Friday, May 24, 2019

42 minutes with Beth


Innately curious about people, I invited my memoir teacher, Beth Finke, for an interview at StoryCorps. Beth is a Chicago-based award-winning author, teacher, and journalist. She is the author of two memoirs, 'Long Time, No See' and 'Writing Out Loud’. She happens to be blind.

Read about my interviewing experience on Beth's blog (original post) or here.

The first time I stumbled upon StoryCorps I was meandering through the Chicago Cultural Center. I was drawn by their bright red, cursive sign. After listening to a couple of stories about love and forgiveness, I left the place charged with hope. I was reassured that despite our differences and how diverse our lives are, we all want the same: to be loved, accepted, and understood.

Since then, every time I pass by the Chicago Cultural Center I would try to think of someone I know that has a story worthy of sharing with StoryCorps. In anticipation of taking a memoir writing class with Beth Finke, I read her memoir Writing out loud. A few chapters in, the light bulb in my head went off. What a spirit she is; she would be a great StoryCorps guest. Luckily, she agreed to be interviewed.

I really wanted to do this. I worked diligently on thinking up good questions for the interview. I ran them by a teacher I had for an interview class. Yet, there I was on the day of the interview, nervous, questioning if I was right for this.

When Beth arrived to StoryCorps we first had to fill out some paperwork. I offered to help. The last question on the form, “How would you describe yourself in a sentence or two,” was a perfect segue to our interview.

The recording studio is in essence a wooden cube with a three-yard long side. Stepping in felt like jumping in at the deep end. Once in, however, it’s dimly lit, incredibly quiet ambiance gave a sense of intimacy and safety. I began asking questions in the order I had them written down. But interviews do not always follow order. I skipped, returned to, and improvised questions.

I’ve been taught to be an active listener, to nod occasionally, keep eye contact, smile and use facial expressions, but Beth wouldn’t see that. I’d like to encourage the speaker with verbal comments like ‘yes’ and ‘uh huh’, but the StoryCorps facilitator warned us the microphones are very sensitive so when one of us speaks the other must be quiet. I was struggling to adhere to the rules.

I reached the more personal questions. After hearing the first one Beth paused, adjusted in her chair, looked right at me and responded with honesty. I could see this was emotionally taxing for her. This was exactly the bravery that I was hoping to hear about, the strength to deal with life’s unfairness, the resilience in the face of adversity. The life experience gets relived briefly, the feelings from the past may resurface for a moment, but the story of the human spirit’s strength is told. It’s stories like this that inspire and encourage us.

It was an honor to interview Beth for StoryCorps. I doubt the 42 minutes we had in the recording booth would do Beth’s story justice, but I’d like to believe I gave it a chance to be heard by sharing some of her experience, highlighting her incredible ability to take things lightly, and proving that attitude and humor make life a bit easier.

I hope the interview piques the listeners’ curiosity and they read her books, take her memoir writing class, and maybe, hopefully, make Beth’s dream — to teach her Memoir Teacher Masterclass around the world — come true. I, personally got to know Beth better and that is something to cherish.

Thursday, May 09, 2019

18-word memoir

My entry for the Gotham Writers’ 2018 18-word memoir contest. Underappreciated.

         Fifty moving boxes—single life's ending.
         I worry.
         He winks. 
         Is third time the charm?
         We shall see.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

A 40-year-old virgin

First-time sex for most Americans happens at around age 17. Yet, recently I met not one, but two men who remained virgin late in their 30ies. One of them shared his story.

The first mention of sex was his father’s “drunken sailor” talk and uncomfortable off-color jokes. Pornographic movies, school, and media expanded his sex knowledge throughout adolescence. “Watching porn felt naughty, but I was curious”. Yet, sex was among many topics of curiosity.

It was a long road. High school would have been the easy time to make out, but he wasn’t the coolest of kids. He went to college and connected with people, but soon he left off to start a startup company. “It was a different environment. There were a lot of hot women, but they were much older and inaccessible.”

Ten years later he moves to Chicago. Most of his new colleagues are married, which isn’t boosting his social life. He admits he was not keen on pursuing social interactions just for the sake of it, not obsessing about sex, even thinking it wasn’t worth the effort. Pressure from different sides added up. 

A shred of regret in his voice tempts me to ask if he ever felt peer pressure, sadness or depressed about his virginity. No, he perks up, because nobody knew. I start to believe that it was all circumstantial - people assume he is like everyone else and he lets it be- a convenient protective shield. But he adds something that links to the beginning of our conversation. 

“During my time at the startup, things could have been different, but the co-founder was over the top always trying to impress - sexually and otherwise, he reminds me a little bit of Trump.” 

He chuckles. I am careful, “You mean that in a putting off way, he was giving sex a bad name?”

What he adds after a pause is more to reassure himself rather than talking to me. “Yeah. It definitely feels like a number of things were tilted in different directions, just happenstance”.

But he liked a coworker. When he learned that she was engaged, with a quite healthy sex life the light bulb went on – the lack of sexual experience might be a block in pursuing a relationship of his own. Seeing a sex therapist and a dating expert came to the rescue.

Having sex for the first time later in life was neither a choice nor a condemnation. He was comfortable with focusing on his business first and letting sex enter life in its own time. Sexually active for a few months now, he finds it hard to disentangle sex and being in a relationship - he is dating his first sexual partner, and that’s big for him. 

“It’s really not that difficult if you find somebody that is willing to go through that first experience with you. And it’s ok, it’s not like you are going to be a million years behind everybody.” – he smiles.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

How I met my Brother

I couldn’t take Mette’s words out of my mind - ’Why do you insist on staying here? You lost your job, you don’t have a boyfriend anymore, you are running out of money and you don’t even speak well the language.’ I knew she was right and meant well. She was one of my best friends and she cared for me. Yet her words stung. I hopped on my bike and cycled aimlessly for hours until the answer popped into in my head.

