Monday, February 29, 2016

Was this really the shortest month?

Beginning of February we collected half a cubic of planked white oak, from the house of a friend who had kindly added it on to his timber order to save us paying delivery for such a, relatively, small amount.   Half a cubic translated to 43 planks which is more than enough to make the replacement back door, currently being recorded as the Secret Door project, as Paul didn't want photos of the construction shared until it was completed.  It's not quite finished but he is happy enough with progress for the photos to appear here.    For the first few days, of having the wood, our main activity seemed to be sawdust production, planing the planks and then getting them to the same thickness.   Tracey started getting very frustrated when Paul started using the micrometer and saying 'this plank needs going through again it's 2 thousandths of a millimetre out'.     Guess who worked as an engineer in the past

Micrometer on one of it's many outings

It was just a hole during summer, the old rug was put up to prolong kitchen use in autumn/winter

Paul is happy with the way the door fits into frame
So it goes back into workshop for more work

Don't have the hinges for the door window yet

It's in but not finished

When we went to collect the oak we also got the opportunity to see  the French Windows (henceforth to be called the Friendship Doors) in production.    These came about as after the fire we were given the opportunity to change things we would previously have happily lived with, and because we were having a new kitchen/diner area Tracey thought it would be nice to make it easier to eat outside.    We had been given some surplus, old patio doors to help with the rebuild and Tracey had asked Ian if he could modify them to fit the gap available, after checking with Paul, of course.   It didn't take Ian long to work out that making doors, and a frame, from scratch was going to be much less labour intensive and result in a better quality door.

This is the window being replaced by friendship Doors

Some of you may remember that November 2014 Paul got stopped, after the police caught up with us 5km later, for failing to stop and we thought it had all been forgotten about until the following February when the local police arrived to give him a 200 leva (about £80) fine and a 6 month driving ban.   We were told we could collect the licence from the local police station in 6 months time.    Haha.    August last year we went to the local police station who informed us they didn't have the licence and it was probably in Gorna (location of 'offence').   Paul wasn't happy driving a 180km round trip on the off-chance his licence was in Gorna, so asked a neighbour, who used to be a police officer if he could locate its whereabouts.   Turned out it wasn't in Gorna but at Targovishte police station, so off we toddled to collect it.   The main police station redirected us to the traffic police where we waited in a none moving queue for an hour before Paul walked out, without his licence, obviously.   Anyway Ian & his wife Tracy  have a son who speaks very good Bulgarian and as we needed to choose hardware for the Friendship doors the 5 of us had a trip to Targovishte and Paul got his licence in probably less time than it took Tracey to decide which locks and handles she wanted.

Friendship Doors in Ians workshop

The evening of collecting the driving licence saw us receiving a 'phone call from our part time neighbours (they live in town when working and the village at weekends),  Illiya, our Bulgarian papa, had broken his leg could we go round and help, take him to Razgrad and then on to his daughters in Varna,  Paul picked up the keys we have for his house and went round with the car whilst Tracey found out more information before locking up the house and walking round.   As Tracey was locking up Paul came running back as he was unable to get through the gate - luckily we can also access Illiyas house by going through our garden, fodder field and onto his property.     By the time Tracey arrived Paul had unlocked the gate and was inside with Illiya.  It took us nearly an hour to make Illiya comfortable, pack a bag, change into town clothes (don't ask us why this was important) and get ready to carry him to the car.   During this time we received numerous phone calls frustrated that we were taking so long - Illiya is in his 70s our priority was doing things at his speed not for the convenience of others.    For a frail looking man he is heavier than he looks but we got him to the car without dropping him and proceeded to Razgrad.   Our thinking was we were going to collect our other neighbour, from their town flat, take Illiya to Razgrad hospital for initial treatment and then if the hospital authorised it take him to his daughters in Varna.   Wrong.   An old man, with a history of heart problems and a broken leg sat in the passenger seat of our car for over 2 hours whilst we drove him to Varna hospital, where we had to wait for a few minutes until his daughter arrived.   We know the reasoning - he had had his spine operated on at this hospital, the system is computerised so all his previous conditions are known here but ...   Anyway, the hospital x-rayed Illiya and also checked his heart,  obviously they kept him in.    the following evening we received an update that because of his existing medication they could not operate for 3 to 4 days, which actually meant 6 days because of the weekend.   Illiya had broken his hip, it has now been operated on but the hospital anticipate 3 - 4 months of recovery.

