the skinflint philosopher

Attempting to thrift our way to a better life, with a toddler in tow!


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Ciao, Bulgaria.

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.
You can take a Bulgarian back to Bulgaria, but he’s not necessarily going to stay there.

The decision has been made that this visit to Bulgaria has come to an end. We have spent five months here, plus the two months overland travel time on the road in the campervan Leo to get here.
Here is a quick review:
1. Tiddler’s bilingualism has seen a huge boost through attending a local nursery, and hearing real conversations around her. Prior to arriving here she did understand a few things Digger would say to her, but we have now progressed to a very good understanding (she translates some things into English for me to understand), she speaks various correct words and sentences, alongside a general constant stream of gobbledygook which is her playing with sounds and language, which neither Digger and I can fully interpret but is all part of the learning process. Digger also feels more inspired to chat with her in his native tongue, now he is getting a conscious response. (My language skills are now being tested in order to keep up!)

 


2. Stay-at-home mama life suits me. Having worked for more than 10 years in the secondary education sector, Digger’s big fear of me resigning from my post in July last year would be boredom, particularly in Bulgaria with the absence of my friends, my normal routine, and playgroups/events I could take Tiddler to. Yes of course, it would be better if all those things could have been here too, but I have not been bored. We have cooked, and baked, and crafted, and invented games, and acted out make-believe stories. I have had long conversations with my child. I have sat and brushed her hair, for no reason other than to chat. We do yoga together. We have read stories, and made our own books. Tiddler has started to learn to read and I have the time to help her. Digger laughs at my ‘letterwork’ folder I have put together with resources for her reading. “I can tell you are happy because you have got plastic wallets and are organising your files! You enjoy her learning to read more than she does because you get to have bits of paper, and post-its, and a checklist of things to tick off once she has done them!” There is no point being defensive, because it is true. I am an educator by trade, a purveyor of instruction and worksheets. I may be more used to teenagers in the classroom, but I am learning how much fun a pile of coloured beads and reward stickers can be. As an only child, Tiddler has a lot to gain from books.

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3. Financially, it has not been too bad. Having both given up work in the summer of 2017, our biggest expenses have been removals and travel. Firstly, to get ourselves and our possessions off the island where I had lived for over a decade, and into storage at my parent’s house in the westcountry in the UK. Then the travel overland through Europe. We justified it as being a long extended holiday, the opportunity that we would not have if we were working and limited to days off. Campsites, the van itself and even petrol and road tolls all chipped away at our travel kitty. We were concerned with safety for Tiddler and so chose not to park up in lay-bys as many other travelers on the road could do to save their pennies. But the open road experience, as summer faded to autumn and we still traveled on southwards into the sunshine was worth the costs involved.
Once in Bulgaria, we were able to use a family apartment as our base, so bills were limited to electricity, water and wifi. Food bills were reduced through raiding Diado and Baba’s supremely delicious range of preserved stocks, bottles and supplies. Unexpected expenses came from Leo’s hydraulic suspension breaking on the potholed Bulgarian roads. Digger and Tiddler both had chest infections in February, and without having registration numbers as residents, we had to pay through the nose to even see a doctor, who eventually came to look at Tiddler in the dark and drafty corridor of the hospital between his shifts, and that was only because Digger managed to get hold of his personal mobile number. We paid for the prescriptions to be written, and the antibiotics and the syrups to be bought. Digger also had expenses to pay for the aftercare on a carpal tunnel syndrome operation on his hand. He was charged per stitch by the scissor-wielding dour-faced nurse, even when I told him I could have cut them out myself at home. He has faith in me, but perhaps not that much.
We also had to factor in the nursery fees, inexpensive compared to the UK but we had not planned for it, expecting Tiddler’s grandmother Baba to be here, not for childcare per say but for entertaining Tiddler and prompting her language development. Diado is a lot less verbose although he tries his best. The lack of playgroup-type opportunities also meant Tiddler needed more children to interact with, and so we opted for a private kindergarten to fill the gap. Baba talks to us on skype from Canada, just another Bulgarian granny farmed out to support the childcare of relations overseas, further evidence of Bulgaria’s declining and ageing population problems. She is visibly upset every time we speak that she has missed this opportunity with her granddaughter.  If she was here, I believe we would have stayed longer.