Why did I want to stay?

Because life is not about your job, boyfriend and money, nor speaking the local language. I was surrounded by good friends, I lived in a beautiful city, I had settled down nicely, I was enjoying myself, I was happy. Yet I didn’t have the money to afford my studio’s rent and the bills. Living in the Netherlands was a dream come true. I had vivid memories of the exhilaration of arriving and moving in, the first wild weekends. I was not ready to let go off my dream. It was almost a year since my apartment was broken into for the second time, boyfriend replacing me with another girl and my employer asked me to leave. I now house-cleaned for two families and babysat occasionally. I was barely making ends meet. With my credit card maxed out and zero savings I needed a better plan - immediately!

It was late March, winter was over. I decided to sublet my studio temporaryly and camp in the garage or sleep in the car, whichever works out better. I didn’t think through all of the details yet I put the studio for rent. I was doing to set things up in the garage while waiting for prospective renters to call. The first caller was an Italian girl - she didn’t like the open plan of the studio and sharing the living area with me. A friend helped me put a make-shift wall a sliding door. In a nutshell, two rails were attached to the ceiling and the floor with nothing better but two-sided industrial strength tape, and a large sheet of plywood sliding through them as a wall/sliding door. Yes, it was not the best of architectural solutions, but budget was tight and time was short. Caller number two was a Neurology researcher from Sweden - he was looking not just for a room, but an office space too, and he liked cooking. My place did not fit the bill.

Frustrated with the futility of my plan, I headed out of town to visit friends for the weekend. No more than an hour into my getaway I got a phone call - a Spanish guy, Hector, wanted to see the place. ‘Sure, but I am in Groningen for the weekend (2h train ride away). Can you come on Monday?’. No, he couldn’t, he needed to leave his current place immediately and find a place as soon as possible. He sounded motivated and why wouldn’t he, I was renting my studio for 400 euros, while every other room in town was at least 500 and located in the city’s outskirts, while I offered prime location. I hopped on the next train to meet Hector.

He arrived right on time - well built, clean and nicely dressed, averaged guy, married. Hector inspected the space in less than a minute, heard my spiel about my sleeping in a room in the garage, but sharing the living area, kitchen and bathroom with him, and tells me ‘Great! I’ll take it. Here is the first month rent and deposit.’ I couldn’t believe it - what did just happen, can it be that quick and painless?! My stuff was still in the wardrobe, my sheets were on the bed, I haden’t even secured a tent for my garage living shenanigan, but Hector was placing cash in my hand and I couldn’t say no, so we had a deal. I gave him a set of keys, striped the bed and put on fresh sheets. He was ok with me emptying the wardrobe later, he wouldn’t need it right away anyway. He left to pick up and bring home his bags. My head was spinning, but there was no going back. I got a motivated renter with money. On the way back to Groningen - my weekend getaway, I wondered how stupid exactly that move was, but it was too late. I focused on seeing my friends and having a good time. After two breaking and enterings, things could hardly get much worse. Right?

I returned home early Monday morning. Hector greeted me with a smile, still in his dark blue pajama, smoking a cigarette in the tiny backyard between the house and the garage. A bit of a small talk and I would have been on my way to who knows where to get a tent and perhaps an air mattress...but Hectors asked me ‘Well, where exactly is your room in the garage, because, pardon my curiosity, I looked in the garage and there is no room there.” I exhaled caught red-handed. “You are right, Hector, there is no room in the garage, I’ll ‘make one up’” - I smiled nonchalantly. He raised his eyebrow: “How?“ Really? Did I owe him an answer? ‘I’ll figure it out’ - I said with a reassuring smile and tried to leave the scene, but he woudn’t let me go…’Does the garage have a key?’. Actually, no, the garage didn’t have a key…Good job, iliana! Safety was not considered a priority.

I made coffee, we sat down and I told him what the reality of my situation was. As I wrapped up sharing my story I realized I was talking to a complete stranger, someone I just met and let live in my studio. And it was too late to back up. He had paid his share of the rent and I couldn’t afford not having him. He listened quietly. I caught myself anticipating his reaction. There must be some reaction to the insane plan I just laid out to him. He let a cigarette puff out and said with confidence: ’I’m a civil engineer. I know how to build houses. Let me help you.’ ‘That would be nice.’ - is all I could muster. I headed to the hardware store to buy paint and a few other things. By the time I got back, he was half way through rearranging the stuff in the garage opening a large space next to where my car would be parked. We swept and vacuumed, taking out buckets of gravel, dust and crumbling ceiling material. We sprayed with insect repellent sprayed, connected an extension cord, put a bright light bulb - the things you need to make a place livable. By the time we got ready for painting, it was the middle of the afternoon and his pajama was not dark blue anymore. It looked grayish, all covered with dust. So was his hair. I smiled - this stranger I just let in my home was spending his day putting my mad plan in action. We stopped for a little bit of a break, a friend of his passed by to see him, and brought pizza. How thoughtful, he must have told her to do so. I was deeply humbled. We ate, had some beer, then painted two of the walls forming the corner of my new ‘room’. We hanged old thick curtains to make-up the other two walls and that was it. I threw an area run on the cement floor, and my bedroom was ready. We moved my sofa in, and there you go…life could resume!

Hector left me to handle the rest of it - moving my clothes into boxes, taking them to the garage and setting one as a nightstand. We made dinner together - I made salad and he cooked pasta - his specialty. As we ate we talked about life, our families, his wife, my sister, our parents. We laughed and it all felt so normal. As if we have met after many years apart. I still occasionally reminded myself that I do not know that man. But I also did know him - for about 48 hours already.

