Soaring Through Stars

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Give me 10 Seconds, and I’ll give you the Stars!

STARS FRONT COVER FINAL APRIL 17_2015-2ORDER NOW from AMAZON! 

Did you read Swimming Through Clouds?

Did you try Seeing Through Stones?

Want to go Soaring Through Stars??

Leggo! BOOK THREE of the Swimming Through Clouds Trilogy! 

Released April 23rd

GirlsCovers

 

JUST wanted to share the News!!

Best,

-Raj

p.s. My Talented Niece, Deepa Paulus, designed the cover!

Dive into Masala-Marinated YA Fiction

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                                                  AVAILABLE NOW!!!    

 

 

                       Swimming Through Clouds Front Cover March24 2015SeeingThroughStones_Front_Cover_April2015

 

Awards for Swimming Through Clouds

B.R.A.G. Medallion for Young Adult Fiction

Finalist (2nd Place) NORWA (YA Fiction)

Finalist Women of Faith Full Manuscript
Finalist Wisconsin RWA Honorable Mention (YA Fiction)

“A work of art…”

-USA Today, Happy Ever After writer Serena Chase

 

“Tough and touching, resilient and raw…”
 -Tosca Lee, NY Times bestselling author of
HAVAH and The Books of Mortals series with Ted Dekker

 

 “A poignant but realistic tale ~Sheila Wray Gregoire, Syndicated Columnist, Canadian National Award-Winning Speaker, Blogger, and Author of  multiple books on Marriage and Intimacy

“…Characters who come to life in each page.Diana Mao, President of Nomi Network

“…Will leave you gasping for air, reaching for something  steady to lean on…”
~ Jennifer Murgia, author of the ANGEL STAR series & 
BETWEEN THESE LINES

 

“…Difficult to read but even more difficult to put down.”
~Brown Girl Magazine
GoodReads Book Review

 “Should be read by everyone … men and women, the young and the old.”~Masala Mommas Book Review by Angie Seth

“…This patient, subtle romance is intimate and enticing.”~Talking Cranes, Book Review by Viveka Kymal 

 “This is not a bubble-gum, high school sweetheart kind of story.” 
~Laura Anderson Kurk, author of
GLASS GIRL and PERFECT GLASS

  

                           

A Cinderella Mother’s Day Thanks to Amazon! Part Two

IMG_7751A91I5364Mother’s Day starts with a homemade pumpkin waffle, a little basil sausage, and some slightly crunchy eggs. The girls even whip up a cream cheese topping, but I can’t lie. I’m looking forward to the day when one of them learns to work the cappuccino machine. A lady needs her latte.

 

The car arrives at 2:30PM on the dot, and hubby miraculously makes it home in time with flowers and snacks for the road. And with the two plus hour commute into the city, the Pringles and lemonade serve as a welcomed treat. But nothing makes a drive like the song on the radio. So minutes after getting on the highway (how did I wait that long?) this mother of a music-loving family shamelessly asks our driver, Dio, “How’s the sound system in here?”IMG_1274

 

A91I5612He smiles in the rearview mirror and asks, “What kind of music do you like?” thus filling the air with tunes to keep us company. Best part is when Sun plays Hamilton through the stereo and the girls sing every word just as we pass the big Hamilton Billboards before entering the Midtown Tunnel.

 

The hotel drop off meets us with an afternoon shower, but a little rain cannot dampen our excitement. The moment we enter my complimentary upgraded room at the Knickerbocker (Thank you, Amazon!) who would be the first to fall back on the bed like they do in the movies? The husband. I want to take pictures of every second and every detail, but I stop myself and just enjoy the moment. Many moments.

 

FullSizeRender (2)Like when the girls play with the remote to control the window shades or when the three out of four of my girls snuggle under the king-sized bed covers just to “test them out.” Or when my oldest takes the other three on a field trip to the rooftop only to discover the New Year’s Eve Ball! “Mom, it was across from us. So close. It was right there!”

 

IMG_7724After some scrumptious takeout from Carmines, the girls and hubby and I exchange hugs and kisses before the car picks up and drives the family back to Long Island (Thank you, Dio!) and I am on my own. Nothing like a big comfy bed to cozy into with a box of strawberries and a good story. On screen this time. After watching two episodes of Prison Break, I force myself to turn it off so I won’t end up that girl who slept through her alarm clock and arrived at Nasdaq with her dress on backwards.

 

FullSizeRender (7)And truth be told. I don’t sleep well at all. Maybe it’s the temperature. So I turn it down. Maybe it’s the lights. I cover every last tiny light in the room. Maybe it’s just me. Worried I’ll be that girl who slept through her alarm clock and arrived at Nasdaq with her dress on backwards. It is 2:30AM and there is only one thing I can do about that. Get a jump-start on getting ready for the morning. Yep. I take a long shower, blow out my hair, and if the clock didn’t read 3:30 in the morning, I might have started to do my make-up. I make a second attempt to sleep and I must have because when Tracey Chapman’s voice streams into my dreams, I have no choice. It is go time else risk becoming that girl who slept through her alarm clock…Not going to risk it.

