time that He personalizes experiences just for me.
He does all of that and far more and still connects me to experiences and moments that speak lousy to me and how He made me.
I believe that God knew before we ever met, engaged and married that China was an option for us as a married couple. One we would need to say “yes” to in order to have the soul shaping moments we did and I’m so very grateful for them.
Here are just a few ways that my soul was whispered to, encouraged, challenged, answered, loved, cheered on and quite simply loved.
THE PEACE HOTEL + VICTOR’S CAFE & PATISSERIE
We took it easy on Monday evening after arriving in China with our plans to sight see the mess out of Shanghai on our one full free day. On our way to the thing Mister was most excited about was The Bund River (I’ll share below) we saw a sign for The Peace Hotel.
It is at a very busy intersection leading to one of the most visited areas in Shanghai.
Not thinking we would have any other experience there, I asked Mister to take a few photos in front of the hotel – from across the street because “peace” is my one little word for 2018 and I saw it as a sign/a source of encouragement for me.
We continued on our way to the main attraction with a brief mention of eating there. We felt it was adventurous enough to be taking on this foreign city without a translator or a working app to help us in a bind – eating food that did not have a fairly decent English speaker as our server was not an option for us.
After some amazing view (more below) we circled back just to look at the menu before deciding and when I saw that the restaurant was a FRENCH one, my eyes misted a little.
If you didn’t know this about me, I adore French culture. In fact, I’m praying and believing for a month in France to celebrate my 50th birthday. I’m making efforts now to rekindle my fluency in the language – both written and spoken – so that we can navigate the cities and the countryside without hesitation.
So, you can see why I’d have a tiny emotional reaction to this place being on our route.
We got caught in a bit of rain on our hunt for food. My shoes were soaked and my layers were proving ineffective.
Mister did the math – converting the yuan to dollars – and we found the meal, the very delicious meal and wine to be the best dining experience we’d had all week.
A French restaurant. In China. For Americans.
This still encourages me y’all.
At one point we had a table away from the window. When the mother and daughter finished their food, I asked if we could hop over to have the window seat and it improved our already situation thirtyfold. A small quaint café and bakery was exactly what our wearing souls needed at this wet and bustling time of day.
PEOPLE WATCHING AT THE BUND
First let me say this – I don’t need to travel across the globe to people watch. I realize I can do that from anywhere. I enjoy the past time of people watching immensely as an observer, not so much when I’m in a thick crowd.
Because the Bund is an immense source of pride for Shanghai, it’s consider a must see.
It was predetermined and planned before we even left America that it was what Mister was most excited to see. I was really open to taking in just about any experience, so it was the priority and a lot of where we spent our time that day.
After snapping a few photos of me in front of The Peace Hotel, we walked approximately 30 more feet and looked up to see the entryway to the Bund Walkway.
If you are ever in Shanghai it’s worth the time to be there.
And since we were there before lunch and later in the evening to see the buildings via river cruise, we got to see so many different people. This is where I saw three of the other four black people. But also, so many other people from so many different cultures, ethnicities and countries.
What spoke to my soul about this experience was that being black here in Shanghai, while visiting this beautiful place was not at all the same as what it’s meant for me being black in America. Additionally, my own assumptions and thoughts about seeing other white people (and assuming they would look at, greet us and be excited to see us) was often wrong. They were white, but most of them – since I was grasping bits of their conversations – were in different languages or were England English.
It warmed me.
Everyone – no matter their background – took time to marvel at the beauty of this one hundred year old place and it brought out excitement and enthusiasm in so many.
I may have thanked Jesus aloud for Starbucks Coffee and their worldwide mission.
Let me just tell you about Starbucks in Shanghai!
Their menus were in English & Mandarin. All of their merchandise is printed in English which was a little bit of a bummer because I was hoping to return home with a travel series mug with authentic Chinese lettering on it.
The cups, the sleeves, the coffees – all in English.
And while part of the adventure of traveling to a different country so very different your own is embracing the differences, finding a little bit of comfort is also a super big deal for me.
To know what to order. To know what it’s going to taste like – all of my drinks tasted exactly as I expected them to.
The furniture, decor, set up of stores, the registers, the merchandise stands – SAME or very similar. I indulged. It was also how we got off of our feet for a bit.
