That Time In Beijing, China

Guest post: Ajia Richardson

On June 24th, 2017 I embarked on one of the most rewarding journeys of my life. After a very uncomfortable 13 hour flight, I stepped off of my plane to hear “Ni hao, ma? Welcome to Beijing,” and there was no turning back. With $300 U.S. dollars in my pocket, a suitcase, and a lot of curiosity, I spent
the next eight weeks in Beijing, China.

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The Great Wall of China

Battling jet lag, I laced up my sneakers and headed to climb The Great Wall of China, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Prior to my trip, I had surgery on my right knee. That made my trek to the top tough, but giving up was not on the agenda. I stopped to sign my twitter handle on the perfect brick, took pictures to remind myself that this wasn’t a dream, and marveled at nature’s beauty.

The wall is a manmade structure, but as I stood on those bricks and looked out into the distance that was all the confirmation I needed that Earth is a piece molded by the Creator. How lucky was I to be thousands of miles from home in awe of such brilliance?

When my classmates and I reached the top we sang, danced,
and encouraged one another in celebration. I stood on history and took in every moment.

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Beijing Olympic Square Park

That very same week I took to the streets again. This time Olympic Square Park was calling my name.

Someone should have pinched me! I was at the home of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games where The United States came away with 74 gold and silver medals combined, barely escaping defeat from China. I watched every track & field meet, swim competition, and basketball game. Sports are a big part of my life, so I was like a kid in a candy store.

Along the walk to view the popular bird’s nest and aquatic pool
there was street music, food, and dancing. Mesmerized by the music, my body couldn’t help but move a little. While I danced alone, a friendly older man came and grabbed my hand and we two-stepped the night away. Everyone seemed to be impressed with my moves, but I was just happy to be experiencing their culture and living out my dreams.

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Tiananmen Square/The Forbidden City

To reach the Forbidden City I traveled by subway and entered the streets of Tiananmen Square. Thankfully that day we killed two birds with one stone because the crowds were massive and the sun was unforgiving.

In a way, I felt connected to Tiananmen Square because of the unfortunate massacre that took place back in 1989. Many were killed during this demonstration toward justice in China, similar to my ancestors here in America. I took a moment of silence and further immersed myself in the culture and asked many questions to learn more and enjoy my experience.

The Forbidden City was just that, Forbidden. From the Ming dynasty to the end of the Qing dynasty it was a palace for royal families, and now people from all over the world witness the breathtaking architecture and history of it all. Many of the popular tourist sites in China have similar architecture, and The Forbidden City has served as the blueprint.

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Temple of Heaven

Last, but not least on my “Must See” list was The Temple of Heaven. The Temple is a very sacred place of religious practices that took place from the Ming to the Qing dynasty. The annual ceremonies were in preparation to ask the Heavens for a successful harvest.

Just as The Forbidden City, the architecture was insane. We also got a chance to enter many of the buildings where ceremonies took place. I’m not from New York, but It wouldn’t be right if I didn’t milly rock on this block (hence the photo below). I did and saw so much over the course of my two month trip to Beijing, and the temple was one of my favorites.

This site taught me the most about the history of Chinese culture, and I realized that in many ways we are the same, searching for guidance from, and living under, a higher power.

Overall

Beijing, China was top 2, and it wasn’t number 2! The two months I spent there taught me a lot about the country and their culture, but I also learned a lot about myself. In a short period of time, I became more independent and adventurous. I took a dream and made it a reality. There is nothing more rewarding than traveling, and whether you get the chance to experience Beijing, Paris, or even New York City, I hope you take it full on. No turning back!


Ajia Richardson, my daughter, and guest of Always LaTonya is a recent graduate of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. She dug up her Southern roots and transplanted them many miles, and several states away from home. Excited about traveling and seeing the world, Ajia has plans to fill her passport sooner than later. Follow Ajia on both Instagram and Twitter @AjiaTheGreat.

My Hunt For New Glasses

 My Hunt For New Glasses

I’ve worn glasses since the age of nine, for a total of 41 years. It ain’t always been easy being four-eyed.

