I love writing about our adventures, but why do it if there’s nothing to tell, or if I seem to be just duplicating everything I’ve already put on Instagram or the Facebook page…I don’t want to start boring you guys senseless….
Yeah I know not all of you follow my social media journeys…why, I don’t know, because I am a photographic genius!!
This may be a slight exaggeration, or even a downright lie, but you are missing some cracking adventures…usually me hurting myself or just making a fool out of myself and putting my injured pride out there on show for all to see.
In fact since I last wrote I have done a ton of things, from painting silly pictures – this one here is going up for auction in the UK to raise money for rescue dogs out here! I’ve kept running (mostly just to have some quiet time) and have made it to 5kms which is pretty amazing for me. I’ve been on a spa day with my author friend (have you read Zatvor yet…?) I’ve saved an abandoned puppy (with more than a little help from my friend Sam). I have been to see classic cars, planes and motorbikes, given myself a black eye while working on the kitchen, bought, planted and grown lots of new plants for the garden…so you see what you’ve been missing!
This week, however, I have some news to tell you that I have not yet shared on social media…I have a new job!
With a new kitchen to build, a garden to tend, a house to keep, a business to run, teaching to do…I thought, I’m just not busy enough…
I have landed myself a full-time job that needs to be done on part-time hours, working for the coolest guy in marketing. I know little about marketing, but then again I knew even less about Aerospace Engineering so I’m settling into the groove pretty well…that was until last week…
Anyone familiar with marketing will know that the top guys check AdBeat and the like to see what’s “rockin'” and what’s not in terms of Headlines, Images etc… Well I’m not going to go into detail but the headline was along the lines of
“This Set Of People Are Getting Help From Virginia Stimulus”
Now take away the knowledge that in this sentence “Virginia” is a US State and you can imagine how the conversation went…needless to say this is how my porn star name was born!
So having given my new American colleagues a good giggle, I am now focusing on life in the ‘real’ world and doing my best not to demolish half the house while removing a supporting wall to open up my new kitchen.
Dan is being Mr Cautious with lots of ‘what-if’ statements, followed by words such as ‘collapse’, ‘bow’, ‘sag’ etc whilst I am being much more positive (or reckless depending on how you look at things) and saying ‘what’s the worst that can happen, let’s just go for it’.
Saturday is the big day, one way or another, we will either have a nice big open room, with a beautiful beam spanning the two spaces or we will have a pile of rubble to move so we can build a nice big open room. Either way I’ll get my new kitchen, just one method may take a little longer than the other.
So this video could be my last, check it out and see where we’ve got to…while I go out and see how much damage the dogs have done to the garden while I have not been paying attention.
Well now the snow has gone, it is full steam ahead with my plans for a new kitchen. As you may have guessed I have spent quite a lot of time planning layout and requirements in terms of pipes, electrical points, appliance, wall and door positions, but now it is time to get cracking!
First the room needed emptying so we can see what we’re dealing with, so I mentioned to Dan that we’d have to live with the mess for a little while, his response?! “What another 4 years?” Ha ha, how we laughed…
So the chest freezer is now in the lounge (how this is more strange than it being in the bedroom I’m not sure), the large sofa is in the dining room, the bed and mattress are in the next door’s barn (thank you Neil) and I have yet to find a home for the large wooden chest full of goodies…if all else fails it might have to be squeezed into the “Box Room from Hell” – there must be room for one more thing in there…surely!?
Next the ceiling needs to be removed, this is going to be a dusty, dirty, rat poo-infested, bitch of a job. Can you tell I’m looking forward to this…also I’ll be (conveniently for Dan) doing it on my own too as he has a number of van jobs that have been stacking up waiting for the weather to clear.
In fact, except for situations where I need two pairs of hands, I am going to try to complete the whole thing by myself, that way we split our resources and more things get done…
Just to give you an idea of what I am taking on here, here is an overview; I have to brick up 2 doors, make 3 new ones, take out half a wall, put in an RSJ, remove the ceiling, plumb in a sink, washing machine and re-route the central heating, put up 2 boilers, board and insulate the rafters, move and add sockets and lights, gut the little wet room, render the walls and put up shelves and then…and only then can I start to build my own kitchen.
I will take lots of pictures as I go along, but something tells me I need a timeline plan as I am fitting all this in between teaching, freelancing for a couple of guys in California, gardening and feeding us all…so glad I took early retirement!
They say that, ‘Necessity is…’ and that is where I found myself…and so I had to become a little inventive!
