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2014/10
Tuesday 28th October, 2014
Category: 2014/10
Tags: Alfie snow

Well that has to be the shortest autumn on record as early wintery weather began battering the country at the weekend. Several regions have experienced devastating floods once more and my region of Gabrovo has been one of the ones hit by huge snowfalls.

The snow began in the early hours of Saturday and continued without stopping until Sunday night.  When I went and measured the depth of it on Saturday it was already over 30cm deep and news reports say in places it was up to a metre! Unfortunately the weight of all that snow has brought down trees and branches and of course damaged power lines. 

It was about lunchtime on Saturday that the power first went off, though luckily my central heating pump has a battery back-up so I didn't have to shut the fire down.  I'm not sure how long the battery runs for but it certainly managed a good 5 hours that day because the power didn't return until around 5pm.  It was then on and off sporadically through the evening though by the time I headed to bed at about 10pm it seemed to be back on.

It was sheer good fortune that during the rain on Friday, Alfie got used to being in the shed and seemed content to sleep there because once the snows began he was in the garden for the duration.  He decided to sleep underneath the bread ovens which is a sheltered place but full of broken stones and dirt so not very luxurious.  I emptied a huge old cardboard box and lined it with insulating sheets and then put an old blanket down in there hoping that it would be a cosy den during the bad weather.  The poor little guy was so nervous he went and stood out in the snow everytime I went outside and didn't seem to want to use his new bed.  I threw some of his dog biscuits in there which he happily went and ate but still preferred his place under the oven.

Sunday morning came and I got up at about 8am and peeped out to check on Alfie. Phew! What a relief to see him emerge from the direction of his new box so I knew he'd had a reasonably warm night.  I mixed some of his biscuits with warm water to give him a hot breakfast and then made my morning cuppa. Lucky I did get up early because a few minutes later the power went off again, not to return until evening.

The house still felt quite warm so I delayed lighting the fire to save the battery and instead wrapped up warm and went to shovel a path from my back gate to Baba Ivanka next door to see if she was okay.  Her gate was open so I just continued shovelling the path all around to the chicken shed and wood store at the back.

She came out to greet me and after a bit of persuading (she has serious doubts about my chicken handling ability) she passed over a dish of old veggie bits to give to the chickens and a few old sacks to fill up with firewood for her.  Of course I mucked up the chicken task! I just put the dish down inside the hen house and locked the door behind me again, but as I was getting the firewood Ivanka came and put the chicken food into a separate bowl and then opened the shed to let the hens out. One day I'll get it right!

After several sacks of wood was brought in she made some sweet herbal tea and told me that one of her friends from down the road had spent the night with her to keep each other company so that was good.

I came home just after lunchtime and got my fire going again.  The rest of the day was spent reading, doing puzzles, listening to music and weather updates on the wind-up radio, having some precious time on computer games (having ensured all the batteries were fully charged up last night) and checking on Alfie.

Monday morning and finally the snow had stopped falling. I went out early to clear a path in case the milkman came and spent a good hour shovelling the snow away in various places.  Alfie stuck his nose out into the street for the first time in two days and took himself off for a little walk (possibly to boast to his mates about his new home!)

 

The snow plough seemed to have been along during the night because there was a solid wall of snow at the top of the side lane, so whilst energy and enthusiasm was with me, I cleared a path through it from the street down to Baba Ivanka's (she gets milk delivered too).

 

The snow is thawing quite rapidly now and the forecast is for the temperature to be back in the teens by Friday thankfully. Alfie's confidence is growing quite dramatically too.  Yesterday I warmed up some chunks of sausage for him (and Molly of course) and he actually took the pieces from my fingers! We developed a little routine of giving him a slice of sausage (which he wolfed down) and then holding out my hand for him to lick my fingers before he got the next slice. Just like Molly he was tempted to nibble my fingers at first but then he got the idea of giving a few licks.

 

Last night I suddenly heard a lot of barking and saw Alfie standing on the patio barking at something in the direction of the street. This is the first time I've heard him bark and maybe it also signals that he's beginning to think of the garden as his territory.  He decided to sleep on the balcony last night on top of the old camp bed, so today I moved his box bed up there in case it gets too cold at night. Maybe he likes the idea of being higher up on look-out duty!