 


4. May you live in interesting times. It hasn’t all been roses of course, but I can’t deny that it is interesting. Digger and I have bickered more than before, mostly because he has been mooching around the apartment with limited access to power tools. Digger is a man who likes to work and be useful, and the wintery weather, the flu, and his hand operation have all conspired against him. He has done odd jobs with his father and for friends, but as we decided against buying a run-down old property at this time to bring back into use he has had nothing to get his teeth into.
But I like a challenge. I like dealing with currency I don’t recognise, and food I haven’t tasted, and taxi drivers who need to put their glasses on to read the address I am waving at them because I can’t pronounce it. I like not having to be embarrassed when Tiddler makes a personal comment about someone, because they don’t understand and then I can explain a little about manners. I like the snow, and the sunshine, and the weirdness of the winters here. I like learning about the customs and the folk tales, and developing a taste for rakia with my lunchtime salads. I like walking to the farm to collect the still warm milk, and have grown to be accustomed to the whooshing sound of the rickety lift that takes us up to the fourth floor.
It is not an easy, or a clean, or even a very efficient place, but I have never once regretted the decision to be here.

 


Digger however, is itching to go. As I type this he is downstairs ‘playing’ with Leo. He wants to go now, to get on the road. We leave in 11 days, weather permitting. Right now the snow is falling and I am not relishing the prospect of cold nights in a campervan. Bulgaria has been on the news as many local people in the rural areas have been taking the storks into their homes to save them. These long-legged birds, supposedly the heralds of spring, have arrived over the last few weeks from Africa alongside the better weather. This current deterioration back into minus temperatures has seen them frozen into their nests, and icicles growing on their feathers as the cold air rises off the ground, unable to open their wings and trapping them in the fields. The villagers are going out with baskets and blankets, plucking up these huge birds like statues, and bringing them into their homes to defrost.
download(Stork image from novinite.com)

Should better weather arrive, our route is planned for Bulgaria, Greece, southern Italy, but then we veer off from the outbound route and sail across to Barcelona. We are due to arrive back in the UK in May, with no house, no work, no definite plans. I’m hoping for some inspiration along the way.
I asked Digger last night, “Do you still think we did the right thing, giving up work, trying to do something different with our lives?”
“Yes” he says. “I don’t want to live out of a suitcase for ever, I want to be settled, but I don’t want to wait till I’m too old to enjoy life. We just need to find the right place to be.  Bulgaria isn’t right for Tiddler’s future. We need to see what we can find instead. But yes, we did the right thing”


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Nuts! Ohhhhhh, Hazelnuts!

Digger and Tiddler have both been confined to their sick beds this last week, and in between administering medicine, tissues and general sympathy, I’ve not had much time to call my own. This little post then is a sum up of previous enterprises in the kitchen, given some of the wonderful ingredients that we have been fortunate to have supplied from Diado and Baba’s stockpile of homegrown and foraged foods. Many of these cooking items may seem run-of-the-mill to some of our readers across the pond, but tend to be either seasonal and/or expensive back in the UK so I’ve been enjoying experimenting with something I perceive as a bit of a treat. A good thrifter of course should never ever waste food, so what better than to cook up a glut of something into something delicious, and save money on our food bill at the same time. My challenge then was to find recipes with butternut squash, honey, walnuts and hazelnuts as the main ingredients, and given that we have no weighing scales here I’m going with the cup measuring system, or the more generalised lets-chuck-it-in-and-see-if -it-works approach.
If anyone has any other tried and tested suggestions for recipes with these ingredients please drop your ideas into the comments section. Thank you!

WALNUTS

Bulgaria has a very famous use for walnuts in tarator, a yogurt soup. While this mix of yogurt, cucumber, garlic, dill and walnuts is delicious enough on a summer’s day when temperatures can often reach above 40C, a cold soup doesn’t really take my fancy at this time of year. So once Tiddler and I have spent a goodly time cracking the nuts, and then picked all the bits of the floor and hoiked out the ones that have rolled under the fridge, we have a stab at something a bit more warming.

 

Sweet potato, walnut and thyme soup.
1 large sweet potato (or similar quantity butternut squash)
1 onion
4 cloves garlic
half cup red split lentils
splash of olive oil
1 cup walnuts
tbsp of thyme (or dill)
salt/pepper
litre of water

I chopped it all very roughly, boiled it all up (add walnuts halfway through), and for Tiddler to eat it we blended it up with a hand blender, but it could have been finely chopped and left as a more rustic soup. The freshly shelled walnuts had a very high oil content and made a deliciously smooth and creamy texture to the dish.

 

 

Banana and walnut cake/bread
3 bananas
half a cup butter
4 tablespoons of Diado’s own honey
1tsp vanilla essence
1 cup flour
1 cup cornmeal
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 egg
brown sugar

Melt butter and honey in a saucepan, mash in the banana, add in all other ingredients. put in lined cake tin and sprinkle brown sugar (and cinnamon if desired) over the top. 180C for an hour.

