Day to day events mostly cataloguing my complete lack of understanding and common sense!

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Saturday 21st January, 2017
Category: 2017/01
Tags: pets snow igloo

It's finally stopped snowing and the sun has returned with clear blue skies and enough heat to actually sit out in comfortably. Officially the temperature is still really cold so the snow hasn't begun to melt much. There's a massive heap of it on the patio from where I was clearing a path through to the sheds each day, and I was suddenly inspired to dig into it to create an igloo. The weight of the heap of snow has compacted the lower layers enough that they can be cut through without the whole thing collapsing in a powdery heap. Here's the first result:

Yes, that is Bella wedged inside it, determined not to let the cats have all the fun.

Today I decided to cut into it from the other side too in order to create a through tunnel (so far Bella hasn't ventured in, so the cats have it to themselves). Here's Molly having a little snack:

Click the picture for a video of Finlay in the igloo.

Sadly, whilst it's been playtime for my animals, it's not been so for many others, including a neighbouring one. The people don't actually live in the house (though they are literally five minutes walk away) but they keep a dog there. The last dog ran away (not surprisingly) and the current one is quite young - about a year old. As with many Bulgarian dogs, he's kept on a chain, albeit a fairly long one, and he at least has a kennel of sorts for shelter.

When it snows I clear the snow from the neighbouring steps now and then so that it's easier for the owners to come in and out when they come to see to things. Imagine my annoyance when I saw that all this week there hasn't been a single set of footprints in the snow on those steps at any point. In other words, the dog has been left without food or water in all this horrible weather! So, from Wednesday onwards I decided to try and feed it myself.

It's not easy because all my sheds are along that boundary, so the only way to get close to the dog was to try and climb up the nearest wall to him, which happened to be where all my wood is stored. It was a bit scary with the ladder balanced on top of a sack of bark, and then climbing onto some upright beams, but I got high enough to see him eventually. Here's a visual - the top arrow is the little gap I got my arm through for throwing chunks of food, the other arrows are where I stood:

The gap was too small to get anything other than an old half litre container through, so I tied the handle of it to some strips of cloth, filled it with water, and tried lowering it down to him to drink from. I heard a few slurps but then he got excited and grabbed the whole pot. When I tried to pull it up, the cloth snapped and he had a mad five minutes playing with the pot!

From then on I soaked some bread in warm water and lobbed the soggy chunks to him so he could get some moisture.

I got this photo by holding the camera through the feeding gap. Thank God I didn't drop it or it would have joined the pot. Everytime I go near that shed now I can hear him whining excitedly so I shall continue getting bread and biscuits to him until the lazy sods decide to remember to come and see to him.

 

Monday 16th January, 2017
Category: 2017/01
Tags: snow driving

I love cheese: all manner of cheddars, brie, stinky camembert, creamy Philadelphia, cheese strings, even the Bugarian salty sirene and bland kashkaval, so when I saw that this week was English week in Lidl and that cheeses would be featured I knew I had to go. The problem? Snow!  We've had tons of the stuff since before Christmas, and the cold temperatures have meant it's not really gone anywhere, so a trip into Gabrovo called for some planning.

The forecast was for more snow from Monday lunchtime onwards, and Monday was when English week started, so that gave me a small window of opportunity to do the cheese run. Luckily we had a couple of sunny days over the weekend, and since the snow had been so dry and powdery I was able to dig out two nice tracks for the car tyres all the way up the steep slope from my garage to the street. It took a bit of hacking through the mountain of snow at the top of the street (left by the passing snowplough) as it was more compressed and icy, but I managed to chisel off enough for the front of the car to clear, and threw a load of ashes over the ice for extra grip.

Monday morning came (with subzero temperatures) and after Mitko had delivered the milk (about 10am) I decided to head off.

Now I hadn't bothered clearing any of the snow immediately outside my garage as the ground is level there and has never previously caused a problem for my car even when snowy. Today, however, turned out to be different. I reversed out of the garage fine, but as soon as I tried going forward the wheels just span on the icy surface. Damn!

I've got several sacks of sawdust stored in the garage from when the guys cut my winter wood, so I brought some out (ignoring the nasty wafts of smoke rising up as I past the front wheels) and threw some big heaps directly in front of the tyres and then tried again. Aha, success! Well, after a bit of rocking back and forth and cries of 'come on, car, you can do it'.

Knowing we would hit ice again at the top of the slope I gathered speed, trying not to wince at the horrible sound of snow and ice crunching under the front sill of the car. As we thundered to the top, the wretched wheels suddenly slipped again, not quite taking us onto the road. Grrr!

I had an old sheet on the back seat of the car so first tried stuffing that under the front wheels, but it all just gathered up on the ice and was no help. So, back for more sawdust and then, after rolling the car back onto the clear tracks to get a bit of a start we bounded over the summit and onto the flat street. Next time I will just suck it up and spend ten minutes in the garage putting the snow chains on.

The drive into Gabrovo was a bit hairy - well, the bit between Gostilitsa and Dryanovo - as there was still a lot of compacted ice in patches on the road. When I met any oncoming vehicles on the narrow bits I just pulled over onto the ice and waited till they'd gone past, not wanting to put my insurance to the test by sliding into another car. Once I got on the main road to Gabrovo it was fine though as the surface was totally clear and dry.

