Cruise with Mona…And Babies

My name is Julia. I was seven months old when my grandparents took us on a cruise. My cousin Olivia and I were the only two babies on the ship.

Cruise muster drills are mandatory safety briefings that all passengers must attend before the ship is allowed to sail. Before sailing, Daddy outfitted me with a life jacket to make sure I would be safe in case of emergency.

On the very first night, Olivia ruined her parents’ dinner by whining, crying, and displaying a high fever—a possible risk when traveling with small children. She paid a visit to the local clinic and was treated with antibiotics.

Here is Olivia crawling through the connecting balconies to come and visit me.

Thankfully, she recovered in no time, enjoyed the rest of the cruise and even managed to celebrate her first birthday on the ship.

Nothing beats a day spent at the beach, on a gorgeous Caribbean Island.

This was our parents’ first cruise too and they were determined to enjoy it. They took several tours, discovering the water fall, snorkeling and scuba diving.

Luckily we had adoring grandparents. While our parents went ashore, Nonno and Nonna spent the day with us, ambled around the ship, each pushing a stroller, or sat at a table around the pool each feeding a baby, or lounged on a deck with a sweetheart in their arms, sucking on a bottle. The passengers would stop by, cooing over us.

We explored the ship with Nonno and Nonna and admired the masterpieces sculpted by the cooks and their helpers.

Around four o’clock, the parents collected their little bundles and got ready for dinner. Before the cruise, Nonna had sent us appropriate sailing outfits and adorable dresses.

Our Mommies took us to the casino where we tried our hands at blackjack and crab, and won big time– I mean won big applause.

On formal night, we put on the pretty dresses Nonna had offered us. We were as pretty as can be.

In the dining room the family was assigned a table for eight in a corner at the end of the huge dining room, as far as possible from the other tables. Two high chairs waited for us with colorful balloons flying above. Several waiters hovered around our table, ready to pick up the forks or spoons, napkins or plastic glasses falling down. Forget about the crumbles carpeting the floor around our high chairs.

Do you know many kids who have the chance to celebrate their first birthday on a cruise? The night we celebrated Olivia’s birthday, the whole crew of waiters and all the passengers sang Happy Birthday, dear Olivia.

Unfortunately everything must come to an end. Our first cruise was so much fun and way too short. Of course, we don’t remember anything but our grandparents swear it was the best cruise of their lives.

WE’RE ALL TOGETHER, (Love Plans Series, book 15)

#Preorder Release Day November 7 —– A generous computer expert, Greg Haynes navigates life without worries or responsibilities. After experiencing pain and betrayal, Heidi Benton focuses on her law studies with one purpose in life, to graduate and get her revenge. The threat of a hurricane hitting the island forces everyone to evacuate and turns Greg and Heidi’s lives upside down, displacing their priorities for the sake of two orphaned children.

Changing Direction

During difficult times, we remain frozen in one place and moving seems almost impossible. We focus on what we can’t do rather than do something different, and yet changing directions may bring up new opportunities and open new doors.

A needed change, a ‘turning point’ in a novel, a ‘momentum shift’ in tennis games, a career shift or life change in real life. No one can predict if they will be good or bad, but rather than being stuck in a hole that can get deeper over time, why not try something else that can make us move forward?

I made several career shifts in my life. After graduating with a pharmacy degree, I trained in a local pharmacy and was bored out of my mind, filling prescriptions all day long. My first shift came as I enrolled in a master degree program in analytical chemistry, graduated and worked, and enjoyed life in the lab until the task took its toll on my back.

One day, I woke up with an excruciating pain in my back and left leg. Unable to walk, I crawled into my car and rushed to the emergency room of the nearest hospital. The x-rays and CT-scan showed a slipped disc in my vertebral column. Painkillers did not help. After a three-month bed rest, I had to wear a special brace around my lower back. The company granted me a six-month sick leave. “No more standing on your feet in a lab. Change career,” my doctor ordered.

As soon as I could walk without pain, I applied for the PhD program in Analytical Chemistry and threw myself wholeheartedly in the student life again. Dressed in blue jeans and t-shirt, I multitasked, driving the children to after-school activities and waiting for them with a book in my hand. Four arduous years, numerous exams, and several published papers finally led to graduation.

While still on campus, I received a phone call from a recruiter who wanted to interview graduating PhD students for a managerial position in the analytical laboratory of an environmental company. I was hired by the CEO to start a lab, buy the needed instruments, and hire the right staff.

