Saturday, 17 October 2009

The 4 seasons

Bulgaria is a country of varying weather. Most of it good to be honest.

Spring is usually from 22nd March to 22nd June and can be warm, sunny and mild. The days start getting longer and everything starts growing again.

Summer runs from 23rd June to 22nd September, temperatures can vary and range from high 20's to high 40's, even night time can be well over 20 degrees and the ground gets that scorched, parched look. My poor garden needs frequent watering during the heat of the summer and I have to remind the kids constantly about wearing sun screen.

Autumn is a beautiful time of the year. From 23rd September to 22nd December, the sun is still present most days but the heat of the summer is waning. It's much easier to work in the cooler weather although this year autumn is pretty cold even for here. It's a time for cutting firewood, making sure your snow chains are ok and looking for things that can be done over the winter.

Winter can be like a wonderland, totally picture perfect. Bright sunshine, crisp, white snow and smoke coming from everyone's chimneys. But with temperatures sometimes as low as -25 degrees it can be very harsh. Keeping warm is an essential, boredom can be a problem too - heavy snowfall can knock entire village's electric supply off for days at a time and there's only so much you can do by candlelight!

Having a back up plan in winter is a great idea. What will you do if the electric supply is interrupted for any length of time? How will you cook and/or keep warm? What if you get snowed in.....Will you manage with the things you have already in your home?

Over the next few months I'll be answering some of these questions in this blog as we go into another Bulgarian winter. This will be our third winter here so lessons learned from the last 2 should help.

Planning Ahead

You can never plan ahead enough here. When I think back to this time last year the weather was mild and still warm through the day, garden still producing and we had a house roof!

We've managed to get a load of things done over the last year, built an extension to the house (finished outside but not inside), had the exterior of the house insulated and rendered, moved some plumbing and the wood burner, plaster boarded walls, tiled floors, moved windows, added windows and the list goes on. The house roof is still a work in progress too with 3/4 of it done now and the rest on our urgent list!

The decorating, small finishing touches and general making the house more attractive can wait, the winter can seem long here and inside jobs get done then.

Included in the planning is what we'll eat over the winter. The crop from the garden was ok this year so we have a fair few vegetables frozen, other things pickled, made into chutneys or jams and a bit more to do. We won't starve that's for sure!

We've successfully managed to breed and raise some turkeys this year so they'll provide some winter food too, they aren't raised to sell on as we couldn't make enough to cover the cost of feeding them and the time it takes to clean and pluck them. But they do taste fantastic. There are also a few extra chickens being fattened up, although we do keep some for eggs.

Last year we slaughtered a pig and he provided us with 150 kilo's of meat. This year we've decided to breed from our female pig and her babies should be due around the middle of January fingers crossed! A neighbour is going to give us a small pig for meat in the next week so it will be pork and turkey for Christmas lunch again this year mmmmmm.

Oh and there's the winter wood to cut and stack yet. An essential to living here is a good chainsaw. Luckily for us the old timbers from the house roof will become our firewood, they aren't any good for anything else as they all had woodworm but at least they can keep us warm.

Stripping the garden

We've had a slight ground frost overnight which has finally finished off my remaining tomato, chilli and squash plants. So this afternoon I'm off out the strip the rest of the produce off and pull up what's left, there are quite a lot of green tomatoes still about so I'll probably be making chutney later too.

Some of the plants can be fed to the pig, although please remember that tomato and potato leaves are poisonous.

The garden is looking pretty messy right now, I've got a small winter vegetable patch going and nothing else worth mentioning, the leaves are starting to fall off the trees and autumn is definitely here. Every day is a little colder and the nights are drawing in, but at least there's plenty grazing right now for the horses and donkey.

Hopefully over the next 2 weeks we'll get the tractor in to plow and that's really it for the garden until the spring. Some of the trees and grape vines will be pruned back, I'll keep a check on the winter plot, collect up any tools that have been left lying around and concentrate on other jobs like collecting firewood, animal care and maybe even find time to do some decorating!

Friday, 16 October 2009

Winter comes early

It's awful outside today - wet, cold, foggy and miserable. Plus windy again too.

