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Friday, January 29, 2010

As previously mentioned, my bathroom is so cold right now that my plastic toilet seat has been cracking. Today I look 40 leva with me to the home repair/supply store in the center, because I had absolutely no clue how much a new one would cost.

6.60BGN!!!!! (less than $5)

Such a nice surprise…


Not sure why I felt that an important tid-bit to share, but there ya go.

By far, my favorite place in Samokov:

The banks of the Iskar River - gorgeous.
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Thursday, January 28, 2010

"To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.

But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless--it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable."

– CS Lewis




It's exhausting – to see the world the way I do.

Well, winter is officially upon us. It was a long time in coming this year, and even with sometimes sub-zero temps, the desired snow-fall is still lacking in terms of winter-tourism in my "grad na sport" (city of sport).

Some things I'm thankful for in my quest to survive life in the frozen tundra (not necessarily in any particular order or seriousness… who am I kidding? I'm totally serious!) –

  • Extra freezer space… yes, my kitchen is THAT cold (I'm NOT so thankful that my bathroom is also just as cold… which means my laundry freezes before it has time to dry and my toilet seat has developed a number of… uncomfortable… cracks in the plastic).
  • My neighbor's woodburning stove... I fall asleep at night with my face practically pressed up against our adjoining wall to take in as much "free" heat as I can.
  • Yak Trax ( – God's gift to mountain dwelling Americans who have not yet followed in the footsteps of their Eastern European counterparts and mastered the use of stiletto's as ice picks to keep your balance on slick sidewalks
  • The developmet of a new hobby – I learned how to knit. Not only does it keep my fingers moving (trying to prevent frostbite) in the evenings, but it also means I now possess an array of warm scarves and matching headbands to keep my ears warm
  • A finally acquired taste for tea - nothing warms up a day's worth of bone-chilling coldness better.
  • My winter survival ensemble: Duofold long underwear, fleece socks and liners, fleece vest, knee length Down parka, hand-knitted handband, Thinsulate Isotoner's gloves… and -30 degree snow boots. Rarely leave the flat anymore without any one of these things.
  • "Греяно Вино" – hot mulled wine… YUM
  • The discovery of new music and movies (excellent for hibernation).

I'm sure I'll continue to add to that list… but even though a little unrelated, I want to express how THANKFUL I am for my friends here... Bulgarian, British, American (PCV's and otherwise)... you all know who you are and you're a huge part of my sanity and love for my time here.

I also want to share that I had a craving for a bagel the other day, and I started thinking that there was no reason why I couldn't figure out how to make them myself. So, last night, I did just that. DELICIOUS. I will probably never be able to eat another store bought bagel again.

Friday, January 22, 2010

For much of the time since my return to Samokov, I've felt like I have been trying to regain my footings and catch up for lost time. I wasn't really feeling like time was moving productively forward yet, only trying to pick up the pieces I left in limbo after my accident last Christmas. In the past couple weeks, though, exciting things have been starting to happen again! I've been meeting some new people, finally pushing some project ideas/proposals through, strengthening our day to day programming at Svetlina, and most importantly, truly connecting with some of the kids. Even over simple things, like staying after to play a couple extra games of "Jenga" (I put that in quotes because, do not be fooled, knock off "Jenga is soooo not as cool as the real thing ;)) or bowling with a tennis ball and toilet paper rolls.

Youth work is (for obvious reasons) much more of a challenge for me over here because I still struggle with a language barrier. I'm functionally conversational at this point, but to truly dig deep with these kids is hard. I can laugh with them when the tower falls in Jenga, but to look them in the eyes and see their world is hard, and my prayer is that it won't be much longer until I can be there for them like I want to be.


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

I love winter… and snow… and living in places with four very defined seasons. Last year in Samokov, I was miserably unprepared (I naively thought that my water proof, mid-cut hiking boots were going to get me through a winter in a town at 1,000m elevation – oops), but another "plus" for the pro/con list of my 9 month sabbatical is my acquisition of my "winter-preparedness" kit; complete with boots designed to protect my toes in as cold as -30 degree weather.

Alas, winter has been slow to come to Bulgaria. While we got the first snow much earlier than anticipated (flakes in October… accumulation in early December), it's been almost "balmy" (ok… not really… but some days!) since then.

The last week or so, however, it's been COLD.

And I've decided that one of the most gorgeous things in the world is when you have a really thick freezing fog over night, and by morning the trees are all stiff with glistening precipitation. I wasn't proactive enough yesterday to grab my camera (well… that's not true – I completely forgot my point and shoot was in my purse!), so I'll have to wait again for the phenomenon, but seriously – its beautiful.

Today, a "blizzard" hit the coast of Bulgaria, bringing those beach bums a foot of snow (I hear it's still coming down, too). And yet, in the mountain town where I live (and where the coldest and snowiest winters in the Bulg were promised to me… I have yet to see that ring true), we seem to be existing in this reverse snow-globe reality.

I'm ready with boots and scarfs and gloves and long underwear and reusable handwarmers and a thermos constantly filled with tea… and the snow is being wasted on PCV's who won't appreciate it. ;)

Thursday, January 14, 2010

This has just been an all around good week. It started with fun nights and restful days around Samokov (including a HUGE win for our basketball team against the number one ranking team in Bulgaria’s National Basketball League!) through the weekend, and Sunday ended with a call from a friend here in town saying that she and her husband (who plays for Rilski Sportist– our pro bball team) were in Sofia that day and wanted to surprise the kids at my organization sometime that week with some new basketballs and soccer balls! Normally our sports day is on Wednesdays, but when I woke up to the sun shining and relatively warm weather (who am I kidding… the entire winter thus far has been uncharacteristically warm) on Monday, we moved some things around to take advantage of the sunshine.

