The Day We Found Cereal

Just so you know, I have an endless supply of food-related stories. I could go on for days about the hunting and gathering we do here. And here’s another one…

When we moved here, we knew we would not be able to eat the same way we do at home. I mean, we live in the Eastern bloc now. Surely, they don’t sell quadruple-stacked cheeseburgers and chocolate shakes here. And they don’t! But thinking in your head that food will be different and actually suffering the deprivation ON A DAILY BASIS are two different things. We really understand those Survivor challenges now. You know, like when they throw away the immunity idol for an Oreo cookie and you’re sitting at home thinking, “You fool, you’re going to risk getting voted off the island, lose a million dollars for a lousy Oreo cookie??? I would NEVER do that”. Turns out, yes you would!!

It’s not the fast food you miss, it’s the simple little items you find so easily in your cupboards at home, like Wheat Thins or Mac ‘N Cheese or Cheerios. So, within the first few days, we found a market and shopped. The only real breakfast foods they had there were very oat-y and grain-y cereals. I chose Fruit-X, which is essentially raw fiber and dried fruit. For my gluten-challenged relatives, that cereal would have sped up your digestive death, seriously. But we ate it, and even pretended we loved it. “Oh, this is good”, I would gurgle through my milk and fiber-filled mouth. “Oooh, and so healthy, too”, Mark would spit back. We were loyal to Fruit-X, until a few weeks ago…

…when we found another market. Yes, we cheated on our first market. We just assumed that all the markets carried the same basic items. You know, like how Ralphs and Albertsons have all the same stuff? Not here! They are all different. In the new market, we walked six steps to the very back of the store and saw a shiny, colorful cereal box that said “Cini-Minis” on it.

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At first, we acted all cool about it:

“Oh, look, they have cereal here”.
“Hmmmm, interesting”.
“Well, should we get it?”
“Well, we may as well try it”. I mean, if you’re going to twist our arm and MAKE us do it, then we will.

The next day, we opened the top of the box, and the familiar, heavenly smell of wheat mixed with unnatural sugars and fat, combined with the sweet, sweet scent of cinnamon wafted out.

“HURRY IT UP. POUR IT INTO MY BOWL!!!” I screamed at Mark. I actually drooled. You know, that dangly piece of saliva that you don’t even realize is there until it drops on the table right in front of you, and then you try to wipe it up real fast so no one sees it, but then your husband calls you out, “GROOOOOSSSSSSSSS!!!” Yeah, well, that’s the kind of drool I had.

And I savored Every.Single.Bite. In both bowls. Then I calmly left the table, rinsed the dishes and slam-dunked the almost full bag of Fruit-X into the trashcan.

I think I made a friend.

I grew up in a small town–let us not discuss the name of the place here–and had pretty much the same friends all my life. When I went to college, I worked a lot (A LOT) and took a bunch of classes, so I never had time to make new friends. For the whole first year I worked at Logan, no other teachers even knew my name. Making friends is not my strong suit…

…which has not helped me here. You need friends in a foreign country, people to show you around, go out with, talk English to. Otherwise, life can be pretty lonely at times. We have been lucky to know so many people through Mark’s work, but that is not the same as making your own friends.

Today, at the meeting at the newspaper, I made a friend. Truthfully, she was more outgoing than me and introduced herself first. But nonetheless, I was talkative and we laughed and now we have plans to go hang out together. Tonight we will go to a jazz club and in the next few weeks, we will go to a soccer game. There is also a third girl who will join us.

So look at that!! 32 years with no friend-making skills and I make 2 new friends in one day. How’s that for beginner’s luck???

Our Internet Woes

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I try to write a post everyday during the week, Monday through Friday. I cannot be held responsible for the lack of posts on the weekends. I mean, it’s the WEEKEND, peeps, and we are busy. Busy watching movies, outdated TV shows, CNN Headline News over and over again. Busy shopping for food products. Busy crocheting a scarf for the hound (winter is coming). You know, busy.

But ever since we got here lately, we have had Internet problems. P.R.O.B.L.E.M.S. Like, it doesn’t work. At all. Zippo. Nada. Nothing. For 12-14 hours at a time. Usually the 12-14 hours that I need to work on the computer. For you techies out there, here is why there are so many problems. You might want to sit down for this. The violent belly-laughing you are about to do could drop you to the floor and you don’t want to do that from an upright position.

OK, here goes….

The entire city is on a giant LAN and our particular ISP is point to point. The LAN runs underground and is easily accessible through manholes. No, seriously. It is. What does this mean? This means that when it rains, the cables get wet. When it snows, they get really cold. Often, the cables are exposed, and mutant teenagers walk around and cut them….for fun!