It is not original, in fact it is done all over the country and many depend on similar set-ups for hot water supply, however what I am quite pleased with is that in the, now aptly named, Box Room from Hell, we already had most of this set up. All except for the little brass tap in fact, I am not sure why I am surprised by this as there is not a lot that is not in that room somewhere…but finding what you want at any given moment can be somewhat demotivating!
The black tank we have used is part of a Finnish wood-burning sauna system that we brought here…for obvious reasons but haven’t yet had time to put it to use in the way that it was intended…but it is perfect for this temporary hot water solution.
So now you would think that with all this set up and ready, we could demolish the current sink and get on with locating the water source so we can move it…oh no, life here is seldom that simple. Despite being 23C and bright sunshine last week, this week the temperatures have dropped back below zero and we have snow, lots of snow.
There is a tradition in Bulgaria that I have mentioned before where on the 1st March friends and neighbours exchange red and white bracelets and pins, which you must wear until you see your first stork or get your first blossom on your trees. March is always a changeable month but at this rate I’ll still be wearing mine in June!
It seems that next week we will be back up to 18-20C so I will make another little video to show you the next steps in my project. Until then I’m sitting next to the log burner, listening to music and cuddling dogs…my guilty pleasure at the minute is Justin Timberlake (please don’t judge me) …
The very British tradition of talking about the weather at every opportunity doesn’t stop when you leave the country, in fact it just amplifies the situation. In the UK we have very little weather to talk about really, unless you count the summer of 1976 when we had sun once, but the moment you move abroad you have a whole host of things to fill those awkward conversational voids.
I love to wax lyrical to my friends stuck back in old blighty about how we have four proper seasons and brag about our 70 degree temperature shift throughout the year, but in fact the weather here actually does dictate everything you do.
Even the festivals are governed by mother nature. Where else in the world do we substitute the commercially recognised Valentines Day with cutting back vines and trying out home-made plonk, or wear red and white bracelets until we see our first blossom or stork and I, for one, have not had a harvest festival since I took a tin of baked beans into primary school.
It is almost spring here now and I have potted up some seeds, which I duly put out and bring back in again at night (just in case) and thoughts naturally turn to winter…. No longer is it over, than we start planning for the next one…get wood while it’s cheap, give it time to dry and season, clean the flues ready…It is also time to come out of hibernation, lose your winter comfort blanket and get to work.
For me this year means a new kitchen. For most people this means a quick trip to Ikea, a plate full of meatballs, selecting a fancy new set of cabinets and advertising the old ones on Ebay.
By now you may have gathered I do things a little differently, so I’ll take you through my plans! Four years I have toiled over a hot stove in what is, essentially, a hallway. Four years I have put up with my water freezing when it drops below -15C, just because it enters the house on the north-facing, outside wall. No more!
I am breaking it down into small chunks for you so you can follow along as I solve these issues and create my new space…click here to watch part 1 of Operation Kitchen.
Stage one is to hook up some sort of hot water to the outside sink. So get your thinking caps on and send me your suggestions on how to do this…so I can demolish the sink in the ‘hall’ and relocate that pesky water source.
I was intending on being in the UK last week, to visit my Dad, who has amazingly made it home from hospital, but the weather made me think twice and eventually postpone my visit. Not because we had vast quantities of snow here, not because I live three hours from the airport and trains, buses and transport routes could be in chaos…
No I postponed my trip because the thought of getting to Birmingham and not being able to get out again, filled me with dread. Planes, trains and automobiles ran like clockwork here, whilst trains were being cancelled left, right and centre in the UK….before it had even snowed a flake.
While the UK struggled to cope with the ‘Beast from the East’, we here in Bulgaria were going about our lives as normal and have now decided on an alternative name for the 50cms of snow and -21C temps that we experienced over the last few weeks…we have called it ‘winter’.
Yes we may have gone a couple of hours without water one morning as the pipes were frozen, but with a bit of help from a heat-gun and normality was resumed. I am hearing that 30,000 homes in the UK are still without water due to mains pipes freezing and bursting…at -10C … really UK?
I think if you want to ‘make Britain great again’ you may need to start picking your own fruit and veg and put the Eastern Europeans in charge of your utilities and transport strategies.
We are now in full melt mode here, which means the river is super high and my winter wonderland has now resorted to a post winter apocalypse….if anyone dared to visit they would clearly see I am a mud farmer, I farm mud, not just outside, but inside too, it gets everywhere, but as usual I have turned this into a positive (because that is just how I roll).
Basically vast quantities of melting snow creates vast quantities of water and vast quantities of water creates vast quantities of mud…so take the water away and…oooh you get less mud. So I am now busy investigating ‘rainwater catchment systems’ and ‘hydropower’ to see how I can use the water and the weather to my advantage.
