Happy Birthday, Mark!!

I generally try to post every day during the week, but I skipped a day or two because…it was Mark’s birthday! That’s right, he’s the big 3-7 now…So, how do you celebrate a birthday in Bulgaria?

Well, here’s how we did it. I wanted to do the usual–get a cake, buy some presents, go to a nice dinner. But not so easy! Shopping here is, ummmm, a bit difficult. Besides the fact that it is hard to find a store that sells what you are looking for, the sizes here are different. I wanted to buy Mark some slippers or some shoes, but what size should I buy him? And it would be REALLY difficult to return something if it didn’t fit. So, I decided against the shoes, or any clothing for that matter. What else? After trying to fit everything for one year into two suitcases, I knew that if I bought something he doesn’t really need, we’d never be able to bring it back to the United States. So, the present idea was OUT!

On to the nice restaurant. Mark had spotted a nice restaurant on one of our dog walks and he had been wanting to try it. So, we got all dressed and ready to go, walked to the restaurant, went inside the restaurant which seemed to be open (the tables weree set and the candles were lit), but nobody was there. I mean NOBODY! Strange. So, the nice dinner was also OUT!

The birthday was not so successful so far. I needed to save it. I had found a cute, cozy pizzeria place during my walks, so we ended up eating dinner there. Instead of a gift, I took dog walking duty for three days and gave Mark a foot and head massage. But, the cake. Oh, the cake. SUCCESS!

I had secretly called Mark’s partner, Niki, and asked where I could get a cake. He offered to get a cake for me and meet me in secret. So Niki picked out a beautiful, little cake with fresh fruit on top. I hid the cake inside the house, sent Mark to do some housework in the bedroom and set up the cake and a card. Now you know we didn’t have any candles. You know, us?who can’t even find a pencil? For sure we never found candles. But we did have incense sticks. So I stuck an incense stick out the side of the cake so the ashes wouldn’t fall on the cake, and…voila!..we had a birthday cake! Guiseppe and I sang, we removed the incense, and cut the cake. The inside looked like chocolate. Turns out, it was made with some type of dough and passionfruit (similar to guava). This wasn’t quite what we were expecting, but hey! we had a cake!

It felt a little like a Survivor-type birthday with just making the best out of what we had. I suppose we could have busted open a coconut and lit the incense inside of that. But all in all, we had some good laughs about the whole situation and decided we’d go shopping for slippers together this week.

!!!!!!!!!Happy Birthday, Mark!!!!!!!!

The Amazing Race: Epilogue

Well, once we lost the Amazing Race, we went on to Vitosha Mountain anyways.  We rode the orange Hallelujah-we-finally-found-you! gondola up to the top.  Well, almost to the top.  The view was beautiful.  There are forests and meadows and you can see the whole city of Sofia:
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We decided to go check out where the main path led first.  After a short walk (in case you forgot or never read the first part of this story, you should know that we had been walking for two hours already), we found a rocky overlook area where we could relax a bit and take some pictures of the city.

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We hung out here for a while, but then our hunger started to set in.  In our frenzy to win the race find the gondola, we hadn’t eaten lunch.  So we each ate a few Altoids mints as lunch, for now.

Then we headed further down the path.  Here, there was a grassy meadow where Mark decided I should go pretend to be Maria from “The Sound of Music” and spin in circles.  Of course, I never turn down a cheesy opportunity like this.  After all, that was me who went to San Francisco and took a picture on a cable car with a Rice-A-Roni box.

So I started to head down to the meadow and I realized this is no little grassy meadow.  These bushes are thick and go up to my knees.  I mean, there could be snakes or bears hidden in there.  But I took a deep breath and did it anyways.  I never pass up a dare!  And here are the results:

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I know, I know.  Get me a nun outfit and I could totally be in the movie!  Well, on my way back up to the path, I found some little blueberries on these bushes.  I thought they were blueberries.  Here, check this out, and I think you’ll agree:

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Seeing as how we still hadn’t eaten, I picked a few and we ate them.  Turns out, they were not blueberries, they were juniper berries…oops!  As we continued down the path, I also found raspberries. Now I am sure these were raspberries.  So we ate those too.  Finally we found another rocky area that had a stream running underneath it.  Again, we rested.  By now, our feet really were hurting.  It seemed like we had walked hundreds of miles.  So we headed back to the area where they gondola had left us.

When we got there, we noticed there was a little snack shop where you could buy chips and drinks with a little area outside that had tables and chairs.  We bought some food (finally! I was getting weak with hunger) and sat outside in the sunny, but cool air.