From day one, I decided to never let anyone derail me from my goal: to make this laboratory productive and successful. While supervising the lab operations, I wrote many proposals and won several contracts. I convinced the CEO to build six new labs and interviewed many chemists and technicians, and carefully explained the pressure of laboratory life. To their credit, my chemists rarely complained about the long hours spent to analyze samples of hazardous water and soil waste materials. They did an excellent job, and the good reputation of our lab soon spread around. We received contracts from different government agencies, and applied for several state certifications.

International contracts took me to Minsk, Belarus; Kiev and Uman in Ukraine; to Almati and Stepnogorsk in Kazakhstan; to Moscow, St. Petersburg and Sergei Possad in Russia. Each new project presented more challenges due to clash of cultures, different languages, and work habits.

Soon I realized that I was at the end of my rope. Working an average of ten hours a day for so many years, I reached as high as I could go in my career in analytical chemistry. It was time to take an early retirement and fulfill another dream: I wanted to write and publish romance novels.

I gathered the staff for a last meeting and informed them of my decision. During the farewell speech, I could not hold my tears and many of my chemists cried too. They had become my second family.

Turning the page, I concentrated on my new goal. To write novels and compete in the publishing industry, I bought grammar and writing books, and once again I started at the bottom of the ladder. I sent an email to Debbie Macomber, my favorite romance author, who advised me to join the Romance Writers of America (RWA). At the monthly meetings of the RWA local chapter, I met published authors and beginners. We formed critique groups and helped each other, until I gathered the courage to submit excerpts of my writing to various publishers. After receiving my share of rejection letters for five years, one finally offered me a contract.

Through my first novel To Love a Hero released in 2008, I practically relived my fantastic trips to Belarus. Many of the adventures I experienced in Minsk are related in my book. Several more books followed, set in the fascinating places I visited during my business or vacation travels. In 2011, I tried my hand at self-publishing and was stunned by the amazing number of ebooks I sold on Amazon, and the enthusiastic reviews of my fans. But my biggest reward came from bedridden readers who said my novels brought joy to their lives and took them on an armchair trip around the world.

After publishing numerous books and contributing to several anthologies, I earned the top honor for a published author: the enviable status of “USA Today Bestselling Author,” and “New York Times Bestselling Author.”

My legacy to my children and grandchildren is the following: Set your goals high and work hard to follow your dream. Don’t be afraid to change direction. You can make a difference.

We’re All HeroesReleased Today

They’re all heroes who pay a big price for freedom—The Ukrainian mom who spies for her country; her three small kids who struggle to survive; the wounded major who gets them out of a war-zone; Lauren, the flight attendant who brings them to the U.S.A. ; her parents who receive them in their home; and her ex-fiancé, Dr. Jake, who operates on the injured. And let’s not forget the two German shepherd puppies that dive in a pool to save a two-year old. Will the many crises they face head-on strengthen or destroy Lauren and Jake’s relationship?

We’re All Heroes is book 12 of the Love Plans Series.

Messy PlansNew Release

Dr. Matt Lopez is perfectly happy with his medical career until the new nurse practitioner turns his life upside down with her lovely smile and crazy ideas. When Cathy takes Tommy, a young patient under her wing, gets involved in his home situation, and discovers the truth, trouble follows. Life will never be the same for Cathy, her boss, or Tommy as they try to repair the mistakes of their pasts. Can Matt and Cathy reconcile their personal feelings and work obligations?

Messy Plans is book 11 of the Love Plans Series.

Travel with Mona to Argentina

I went to Argentina twice and enjoyed it tremendously. Often described as the Paris of Latin America, Buenos Aires owes its reputation to its wealth of beautiful Belle Epoque buildings. Many of Buenos Aires’s architectural landmarks were built in the early decades of the 20th century when the city exploded from colonial outpost to one of the wealthiest metropolises in the world. 

I loved this lively city so much that I described it in my most recent book, LAST CHANCE PLANS. Although the novel is set in Fort Lauderdale, one chapter takes place in Buenos Aires. Madison Howell, a flight attendant, is flying there on an assignment, and billionaire, Rick Lambert, joins her for a business trip that soon brings a lot of fun.

Plaza de Mayo

The Plaza de Mayo is a city square and main foundational site of Buenos Aires. It was formed in 1884 and became the political center of the country. Surrounded by the Casa Rosada, the Cabildo and the city’s main cathedral, Plaza de Mayo is the place where Argentineans gather in vehement protest or jubilant celebration.

Casa Rosada — from which Eva Peron addressed adoring crowds of workers.

The Plaza de Mayo is decorated by the Pyramid de Mayo (built in 1811 to commemorate the May Revolution a year earlier) and a grand statue of independence hero General Belgrano as well as towering palm trees and soothing fountains.