The next two weeks went smoothly. And then came the rain - it rained for 6 days straight. The garage roof started leaking here and there, luckily it didn’t drip on me. There wasn’t enough room to move the sofa in any other direction, so I just patched the ceiling with plastic. Not only it rained hard for days, but it got cold too. One early morning I hopped in the shower to warm up. When I got out Hector was sitting by the dining table looking serious. ‘iliana, that’s enough. We are moving the sofa back in, you are not going to sleep in the garage anymore. You can sleep in the living area and I’ll be on the other side of the wall.“ - he said with a voice that would not take ‘no’ for an answer. I suggested we wait out for another day or two, perhaps weather would get better, but he shook his head and didn’t want to hear it. I moved back into the studio.

Most mornings we would have coffee together planning our days, then each of us went about their days. As if an unspoken agreement existed to give each other plenty of space. And there was peace and balance in that dance of care for each other. I thought he would be helping me financially with the rent, but he was helping me in more ways than just with money. I had met an amazing person. Gradually Hector introduced me to his Mom, wife, aunt, brother, all via Skype. I felt like part of his family. We talked about everything - our job hunts, the past, the future, life, romance, shared dreams over wine.

When his wife Suzana came to visit, the first thing she said was ’Hector has told me so much about you. Thanks you so much for taking care of him’. I was moved - it was more like the other way around - he was taking care of me. Well, there was no need to explain. I thanked her for the kinds words, and for trusting me and him to share a room more or less, with a sliding wall-door in the middle.

During the first nights sleeping in the garage, I couldn’t help it, but think of the irony of life - some years ago I was traveling and staying at Hiltons and Maryots class hotels, getting turn-down service with chocolate on my pillow and room service coffee and OJ in the morning. Now if rain wasn’t dripping on my face or a spider crawling on the wall next to me, I considered it a good night. But soon my thinking shifted to Hector - how blessed I was to have met someone so wonderful, with heart, integrity, and dreaming big. His wife was on a job assignment in Turkey, he was job hunting in the Netherlands, all in the pursuit of making enough money to be able to go home one day and build a house on his family land on Canary Islands.

They say that desperate times call for desperate measures. We certainly were desperate. Hector would occasionally call me crazy for doing what I did. I always replied that only crazy people reply to crazy rental arrangement ads. And then we would laugh. But we bonded over that desperation to make it in life, we both took a leap of fait to trust a stranger and help one another in a time of hardship.

I didn’t succeed staying in the Netherlands. Two months later I got a job in Australia, and Hector got employment by a Belgian company with a working site in Irak. We parted in pursuit of our next adventures, but we promised to stay in touch. For a long time I missed his ‘Good night, hermana!’ from across the make-shift wall. That’s how I met my brother.

PS. These evens happened in the Spring of 2011. Hector now splits his time between work projects in Irak and living in Spain. Susana moved from Turkey to Belgium, and then to Canary Island, where she is raising their two sons. They did buy a four-unit apartment building near the beach.
23 Sept 2016

Monday, December 04, 2017

One Word for One Year

I was ecstatic to get a job with the world's leading weather forecasting center. I was going to work for an international company with the best in my field, I was going to live just outside of London, I was offered a very generous wage, I had just started online dating a European man. Everything was lining up nicely. It was the Fall of 2008. And then within a week of setting foot in the UK, the reality proved to be different, in an unpleasant way. I lived through 2009 trying to be strong, to make it, to adjust my attitude. But I ended up depressed, drinking lots, and getting away from the UK whenever possible.

I changed jobs again and I was going to start 2010 with a new job in the Netherlands. With disappointment and bitterness still lingering around, I could not build my hopes up. So I decided to focus on one thing, and one thing only - let life happen and just observe. Yes, I committed my 2010 year to just observing with the curiosity and open-mindedness of a child.  Observe was my word of the year.

This is how it started for me - a simple tradition that takes away the pressure of New Year's resolutions and gives me focus, by choosing One Word and inviting it in my life for One Year. And year by year I cultivate valuable and lasting skills - I learned to observe without emotional attachment, to accept without judgment, to embrace without fear.

Would you like to try this? Would you like to know my One Word for 2018?

Sunday, April 23, 2017

One Scientist Marching for Science

I never thought I would be a Scientist one day. May be a high school math teacher as my parents would have liked, or an engineer - as I decided as an alternative to a musician (my first career choice, curbed by my parents). But when faced with the prospect of another year working as a seamstress or switching  to a refrigerator store manager, I started to warm up to the idea of pursuing a PhD. It was my Master's degree advisor's idea and my mom enthusiastically encouraged me. Four years later I was a Philosophy Doctor in Environmental Sciences and a budding expert in Remote Sensing of Clouds and Satellite Winds.

Science is a cruel mistress, and I can attest to it. Throughout my career I have been plenty enthusiastic and motivated, but also frustrated and bitter to the point of quitting. I have worked with some great people, scientists with integrity, passion and expertise, but have also dealt with ego, politics and unfairness. Somehow the curiosity and care for nature, the admiration for technological progress and the frontier nature of science, together with the conviction that I can do it (even if not the most industrious of scientists) have taken me through 17 years of Atmospheric Science.

I signed up for the March for Science 2017 about a month ago. Reading all the posts on the Facebook page - the personal stories of why scientists became scientists, kids' first steps in scientific activities, gratitude for science saving lives, and looking at the variety of signs in the Chicago march I grew a new appreciating for science - one that we are many and we are strong, that we can make a difference in this world in the face of political and economical challenges. Following the wave of marching friends scientists around the world strengthened my believe that we are strong together and we can safe this planet Earth!

    Melbourne, Australia (Paul G.)

    Paris, France (Christelle C.)

    Portland, Maine (Jaime O.)

    New Haven, CT (Ash H.)

    Los Angeles, CA (Jenna K.)


