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! 

 

Top Ten Reasons to Remember 9/11

911_remember_neverforget-654187

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.

Landing the Plane – A 9.11 Post

Photo Credit: Chris Bopp of Bopp Shots

Photo Credit: Chris Bopp of Bopp Shots

So I have this pilot friend. Who chooses to remain anonymous. So for the sake of the story, let’s call him “Bill.”

I met Bill on the flight back from Alaska, on our ten year anniversary. Hubs fell asleep before the plane took off, and I can never sleep on planes. Bill sat across the aisle, sporting his Pilot uniform and American Airlines pin. So I couldn’t help but introduce myself. And get the inside scoop on all things Blue Skies.

“So they say planes are super safe. Safer than driving. Is it true?”

“Oh for sure. The safest you are is in the air.” Bill was happy to engage this curious insomniac. “Then when you land, and cab it down the LIE in Queens, that’s the more dangerous than playing outside during a lightning storm.”

“Really? By the way, hi, my name’s Rajdeep. But you can call me Raj.” Because I hate having long and meaningful conversations with people and tagging the “Bye, I’ll never see you again. Oh and by the way, my name is…” on the end.

“Bill. You can call me, umm, Bill, for short.” Continue reading

Change and Charge – AIF Awards Gala 2013

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Shimmer of swaying saris, crisp rustle of tuxedos and Nehru Suits, Masala Mama in her navy blue business attire walked into the Central Park Ballroom at the New York Sheraton with one goal in mind: to find a story. Disclaimer up front—I am not a journalist. I’m just about people, and I love hearing their stories. And if given permission, to share them. In order to touch, tickle and transform. That’s what the waterfalls of this life do for me, and I’m all about sharing. When I find something or someone wonderful, how dare I hoard my treasure chest.

Attended the Reception at the American India Foundation (AIF) Awards Gala last night and woke up still thinking about the stories I heard. The people I met. The laughter shared, the bridges crossed and the bridges built. In the midst of conversation and clinking glasses, I was reminded of the sweet taste of new friends and fresh dreams. And what dreams look like when they become a reality.

American India Foundation’s mission is “to accelerate social and economic change in India.” The evening was dedicated to three such individuals: namely, Ajay BangaAmartya SenRadhika Roy, and Prannoy Roy.

All four recipients continue to contribute to social and economic justice, but I wanted to meet Ajay Banga. I had read about his travels to South Africa and the catalyst of change Mastercard has become in a country on its road to recovery, and I looked forward to hearing his thoughts on life there, Post-Apartheid.

Spotted Mr. Banga when the crowd had thickened, and a swarm of fans surrounded him instantly, cameras flashing overhead. One camera. Photographs were strictly prohibited so I tucked away my iPhone and vowed to make eye contact. As I weaved my way past the hustle and bustle, I thought to myself, what am I going to say to the CEO of such a prosperous company that will cause him to give me the time of day. I considered telling a white lie.

“Hi, I’m a reporter from CNN and this tiny interview will air internationally tonight. You know you want to talk to me.” Don’t iReports count?

I settled for, “Hi. What are you drinking tonight?” Continue reading

Five Minute Manhattan… Part 3

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Tummies full of Ethiopian yummies, iPhone fully charged, Hubs and I head out of the restaurant Awash with one goal. Each. Hubs wants to get to Barclay’s early to watch the Bulls warm up. I want dessert.

Cuz what’s a birthday without cake. But I want something better. Rice pudding. But not just any rice pudding. The delicious, out of this world, original concoctions of Rice to Riches, the best (besides my mom’s) rice pudding on earth. Or at least in New York City.

It’s only 4:30PM and the game doesn’t start till 7:00PM so I feel like we have a lot to time to make a pit stop.

“I want to be at the stadium by 5:00PM.” Hubs has a schedule.

“Look! Rice to Riches is on the same train line. It’s perfect.” I’m thrilled. Hubs rolls his eyes. Continue reading

Five Minute Manhattan… Part Two

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Trying to capture the swan in the Central Park pond.

Left Alice’s Tea Cup, tummy full of tea and sparkles in my hair. Off to Central park we go, to walk off pumpkin pancake calories and to share one spot in New York City we still get lost in. And for that reason, we actually walk down the west side of Central Park for some time, from 74th to 103rd, just chatting about life, kids, this and that. The sun is shining and my hand is tucked through Hub’s arm, in his sweatshirt pocket. Love this time we can just stroll arm in arm without a care in the world. No where to rush to. No one to answer to.


Until nature calls. All that tea… It was inevitable. So we venture into the park in search of a public bathroom. The closest one is behind the tennis courts and as Hubs heads toward the men’s room, he says, “Five minutes. You have five minutes to write your next blog.” Continue reading

Five Minute Manhattan

photo 1-1Can’t believe my birthday week is over. Just like that. Not too long ago, I hated my birthday. But then I met someone who hated his birthday more. And we entered a war to outdo each other in changing each other’s minds. And getting the other person to love, or at least like, his (her-in my case) birthday. That person became my Hubs. Almost fifteen years later, and there’s no day I look forward to more. Well, except for Easter. And this has nothing to do with the Peeps who made Peeps, the worst possible distortion of the original, perfectly fine just the way it is, marshmallow. I am not a fan. Of Peeps, that is. [Sorry if I offend. Yes. I’m talking to you, BFE! :) ]

But my birthday. Sun has turned that frown up-side down and sent her dancing. Simply LOVE my birthday now. And gifts don’t even come into play. Cuz my love language (the one I hear the loudest) is quality time. And each year, he takes time to wow me with a fun day of surprises. An all day date, that always starts with the best ingredient: A good cup of coffee! 

But funny thing is, this year we start with Tea. Enter Manhattan and Hubs and I walk down W. 72nd street, right past—”Wait!” I say. “I’ve always wanted to go to Alice’s Tea Cup!”—Alice’s Tea Cup. Continue reading

Just Five Minutes

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This is Love.

To tell you the truth, it takes  a lot longer than FIVE minutes to type up an itty-bitty blog on my iPhone. Although, I haven’t tried to dictate the words to Siri, who still thinks “Raj” is “Rise” so I’m not holding my breath on that option.

Anyway, I write my first-five minute blog yesterday on the LIRR, heading to Manhattan, and Hubs sits next to me, amused. At first. After six. Then ten. Then twenty minutes of fixing all the words Auto-correct thinks I meant to say, I round out the five sentence story and hit SEND. Off to impress the socks off readers everywhere, because who doesn’t have five minutes to spare?

I promise to tell you all the details of our ultra-fun, topsy-turvy, full of “No way!… WAY!”-moments date, but first: The value of five minutes as I’ve experienced this past week, leading up to yesterday.

This past Tuesday, I make plans to attend a book reading of Ashok Rajamani, the author of the memoir “The Day My Brain Exploded” at a Barnes and Noble in the city. But I haven’t been to a bookstore in a while, so I decide to arrive plenty early to read and research popular Young Adult novels currently circulating the hands of teens. The train two minutes from my house, according to the LIRR website, leaves at 12:35PM. I leave my house at 12:27PM. Sure. I probably didn’t need to zap my coffee those last 30 seconds. But what can I say, sometimes a girl just has to have her coffee. Warm. Continue reading