And y’all. Starbucks has the same vibe it does here in the states.
It’s a place where people go to work, meet, relax, kill time, a place to tend to one’s soul.
A couple of false starts?
The Starbucks walking distance from our hotel did not open until 9a.
And the idea of going to grab a seat while waiting for your drink to be made only made a fool of me once. After ordering my very first Shanghai Starbucks beverage and turning my back on the barista after getting my change to find a seat – you know what we do here – I learned that there is not time for that. My drink was completed moments after my order was placed.
So, I learned quickly that I just needed to wait and hope the seat I was coveting (by the window, more people watching please…) would still be available when I was ready for it. I still don’t know how they did it because even one of the times the same person that took my order and my yuan was the same person that made my drink.
The familiarity and even better service than I’m used to, made my soul skip a little.
I’m not really interested in dousing myself with the news.
But once Mister’s conference (Wednesday – Thursday) left me in the room alone for longer periods of time, I sought entertainment in reading and television watching.
I did attempt to watch some of the Chinese channels, but since I could not read the remote to enact the captions, I needed to stick to channels 20 and 52. The first one was a hodgepodge of things (I caught the end of the Pursuit of Happyness – though I’m not counting Will Smith and his son as a part of the black folks I saw while in Shanghai) and CNN Worldwide.
I so enjoyed the diversity of reporters, what they reporting about and where they reporting from. It made me want to pull up a map to follow along. I was learning in context…
Another thing that whispers to my soul.
My grasp of worldwide geography has never been great but within the context of stories and visuals, I am able to feel connected to people in places far away. Some places I’ve read about, some I’ve visited, others I dream about experiencing and having purpose there someday.
I thought the CNN crush would continue upon returning home, but a week after arriving back home I’m over it because we do not have the international station as a part of our cable package. I’ll find another way; so grateful that my experience in Shanghai whet my whistle for more international connections.
THE VIEWS, THE SCENERY
I saw beauty everywhere. Though I was constantly reminded that I was far away from home, I was often reminded of the rhythm of life.
Well, and necessary…
sure in Shanghai
I sat through Mister’s presentation – all the way in the back. And one thing I noticed about their setup was that they provided one white piece of blank paper and a black pencil – no eraser and a bottle of water; speakers too.
Necessities yes. But they seemed to with the subtle mindset that it would be wasteful to provide so very many printed materials to be tossed or cleaned up. I was captivated by the simplicity of it all.
Please remember, we were only in Shanghai for a week, so the argument can definitely be made that the Chinese do not practice minimalism beyond the possessions they own and the decor of their stores, restaurants + coffee shops.
Because my soul longs for simple living and minimalism – I’m a work in progress y’all – I noticed it in the snapshots above.
The blue crabs being sold at the airport. Like, wait – what? We didn’t really ask, but they way it was presented was minimalistic. We offer one thing, stacked and ordered neatly. Would you like one pound or two?
The restaurant set up for the dinner rush. The high topped tables that had a seat number (to possibly match your order number) on it, keeping things simple. The design of the airport terminal was minimalistic allowing the natural light and open spaces to serve as decor while also being practical.
Decluttering our lives (our homes, our closets, garages, schedules, responsibilities, etc.) to make room for experiences has been incredibly effective in helping us to also declutter our souls. The less cluttered a space was while strolling about Shanghai, the more drawn to it I was.
BOOKSTORES + CREATIVE SPACES
Books and funky, quirky spaces that inspire creativity are like firecrackers for my soul.
I’m constantly trying to figure out what I like about a space, what I sense it’s speaking to me and what it may be trying to teach me.
There were no shortages of opportunities for that to happen in the huge mall just walking distance from our hotel.
There were some experiences that drained me or bothered me on our trip to Shanghai, but I wanted to focus on what I was able to learn (if you missed that post, you can read about that here) and how I connected with the city in my soul.
I’ll be writing about the importance of planning your re-entry after international travel really soon. I felt we planned and prepared for our trip in so many ways but the re-entry plan was weak and we have had to struggle through it to find our rhythm. I’m open to any tips or recommendations that have worked for you and especially things that have not worked so we can avoid them for future adventures.