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2013/10
Thursday 31st October, 2013
Category: 2013/10
Tags: Halloween rugs jars

Happy Halloween!! Or as the Bulgarians say Честит Хеллоуин! Not that Halloween is a big deal over here. Some of the shops sell fancy dress costumes for children and themed bags of sweets but that's about it. And best of all no trick or treaters! Earlier this year several things began to grow down on the compost heap where they had seeded themselves. Amongst them was a big trailing plant similar to the butternut squashes but which began to sprout round green squashes instead. I vaguely remember buying one of these from the supermarket to try but didn't find it very tasty and hence it's position in the compost. Anyway, one of the green pumpkins grew surprisingly large so I've been saving it for Halloween. It's the first time I've ever carved a pumpkin and it was a LOT harder than I imagined. After a bit of googling for tips I managed to produce Mr Wonky Face:

 (Awww he looks tiny here, but he's really quite hefty)

I'm so proud!

This week has been a lovely mix of driving and pottering. Most days I've been taking an English woman and her mum to her house in another village where they've got the mammoth task of sorting it all out ready for renovating. It had apparently been left unoccupied for about 8 years with everything just as the previous owner left it, literally. I had a look around on the first day and it was fascinating to see so many odds and ends: old bank notes, clothes, bedding, tiny rakia cups, just everything. I felt like an absolute scavenger when I asked if I could have anything she didn't want but as they say one woman's rubbish is another woman's treasure. Anyway, after they'd done some clearing I came away with some huge rugs,

   

and several bed-spreads.

As soon as I got them home I spread them out in the garden to clean them up. They were all in pretty good condition; just very dusty and reeking of mothballs. There are one or two tiny nibbled holes but nothing I can't fix up later. I gave them all a good rinse with cold water and splashed a bit of fabric softener around to help with the smell and then laid them out to dry. The gold coloured rug and another one in red still really smelled bad of the mothballs - so strong in fact that as they warmed up in the sun the entire patio stank of it. So I mixed a very weak solution of vinegar and water and sprayed them with it. Amazingly it did the job really well as the next day no bad smell at all (and no, they don't now smell of vinegar!). The big red and purple patterned rug is now in the living room. I put the old carpet down under it first as a bit of padding and then spread out the rug. It looks great in front of the settee and will make it lovely and warm for sitting on the floor with the huge cushions in winter. The other long rug has gone up on the landing though I'll need to get something to stick under it to stop it slipping as at the moment Molly takes enormous delight in charging at it and bunching it all up as she slides into it.

The gold bed-spread is out on the little bed on the balcony and the red one is one the bed in the spare room. The final bed-spread is currently draped over the balcony railing so I can lounge up there without being seen (and subsequently summoned) by Baba Ivanka. Nice one!

My other treasure consists of 15 three-litre jars for preserves. These jars are big enough to take whole peppers and other veggies, exactly like the one Stefka gave me a few weeks ago. They came with eight year old food still inside so the first job was to wheel-barrow them down to the compost corner to empty the contents. Not a pleasant job, especially the jars of cucumbers which all got stuck in the neck and had to be poked out one at a time, but this was nothing compared to one jar which contained mysterious lumps of something yellow. It could have been anything from boiled potatoes to cauliflower to cheese and it was all congealed in a solid stinky lump at the bottom of the jar:

 (Yuckiness in jar)   (Yuckiness on compost)

My face wore a permanent grimace as I stabbed around in the jar with a knife, pulling out chunks of the horrible stuff until I'd got rid of it all.

The next job was to give the jars a good wash in soapy water and already they scrubbed up well.

    

As a precaution against botulism, salmonella, E.coli and all the other nasties living in the jars I've now filled them with bleach and water and lined them up in the sun to sit for a few days. After that they'll get another wash in hot water and will hopefully then be safe for re-use. 

I've just remembered I left three piles of leaves burning in the street two hours ago... must go and check on them!

Saturday 26th October, 2013
Category: 2013/10
Tags: winter dimitrovden

Честит Празник! Today is Dimitrovden and officially the start of winter, though thankfully St Demetrius seems to have forgotten, as the glorious weather continues. According to tradition this is the day that all the labourers and farm workers hired for the summer are free to return home. For the unlucky ones who are retained by their masters they are bound to work until the beginning of summer (May 6th, St George's day). People also used to believe that if Dimitrovden coincided with a full moon, then the bee hives would be rich in honey in the coming year.

Regardless of the fine weather I think November 1st heralds the start of winter tyre season, so thank you to Joe who came round and changed them all for me yesterday. I'm still not sure how I'll go on with getting up the end of the street when it's icy as the top of the lane where my garage is, is pretty steep. I've got several sacks of sawdust in the garage which might come in handy to throw down on the road, and at a push I might go mad and invest in some snow chains. Failing that I'll just do a massive 3 month shop on December 1st and then hibernate.

Despite the impending doom and gloom of winter, people are busy planting out winter lettuces, so today Stefka gave me a big bunch of seedlings to plant out.  (For some reason I had it in my head that it was going to be carrots we were planting! Perhaps because it simply didn't occur to me that this was lettuce season again). Tomorrow I need to sort out some flexible sticks so I can make a little poly tunnel for the lettuces to protect them when St Demetrius shakes the first snowflakes from his beard.