We had a BLAST. Jackie and Travis brought Svetlina (our NGO) 10 brand new balls for the kids to use afterschool, and spent the next hour shooting around outside and bumping around the volleyball. It was so great to see the kids so excited! I know they loved the new equipment, but I’m pretty sure they were even more excited about the 6’10 pro athlete and the college volleyball player who came just to spend time with them. I stood around taking some pictures (and playing gatekeeper to make sure the balls stayed IN the school yard… somehow we still managed to lose one), and let the kids enjoy our guests. Definitely a great day.

Yesterday, I found out my project proposal for the new social development project we’ll start to implement in February was APPROVED! I’m really excited, and even though the logistics around getting the proposal written gave me a number of headaches, I can’t wait to get it going. We’ll be working on this one through September next fall, and it will include seminars for a target group of 30 kids are their parents, psych consults for each family, field trips, trainings, etc. The idea is to try and focus on 30 kids and their parents, to create progressive mindsets towards integration, and social involvement in the Samokov community by targeting the entire family. 

Also… today, I found out that the ping pong table we’ve been trying to purchase for Svetlina is finally on sale!! We were hoping to pick it up before Christmas, but that didn’t work out, and then last week I went to Sofia to try again, and with the VAT tax, it added 20% (yes… TWENTY %) to the price, which was almost 100 BGN Leva more than we had budgeted for. Buuuttttt, my amazing friend Lisa in Sofia has been scouting the price for me, and even though the store said it might be months before its on sale, it happened only a week later! And now it’s LESS than we budgeted for, which leaves room to buy the kids some extra games and equipment for the after school program. 

It’s a tiring and emotionally trying existence as a PC volunteer, but it’s weeks like this, when things all of the sudden miraculously come together, that you can step back and appreciate your hard work and the fruits of your labor. :) 

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Yesterday I woke up to the white wintery wonderfulness I've been waiting for… only to spend the entire day inside my cozy {and warm…ish} apartment working on my current project/grant proposal for Svetlina while stealing glances outside as the white stuff continued to fall.

Today I trudged through the snow to the kindergarten and then to met with Katya to finalize the budget and work out some kinks. Barely an hour and a half after walking through higher than mid-calf snow drifts on the way to my office, I headed back towards my block.

Only this time, my "razhodka" was through a raging river. In barely 90 minutes, the sun had come out and warmed things up so much, that melted snow was quite literally gushing down the road I live on. The problem is that the snow that got plowed off of the street and onto the sidewalks was still knee deep and now nasty muddy, so you have to resort to walking on the actual road; where cars – no longer troubled by threats of ice and skidding – are racing to their next destination… splashing GALLONS (or liters… this is BG) of water onto you each time one passes, leaving you horribly exposed and unprotected by the freezing, brown, melted snow water that is now covering you from head to toe.

But it was a good day, and the adventure (what should have been my normal 10 minute walk was… slightly… elongated) still made me love and laugh at my life here.

Even though I spent most of the day inside putting the finishing touches on my project proposal (which is DONE by the way – please say a prayer that all this work actually gets funded!), I worked while wrapped up in BOTH my snuggie and new fleece blanket from the bro and sis, all the while listening to some Ray LaMontange and sipping on Vanilla Chai tea. I also had time to watch The Blind Side (GREAT movie by the way!).

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

For accountability sake… I am making a declaration to the blog world.


I WILL finish my project proposal before I go to bed tonight.


Hold me to that!!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Because we could all use something to smile at...

When the kids let out of school on the 23rd, for some reason it felt like vacation was going to last forever. I don't know why I didn't know better (I do have a good 22 years of school vacation "experience" under my belt – it's never as long as you want it to be!), but today came as a surprise. Of course, I got a call saying there were hardly any kids in school again today… **sigh**

Well, the holiday season has come and gone, and I got through it without any broken bones this year!! HUZZAH!! The jokes were all there, but my resolution for this year is to NOT spend the majority of 2010 being broken (like last year :)).

Even though it was hard spending the second of three holiday seasons away from home, I really love my life here and the surrogate families I've developed. It's going to be hard watching my fellow PC Volunteers leave in October, and just as hard to leave behind my Bulgarian family the following spring.

I spent Christmas Eve and day with other B-24 volunteers down in the mountains near the Greek border. We rented a beautiful house in a preserved village called Delchevo. We spent two days by the fireplace hanging out, talking, laughing, eating, playing cards, and just being together. Probably one of the more relaxed gatherings I can remember – I loved it! Not the same as being with my family back home, but if I couldn't have been there, don't know where I would have rather been.

I came back to Samokov on the 26th, and enjoyed my cozy little apartment and catching up with family on Skype before a delicious na gosti with my colleague's at Katya's apartment. LOTS of great food, yummy "domashno" (homemade) wine, and tons of laughs. I loved the fact that I brought my grandma's fudge pecan pie, and all the Bulgarians ate it for dessert while I chowed down on Baklava. Talk about an experience exchange. Isn't that what PC is all about? ;)

For New Years, I met up with some volunteers in Sofia, where we spent a good 2+ hours wandering around the city trying to find SOMETHING to do. An open bar, restaurant, whatever. Nothing… we ended up back at the hostel where we played cards until cramming onto the tiny balcony at midnight to watch fireworks throughout the city (including the ones that randomly got launched out of various apartment windows all around us…).

Hard to believe this is the year that would have ended my service as a PC Volunteer in Bulgaria if it wasn't for my "sabbatical!" Last year didn't exactly go how I planned, but maybe it's about time I stopped planning and let God take control? 23 years later and I still don't have it figured out. ;)


Честита нова година!! Happy New Year. :)