 

 

HAZELNUTS

Date and hazelnut bombs
In an attempt to make Tiddler something without processed sugar in, and a suitable snacking food for me too, we came up with this little gem. It was fairly time consuming given that I don’t have a food processor, and ended up having to squeeze the dates through a garlic press, but the finished product were delicious and lasted very well despite my constant visits to the fridge while they were there!
Digger assisted by producing some sort of 1970’s plastic gadget from a cupboard that turned out to be a hand-operated nut grinder. Who would have thought such things existed, and I was charmed by the kitsch-ness of it all. I had to fight Digger away from it so I could have a go at turning the handle myself.

dates
raisins
roasted hazelnuts
spoon of honey

Chop/grind everything up and mix it with a dab of honey if necessary (optional addition is add in some cocoa powder but I felt the roasted hazelnuts gave enough of a chocolaty vibe).  Shape into little balls and chill, wherein the ‘bombs’ firm up and become an ideal snacking go to. Feel free to vary the dried fruit/nuts according to taste.

 

 

Hazelnut, coconut and honey biscuits

1 cup flour
1/2 cup cornflour
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup butter
3 large dollops of honey
1/2 cup desicated coconut
1tsp vanilla essence
1 cup roasted and chopped hazelnuts

Mix dry goods together. Melt honey and butter in saucepan and add coconut to soak. Mix all, shape into rounds. 180C 15 mins. These, did not last more than 20 minutes. We discovered, as they are quite a dry/biscotti-like texture they are the bees-knees with a cup of coffee.

 

 

BUTTERNUT SQUASH

We have been eating a lot of butternut soup already, or cubed and roasted butternut with a baby leaf salad is my other favourite, but I needed a bit more of a challenge.

Butternut squash cheesecake
12 oat biscuits (or Digestives for the UK folk)
half cup roasted hazelnuts
5 tbsp butter
1 tbsp sugar
Melt butter and sugar, stir in crushed biscuits and nuts, flatten into a lined cake tin and bake blind for five minutes.
3 x 8oz cream cheese packs
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 cup pureed roasted butternut squash
3 eggs
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp ground cloves
Mix all these ingredients together to form a smooth paste, layer over the top of the biscuit base. 180C 60 mins.
Beautiful.

 


Butternut and cheese scones
1 cup flour
1 cup cornmeal or wholemeal flour
half cup butter
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch salt
1 cup roasted pureed butternut squash
1 1/2 cup grated cheese
milk

Rub flour and other dry ingredients into butter.  Stir in squash and most of cheese, milk if necessary. Roll out, cut, sprinkle a few pieces of cheese on top. 210C fan, 20 mins.

Tiddler was a dab hand at doing the cutting out for these, and then decided she wanted to make a tiger. The colour theme worked very well and we added raisins for the eyes.

 

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As always, there is just as much fun in the making as there is in the eating!


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The philosophy of Snow White

Tackling as we are, the thrifter’s life in Bulgaria, we are always trying to scrimp and save wherever possible. For example, I spent some time this week attempting to mend Tiddler’s story book and that has given me a few things to think about.

The backstory of course is that we set off from England as my good and faithful readers know last September, in Leo the campervan, though while sufficient for our basic needs on the two month journey pottering through Europe to get to Bulgaria, was rather lacking in library space. So, a swift calculation means Tiddler (i.e. me) has been reading the same twenty story books in some sort of spiraling rotation for around five months, with my nemesis the pop-up book of Hansel and Gretel appearing on a far more regular than it was due basis. Who knows why Tiddler loves this story so much. I think I made a rod for my own back when I once ad-libbed that the witch was ‘burnt up to a crisp’. Now if I don’t add that specific detail in every time I read of Gretel’s fiendish escape plan I get reprimanded by Tiddler for missing out part of the story i.e. the grusesome nasty bit.
There are a smattering of English language books in the bookshops here, but very expensive, and the town library was no help either. So Granny Westcountry kindly scoured her home for my niece and nephew’s old books and popped them in the post to us as an emergency package of books as frankly, if I have to read Hansel and Gretel one more time there are going to be consequences.  Much excitement all round! The joy of new (to us) books! Unfortunately, seems Tiddler’s cousins had been a bit heavy handed with Snow White and the seven dwarves, and a book had arrived which needed a good dose of TLC.
“Are books alive?” Tiddler asks. Inward snigger from me at the innate cuteness.
“Do books have skeletons?” Cut-off snigger as I have to answer honestly, “Well they do have spines, that much is true”.
“Are books made from lots of ingredients? Have we got the ingredients to mend this one?”
So given the circumstances, I don’t want to throw this book away, and I also believe strongly in the importance of Tiddler understanding the need to take care of her possessions. Money doesn’t grow on trees and all that. Things do still have a value, and a use, even if they are old. Why replace something if it is not broken. Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves. I think you catch my general drift on this theme without resorting to further proverbs. Suffice to say, this is not just about money. Rather that I want Tiddler to be happy when she grows up. I cannot make her life a luxurious one, or guarantee no sorrows or troubles, but I hope I can equip her to be content with her lot, which will foster the skills of being practical, with common sense, and the emotional stability to make wise decisions.