 

FullSizeRender (3)Up and on to the first battle at hand. My hair. Curling irons on, I alternate straightening my unruly waves with pressing cans of ice cold coke under my eyes (a little trick I learned from the Wolverine’s Instagram once right before he had to host an award show.) Hair on fleek, creamed up feet, and dressed now, I dab on a touch of eye liner and mascara, and move to put on the finishing touch. Something I do often when I have a big moment but can’t take my kids and hubby with me is I take a piece of them with me. Today was one of those days, so I latch on earrings from my third daughter, a necklace from my second-born, a charm from my nine-year old, and an anklet from my first girl. I finish with a silver bracelet hubby gave me for our tenth anniversary. After washing down a couple of strawberries with a swig of water, I grab my clutch, and head down to the lobby ten minutes early with one mission. Find coffee.

 

FullSizeRender (5)Latte in hand, I meet three of the VIP’s with Ty Rogers (the Amazon guy who helped make all this happen,) and we are off the Nasdaq headquarters—a hop, skip, and jump through Times Square, clear security, and head up the elevator to a lovely-scented, warm breakfast, and yes. More coffee. But I can’t eat. I don’t want to chance spilling food on my dress or having to run to the girl’s room in the middle of pictures. Hey, welcome to the forties. But most of all, I know there will be pictures, and pepper teeth is not going to my nickname this day.

 

Shortly after, the woman in charge of directing the morning invites five of us along with Brian Olsavsky, Amazon CFO, to a conference room to quickly rehearse. I only have one question when she asks. “Is it okay to shout out a ‘Woooo!’” She enthusiastically says, “Yes! The more woo-hoos, the better!”

 

A91I5316Next there are pictures. Lots and lots of pictures. And I am always directed to stand to the right of the CFO. And when the speaking starts, Brian shares a little about each of us five, giving a generous shout out to my books and to the sisters who asked me to “Please keep writing” in a letter I carry around in my purse.

 

I have three jobs. 1. Stand and smile. 2. Cheer loudly and clap when Brian is about to ring the Opening Bell. And 3. Do not cry.

 

IMG_7731Thankful I speak with the other woman VIP right before we walked up to the podium about what to do with my hands. “Keep them by your side she said, that way you won’t fidget with your hands.” It works. And I smile a lot. Shout out plenty of hoots and hollers, even though I’m pretty sure the SmugMug guy next to me out-cheered me. And believe it or not, I manage to keep my emotions in check.

 

FullSizeRender (9)Then the Nasdaq woman in charge directs all the other forty or so Amazonians to stand behind us and of course, more pics. Lots and lots of photos. And if you can’t tell on TV, there’s no literal Bell that’s rung. It’s a digital bell that gets tapped by Brian after a ten-second countdown followed by more cheering. And that is it. Well, almost.
We follow the camera crew down into Times Square and crossed the street so the huge Nasdaq jumbo screen stands behind us. Then comes… you guessed it. More pictures. Lots of shots. Some with the five VIPs and Brian. Some individual shots. And some large group shots. They even do a surprise birthday shout out! And then we all turn and look at the jumbo screen and to everyone’s delight, the very pictures they just took flash on the jumbo screen.

 

A91I5579There I am. In the middle of Times Square. Looking at myself on the jumbo screen in Times Square! I’m still in shock that it even happened. And then it’s over. Well, pretty much.

 

But some of us return upstairs to pick up some fun goodies, like t-shirts, jackets, 20th Anniversary cookies, and for me… breakfast. Bacon never tasted so good. And I have to admit. I have another cup of coffee.

 

A91I5383And the part that I’m about to share might not make sense to some of you, but that’s okay. Everyone has a story. This is mine. And I want to tell the whole story, not leave anything out, because many years from now, when I’m long gone, like all of us, I will be remembered for something. And even though my childhood dream was to be an author, being acknowledged by Amazon at the Opening Bell of Nasdaq is an outstanding honor, and a fun-filled night in New York City is an absolute treat… these are not the things I want to be remembered for.

This is.

When we first arrived in the city, after exploring the hotel room, we ventured two blocks over through Times Square to Hillsong. And for my music-loving family, attending a service at the Playstation Theater is like going to a concert. But not one we just listen to, but one that we actively participate in. Because as I stood there under chandeliers staring down the row at my four girls, some with their hands raised, but all of them singing…I couldn’t help but get choked up. There were a million and one “fun” things to do in the city that never sleeps, and they chose to be here. They wanted to be here. Because life moves fast. Busy is everyone’s pace. But here… here was a chance to hit pause. And acknowledge why we breathe. How we breathe. The giver of every breath. Yes, God. And to thank him for his love. For his gift of forgiveness through his son, Jesus. And for his daily grace that sustains us through the madness of it all. This is what it’s all about for my girls, their dad, and me.

 

And all I could do was close my eyes and whisper the words, “Thank you.”

 

Thank you IMG_1301for meeting my girls. For showing them you’re real. More real than any and all the material blessings they do and will ever experience. Thank you for filling a place in their hearts that nothing or no one else can. And thank you for, in the words of my mother, “Keeping their feet on the ground and their heads held high.” This – loving my family and loving God – is what I want to be remembered for.

 

Well, I check out of my hotel at noon as planned after lots of thank you’s and a few hugs, Dio loads my luggage, and we’re off. He tells me all about the drive home the night before with my family. Apparently they were wiped out, and the car got really quiet when he rolled up to the house.

 

IMG_7767And when I arrive home, my bed is calling, but that isn’t an option quite yet. Not yet. I start dinner. Two need to be picked up from track. Another needs her hair done for the Spring Concert. And one needs a hug and reminding that she will get through this season of tests. Life stops for no one.

 

When my head hits the pillow, all I can think is Wow! A Mother’s Day full of bells and whistles. A weekend to remember. And a moment to reflect on what I want to be remembered for. Thank you.

