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Monday, 28 March 2016

A constant juggling process of priorities....

This week has basically seen lots of running around and not seeming to get anything done although realistically much has been done, but not exciting stuff. On Tuesday I needed to go to our nearest city, the old capital of Bulgaria, Veliko Tarnovo. Of all the days I went was the day of major parades The official date on which we celebrate the day of Veliko Tarnovo is March, 22nd. The date is related to the victory of Tsar Ivan Asen II over the ruler of the Despotate of Epirus, Theodore Komnenos Doukas, in the battle of Klokotnitsa (near the nowadays town of Haskovo).  The battle in which the Bulgarian tsar defeated and captured Theodore Komnenos took place on the 22 March 1230. Having driven round and round the city as my normal routes were all blocked off by police for the oncoming parades I eventually found somewhere to park and went about my business. Every time I go to VT, a city like many other cities where beggars frequent the streets I now always buy a hot snack from a vendor and give it to one of the beggars sitting on the pavement who with paper cup in hand are asking for money. I stoop down and try in my broken Bulgarian to say here is some food as I will not give money and try to converse with them a little to let them realise that they are not alone. I shake their hand and wish them well and then go on my way. For the sake of effectively a very small amount of money I feel that I have given someone who I do not know who sits on cold wet pavements like a discarded item of litter some hope to go on and face another day and see that there may be some compassion in some people out there. I refuse to give money as I totally understand there are some beggars who beg to fuel drug or drink addiction, but maybe by this small gesture I make each time I visit the city it does give one at least a hot meal. Having too much to do I sadly did not stay to see the parades and other celebrations that took place during the day and on until the night.

On the Tuesday as promised I also did more rotavating for my neighbour Venka and Jordan in preparation for planting potatoes. In return they fed me in the evening which saved me making something and as expected a couple of rakias were consumed helping me to sleep, which at the moment I do soundly until around 3am, but then I am going to be at 9am as I am totally exhaused.

The early morning starts before it is light gives me opportunities to do some cooking of writing of the blog, as once it is light it is all systems go sorting out the animals. This week I managed to get to make some raspberry and apple jam ready for sale at the car boot sale. After making it I have realised Sara was definitely underselling her produce for if I sell them at the price she asked it would not even cover the cost of making them so I am considering selling them at 4 lev (1.66), but speaking to my Bulgarian neighbour she says sell them at 5lev.
Raspberry and Apple Jam

I have also made more tealight holders, but not entirely happy with them when they are lit as the paint is transluscent and allow some light to shine through them. Still they are only prototypes and many people have shown an interest in them.
Prototype tealight holders

At last the migrating storks have returned to Bulgarian and after seeing one standing on the nest in the next village, now means the martinitsas, now somewhat grubby around my wrist can be removed and hung from a tree. I had placed Sara's martintsas on the cross on her grave and now after seeing the stork they have been removed and along with mine placed in the tree behind her grave. As I hung them up I tied one of hers and one of mine beside each other a the branch and then tied the two martinitsas together. 

On the garden front due to the continued wet weather it has limited what work I can do out there. I have managed to sow carrot and beetroot seed. I tend to leave the lines in so I know where I have planted until they come up, but also to try and keep the dogs off the rows too much. I have also improvised the jam jars to protect the plastic spoons used as name tags from the attention of Bella who would suddenly appear with them in her mouth, which she used to do with the stick used as markers last year.   
 Carrots and Beetroot planted

 Plant label protection from Bella

 At last the strawberries seem to have got established

 More spring flowers

 Primulas (like little primroses) that I bought from the market and planted for Sara

The only hyacinth in the garden in flower, Mind you we do now have grape hyacinths donated by Violetta (a Bulgarian neighbour along with blackberries)

My niece and her partner are arrived on Sunday staying with me for a while whilst they take in what Bulgaria has to offer. It is good that they are here as they will be able to help set the garden up ready by digging trenches that assist with watering the plants once they have been planted and putting the potatoes in as there has been a delay in getting the garden set up.