Question: “Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?”
Answer: “The one who is happy”

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Quotes to give us a few more thoughts on this theme today:
imagesquote-be-content-with-your-lot-one-cannot-be-first-in-everything-aesop-182380baf4d7a2e0d0c6d32768b5bd89b85a--s-fashion-vintage-sewingquote-mend-it-fix-it-make-do-or-do-without-brigham-young-46-1-0164dont-waste-your-time-chasing-butterflies-mend-your-garden-and-the-butterflies-will-come-quote-1


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Twins and time

Rather than my own middling quality photographic attempts, (as a good thrifter I am still using the camera on the old and battered iphone 4 that was given me second hand when a kind friend upgraded, and I was sat up at night feeding Tiddler and kept falling asleep and needed something portable to help keep me awake), I’ve been rootling about learning more about Digger’s side of the family.

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Pictured here in this wonderful image is Digger’s mother, now Tiddler’s Baba (grandmother). She takes centre stage, with her twin brother to the left, their older sister (now the Sofia Auntie D) on the right, and their cousin on the far left. Behind them, both so proudly smiling, are their grandparents, that is Tiddler’s great-great-grandparents. Digger does a spot of maths and estimates the picture was taken circa 1952.
The story goes that the Uncle P, the first born of the twins arrived in the night at home in the rural village. A local ‘midwife’ (i.e. somebody else’s baba) attended, delivered Uncle P but was concerned, and great-grandmother was put on the back of a karuca (каруца), and taken off on a bumpy road to get to the hospital in the town, some distance away. Without prenatal care and scans, they were unaware of a second baby, and our Baba was only born later, unexpectedly, and fortunately with more complex medical care and not on the back of the karuca. This is why the twins have ended up with different dates of birth, one day apart.

I wish this picture was in colour. The twins are wearing terlitsi (knitted slipper socks), and all of the children sport knitted socks and leggings. Great-great-grandmother’s heavy apron and skirt and headscarf can be seen, and the cousin’s skirt and cardigan look to be knitted or woven in a traditional design too. Great-great-grandfather wears a tall kaplak bear fur (or black lamb wool) hat, and what looks like an ex-military coat.
A photo below (iphone 4!) from a modern but traditional style fabric in use today may gives you a hint of the possible colour combinations, or take a look at some of the ornate embroidery and vintage clothing on this webpage. 

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The heavy duty wools are clearly to keep out the cold continental winter air. I’ve also discovered these children’s knickers/shorts tucked away, perhaps sentimentally,  with moth balls in the back of a cupboard in the apartment we are borrowing for our stay in Bulgaria. I ask Digger if they were his when he was little, but he admits to nothing.

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I don’t know about the level of insulation gained, but I imagine an individual wrapped in a pair of these bad boys, plus all the other layers on top, would not be moving anywhere very fast, and you would certainly need plenty of warning for a toddler toilet stop.

It was definitely a different world, nearly three quarters of a century ago, and makes me sit and think a little on Tiddler’s relationship with her grandparents, both the Bulgarian side and those in the Westcountry, and whether she will be looking at pictures of us all in decades to come, and what she will think of us, and what she will remember, and what stories she will have heard. Hopefully she won’t be thinking about our underwear.


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Speak softly and carry a big stick: Vasilovden

New Year (Vasilovden for the Bulgarians) for us has always been a bit of a non-event, and certainly since the arrival of Tiddler we are far more likely to all be fast asleep as the clock chimes. Having finally recovered from the over-eating at Christmas, we settle for a simple meal for New Years Eve dinner at the apartment, with Diado and Tiddler both equally impressed by Monte Carlo Circus live on Bulsatcom. A few rakias later Diado heads home, Tiddler snores, and Digger and I can’t sleep due to the constant noise outside. All day we have been slightly unnerved by firecrackers being set off. That word sounds a little tame for the equivalent of a car backfiring behind you which seems to the modus operandi for the whole community. These are not squibs, as I would call them, but full on mini-explosions. Bulgarians don’t seem to heed any sort of health and safety with such things, setting them off right next to the play park during the day, causing me heart palpations and a nervous disposition all afternoon. As the clock ticks nearer to midnight the booms and bangs increase in frequency, and culminate on midnight with an organised firework display in the town centre, and plenty of random and likely rakia fuelled unorganised shenanigans. From our apartment on the fourth floor of a crumbling 1980’s communist tenement block, we see shadowy figure throwing firecrackers and fireworks off the roofs of opposite blocks, or launching them from other balcony terraces, most of which fall down on to the cars and the lean-to garages below. Some hit the ground burning, and then shoot off in a horizontal direction. There is a constant boom and stutter of, for want of a slightly less inappropriate analogy, a sound akin to shelling and gunfire. It is a gigantic free-for-all. Tiddler snoozes on regardless.