 

A Cinderella Mother’s Day, Thanks to Amazon – Part One

MD3A text message streams across my phone like a messenger pigeon landing on my window sill, a prelude to an invitation.

“Sending you an email now with an exciting opportunity. Check it out and let me know.”

I know the sender. He is unlike the weatherman, because he always brings news of blue skies.

The subject of the email is, “Field Trip to NYC,” but I live in New York (Long Island, technically,) so my first reaction is confusion.

The email opens with, “You have been invited…” and it may as well have continued, “To The Royal Ball,” because who doesn’t like to be invited?

Amazon is celebrating 20 years as an IPO, and this Monday, the day after Mother’s Day, the CFO is ringing the Opening Bell on Nasdaq. About 40 people who work with Amazon will join in the festivities. My name made the list.

But it gets better.MD4 (1)

The next email arrives about a week ago, asking if I’m able to arrive timely on Monday morning. I reply with, “What time do I need to be there? There’s a LIRR train not too far from me I can catch. Once I know the time everything starts up, I can decide if there’s an early enough train.”

The response is a cc to a lovely lady named Nikki, telling her that, “Raj is a fantastic author who our team has worked with in the past… She needs a hotel room for Sunday night, please.” Hotel room? In the city? I mean, I won’t say no.

So Nikki graciously makes me a reservation at the Knickerbocker in Times Square.

But wait. Wait. It gets better.MD2

“Do you need ground transport to and from the hotel?”

I’m easy. I’ve been a New Yorker for close to two decades and very comfortable with the LIRR, the Subway, cabbing it. I might not have every inside scoop that true New Yorkers have but I can manage. I say so.

But the response is, “We’ll get you car service for both directions. No problem.” Uh. Okay. That’s thoughtful.

But wait. Wait. Wait. It just keeps getting better.

I run into my first scheduling conflict when I realize that this Sunday is Mother’s Day. I can’t just up and leave my kids on Mother’s Day of all days. I email Nikki and tell her a few different ideas I have, making sure that my goal for Sunday is to maximize my day with my family, feeling guilty for even asking if my kids come to the city with me. I was already so grateful for all the accommodations. Worse case scenario, hubby could drive the family in or I would head the city later on Sunday night. The response is, “Well, it doesn’t hurt to ask.”

Come Monday morning, the plan develops further, with requests for what time to pick up the whole family in a car. What time to drop off the family on Sunday night? And did we want car service to a restaurant in the city as well?

Too much! Too much! But so, so thankful. Overwhelmed with gratitude, because all the gifts—the invitation, the hotel, the car service, including my family—all good things. But the real treat is having my four girls with me to experience this special time with them. For them to know that a woman can be more than just a wife, a mom, a daughter, a sister, and a friend. A woman can move mountains with her dreams, and the topography is shifting, little by little. “Like a Girl” is the new Strong, and Brave, and Talented!

I also love that I get to celebrate this time with my biggest cheerleader—my husband. Sun has been telling every neighbor, co-worker, and person at the grocery store, “Hey, you know what? My wife! She’s gonna ring the bell on Wall Street.” Okay. Not quite. But he makes me laugh. And his confidence fills the gap when I doubt myself and worry if I have what it takes to make it as an author. He along with a constant supply of God’s grace, that is.

MD1So this Mother’s Day, we’re headed to the city. We’re going to pick up some take-out, play cards, and jump on the hotel bed. Well, my nine-year old might test it out for potential sleep satisfaction, of course. And if the rain holds up, we’ll venture out to the rooftop and take a peek at the city all lit up at night. The city that never sleeps never ceases to delight, even after all these years. And maybe we’ll sing the words while dancing to Alicia Keys,

“There’s nothing you can’t do. Now you’re in New York. These streets will make you feel brand new. Big Lights will inspire you. Hear it from New York. New York. New York!”

If I could ring a bell for all the women who have encouraged me along the way, I’d ring it nice and loud for my mother, my second mom, my sister, my grandmothers, and all the female friends who have walked this road of life with me. I love you all. Hope your weekends are filled with grace (and chocolate!) as you make memories with your loved ones.

 

Happy Mother’s Day, All! <3

Ten Advantages to Being a YA Author

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All Week, teen authors from around the country will land in NYC, the teen night club of cities, to share, discuss, and sign their young adult books. Come! Join us! Invite your friends! 

Here are just TEN advantages to being a teen author: 

  1. When you wake up to a little pink mountain on your left cheek, you can blame it on the hormone-raging world you choose to mentally live in for the sake of the cause. Clearly, the daily consumption of chocolate has nothing to do with you breaking out.

 

  1. When the radio plays your favorite song by Justin Bieber, you’re required to turn it up so you can hear it like a teenager. You can always sing, “Sorry,” later.

 

  1. When you get your news about the world from Snapchat, Facebook, and Instagram first, you pat yourself on the back for staying informed. Post. Like. Share. Repeat.

 

  1. When you show up an hour early at the midnight premier of the movie version of your favorite teen read and initiate the standing ovation when the credits roll, no one can tell your age in the dark, so you are good. Clap louder!

 

  1. When you shop at Forever 21, you can justify your purchases in the name of research. Never mind that Forever 29 is actually your middle name.

 

  1. When your weekly eating-out budget runs over because of frequent trips to Chipotle, Panera, or Starbucks, you look on the bright side. At least your mom didn’t have to cook tonight. Oh wait. You are the mom. Even better!