Watch this space…
As many of you know I teach English online to professional adults around the globe and thus get inside knowledge on many of their varied customs. A better known one is obviously Chinese New Year or Lunar New Year so…
In my attempt to build rapport with my students I talk about what they do to celebrate etc. expecting parades of people wearing enormous dragon costumes, eating large bowls of noodles and setting off lots of fire-crackers late into the night.
What did I get? Well I got tales of women cleaning their houses, not just wiping over surfaces with a damp cloth and spraying Febreze at the curtains…oh no…when they say ‘cleaning’ they mean ‘decluttering’! So as you know I am not one to rush to get out the duster and the furniture polish and I continue to claim not to understand how the hoover works (that’s a blue job – ask Dan), but…organizing, decluttering and generally taking back control, well that’s me to a ‘T’.
What few of you will know is that I was born in the year of the Fire Horse, a particularly bad year for female new borns. We are known for being contradictions of ourselves, fiercely independent, yet need to belong, we may make ultimate sacrifices or just as likely to destroy. We are therefore difficult to predict, but will risk it all for love and adventure…sounds exactly like me.
So wanting to join in and have tales to tell when I next speak to these students I ventured into the ‘box’ room. For most people a box-room is the small room at the top of the stairs that your son’s room-mate from college gets to sleep in when he brings him home to meet his super-cool parents. Not in this house! Here the ‘box’ room is a euphemism, or maybe it is actually more literal than the generally accepted definition.
So those of you that have been paying attention will remember that we took down our old stone barn (mainly because if we hadn’t it would have done it by itself…and probably taken part of the house and nextdoor’s fence with it) and we rebuilt a fabulous new wooden frame in its place…which will eventually be Dan’s garage.
Why is this relevant? Well this barn held lots and lots of ‘stuff’ – pretty much everything we had brought from the UK but hadn’t got around to using yet. Taking down this structure meant that we needed somewhere to put said ‘stuff’. Some of it is stored under tarpaulin in the yard, some in the outside toilet, some in the greenhouse and some in the end room…now aptly renamed the ‘box’ room.
This has been driving me slowly and consistently mad. I yearn to create more storage place around the house so I can empty said boxes and give them a home, but to think that a few days in mid-February was going to be the time to tackle this was slightly naive… have a laugh go watch this short video clip of what I am facing.
So we tackled the walk-in wardrobe instead (another euphemism for a big pile of mess in a cupboard) and we were quite brutal. Lots of old clothes got put in bags, clothes we are keeping got tidied and rearranged neatly on their respective shelves and it was quite a nice feeling of accomplishment.
I’m not sure where I get this from, I never had a particularly poor and rationed childhood, we weren’t rich but we didn’t want for much. So why am I so conditioned not to ever throw anything away. I’m not a hoarder as such, if it is broken, it goes in the bin, but if I think I might, maybe, someday be able to make something out of it…well…well that just results in three bags of old clothes being stacked next to my sewing machine! Just in case…
The good news about all this is, in good old Chinese New Year tradition I now get to buy myself something new. So a trip to town it is…every cloud…
Happy with my tale of ‘cleaning’ for my students I hop on over to my email to wish them all a Happy New Year and am greeted by reciprocal messages with attached images…of tidy homes, piles of old clothes donated to charity, homes re-organised in Feng Shui style? Oh no…I get sent a picture of a cabbage in a chair! Classic! Underestimate your Taiwanese students at your peril…thank you Ian.
Ever thought of getting out of the rat-race and taking the plunge into a simpler life like we have? Can’t say I blame you and it’s easy, honestly you just have to make the choice and then plan!
However if you are coming to Bulgaria there are another few adjectives that you may want to consider, like ‘patient’, ‘inventive’, ‘willing’ and ‘adaptable’.
It is the last word that comes into play frequently if you are thinking of taking early retirement, I mean Bulgaria is cheap but it is not free, so you have to be able to support yourself and your animals. You don’t have animals? You will have when you live here, even if you don’t want them, they just move in…(Picture – Exhibit A).
You will be living a self sufficient lifestyle so you don’t need to buy food…really?! Let me say we all have this intention, if not self sufficiency then at least a little more self reliance, but it takes time, even if you know exactly what you are doing and have years of experience, you will still need to adapt to Bulgaria.
Undoubtedly the ground will need some TLC, the different bugs and diseases that will eat your produce or kill the roots will need understanding and the weather, don’t forget the weather… we have around a 60-70 degree shift in temperatures here from -28C in the winter to 40C in the summer and one hailstorm here can wipe out your whole crop or take out a lean-to roof…(Picture – Exhibit B)
But as long as you are adaptable, willing to try new things and learn how to preserve what you grow you will, no doubt, be able to support yourself, especially if you get yourself a few chucks or a pig or two. You may have to think about fodder for your animals though, so consider the space and storage options for that too…or go vegan of course.