When it works, it works really well. We can download whole movies in less than an hour, and songs in seconds. But when it doesn’t work, well….I get really really mad. I mean, once or twice I could understand. But this has happened twice just this week. Unacceptable. We are now in negotiations to change providers. Perhaps this problem will begin to resolve sometime around Christmas, because that’s about the speed at which things change around here.

Anyways, this is just my pathetic excuse for my lack of good posts lately. I plan on rectifying that this week. I have many, MANY topics of discussion for you. And I plan on getting them up. Here. On this blog. Seriously.
If the Internet works.

The Long Walk Home

Wasn’t that the title of a movie? Well, today it’s the title of my life.

You know how I am supposed to be “retired”, but I’m not really, so I keep looking for little jobs to do (and get paid for) here and there? Well, I had a job interview on Friday—which is a whole other story that cannot be written here. Suffice to say, the CEO (kids, a CEO of a company is THE BIG BOSS) cussed, swore, said bad words during the interview. I have never had that happen before in my life. But then again, I have never lived in Bulgaria before in my life. …

Anyways, I digress. I had the job interview which went very well. He would like to hire me, but we have a small problem. (Shhhhhh…..don’t tell anyone, but I don’t have all my “papers” here yet, so technically I’m not all the way legal, and certainly not legal enough to work. But we’re working on it, I promise, and soon it will all be fixed……I hope!) So he is going to try and figure out how to make things work until the “problem” gets fixed.

I decided I would walk home. I knew it would be a longer walk, about 4km, or 2 1/2 miles. But it wasn’t raining and I could use the exercise. I checked my handy dandy map and outlined the path home. Being the Magellan of Bulgaria, I decided to cut through a park as a shortcut. You know, like how Christopher Columbus took a short cut to the Indies and ended up on the other side of the world? Yeah. That’s the kind of shortcut I took.

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So I hooked myself up to my iPod (by the way, the BEST gift I have EVER gotten) and grooved to my tunes as I began my descent into the park. In order for you to fully appreciate the experience, I must describe the park. You are thinking of a nice, big, freshly mowed green lawn with some paths and swingsets. No. Not here. The park is full of tall trees, almost like a mini-forest, with small dirt paths that travel as far as the eye can see. Every once in a while, another small dirt path intersects the main dirt path in a T. This T also stretches as far as the eye can see. Truthfully, you could easily hide a body in this park in broad daylight and nobody would notice. Did I mention the date was Friday the 13th?????

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Onwards. I walked through the park for about 45 minutes and ended up….well, I don’t know where I ended up, on the other side I guess. On a street called Charles Darwin, which I could not for the life of me find on my map. So much for being more evolved than the apes.

I headed in the general direction of where I lived. Or so I thought.

And time passed. And my music played. And my feet walked and blistered. I was ready to admit it. I WAS LOST. So I decided I would give up and take a taxi home—really my only option since I don’t know how the bus system works yet. With my luck, had I attempted the bus system, I would have ended up in Romania or Serbia. Go ahead, look those countries up on a map. I know you don’t know where they are—you geographically-challenged Americans, you!

Back to the taxi. I knew I would probably find one on a busy street. So I headed out to a busy street. A real busy street. Turns out, it was so busy, it was the highway! And taxis don’t stop to pick people up on highways. So I kept walking and walking in my semi-high-heeled shoes and freshly operated-on foot (a nice combination indeed) on the side of a highway. I don’t know if you’ve ever walked on the side of a highway for a long period of time…I wouldn’t recommend it.  People mistake your true intentions.
Luckily, I can read Bulgarian pretty well, so I just followed the signs that said “Center” (I live in the “center” of town). Once I got down to where the highway met the town (I was clued in by a traffic light), I crossed over and tried to find a different busy street where I could find a taxi. I walked around here for a good long while. Up hills, down hills. Around cars and on uneven pavement. Finally, I found a busy street. But….are you ready for this? It was ONE WAY, going in the opposite direction. What are the odds? No, really, what are they?

I carried on walking, determined to find an intersection to get a cab. At long last, I reached that intersection, and when I finally lifted up my head, all dejected from my miserable failure at navigation, I saw I was at the Palace of Culture (called NDK here), just blocks from my house. And so I walked. Why give in now? I had come so far.

So, like Columbus, I, too sailed the ocean blue discovered the world was round.

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And if you just keep sailing walking, you end up in a giant circle. In honor of Columbus, when I reached my flat, I decided to rename the native hound. He’s an “Indian” now. Just so you know.

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(Our native “Indian” enjoying a ray of sunshine on our balcony.)