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Digger insists his new years resolution is to cut of Tiddler’s hair. Shave it all off in fact is his actual wording. Now the back story to this is many Bulgarians believe shaving a baby’s hair in the first few months helps the hair to grow thicker and more healthily, and he had mentioned when I was pregnant that we should do the same, which I had semi-agreed with as babies are pretty much bald anyway. It’s all fluff. Then Tiddler arrived with thick dark hair, and I managed to persuade him there was no need. Since then, Tiddler’s hair has grown, and grown, and got sun bleached and beautiful, and we’ve reached the age of three years and four months without ever having it cut. It is now a sticking point. Digger thinks it is too tangled and effort to wash and dry. I, who actually do the de-tangling and the washing and the drying, don’t want to cut it. I can’t think of anything worse than the kind of ‘lego hair’ haircut I’ve seen children sporting. I like her to look a little wild.
Tiddler sides with Digger as it turns out she thinks if she shaves her hair short like him, she’ll be able to grow a beard too. Toddler logic. I garner facebook support for my cause, and Digger receives an unexpected phonecall from his cousin, not to wish happy new year, but to check he hasn’t gone completely bonkers. Crisis finally averted for the time being, but I know this is a niggling issue that I have to deal with soon. Am I wrong to delay the inevitable based on my own preference of enjoying her hair for a little longer?

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In the morning, Tiddler (hair intact) and I create our New Year’s survachka or survaknitsa to celebrate Bulgarian style in a manner that didn’t involve any gunpowder and firecrackers. No, this is the ‘child-friendly’ part of the Bulgarian traditions at this time of year, which simply involves hitting each other with a big stick instead.
The ancient custom is known as survakane/ сурвакане and requires a cornel-tree (dogwood) branch which is tied up into circles and decorated, often with popcorn and dried fruits. This can then be used to pat people on the back while singing a stanza in return for money of gifts. Tiddler cottoned on to this quick enough and managed to con Diado out of 10 lev and neighbours their chocolates before we managed to wrestle it out of her grasp.

Сурва, сурва година,
весела година,
зелен клас на нива,
червена ябълка в градина,
пълна къща с коприна,
живо-здраво догодина,
догодина, до амина

Surva Surva year,
Happy new year
bountiful harvest
many apples on the trees
a full house with silk
and health for years to come
amen

More professional examples of the decorated sticks can be found here and a guide to make your own is here.
We just about manage to get her also to pose for a photo of us in traditional embroidered shirts that were gifted to us for the new year. Folk costumes in Bulgarian are real beauties- plenty more information and images can be found here. Like with any folk tradition, each region has specific clothing colours, designs and shapes, and this might warrant a more detailed post at a later date when I have learnt a bit more to sound like I actually know what I am talking about.

Happy New Year from Tiddler, Digger and Thrifter. We wish to our readers the very best for 2018, and if life sometimes doesn’t work out as planned, and as our world seems at constant conflict and odds with each other, we ask you to speak softly, and hopefully no-one will need a big stick.

quote-speak-softly-and-carry-a-big-stick-you-will-go-far-theodore-roosevelt-25-9-0977


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Thrifty toddler christmas decorations

Just a short little post to show you a few things that Tiddler has been busy creating over the last weeks in the run up to Christmas. As always, getting the craft things out amounts to an open invitation to smear glue, glitter and paint on anything she can get her hands on. Clearly our crafting is way below the minimum requirement for Pinterest/Good housekeeping magazine standards- we are just having a bit of fun with junk, packaging and the odd sequin or two. She doesn’t mind (or know) what other busy crafters are out there making; we are just having a bit of fun on the cheap. It keeps restless hands busy, active bodies still, and opens up creativity to fire up all those brain pathways as well as plenty of opportunities for improving her dexterity, colour, shape and texture knowledge, and just some downright bonafide christmas hygge Mama and Tiddler time.

Gummi bear advert calendar– we did eventually find a chocolate one in a shop (clearly not a common tradition here in Bulgaria) but Tiddler found this one much easier to cope with as the numbers were in sequence, so it was more useful for practicing our counting too. Tiddler’s real name is at the top, hence why the photos are cropped a little.

Crackers. Also impossible to find in shops here (rural-ish Bulgaria, I’m sure they are available in Sofia), we opted to make ones that can be untied, each with a christmas motto, balloon and sweet inside. We ended up making nine crackers (as Tiddler enjoyed dropping the goodies inside each tube so much), for what we thought would be a four person christmas day dinner. Turns out I grossly underestimated the guest list that I shall be cooking an “Énglish” traditional dinner for, so we don’t have enough crackers at the moment and more will need to be made. More on that bombshell – for a vegetarian who has never even cooked a Sunday roast before – in a later post!)