I guess it's someone's way of reminding us just how quickly the Bulgarian weather can change! I've been out to the local market, not much there because of the weather and most of the villagers are crammed into the tiny cafe in the village centre chatting and staying warm. Not that I blame them!

The horses are stuck in again but are happily munching away on a load of wind fall apples that I've picked up, kids due in from school soon so I've lit the wood burner to warm them through.

Racking my brains to think of something nice for tea. Meal times tend to get a little repetitive here when you're trying to use seasonal produce. Lately when I ask what anyone wants for tea the answer has been "A random recipe off the net" Lol well we'll see. I think I may have a check in the freezer and see if there's some chicken left to make a nice pie with.......It's definitely time to start eating winter comfort food again.

Best go check on the fire, there's something very satisfying about putting logs on the wood burner and boy am I glad we have a central heating system that runs from  it too.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Setting goals

I do try and set myself small goals - without them things would be quite hectic here!

As someone who's not great at schedules and keeping on track of things at times I find the relaxed atmosphere here suits me. I'm no domestic goddess - housework is something I have to do and not something I like to do. Horses though are one of my passions, I love most things about them and even though I tried for a while, just couldn't live without them.

Of course there are other jobs that take preference over spending time with the horses, and although we've had them for over a year I haven't really done a lot with them to be honest. Spring I spent planting, summer weeding and wedding planning, autumn is time to clear the garden and preserve things and winter can be very cold here so you just don't have the urge to go outside and away from the comfort and warmth of our woodburner.

Last night I decided that if the weather was good today and the wind had dropped I'd get the saddle out and take Maya one of our mares for a short ride. When we bought the horses 2 were broken to drive (pull a cart) and one was still too young to do any work. Last year I did try both of the older mares with a saddle a few times but that was all.

So today I have achieved at least one of my goals, I've had a lovely 20 min walk around on Maya which we've both enjoyed, although I'll probably ache later lol.......not as young as I used to be!

Time to set another goal for today, but first I'll have a coffee and a shower I think.

Work, work and more work or not!

Today was windy and not very warm, definitely an inside day!

Went shopping this morning for a few bits and pieces, home to warm up with a coffee and then I planned to spend some more time experimenting with new recipes in the kitchen.

The horses and donkey were all out in the garden so I could keep an eye on them, kids came home at lunchtime and I was thinking about cooking and what else I could find to use up in the garden.

As with quite a few things I plan, nothing seems to happen! I couldn't get warm, had no motivation and felt worn out! Oooh let's light the woodburner and relax for a while.........yup I fell asleep lol, woke up with enough time to muck the horses out, sort out their bedding and feed and get them in before dark. So a bit of a wasted day!

On the plus side I did find a nice little gadget to go on here with the weather and local time etc. And the Pumpkin Gingerbread I made was lovely, although more of a cake than a gingerbread.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Baking Day

Well today's weather has been a bit miserable, woke up to wind and dark clouds looming bringing the promise of rain.

The workers came to get on with the roof but due to the wind it's far too dangerous to be up there. They've done a couple of hours of clean up work but had to finish at lunchtime due to the rain arriving....and boy is it coming down! At least the under felt membrane is keeping the rain out of the house for now.

I've pottered about this morning, collecting walnuts and apples blown from the trees. Apples for the horses and donkey who are stuck in (they hate the wind). Walnuts to be kept for later although I have used some in a recipe I'm trying out. I've also collected a load of firewood in case tonight is cold and picked some green tomatoes for another recipe I'm going to try at tea time. Oh and potted up some plants to move them indoors for the winter.

Must point out that I hate food waste of any kind. At least the pig eats a fair bit of our leftovers if I can't find anything to do with them. I've been busy lately making various chutneys and jams to make use of some of the seasonal produce. Our freezer is jam packed with bags of tomato puree, garlic puree, pumpkin, other veg prepped for soups and stewed fruit.

I'm not a fantastic cook, but have been trying new things lately and I'm enjoying it. We have an old copy of Mrs Beeton's cookery book which has now been named "The Bible" in our house. Never thought a 107 year old book would come in so handy!

Today's recipe I'm trying out is something I found on the internet on

Here it is, I'll let you know later if it's any good!