I was pleased he stayed laying on the camp bed when I pegged the washing out on the clothes rack nearby today, and he also let me walk past him without panicking and running off.  He might regret the time he lets me actually start patting him though, because as soon as I can do that He's going to get a hefty squirt of Frontline on the back of the neck!

 

Thursday 24th October, 2014
Category: 2014/10
Tags: dog concert pumpkin festival coach trip to Troyan Monastery

I'm sitting here on the sofa as snug as a bug with the fire smouldering gently and the rain hammering down outside.  Molly is curled up next to me fast asleep as she has been for most of the day after last night's excitement (more of that in a moment) and my new guest is (I think) curled up in the shed next to the house.  He's a little black and white dog whom I discovered out in the street a couple of weeks ago.

I took to him right away as he has the sweetest expression on his face and is exactly the kind of size dog I'm interested in (big enough for a rough and tumble walk but not so huge he would take up the entire garden and need a 10 mile hike every day). I still had the puppy biscuits in the cupboard so I went and threw some of those towards him. He was terrified and ran off as soon as I did that, but hunger brought him back and he sniffed out and devoured every biscuit.

At first he wouldn't come anywhere near me and I had to back off and not look at him before he'd come for the biscuits but over the past couple of weeks we've got to the stage where he now comes into the garden for his biscuits and will eat them from quite close to me as long as I sit very still.

I've been leaving the gate open as much as possible so he can come and explore the garden freely and today he's made himself at home in the open wood store next to the house. I went and put an old towel in there a while ago and positioned some of the bags of kindling around it to hopefully make it more sheltered and he went inside to investigate as soon as I was back indoors, so I hope he settles there.

He's such a nervous little creature that transforming him into a pet will be a very long journey but at the moment if he at least has a dry bed and regular food I'm happy with that. Of course I've got a name for him - Alfie - and happily he pricks up his ears and looks over whenever I call him.

Molly has been a little unsure. At first she would hiss if he came close and would bush her tail out the warn him off, but I think she's getting used to the idea of him and just lays there when he comes for his food. I've given her extra titbits and cuddles of course and promised her that she still rules the house.

She's taken it upon herself to bring me extra gifts to cement her place in the family unfortunately and seems determined that I should enjoy them to the full! A couple of nights ago I was sound asleep on the balcony when I felt her jump up on the bed. The next thing I could hear was crunch crunch crunch as she apparently scoffed her latest kill. In my sleep addled mind I warned her that there had better not be any remnants left on the cover in the morning! (Thankfully there weren't).

Then again last night (I was sleeping indoors this time) when I heard her mewing most pitifully. I thought perhaps she was struggling to get in through the window which is now smothered in the plants I've brought in for winter, and so I called her encouragingly. Soon she was on the bed but still mewing at which point I switched on the light and turned to see her licking her lips smugly before leaping off the bed again. Suspician dawned and I peeked under the bed to see a dead body lying on the rug on the far side. My shouts of "out!" just made her grab the creature and run under the bed to quickly eat it before I could physically get hold of her and put her, and it, outside.

Clearly we need some rules - any food you bring me, Molly, is to be left on the patio and no closer! Worryingly there has been the scampering sound of something rather larger than a mouse in the attic - if she brings that to me I'm not sure what I'll do!

This week has been full of social events which is lovely. Last Friday night there was a concert in the village theatre and a little buffet after. Unfortunately the Romanian group didn't come (someone said they'd decided they couldn't afford the travel at the moment) but luckily we had Ken and Jacob plus violinists (must find out their names) and they performed some rousing folk songs:

 (Click picture for video)

Then on Saturday it was the 10th annual pumpkin festival in Sevlievo.  There were lots of stalls and the funfair, and in front of the town hall they had set up a stage where children were performing. Whilst we were there they handed out certificates to those whose pumpkin food products had won in the various categories and then everyone lined up for a free piece of pumpkin banitsa (delish!)

The festival was on for three days and featured fancy dress parades and a variety of performers during that time.

Finally on Tuesday we had a coach trip to the Troyan Monastery for only 10 levs. We set off from the village about 9am and made our way to Sevlievo and then across country towards Troyan. It was an absolutely beautiful day (thank goodness we didn't go two days later!) and the scenery was gorgeous.  Our first stop was at a ceramics factory where you could buy either perfect goods or any of the damaged seconds they had heaped up outside. These only had minor faults such as a chip or tiny crack here and there and were unbelievably priced. I got a big crock pot with a lid, another unglazed one (3 litre ones I suppose) and two little blue pots with lids all for 6 levs:

I tested the crock pot in the oven today just with water to see if it leaked and so far it has withstood high temperatures undamaged. I've already got herbs in the little blue pots and the unglazed one is going to have a plant pot in it next summer.