Chicago, IL

   PS. I dedicate this post to my parents and a few scientists I have worked with that have guided me in the world of science and made me the scientist I am today - Vitchko Tsanev, Erwin Ferdinandov, Roger Davies, Chuck Long, Tom Ackerman, Lary DiGirolamo, Paul Menzel, Chris Velden, Peter Bauer, Peter Rayner, Peter Steinle.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

A tea cup full of love

Wind brought the seeds from somewhere. Rain grounded them. Sun caressed them all Summer long and a field of herb flowers grew in the mountain valley.
Bees traveled every day, made love to the herb flowers, leaving pollen behind – saving the herb’s life, taking away nectar, returning loyally to the Queen bee and the hive. Honey was made out of that love.
I put a spoon full of golden honey in a cup of freshly brewed mountain tea, and as I close my eyes and take a sip, I inhale the scent of beautiful herb flowers and hear the bees buzz. My cup is full of love.

August 24, 2016

Life’s demands

Yesterday Life wanted me to be strong – for the friend who confided in me she is considering a divorce, for another friend who finally lost it at work and quit her job, and for the one who needed no preamble to tell me  “My Dad passed away”. I was strong and there for each one of them.  As ‘there’ as one can be thousand miles away. I sincerely wished the world was smaller so I could offer every one of them a real hug.

Today I didn’t have to be strong. The aftertaste of yesterday made me feel vulnerable. It was my turn to call a friend and say “I miss you. A hug would be nice right now.”  

Jan.28, 2016

No Exit

It’s a beautiful summer morning and it’s Friday. Having just read ‘An Actually Useful Guide to Madison, Wisconsin’ I set on an ambitious journey of trying every single place it recommends for food, drinks and entertainment.
The article is written by Elissa Goldberg for, but the low down of what to do in Madtown is given by Trevor Gruehn – the director of Bradbury’s Coffee.
Bradbury’s Coffee is claimed as one of the best three in town, so why not start my exploration there. It is located in a quaint corner space with floor-to-ceiling glass walls and it offers a pleasant view of The Children Museum and the busy crossing of Hamilton and Dayton streets. The cafe itself has an industrial feel with its bare concrete walls and high ceiling, with dark wooden tables and asymmetric tables layout. So far so good!
The barista I order my cappuccino from seems a tad melancholic (may be only in comparison to my super high energy level this morning), so I pretend not to hear what he says – he has to repeat his words to me and this tiny effort brings him in the moment, makes him conscious. This trick always works!
I sit on the one end of a long to-share table, a family with two toddlers in the other end. On my other side, two young professionals are conversing. As I sit down and exhale I realize this won’t be a lovely, quiet coffee time. ‘…there isn’t enough chocolate on it. I can’t taste the chocolate from too much banana’ – the blond 4 y.o. complains. “…this crepe is too thick” – he goes on whining. ‘…I’ve been working so hard on this article and I’m so glad it’s finally been published…My students are keeping me so busy all summer long…’ – the young man on my right switches between bragging and bitching with the same annoying high pitch voice, and loud, so unnecessarily loud.
And then I notice the guy in front of me, he is reading a book. Actually, it’s his book that catches my eye (ok, the guy is handsome too!) – ‘No exit’ by Jean-Paul Sartre. I’m in love with Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre’s love story.
The irony of the situation however is that ‘No exit’ contains the famous Sartre’s quote ‘Hell is other people’. Is it really? And when we find ourselves in hell, do we want to have an exit, or no exit is just fine? Is human hell good for us, will it build character?
My cappuccino arrives, Trevor himself brings it to the table – he appears friendly and very professional. I take a sip – Bradbury’s Coffee is truly as good as they say, as the rest is now just white noise…and No Exit is needed for now.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

What if ? - a cancer scare story

15 August 2014, Friday, 2:15pm

My phone rings. It displays an unknown number. I let the phone rings and continue working thinking 'If it's important they will leave a message.' The caller does leave a message. I listen to the message as I head to the cafeteria. 'Hi, this message is for Ms.A I'm calling from Dr. Groover's office regarding your mammogram. If you can call us back, the doctor wants you to come back for additional views. The number here is 212....' 
Did I hear well? 'Come back for additional views' ? I halt in my tracks as if waiting for the message to continue, for a clarification of sort. But the only thing I hear is the phone number for contact and a courteous 'Thank you'.  There is no mirror in front of me, but I can tell the blood had pulled away from my face. For a moment.

A wave of rage overwhelms me. WHAT?! That's ALL?! They can't just say 'come back' and not elaborate! I'm furious. For a moment.

Common sense returns. I touch the 'call back' button and take a deep breath. I don't have to wait long for a receptionist to pick up. I try to be calm - the receptionist hasn't done me any wrong. I can't help it but to hear a mix of panic, fear and anger in my voice. I tell them my name and why I call, they tell me we need to schedule another mammogram and ask if the following Friday ok. Yes, it's ok. 

Nothing is ok right now! I ask why I need to go back, is the quality of images poor, or is there anything wrong they've seen. The moment I say this I realize how ridiculously scientific I sound. But the receptionist doesn't mind - she says she would put me through to speak with the radiologist technician. A moment later, the technician tells me something which I don't understand fully because of her thick foreign accent and my temporary insane state. She tells me not to worry and with that the conversation is over. I look at my phone in disbelief. It feels like I just woke up from a nightmare. But the realization that the nightmare is only starting slowly gets to me. 