 

  1. When hours disappear after binge-watching several seasons of teen TV, you have just saved the world from repeat stories and been there-done that characters. And sure it was six straight hours, but back in the day, there were people who watched television with commercials. Talk about an outrageous waste of time.

 

  1. When you scream like a teenager after spotting Taylor Swift at the Knicks game, you don’t have to play it off as if you’re cheering on the team. In fact, when the coach assists a bleeding player off the court, stand up and cue your very best rendition of “Bad Blood.” I’ll sing the chorus with you.

 

  1. When your significant other asks you out in a text message, when you slow dance in the parking lot to the song on your car radio, or when you kiss each other in the rain, because let’s face it, a functioning umbrella is rarely in the right place at the right time—permission to fuel those falling in love scenes afresh. Because when you’re a teen author, it feels like the first time. Every time.

 

  1. When you read your books, you smile, because you get to write the books you love to read. The stories you wish existed when you were a teen. But do now. So Yay!

**

What did I miss? I’m sure there are plenty more! And if you read YA, what have you read lately? 

BTW, did you get your tickets to see Allegiant yet?? Counting down the days! 

 

Hubby’s Ironman Heart

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So the other night, I dreamt I slept with Ironman. Who says, dreams don’t come true?

In the morning, Hubby drives over to the hospital for his surgery. I sit in the passenger seat, fully aware that I will be his chauffeur for the next two weeks, which won’t be easy, because Hubs absolutely prefers to be in the driving seat. When we arrive at NorthShore in Manhasset, a couple of friends greet us. They came to be a support. Shortly afterward, Hubby’s family meets us in the waiting room, and between the company and all the texts and messages conveying well wishes—I certainly feel surrounded.

Off they whisk Santhosh for bloodwork and as we wait. Jack, whose wife has her fair share of frequent flyer miles in the hospital, says, “A lot of the time is just waiting.” Waiting for your turn. Waiting for the surgery to finish. Waiting for recovery. And then waiting for the green light to go home. It’s nice to not wait alone.

When the waiting room volunteer calls Santhosh’s name, all six of us stand up, and he puts his hand out to stop us. “Woah! Maybe one or two of you can come back there, but not everyone.” Jack insists I go first. And when I see him, Hubs is already gowned up and laying on a hospital bed, just waiting for his turn in the O.R.

“I asked the guy what time you were going in,” I tell Hubs. “He said the first guy showed up over an hour late, so even though you’re second, it’ll be a little bit.” I playfully tug on his chest hair. “This will probably set the whole schedule back a few hours, if you ask me.” Hubs laughs, so I add, “Wait. Hold still,” as I fish out my lipliner. “Should I draw a big X over your heart so they won’t miss?” and we laugh some more.

Papers signed and prayers said, the surgeon shows up to answer any last second questions. They’re putting in a sub-cutaneous defibrilator or ICD to give his heart a fighting chance if the fibrosis from the HCM (hypertrophic cardiomyopathy) causes an arrhythmia.

“You might never need it,” Dr. B., the surgeon says, “But if you do, you’ll have it.” And with all we’ve learned about hubby’s condition in the last six months, this seems like the best next step to moving forward. The doc also explains, “This device will sit under your skin, under the left arm, and the wires will run across and up your chest and sit above the ribcage, not touching or entering the heart muscle as in devices of the past.”

I ask, “How big is it?” and he makes a two by two square box with his fingers and then a centimeter space between two fingers to show the thickness, but assures us, “As the years go on, technology will get better and the ICD will get smaller and the battery life longer.”

Hubby’s brother brings a ’91 Bulls Championship cap to show his baby brother because he knows him well – pretty much anything to do with the Bulls cheers Santhosh up. Jack tells a few stories, and Hubby’s mom insists we take a few pictures.

A kiss. A look. And they roll Hubby down to the OR while the rest of us head to get coffee. Hubby’s mom stays with me, telling me stories which makes the time go by rather quickly. When two hours pass, we walk back to the waiting room, and sit down, but I recognize my need to be alone and tell Amma, “I’m right outside,” exit the room, and pace up and down the hallway.

Worry suddenly floods my mind: He should be done by now. What’s taking so long? Has something gone wrong? Why hasn’t anyone come out to talk to us? As the tears begin to spill, I pour out my fears to the one who knows my every thought, and as I pray, the tears just keep coming like a dam break I cannot contain. Pacing and crying. Crying and pacing, finally, I catch sight of the surgeon approaching the waiting room.

Deep breath. “You’re just the person I’ve been looking for,” I tell him, and he smiles. Then he assures me hubby did great.

“And the device works great. We tested it, and it worked on the first try.”

I saw hubby’s expression as the surgeon explained earlier that they would create a situation where he would need the ICD in order to test it. Santhosh’s face said it all. He knew that meant to make his heart have an irregular rythm in order to see if the ICD would correct it.

Maybe Dr. B. saw the worry on my face, because he followed with, “Don’t worry, he was completely out when we tested it, and he’s still pretty groggy with the anesthesia. Someone will come and get you when they roll up him to recovery.”

He walks in and talks to Santhosh’s mom, conveying the good news, and I walk back outside to call my Dad. Dad barely picks up his phone and I am a hot mess, trying to hide it, but he knows I’m crying right away. “What’s wrong? Is he okay? Is everything okay?” Dad asks.

“Yes. Everything’s great. Everything went fine.”

“Then why are you crying?”