At the moment I am coping with being alone, but the grieving process of not having Sara here and the way missing her can suddenly 'come up and bite you in the butt' all has to be dealt with on a daily basis. The combination of trying to get ready for the 40th day service and cleaning up the house for family members arriving from the UK means that at the moment work is constant and generally keeps my mind on track going forward, but simple things can trigger moments of dwelling about Sara and then occasional tears. It can be from the simple gesture my neigbours and Bulgarian friends make such as they want to buy me small plants such as primulas to plant on Sara's grave, to Veska another Bulgarian lady at the gate holding a piece of lilac saying "za Sara" (for Sara) to finding the bottle of cologne Sara had which was called Tosca, the name of her beloved horse she had from when it was a foal, to the moments of solitude when suddenly you feel it is all too much being alone.

The lilac cutting given by Veska

Once again quotes from my all time favourite film Out of Africa in which Isak Dineson said the following help me on those occasions.

Basically when I feel myself dwelling too much I force myself to get up, I dust myself off and then get on with the next task, but life goes on and so it must for the memory of Sara. Slowly but surely things in the smallholding are being adapted to enable me to continue and not be swamped with too many tasks. I am thinking ahead and have new plans of which some may come into fruition, some may not. time will tell, but essentially it is important that I stay positive and remember the good times Sara and I had together. Most of all I cherish the realisation that I actually knew what true love was and that I made Sara happy.

As an update the first carboot of the season that I attended, the first without Sara albeit that it was raining was a great success, not only that I dealt with selling without Sara, but that I pretty much sold out. My niece and her partners came with me for moral support and many of Sara friends came for a chat. The trouble is now need to get making more jam, brown sauce and tea lights.
How chuffed was I.

More chicks are due to hatch this week as the Light Sussex flock of chicks gradually build up in preparation for selling. Sadly due to a incubator malfunction I think many of the Indian Runner eggs may fail to hatch, but we will have to wait and see. Fortunately I now have another automatic more reliable one for the next batch of Indian Runner eggs that will go in at the end of the week. I am also now looking to buy another goat, hopefully an Anglo-nubian to enable me to produce more cheese in the winter, a time when it is not possible to work in the garden, to keep me occupied and develop new skills further in trying to achieve a little more of the self sufficient lifestyle that Sara and I endeavured to achieve.

So as you things are little hectic still to say the least and apologies for the delay in writing this latest update but I hope you enjoy.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Just not enough hours in the day

As another week has gone by and the changeable weather for March here in Bulgaria restricts work in the garden so other tasks indoors take over. No matter the weather, each day after the goats have been collected by the goat ladies Zhumbula and Galia or fed if it is raining and the other animals on the smallholding have been fed and checked I go to Sara's grave for a coffee and a 'chunner' before I get ready for the day ahead without her.

Although worrying about the delay in getting the garden organised it is foolhardy to even consider working the ground for sowing carrot and beetroot which are next on the list for as the soil although friable when dry become a bit of a nightmare when wet as it compacts quickly and clings to your shoes creating a good workout as you try and clump up the garden an extra four inches taller. In addition to this we have had the occasional night temperatures below freezing which would only halt germination further. The weather is so deceiving and recently the return of migratory birds such as White Storks and Dalmatian Pelicans to Bulgaria after the winter have been seen over the east towards the Black Sea. The occasional sunny day makes me think at last spring has truly arrived and encourages me to take the now lanky tomato plants that Sara foolishly sowed too early into the still surviving poly tunnel to then a day later to be returned back into the house due to falling temperatures. This year most certainly is the first year where a fire still regularly needs be lit in the house to keep warm at night.

Being restricted to indoor activities has enabled me to start getting things made or arranged for the first car boot sale of the year. After the making of the brown sauce which already has had 'the thumbs up' with taste tests I have been searching for more jars to make raspberry jam. Friends have given me jars, but sadly many of them are the large jars used for storing bulky items such as preserved vegetables or tomato sauce (lutinitsa) a regularly bottled produce and the jars are too large for jam, but nothing is wasted. Having purchased some glass paint I have decided to try selling them as tealight holders, so currently the kitchen is full of an array of different coloured jars or jars that require colouring before the external paintwork is applied. From initial responses they seem popular and so it is all systems go with painting jars in the next week.

