Thursday, 17 January 2019

2018 Update, Life in Bulgaria

Hello!  I've finally got a little time to myself to accumulate my pictures and write a visible story about 2018.  This serves as a good diary for me, so when I say to myself, "where does all the time go", well read on.

I started the year off on my previous post so this story starts from the beginning of March.  And it always kicks off with the giving and receiving of the Martinetsa's.  However in February, a few of us ladies in the village decided to start a crafting group.  We met in February to try and make some Martinetsa's....

...and as the custom goes, these should not be taken off until the first storks arrive.  Then you can hang them on your fruit trees to ensure the best harvest.

Spring arrives and our ladies circle called Sedjanka Priyatelstvo or in English, Hotnitsa Circle of Friends were in full swing.  Basically its like a knit and natter group.  Our next meeting was on March 5th and we all had a little go at crochet. 

On Thursday 8th March, it was International Ladies Day which is celebrated here with a gathering of the ladies of the village who bring food and basically we all get plastered.  Great fun and dancing by ex-pats and Bulgarians alike.

 These ladies know how to deal with a sausage!
 And these was a nod to the Greeks with a little plate smashing - very satisfying

This is what happens when the men join in.

Because we had a Ladies day, the men folk of the ex-pat community decided we should have a Men's evening on Friday the 9th whereby the women should cook for their men and a huge picnic took place in the bar.  Gosh nothing is sacred!

On 5th April we held another meeting of the Circle or Friends and we painted eggs for Easter.

Late April, our meeting was to try a bit of hand weaving.  Forgot to take pictures.

By now, the garden was starting to take shape ready for the new growing season.  I hand dug both sides of the poly tunnel area....

...and some of the first things to be planted were potatoes and onions.

I think I am planting a Squeak there!

 Then after careful planning and sticking to my crop rotation, frames started to go up for tomatoes and cucumbers.

In May, we opened a community shop called Bits & Bobs.

This was for the Hotnitsa community to either donate unwanted goods or sell their own pre-loved goods.  The room was free of charge and we were able to borrow or steal some stands and rails.

Some of the goods on sale, Creams and potions from the Little Green Cream Co. made by a semi resident, Mushrooms in all shapes and forms (dried, pastes etc.) from another and produce (chutneys and jams) and homemade dog biscuits from me.

 Junk and collectibles
 Books, CDs etc.
 Pre-loved clothes, almost modelled by the voluptuous Maria


If you saw last year's blog, you will remember Ivan's St Georges Day Celebrations.  The theme seems to be eat drink, be merry and lets shoot the cannon.  Not dis-similar this year but the weather was on our side, even if the cannon wasn't.  - A Few pictures:
 A few of the crew
 The passion mobile

 Ivan getting the goat!
 The kid goat was supplied by my Brother-in-Law.  A necessary cull and very tasty.
 Yes he is drilling up the shaft (for want of a better word)
 Now he seems to be kissing it.
 I'd lost the plot by this point!
All in all, we had a lovely day, the sun was out, food was good and we were not too rowdy.

Our Circle of friends meetings continued and at the beginning of May we made some toadstools using the technique shown to us by a Craft Teacher who will be moving to the village soon, Coral. 

On 8th May, we went out into Veliko Tarnovo for the evening to celebrate Barbara's birthday.  We had been recommended to try a Chinese restaurant but I think it was the regular chef's night off, or at least whoever was cooking was trying to promote oil!  No matter we still enjoyed ourselves and after some very exuberant ordering by Warren, we all left with large dodgy doggy bags.

A few days later on 12th we were invited to a 60th birthday party.  Jimmy was recovering from a broken leg but he still managed to do a little catering looking very at home by the BBQ

Some of the guests.  Jill and Jimmy live in a different village to ours so its quite difficult when you don't know people but we all seemed to have a good time and I finished off the evening in Jimmy's Bar, beating people at pool and sharing my misspent youth.