And all I can say is, “I don’t know.” But as I hang up with my dad, I know. I’m simply overwhelmed. Maybe I’ve been holding it in. It is so real now. Hubby really has some crazy device inside him now. And from now on, he can no longer go through airport metal detectors. That’s just one of the changes we will deal with from now on.

But I don’t cry with just anyone. Something about talking to my dad, and later when he calls me back and asks, “How’s my crybaby doing?” I thank him for being there for me when I needed a shoulder to cry on, even if it was over the phone. And I make sure to laugh and tell him, “I’m good now.”

Several hours later, Santhosh is finally alert enough to talk, a huge ace bandage wrapped around most of his chest. Just as predicted, they shaved his whole chest, and he recounts the prep team’s poking fun at my man of many hairs. One guy said the classic, “Time to take the sweater off,” while another joked, “Get a few razors. Heck bring the whole bag.” But he can’t laugh, because laughing hurts. Any movement hurts right now.
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Nine o’clock rolls around by the time a room opens up, and the girls are able to visit him. And Sarah, our youngest, asks some poignent questions while eyeing her dad in the hospital gown under the covers. “So… are you wearing underwear under there?” is her first. Twenty minutes later: “Is it weird to sleep naked?” And finally, “Are you sure you don’t want to put on some shorts, Daddy?”

Questions answered, good night kisses given, we leave hubby to rest and drive home to sleep.

The next day, I drive back to the hospital and wait for hubby to get discharged.

When hubby first received his surgery day, Sarah and I went straight to the toy store on a secret mission. We came back and after dinner gave Hubby the goods. When he unwrapped the package, he smiled ear to ear as he ran his fingers over Ironman’s heart. “I think I’ll grow out my goatee like Tony Stark to make it official,” he said, and we all gave him the thumbs up.

As we drove home the day after his surgery, I asked him, “How does your body not react to the device? I mean, it’s a foreign device inside you?”

“It’s made of Titanium,” Hubs says, a metal that the body does not generally fight off for medical reasons I haven’t looked up yet.

Then Hubby Google’s Ironman, and says, “I guess you were spot on.”

“About what?” I’m driving so I don’t know what he’s reading.

“Ironman’s suit.” Hubby smiles. “Guess what it’s made of.” And together we say it.

“Titanium.”

When we arrive home, I leave to pick up some pain meds, which he needs asap as the earlier dose is quickly wearing off. And we’re taking every moment in stride. I joke with how he should enjoy this royal treatment. “It’s not every day I get to help you put your socks on.”

He says, “This is what it will be like when we grow old together.” And all I can think is, I hope that we can grow old together now that you have an ICD, but I know full well, every day is a gift. There are no guarantees.

But I thank God for today. For my Sunshine making it through surgery. For being surrounded by friends and family. And for a chance to keep moving forward with Cycling for Change. Because Hope changes everything. I’m aware of the power of hope more than ever these days. It’s time to share it.

Amazon Found Me! And Wrote About my Books!

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Just thought I’d share this fun news with all my readers!

Last summer, I received an email from a guy who worked for Amazon. I must admit, I didn’t believe it was legit at first, even with “Amazon” in his email address. But the letter was long and sweet, thoughtful and very encouraging—and this Editor from Amazon read my first book, Swimming Through Clouds! And he loved it!

I boldly asked him if he read the sequel and he hadn’t. Yet. A few days later I received another email raving about Seeing Through Stones. He wanted to talk to me. So I dialed his number and we had a lengthy conversation about my short but exciting writing career. And he wanted to know more, so he asked if he could interview me formally and propose an article to his manager to be published on Amazon’s site.

He wanted to share my story with Amazon customers, and October came along and hubby had to travel to Seattle for business. I joined him, and at this point, four months had passed and no interview with the Amazon guy happened. I once again boldly emailed my new friend over at Amazon, and said, “You know, I’ll be in the neighborhood if you still want to do that interview. We could do it in person rather than on the phone.” He agreed.  And with Amazon headquarters right there in Seattle, he worked a few blocks from our hotel so we met downtown, and he showed me his Amazon badge, and even up to this point, I wondered if this whole thing was real.

Then he said, “It’s such a beautiful day. We should find a place that Talia and Lagan would want to go to do the interview,” and we walked a short distance to the only ‘park’ in the city. One that did not have a willow, and during the summer did have a waterfall, but it was turned off at this point. I was touched by this alone and then we sat at a table and talked for over an hour, his laptop and mic set up, and the backround of traffic off in the distance.

It was a sweet interaction and maybe I’m just used to being open, but I answered all his questions and felt comfortable to tell him the ups and downs of my publishing journey. When we rose to part ways, he walked me back half way to my hotel since it was on the way to Amazon and this is the part that I’ll never forget. The direction of the interview changed and he shared a very tough time that he had gone through. I was moved by his vulnerabilty, and I was reminded one more time why I write. Because this life is tough to navigate. The extremes of what we go through catch us off guard and we fumble and fall as we try to walk through another day of madness. These are the stories I want to write so that, maybe, together, we can learn how to walk these waters. And swim through the clouds of life, together.

Months go by, and as in most big companies, things take time, and there were certainly days when I doubted anything would come of the interview. But the story is now live and  ready for your reading and listening and sharing!

Thanks always for all the book love and support!

Stay true. Stay real. And love while today is called today.