I am quiet for the rest of the day. The weekend mood is killed. I'm left alone with my own thoughts, digesting the news. I spend the evening surfing the net reading page after page on breast cancer early diagnosis. I read through forums and multitude of personal stories. I don't think of anything but just read, read, read myself to sleep. I wake up the next day and I know there was no nightmare - I do have to go in for a second mammogram. I have educated myself what the possible next steps are - second mammogram, sonogram, needle biopsy, incisional biopsy. I didn't have the strength to read what follows after. I am very calm. So calm that it terrifies me. Saturday goes on as if nothing happened. Sunday too. By Monday morning I can't hold it to myself anymore. I email a radiologist friend of mine - she says this sounds like a routine process, not to worry. Easier said than done, but ok, I try. In an attempt to distract myself from my own problems I reach out to people I barely know - it's easier to tell a stranger your secrets, right? I also confide in a couple of close friends, their support means a lot.

22 August 2014, Friday, 11:30am

A week has passed and I'm again in the waiting room of Dr Groover's office, 15 min early. But I'm not called early, so I wait patiently. A radiologist technician comes to the reception desk and calls two names - mine and Ms.B's. I'm surprised that they call in both of us at once. Ms. B, a well dressed, good looking woman in her late 50s, nervously asks 'Shall we both come in?' . 'Yes' - the technician replies and turns around the corner. We both rush after her, like students late for class. We occupy the two changing rooms in another much smaller waiting room, just as we are instructed. I am called in first. 

The technician looks at the paperwork as I get in front of the apparatus. She rubs her nose with her finger, she seems confused. 'Did they tell you what you are back for?' 'No.' - I reply. 'I'll be right back.' - she says and leaves the room. Some time passes by - may be 5 minutes, may be 10, she returns and looks again at the paperwork - her confidence, or rather lack of, is not helping. She looks one last time at the monitor with my patient's profile and concludes - 'OK, I know what I need to do.' Did she say this to me, or rather to herself? Because if she tried to calm me down, she failed. I'm more nervous now than when I arrived.  She takes a couple of images and says - 'This was it - you can go ahead and sit in the waiting room. I will send the images to the doctor. If everything is ok I will let you know and you can go home. If they need to do a sonogram exam, someone will come for you.'

I go and sit in the tiny waiting room, while Ms.B goes in. Meanwhile another woman has joined us in the waiting room, already in a blue exam gown. I say hi and stare in the floor in front of me, hoping that nobody comes for me, wishing that this all will be over soon. That everything will be o'right!
Because, what if it isn't?
And that's when the seriousness of the other possible outcome hits me.

I'm 42, single professional. I just moved to this city 7 months ago. My best friend lives in town, but that's about it. I don't have a boyfriend. I don't have a network of friends yet. I haven't felt at home yet. All my relatives are thousand of miles away. And how would I even tell them? Mom is a breast cancer survivor. How would she and Dad take it? What about my job - would it pay for the treatment? Who would be by my side? How would I go through that? Would I make it through? I'm starting to panic, my heart thumping.    

'Your perfumes smells really nice!' - the soft voice of the lady sitting next to me jerks me out of my whirlwind of thoughts. 'Thanks.' - I barely utter and attempt a smile. 'Where are you from? I hear an accent.' - she adds.
And that's when I burst into tears - quietly, but so emotionally. The build up of a week long fear for my life finally finds a way out. It's an emotional climax that takes me by surprises, but it urges me to face the facts.

What would I do if I have cancer? 
I'd get the hell out of this city where I feel lonely, I'd quit my job, I'd travel and write, I'd surround myself with the people I love and the ones that care about me. I'd laugh as much as I can, I'd enjoy every day and be true to myself…

I'm lost in my thoughts and I don't notice that another technician has just come to the waiting room. She is young and pretty, and calm. She calls my name. Nothing more. And I know I have to follow her for a sonogram. My knees tremble, I am surprised I am not fainting yet. The sonogram exam goes in total silence. What is this - some pact of saying as little as possible, not engaging in any conversation with the patient?! I lay there for who knows how long, watching the ultrasound monitor, not sure what I'm seeing. I only know that what I see is actually under my skin. Odd!

I don't dare to say anything, nor to ask questions. I'm waiting for the final verdict. At last, she takes a deep breath and blurts 'Well, I don't see anything at all.'  'Really?' - is what I say back to her, but what I actually want to do is jump for joy, hug the technician and do a very happy dance.  'I'll go report to the doctor and show him the images I took. He will come with the final report' - she says and leaves the room.

I dress up and wait again, really impatient by now. The doctor enters the exam room and hands me over the medical report. 'Everything looks fine. See you in a year time for your next basic screening.' - he says and smiles. 'Thanks.' - is all I reply and rush out of this place, which out of sudden lacks the amount of oxygen I need. 

Once on the street, I take a deep breath and I find myself in tears again. Light drizzle raindrops mix with my tears. I'm exhausted and utterly relieved.

What now? - I ask myself…

Get away from the places that make me feel lonely, change my job, travel and write, surround myself with people I love and the ones that care about me. Laugh as much as I can, enjoy every day and be true to myself. 

PS. This story may or may not be inspired by true events. Any resemblance between the characters and anyone you know is to stay unconfirmed.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Birthdays on the go

It was the 1st  September 1972.
Dark, gray, cloudy skies. Imminent rain.
My Dad was about to head to work when my Mom announced that perhaps they should be heading to the delivery room instead. The rest of my parents memories are hard to reconcile. 
I was not a planned baby. After my Mom's problematic first pregnancy, they decided on having one child only. However, pregnant already, Mom convinced Dad that a second child might be a good idea - to keep company to the first one (as she likes to joke). My Dad hoped for a boy. Once I was born,  Mom was  very disappointed that I was not a boy. My Dad said it's too late.  Neither of them remembers what time I was born, but that I wasn't a very pretty baby. Honesty appreciated!  And so my life begins…

Most probably the first picture of me - I'm the crying baby, of course! 

Happy cyclist :) … Still am! 