Long Overdue

I probably should have written about this much earlier. The time has come….to teach you the basics of the Bulgarian alphabet. It looks NOTHING like ours. And to this day, I am unsure of which letters really are vowels. There are characters that look like triangles with legs and an “n” with a curly tail. But those are not the hard letters to learn. The hardest ones are the ones that look like our letters, but sound different. Here are some examples:

Our “n” is their “p”
Our “i” is their “u”
Our “t” is their “m”, unless it is a capital, and then you use T, so these are the same letter: Tm
Our “p” is their “r”
Our “sh” is their “w”

And there are two letters that look like Bb. If it looks like a capital B, then it sounds like v, but if it looks like lowercase b, it sounds like b. And not like Spanish, where the b and v sound almost the same. Oh no. These are two very distinct sounds.

So you can see where this could be a little confusing. The first few days, the hound and I would stop for long periods of time, staring up at a sign, just trying to decipher what it says. People would walk by and snicker, but we were determined. And now, we’re pretty good. We can figure out what the signs say, but we don’t always know what they mean.

For fun, I give you these decoding activities (use the link above to see the Bulgarian alphabet):

Words in Bulgarian (find out what they say in English):
pectopaht
cnopt
takcu

Here’s my name in Bulgarian: Kpucmu. And here’s Mark’s: Mapk
What’s yours?

Worse and Worser

Last night (technically early this morning), we walked home in 0 degrees Celsius with our breath all smoky and the frozen air seeping into the teeny holes in my tennis shoes. Of course, the city has not turned on the heat yet–it has to be below 12 degrees three days in a row. We have one space heater in the living room. Meaning the bedroom is….well…..freezing. Literally. Frozen. An ice cube. And we own two comforters. All night I shivered in my multiple layers of pajamas and socks, just trying to hold on until this morning, when I would warm up in a hot bath (don’t ask why I didn’t get up and take one during the night).

And then, I woke up to this:

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Need I say more?

Arctic Chill

Well, the moment you have all been waiting for is here. The day when we freeze. You warned me about it before I left, worried I would throw in the down jacket thermal underwear towel and come home. But notice, I am still here, in 0 degrees Celsius (32F). No siree. I will not give up!

Even if our heater doesn’t work yet because the city government decides when to turn it on (as if they know when I am cold).

Even if our bedroom windows are all icy and the condensation leaks into the room.

Even if my teeth chatter so much, I actually chip small pieces of enamel right off.

I WILL NOT GIVE UP! I will adapt, improvise, overcome.

I offer you proof of my ability to evolve from a warm, flip-flop wearing San Diegan into a frosty Bulgarian polar bear. Here are pictures of how I prepare to sleep. What you don’t see are the second layer of thermal underwear underneath the sweats and turtleneck (hence the added bulk—at least that’s the excuse I’m using) and the double layer of socks:
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Even the Vladi, the Bulgarian hound, must bundle up:

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***As I write this, I hear the heater gurgling….might it spring to life???

***Oh yeah, and I should mention that part of the city got their heat turned on almost a week ago. Clearly, not our part…do you think it was something I said?

Is There Something I Should Know?

Like maybe I should know why we had to come all the way to Bulgaria just to see Duran Duran in concert….

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Oh yes we did!! Friday night we went to the Duran Duran concert. And I know what you are just dying to ask. What does Simon LeBon look like now? Well, from my bird’s eye view (no really, like up top, with the birds) he looks, well, still very New Wave. And very middle-aged. He had chunks of his hair dyed blonde and the standard middle-aged-man belly. But he can still sing and do funny dance moves all over stage. And, oh yeah, he did come out wearing that cheesy English police cap–very George Michael-ish.

They played all the oldies but goodies–Rio, View To A Kill, Wild Boys, Girls on Film, Notorious, Ordinary Day…….. We knew all the words. ALL OF THEM! I know that makes us a little bit old, but not as old as the grey-haired section sitting near us. Seriously, one whole section of mostly grey-haired people. Strange. And they never once stood up. Actually, half the arena never once stood up. They just sat in their seats and if they were really feeling funky, they nodded their heads a bit, “Night at the Roxbury” style. Weird. I’ve never been to a concert where people sit down.

But we didn’t. Nope. We stood and danced and sang every song. And we could because we were some of the only people there who really knew all the words, not just the chorus. Okay, okay, so the concert-goers don’t speak English, maybe that makes it a wee bit difficult for them to learn all the songs. Oh, and we did the ultimate nerdy concert thing. Can you guess what it is? Yup! We held up a lighter AND a cell phone and rocked back and forth all trance-like.

I know. You’re jealous. Jealous that Duran Duran seemingly only tours Eastern European countries and you never had the opportunity to see them. I mean, if you had known they would be here, surely you, too, would have hopped on a plane with two suitcases and a dog and moved here too!