We have previously mentioned our plans to visit some friends and Tracey's father, in France, Tracey had sent her father a card with the dates we would be in France and received no response.   Contact is limited to snail mail and text messages, as he has neither internet nor landline, on his birthday Tracey sent him  a greetings text and  by the end of the day was getting concerned she had not received the normal acknowledgement so sent a second text.    Things rapidly went downhill as the response informed her he had got the card/letter and 2 texts and the dates of our proposed visit might not be convenient, as he may not be around.   After reading this Tracey was upset but also angry, she has not seen her father since February 2012 and he never goes anywhere.  Tracey is still annoyed with her father but more so because she believes he is 'playing games'  and being awkward because she did not check with him before booking that the dates would be convenient for him.   To be fair the fact he has not spent a night away from his home since he moved to France  it was reasonable of her to assume he would be there during our visit.   At the moment we are waiting upon a promised letter, from him, with a definitive answer on if he will be there or not.

As the Secret Door project no longer needed Tracey to be in the workshop, and the weather has been good, she started working on some ideas in the garden, a day or 2 later than planned as she had strained her back moving Illiya.   .     Despite the fact we lost a number of birds recently to a neighbours stray dog we prefer the animals to be able to free range - in the winter this is relatively stress free but once the vegetables are transplanted out they will need protection.    One of Tracey's plans involves using some of the old roof beams, not suitable for inside projects, to build a vegetable stockade.   The  idea being that during the growing season the gates for it will be closed, protecting the vegetables, and once all the crops are harvested the gates can be left open for the animals to scratch around in there.    The other plan is to fence off a second area that will be for fruit and perennial vegetables, the animals will not have any access to this area.     Hopefully blocking their access to large areas will also help with keeping the areas they have year round access to relatively weed free.  it's an experiment and we will see if it works over time.

Corner post for the veggie stockade
Posts positioned just need to add fencing mesh

Paul wasn't totally happy with Tracey's method of positioning the posts, by eye, and doesn't really approve of her measuring distances by saying one full stride, or tips of fingers to opposite shoulder, is approximately 1 metre.   When it came to  choosing the height of the posts Tracey ran into problems and Paul took advantage of it.   Tracey knows how tall she is in feet and inches (5'3") but had no idea in metric (1.6m) so asked Paul, who is 6'4",  how tall she was ... his response 'Short'    Funny man,

One of three tables now covered in seedlings waited to be transplanted

Posts going in for the fruit/perennial area

We received a 'phone call from our part-time neighbours before the weekend to see if we could help them take some trees down.    Our response was let us know when you're in the village and if we have time we'll help.    When they arrived Paul  was presenting the Secret Door to the existing frame, to locate hinge positions, and Tracey  was varnishing the Friendship Doors. We were given Martinitsas, for 1st March, and told we were busy and did not have the time to help them

We can now see us moving back into the kitchen/diner part of the house before too much longer which is a relief to Tracey as she is currently cooking on the bedroom pechka (woodburner) and beginning to get a bit bored of food she doesn't get to play with during the production stage.

Tracey's current cooking facilities, along with the halogen oven

Friendship doors frame in postion
Ready for glazing

Death is one of those areas where whatever we want to say about the person has the potential to sound  trite and meaningless to those left behind.       One of the followers of this blog has been very inspirational and encouraging to Tracey and it seemed that Tracey & Sara, despite only having met in the real world once, had much in common with their outlook on life and food.   We knew Sara had joint problems but were totally shocked when her husband announced her death.  Dave is continuing with Sara's blog which records their life and fantastic achievements since moving to Bulgaria.   For those interested in a similar, but different rural life in Bulgaria we recommend a trip over to see, at the moment Dave is using it to come to terms with his loss but even that gives a personal insight into the Bulgarian traditions surrounding such a painful subject.

Whether it is the fact that we haven't one a big shop in over a month, so are running low on basics or Tracey's restricted cooking but Paul has been having weird dreams.  It was the end of the world, to most people this would be enough of a nightmare scenario right? No, what Paul's nightmare was is that we have no baccy nor coffee nor meat stockpiled, meaning it will be a long slow healthy suffering. and dying as a veggie!     Tracey is having evil thoughts of weaning him over to a veggie diet, starting off with one veggie meal a week, then 2, then 3 ...