<<From time to time, Rick caressed her palm with the pad of his thumb as he glanced out of the window and listened to their driver, Mario, who took them to the famous Plaza de Mayo. “Tomorrow, you should walk in the square and take pictures,” Mario said as he waved at the May Pyramid, their oldest national monument.

“We will,” Madison promised.

Next, Mario drove along the Rio de la Plata waterfront at Puerto Madero, explaining that all streets in the district were named after women. They passed in front of the Museo Nacional de Belles Artes and the Teatro Colon. As he continued along 9 de Julio Avenue, he pointed at the obelisk that was built to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the founding of the city, and he insisted they should have lunch or dinner at the famous Café Tortoni.

“Tonight we’re just getting an overview. Tomorrow we’ll walk and visit all these places and more,” Madison declared.

Rick smiled at her enthusiasm, determined to spice up their visit with his own brand of excitement.>>

The Monument to the Carta Magna and Four Regions of Argentina is located in the intersection of Del Libertador and Sarmiento Avenues, a landmark site in the Palermo, a neighborhood of Buenos Aires, Argentina. It is commonly referred to as the Monument of the Spanish. 
The Equestrian monument to General Manuel Belgrano is a landmark of Buenos Aires, Argentina. It is located at Plaza de Mayo, in front of the Casa Rosada. It depicts General Manuel Belgrano holding the Flag of Argentina, and it is made of bronze over a pedestal of granite.
The Pyramid de Mayo, located in front of the Casa Rosada, or Pink House, in the Plaza de Mayo, location of many historic and political events.
El Obelisco
Built by Alberto Prebisch in 1936 to commemorate Buenos Aires’s 400th anniversary, this pointed needle is the city’s unofficial center, and a useful landmark for getting one’s bearings. Standing 222 feet tall, the obelisk has four sides on its shaft that represent moments in the city’s history, from its founding in 1536 to being named as Argentina’s capital in 1880

La Recoleta Cemetery

La Recoleta Cemetery
Argentine aristocrats were known to sell all their worldly possessions to pay for a spot in the country’s most exclusive cemetery. A maze of splendid mausoleums and dramatic crypts, it’s where the country’s most controversial figures (including, most famously, Eva Perón) sleep. 

The Abasto Mall

The Abasto shopping center was built in 1930s in the Art Deco architecture.
In 1999, Abasto was reborn into a shopping center as it was refurbished completely on the inside, and with additional structures at the back and side, but keeping the original beautiful Art Deco façade.

Café Tortoni:

You’ll know you have reached this legendary fin de siècle café located halfway along Avenida de Mayo from the lines that snake out the door. Modeled on the Parisian coffeehouses of the 19th century, it’s been a meeting point for artists and intellectuals since it opened in 1858 and still hosts regular jazz and tango nights. 825 Avenida de Mayo.

<<Around seven, just after sunset, Mario dropped them at the tango restaurant. “I’ll be back for you at 10:00 p.m. You have time for dinner, the show, and a tango lesson.” Apparently, the dancers taught the patrons a few steps after their show.

<<Inside the restaurant, where long tables faced a stage, they were seated next to each other with other patrons. After sampling various bits of meat from a tray a waitress passed around, they ordered the local steak and a bottle of wine. They toasted, chatted, laughed with the other guests at their table, and enjoyed their meal.>>

Caminito

Caminito is a well-known pedestrian-only street in Buenos Aires, famed for its brightly colored houses built from scrap metal and painted with leftovers from the shipyards. The street is also known for being the birthplace of tango, which originated here in the late 19th century. Nothing beats the tour of the old city and the lunch in restaurant offering Tango shows.

 The Best Tango Shows In Buenos Aires: The authentic tango that you’ll see in these Buenos Aires tango shows is very different than what you’ve seen in the movies. It tells a passionate story. The movements are complex. The man signals to his partner with subtle cues that they’ve practiced religiously.

<<The music filled the air and the lights dimmed. Bright spotlights focused on the stage where a couple glided in, the man in a black, silk shirt and satin pants, the woman wearing a sexy, short, tight, sparkling dress that molded to her figure. The loud tempo of the music focused their attention as the man splayed a hand on the woman’s back and held her other hand in a tight grip.

The dance started with sharp, staccato movements, the male dancer bringing his partner against him, pulling her in with a passionate attitude. The music’s frenzy escalated, prompting more sensual steps in the dance while the dancers maintained their sober expressions.

Lips parted, Madison seemed totally mesmerized by the dance. Rick wrapped an arm around her waist, slowly pulling her back against his chest, needing to share the dramatic dance with her. She melted against him, her fingers clenched on his arm.>>

A tango show
My husband posing for the picture.