At first, I thought it was kinda cool. But that didn’t last long. I’ve worn some really cute glasses, and some I THOUGHT were cute until I was told otherwise. I’ve even worn glasses that were not cute at all! Don’t get me wrong. There have been pairs I’ve absolutely loved!

The thing is, the doctor’s office always has a lot of frames to chose from. But they’re not ones I really want, that suit my face, or even the look I’m trying to achieve. Therefore it leaves me settling for a pair that looks… just okay.

As technology, fashion, and times have changed glasses have become just as much a fashion statement as the clothes we wear. The options are greater, the styles are better, and places to get stylish frames are more abundant.

Still… doctor’s offices rarely have a large selection of really cool frames. And what they do have… are so expensive. My last few pairs have been really swank. Generally, after my eye exam, it has taken the longest two months to find the perfect frame. Or at least a frame I can live with for the next two years. After searching throughout the internet, and at every eyeglass dispensary I pass… finding the perfect pair of frames is like finding a diamond in Crater of Diamonds State Park. It’s not impossible, but it sure isn’t easy!

I came to the realization a few years ago after trying contact lenses, if I have to wear glasses, and I do… I might as well have a pair I love. That means I’m always on the lookout for something cute, different, and unlike anything, everyone else is wearing.

My current glasses are really cute, and I actually found them at my doctor’s office. In a few weeks, I’ll be ready for a post cornea transplant eye exam. That means I’m in hot pursuit of awesome new frames.

Iconic Looks

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Picture credit: People Magazine

Opray Winfrey is one that always wears the coolest glasses! I absolutely love that every time I see her, she may be wearing a different pair.

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Picture credit: Time Magazine

 

 

 

 

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Picture credit: Zimbo

Lisa Price is another person whom I admire her choice of eyewear.

Both Oprah and Lisa’s choices say they are intentional and badass!

There is a long line of others who are known for their iconic statement-making eyeglasses such as Sylvia Weinstock. 

All three of these women inspire me to not just settle for any pair of glasses. And if I like it, wear them with pride and chutzpah!

Where do I start?

I’ve given this a lot of thought. More thought that I probably should have.

A couple of years ago, I bought a pair of brown cat-eye frames from the Zinni Optical website. They were inexpensive and gorgeous! There was only one problem, the plastic frames were too thin to support my lenses, even the thinner, plastic ones. Often I sleep in my glasses, another story for another time, and they must be durable enough to withstand the weight of my lenses and sleeping in them.

I’ve also searched other websites like Warby Parker, and Zeelool and found great looks. But instead of ordering frames online, I will consult with the optician at my eye doctor’s office. Together we will find several spec-tacular (pun intended) options. Follow me on Instagram @AlwaysLaTonya to updates on my hunt for new glasses.

What has been your experience with glasses and frames?

 

The Start of my Summer

My summer started off with a drive across country to move our middle daughter to her first post-undergraduate job. Our southern belle traded in trees and grass, an abundance of FREE parking, and moderate winters of Arkansas for concrete, metro riding and walking, and really cold winters of the DMV (D.C., Maryland, Virginia). And in no time she fit right in as if she’d been there all her life!

She wasn’t exactly new to the area, she interned there from January to May and loved it so much she decided to transplant and make it permanent.

During our brief time there she took me and Mr. Husband to the National Mall and the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. It was a lot of walking involved, but I didn’t care. I packed my gym shoes and was ready. Seriously, I had no idea we’d do that much walking! By the end of the day, we had walked more than 6 miles. That’s a 10K… one I had not trained for! And it was more than worth it!

  • I rode the metro…

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  • Stood in the very spot Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood to give his ‘I Have a Dream,’ speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial…

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Visited the Martin Luther King, Jr. monument…

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And the apex of the day was visiting Barack and Michelle Obama’s portraits in the National Portrait Gallery… The lighting was terrible, but I just had to share!