-Raj

LINK to ARTICLE: https://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html?docId=1002999561

Learning to Live with Cardiomyopathy – Take One

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So we venture into New York City together yesterday. The trip on the Long Island Railroad we usually take for dates is to meet with a cardiomyopathy specialist, Dr. Mark Sherrid. When we reach Penn Station, we follow signs for the subway, and after filing through the turnstile, I hear a train so I race down the steps and yell back to hubby to hurry. “It’s our train!”

 

But he’s still at the top of the steps. The first train rides off, but a second arrives moments later. Hubby steps on and I follow. Then he looks back, reads a sign, and announces that we’re on the wrong train. “This one’s going to Brooklyn!”

 

So I jump off, but the doors close. And hubby’s still on. Well, all of him but his hand. Pulling out my Superhero cape, I quickly reach into that tight opening and attempt to pry the doors open, all the while thinking I’m about to say goodbye. We’ll be separated and have to find a way to meet back up.
But the doors open and hubby jumps off. Only to realize that that was the correct train, and we panicked for nothing. But man did we have a good laugh. Laughed so hard at the drama and the whole scenario, especially my ridiculous attempt to rescue him.

 

When we arrive at the doctor’s office after a much needed coffee run, a very bright NP spends a long time with us, going over hubby’s history and how his diagnosis was discovered, and then we move to an examining room. This is the first time I watch hubby get an EKG on his heart. Poor guy has to get a couple new patches on his chest shaved. And as I watch him lay there with his eyes closed while the machine pitches out his rhythm, I fall in love again.

 

And when the EKG nurse leaves, hubby steps off the table and holds up a random sign laying on the desk, and says, “Time for a selfie?” I shake my head no, tickled that he still finds a way to make me laugh even here. In this moment when we both knew this is serious.

 

When the doc comes in, he chats for a bit, and then begins to examine hubby, and when hubby sits up, the doc says, “Archery. You should consider taking up archery. Think you’d be good at it.”

We all laugh. “I’ve always liked Legolas from Lord of the Rings. Sure. I could try it,” Hubby says.

 

But all I can think is I know why the cardiologist said it. Archery doesn’t require running fast. It won’t make Hubby’s heart beat too fast. Or work too hard.

 

When hubby asks him a question about athletic heart, the doc begins to listen to hubby’s heart with a stethoscope. “Shhhhh,” the doc answers, and I see Hubby’s face.
His raised eyebrows say, “Did I just get shushed?”

 

And I smile back. Yep. My baby just got shushed.

 

After a few more questions about hubby’s history, we move to the doctor’s office and take a look at the Echo and MRI images, and I feel like I’m in a med school lab. I have never understood what is what on the screen until the cardiologist points to the chambers and then zeroes in on the septum. “See here.” Then he takes a virtual ruler and measures the thickness. “It’s close to 18 mm.”

 

And the number is only a couple of a millimeters worse than what we originally thought. But when you’re talking the area inside of your heart, every millimeter of extra muscle is that much less space for blood to flow through. The larger number feels like a punch in the gut for me. I want him to change it. But then he measures the same area on the MRI images and the numbers are similar, and everything hits me harder than the first time. Maybe because now it isn’t just a number on a paper, but right there in front of my eyes is hubby’s heart. Beating. Pumping. Hurting. Broken.

 

Dr. Sherrid then begins to talk about what Hubby’s next steps are. How he should exercise in moderation. But no more competitive sports. No more biking up hill. No more push-ups or pull ups. In fact, no more lifting any weights over fifty pounds. Sarah-Bear, our youngest, is close to forty pounds. Grateful for the last fourteen years when hubby carried each of our girls. Some days all four at once.

 

Aware that those days are over, I try to focus on what hubby can do. He can still bike. On flat paths. He can still kayak. On quiet waters. He can still do a lot. I am so thankful for all this. I nod as the doctor talks about how important it is for hubby to realize that he will now work out to stay fit, not to make his heart better. He can’t make his heart better. But he can hopefully help his heart not to get worse.

 

One glance is all it takes. A tear. Then two slip down hubby’s cheek. And I can’t keep looking at him, because now I’m tearing up too. Fighting to gain my composure, I ask the doctor, “How often should he follow-up?” and Dr. Sherrid, his eyes downcast, says, “Once a year.”

 

And as we rise from our chairs, the doc says, “Just remember. No one leaves this life unscathed. We all have to go through something. Keep your perspective.”

 

Dr. Sherrid was warm. Funny. Wise. And spoke with the authority that his years of experience gave him. And we both walk out of there knowing he’s right. We are one of the lucky ones. We found out about hubby’s condition while his heart still beats. We know what it means to count our blessings. We hold on tightly to the one who blesses. Who gives and takes away.

 

And as we walk back to Columbus Circle, I thank God again for being so real during a time when I need to know for sure. And as we ride back on the train I tell hubby, “Man, God sure does love you.” And then I correct myself. “Actually, it’s all about me. It always has been since I’m God’s favorite. The mess of a mess that I am, God just knew I’d be such a worse mess without you.”

 

Hubby laughs.

 

“So a little longer?” I ask.
He nods.

 

Thank you God for a little longer. Thank you.

 

One Heartbeat at a Time

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My Sunshine and I endured a one-hour road trip down winding roads, around mountainsides, past palm trees and street vendors selling mangos and star fruit, guava and passion fruit. All because the only OB on the island of Dominica that had a functioning sonogram machine was in the capital city of Roseau. Except that when we arrived, the machine was down. Five months passed, and aside from the nausea and food aversions, I still wondered if I really was pregnant.