My first picture taken in a photo-studio (I'm on the left) 

Birthdays were not celebrated much in my family. I never asked why. Everyone would wish me a 'Happy birthday!' , my grandparents would give me some extra pocket money, and that was all. When I found out that other kids have parties, I asked for one too, and for my 15th birthday I had my first Birthday Party at home. I invited 4 friends and had set a buffet table on the side. My parents thought it was appropriate to come and sit with us. My guests were shy and didn't eat anything. It was the worst and most boring party ever!!!
I decided not to have birthdays parties anymore, but to travel on my birthdays instead!!!

I'd simply go to the city and stroll the streets, or go to another city for a weekend.  I just liked changing the scenery and being on my own.  While in college, I'd travel to the Black Sea for a day on the beach - overnight train would get me to Varna at 6am, I'd watch the sunrise, spend the day sunbathing and wandering around the city, and in the evening I would take the night train back home.  

I stopped counting my birthdays at about 28. I like to joke that I'm a forever-28 :-) 
I didn't stop counting because the number got too high - life got too busy and there were more pressing things at hand, but to count the years. Nevertheless, I always made it a priority to observe my birthday - to celebrate life and every year of it!  In recent years the focus shifted to celebrating not the birthday itself, but all the wonderful people I meet, all the great experiences I have, and how lucky I have been in general!

Ironically, at about the time I stopped counting the years, digital cameras took over recording them for me, and here is what they have to say…  

2001 / Tucson, AZ - day trip to Old Tucson to hang out with the Bad Boys, and dinner with Laura

 2002 / Everett, WA -  weekend camping in the Cascades, blowing a 'birthday candle'

 2003 / Everett, WA - Hiking Mt. Rainier National Park 

 2004 / Everett, WA - Day trip to Edmonds beach

 2005 / Urbana, IL - A week at Gran Canaria, Las Palmas, Spain - a moment after that shot was taken, a wave splashed my rear :)

 2006 / Madison, WI - My first trip to Stockholm, Swededn - fell in love with Scandinavia!

 2007 / Madison, WI - A weekend trip to Washington State to celebrate with old friends

 2008 / Reading, UK - Sailing weekend in The Netherlands

 2009 / Reading, UK - Long weekend in Ireland (Aran Islands and Dublin)

2010 / Utrecht, NL - By that time I had already learned how to throw amazing parties for friends, so I hosted one,  yet I still squeezed in a quick trip to Amsterdam ;-)

 2011 / Utrecht, NL - An amazing, last minute, 24 hour trip to Paris with a lover  ;-)

 2012 / Melbourne, Australia  - A weekend in Las Vegas for the big 40 !!!

   2013 / Melbourne, Australia  - Dinner with friends in Fitzroy after a day at St.Kilda's beach

2014 / Washington, DC … Heading to New York City in 5 days :) Photo to follow…

And here it is… 1 Sept 2014 - the Empire State Building :)

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Morning promises

In my school days, I loved waking up early. Around 6 in the morning I would get to the city's square and just sit there - in the still, sleepy atmosphere, with only the fountain's splashing water sound reminding me that life has not stopped forever. Occasionally, a street sweeper would pass by, or early worker's footsteps would make me turn my head and smile to them, and then an utter calmness would take over again. There was something magical about knowing that most everyone's asleep; it felt peaceful and safe.

Other days I'd head to the main train station and I'd watch the opposite - lots and lots of people getting on and off the trains, rushing, heading to or coming from who knows where, their faces sort of caught in between asleep and awake. Unaware of my gentle intrusion, their confusion makes me smile. Newspaper stands would be already open and their business was at their peak. After making up what the dreams and the daily chores of some of the people might be, I'd giggle at my own silliness and head to school with a smile.

These days are long gone…

Lately I don't get up early often. But when I get a chance to stay with my best (and early-bird) friend, I find myself awake at 6 am and somehow, that longing to go out on the streets and simply watch the world in its most peaceful state, to enjoy the promise of the dawn of a new comes back to me and overwhelms me with hope. I feel like a fisherman, who leaves a warm, comfortable bed, takes a cup of hot coffee, and replaces the safety of home with the hope that on his boat, out in the sea, it will be a good day for fishing, early hour and cold weather irrelevant.

Perhaps we are all fishermen, waking up every morning to the promise of another day.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Sunday companion

Most of my weekends since moving to Australia have not been too eventful. To make peace with the fact I tell myself: 'When I'm staying home I'm saving money for the trips to Great Barrier Reef and Uluru.' 
By chance, my living room is facing an electric pole - it's an electric lines crossroad. I like it, because often birds will line up and cheer me up with their chirping. 
Today the weather is moody. Clouds cover the sky since the morning, and it's been rather gloomy. Then it started raining - annoying drizzle and gusty wind.  
But this one magpie stayed there - on the electric line, despite the rain, for quarter of an hour. It didn't care that it's cold and wet. The wind didn't ruffled its feather, it seemed.
When the rain band passed, the magpie shook off the water and sang its song. Really?!
I often joke that if there were a singing contest for birds around the world, the Aussie ones would be the losers. The lyrebird, which is amazing at mimicking any sound , doesn't even have its own song. As for the magpie - in my opinion, they sound just like opening an old squeaking iron door.
But back to my companion today - it just stood there, singing, in the gray Sunny afternoon.
The pictures I took are not in black and white, that's exactly what the view from my window looked like.
Luckily, the weather in Melbourne is very changeable, and the blue sky soon won over the gray clouds. Shortly after the magpie flew away to play with its friends...and that's how my story ends :)

Monday, February 25, 2013

Myths about Australia - The Surfer Dude

I have had a soft spot for Dutch men for years. As luck would have it, I met yet another 'special one' just before I was to move to Australia. Being a hopeless romantic I was willing to give it a chance, but all my friends sang the same refrain 'Wait till you get to Australia and meet that 6 foot tall, 6 pack abs, blond surfer dude - you'll forget all about Dutch men.'