Washed and ready for decorating

Internal painting completed

Finished article (trail test), 

Sara used to also make greetings cards and had before Christmas bought in preparation for this years car boots a bulk of card making things. Although limited with time Sara would have hated them going to waste so a couple of mornings I have got a few cards made up as well. 

A few decoupage cards prepared

Most of the items produced do not raise a great deal of money and pretty much only cover the cost of making them. It takes a little time to adjust to the fact that you cannot expect to command prices as would be paid in the UK. Car boots were one of Sara's highlights of the month, an opportunity to meet already made friends from other villages and to also make new acquaintances. The number of friends she made was evident by the number of them attending her funeral. So hopefully if I can organise myself I hope to have cards, tea-light holders, sauce and jam for sale at the first car boot at the end of the month. This will be another hurdle I need to overcome, dealing with life without Sara, but a hurdle I must confront and deal with in order to continue on living here in Bulgaria and living our dream. l will not become a hermit or recluse, but the occasional excursion to town or the market has to be planned well in advance to take into effect that I need to deal with home life on my own first. Simple examples such as preparing a meal, being around to ensure the dogs are not on their own too long, to being in when the goats come back from being out all day all need to be considered, At the moment it is not possible to ask our neighbour to let the goats in as she has done on occasions for until the forty day period of Sara's death has passed she and any other Bulgarian will not cross the gateway to the property, another Bulgarian custom that I do not fully understand.

On the poultry and livestock front the next lot of chicks are due to hatch next week and out of the eleven Light Sussex eggs that were set, eleven of them appear fertile when candled ten days into incubation, so 'Storming Norman' the cockerel is definitely "doing the business". Of the fifteen Light Sussex eggs I bought from another breeder so that any hens from those I can keep to increase my flock, fourteen of those appear fertile and should hatch a week later.
 Storming Norman

At the moment I have not candled the Indian Runner duck eggs (eighteen eggs set in the incubator) to assess fertility and will do that in the next few days. Of the five female ducks, three are laying regularly and fortunately 'Coco' the chocolate coloured female has mixed in with the rest of the flock. She was not named because of her colour, but because I was concerned that she may have been hatched under a chicken as she seemed to be imprinted on chickens rather than ducks. She appeared a little bonkers as she chased after the chickens giving them verbal abuse rather than mixing with the ducks. Over time the ducks decided they no longer wanted to roost in a separate shed to the chickens and all sleep in the same shed and since then Coco seems to have weaned herself off her chicken infatuation,

I am a duck

With the sheer number of eggs I am getting at the moment excluding the Light Sussex and Indian Runners. I am getting a minimum of eight eggs from Sara's hens a flock of ex-battery hens and various mixed breeds which means pretty much eggs on the menu each day. I decided that as in the summer I will be pretty busy in the garden to have a go at making quiches that I could then bake and freeze to be taken out in the summer and defrosted and eaten with salad.  Sadly I still have not got fully to grips with the oven, so although not burnt, more toasted, two red pepper and salami, one salmon and sweetcorn and one cheese, leek and sweetcorn quiches were successfully made and minus one which has already been eaten are now frozen ready for the summer. I was even more chuffed that they were made from scratch in that I had also made the short crust pastry myself. With a little more practice they may look a little more appetising.

Homemade shortcrust pastry 

Near burnt offerings, but edible.

The goats Millie and Tilly (aptly named Tubby Tilly) due to her rotund shape go out daily weather permitting and the new billy and ulgy brute still has the hots for Millie so much so he got overexcited and came steaming into the garden as Millie shot out of it to escape his advances. Fortunately he realised his mistake and shot back out the garden legging up the road chasing Millie and then when she ran back to the herd he then settled down and all of them went of in a more orderly fashion. This being the case hopefully now at last Millie may be pregnant (in a week she should be back in season if she is not). If little Tubby Tilly has been mated it will have also been by 'the stinker' being the new kid on the block, as I do not think she was although rotund was caught by the old billy as she was in season mid February so should have been back in season, but unlike Millie who lets everyone know she is in season, Tilly is a little quieter and does not tell all and sundry. I need to keep a check on their charts, but hopefully one should give birth at the end of July/beginning of August which will then enable me to make cheese during the winter. I still keep toying with the idea of an Anglo-Nubian goat as they have a higher yield and a higher butterfat content to the milk, but trying to get a good type here in Bulgaria is pretty tough and they do command quite a high price in comparison to the usual goats found in Bulgaria. Still we can all dream.