After this we went to Cherni Ocam where there is a natural history museum telling you all about the wildlife to be found in the Balkan National Park.  We then headed to the Troyan Monastery. This is a beautiful place absolutely smothered in frescoes which they were in the process of restoring. It is also where the previous patriarch Maxim (head of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church) was buried. Here too you can see the famous three handed virgin! According to legend someone in the 9th century had his hand chopped off as a punishment but when he prayed to the Virgin Mary his hand miraculously reattached itself. As a thank you he had a silver replica of his hand made and put on the icon of Mary.

We finished our trip in Oreshak where we had lunch and then looked around the arts and crafts centre.

This is a huge display of crafts (all for sale) including ceramics, embroidery, paintings, weaving, woodwork and art from different countries around the world.  It was a great exhibition though I was very tacky and bought a gaudy parrot windmill from the souvenir shop over the road :D

On Wednesday I went to the community centre with another friend, Jan, to put forward some suggestions for little workshops the expats would enjoy such as making traditional dishes, knitting the little woollen slippers, making preserves etc. Jan is also going to do an aerobics session once a week starting in the new year and the centre will possibly be used as a venue for Ken to give a monthly concert. As well as having fun at all these events I'm sure people would be happy to donate some money as a sign of appreciation which can go towards the cost of the renovation plans for the building. A sure sign that our community will continue to be strong and active for many years to come!

Saturday 18th October, 2014
Category: 2014/10
Tags: mushrooms

One of the things I like to ensure before winter sets in is that I have plenty of bags of kindling sticks for starting the fire in the morning.  The best ones are the really dry old pine sticks which have fallen from the trees in the forests around Gostilitsa.  They're always completely dry inside and feather light, so with a little bundle of paper they soon blaze up and get the bigger logs burning nicely.  So with this in mind I went with a friend for a little stick pickin' session on Thursday.

After a pleasant hour's foraging I'd filled the bags I'd brought and headed back to the car with them - that's when I noticed these:

Isn't it stunning? There was a little clump of them growing under some trees just off the pathway and I couldn't resist bringing one back in case it should prove edible.

I must admit this is something I've always shied firmly away from. Even a big patch of button mushrooms growing wild might turn out to be something deadly and how would I know for sure? This looked just too good to dismiss though, so back home I turned to Mr Google to see what I could find. Surprisingly 'big flat white toadstool with brown flecks' was understood by the search engine and a flick through the images led me to the parasol mushroom.  The pictures certainly looked like what I had picked so I went through the check-list of features they mentioned:

1. Brown scaly markings on a stalk which tapers gently towards the top 

2. Brown flakes on the cap which rises to a brown bump in the middle

3. A ring around the stalk which can be slid up and down

4. Cream or white gills which don't quite touch the stalk

5. Strong smell something like boiled milk (it had a strong smell but I couldn't say of what)

6. White spores (the only thing which distinguishes it from the deadly green parasol mushroom)

So I cut off a chunk of the cap and placed it face down on a mirror to wait for the spores to drop.  This took an hour or so but when I looked they were indeed white:

Now for the scary bit - actually having the bottle to eat it! The sites all recommend eating a small piece of any safe mushroom at first anyway as some people can have reactions, so I cut up a few pieces and gently fried them in butter and then... ate them! Ohh they were delicious! Much meatier in flavour than normal button mushrooms though with a very soft texture. 

 

If they were poisonous at least I'd go out with happy tastebuds.  Then began the wait for any sickness.

Happily I survived the night and indeed the next morning my tutor confirmed that I'd found a parasol mushroom or сърнела (sernella) in Bulgarian, which comes from the word сърна a doe (maybe the deer like to nibble on these mushrooms too). So the rest of it was swiftly fried up for breakfast and went down a treat.  Tomorrow I plan to walk up to the forest again and pick some more of them. I'm also going to scatter some damp wood shavings down near the compost corner of the garden and try to sow some of the spores there to see if I can grow my own parasol mushroom crop.

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