Decorated Christmas trees – card, sequins, glitter, glue, all little items that came with us all the way from the island in Leo. It it sparkles it must be good.

A special mention for the Christmas card below, not crafted by us, but made and sent to us here by my good friend and fellow blogger over on retired but not retiring. 🙂 Great stuff!
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Woodland scene – Our walks in the parks and woods have given us plenty of opportunities to cut boughs of various pines and spruces, and find some amazing fir cones for Rudolph creations (and you know I save and reuse those googly eyes from one animal creation to the next), and our local coffee shop serves up their cakes on little dollies that have become perfect snowflakes.

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Nativity – The piece de resistance though has to be the loo roll nativity. Materials: scrap paper, cloth, felt, ribbons, string, pipe cleaners, cotton wool etc.  I’m especially proud of the satsuma net turban!

 

Over to you to share any of your christmas crafting in the comments?
And in case I don’t get to post up again before the 25th, Happy Christmas and Vesela Koleda / весела коледа from Thrifter, Digger and Tiddler, and thanks for following all our upheavals, travels and general mutterings for this year. Seasons greeting to you all! x


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Cooking up a winter storm

Following the last blog post about how we were blessed with a seemingly limitless larder thanks to Tiddler’s Bulgarian grandparents being a dab hand at gardening, gathering, and preservation of food, which is having a significant saving on our food budget while we try and eke out our time without working, I thought it was about time I shared a little bit about what we were getting up to in our Bulgarian kitchen.

NB: None of the below is anything amazingly gastronomical, but in the last few years since the arrival of Tiddler we have become more reliant on quickly cooked food, all served in separate portions ( none of which can touch the others on the plate) so Tiddler would eat it. Anything remotely ‘mixed’ such as a stew or soup was was in line for for the five stages of Toddler mealtimes: 1. Disbelief, what is that! 2. Ridicule, ýou actually think I’m going to eat that? 3. Denial, er no way is that happening. 4. Anger, Waaaaaaahhhhhh! 5. Grief, How can you make me do this? We are now reaching the burgeoning stage 6, Bargaining, I might eat it if I feel like it and if there is something I want for pudding. As a result we have a few more options, a few different ingredients, and certainly a lot more time. I’m reasonable proud our cooking attempts so far. Digger slightly less enchanted with the clean up operation required after Tiddler has been let loose.

Firstly we needed the right attire, so thanks Baba for what we turned up after a quick rummage in the tea towel drawer.
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Next chop and scrape and bang and clatter and voila, or rather more accurately as the Bulgarians would say, заповядайте (pronounced zapovyadaite).

Beetroot soup preparation, hot beetroot salad, cold beetroot salad with pomegranate and sirene (the Bulgarian equivalent of feta, very similar but softer and stickier).

 


Baked carp, and then flaked leftover carp into paprika spiced rissoles.

 

 

Butternut squash tagliatelle with leek and kidney bean, halfway through a layered roasted pepper pie, and sirene and beef tomato crustless quiche. I can’t claim I had any hand in the making of the lovely heart shaped kashkarval cheese bread though I’m afraid, that was bought from a little shop across the street.

 


Tiddler then demanded some sweet things, so we tried honey (also made by Diado from his own hives) and cinnamon biscuits, and windfall pear flan.

 

One of our breakfast staples has become pancakes, including on occasion the randomly generated odd shaped one. Those of you who know Tiddler will know that the snail one below almost didn’t get eaten as she wanted to keep it as her new friend!
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But without doubt, the go to recipe to keep Digger happy is the Bulgarian dish, banitsa.
This is a layered filo pastry, cooked with egg, yoghurt, sirene, milk and butter that can be eaten by itself as a breakfast, or as a side serving to another meal, or just plain hey whenever you feel like it. There are to be fair probably as many banitsa recipes as there are Bulgarian grandmothers. I cook Baba’s version, not quite up to her standard, but I think I’m paying reasonable homage. Digger blames not carrying out physical work anymore for his waistline expanding somewhat, but I know it is his banitsa consumption. I’ll have to look into a local Banitsa Eaters Anonymous group.

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Next blog post: Just what exactly are Bulgarian christmas traditions, and what happens when you try to explain the weird British ones. Thrifty toddler craft for a frugal christmas also has been keeping us busy over the last few weeks, we’ve not been stuck in the kitchen all the time!

 

 


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Pimping my ride : Leo

The latest on Leo’s overhaul- Digger found both a flat battery and a leaky water connection when he wired Leo up to the mains, but all now resolved (we hope for good). I finally had my maiden voyage in The good ship Leo (only down to the petrol station and back) and then we carried on getting things ready.

Digger has tried out the sleeping accomodation, spending a night on the driveway while Tiddler and I were tucked up asleep in the house.