Pumpkin Gingerbread

2 cups sugar
1/2 cup butter
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups cooked, pureed pumpkin
1/2 cup water
2 1/2 cups sifted flour
1.2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tbsp baking soda
1/4  tsp cloves
1/4 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup chopped nuts
1/2 cup chopped raisins (optional) 

Preheat oven to 350 Degrees F. Cream together sugar and butter until light and fluffy.
Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Squeeze excess moisture from pumpkin. Stir in pumpkin and water and mix well.
Whisk together dry ingredients and gently fold them into the liquid ingredients.
Mix only until dry ingredients are moistened. Stir in nuts and raisins.
Pour into a large loaf pan that has been well greased with shortening.
Bake for about 1 hour or until a cake tester inserted in the centre comes out clean.

This recipe may be doubled and baked in 3 large loaf pans.

Pumpkin gingerbread freezes well for 3-4 months if tightly wrapped.
Submitted by CM


Weather Forecasting

Here in Bulgaria weather forecasting is something of an art or talent. Our neighbour would come round and say "It's going to rain after lunch on Thursday - about 2pm" and sure enough he was usually right. This happened time and time again.

Now that we can understand more of the language we do tune into the Bulgarian TV channels quite regularly for the weather, but still listen to the neighbour too.

This a place of some extremes, summer temperatures can hit well over 40 degrees and winters can get as low as minus 25. And sometimes without a lot of warning! The first week in February we were enjoying temperatures of 20 degrees, the shorts were on, we were texting people back in the UK and having a good time.......2 days later we got snowed in!

We're forecasted for lower temperatures this week and rain, possibly some snow, although it's very early for snow here but not rare. let's just hope the workers manage to get here and finish our roof before the worst arrives! I've been checking just in case.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Learning the language

Anyone who tells you that learning another language in adulthood is easy is either lying or super intelligent.

Learning Bulgarian is not one of the easiest things I've done and I'm still trying to get to grips with the language after almost 2 years here. We started off with one of those teach yourself Bulgarian discs.......ok if you are just coming for a holiday but nowhere near comprehensive enough if you're coming here to live. Then we tried the downloadable Bulgarian language course, again not too bad but not really the kind of thing we wanted or indeed needed.

So we spoke to the locals, started slowly with "Hello" and "My name is..." and wrote down anything they tried to teach us. Words for things we could see like tree or horse. Of course Bulgaria uses the cyrillic alphabet and every letter has a sound so in theory once you learn the alphabet you should be able to read and write words. I've not got round to finding out about that yet. My grasp of written Bulgarian isn't great, I can read road signs and some of the subtitles on the TV but have yet to really get into writing and reading Bulgarian.

I can speak some Bulgarian and the locals tell me I'm quite good at it, maybe I just have a knack of bluffing my way through a conversation though! I find that if I can understand at least half of the sentence I can figure out what they're saying to some degree. Our neighbours tend to slow down a little to help us.

Sometimes though I really do get mixed up or my interpretation of what's being said get's a little skewed.......that's how we ended up with 19 chicks a couple of weeks ago lol. Oh well another day another lesson learned.

I've also been asked a few times by local ex-pats to translate for them, I do point out that my language skills are limited and not always correct but it does give us some laughs along the way. Hopefully I'll continue to improve and maybe over the winter borrow the kid's school books and give the alphabet a try. One thing I am glad of is that the kids picked the language up very quickly and are attending Bulgarian school. I'm so proud of them and hope they realise that I know it hasn't been easy for them to adjust either.

Buying in Bulgaria

Buying a property anywhere can be stressful. In Bulgaria there are certain things a foreigner must do before being able to buy property.

Foreigners cannot buy land in Bulgaria without forming a company. Unless you are planning to buy an apartment (first floor or above) you must have a registered Bulgarian company. This is set to change upon Bulgaria being fully integrated into the EU.

Companies, even non-trading, must produce tax returns every year. Of course as expected the forms will usually be in Bulgarian.

Estate agencies are quite popular here, most offer services to start up your company and complete end of year tax returns. Although it's worth pointing out that sometimes these services can be found at a better price.

Some estate agencies are not altogether forward in their costs and even the true purchase price of houses being sold on their websites. There are quite a few con merchants and those wishing to not only take advantage of foreigners also of their fellow Bulgarians. It's always worth checking out other estate agency websites to see if any properties you like may be advertised at a different price elsewhere.....Certainly worked in our favour as we found our property advertised with a different agent for 14,000 euro's less!