You may also be able to barter in the village for fresh honey (if you are a sugar taker), or oils and even alcohol, but with the animals come vet fees, inoculations, emergency treatment, worming, fleaing… Shelby (our husky cross) proved that last night as in my eagerness to get a head start on spring weeds, I scattered a heavy layer of salt around the edges of my raised beds and never gave it another thought.
In what can only be described as ‘husky-wisdom’ he had followed me around clearing up the salt…not the best idea he has had and he has had some crackers I can tell you. One of which resulted in me spending a week poking my steroid creamed finger up his bum on a daily basis when he ate a pair of blue crocs as a pup (not sure why the colour was important…but it made it easy to identify when it came out the other end). I digress – we spent yesterday evening in the vets, sitting on a blood-stained, cold, tiled floor with Shelby on a drip. Fabulous out of hours treatment for less than a tenner – bargain…it costs me more than that to worm them!
Do you see where I’m going with this. This life is amazing, fulfilling, satisfying but also challenging, educational and sometimes good value for money and at others, unexpectedly expensive.
The more eagle-eyed of my readers will have noticed a new page at the top of the site called ‘Profile’, it will not be of much interest in terms of its detail, but the ‘why’ may just explain why I’m focusing on ‘adaptable’ as the word of the week.
You see despite my very best intentions and efforts to do all of the above, I still need to earn money to pay the bills (I haven’t got around to installing solar yet), to pay the taxes (they don’t like to barter for a jar of chutney), to fuel my car and generally supplement the food I don’t, or have failed, to produce.
Fluctuations in exchange rates when you earn dollars or sterling severely affect your income, so I began working on building my editing and writing income to supplement the teaching I do. I have done a lot of writing and editing in the past, quite successfully, but I was amazed when I was offered the opportunity to edit a novel.
Check out Zatvor (which means Prison in Bulgarian) on Amazon – this is my affiliate link, but I actually edited this novel and know it inside and out and absolutely love it, it will change how you think about life on so many levels. I’m incredibly proud of the work I did on this book but also a little envious of the writer’s ability to tell a story…
Working on Zatvor changed how I viewed my work here too as it made me realise this is what I love to do, so much so it really didn’t feel like work at all. So in adapting to change I have found my vocation and have been offered two great new gigs that I’m so excited about, but I can’t talk about just yet. All I can say is I am getting back into motorsport and can’t wait to get started!
Today is Valentines Day or in Bulgaria better known as the Day of the Vines when the village get together and open up (and taste) the wine they made over the summer months, a great excuse for a party. Unfortunately we were unable to go, due to a certain husky, so the party came to us…food and cake kindly put to one side for us – this is why Bulgaria!
Happy Wine Day everyone….
Well here we go again, a new year has started and I must say I am relieved. I mean we all cast out the old and ring in the new when we get to Jan 1st but I have never been more glad to see a new year in, in fact I’m usually in bed by 10 and barely flinch when the fireworks start. This year I was up barking with the dogs and marveling at the coloured flashes as they exploded across the sky. Well how can this year be any worse than last.
Seriously I’m not just talking personal stuff here, I’m still happily plodding along in my new life, largely oblivious to things going on around me, however some things are difficult to miss. 2017 provided a gigantic fruit salad of poo around the globe didn’t it.
Lets take a quick look!
The ‘majority’ of us (by that I mean the uneducated, mildly racist, easily-lead part of Britain) apparently voted to leave the European Union, the ramifications of which we (the educated, culturally-aware, well-informed part of Britain) are yet to fully understand.
Not to be outdone in the game of ‘our fuck-ups have to be bigger than yours’ the US then decided to inaugurate a Disney villain as President. Thank you America it helped to divert attention from the UK for a moment or two.
Despite these two disastrous decisions by the voting public (we really shouldn’t be allowed to make decisions without supervision), there is something even more worrying and that is the apparent ability for the French to take control of their own destiny. How scary is it that the one country we could rely on to make good quality, internationally recognised white material on a stick…are now the most respected European country left in the mix. (I promise a searched for a picture of Macron but….)