A family came over and asked to share our table with us, and we, of course, agreed.  Well this family had a black Lab just like the two dogs we left at home, Lola and Dakota.  We were dying to pet the pup, but we wanted to be polite.

“Do you speak English?” we asked.
“A little”, they answered. “Sprechen sie Deutsch?” they asked us (that means—Do you speak German?).
“No…where are you from?” we asked them.
They laughed. “Sofia”.  And here we thought they had come all the way from Germany.  “Sprechen sie Bulgarian” Mark told them.

Ahahahaha.  He is sooooooo funny.  Well, the family at least thought so.  Good, now we have our “in” to pet the dog….

“So, what is your dog’s name?” we asked, all sly.
“Leo”.
“Ahhh, like Leonardo daVinci”, I said.
“Like Leonardo diCaprio”, Mark said.
“Like daVinci, not diCaprio” they said.

Oops again.  Good thing they were forgiving!  We asked to pet him and they let us.  He was so so so so cute, just like ours back home.  While we were playing with Leo, we realized how much we missed our dogs and got a little sad.  So we decided to head back down the mountain and go look at pictures of them…

Even though we had a rough start to the day, we really enjoyed our time on Vitosha.  Living in the city is loud, dirty and full of people.  The mountains were clean and quiet and had fresh air.  And now, Mark is already planning like 200 ski trips to all the mountains around!

The End of Our History Lessons

*Kids–this is probably going to be boring reading for you, so you may want to go check out my pictures or solve the math problem instead.

Well, this may seem weird to you, but I must end (for now) my small series of history lessons. Two times now, I have had strange people write long comments on the small errors in my history lessons. You see, the history here is not like the history in the United States. Our recorded history is short, only a little over 200 years. The history here goes back thousands of years. And throughout all this time, other countries have come into Bulgaria and taken over the land. This, of course, leads to arguments about who is right and who is wrong. Think of our situation with Iraq, only people have been arguing over this for thousands of years.
Since I am writing this blog to be “kid friendly”, I do not include every single detail. I guess this angers some readers. They think I leave out the information in an attempt to change history and not admit the truth. This problem is even more intense because of the current political situation over here. Perhaps you have been following the news???? Bulgaria is trying to join the EU and they will do so on January 1st, provided they meet certain requirements (more on that in another post). This apparently brings up all kinds of political situations which hearken back to years past.

So, when I innocently write a general description of history here, I risk upsetting Greeks or Turks or Macedonians or Slavs or who knows who else. The question really is…how are they finding my little blog??? I think they must be consulting Google for the History of BG or something.

But I do think the history is important, so I am determined to find a way to write about it without becoming the subject of political rants. I will probably have to not use key words people could find when searching, or using a “code” so they can’t find me, something like: His.to.ry of Bul.gar.ia. Then I can hide, and continue my non-political, brief overview of the past without all the hassle of hearing how I offended one of the neighbors.

Sheesh!! You come for a little stay, try to do a little educating and the next thing you know, everyone’s mad at you. Touchy, touchy!

p.s. Don’t go looking for the long, obnoxious comments–I already erased all of them!

p.p.s. Seriously, though, one dude wrote like a three page term paper on the finer points of history I missed. I mean, GET A LIFE peeps, really!

Banitsa, Lutenitsa, itsa, itsa, itsa

I’ve given you a few food nightmare stories, but I think it’s time you hear about the yummy side to life here. There are a lot of foods here that I’ve never seen back home or even heard of, but they are delicious!!!! For some reason, many of the best foods end in “itsa”, I don’t really know why this is, but here are a few examples:

Banitsa
Banitsa is a croissant like bread that is light and flaky. In the middle of the bread is a layer of feta cheese. It is REALLY GOOD!!! You can buy banitsa in cafes and at stands out on the sidewalk, but it is not nearly as good as the home-made stuff. How do I know, you ask? Well, because Mark’s partner’s wife made us some. She made us a whole bunch and we ate every.single.bite. until we rolled out of their apartment, down 6 flights of stairs and about one kilometer home. Here’s a picture of banitsa:

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Lutenitsa
Lutenitsa is a sauce-like “salad” (they call it a salad) that is made from tomatoes and peppers pureed together. It looks like a thick ketchup or a thick salsa, but it tastes a little more peppery. “Lute” means hot, like spicy, so that’s why it’s called lutenitsa, although in truth, the salad really isn’t spicy at all. They just call it that because it’s made from peppers and you could, theoretically get hot peppers. Even so, it was really good, and I think it would be extra tasty on the banitsa……hmmmmm…. Here’s a picture of lutenitsa:

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They also have really good ice creams here, like crème brule ice cream. Sounds weird, but it is actually quite tasty. When it’s not raining (a rare occasion lately), we like to walk the dog down to the ice cream stand and get a couple of cones and eat them on our way back. They have mini ice cream stores right out on the sidewalks here, so you don’t even have to go inside to buy it. They must know how much we like it!

