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Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Our first Bulgarian snow!

Well, winter has arrived! Yesterday it started with sleety rain and soon progressed into full blown snow! It’s hard to believe Dave had been up in the pear tree cutting out old branches and getting too hot two days before.

 The girls were mightily excited and Bella had to run and run and frolic (resulting in a sore leg!). Bonnie tried her best and had a good chase around, but she is getting on a bit so doesn’t have the stamina of Bella any more, though she still insisted on trying to catch the snow Dave was clearing from the path!

Everywhere is beautiful. The chickens are not best pleased, but they are lucky to have several options for shelter and even a dry place for a good old scratch about, in the outhouse which I had earmarked for a utility room, but which now seems an unnecessary expense. The floor is sandy with several ant activity sites to keep them occupied. Teenage boy is not overly impressed!

The village roads are not too bad. Though they get little used so that there is no real traffic to clear them, neither does the snow get compacted into sheet ice. The main road, about half a mile away, is kept clear and traffic is hurtling down there the same as always.

Dave had a disappointing day yesterday. He went off in a snow storm to pick up the new work surface and some more timber to find they had not had time to do it due to an emergency. Not what he wanted to hear after going out so far in bad weather. The snow didn’t stop him calling in at the river for a dip though. Madness! While he was out he stocked up with chicken food and some bins to keep it in so that we have plenty if we don’t want to venture out.

The builders are still here, but hopefully not for much longer, though they will have to come back to finish the concreting around the footings and some painting. The boss sent Dave to town for some electrical bits and bobs so he can sort out the kitchen lighting which needs wires replacing as it has been gnawed on by rodents. So another trip out in the snow. They are talking about finishing tomorrow for a couple of weeks, so fingers crossed. We are looking forward to having a good clean and getting into some sort of winter routine. And my freezer baskets are looking empty of bread and cake.
And we can tidy the yard. They are a very untidy bunch!!!!!
The fires are both doing their job well. We have to let the kitchen one, which we light as the builders leave, go out fairly early as it gets too hot in there and up the new stairs, and the one upstairs has been lit in the mornings and allowed to go out, just to get over the early morning chill. It is so easy to light and quick to heat that there is no need to keep it in, especially as we were still having lovely sunny days. The dogs are well over the worry over crackling logs and the banging as the fires cool, they are loving the heat.

Dave has been working at recycling the hardcore from the building works. He has already used a fair bit in creating the path to the compost heaps, but has now started to break up the rest ready to use elsewhere. Some of it will be going at the bottom of the chain link fencing where some animal is pushing it’s way under. We don’t know what it is, but it sends the girls into a frenzy of sniffing when it has been in. Possibly a badger or large hedgehog, though they should be hibernating by now.. Maybe we will find out when we have fresh snow if we can get into the garden before the dogs churn it up.

Dave is cracking on with paintings. He has finished the stork and is now tackling a portrait of our beautiful horse, Murphy, who we had to leave back in the UK. We miss him so much so it has been quite emotional for Dave. Also we are looking into internet sites where he may be able to sell some, and maybe hand made cards too.

My early Christmas present, a portrait of our lad Murphy.

And finally, our poor little Welsh dragon, not looking too happy....

Friday, 22 November 2013

Nearly done.....

There is not a lot happening at the moment. The building is progressing, though they seem to be a man short. The outside wall has been splattered and the ceiling and opening to the loft has been lined with tongue and groove and lights bedded in. 

It will be nice to be able to leave the new door open at night so that the dogs can have access to downstairs and any heat left in the fire can make it’s way up during the night. They are hoping to be finished bar the painting next week....YIPPEE....we can get back into some sort of normal routine! We are so glad we had the fires put in earlier and at least had somewhere to hang out which was warm when the weather cooled. But so uncomfortable sitting on Mum’s 1950s Ercol dining chairs. We only brought them out as they have sentimental value, not for any comfort reason.

And talking of it getting cooler, we have had a bit of fog and a stray frost, but not enough to persuade bugs and flies to depart. The flies have been a particular nuisance as they slow down ready for winter, but we rarely see wasps now. Venus the fly catcher and Lacey have taken to jumping onto the sitting room window sill to catch the flies landing on be encouraged!

 But some of the broccoli as covered with cabbage white caterpillars, which I take off with a bit of leaf and throw to the chickens. The rodents are persisting in the loft and being persistently caught in traps. Small spiders keep appearing and a little beetle with go faster stripes, he seems to have had a bit of a bump though and has a dent. We now only see the occasional butterfly and grasshopper. 