At the end of the month The circle painted stones for the garden.

My friend Barbara's son and daughter in law came over for a visit, together with the three children and Fiona's mum.  I invited them all over for afternoon tea.  I used some of my strawberry bounty on the cake. Yum Yum!

Whilst they were visiting, we made full use of Adam to help with the first try out of our jointly owned still (Graham and Stewart).  These were some pears that had started fermenting again since they were put into the barrel last year, they were finally ready.

This was definitely a learning curve for the boys.  The coil was to be kept cold while the distilling procedure took place.  
Although we did get a good harvest from it, it was a very cumbersome way of going about things so we had a word with a man who had a word with another man and basically he redesigned the system.  Now the coil sits inside a barrel and there is constant cold water being flushed through.  We had to lend the still to the chap who knew the chap, so he could test it out on his own Rakia.

Things were starting to take shape in the garden.
 ...and to test my crocheting skills,  I decided to trial the growing of tomatoes up strings instead of frames.  I just crocheted a loop stitch of garden twine, held down at the base.  Worked quite well.

June heralded a trip out to Arbanasi, a village not far from Veliko Tarnovo to watch a dance/singing festival.  the weather was great, the dancers were brilliant, men and women, girls and boys.

So we finally decided to take the bull by the horns and try and learn some Bulgarian.  Our friend Stewart had agreed to help us as he has enough to both understand and also get his point across.  I started with the basics.
 A fridge door full of numbers
...and a beam with the alphabet and days of the week (sorry for the poor quality pictures)

The shop was going from strength to strength, particularly on car boot days.  This happens once a month in our village in the summer and people (especially ex-pats) come from all around to trawl through the 30 or so stalls.  Thankfully a lot of people drift up to the bar and as we are stationed just next door, we get some business.

We made dragonflies at the craft meeting this month

...and another event I organised was a pub quiz.  Good fun but I was a little horse after shouting above the TV.  Another Bulgarian tradition - keep the TV on at all costs.
My bungled together prizes, a bottle of Graham's Pear Rakia, a pot of pickle and a cash prize for the winner.

Towards the end of June we decided, with a little help from our friends, to collect some of the traditional small plums that were used to make the proper Rakia.  All good fun but a lot of hard work and the plums were collected.

 And then Graham cracked on with the scientific bit. testing the specific gravity after the sugar had gone in and the plums had fermented a bit.

Mmm, a bit to go then?

 My back border was starting to show some colour, whilst the produce was starting to ripen.

This scary creature was found in amongst my tomatoes and while I'm not usually wimpish about these things, I did look it up on Google and they can give a nasty bite so he/she was removed to the hen area.  Not to scale, it was slightly bigger than it looks here.

With all the bounty I was getting,I started to make all my pickles and preserves.  There is only so much we can eat so the rest went down to the shop for sale.

We marked the coming of July with a BBQ for our friends, Warren and Sylvi and Barbara and Stewart.
....typical, I think the ladies were washing up!

At this point in the year when we are experiencing our most warmest temperatures, the chicken house needs a full clean and special treatment for mites.  They are particular to all the nooks and crannies within the wood and can be really bad for the hens.  Luckily we have the pool up by now and as soon as the task of scrubbing everywhere down and spreading the treatment, its straight into the pool or a shower,  damned itchy little so and so's.  This year in particular, it hit us hard, together with Colorado beetle on the potatoes (picked off by hand every morning) and shield bugs on the tomatoes.  As I don't use any chemicals,  you'd see me stooped over my produce day and night to try and keep them at bay.