And the white meat….they really know how to cook a piece of pork here. I have had a fear of pork for, well, my entire adult life. Part of this stems from my mother’s really horrible pork chops we were forced to eat as kids (sorry, Mom, but it’s true). It also comes from Mr. Price’s biology class in high school where he told us all pigs have worms called trichinosis and if the pork is not cooked well enough a worm will live inside your arm muscle forever. I’m serious. That’s what he told us. So I went 10 years without eating the meat of a pig. But I overcame it. Now, here, I am learning how to cook it.

They usually cook a pork chop type piece of meat and serve it in some yummy sauce with mushrooms and put it over rice. I really like it. They prepare chicken in a similar way, though sometimes the sauce is lighter and there may not be mushrooms.

So there you have it, food is not all weird here. It is actually usually quite good. We have never eaten anything bad when we are out. The problem just comes in shopping and ordering, but we can usually get an English menu. It gets a little scary when you don’t know what you’re eating! So, sorry, didn’t mean to frighten you…come on over, it’s safe to eat, really!

Lions and Tigers and Diplomats, Oh My!

That about sums up my past week. Well, except for the lions and tigers bit. The only lions and tigers I deal with are the shows on Animal Planet that seem to be on a continuous loop, as they repeat every two hours.

But the diplomat, well, yes, I did encounter one of those. It all started one day when I was complaining about hanging yet another load of scratchy laundry out on the line. I guess Mark got tired of hearing me complain about this chore and decided it was high time for me to get a real job. So he snuck on to my computer and stole my resume and sent it to the English newspaper here. Next thing you know, they are asking me to write a few articles a month for them.

Well, my first assignment was to interview a man from the Egyptian Embassy. His official title was Second Secretary something something. So when I met him I asked, “What exactly do you do at the embassy?” He responded, “Well, I’m a diplomat there”. Ummmmm, yeah, so I was feeling really smart and cool at that point. I instantly realized that I should have worn nicer clothes and maybe done a little more research on the job of a diplomat.

But this was no time for freaking out! I carried on as if I was an expert in international politics, conducted my interview and discussed some world issues with him just for fun. Well, turns out, this week is Egyptian Cultural Week here, and he invited me to all the festivities. He also wants to meet Mark so they can play tennis together, but that will have to wait until after Ramadan–the Muslim Holy Month.

Tonight we went to the Folklore Dance Program at the National Opera and Ballet. It was really interesting and colorful. Of course, I did not take my camera, thinking that I would not be allowed to take pictures of people performing. That is usually the rule. But alas, everyone else was taking pictures, and with flash!! Oh well!

It’s hard to describe the dances to you in words, but mostly, the men leaped around the stage while the women did a belly dance kind of thing. The costumes were super colorful and beautiful. This is similar to what it looked like:

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Our favorite part was this one guy who kept spinning in circles with this bright colored skirt on, like those parachutes you use at P.E., and he did all these tricks with it, like pull out flags and spin it over his head. It looked really amazing. And even more fascinating was the fact that after spinning in circles for 10 solid minutes, he didn’t throw up!
So that was my week, more or less. The article I wrote will be published on Friday, and I hope the diplomat likes it…As for the lions and tigers, well, those will have to wait, I’m just too tired to tame them!

We’ve Got the Golden Ticket!

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You know that part in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory where poor, poor Charlie opens his Wonka Bar to discover a shiny golden ticket and he goes leaping and singing through the streets? He sings something like:

I’ve got the golden ticket, I’ve got the golden ticket, blah blah blah

Well, that was us on Sunday, only:

We found the golden grocery store, We found the golden grocery store….

That’s right people! We found a grocery store, a real one, with wide, glistening aisles just bursting with products. There was produce, bread, meat, and toilet paper all in the same store. All in one place! The only small, teensy-weensy problem is we have to take a taxi cab or bus to get there because it is too far to walk. But NO PROBLEM, I say. Once or twice a month I can hop on to the bus or in a cab and do some real shopping! And that will be me, leaping on my way out of the store, my arms teeming with bright yellow and red “Billa” (pronounced Villa) bags, and singing about how I found the golden grocery store.

Oh How I Miss….