As for the dogs and cats all are their usual selves except Bonnie the Lab. Bless her is now coming up for thirteen years old and of I night time I have to carry her up the stairs as her back legs have occasionally given way under her which has made her a little nervous of going up them. She is fine in herself, eating well and does not seem to be in any pain. but I have put her on Glucosomine just to help her joints.  The morning walk for the dogs which is only around the block takes a good fifteen minutes in comparison to five minutes due to Bonnie. Although they do not really need the walk as they have access to the garden ad lib, it is still a habit they have from the days back in the UK where as soon as Sara went to work I walked them before I went to work.
 The 'old girl' Bonnie

 Permanently asleep other than food time Charlie

 Me and my shadow Bella - always there with me making sure I am OK, well I think more using me as protection

Don't mess with me Spud

There is not a lot going on in the garden at the moment other than plants that have lay dormant over the winter are now beginning to appear and blossom, 


 Peach blossom

Early peas

Broad beans

Raspberry canes 


The potatoes that Sara had ordered are now being 'chitted' ready for planting. Sara being Sara always wanting to trial things decided on five varieties and as most are good for storing seems like my diets will be mainly spuds throughout the winter.

So as you can imagine my days seem to be pretty much full on, getting up around 3.30am and crashing out at 9pm and then I still do not seem to have got everything done in the day. Still it stops me from dwelling too much and getting on with our dream, but I know sooner or later I need to streamline and reduce the workload somehow, but tomorrow is another day.



Wednesday, 9 March 2016

All systems go

As Baba Marta day has been and gone so had the sun albeit it briefly. The day after, as promised, I rotavated the main part of my Bulgarian neighbours (Venka & Jordan) garden as there was heavy rain due. At the moment the weather is sporadic one day sunny and then next rain which puts a halt to working the land as it is too wet for a few days, delaying the planting of much needed seeds for cropping later in the year.

As Venka and Jordan are now in their mid 70's it is the least I could do for them after the support they have given Sara and I over the last three years when we first moved here, but more so the support they have given me since last week when Sara died. Normally they would have been out there in the garden with "chappers",  similar to a hoe braking up the clods of earth and trying to level the ground in preparation for planting. Once there I embarked with rotavating the ground and as I went along, Venka followed me like a seagull follows a tractor when the fields are ploughed in the UK. She was not looking for any worms, just waiting for me to stop when the rotavator clogged up with old bits of string that had had been used for tying the tomatoes up the years before which had been discarded, but had not rotted down during the winter. In the evening I was invited around for a meal and the usual couple of glasses of rakia, their way as a thank you for my pomosht (help). Later in the week they had seen me busy working the garden and again invited me for an evening meal, maybe making sure I eat properly. In return I drove them to the market as a thank you, truly a caring couple.

On Saturday (nine days from when Sara died) as in Bulgarian tradition and as part of the bereavement process of Sara, family members go to the grave and have a meal with Sara. Fishing around the freezer I found a lemon drizzle cake and some cheese and onion bread that Sara had made. At 11am on the dot myself, Sara's sister and brother in law (Helen & Graham) and my surrogate parents in Bulgaria, my neighbours Venka and Jordan all got in vehicles and drove to the cemetery to be confronted by quite a few people and cars. Initially I was thinking why have all these people come, but it turned out to be the day the whole of Bulgaria remember those that have died in their family. Walking through the cemetery to go to Sara's grave many Bulgarians knelt tidying up the graves of their lost ones and placing flowers on the grave. Once we arrived at Sara's grave Venka provided candles which were lit and placed on Sara's grave and then Venka poured from a small drinks bottle wine onto the grave. I too then poured wine from another bottle which I had bought with me on the grave as did everyone else in turn. Then I gave each of those gathered a piece of Sara's cheese and onion bread with salami and then lemon drizzle cake and a little cola. After finishing we said our goodbyes and returned home. The final aspect of grieving will be held on the fortieth day of Sara's death where a ceremony will be held at her graveside by the priest and food is again handed out. This as Bulgarian custom dictates is seen as the day grieving ceases for the departed and Sara's spirit leaves this earth and goes to heaven. Going to her grave each day to have coffee with her and sit at the table each day having a meal with her does help me with grieving for her. I miss her so much, but life must go on albeit with her spirit in my heart, keeping myself busy does help keep me occupied and hopefully she  will be thinking "you're doing good my darling",