Verdict, comfy but cold. The second week of September and that is the UK weather, unless we wrap ourselves in tinfoil in there it is going to be cool at night. 9 degrees he said, at silly o’clock when he got up to christen the porta potty. Thank goodness we are going south, but we do need to get going, and note to self: hot water bottle. I also realised that all my white bedlinen is not the most practical thing to be heading off in a campervan with, but it is what we have got, and no point in buying new.

He has also finished Tiddler’s bunk, in the end without the ‘stolen’ chair legs.  It is more satisfy that it is all in wood, though now with a hinged support is is heavier, but still will sit flat under the side seat during the day.

 

We realised however that by the time the mattress (a sun lounger cushion borrowed from Granny (Hoarder) and Papa (Snoozer) inside an old sheet sewn up into a sort of giant pillowcase) is on the bunk, plus pillow, Tiddler, and duvet, she is fairly high up from the double bed below. As Tiddler is also ‘Wriggler’, we now needed a solution to keep her in the bunk.

In the end we came up with what I explained to the others as ‘the windbreak design’. This gave me the chance to make another thrifty item at no cost to us – a piece of old window blind fabric, an old broom handle (that Digger had brought with him from the island- goodness only knows what he was thinking he would use it for at the time!), and the chance to use my mother’s lovely old Singer sewing machine, complete with a random box of sewing paraphernalia as part of the hygge factor. The final picture show it before I sewed in the last baton, but hopefully you get the idea. The broom handle pieces can just be pushed down into the holes in the main bed board after she falls asleep, so we still can do goodnight stories, but she isn’t going to attempt to crowd surf us in the middle of the night.

While this was going on, Digger took a break to fashion something else out of wood. My parents have a bit of a seagull problem. The tealeaf-ing gulls get in through the chicken doors to the sheds, and peck and eat the hens eggs. Friends have suggested nets or awnings overhead but the seagulls will still land and walk in, a dead gull hanging up (!), and blowing eggs and filling the empty shells with mustard or chilli sauce as a decoy, which sounds pretty epic but fiddly. So Digger put together a little roosting box with a double slope so in theory the eggs should roll down and under a second board, so the gulls can’t get to them but we can. In place this evening, so will have to see whether it works, and whether even the hens will take to it as a place to sit.

My next job has been carpet fitting. Again using an old off cut we had, with Papa in the background back seat directing with ‘measure twice, cut once’, and Digger extolling the virtues of the correct way to cut with a stanley knife to avoid impaling myself,  I then had to get my head round the reverse maths of cutting on the back to then flip over to fit.Not exactly a perfect job, but given the wierd shape of the floor space I’m pretty darn chuffed with my attempt.

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In non Leo related news, Tiddler and I have been playing playgroup roulette, trying out various groups in the neighbourhood to give her a bit of ‘other children’ time.  Tiddler has tried out the local pool, and managed full immersion for the first time, albeit while laying on her tummy underwater on a shallow step. She has learnt to say ‘ramsbottom’ and ‘bonzo’ and other random sayings of my father. I have had emails from work colleagues asking how we are doing and telling me that the start of the new term is pretty much like always. Digger and I hold hands on the sofa and smile a quiet smile at each other while we are watching TV with my parents. We are busy, but not tired. We are planning, but not stressed. I ask Tiddler in the morning what she dreamt of. ‘It was you Mama, dancing.’

 

 

[Motorhomers out there- still open to suggestions and ideas you may have of things we should take, or things we should know before we set off. Particularly any legal requirments for Europe we might not be aware of? Any comments welcome please- thank you!]

 

 


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The ignoble art of lying

Let’s be clear before we begin, on our main definitions. I always think of the word ‘ignoble’ as meaning dishonest or not honorable, but it has a second meaning too. That specific adjective is one suggesting a humble origin, or a basic quality, and I suppose when we do a little bit of philosophising about lies and deception, both definitions probably ring true.

I’m prompted into this by conversations I’ve had recently with a few of my students (and parents). For us over here in the British Isles, ’tis the season of Options, whereby we must extoll the virtues of our chosen teaching subject for the delight and delectation of the masses. To GCSE, or not to GCSE (or A-level), that is indeed the question. We are asked ad infinitum “Do you think my son oblique daughter can do this course?” “What grade do you think they’ll get?” and so on. We of course, seek to encourage as many as possible to opt in. We love our subject. We think it is the most important subject there is. Without it, how can anybody possible function? Well truth is, they’ll of course get by fine without it in reality (though they may struggle at pub quizzes), but with it, you’ll peel back so many layers of understanding of how the world works you would think you were blind beforehand. So of course, for those students we embellish carefully and hedge our responses. On the other hand, where we see a student coming forwards who will definitely struggle with the requirements of the course, we employ a different form of truth telling, by highlighting difficult tasks and expectations and allow the implications of that to sink in. We are not lying, but are we slightly deceiving both?