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Water in various guises

Since the last update our main priority has been keeping warm and safe.    Although we still have no backdoor, the oak is arriving for that this week, Tracey was determined to continue using the kitchen/diner area even though it had been accepted we could not sleep on the mezzanine this winter.   Eventually Paul 'put his foot down' and made Tracey give up spending her time in the kitchen, even with the fire on she was bundled up to keep warm.   The reasoning behind not wanting to move totally over to the main house was the lack of space to work on any significant projects, also you can't really strip old paint from furniture in areas where you are planning on sleeping, because of the fumes created.    Tracey's solution to not being able to cook, or do any useful projects was to patch her old German army jacket which has definitely seen better days.   The choice of heart and flower patches, along with replacing the buttons with more colourful ones seems out of character.

Now Paul's workshop is mainly finished and tools have been moved over from the cellar a major clean up and organisation was planned by Tracey.   It took her about 2 hours before she realised how delusional her intention to have it finished in a day, or even a week, was, but leko po leko (bit by bit) as they say around here.   It didn't help that Paul had very kindly decided to share his cold, complete with streaming nose, with Tracey so neither of us felt like doing much.

The  first snow of winter was late, arriving on 31st of December, and didn't stay around for long at all.   Not sure if it was because of the snow, or the hamper she was given xmas eve but out Baba delivered warm eggy bread mid morning - just as we were thinking about what to have for breakfast - life doesn't get much better than that.   Despite the earlier snow  Paul managed to dig up a bucket  of fartichokes which Tracey had decided to ferment, after reading, somewhere, that this removed their more unpleasant side effect (still to be tested).

A selection of ferments

Proper snow arrived on the 5th of January, and made our garden look as good as the neighbours.   Unfortunately proper snow comes with much lower temperatures so we had a few days of relying on bottled water, because of frozen pipes, we were also unable to flush the inside toilet as either macerator, or the sewage pipe, had also frozen.    Unfortunately frozen pipes proved to be one of the lessor inconveniences,   defrosting pipes can be much as we found out one evening.    During the defrost process our shower fitting split gushing water everywhere at the same time that the macerator decided to back up adding sewage to the mixture.     A bathroom floor covered in water and sewage is not something we recommend.   At least this wasn't one of the days we were also without electricity, although for such a mild winter our electric and internet have been decided intermittent.

Cracked  shower fixing

Because of the frozen pipes restricting our access to useable water - the water in the IBC's is for the animals, and that from the well unsuitable for more than crops, we were thankful of the deep snow as it meant we could fill pans with it and melt it on the pechkas (woodstoves) for washing and cooking.  Our bottled reserves were running low and were being used purely for much needed coffee fixes.  

At least we had an advantage when we decided to move to Bulgaria simply from the month we spent helpxing here and the amount of online research we'd done.   There are many expat forums out there but one we found to be most useful was expat-blog now renamed  As well as easy access to blogs written by people already living in the country it also gave us access to a forum, jobs offers, feedback from expatriates, country guides and much more! We highly recommended it for anyone considering starting a life in a new country.   Seemingly there are more than 1.5 million members worldwide with 3.672 of them being in Bulgaria.   Unlike some of the other forums we looked at the participation rate is good and the answers are helpful and relevant.

Although we had planted garlic and red onion in the garden a few months and the main crop of white onions will be started from sets in April, edging the paths in the fodder field, Tracey decided to start some shallot, onion and leek seeds off, early January, - accepting they may not germinate due to the cold (they did germinate so now she's wondering where she can squeeze them in).

A week after the snow hit the weather was warm enough to visit town with just a t-shirt and cardigan on, unfortunately all the plans made that day came to nothing as the following day we were back to arctic conditions, sinking our spirits.     So because Tracey couldn't do as she'd planned she retreated to the kitchen producing more jars of ferments and her first loaf, from Sid the Sourdough.

First attempt at sourdough, achieved the taste but texture need improving

We'd asked our UK friends if any of them fancied a couple of weeks holiday in Bulgaria so we could visit Tracey's dad, and some friends, in France before going over to UK to pick up a new (s/h) car and driving back.    Unfortunately work commitments meant none of them were able to help luckily a friend living in Bulgaria, who supplements her income by house sitting, was available so ideas about only one of us going were cancelled.

February, so far, has seen little achieved apart from the Lemongrass and Dragon Palm rescued from the unheated area and put into intensive care and many seeds started in front of the, main house, landing big southfacing windows.    (There were going to be more pictures but blogger doesn't seem to want to upload them, and after half an hours waiting they have been abandoned, by us)