A Day in My Life

Probably you are wondering what it is I do all day long. You know, since I’m in retirement and all. Or maybe I am just a narcissist (someone who thinks they are “all that”) who assumes the world spins around me*. Either way, here is how a day in my life goes:

*”The world does not spin around you” is what the people here say when they are trying to say that “the world does not revolve around you”. Mark and I have now adopted this way of speaking.

8:00 I wake up, usually to the sound of the dog whining because he wants to take a walk. Okay, I’ll admit it! I actually wake up at 7:30, but I lay in the bed all still, like a mummy, so the hound won’t know I’m awake.

9:00 This is when we usually return from THE WALK. Now don’t go thinking I take the hound on a marathon-training session. Either we get a late start, or if it’s a nice day, we sit in the park a while and have a cup of tea while we watch all the people rush by on their way to work.

9:00-11:00
We eat breakfast and feed the hound. Usually I read the news online, the San Diego U-T, and the Bulgarian news. Mark starts to look over his work for the day. Sometimes, though, we will watch some TV show I have downloaded.

11:00
Mark starts to get ready for work. I begin domestic duties. I know, you are coughing, chortling, maybe even all-out laughing at this startling news. Me? As Martha Stewart? Well, if you count incessant washing of clothes and hanging them out to dry Martha Stewart, well then…that’s who I am.

12:00 Mark leaves for work. Sometimes I go with him and do some of the endless shopping. But when I return home, this is when the hound and I begin our house party. We invite the neighbors, lay out some hors d’oeuvres,

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blast MTV and start dancing.
OK, not really.

This is when I do most of the housework and work on my Bulgarian. I have books and CDs and I watch TV to learn, although I must confess that it has been slow going. This is not the easiest language to learn.
If it is sunny, I might go out and take pictures of things around town, or I might take Guiseppe to the park and I will do my studying there.

Every now and again, I have a meeting at the newspaper I attend in the afternoon, or perhaps an interview to conduct.

Ok, ok ok! You know me too well. I also nap in the afternoon for about an hour, maybe longer if it’s raining.

4:30ish I start to cook dinner. I know—it seems like that’s too early, and it is. But I make it and leave it in the oven for later, because…

6:00
I teach English to Mark’s employees for an hour or two, and then we come home and eat that delicious dinner I so lovingly cooked hours earlier.

8:00 Hound goes on his second official walk of the day.

8:30-1:30 This is when I actually do work. I write my articles for the newspaper, I write this blog, I edit websites for Mark’s company or write content for them, etc. I also do most of my emailing during this time.

1:30/2:00am
Go to bed.

So…there you have it. A day in my life. Now you can rest easily, knowing what I do all day long.

Where’s the Beef?

Seriously, where IS the beef, I ask? Since we have been here, I have not seen one single bit of food made from beef. NOT ONE. Although, I have been tricked a lot!

At the store where I buy the meat, there is a package of meat that looks exactly like ground beef. Exactly. Like twins. When we first got here, we bought a couple of those packages and I used them in my spaghetti and to make some stuffed peppers. I could tell that something just wasn’t the same, but really, nothing has been the same here. “Oh well”, I thought, “what I don’t know won’t hurt me”.

Another clue that we weren’t actually eating beef was when we went out to eat. There is never any beef on the menu. Not a steak to be found! “Good thing they have the beef at that one little store”, I thought, feeling all clever that I had found the only store in Sofia that sold ground beef.

Then came the day when we finally bought a Bulgarian-English dictionary. I know I know, why did we not have one of those already! That’s because (and this may surprise you) there really isn’t a huge demand for Bulgarian-English dictionaries in San Diego. They actually don’t sell them at the bookstores. Seriously. I looked. So we found one after we got here.

Well, with my new dictionary, I was sooooooo excited to start looking up all these words I had seen, but didn’t know what they meant. So I started with all the meat packages. Big mistake. HUGE! Guess what that “ground beef” was. Go ahead, guess! It was 40% ground sausage and 60% ground veal! Kids—maybe you don’t know what veal is, so let me tell you. Veal is baby cows. BABY COWS!! You know, how they are so cute when they are babies? And I was EATING THEM!!!!

I was sick. Just sick about it. I have stopped buying the ground beef at the one special store and had a small funeral for the veal I did eat. So sorry, my little cow, so so so sorry… I say this as Mark happily chews away at all forms of veal: veal steaks, veal burgers, veal sandwiches, veal whatever.

I probably don’t even need to tell you this, but my quest to find beef is over, OVER! I will have to wait until we return to San Diego to eat a steak.

**Ok-we have found some real beef, but…still not as good as home, we will stick with mostly pork and chicken.