Wednesday, December 06, 2023

Rain - my poetry book is out!

The rain was coming down in sheets. The street was a muddy mess. Playing outside wasn’t going to happen today. Staring out the window, still, I was coming to terms with a good summer day wasted.  Drip, drip! The rhythmic splashes on the window sill cut my daydreaming short and brought a tune into my head:

 Drip, drip, drop!
 It’s raining outside.
 Drip, drip, drop!
 We have to play inside.

I sang my little song to Mom. She didn’t care much, nor she knew how to write sheet music, so I settled for writing the words into a notebook.

I began writing poetry because my parents would not support my interest in composing music, and poetry was the closest to music. I wrote about 50 poems between the age of 10 and college. Many got lost and college hit the pause button on my writing.  Boys became the poetry.

Recently, I selected twelve poems from what was saved and self-published them on Amazon. I simply had to do it for my 10-year-old self.

When I first re-read my poetry from 40 years ago I was blown away by a realization. As much as I love the big city now, I grew up a countryside child. Perhaps it is because I grew up in the slow-lane countryside that I had the time to observe my surroundings, to develop curiosity for what else is out there, to get inspired to write.

Amazon rejected my book at first. My native Bulgarian was not among the 46 supported languages. I  translated my poetry into English to accompany the originals so I could publish them.  The illustrations were drawn by children of ages similar to mine at the time of writing the poems, and they came from around the world. The title is an homage to my first-ever poem - Rain. A Dutch boy drew a green field and snow-capped mountains hovered by clouds. It is raining and there is a bright yellow flash in the middle of the rain, connecting the clouds and a mountain top. The book cover features this drawing on a yellow background, my favorite color.  

It takes patience to write a book, even if it’s only a dozen pages and self-published. It takes strong attention to detail visually and solid proofreading. It takes creativity to translate rhymes. But the hardest of all was the wait for Amazon’s acceptance of my bilingual book. If they had said no, I would have found another way to let my poetry see the world. Because it is an inspiration to recognize and nurture creativity, a reminder for anyone young and old to follow their passions.

I have read that creatives sometimes let fear of success get in the way of putting themselves out there. I thought I was immune to it, but when all the text, the illustrations, and the cover were carefully combed, reviewed, and uploaded, my heart skipped a beat before I pushed the “publish” button. Butterflies in my stomach whispered, “What now?” My inner child replied, “Life goes on.” I smiled.

Within 48 hours of sharing on social media that I had published a book, I collected hundreds of hearts and dozens of congratulations. My 10-year-old self was jubilant!

We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” said Anais Nin. Publishing an old writing double-folded on that idea for me - I reconnected with my child-self and made both her and myself happy. How am I dealing with it all? I guess life goes on and I won't let anything rain on it.  

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Money & Me: Beggars can’t be choosers (6/12)

My two-year-older sister and I went to two different colleges in the same city. She studied chemistry, I studied engineering. Introverted by nature, she liked living alone, renting quiet private rooms. I loved living in the dormitories across town, surrounded by college students, partying quite a lot. It was no surprise that her weekly money allowance (same as mine) lasted longer, at times not even all spent. In my eyes she was rich!

Mid-way through college, Bulgaria got its first McDonnalds, right smack in the center of the city. One Friday evening my sister offered to take me there for a treat. I was at the end of my financial rope so I accepted. Free dinner, what’s to refuse! Once we got there, a brand new, shiny, high-end restaurant (seemingly to us), was awaiting. I glanced at the menu, overcame my ego and said - “Instead of treating me to one dinner here, can I have the money for it. It will get me through a a few dinners purchased elsewhere.”

It felt wasteful to eat at McDonalds when I had no 2 pennies in my pocket. I thought it was a perfectly reasonable request. “Well, it’s my money and I don’t want to eat alone, so you either stay and eat with me, or not. But I am not giving you money and eating alone.” - her reply stung. I felt awkward and a bit ashamed - was I just a dinner companion? not treated to dinner by my sister? As I was munching on my burger I swore never to rely on family for money and financial favors.