 

When we arrived back in the States, and Hubs came with me to my first appointment with an OB in Michigan, the doctor covered my tummy with a cool gel and then pointed to the screen. “Hear that?”

 

The whooshing sound grew stronger as she moved the device.

 

“Your baby has a lovely heart beat!” she said, and the tears began to flow and when I looked over to hubby, he was tearing up too.

 

This was for real. We were really pregnant, and this baby was on her way. Her heart beating was the song I had longed to hear for all these months, and it was even more amazing and precious than I had dreamed it would be.

 

When our second princess was born, the doctor told us she had a heart murmur and she would very possibly outgrow it. She did.

 

On Monday, December 8, 2014, I had just dropped off my youngest at school when hubby texted for me to please come home. He needed to talk to me. I left my laptop in the car, thinking whatever it was, I could hear him out and then get on with my day and my writing. Barely inside the front door, hubby met me and pulled me into his arms as he barely managed to say the words, “Julie’s son, Mikey.”

 

“What is it? What’s wrong? Is he hurt? Has there been an accident?”

 

But he only said two words, “His heart.”

 

And as we wept in silence before going over to our dear friend’s house, I couldn’t wrap my mind around what none of us could change. Twenty-five year old Michael Gomez, Division One Wrestling hero, State Champion, coach, and up and coming police officer had a heart attack in his sleep, and an entire community hurt deeply for the loss of such a treasure. And for the pain of two parents, two younger brothers, grandparents and all those who were grappling with the devastation.

 

It was a long week as funeral preparations were underway, and during the service, whatever each person heard, no one walked out of there without the sober reminder that no one is guaranteed tomorrow. Each day is a gift. Each heart beat.

 

During this particular week, hubby who had been training for the past sixteen months to cycle from Seattle to New York City started a work up on his own heart in search of an explanation to an abnormal stress test he had—one in which he felt little to no discomfort, but the readings clearly showed a lack of blood supply to his heart when his pulse reached 160. But when he stepped off the treadmill, it took fifteen minutes for this to go away and a normal flow to return.

 

One test lead to another and with each step, it seemed that maybe it was just a false positive or maybe the machine was broken. I suggested his generous gift of chest hairs interfered with the readings. His coronaries were clean, and he’d never felt so fit in his whole life. The final test was an MRI on his heart, and the cardiologists and hubby felt pretty certain it would be fine too, and they’d have to somehow dig deeper. But then the MRI Tech called for him to return to get more images.

 

This whole time, I felt at peace. But that afternoon when I got the text that he had to go back in for more pictures, my panic button went off. Why did they need more pictures? What did they see? I needed to talk to someone. Someone I could cry with. So I called my parents. And as I spoke with Mom and Dad, I told them my fears, and they listened, encouraged me, and made me laugh, and called me, Crybaby. When my mom asked me, “Why are you crying?”

 

I said, “I don’t know. I just needed to cry. So I called you.” And she passed the phone back to my dad. He reminded me to trust God and just be patient.

 

The next day after hubby came out of his second MRI, I knew from the look on his face that he knew something. They saw something. And as we sat in the car, he told me that the tech suspected thickening of his septum (the middle passageway in the heart) and the diagnosis was very likely cardiomyopathy.
When he got the official report the next day, hubby met me outside and this was the first time in two weeks of testing that he broke down. We made our way to the kitchen table as he read the report to me and explained the terms to me. He has hypertrophic cardio myopathy, and there’s no way he can cycle across the country. Moreover, he can’t really do anything right now to make his heart work too hard while we wait it out and let his muscles inside his heart hopefully return to a healthier thickness.

 

Telling the girls wasn’t easy, but our second princess offered to wake up twenty minutes early so he and she could walk to school together. J Walking is safe for hubby to do. And in the midst of tears around the dinner table, my fifteen-year old nephew who was visiting for Christmas Googles something on his iPod and says, “I know this is really sad news, but I want to encourage you.” And he proceeded to share verses from the Bible on God’s grace and hope and love for his uncle at this time. The words were like rays on sunshine piercing through our cloud-covered hearts.

 

FullSizeRender-1So these days, we are counting our blessings. First and foremost, hubby is still with us. The diagnosis was found fairly early. He’s still leading the c4c Cycling for Change team, just from a driver’s seat of the RV now. And he just fixed the leak under the kitchen sink, for which he earned a Superman coffee mug. He’s my hero, even if the sink still leaked. Because maybe there’s something wrong with hubby’s heart from a medical perspective, but sometimes I wonder if his heart became too strong, not from all the cycling or some genetic disposition but rather from loving me so hard. And so much.

 

And as we lay in bed on the morning of the New Year, I said, “Good Morning. I want to dedicate a song to you for 2015.” And then I pressed play on my phone as Smokey Robinson broke it down for us. “One Heartbeat at a Time.”

 

Because sixteen years ago, we vowed, “To have and to hold, for better for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health…” And as I dropped off hubby to the airport this morning for a class, he sent me a text after he got through security.

 

“Love you! Thanks for being my rock! For what for you foreva!”

 

Because that’s how our love story started. We promised to wait for each other. And now we continue to wait on God. As God unravels this new chapter, we wait as He helps us to understand Hubby’s new normal. Our new normal. And for as many heartbeats as he gives Hubby, I’m so thankful to be the one to get to hold his hand. Be held in his arms. And walk this life with him.

 

One heartbeat. At a time.