Tuesday 22nd October, 2013
Category: 2013/10
Tags: Dryanovo festival central heating

I was thinking back to this time last year earlier today and feeling rather amazed at the huge changes the past year has brought about both in me and the house. I wouldn't relish the thought of being transported back to last October as I recall nursing a broken ankle and having to deal with the daily invasion of workmen shouting all over the garden whilst I hid indoors feeling a little vulnerable. Today was much much nicer. I've just finished clearing (and slightly extending) the veggie patch which already has much better quality soil in it than the stodgy clay I tackled earlier this year. Next week I intend to go and prod around in the compost heap to see if anything has rotted down enough to be dug into the soil to improve it even more.  Stefka has already got her spring carrot seedlings underway and has offered to give me some to plant out, though she tells me I may need to make some sort of cloche to protect them from the snows.  The street outside has been carpetted in falling leaves and there have been two burning sessions so far; one under the close supervision of Baba Ivanka down the side lane and the other with Bobi and Stefka out on the front street.  The leaves are swept into little heaps along the roadside and then set alight to burn down producing clouds of dense smoke.  Gancho kept saying (and I couldn't help but agree) that we should burn the leaves on a patch of soil instead of spoiling the road surface but the women ignored him and lit their fires anyway.  I chose another tack altogether and this morning raked up the leaves in front of my house and then threw them all over the fence into the park! Job done :D

The weather has been gorgeous this week and is forecast to continue like this until the end of the month at least. This has given me time to sort out my central heating problems without suffering from cold weather.  It all started the other week when I'd lit the fire for the central heating and was dozing on the settee in front of the TV.  Molly the cat suddenly made the most awful yowling noise and ran to the door. When I sat up I realised what had frightened her: There was a dreadful banging noise coming from the boiler and the water pipes were buckling away from the wall.  For some reason the water was overheating and not flowing as it should.  There was nothing to do but grab my jacket and flee into the garden with Molly to wait for the fire to die down by itself and hope that the boiler wouldn't explode.  I got in touch with Billy from the next village and a couple of days later he arrived with a tall guy called Daniel.  He's a volunteer with the fire service once a week and the rest of the time works with Billy. After checking a few things and asking what had happened he then single handedly pulled the stove away from the wall to get to the pipes. (If all Bulgarian firemen are this strong I need fear nothing in the event of a blaze!)  It turns out there is a filter in one of the pipes which is supposed to be cleaned out once a year and since I didn't even know of it's existence it's never been cleaned since the heating was put in four or five years ago.  Ooops.  He unscrewed the filter and showed it to me. There's the problem, he said. It was absolutely caked up with black gooey sludge. I washed it out under the tap and he refitted it. As soon as the pump was turned on again the water went round all the radiators as normal. Phew!  He refused to take any money for his help despite me chasing him up the path waving my 10 lev note and off they went. The next morning it was pretty chilly and raining so I decided to get the fire going before heading upstairs for my language lesson on Skype. Halfway through the lesson there came a familiar banging noise from downstairs and as I flew down to investigate the pipes were once more buckled away from the wall and the boiler was banging away for all it was worth. The fire was still blazing quite high so I grabbed two of the metal fire tongs and managed to carry the burning logs outside and threw them into the rain where they sent up huge clouds of smoke. Once the lesson was over I phoned Billy and told him the problem had returned. Now you might think why didn't I just check the filter again. The thought did cross my mind but there were two problems: 1 - the boiler is situated too close to the wall to turn the lever which shuts off the water supply, and 2 - I didn't actually see which bit of pipe the filter came out of. It was a couple of days before he could come out again but when he did it was indeed another sludged up filter pipe. This time I asked him to leave the stove pulled out so that I could give the filter repeated cleanings every few hours until hopefully the system was cleaned up. My first go was a little messy. I dropped the filter and the mucky water spurted out all over the wall but after that I got the knack. It's surprising how much black gunge there was and it took about 6 cleanings before I felt it was safe to relight the fire. Oh but the sheer joy of finding all the radiators getting lovely and hot straight away and the boiler working nice and quietly as it should. The stove is still pulled out at the moment but when it's put back I need to make sure there's enough space for me to get to the valves and the filter so that I can clean it again whenever necessary.

Onto nicer matters.  It was the Dryanovo festival last weekend so on Saturday afternoon I headed there with Andrea for the evening. All the streets below the pedestrianised bit were lined with stallholders selling clothes, toys, tools, ornaments, all sorts of things. I bought another pair of pyjamas (7 levs) and black handbag (8 levs) and a little hatchet tool for chipping weeds etc (12 levs). We dumped our purchases back in the car and went back towards the funfair. In the pedestrianised bit there were some dancers and singers performing folk songs:

   

We got down to the fair bit and decide to have a go on the Octopus ride. I don't think I've been on one of these since I was about 12 when I used to find it quite scary. It didn't help my nerves when Andrea told me a little tale of Bulgarian fairground standards. Apparently a few years ago a child was having a go on the little bungee rope trampoline things when the rope snapped and the child was launched into the watching crowd. Fortunately they landed unscathed, the ropes were fixed and the ride continued! Can you imagine this in the UK? There would be an army of lawyers and a health and safety team shutting the entire place down. Anyway, we survived the octopus and went to have something to eat from one of the many 'fast food' places. We had spicy burger, sausage, pork skewer, bread and coleslaw and a drink each (15.50 for us both). I was intrigued by a 'strong man' challenge where you could win 100 levs if you managed to hang from a bar just using your hands for two minutes. Several guys attempted this but we didn't see anyone win. As the evening darkened all the kiosks put their lights on which made it all look very pretty and festive:

I found room for a banana and chocolate pancake later on and had a game of air hockey before heading back to the car. That's when we noticed that all the new fountains that have been put in this year were illuminated:

(Click for video)

It was a really lovely afternoon and evening and well worth going to again.

And finally I thought you might like to see these chocolates I bought from Kaufland the other day:

The ideas team at the chocolate factory must have been struggling the day they came up with this one!

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