Shortly after I brought my Mom’s old sewing machine to the dormitories and set up an alterations shop. Fixing a piece of clothing every couple of weeks upped my monthly budget by half. I was thrilled - doing something I liked, meeting more of college kids - my clientele, and not feeling like a beggar ever again.

Money & Me: Learning to Budget (5/12)

Credit Fidelity

Before the end of WWII, both sides of my family were quite well-off. My Mom’s family had a shop for agricultural tools imported from Germany and owned sheep and goat farms. My Dad’s family had a decent amount of land. Great-grandpa was the tax collector for the county, a well paying post.

The communist takeover in 1945 was a financial hit for both families. Without much education and not willing to join the communist party, all my grandparents were offered jobs with mediocre pay. My parents went to college and worked as teachers, but their wages were average. I was not cognizant of our economic status until I started college. 

My college was in a nearby city but I was not commuting. Instead I was living in the city, in the students dormitories. I received 5 Bulgarian leva per week from my parents and I was expected to go home for the weekend. I liked my independence, being a big girl in a big city, and I didn’t want to go home on the weekend. But I was running low on money by the end of Sunday. 

I started borrowing a lev or two from my wealthier roommate who had twice as big weekly allowance. I would return the loan promptly on Monday morning when I return from a home visit. This must have gone for a while. One day she asked:

Almost every week you borrow 1 lev from me, then you return it and you are again 1 lev short the following week. Couldn’t your parents give you that extra 1 lev for the week? Or could you split your 5 dollars over 7 days so you don’t have to borrow money?” 

 She said it so simply and well intended. How come I didn’t think of it?! I did what she suggested and I learned a valuable lesson. I learned to budget! I would still run short on cash occasionally 
but the idea of planning how to spend the money I have was forever planted in my head.

Friday, October 13, 2023

Money & Me: School uniforms and Red lipstick (4/12)

My high school, "Malchika", was in the city of Plovdiv, the second largest city in Bulgaria. It was five miles away from my parents’ town. It was strategically located two blocks away from the main pedestrian-only shopping mall. During school recess, we would lose track of time checking the fashion trends in the apparel stores. At that time, high schools required uniforms. Every high school girl across the country wore the same boring dark blue cotton apron with an oval white collar, and two pockets, tight with a belt. You could wear whatever you want underneath it as long as it is neatly covered by the apron. 

Identity was only to be found in personality, not in appearance.

One December, a traveling carnival set the stage on the vacant parking lot by my school. Oddly, the shooting stall also sold lipsticks and nail polish. Committed to standing out in school despite my dull uniform, and because my personality was not quite colorful yet, I decided to buy lipstick. I skipped buying lunch for two weeks in order to afford the coveted beauty product. And even though I only could enjoy wearing it in recess, when school rules didn’t matter, or on a secret date with a boy after school, I was giddy to liven up my dark blue uniform with fire engine red lipstick. 

Most rewardingly, I had learned that if I wanted something I could make it happen, with enough financial discipline and sacrifice.

Money & Me: Found at home ( 3/12)

Photo Credit Drazen_

Do you remember the first time your parents sat you down and talked to you about money? 

For me, that was one summer, halfway through middle school. 

The three months of summer vacation were filled with summer camp, helping in the garden, playing with friends, reading books, and from time to time, I liked exploring the world of my parents, a.k.a their bedroom. Putting on my Mom’s jewelry and browsing through the photo albums kept on one of the nightstands. That’s when I found a shoe box with some documents, receipts, and a few notes and coins. I started helping myself to a few coins from time to time. 

It didn’t go unnoticed that I was buying snacks costing more than my daily allowance. One day Mom asked me about it and I explained how I had found money in the house. What I learned that day, luckily in my Mom’s calm voice, was that money found at home is not lost nor found, but that it belongs to us. That is the money we live off, what puts food on the table and pays the bills. They are earned by working. They are not mine to spend if I am not given this money. 

She also explained the concept of saving money, which for some reason intrigued me. I started saving coins in an orange beaded purse. It was almost full when I lost it. I am sure there was no more than a couple of dollars in it, but it was my first savings, my treasure. I never took it out of the house, so it was not really lost, just misplaced, but I also never found it. To this day I think my sister must have found it, and maybe, just maybe, she hasn’t heard Mom’s lesson about money found at home, yet.