 ***

And you? Have you been needing a word of hope and encouragement during this new year? What challenges are you facing? How can I pray for you?

 

 

Top Ten Reasons to Remember 9/11

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Some say you shouldn’t dwell on the past. Others say why bring up the sad moments. Move on. Let’s talk about happy things and not keep bringing it up.

I used to call myself an optimist, looking for that positive spin on everything. Now, I’m more of a live-life-ist. Because every day will not run to the beat of #Happy. But we have to keep going. Keep living. And still value each day and each other.

Here are my TOP TEN Reasons to Remember 9/11:

  1. WE came together to mourn. If all the tears shed the days and nights those first year filled the valleys of the Rockies they would reach the peeks and overflow. Many times.
  2. WE came together to search. For weeks on end, firefighters, police, and lay people spent day and night, enduring smoke inhalation and the dangers of the rubble, hoping to find even one survivor. Beds were set up at hospitals across the city and Brooklyn. We didn’t want to give up.
  3. WE came together to comfort each other. I don’t know how many strangers I hugged during those weeks in NYC. And many hugged me.
  4. WE came together to care for those left behind. Donations were taken up for survivors and those who lost loved ones. Meals were shared. We gave and gave, even when we knew we couldn’t replace the greatest loss.
  5. WE came together to rebuild. When the dust had settled, and the search was called off, we began the painful process of rebuilding. Two incredible reflecting pools lay where the towers fell and the Freedom Tower soars above the NYC skyline, an emblem of endurance.
  6. WE came together to rethink things. What does it mean to be safe? How can we keep each other safe from future attacks? How can be more aware of those around us and be there when we see someone in trouble.
  7. WE came together to learn what it means to stand up and fight back. Especially from people like Todd Beamer.
  8. We came together to remember what we value. Not tall buildings. Communication. Family. Friends. Neighbors. Each other.
  9. We came together to live again. Even in the face of fear. We chose and we continue to choose to keep going. And endure.
  10. We came together.

**

If you lost someone during 9/11, my heart goes out to you. None of us will ever forget that day. Where we were. When we first heard. How we saw the towers fall. But I hope, after thirteen years and for all the years to come, as we reflect on this tragedy in our history, we will also remember one thing:

We came together.

***

Rajdeep Paulus, Award-winning author of Swimming Through Clouds and Seeing Through Stones, decided to be a writer during her junior year in high school after her English teacher gave her an “F” but told her she had potential. She studied English Literature at Northwestern University, and she writes masala-marinated, Young Adult Fiction, blogging for MasalaMommas, Brown Girl Magazine, Playlist Fiction, Nomi Network and her own site at rajdeeppaulus dot com.

TOP Ten Things to FEAR While Biking Across the Country

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At the beginning of the summer, the thirty second videos started rolling in. Then celebrities began jumping on board and tagging other celebrities. And then by mid summer, I think more than half my FB posts were images of ice water dumped on beautiful dry heads. And then screams. And water exploding from my screen, it’s a wonder my laptop didn’t short-circuit. 😉 The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Summer will stay with us forever. And all for such a great cause! We have lost some very dear friends to ALS and like many diseases, would love to see the cure found in our lifetimes.

So, if you’re like me, you’re wondering what the next BIG thing will be on Facebook. The NEXT Challenge if you will? Well, we over here at C4C2015 have been searching high and low to come up with something everyone can do that would be a fresh symbol of the fight against human trafficking. But nothing beats the X across the back of your hand. That’s pretty loud and clear. And we thought about asking the public to put a cupcake on their head and bike one hundred feet without losing that tiny bit of yummy goodness. BUT not everyone has a bike. And you have to bake a cupcake just to watch it sail off your head to the world of dirt and grime. Welll, that is just a bit much to ask of anyone, in my opinion.

Instead. We’re gonna make it easy for you. No bucket. No ice. And no cupcakes. Just a few minutes of your time and that cash laying around the house that you would have blown at Starbucks anyway. Would you think about these INSANE CHALLENGES the C4C2015 team will face next summer and give a small donation to the team? Even $10 makes a difference. 

TOP TEN THINGS TO FEAR WHILE BIKING ACROSS THE COUNTRY:

1. Flat Tires. It will most likely happen, with all the miles that these bike tires have to cover every day. So the test will be on dismounting timely so the frame doesn’t get damaged and the bikers don’t get hurt. And then finding the puncture and patching it up and getting back on the road quickly.

Or Chains Falling Off. On an uphill. Or even worse, a mountain. Where the edge of the road is a cliff with a crazy drop off. That will be more than frustrating. SO the guys need to gear shift in a timely fashion and help each other out in those moments.

2. Potholes, gravel, and litter on the road. Would love to believe that all the roads the team will bike over are newly paved and in stellar condition, but that would be naive. So they guys need to look down. Once in awhile and make sure they’re not about to run over broken glass or broken roads that ressemble black diamond level moguls on a ski hill. It’ll be interesting to hear the team’s POST-ride report of Top Ten Strangest Finds on the Side of the Road while Biking Across the Country. Something tells me Chicago will have the coolest find. But I guess I’m a bit biased. :)

3. Deer. And Goats. And Bears, Oh My. Seriously hope they see some cool wildlife while treking across the country. And catch some footage on a GoPro camera without crashing. BUT I also hope they don’t have too many Close Encounters of the dangerous kind. Because I’m pretty sure bears can move faster than bikers. Especially on an uphill.

FOLLOW LINK TO c4c2015.com for the rest of the LIST! :)