Slowly, but inevitably the image sank into my mind...
Seen the Las Vegas show Thunder from Down Under? :)
So I flew on the wings of hope, dreaming of a 6 foot tall, 6 pack abs ( and may I add 6 inch ... you fill the dots) blond surfer dude.

On my first (ever!) flight to Oz, I was seated next to a 22 years old boy from Delhi, on his way to college in Brisbane. So much for fate and 'love is in the air' with a surfer dude :(

Four months passed by and none of the Aussie guys I had met was a surfer, let alone blond, 6 foot tall and all the other extras. They were not even that much fun! Then I went for dinner with a girl from Sydney. 'Oh, you didn't know? - she said to me. - Melbourne is for intellectuals. The surfers are in Sydney and the Golden coast.'
Aha! Armed with that secret,  I booked a flight to Sydney and stayed with friends only kilometer away from Bondi beach. Bingo! I walked the beach, back and forth, shamelessly eyeing up everyone with a surfing board.  If they were 6 foot tall, they were quite skinny, and if they had the 6 pack abs, they weren't tall enough. The closer one would get to my dream image, the further in age he would be!

Unsolvable paradox?
Perhaps not. Perhaps in some distant corner Australia is saving for me the perfect surfer dude - 6 foot tall, 6 pack abs, and ... blond. And perhaps he will be looking for a 40 years old hopeless romantic :)
Until then, I'll be betting my chips on 'import' -  average looking guys from anywhere, funny, sexy and kind.

 +1 charm point for being Dutch ;-)

Saturday, February 23, 2013

404 Page not found... or how I gave up Facebook

May be it was a coincidence, or may be not,  but in the quiet evening of 1st of January 2013 I noticed that I had 404 Facebook friends. The geek in me giggled -  '404 Page not found'. And that's when I quit Facebook. Why? I had outgrown it.

I joined Facebook in 2007, just after another relocation - a friend suggested it as a mean to keep in touch. But I didn't have a use for it. I had only moved a couple of hours away, so I preferred to visit my friends on the weekend, call them or email them. And they did the some for me.  I also had a blog, so had anyone been interested in my adventures there were plenty of ways to find out what I've been up to. I soon made new friends in the new city, and Facebook was completely forgotten.

But then I moved overseas - the UK turned out not to be my cup of tea, work was challenging, for some reason I was failing to make new friends, I was miserable. My good friends were miles and miles away, and in different zone, so even calling and Skype were not working out.  So I wrapped myself with the Facebook blanket, craving attention and comfort. I evolved from venting bitterness and disappointment, through irony, to optimistic and fun posts. My friends and Facebook saved me.

Then I moved again, this time to a place I loved, made new friends immediately and life took off! But  I remained active on Facebook because I wanted to be there for my friends. In case anyone needed TLC, I wanted to know and to help, or if all was o'right it was always great to share a joke or two. Facebook was the place to share photos, plan the next party, find fellow expats, etc. etc. It was great!

Another twist came around - I saw the 'Social network'. Something in the way Facebook started, in the way the business part of it developed did not agree with my moral values. Let's Face it - Mark started it all because he was heartbroken, he wanted to do something big, and yes, he did it, but if it was all so altruistic why is Facebook now the way it is - changing layouts (supposedly for good), replacing your email address with a Facebook one (tricky, tricky!), now suggested advertisement links, free Apps, 'paid for' promoted post? To me it seems like Facebook is way pass its innocence, it's not the site to connect the people, but it's the site to learn about the people and ultimately try to sell you something. Well....Thanks, but NO, THANKS!

At the same time, people on Facebook changed...
A lot of my friends who have an active life withdrew from Facebook - why? because altho it's fun, it's also a waste of time.  Instead one can read, take on a project, hang out with friends in real life, do sports, enjoy a hobby, take a nap, have a beer.

I admit that in the first weeks after I relocated again recently, checking Facebook was the first thing I would do in the morning. I love my friends and I do want to know what everyone is up to,  have a laugh over a goofy post. 

But also, more businesses are promoted, more bragging take place, and once I heard someone say 'I only post on Facebook to make my friends jealous' I had to bite my lips.  'You are kidding, right?' - because I refuse to be in the same bin with such shallowness. Many of my posts are positive and sharing happy moments, but I have about equal number of humor-coated bitching. My life is NOT perfect and nor is any of yours. So, who are they getting jealous?

Another irritating fact - I know a couple of people who joined Facebook just because their partners are there. One is the jealous type and feels better keeping tabs on the 'other half'. The other, who I know as a shy and very private person, out of sudden became a social butterfly with a public profile showing tons of affection to their loved one. Seriously?! If I trust my judgement of people, then these last two need help. One more story, a sad one. A good friend of mine and their partner were madly in love with daily 'I love you' on their walls. And I mean it - daily! Then one day, the 'I love you' was substituted with change of status to 'Single'. Overnight?!

Finally, not a too serious comment, but perhaps it speaks ton of how humans behave... 
If you change your FB profile photo with that of another FB friend of mine, I would probably not notice the name, I would glance at the photo and 'trust' that I'm talking to the right Face...Hahaha!
I was just about to email the wrong person for that reason... two of my FB friends, a couple, have profile photos of both of them, so I tend to think it's the wife who post more often...Well, live and learn! Instead of  'read the fine print', I'd say - read who's name is next to the photo :)  But then again, we can change our profile name there an end to it? 

So I gave up...
Facebook to me is turning into a Fakebook!
If you want to know how I'm doing - send me an email, read my blog, comment on it. And if I want to know how you are doing - trust me, I will find a way to reach you :) 
It takes more time to keep in touch via email, but I believe it's worth it,  communications are more private and meaningful. 
As for Facebook - I will keep my profile open for a while (to transfer photos, gather everyone's email, etc.) but 404 Page not found is bound to happen!

ps. Photo from

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Slap in the face of single people

As if it's not tough enough to be single (assuming you fail to snatch a romantic partner despite your best attempts), but 14 February comes as a slap in the face of single people every year.