Having filled my trolley with lovely cheeses (including some very tasty looking fruity Wensleydale and Stilton) I was appalled to notice through the shop window that the snow was once more falling. Arrggh! Unbelievably it was already settling quite fast on the main road, despite the amount of traffic, so I kept the speed down all the way back to Dryanovo (sod the lunatics who still wanted to overtake at high speed and tail gate).

The Dryanovo road was even scarier as now the snow covered the patches of ice so I couldn't always tell where they were. A couple of times I felt the vehicle start to fishtail horribly - thankfully there was no oncoming traffic - and had to just let it slow by itself while I kept the car straight.

Back home and there was more horrible ice crunching as I cut through the snowplough mound again, and then pulled over whilst I once more scattered sawdust all over the ramp up into the garage. To be honest, if it had got badly stuck I'd have just left it there in the lane at this point. A bit more wild revving and slip sliding and then we were shooting through into the garage. Safe again. Well done, car.

Was it worth all the trouble? Of course. I love cheese!

Thursday 12th January, 2017
Category: 2017/01
Tags: snow cheese

Guess what... we've had more snow! It's very exciting as it's the deepest snow I've ever experienced (about 50cm so far) and when you don't have to think about battling your way to work you can afford to just kick back and enjoy it.

The wigwam is totally covered in a thick layer of snow so the other day I had the bright idea of building a wall of snow by the entrance and then cutting an igloo like hole into it. Sadly the snow is incredibly dry and powdery and when you try and compress it, it just poofs out in a cloud of dust. I did read on the internet that you can use a spray bottle of water to make the snow wetter so it sticks, so I may return to the wigloo project in a day or two.

At least with it being so light and dry it's easy to shovel out the way, and I can literally walk along the garden paths with the snow shovel in front of me just like a snow plough sweeping it all to the sides.

The actual snow plough has been around the village very regularly, so most of the streets have a compacted path through them, and the gritter has done the main road through Gostilitsa.

Today it was lovely and sunny in the morning so I took Alfie and Bella on a bit of a longer walk, following tyre tracks across the fields. I have wire grippers on the bottom of my wellies so I don't slip on the ice, but even so it's hard work walking especially through the untouched bits of snow. Still, good exercise for the thighs! The dogs seem to love it and raced on ahead, though Alfie stops now and then to bite the chunks of ice from out between his toes where it seems to gather in chunks.

Here's a little video clip of them together

I love it here when the sun shines after snow because it literally sparkles like a Christmas card. Do you know, even at night if the moon is bright you get the same effect, like someone threw a handful of silver glitter across the world. I don't know how well you can see in this photo but the surface of the snow was littered in flat crystals of ice which were catching the sunlight:

Indoors I've been pretty lazy, mostly cycling between bringing in heaps of logs, defrosting the animals' water bowls, crocheting the blanket for my bed (it might be ready for winter 2018 at my current rate) and watching TV with my adorable set top box. I'm hopelessly addicted to it, or maybe it's just the thrill of watching anything I want at the click of a button instead of the usual journey through the internet accompanied by the closing of endless pop-up ads and the slow downloading as the buffer wheel rotates.

Actually my internet speed isn't usually too bad so I was surprised the other day when Ivailo from the internet provider phoned me up and said he was coming through later that day to update the software for my connection. When he arrived he was accompanied by the guy who helped install my central heating as he used to work for the people who looked after my house before I moved here. That was almost 7 years ago so we had a little trip down memory lane about the problem solving issues involved in installing my woodburner whilst Ivailo got on with the update.

Something else I did yesterday was to have another go at cheese making. I've tons of milk frozen in the freezer as I don't always use the full 2 litres I buy each week, and many months ago I bought a little bottle of liquid yeast as yet another way of making curds. It's been in the fridge all this time and is actually 4 months out of date now, but I left it on the side for a few hours in the hopes that the little yeasty microbes (what exactly is 'a yeast'??) would miraculously revive in the warmth. I wasn't sure what temperature the milk had to be at - the bottle said 35 decrees C but I seem to remember from a school science experiment it being 42 degrees, and the internet only said useless things like 'just before it boils'. How do you know it's just before it boils unless you actually let it boil and then travel back in time! Anyway, I warmed the milk to 39 degrees and then put in about 12 drops of the yeast liquid and left it to sit for a couple of hours.  I was thrilled to find the entire pot had swiftly turned to creamy curds.

I left it to separate from the whey overnight and now have a nice ball of cheese curds to eat.

I know you can add salt or soak it in brine to mature it into the feta like sirene cheese, or even compress it to make a hard cheese, but I just love the taste of plain old curds. Seriously, I could actually nibble my way through that entire ball in one go.

The animals have mostly been curled up asleep during the cold weather, though at night one or two of the cats sometimes sleep indoors. Finlay likes to be helpful when he isn't scattering the entire contents of the kitchen bin across the floor, and when I came back from an evening with friends the other day he attempted to do a load of washing:

Bless.

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