Properties are sold every day on E-bay and I'm sure some of these are bargains but not all. Look closely at the seller's feedback and ask questions about the property and state of repair. Of course not everyone wants to buy blind - I doubt we would have, so get on a flight and come see for yourself what Bulgaria has to offer.

A typical day

I was going to call this post "A Normal Day", but define "Normal"......I can't and I've been trying for years!

What is normal for me may not be the normal for most people and vice versa.

So my usual day goes something like this:-

Coffee, clothes, put horses out and check donkey is ok. Have a quick browse over the other animals (the kids feed them morning and night).Coffee, some housework, coffee and then if there's any mucking out or gardening to be done off I go outside again until later when I cook tea or decide to make jam/chutney or something.

Today was not a typical day! firstly Molly the Cocker Spaniel wants to be out at 5.40am Grrrr. done and back to bed (I'm not a morning person). Other half up and about, kids up and getting ready and I'm dozing nicely. "You've gotta get up mam, the donkey's stuck and on the ground" is the next thing I hear. Bearing in mind that it's still not light outside - I traipse out in my dressing gown to see what's up.

Maggie the donkey has been staying out overnight during the mild weather and prefers it. But last night after tethering her in the garden she's decided to wrap herself round a tree, and our cart, then we think she's slipped (she's definitely not surefooted) and fallen in between the shafts of said cart!
so out comes the knife and we cut her loose, pull her up and prop her legs until she's steady enough to walk.....poor thing!

She's been in the barn for a nice drink of water and some hay and feeling much better now so let's see what the rest of the day brings!

Village People

And not the singing/dancing males with moustaches!

Village life in Bulgaria seems to be stuck in a time warp, and long may it be so.

People here rise with the daylight, work their land, eat their produce and still use horses/donkeys and carts as their main form of transport. On the whole the Bulgarian people are caring, friendly, generous and love to have a laugh. Learning the language is a big help in feeling part of the community and the people do appreciate that you are trying to integrate.

Because the Bulgarian population has been in a decline for quite some time a lot of the people here are in a "Asset rich, cash poor" situation. They can own multiple properties, usually left to them by a family member but live a very simple life. Normally upkeep on these properties is beyond a normal Bulgarian's means so some houses are just left to fall into decay. Yearly property taxes are very cheap, there are no standing charges on water or electric so keeping the houses costs next to nothing. In every village there are a significant number of properties for sale.

We get asked by lots of the locals to sell their properties, on a whole they see foreigners as rich people who come to Bulgaria to live a cheap life. Yes, some things are cheaper here but with prices rising all the time it won't stay that way forever. They're amazed at how much you can earn in the UK but confused as to how much it costs to live there. We don't sell properties, some ex-pats do and make a living from it. I'm quite happy to go visit the locals, see their houses and pass their details to a friend who is selling some properties locally and I know that she won't rip off anyone.

New Arrivals

After last year's success at raising a pig we changed tactics and decided to raise a pig to breed from, in theory meaning that we never need to buy a pig again. So late last year we bought a female piglet, then just before Christmas the neighbours came round to help us slaughter our other pig, who by then weighed in at over 150 kilo's. His end was quiet, calm and considerate, done with care and attention and I was very impressed by the fact that he wasn't stressed and everything was done quickly.

So now we have our lovely female pig - Charlotte and she's hopefully pregnant! Apparently pigs are pregnant for 3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days so our babies should be due about the middle of January.

Pigs are intelligent, playful and can learn some basic commands. They aren't dirty but love to roll in mud to keep themselves cool. Our pigs are fed a variety of fruit and veg, a commercial pig food blend and any non-meat left overs we have.

Some people ask how we can bring ourselves to slaughter an animal that we've raised and cared for, played with and loved....the answers is that we know it's had a good life and been treat well, kept as naturally as we can and allowed to do things that commercially meat farmed animals can't. Plus the fact is that meat from an animal raised our way does taste so much better than shop bought meat.

We have another piglet arriving soon too, for Christmas. A gift from one of our neighbours. On the whole the Bulgarian people are wonderful, friendly, generous and caring.