And to cap it all I don’t dare even comment on how handsome the new, dashing, young French President is in fear of being accused of sexual harassment. Is it just me that is a little tired of it all, I mean, I was OK until some one in their wisdom decided to ban grid girls. I know I said we should be allowed to make decisions without supervision but…really? Remind me, how much money have Saudi invested in F1 to make this happen? I digress…
Ok so enough about the world around us and more about my personal 2017. It doesn’t make any better reading as we decided it was going to be our year off….do not let me do that again! I wanted to see if I liked living here as well as working here and the answer is …meh…
Don’t get me wrong, I love it, but when the house isn’t finished all my brain can do is stack up jobs, create lists then stress because nothing is getting done.
I tried, I went out with friends (and embarrassed myself), I even went to the pool (and felt uncomfortable), I tried to put my efforts into a new business online (and wasted my precious time) and experimented with hydroponics …everything I tried just failed miserably, because it wasn’t what I came here to do…and I’m easily bored.
The only thing that worked really well were my raised beds, remember the things we built that looked like some sort of satanic alter, well they produced a great crop of everything this year…apart from peppers. I was gifted some pepper plants from a friend and they grew fabulously, they were green, healthy, tall and full of flowers, but not one, not one single pepper.
The peppers were the tip of the lettuce though as they were all eaten by some beastie too and I hope he is fumbling around somewhere feeling overweight and frumpy like I am, because he ate all my salad!
Then we come to the cars – we lost Betsie our trusty van and Dan’s source of income whilst out on a run, luckily not too far from home, and then I hit a wild boar on our way out to dinner in the Seat. Luckily we have a selection of cars to choose from, but of course none are legal, few are working and many are unfixable having been dismantled to fix others…so that is when Bertie the new van and Stan the new boar-beater joined the crew…good job we are building a big new garage to get these things fixed in hey.
Oh wait a minute, work has stopped, we have no room, the floor still needs digging out and levelling, then it needs concreting and we have gates to make and perimeter walls to build…stress, stress, winge, whine and so…
In amongst all this my Dad (whose 82) decides he might be superman after all and his failure was luckily discovered pretty quickly by his neighbours and he was whisked to hospital. Two broken vertebrae, a broken neck and another cracked vertebra in his neck, and a phone call to me to confirm a DNR (do not resuscitate) and a request to get back to the UK pronto.
Amazingly I am going back to the UK again in a couple of weeks and he will be home (with help, but home) so this is how I know that 2018 is going to be a good one, it doesn’t have to go far to improve on the last year but to save my relationship and to get my sanity (and body) back we are back to digging, building, creating and laughing for the foreseeable future.
Coming from the UK we are naturally, or maybe trained to be, nostalgic about all things….from places we visited as a child, to meals our mother used to make, but for those of us that drive I would like to bet that the majority of us feel some affection for our first car.
This is not something that our friends here in Bulgaria are big on and I’m not sure if this is sad or not. Having lived here for a number of years we see the old villages starting to empty as the older generation pass away and the younger generation make the move to the bright lights of the city for university, friends and careers.
This is sad because there are many houses left uncared for, but also great for us foreigners looking to change our way of life as there are still many bargains to be had.
It was one such Brit (Neil Penn), driven by a desire to remove himself from the rat-race and somewhat genetically programmed to be nostalgic, that had the unique idea of establishing a way that western travellers could explore eastern Europe in the most unforgettable manner.
It was this one man’s vision that was the catalyst for the creation of Classic Car Holidays, who offer the opportunity to see the Balkans… all from behind the wheel of a Trabant. Really this is a thing! Check it out here www.classiccarholidays.co.uk
So when my friend that works in PR and Marketing in Motorsport came to visit, it was an event not to be missed. We booked a ‘Try a Trabie’ with Neil and abandoned our modern hire car in favour of something very different.
Travelling at a slower pace, but with a certain amount of zip, Neil was great at demonstrating the foibles of the old East German built machine. With column gear changes and offset pedals it was an experience that not many have had and we will certainly not forget.
The Bulgarian countryside is something to be treasured and too many of us (myself included) miss things as we whizz by so busy with our lives. To really benefit from this experience you have to change your perception of what travel is about.
Touring the Balkans is just as much about the journey as the destination and with two clients that have a racing past it was definitely a challenge not to accelerate out of the corners and down the straights, moving up the gears in quick succession, but to relax, put your arm on the window, look at your surroundings and let the engine take you to your next pit stop.
Our little car was ‘Colonel Mustard’, one of eight cars run by CCH and in true nostalgic style, Neil told stories about how these cars were owned by doctors and the like to service the community and as we pootled around the lanes we learnt a whole new respect for this little car and a whole new way to time travel.
If anyone out there has visiting Bulgaria, Romania or Macedonia on their bucket list then you really should come and try this, and if you have never thought of visiting then think again…even if it is just to drive this iconic piece of history and be surprised at what else these countries have to offer.
You will not be disappointed.