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Money & Me : Walk and chew gum (2/12)

My middle school was a good mile away from home. By the end of my daily classes, I would be tired and hungry. Breakfast was long digested and forgotten, recess snacks were not a big part of Eastern European culture. But thank God for the gypsies! Most school days, when the weather was nice enough, a voluptuous gypsy woman was waiting by the schoolyard’s gate, selling sunflower seeds and packs of chewing gum.

The sunflower seeds were home-roasted, generously salted, and packed in long, narrow cones from a tightly spun newspaper. Salt clumps and hygiene standards aside, sunflower seeds were a treat! Especially after six lessons in math, literature, and whatnot. I just needed something to tide me over until I got lunch at home.

Back in the day, gypsies would trade with the Turkish seasonal workers across the Bulgarian border. That was their secret to stocking and selling Turkish chewing gum. Turkish chewing gum was way superior to the Bulgarian one. It was bigger, flavored, colored, and sweet. Most importantly, under each wrapper was a second wrapper - a photograph of a Western car, and that’s what the boys wanted. A chewing gum’s cost was twice that of the sunflower seeds, so I had a tough choice to make - get some seeds for the half-hour walk home, or buy a chewing gum and appeal to a boy I like by offering him my car photograph. Not that money savvy at my age, most days hunger won, but on a love-ridden day, I would spend twice the money and learn to walk and chew gum, on an empty stomach. Because who said money can’t buy you love?

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Money & Me: Money is sweet (1/12)

Image by valuavitaly on Freepik

In 1980s Bulgaria, where I grew up, three generations would traditionally share a roof, as did we. I was my grandfather Ilya’s namesake and his favorite grandchild. I was not yet of school age when Grandpa started sending me to the corner store to buy him cigarettes, and generously let me keep the change. “Get yourself a sweet!”- he would say with a smile. Most often Grandpa would give me a 20 cent coin if he asked for the filterless, cheaper brand smokes costing 15 cents. 5 cents change was enough for a butter cookie or a wafer. But on a very good day, when he felt like indulging on 35c filtered slim cigarettes, he would hand me a 50 cent coin, which left me with 15 cents change. That was two chocolate dipped wafers, or a slice of cake! I was in sweet heaven while my Grandpa was poisoning his lungs.

I don’t know how long it took me to realize it but one day the light went on. If I was sent for the fancy cigarettes, but they were sold out (or I just say so!) I could buy the cheap ones instead and end up with lots of change. Lots in the eye of a child of single digits age. Even when Grandpa would give me the exact amount of coins for the more expensive cigarettes, if I bought the filterless fags, I’d have the upper hand.

Grandpa loved me so much. He loved smoking too. I doubt he ever got the drift of my little shenanigans. But with a bit of math I learned money’s top attribute - money is sweet!

Thursday, January 12, 2023

Money & Me: The Beginning (0/12)


Susan Sheldon / Eyeem | Eyeem | Getty Images

“In the beginning, there was…” barter. Money came later.

“Scientists have tracked exchange and trade through archaeological records, starting n the Paleolithic, when groups of hunters traded for the best flint weapons and other tools”, claims anthropologist Chapurukha Kusimba. “At first, people bartered, negotiating exchange deals between two parties for desirable objects. Money came later and its form evolved over the millennia – from natural objects to coins to paper to digital versions. “

Mother-of-pearl shells, amber, obsidian, copper, iron, silver, and gold have served as currency at different times. The Mesopotamian shekel - the first known form of currency – emerged nearly 5,000 years ago. The earliest known mints date ~600 B.C. in Asia Minor, where the leaders of Lydia and Ionia used stamped silver and gold coins to pay armies. 

Having been around for so long, one would think money is a settled matter. But money is a fickle thing. 

I was introduced to money only half a century ago, yet in this relatively short period of time, I witnessed three redenominations of the Bulgarian lev in my home country. Nineteen European countries underwent currency substitution during the formation of the European Union. I lived in four countries after leaving home and I dealt with four different currencies. Moreover, I witnessed different attitudes toward money around the world.

Want to read about how I got to know and value money? 

Follow my "Money & Me" adventures (and misadventures!) in the next several weeks.