As expected for the unpredictable weather in March, the day after I had rotavated the neighbours garden it chucked it down with rain, so not much happened other than shopping with Helen and Graham at Gorna Oryhovitsa as I needed to get more prunes to complete making brown sauce in memory of Sara for sale at the carboot at the end of the month. By the time ingredients were purchased and time spent making it as with most of Sara's jams and chutneys little if any profit will be made on them, but Sara loved making them and the carboots were a social event for her.

The next day was a trip to Polski Trambesh to pay the annual house and car tax at the municipality office. With the relevant documents in hand I tried to explain that Sara had died and so I would not need to pay her annual tax, but as her name was still on the house deeds and although I showed them Sara's death certificate they still she her as alive until I have the deeds changed. I must admit this knocked my dealing with Sara's death a little so I went to Veliko Tarnovo to try and clear my head and what happened, retail therapy, not good. I ended up buying a small oil painting to hang in the living room in memory of Sara as she loved her flowers and vegetable growing so it wasn't really wasted money if it helps me through this period of adapting without her. Even having a meal which although infrequent when Sara was alive, requires adapting now. To sit at a table on my own I find tough and events when both of us would be together now requires an inner strength in me to stop myself becoming depressed at her loss and making the next day tougher to deal with. The main thing is I had time with her, nearly eleven years of marriage, a time for me to make her happy and more so for her to make me happy and these thoughts actually do help me pick myself up when I start feeling a little low. Apologies for going off piste, but now to get back on track with other events of the week. On the  way home I stopped of at friends who run a horticultural business to collect an order Sara had made 1 kg shallots (2 varieties), 500g onions (one variety) and 5kg of seed potatoes (5 varieties) and an apple tree (Sara must have been thinking more brown sauce in the future requires more apples). They had indicated I did not need to buy them if I did not want them, but as they are varieties that store well I felt it was worthwhile purchase, so maybe my winter meals will be onions, potatoes and brown sauce!!!!

          Sara's painting

Sara was always into recycling where possible and I even amazed her using things that I would have normally thrown away when we lived back in the UK, so I decided to use a wooden chopping board I had bought her as a Christmas present as a sign in the kitchen above the work surface area in her memory and as encouragement  to continue making some jams, chutneys and day to day meals. The chopping board required some modification for although it was to made in the shape of a fish to indicate its use it looked more like a whale. With jigsaw and sandpaper and carving tool I adapted it to look more like a fish. I have yet to finish the writing (to be edged with white), but pretty chuffed with the end result and more so that I did not injure myself in the process (not to good with sharp tools).

Fish chopping board - before surgery

After surgery fish

Well they say keeping busy helps!!!!! The next day I was up at 3am, yes 3am I kept myself busy preparing brown sauce, pretty close by the bucket load as I needed to use the 4kg of apples that I had bought for Sara to use to make it. Using the little gas cooker that we used to boil water or char red peppers and cheaper than using the electric oven the huge pot bottled for what seemed forever as the contents slowly reduced to the right consistency. During this time using another new skill, using a sewing machine, yes a sewing machine I made a curtain to screen the waste bin under the counter of the unit I had made for Sara a couple of years ago and then put up a new roller blind on the kitchen door window.  
Not only screening the waste bin, but a great play area
 for the cats to ambush me as I walk past it

By 10am I had managed to get the sauce reduced, jars sterilised and the sauce decanted, the jars and their contents then plunged in boiling water for sealing and the 20 jars, yes 20 jars labelled. If I see another jar of brown sauce, it will be all too soon!!!!!