But the rhubarb plants refuse to stop sending out new leaves and go to sleep, and the chervil is still going strong. We even have new fennel and potato plants shooting up. But generally the garden is tidy ready for winter. There have also been some small but perfectly formed ripe figs for the picking. These are growing on the shoots which have shot up over the winter from a large stump left when an old fig tree was cut down. We will be doing some drastic pruning to tidy it up in the spring.

 I did mention they were small didn't I?
 How about this weather for nearly the end of November?

 We now need to be extra vigilant with the chickens as there is less daylight and predators will be looking for easier pickings over winter. A couple of small chicks have realised they do not have to go round the electric fence as with a small hop they can go through the bigger holes and save energy. We have not worried too much as they are only out when we are around, and they shelter in the caterpillar haven, but one found it’s way all the way over to the neighbours’ plot and needed rescuing. So we have had to put another fence next to the mesh, chain link this time, to keep them contained. One horrid person said to switch the electricity on but they are still so little......

I have been practicing cooking in the woodburner. It gets very hot very quickly and can burn (or caramelise!) food really quickly while centres can be a bit raw. I am not doing bread in there at the moment for this reason, I have just got it to our liking in the conventional oven (love a good thick crust) but when we get the use of the kitchen back and the weather is cold enough to have the fire going longer on a lower burn I will try again. Meanwhile oven chips, roast veg, Yorkshire puddings and jacket potatoes do so well in there. The Yorkies were delicious, and I have found that frozen courgette slices can be extremely palatable done in there, especially good with a sliced onion mixed through. Shame I decided I didn’t need to freeze too much of the courgette! You live and learn. Pan veg can be cooked on the top and I have done fish fingers (guilty pleasure) but if they spit the fat burns on to the tiles behind and is difficult to remove, so better in the oven. Did a lovely omelette/frittata tonight on top, perfect temperature.

 Dave's chop got a bit lost!

We went round to the English neighbours’ house last night. It was lovely to be in a clean environment again, no dust anywhere, and they have the cutest kitten. We had a lovely evening, though I have to admit to only wanting to sit in front of the telly after the uncomfortable day and rush to get something to eat after the builders went at after 5. But it was well worth the effort and we have got to know them a bit better, and they introduced us to Venka’s pickled veg which we have bottles of in the cellar. I don’t think they will be there long! They were delicious..

Dave is continuing to paint when he can, but he is not good at being still. He has just completed a picture of a stork which had nested in the village in Spring and is now attempting his first horse, our beautiful Murphy who we had to leave behind in the UK. The trouble is he probably knows him too well and may be super critical. But I have great faith in him.

Venka’s dog made one more visit after being caught up in the wire netting for the night, but has not been seen since. However, something is pushing under the chain link from next door, small but powerful enough to push some rocks out of the way, put there to block the gap. We are now on a mission to find out what it is. My bet is on hedgehog, or maybe a badger. Most other things would jump over. It's not very high.

We called in at Dave’s swimming spot on the river on the way back from shopping. The area is looking very different now that the vegetation is dying back, but there are less places to hide to watch the kingfishers and all birds soon departed as we watched....and Dave didn’t even go for a swim. He doesn’t usually let a bit of cold stop him, there had been a good frost that morning though.
 It's easier to see buzzards.....
 And there are still a few hardy flowers blooming....

 The shopping was only partially successful, we went to Praktiker (like B&Q) for carpet and tiles while the sale was on, intending to call in on a Christmas fair promising a stall with bacon and such like, and a long list of other interesting looking sellers. We followed a van down to the site half an hour after the opening time but at the end of the lane found two stalls and a few people sitting about looking bored, couldn’t see a car park though it was a campsite (but the van we followed stopped at a gate and the driver got out to play with the resident dogs, so there might have been one there somewhere) so we struggled to turn around, scraping the car on some old metal, and left, watched by the bored looking people. What a disappointment. No bacon for Dave at Christmas, or cheddar.

We all know about parrots who like sitting on shoulders, but our Bella is also a master. This time she used Dave as a convenient seat to watch what was going on in the garden! Bless her.....
Our first purple sprouting broccoli....

Friday, 15 November 2013

We have stairs!

Yes, we can now go upstairs without venturing outside! The builders have had to go home for a few days so kindly put the stairs roughly in place for us before they went off. Such (almost) luxury. We have had to block the space between kitchen and loft with the chick pen and cardboard to stop any unwelcome visitors, so a bit draughty still. But we are getting there.

 There is more floor space than we thought there would be.
 The cellar doors are staying and there is still plenty of room to get big stuff in and out.