Another seemingly straight forward question “Will you be teaching the course next year? How to answer this one folks? There is a choice of four possible teachers, including myself, so of course I give the standard (usually truthful) answer, that we simply don’t know, it depends on the timetables and we won’t know that till June. But the hidden lie, the absent truth, is that of course I won’t be here for the next academic year, (as we are taking our year or two out before Tiddler needs to start school herself) so it couldn’t possible be me. I will be off on a (hopeful) jolly. Why don’t I simply say that? I haven’t officially handed in my notice yet, and certainly most staff and students are not aware of me going, and I don’t really want to get into that conversation just yet. Of course, the students may be asking with the vain hope I won’t be teaching them and they can breathe a sigh of relief that they won’t get Miss Thrifter again, but I like to retain a little flicker of smugness that they might consider choosing the subject if they think they might get me again. We all like to be liked, at the end of the day.

According to the BBC ethics team ‘lying is an unavoidable part of human nature’. Back to our second definition then, a basic quality. The complicated nature of deception, lies and falsehoods are brilliantly summed up here, to get your brain into gear on this theme, and indicates how complicated we can make this. We can lie about something, which turns out later to be true. Our Homo sapien brains means we can manipulate our use of language to be stating a literal truth, while actually delivering a lie. We lie to protect other people’s feelings. Worse still, we happily attempt to lie to ourselves fairly often, even when we clearly don’t need a lie detector to work out that yes, it was me that ate that whole packet of maltesers all by myself. Should we therefore consider not the lie itself as a bad thing, but rather the underlying intention, and the potential consequences as the determining factors.

Tiddler of course doesn’t really know how to lie yet. We play a hide and seek game where she shouts out where she is hiding as soon as we start to look for her. We play a blindfolded guess the object game too. She is pretty good at feeling the object in her hands and guessing it from its shape or texture, but when she wants to blindfold us and give us an unseen item to work out, she invariable tells us exactly what it is as soon as she hands it over. I’m pretty good now at pretending I have absolutely no idea what is is and go through a good three of four guesses before I say the thing she has just told me. Perhaps she simply thinks I’m a bit rubbish at the game and need a clue. Poor Mama.
Clearly at some stage soon, she will start to lie. She already tells us when Mister Crocodile needs to go to hospital (usually as she has attempted to cut it’s leg off with a plastic saw from her ever expanding toolbox), or makes me cups of tea from swimming pool water, so she is capable of imagining, and surely that is the actual noble art of lying.  Sir Ken Robinson, a big cheese in childhood development, states that ‘imagination is the source of all human achievement’. It allows cognitive development, critical thinking, language progression, innovation and much more that this, the ability to lie. Is this indeed a purely human trait? We like to think we are the superior species in this sort of thing, but have a little look at this article if you are under the misapprehension that animals don’t get up to a little bit of ‘creative truth telling’ when it suits them.

Fundamentally then, without the ability to lie, we are without the imagination of an ‘alternative’ reality, and that might limit us in terms our aspirations, our relationships, and our happiness. Stick with the adage ‘do no harm’ and hopefully it will all work out fine. Even Santa has a part to play in all this, and I’m pretty sure he was a saint.

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Crocodile hunting

Tiddler and I peered out the window this morning. Tiddler looked very glum. “It’s rainy Mama. And foggy! Naughty fog!”
“Why is the fog naughty?”
“It’s got crocodiles in it” ( bearing in mind we are in a temperate climate in the British Isles, the likelihood of finding crocodiles wandering around in this particular section of modest back gardens is most definitely on the slim side).
“Has it?”
“Oh yeah, big ones with sharp teeth that go RRRRAAAAHHHH”

And so, given that Digger took an unexpected Saturday away from work, the three of us got down to a frugal morning’s entertainment of crocodile craft. Tiddler, in between wearing a crown on her head and dictating to Digger that he had to wear a pair of fairy wings, set to with the green paint. Thrifter planned and cut up the egg boxes. Digger supervised the teeth and the pond.

Equipment:
2 egg boxes (from our friendly honesty box egg shed down the road)
1 piece green card
green paint/red paint/blue paint
glue
green ribbon,to hinge it all together, salvaged from a chocolate box at Christmas
Black and white card
Googly eyes, again re-purposed from a different craft activity from a playgroup

Cost:  Apart from the glue that had been bought previously, £0 and 0p.

Verdict. I’m not sure who was happier in their work – Tiddler or Digger. Creative play, art therapy, craft, imagination….. and all for free.
Apparently she wants us to make a Tiger tomorrow. I certainly hope I’m not going to bump into one of them prowling across the lawn in the morning.

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Waiting for the teeth to dry

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Aerial photography of the lake

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Get in my belly!

 

Any suggestions please of other animals (and materials for them)  that would be easy to add to our menagerie?