Slush puppy living, the garden and evolutionary design

The melt has begun as temperature soared to 7 above freezing.  The power of nature is astounding.  The winter wonderland of yesterday is fast becoming a stain bespattered landscape.  The adobe mud is reaching up from it’s frozen crust and is milling with the fast disintegrating snow.  The path to the pigs has machiavellian crimson splatters  where the local birdlife have availed themselves of the grapes we left on the vines.  It is Saturday and whilst I appreciate the melt and decidedly warmer temperatures the virginal and all encompassing white blanket is now pockmarked as the melt begins. Our garden, ‘au natural’, is fast becoming the eyesore it was before the snow.

It has somehow slipped into Monday morning and big melt has been quite literally frozen in it’s path.  The garden has become a diamond sharp minefield of frozen water pinnacles. I treat them with the utmost respect because falling on them would almost certainly require the medicine chest to be cracked.  Terry and I firmly believe in the ‘body heal thyself’ school of thought.  So unless medical intervention cannot be ignored we rarely use the medicine chest.  It contains 3 car first aid kits and a completely random selection of items we’ve added over time.  With the exception of bandages, we haven’t really used the contents.  I don’t even think there are sticking plasters in there.  Unless something needs stitching or setting we use salt water or tea tree solution and bandage.  I have to admit to Terry removing some problematic stitches from my hand operation.  If I remember as I lay on a Bank Holiday with the flesh between the stitches suppurating and squigging out out of the constraints of ridiculously tight stitches the following unfolded.  I was running a temperature and the thought of the emergency room on a Bank Holiday Friday night was unthinkable.  So in my delirium I watched Terry dismantle a new razor and sterilise it.  He undid 3 sanitary towels from their sterile wrappers and poured vodka (I think) over the wound.  I have a high pain threshold so I watched in a mixture of terror and interest as he efficiently removed every other stitch.  He washed it with saline solution and wrapped it in a loose breathable bandage.  Worked out just fine.  I’ve declined his offer of an eye lift though despite my overwhelming urge to have one!

The garden is our February/March project.  This includes zoning the land to encompass our food growing area, animal quarters and free ranging areas, the pool, a woodshed, seating and a newly hatched plan for the summer kitchen and patio area outside.  Terrys workshops are another project entirely.  I stress that we will be making zoning decisions and not completing the work in the same time period!  The vegetable plots are a must.  We ran out of time to prepare the plots before winter arrived which means that this year we will be running a battle with weeds.

This will be our first year in which we will attempt a degree of self sufficiency.  What we plant has to be driven by both our needs and that of the animals.  Being able to produce some fodder would represent a significant saving.  Balancing the repeat seedings to correctly represent our own intake and the possibility for canning any surplus though some of that will be moot because of the pigs.  As an aside our pigs go into a frenetic feeding meltdown if we’ve added any waste dairy products to their grain and feed.  We have also cut down the kitchen rubbish to  a small bucket every 3 days.

I’m embarrassed to admit it has slipped into Tuesday morning.  The predicted 1 inch of snow yesterday turned out to nearly a foot and we have moved from a Code Yellow to a Code Orange because high winds, dropping temperatures and further snow.  We had to drive to Levski yesterday to pick up some air compressor tools Terry had haggled for on Facebooks BgBay – Buy Sell Swap (in Bulgaria), from the Ekont courier office and to pay the electric.  The tools were an absolute bargain at 38 leva for 2 each of screwdrivers, drills and jigsaws.  The roads on he other hand were treacherous.  Utmost care, attention and vigilance is required.  Terry drove effectively, on an ice skating rink, along the road from village to town.  When he turned off the main drag onto the wide avenue towards the Levski railway station and the Ekont office the Landy moved smoothly through the soft snow.  Then for no reason whatsoever the Landy swung out in a 180 degree arc.  Of course Terry handled the situation and he got back on track immediately.  What was frightening was that there was a car approaching us as it had happened.  200 metres further up the road and we would have collided with that car.  We discussed what happened afterwards and as Terry pointed out, there was not even a nanosecond between driving and the Landy sliding out because all steering at that point was not possible.  Terry reacted to how to safely “land” the car.  It was a good lesson in driving on a mixture of fresh snow on an ice bed for both of us.  We have no need to leave the house again till this weather calms itself.  Saturday, apparently, is the day according to  AccuWeather.

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Where has the road gone?