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There was so much more to that day, but those were the highlights. There was so much we didn’t get to, and I’m looking forward to my next trip.

How was your summer?

Planning An Awesome Year

Planning Planning An Awesome Year

In January, I was looking ahead to 2017 and contemplating how busy this year would be. With the day-to-day of work, home, community and now promoting a new book… I was going to need help. Since having a personal assistant is completely out of the question, I settled for a planner.

When initially looking for a planner, I had no idea what I wanted, only what I needed. Everything I came across was.notit! Then while scrolling through Instagram, I saw a post about the Me and My Big Ideas – Happy Planner. After watching the video, I thought I’d give it a try.

Before my Happy Planner made it, Tish Bullard made a post about her prinTable planner pages. It’s like she was reading my mind. Finally, I had everything I needed. So I thought.

There are communities, how-to videos, conferences, and more for planning. Planning is serious business, and can be fun outlet. I’m wading in the shallow end. So far I’ve purchased stickers, pockets, meal planning inserts, and new covers.

Recently, when I couldn’t find the sticker themes I wanted, I chose to create my own. That was so much fun. There running list of sticker theme ideas Is two pages long now.. As soon as I have a few minutes minutes to spare I’ll create those too.

So far, my planner has been well worth the purchase. It has kept me well informed and on track, except for one day I put an event on the wrong day.

Do you take time to plan you day/weeks/month?

 

March Photo Challenge

Recently, our middle daughter turned 21. Yes, it feels like I was just 21. Things were good, and I thought I was invincible. Sorry, back to the regularly scheduled program.

Before her birthday, she wanted to have a photo shoot. I was all for it. After pulling my “real” camera from under the bed, I charged the battery and was ready! The iPhone makes snapping pictures a breeze. But this shoot called for the real thing.

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We journeyed downtown where there is history, edge, and a great big canvas for creativity. And I had a ball! Union Pacific photo bombed, at the perfect time.

I do not, in any shape or form call myself a photographer. However, I do enjoy taking pictures. It’s also way cool to walk around with this weapon of mass creation around my neck like I know what I’m doing. My subject and our location made me look halfway decent. A trained professional may find fault. But art is subjective… right?

One of my favorite Instagram friends @daenelt has really inspired me as well, with her photos. Her pictures.are.amazing! I do believe she’s doing a year-long photo challenge. Searching for a photo-a-day challenge myself, I found The Idea Room‘s 365 Day photo-a-day challenge, and I’m jumping right in with the March photo-a-day challenge.

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For the next 31 days, I’m a wannabe photographer. Excited much? Of course, I am! Pull out your camera, or phone and join the fun.

Vuja De

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My morning ritual the past six months consists of listening to a podcast, or TED Talks while getting ready for work. There is something about positive, informative, and uplifting information and people that make a difference in starting my day.

Recently, TED Talks tweeted  Adam Grant’s The surprising habits of original thinkers. I was intrigued by his entire speech. But the one thing that stood out and grabbed me by the… I wanted to say something profound here, but I have no words. Just know it stopped me in my tracks.

I backed the speech up, and played it again. Then paused it so I could run and get my notebook and pen. I wrote it very large and then looked it up.

Vuja De

something familiar viewed with a fresh new perspective. 

Until now, I haven’t posted anything on my blog since December. I’ve attempted twice, but nothing came to me. After hearing about vuja de, I started thinking about my blog and creating content with a fresh perspective.  It has also made me reconsider the things around me.

5 Podcast I love:

 

‘Going On A Bear Hunt’ – Pre-Sale

In October, I announced my recent labor of love ‘Going On a Bear Hunt’ is on its way. A full-color children’s picture book about the adventure of two city boys who find themselves bored in Lockhart, Louisiana. Uncle Eddie Ray takes Aiden and Austin on a bear hunt like none other.

I’m offering a pre-sale for autographed copies.

Here is a sneak peek of an early illustration, along with an excerpt of the story.Counting Ants 1 Going On A Bear Hunt   Pre SaleSo what do you think? I hope you enjoyed the excerpt, and want to purchase a copy. Thanks for your support!