<<The server entered, set the tray on the desk, accepted his tip, and left with an “Enjoy your drinks.”

“All that?” Madison stared at the two giant ceramic mugs, miniature replicas of the famous Obelisco adorning the center of town.

“Here, they say that Buenos Aires is the city that never sleeps. The Buenos Aires Zombie is the perfect drink for a night meant to go on until dawn.”>>

Last Chance Plans, Love Plans Series, book 10

Today is the Release Day. 99 cents to celebrate its release.

At twenty, Rick Lambert ran away from the US to escape the accusations hurled at him. Fifteen years later, he returns to settle in Fort Lauderdale. His mother agrees to live with him and take care of his two sons who have been raised by nannies and boarding schools.

Flight attendant, Madison Howell loves nothing more than her job. During a flight from Dubai to Miami, she meets the authoritative businessman and his mother. The sweet old lady befriends her, and Rick doesn’t hide his attraction. When his children come home, Madison finds herself entangled with the Lamberts way too often. As she helps the young boys adapt to their new life, she falls in love with their gorgeous father, but she’s not sure she really knows Rick, her charming lover. A loving son and dedicated father but also a womanizer and tough businessman with a hidden past.

When people from long-ago cross his path, secrets are revealed, threatening to ruin their romance. Now mature and powerful, Rick confronts his enemies to clear his name, but will it cost him the woman he loves?

Love Plans Series #1

To celebrate the release of LOVE PLANS SERIES, book 10, Last Chance Plans, the Love Plans Series #1 will be half-price during February.

Heal My Heart

To celebrate the release of Last Chance Plans, Heal My Heart will be FREE on February 7, 8, 9 and February 21 and 22

Travel to Kiev, and pray for the Ukrainians

As we follow the terrible news on TV and pray for the Ukrainians, I pulled my picture album and reminisced about my business trip to Ukraine in April 1997.

Located on the Dnieper River. Kiev (or Kyiv) is the capital and largest city in Ukraine with a population of three million inhabitants. It dates back to 560 AD and enjoys an authentic Eastern European culture.

Independence Square (Maidan Nezalezhnosti) is on the historical boulevard Khreschatyky. It is the focal point of the Independence Day celebrations every August to celebrate Ukraine’s breakaway from the former Soviet Republic but it is also remembered for the Orange Revolution of 1994.
The Dnieper  is one of the major rivers of Europe, rising in the Valdai Hills near Smolensk, Russia, before flowing through Belarus and Ukraine to the Black Sea.

As the program manager for a contract in Ukraine, I flew to Kiev with three people from our lab in Ohio, and met with our Belarusian driver, Sergei, who had driven from Minsk, Belarus, with two chemists we previously trained on analytical equipment.

We spent our first evening in Kiev, strolling through the main avenues, discovering the city, and admiring the beauty of the colorful cathedrals with golden domes, churches, statues and monuments.

Marinskyi Palace that serves as the official ceremonial residence of the President. The palace lies on the right bank of the Dnieper River in Kyiv.

Some of you may remember the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986. Two explosions resulted in radioactive dust spread around the area, mainly to Belarus which is at 20 km north of Chernobyl and to Kiev at about 130km south of Chernobyl.

In 1997, my company was contracted by the DOD to equip and deliver a mobile laboratory to a military base in Uman, in Central Ukraine, about five hours away from Kiev. The two GC/MS—gas chromatogram/mass spectrometer—and other smaller instruments we installed would allow the detection and analysis of toxic substances in hazardous waste samples.

After a week of work installing and testing the equipment, I left the staff to continue the training and returned to Kiev to fly back to Munich, and then to New York. For my bad luck it was May 1st or Labor Day in Ukraine and Europe. Little did I know that the big avenues were blocked for a military parade with the President heading it. Sergei and I had to use the backroads. I had the chance to visit St. Sophia Cathedral and a fabulous monastery, but I almost missed my plane.

Kyevo-Pecherska Lavra, is a monastery’s cluster of gold-domed Orthodox churches built on top of a labyrinth of ancient caves. 
Closer view of the green dome church in the monastery.
Motherland Monument on the Dnieper River. We could see it from far away.
Saint Sophia Cathedral is a unique monument of
architecture and monumental art of the early 11th century having the biggest preserved collection of mosaics and frescoes of that period.

Kiev is such a beautiful city. The pastry is delicious and the amber jewelry out of this world. I bought amber necklaces, brooches, bracelets.

Pray for the Ukrainians’ safety and for peace.

HEAL MY HEART is set in Belarus. In a far away country, a baby girl, four little boys, and a handsome doctor may teach Dr. Jillian the true meaning of Christmas.

AMAZON