The next lot of culling I'm afraid were two of my chickens.  They were two old ones that were given to my by my sister and after monitoring, proved not to be laying.  We tried to offer them to a local sanctuary but we were told that if they didn't lay, they didn't want them! EH! Isn't that the purpose of a sanctuary?  Anyway Graham did the dispatching and I couldn't bring myself to sort them out for the dog so they went to bin heaven.  However as seen above, we were given a dispatched drake by Stewart and Barbara and as I wasn't so attached, I had a go at plucking.
Not a bad job if I do say so myself and the little furry bits where all singed off  with a blow torch.  Rather than gut it I decided to take the breast and legs off the carcase and keep all the insides intact because it was very fresh.
Et Voila!  We had confit duck legs and I still have the breasts in the freezer.  The are a bit smaller than the normal ones you buy so I have decided that I will make some duck spring rolls. Mmmm.

Meanwhile, things were going mad in the garden

Since losing two of my non-laying hens, it was time to purchase some more and the best place we know to buy them is at market day (Friday) in a town not far from us.  I bought two, a lovely grey one and a really pretty pale orange one.  Now when you try and settle new hens into an old flock it can be a bit noisy and for me, anxious.  The newbies flitted around all afternoon and just before we went out for the evening, (local bar for a catch up with the ex-pats on a Friday), we tried everything to get the new chickens into the hen house.  In the end we had to leave hoping that there was enough undergrowth in the chicken area for them to hide if any predators were around.  When we got back from the bar a couple of hours later, we couldn't find either chicken so we just hoped they had found a nice quiet corner.  Next morning and I found the grey chicken but no sign of the orange one.  She was found later that evening by chance, in some undergrowth, her head had been completely taken and there was no blood whatsoever.  Apparently this is the work of a Pole Cat.  I was very sad at what I had put them through but I suppose its nature and to this day the little grey who is not so little is my best layer.

This month at the crafting meeting we made dream catchers (not very well in my case)!

In August, we decided to ditch the crafting and ask one of the ladies (Postmistress and Chief Bar Maid) to teach us the traditional Bulgarian dancing.  Quite why we decided this in the middle of hot August, I'll never know but although we did get a bit hot under the collar, we couldn't stop giggling.


So the excitement was building.  would the still work as well as it had at Ivan's house?
 First to seal the lid with flour and water paste. At this point the liquid is about 48% proof so distilled water is added at a later stage to bring the reading to about 43%
 ......cheers, all that remains is the mulberry bark to be added for the distinctive colour and then its rested for a few weeks before decanting.
Just some of the bounty!

Half way through the month, Barbara and Stewart had to go back to UK so we agreed to (no, I insisted) that we would keep an eye on their produce too and I spent some time mashing down tomatoes and roasting off peppers for them to fill their freezer.  There were some perks though as I hadn't grown any peppers this year, I had some to put in my freezer too.
Just a small sample.

The shop was still doing well and we were raising quite a lot of money for charity with the items that were being donated to us.  This money was to be used to help our community and lots of ideas were forming in our heads.  Later I show some results.  I was having a glut of marrows so I made dog biscuits with them (recipe can be supplied),  of course Bracken was the lucky one to do all the sampling and testing.  I managed to sell quite a lot so well chuffed.
A nice pair of marrows!
I'll take 5 Leva of anyone's money

I had a little trip to a doctors in August,  whilst dealing with the cleansing of my hen house and other chores of that nature, I stepped on a rusty old nail.
I had to pull it out of my foot before I could walk on it but there was absolutely no blood.  I think the rust must have filled in the puncture wound.  I tried to work out when I last had a tetanus injection and supposed it was about 18 years ago so off we went into VT to a doctor who had been recommended and 30 Leva later (about £15) it was all sorted.

September was quite a quiet month as the summer mellows out.  I started digging over my plot  in an effort to prepare for next season and attempted to clear all the weeds that had accumulated over the year.  It was a job that took me about 4 weeks on and off and as such there are no weeds coming through but I'm sure come the Spring it will be another storey. 