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Testing Holiday Recipes

I’ve never been much of a baker, rather I enjoy preparing meals. Dinner and breakfast are my favorite meals to cook – and in that order. I do like a good dessert, and over the years I’ve dabbled more, and more. When it comes to sweets that I enjoy, I’ll try to make it at least once.

I’ve had scones on a few occasions, most recently while having lunch at Panera Bread. Since then, it’s been in the back of my mind to make a batch. With Christmas around the corner, and a little extra time on my hands yesterday, I whipped up a quick batch of cranberry orange scones.

Cranberry Orange Scones Recipe

My family has been more muffin eaters, and scones are a welcome addition. The batter being thicker is a cross between shortbread and a biscuit dough. It was firm enough, without being too stiff, making it easy to press into a circle using my hands instead of a rolling pin.

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I followed the recipe almost to the letter. Instead of 2 Tbsp. I added about a-half-cup of sugar. I prefer just a little more sweetness. That half-cup of sugar was just enough, perfect even. After baking fifteen minutes at 400 the scones were perfect!

The orange glaze was a nice contrast to the cranberries. When I make these for Christmas treats, I’m thinking of topping it with a cream cheese glaze instead.

Scones Testing Holiday Recipes

Mr. Husband, who can be picky, asked questions, nibbled, and ate a whole scone. That was a good sign. I even packed one with his breakfast this morning.

I’m looking forward to cooking, baking, and creating holiday treats with and for my family for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

What are your favorite holiday recipes?

Going On A Bear Hunt – Coming Winter 2017

 

Last summer, while sitting on the porch of our family’s homestead laughing and talking with cousins inspiration struck. My cousin’s son declared he, his uncle, and brother were going on a bear hunt.

That declaration, along with the ensuing conversation was an aha moment. Just like that, I had a story. Over the next few weeks, I thought about that conversation from time to time. One sleepless night the story literally called me out of the bed and the first draft of ‘Going On A Bear Hunt’ was penned.

I shared ‘Going On A Bear Hunt,’ with the local SCBWI critique group and fleshed the story out some more, working out a few kinks… And sat on it.

Finally, In June of this year, I reached out to an editor. Extremely nervous about her take on the story I agonized over sending it. What if she thought my story was trash? I watched my email for two days waiting for the edits to return.

After a discussion with Krystal Grant, I set a publication date. That meant the ball was in motion.

Nervous as a church mouse I share with you ‘Going On A Bear Hunt,’ picture book to be released Winter 2017. A definitive date will be announced as it gets closer, and I look forward to sharing updates of our progress.

 

Homegating – Season 3

It’s that time of the year again…

Football!!! 

There is high school football, college football, professional football, football, football and more football! Football from Thursday, through Monday night.

Once Mr. Husband gets in from work on Saturday, afternoons I literally give up on watching TV. Our son comes over and they watch football well into the night, one game after the other. College football is their favorite.

Actually, the entire football season Mr. Husband takes over the television. During this time the DVR is my best friend!

In 2014, I had a great idea,  since I couldn’t beat them, I might as well join them. Dinner is inevitable, why not make it a “thing” and homegate? Yes, I made that word up.

home·gate

verb

a social gathering at which an informal meal is served, instead of from the back of a parked vehicle, in the comforts of home.

It’s turned into a great tradition for our family, and the perfect reason to have family time. Most of all, it gives me the opportunity to try new recipes every week, along with a new theme.

As always I’m on the lookout for great recipes. My favorite sites and Pinterest have provided exciting ideas for the past two years of homegating menus.

I’ve even created a Homegating Pinterest board dedicated to building an arsenal of recipes. And I’m always on the lookout for more.

Our first homegate of the season, I’m considering a burger bar. And eventually, I’m going to try fried chicken necks. A classmate made a FB post about them last year, and it’s been in the back of my mind since. This football season, it’s going down. Now I just have to find chicken necks!

What are your favorite homegating/tailgating recipes?