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Trying to she the 1 metre drifts at the side of the road

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11am in the morning at it is truly a white out

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People taking the opportunity to fill up at the petrol station in Levski

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Dani’s house and outbuildings across the green as you enter the village

Are we bored or discombobulated by the snow?  Nope, not a all.  Winter feels like a real season.  It really gives you time to reflect, to slow down but most of all to examine our relationship with nature and food.  Well for Terry it is his time to mull over ideas and make plans.  We have also risen from the comfortable arms of torpor to start work on the house again.  Terry finished taking back 1 of the reclaimed doors, shortened it, recut and fitted new glass panels (not straight ones either).  We have over the years stripped enough wood and it’s always the panelled doors that are difficult to strip completely enough to make the doors look truly renovated.  So Terry routed out the panels, stripped them and used beading when he refitted the panels.  Our doorways in the house are quite small because of the age of the property.  Getting doors to fit has been a journey.  Terry had to cut this door in half, following the middle window lines, to remove enough of the door for it to fit and still function.  It is almost impossible to see the join unless you are within inches of it, on your knees and have good eyesight.  He’s also fitted the door recess in wood and cut and fitted architrave.  I have removed all excess adhesive, plaster, filler from all surfaces in the bathroom.  I have found that the wire wool scrubbers for kitchen use are simply ace at this job.  Use them dry and hoover up the debris.  I’ve also knocked back all wooden surfaces in readiness for a couple of coats of PVA before we knock back again and varnish.  That is todays job.  The cast iron bath is now upside down on 2 breeze blocks, claw feet removed having had it’s first coat of white enamel.  Terry is not sure on my sanded back to metal, distressed antique look.  Not brave enough `I say but this is a democracy here.

I mentioned earlier about plans for the summer kitchen.  It has become unusable.  It is -11 in the daytime and even when I cook the difference in temperature means I am engulfed in smog and the walls and ceilings drip condensation.  That wasn’t the last straw, or even the frozen olive oil or even the solid washing up liquid.  It was when I put my hand into my carefully stacked store cupboards and something bumpy and cold scrape my hand.  I shrieked and withdrew my hand.  I composed myself after a minute and peeked into the cupboard, my ears straining for sounds of rodents or other unwelcome guests.  I could not believe that the underside of every single cupboard in the kitchen has icicles hanging down.  It is so cold that neither the electric oven or the fridge freezer are working properly.  So I collected a subsection of my kitchen and removed it to the main house.  I’ve set up camp and am using a mixture of the petchka and a small 2 ring, oven combo I’d bought from a friend.  It is headed for one of the kids house but for now it is very useful.

The summer kitchen is going to become the meat/veg/fruit processing room.  The old chimney that is connected to the external bread/meat oven will become a mini smoker and the sink enlarged to a more suitable size.  The old granite sink will be recycled in the garden.  Terry is going to recycle all the bricks on the property to make an external summer kitchen with built in wood storage, bbq and a sink.  It will be attached to the external patio facing wall of the summer kitchen facing out on to the garden.  We have almost everything we need to do this.  Currently and amongst many other things we have 3 ceramic washbasins, 2 stainless steel sinks. taps in abundance and boxes of plumbing equipment we Freecycle’d or car booted in the run up to moving here.  This will also allow us to utilise the current storage room in the old house as a utility/mud room.  There will be plenty of space for temperature sensitive canned/fresh goods too.

I cannot lay claim to the following statement but it is one we both agree with.  I wish I could attribute it but I can’t.

“Living and renovating in Bulgaria, as an expat, requires that you take an evolutionary design approach.  Allow the country, the people and your experience to drive your design process.  If you build for British conditions you will find yourself building twice.  Learn from your experiences and allow your ideas to evolve with your new life”.  

Our house is evolving.  We have made design changes having experienced what we hope is the worst of the winter weather.  We have experienced the Spring, Autumn and Summer now.  Decisions to fell trees were reviewed in view of the 30+ degree temperatures we saw in June through till early October.  The functionality of an external kitchen in Winter was sorely tested and came up wanting,  even as a temporary measure.  Excessive and frequent rainfall causes anything but cement to morph into marshland.  I have had to accept that on pathways a solid base is absolutely necessary.  My whimsical thoughts on living paths of Thyme and Lemon Thyme have been dashed.  But it has been a learning curve and a lesson in patience and problem solving.

On a final note our beloved Bodie is definitely with pup.  She is in the 5th week and it is evident that she has a belly full.  She has begun to waddle and when she lies still her belly is awash with little bodies turning like a can of worms.  She shouldn’t really be showing this early but she is.  We have an open lottery on number of pups due.  Last time we were in this situation with James’s dog Lexie.  We were working full time so coming home to the contents of 11 pups stomachs was not a good feeling.  Now we are in the perfect place for our BoBo to have her pups.  Vinnie who despite being castrated before we arrived did sterling service in covering Bobo during her season (we haven’t explained to him about  the op yet), nor the unwanted visit from Roystons sire.  Vinnie is an attentive partner, he allows Bodie to cherry pick his food and is almost always at her side as is the ginger ninja Teddy Edwards.  They make quite a charming family.

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