No, no not another brown sauce

Time to stop for a snack of, wait for it, omelette, a regular snack as the hens are laying eight to ten eggs a day then to get more some gardening done as once again the sun has been out and dried the ground up sufficiently to get some planting done. This time of the year peas, onions and garlic are being planted and checking though the plan Sara had put in one of her books I got to work. Having rotavated the ground a couple of days before all that was required was to close the garden off from the hens and the ducks who hopefully will have dealt with any wintering pests. As we have always striven to grow vegetables organically relying upon companion planting or hand picking any pests that appear, namely Colorado Beetle or Cabbage White Butterfly caterpillers. I hope once crops are established to allow the Indian Runner ducks access to the garden as they are good natural pest control without causing damage to the plants or ground. I have tested this a couple of times giving them access to the flower section of the garden and unlike the hens that scratch around and uproot flowers the ducks seem to just forage for bugs.

Trial test of testing how destructive ducks would be in garden once vegetables are established by giving them access to flower section of garden.

After a couple of hours all the shallots and onions purchased a couple of days before had been planted. Sara in her wisdom had decided to place the plant labels for future identifying of varieties away where I cannot find them so disposable plastic spoons have been used for this purpose and are actually cheaper than buying the conventional labels that we normally used.

All in a days work

Checking the rest of the garden things are now appearing at a pace, from the peas that Sara planted two days before she died now sprouting to tulips and daffodils now in flower and the bees now are active now as the peach and plum blossom is out,
Sara's newly sprouted peas
 Plum (Sliva) blossom - humming with the sound of bees

Peach blossom just beginning to break

Daffodils a plenty

and tulips

Overwintered onions and garlic weeded.

Worrying Sara had sown many seeds indoors and transplanted some to larger pots, namely tomatoes, but some I have not a clue what some are as Sara had used abbreviation on some of the pots that make no sense to me and why did she so onion seeds????

At the market today I bought a couple of almond trees and a cherry (all bare rooted). Sara had wanted to plant them this year to provide more home grown produce in the future. All have been planted along with the recently purchased apple tree and I look forward to them becoming established and cropping in a couple of years.
On the poultry front finally a couple of the Indian Runners are laying and the Light Sussex hens are laying regularly which is good as I have waiting lists for chicks from both breeds. So much so I have had to re-instate an old Hovabator incubator until a new incubator arrives as the old Hovobator which requires the eggs to be turned manually and does not have a humidity control/sensor. My Light Sussex, 'Storming Norman' and his girls currently have eleven fertile eggs in the incubator and I have managed to purchase fifteen Light Sussex eggs from another breeder to increase my flock later with unrelated stock to my existing birds. The plan will be to outplace the ex-bat hens and only concentrate on the Light Sussex and Indian Runner ducks. The ex-bats will be going to Sara's sister in a couple of weeks and another friend, a tough decision I had to make as they were Sara's birds, but I think is the right decision as I need to make my living here more streamlined and financially viable. Sara being the cook in the house was able to use the eggs her birds laid, but for me on my own it is not possible to use them all. At the moment there are eighteen Indian Runner ducks eggs in the other incubator, so in a few weeks time I think there will be a chick explosion, and bound to be loads of photos of them, so beware cutie overload due soon.

 Duck eggs on the go

Light Sussex eggs being incubated.

So a week has gone by some good days, some not so good as I try to deal with the loss of Sara, but life goes on and work in our smallholding needs doing before it builds up and becomes too much. I know that I cannot continue at this pace, but at the moment it has a purpose of enabling me to deal with my life without Sara being here other than in spirit. Each day I think to myself "well you have got through today" and this gives me the strength to deal with the next day. My niece only said today "give me strength," I think if you dig deep enough and you will find it in yourself.  

All this works has made me hungry so time for me to sign off and have my late evening meal - my own homemade butternut, red pepper and onion soup with crusty bread. Okay the crusty bread is not homemade, I have yet to master that skill.