It’s high time I make a list of things I miss about living in San Diego. You guys were probably starting to think I was just loving it here so much, I forgot about life back home. Feel free to brag about how you are enjoying all these luxuries at home:
**Not in any real order—just as I think of stuff, so no being mad you’re not #1 (‘Cuz right about now, you’re all #1)!!**
1. The obligatory friends and family—yes I do miss you guys!
2. My doggies, Lola and Dakota, especially Lola who is not feeling so well right now.
3. All things Mexican—food, Spanish-speaking, food, guacamole, food, tortillas
4. The weather—warm sunny days all year long
5. My house—hanging out by my pool during the summer

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The Po-lice

I’ve been thinking of creating a Cops-like documentary or TV show here, where I would follow one of the police officers around for a whole night. It would look something like this:

Cop stands on the corner with several other cop friends. They huddle around and discuss major issues, like what they did last night, while they sip on a plastic cup half full of black coffee (when I say, black, I don’t mean dark brown, I mean BLACK).

Cop walks to the end of the block, looks both ways, then walks back.

Cop climbs up to small Communist-era guard post and looks out over the street. Cop #2 is also up in the guard post, pushing buttons that control the red/green lights. For fun, they leave all the lights red for a while, then turn them all green. Cop climbs down from said post, walks block again.

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Cop asks poor, innocent, Americans for something (this is where we will make our film debut).
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But as he is asking in Bulgarian, the cute American couple (oh yeah, we are cute!) nod and smile and laugh, explaining to him that they don’t understand a word he is saying. He continues to ask. They smile and nod. He stops talking. They smile and nod. Finally they continue on their way.

“Was he asking for an American sticker*?” the brilliant blonde girl asks her husband (oh yeah, she IS brilliant!).
“Sounded like it”, he responds.
“Hmmm…what could that mean? An American sticker? I mean, I think it’s pretty clear I wear mine tattooed on my forehead, since not a single person here actually thinks we are Bulgarian”, she replies.

Cop continues walking to the other end of the block, looks both ways, returns to his post.

Cop lights cigarette and smokes it.

Cop meets with two other cops to get a half full plastic cup of black coffee.
Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

You get the idea. I think it could be a hit show—what do you think?

*Turns out American sticker is an ID card, like a passport or driver’s license. Good that the cute American couple just ignored that request and walked on….Apparently, if you don’t understand, you can’t be harassed.

Hey! Where did all the metal go?

That’s what we asked ourselves when we first saw all the statues and monuments here. They are all missing most of their metal. Take a look (click on the pictures if you want to see them more closely):

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This is a monument of a Russian soldier, yet, you can barely tell. Check out all that missing metal. It makes you wonder….how did it get that way?

Well, let me tell you! The gypsies here take all the metal and sell it to scrap yards or melt it down to make money. How do they get it????

Well, I imagine they have a long rope ladder a la Jack and the Beanstalk that they unroll and hoist to the top, then scale up it using ice picks and cleats, similar to the climbers on Mount Everest. Once they reach their coveted bag of beans hunk of metal, they must whip electric tools out of their pockets and pry it loose, then drop it all the way down on to some gi-normous trampoline they have below. There it must bounce and bounce until finally the gypsies at the bottom can grab it and secure it into their wooden cart.

Well, at least that’s how I imagine it to be. How else could they possibly get it? And, notice, the government has tried to prevent this thievery. See?

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They have built walls all the way around the base of the monument. But, like everything else here, those walls were immediately covered in graffiti. So, then the government thought, “Well, if you can’t beat them, join them”. And they had an art/graffiti contest. Those are all the animations you see. But then, of course, people instantly graffiti’d (is that even a word??) over that.

I’m just thinking…maybe it would have been cheaper to just post a guard near the monument? Or better yet, stop selling spray paint in this country. There is clearly a problem with it being misused. I don’t know….these are just some ideas I have floating in my head….

Hi, Logan kids!!

So…I see some of you have found my blog and have been reading it.  I’m glad!!! Keep it up!!!  But I want to tell you about the comments.  You can leave comments whenever you want.  Just click on the word “comments” at the bottom of the post (the writing), and then there will be a place with three thin rectangles and one big square. Write your name in the rectangle for Name, but skip the next two skinny rectangles. These are for people with an email address. Go to the big square and write your comments and then click on the button that says “submit comments”.  Then I get a little note that tells me to go read them, and….I go read them!!

The only problem is that I can’t send you back any messages.  But, what I can do is leave a comment for you.  So, this is how you check it…Go back to the place where you left the comment, click on the comments again.  Then read all the comments.  If I left you one, it will say “Kristy says”.  Yes–it uses my real first name, instead of Mrs. Drake.  Just pretend it says Mrs. Drake.

Well, I love to hear from you guys.  You can tell me what you think about my new life or you can tell me about your life at school.  I like hearing about what is happening at Logan Elementary.  So keep on reading, and writing!!! I miss you guys:)