I am not gonna bitch about my single life - for the time being it's my choice. But some years ago, when I most sincerely was looking for love and not succeeding, it was most excruciating to witness shops, restaurants, bars, practically every social locale,  turnings crimson red from hearts in all sizes. Arg!

So what, 'Job well done, Cupid!', two people are in love, yay!
Studies have shown that the end of January is the most depressing time of the year. Let's add some more drama to it and have St.Valentine's day two weeks later. Eeek!

I am sick of reading restaurant menus stating that paella is only prepared for two, that the tempting dream holiday in the Caribbean is priced on the basis of two, all the cheesy commercials with couples in love , diamonds, red roses and heart shaped balloons... Will you be my Valentine? That almost sounds like a one-night-stand proposition...Sure! Next day it's 15 February. St.Valentine is gone, and so am I.

In the US, fortunately, your social status is not your future boss's business, but in Europe they make you rethink your life choices all awhile you are making a career choice. 'Do you have a family? Are you moving to 'city/country name' alone?'  How is that any of their business?!

A few years ago, my Bilbao-London flight was cancelled, and passengers were to be accommodated in a hotel for the night. A bus took us to a fancy hotel. First they accommodated the kids - a group of Spanish pupils was going on a field trip, then they proceeded with the families with kids, then the families and couples without kids, then everyone that was not traveling alone. The singles - about 11 of us, had to wait another 45 min on the bus. Somebody joked we should  get to know each other to the point of forming 'couple' for the night, just so we get off the bloody bus (been  2.5 hours already). Will you be my Valentine?

So, what is Valentine's Day all about? Are we celebrating love itself, or is this holiday exclusively for couples? And what about us, the single ones! Can we claim our own Holiday? What about Bachelors' Day 6 months later, on 14th of August? A hot summer night party may actually up the numbers for Valentine's Day...Sounds like a great idea to me! Until then...screw Valentine's day!

Friday, January 25, 2013


Remember the poll I had on my blog?

Will I move yet again to another country, and this Australia?

Well, now that I am already 'down under', here is the story... coming out just in time for 26 January, Australia Day.

The truth is, when I first posted 'Let's play' and the poll along with it, I was driven by pure childish curiosity :-) What does Life have in store for me? Back in October 2010 (hard to believe that more than two years have passed since then!) I was madly in love with a young man whose big dream was to move to Australia. I sincerely wished him that his dream come true. But if so, what would have happened to me? would he ask me to join? would I go? after all, I had just followed my own dream - moving to the Netherlands, and I was so incredibly happy... 

There is no way I could have foreseen that the romance would crack and that I would lose my job shortly after, that I would be unemployed for an entire year, that my spirit would weaken and I would apply for jobs wherever there are, just so I can support myself again. At the end, I landed in Australia - just like that, never seriously thinking it would happen. 

They say 'God moves in a mysterious way'...I'd say, life happens in a mysterious way, at least that's how my Australia story unfolds... 

Friday, January 04, 2013

Happy New Year

Far away from home, from friends and the ones I love...what better way to welcome 2013 than amidst a cheerful crowd of 17000 (just one of the fireworks vista points), enjoying the amazing light show over Sydney's harbor, the silhouette of the Opera House ... and whispering Happy New Year!

The fireworks movie can be downloaded here (.m4v format) or here (.mov format).

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Kids will always be the same

Twenty seven years ago. A 6th grader woke up and realized she forgot to write her homework. Yes, that was me. I used to hate writing review essays. That day we had to turn in our reviews of Botev's portrait, a Bulgarian poet and revolutionary. Embarrassed and even scared of what the outcome might be I got up and unwillingly dragged myself to my parents bedroom. I woke up my Dad and asked for help. Picture that - my Dad in his pajamas, messy hair, holding my textbook, staring at Botev's portrait, and dictating my essays...just like that. Me - diligently writing the sentences in my notebook, under the light of a candle. Yep, to make things worse, that day there was a power outage. I got an 'A'.

Fast forward...

Today - I wake up and see a WhatsApp message from my niece:
- 'Can you help me with a logarithmic equation?'
- 'Yes. Get on Skype.'
- 'Ok, I'm sending you a photo of the equation.'

I open my laptop and start Skype, while looking at the photo of the equation. Admittedly, I had to refresh my Math memory with a bit of googling, but I know how to solve it. I write down the solution. When my niece pops on Skype I turn the piece of paper towards the camera and point with the pen to each line, explaining how things are done. Luckily she gets it from the first time. Problem solved. She asks me with a trace of jealousy: 'How did you come up with the solution?'. Oh sweetie, you are only 15, you will learn how... :) Then very quickly she adds - 'Ok, I gotta go to bed now, it's 23:30 here.' Poor thing had waited for me to wake up and help. Cause I'm in Melbourne and she is in Madrid.
No matter the year, the technology and the distances - kids will always be the same...forget their homework, then ask for help. And how great is to start your day like that - in your pajamas, helping a child.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Let's count from 0 to 100

See the movie below ...

This is one way to learn counting in Dutch....
But it's not what I meant to tell you today :)
I saw the movie again and again, and I can't help it but notice how the mood changes after 70. As if in our 70s we fear facing the inevitable - taxes and dead, and I refer to the second one. It looks like the people in their 80 are pleasantly surprised they have made it through the sifter. They seem happy to live yet another day - stress-free of life's demands and expectations.
I simply love the energy of the lady of 99 :)
I don't know how long I will count and in what language that will be, but I wish I have her enthusiasm no matter what my age is. And that means... now! :)