 We might be putting a set of curtains between the kitchen and stairs for the coldest of weather when we will have a fire upstairs.
 The cardboard vermin barrier.

The new bedroom door has been specially built and comes with frame and everything all in place so just needed slotting in place. The carpenter made it to match the other doors though it is narrower to fit the space we had without having to alter the roof. As the weather has suddenly turned autumnal we can now leave the door open to catch any rising heat from the fire in the kitchen in the bedroom. When it gets really cold...and hopefully that will not be until the loft space is blocked in....we will light the upstairs fire too and the whole should stay warm.

We have decided to put a new work top the whole width of the kitchen, with cupboards under, to replace the temporary shelves. The workspace I have now is tiny and this will be big enough for kettle, toaster and washing up. After looking around and seeing some very poor quality laminated tops we have ordered a specially made wooden one from the wood yard where we get our timber from. The shelves and cupboard doors can be another winter project for Dave.

We had a lovely surprise parcel the other day. We have ordered some stuff from Amazon and when an ex-pat turned up with a parcel saying it had been doing the rounds (the address was perfectly written and clear!) we thought it was something we were expecting. It felt a bit light though, and as I opened it I got more and more confused. It was a parcel fronm Dave's old office containing two Cadbury's Advent calendars, a couple of party blow thingies (that should freak Bonnie out!) a load of confetti, tinsel, Christmas card and wrapping paper featuring the whole team in party mode. I felt really emotional, it was such a nice thing to do. Dave is missing his work mates so much and unfortunately they are always so busy if he rings. They are always short staffed and emergencies come thick and fast, so no change there. So Christmas came early here, the first time we have had a card in early November.

The scenery is definitely autumnal now. There is often a mist on the horizon and we can now spot birds of prey sitting in the trees. Unfortunately they tend to fly off before we get close enough for a photo with my camera, which is the one we take out with us when shopping. So all photos a blurred and it impossible to make out what the birds are. We are presuming they are common buzzards usually, though we have seen eagles and kestrels too. There are a lot of jays about too, which you only catch glimpses of when the trees are in full leaf.

Dave has a new toy. We have bought a rotovator so he has been out there for an hour finding out how it works and what it can achieve. He had a practice by the garage but has now turned his hand at turning over the patch allocated to raspberries. This area wasn't ploughed as it is a bit awkward to get to with a tractor, but it seems it is no match for Dave and his new machine. We have fifteen or twenty raspberry canes waiting to go in.

The onion/garlic patch has had to be fenced to keep Bella off. She feels it is a good place to practice digging craters as it has been well dug over by Dave. Dave is not best pleased and even more cross as I had to laugh at Bella's look of achievement!

We are getting a bit concerned over Silver and her eggs. She seems to be the only hen not moulting much and is still laying well. Unfortunately the eggs are fragile (and large) even though we keep any treats to a minimum, only giving enough to take cod liver oil and crushed shell, feed layer's food and green veg, and the Shumens are laying very tough shelled eggs. Unfortunately she is a big girl and clumsy with having a twisted foot, and tends to break them. She then tells everyone and if we don't get there first there is a free-for-all as they all pile in to get to the cracked egg. Sevi often sits with her, but I am not sure if that is because she's his favourite or if it's because he wants to be there if the egg breaks. Luckily they leave the other eggs be. We are hoping this will resolve itself and is only because she is growing new feathers as well as laying nearly every day.

The neighbours are still bringing us goodies. Venka continues to send over pizza and other goodies, Baba Danka gave me some flowers and a cutting from something or other, and the old gent from behind is still bringing windfalls round. The builders have nicknamed him the Inspector as he has a thorough look over their work while he is here. I have made him a cake which the (new) recipe tells me needs keeping a few days before eating, so as it is a new recipe I had to make one for us just to make sure it is OK. I used the ground almonds available in Kaufland but they are quite dark as they are ground with skin on. They taste OK though so the neighbours may have their cake. And the cherries do not sink! I made double for the big cake but used less cherries as the amount given was far too many even for this cherry lover.

I have also made some more jellies with some of the apples and quince. This time I put sage in some and mint in the other. We have a pile of apples stewed and frozen and still more to use.

This is our local train crossing.
It's only single here and when a train is due we have flashing red lights and buzzing. Unfortunately you can be sitting there for ages with no train in evidence. We have now learned to do what the locals do and have a look to see if anything is coming before carefully crossing. We have only once actually seen a train. We once sat there for twenty minutes before a local came and waved us across. I have no idea if a train ever came, though we do occasionally hear one.