This month we made mobiles under the tuition of our semi resident crafter Coral.  I really enjoyed making something simple out of very little.  Here are some examples:

....and here is my effort

In September there was a singing/dancing competition in our village.  Our villages joined up with two other local villages and we went down to our theatre (didn't know it existed) which is in the Chitalitse (town hall) together with a museum.  I put this picture up to show you that the crime rate here is so low that the two bobbies on the beat even found time to come and watch.  See bottom right of the photo.  Not sure who won but it was a very colourful event....
 ....and Natasha the organiser was very proud to show off her new grandchild.

At the beginning of October, our group of natty knitters (or Circle of Friends) and us girls who man the shop, decided to have an end of season meal out.  Two cars full of young ladies, off we went to a nearby village to descend upon their Lodge facilities.

Good fun and a fitting end to the Bits and Bobs season.

Graham had a day out with the boys.  As well as a trip to an outdoor activity and camping warehouse, they planned a trip to a motor museum at Varna.  After they had been shopping, the boys went to a shopping mall to find somewhere to have lunch.  They came across these massage chairs and couldn't resist
Not sure what Stewart was thinking there but I'm sure Warren was enjoying it.
A selection of the beautifully restored engines:

One of the last times that we sat by the shop waiting for customers was about the middle of October so Maria and I decided to make some lanterns for the bar
Chuffed with our efforts, we proudly presented them and issued them with some spare candles.  The following Friday when we went down to the bar, they were gone.  They hadn't even managed to make it until Halloween.  With our limited Bulgarian, there was no way we were going to get into a conversation about that.

November and Barbara was back from her travels.  The three of us decided to take the bikes out for a spin.  Over to Resen about 12 km with an added incentive for lunch, and then back again.  Pleasant day out but very saddle sore for those of us that don't do it very often.

Other jobs started taking place around the homestead.  We decided we would cover over our summer kitchen for the winter.  There is a story here:  We were directed to a place that sold heavy duty plastic, down a dirt track, over a bridge and on the right.  All we found was a small house with some outbuildings.  Knocked on the door and although it didn't look like it, this was the place.  We ordered what we needed and was told to come back the following week.  We duly returned but were told that the machine was broken and could we come back the next week.  We arrived the next week and the lady who took our order was not there but her daughter was instructed to give us the polythene but we were not to give her any money.  The following week we went back again and the lady refused to take any money from us as she had messed us about, she said.  The Bulgarians are incredibly generous but we insisted she took something for her trouble.

Another job that we hoped would save us trekking down to the barn in the snow was to make a wood store outside the front door.  Proved to be a eureka moment from Graham.
about 10 barrow fulls later
We were ready for the worst weather now.

For some time now we had been thinking about how we could spend some of the charity money raised to benefit the community.  Whilst we were discussing things, we had our final little crafty meet up at Maria's house to attempt to make Christmas bauble wreaths.  A few of us decided to provide some nibbles and drinks and needless to say we had a giggle.
 A few pictures of Maria's eclectic but cosy home

I got fed up with my baubles because they kept falling off so after I got home, I got the glue out so this pathetic attempt actually looked more like Barbara's, the one hanging on the door, by the time I had finished.

And so it was decided, we would buy the Pensioners Club in the village, a 32 inch TV and have it mounted on a bracket so it could be seen all around the room.  The pensioners of the village sometimes only see other people when they come out for either their pensions or come up to the club, so we spoke to Maria (the lady who runs the club) and she thought it an excellent idea.  At our meeting with her we asked her why they hadn't decorated the room ready for Christmas but she indicated there was no money for decorations.  So Renee to the rescue!  Jack and Renee are two of the ex-pat characters that have lived in the village for years and Renee has been kind enough to donate a lot of stuff to the shop that she had been storing from when she and her son used to have a stand at the car boot sales.  Renee says "I'm too long in the tooth for that now Helen, so I am". She is originally from Northern Ireland and had an amazing accent.  So it just happens that Renee had a lot of Christmas decorations going spare so up we trooped to the pensioners club to decorate.

 See Renee on the right of this picture
 How chuffed was Maria, and after she offered us the room for any function we wanted, we decided that a pensioners party might be a nice gesture.  Posters were made and put up around the village, Sausage Rolls, Mince Pies all being baked, cup cakes too.  So up we trooped with our goodies and a big pan for the mulled wine we were offering and set our stall up for 10am.  The posters said from 11 but of course everybody was there by 10 - It was free after all.  I was actually amazed at how much the pensioners bought themselves.  All manner of breads, and cakes, so a good time was had by all.

 One of the tables enjoying their festivities.  Was too busy to take many other pictures, just the volunteers:
This is Maria who runs the pensioners club with one of the creations donated by a villager.
 Renee and Sarah with a scary elf in the middle
 Our own Mrs Christmas - our Maria
and two of Santa's helpers with their Christmas jumpers on.  A suitably blurred picture!

The Mayor got wind of what we had been up to and he arrived with his entourage to give a speech and present us ladies with a bag each which contained two "English" novels which of course we all pooled and picked out the ones we wanted. It was the thought that counts.

As usual, we had a village Christmas party with dancing, singing, raffle, food and much merriment.  Very similar to previous years so not many pictures this time, just a few from our table.
 The "Top" table
 An idea of how the room was filling up

 The kebabs were a little tricky to negotiate
 Radko, our neighbour playing the clown
and a little more subtlety, my tree.

The next day, we had been invited around to Radko and Pepa's house for a meal.  They had their son Tisho and his girlfriend Svetla visiting so we didn't have to communicate through Google translate.  We had a lovely evening and as usual Pepa's catering did not disappoint.

We enjoyed a quiet Christmas after all this merriment and were invited for Christmas day to Stewart and Barbara's house, where, for the first time in a long while we actually had turkey.  It was lovely and probably the tenderest turkey I have ever eaten.  Forgot to take photos.  They had worked very hard on the meal to which Renee and Jack were invited.  Jack is a bit deaf so didn't want to spoil things so he stayed at home.  Barbara plated up a special plate for him and when Renee got home apparently he was just about to make a sandwich so he got more than he bargained for.  

Over the Christmas weeks we also had quite a lot of prodding/poking/scans and x rays for Bracken.  Poor lad, for his age we thought he was in good health but after keeping us up all night coughing, we took him to the vet who couldn't feel anything in his throat.  Antibiotics and Anti inflammatory injections at first but when we went back for a check up he hadn't responded to the drugs.  More investigation with an x ray was needed but he had so much fluid in his body that they couldn't see the organs.  Next it was blood tests and a scan which finally concluded that he has congenital heart disease.  His treatment has now been corrected and is now being maintained with the use of drugs.  Bless him, he has to have 10 tablets a day, one of which is incredibly expensive in Bulgaria but we have found a source in Spain.
A picture for cuteness

We had been invited to our friends Chris and Karen together with lots of our other mutual friends.  You've heard of bring a bottle party (but that goes without saying these days) well this was a bring a dish party.

 Sheriffe the dog expecting snacks
Nobody picked up the guitars....

.....but somebody picked up the cat.

So that concludes my review of 2018.  One day I will look back and say "What a year" but for now the first hurdle we have had to endure in the new year has been that we both have bad colds.  My first since moving to Bulgaria.

The sunflower, seen all over Bulgaria
 The ginger cat, seen all over Bulgaria - well mine seen sleeping in the most awkward places

 ... and when she is on the prowl,  she still seeks awkward places

 Leisure Area
 Produce and another leisure area - the summer kitchen
 The hard work area for Graham, keeping lawn and trees under control
'''and pretty as a picture, the bale house/workshop


 Up at the corner of the village lives the Joiner Jordan.  His son keeps bees and I thought it was a lovely shot.
 Some icicles

 Trail of the cat on a cold tin roof

So I'll hang up my boots until the next time (well sandals actually).

Happy New Year from Helen, Graham, Bracken and Squeak xx